Category Archives: Intranet

Putability – More thoughts on Office 365 for collaboration

My thinking has evolved a little further with regards to using Office 365 collaboration since my last blog. This is driven by some further investigation into the recent upgrades to Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams.

As mentioned before, these are somewhat interchangeable in terms of their intended purpose and both have a proper SharePoint team site on the back end which extends their capability into being actively useful. For those that remember Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) or the more recent SharePoint Foundation, Groups and Teams essentially are the modern successor. The most immediate difference between them is that Groups are email-centric while Microsoft Teams is (Skype) chat-centric; however, there are some different components presented in each. Stand-alone, they are great for very lightweight intranets and team collaboration; combined with other parts of Office 365 they offered the ability to build out midrange digital workspaces. They fill a very useful role for unmanaged or lightly managed collaboration, though some organisations will choose OneDrive for Business for their unmanaged collaboration needs, leaving Groups and Teams for lightly managed role.

When it comes to OneDrive for Business, we propose a Best Practice folder structure to that consists of:

  • Private
  • Shared with Team (<owner name>)
  • Shared with Everyone (<owner name>)
  • Shared Externally

We also commonly recommend a mechanism for managing organisational Office templates using OneDrive for Business, where we add the Custom Office Templates folder to our OneDrive for Business and point the Office clients at that.

OneDrive structure

Then there is Yammer… This also can store and share documents and allow a form of collaboration around them. Using Yammer in this way never felt very natural to us, but it was part of the original design of the product before Microsoft acquired it, and it may well suit some organisations. However, by embedding Yammer within a SharePoint page in an intranet, it becomes particularly useful for wrapping a shared conversation around a document, or conversely adding documents to a shared conversation.

The trouble with all this is that users are uncertain about where to store information. It’s a problem we’ve talked about before; with the excellent search now available across Office 365 through SharePoint and Delve – combined with an effective metadata strategy – the problem of ‘Findability’ is largely addressed. Unfortunately, ‘Putability’ – knowing where to store your content -remains a challenge.

 

The lovely people at Tata Steel have put a lot of thought into this which aligns closely with our thinking and so I share this extended version of their decision tree with their permission:

Putability

As you can see, it’s fairly complex and this reflects the complex nature of the content that we expect people to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is, however, fairly easily explained as follows:

  1. Keep your own stuff in OneDrive and if you need to, share it with your team unless you have a team site or group for that
  2. Team and project content should go into the relevant intranet team site, or a Microsoft Team or Office 365 Group if it doesn’t have sophisticated processes wrapped around it
  3. If it doesn’t need collaboration, then publish it to an intranet publishing area such as the HR site or a Document Centre
  4. If you need to shared externally and consider a dedicated extranet, though OneDrive for Business could be used for non-sensitive content
  5. Anything which isn’t reliant on storing the document could be done using Yammer or email

 

There is no harm in embedding the above in a governance or user guide which is actively shared with your users. The better they understand where to put their content the easier it will be to find things later and much easier to keep everything managed.

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Filed under Cloud, Content management, Intranet, Office 365

Office 365 collaboration – somewhere between easy and hard

The Microsoft Story around Collaboration Has Never Been a Straightforward One, with Different Styles of Collaboration from Email, through Skype and into SharePoint Each Being Supported by Their Own Microsoft Technical Team; at Times It’s definitely felt like the different teams compete rather than collaborate (and the irony is not lost on us).

With the emergence and massive growth of Office 365 the tale now has some additional subplots  in the form of OneDrive for Business, Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams and the still relevant  SharePoint Online. It’s not easy to unpick these different offerings and decide which to use where, especially as they share a lot of the underlying technology as each other.

Here are my summarised thoughts:

  1. OneDrive For Business
    • Think of this as effectively a file server in the cloud, but note that the assumption is that each person has their own area. With most Office 365 plans you get  1 TB of storage per person, which is a serious amount traditional  storage for your organisation. However it’s not the same as using a file server; best practice is to create a set of high-level folders within each person’s OneDrive: Personal, Team, Everyone In The Organisation, and External content. Share access of the last three appropriately. It is possible to have an admin or super user who can set their account up to provide something equivalent to departmental shares. It probably only takes a couple of days effort to implement this for a small organisation and that includes training and structuring the folders.
  2. Microsoft Teams
    • This is  both a browser-based and desktop application, which uses the Office 365 services on the backend. It’s described as conversation-centric collaboration (https://products.office.com/en-GB/Microsoft Teams/group-chat-software ); the front-end uses the chat capabilities of Skype for Business to provide the conversation element, though does have the ability to share files etc. and  includes OneNote  (you can also add other apps). The ability to configure it according to different needs is limited and there is no concept of an organisational hierarchy. It’s great for near real-time collaboration, discussion with team documents, but not so great for creating an organisational file store. Set up effort is also just a few days.
  3. Office 365 Groups
    • These are recently updated and provide email-centric collaboration, though with both simple file sharing and a full SharePoint site on the backend for each team or group (the language is starting to get difficult now, I’ll use uppercase when I’m in the product and lowercase when I don’t). ThUser experiences a bit of a mess  in that  the interface varies according to where you try to access Groups from – Outlook, Yammer, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint all provide access but the UI is different in each case). As with Microsoft Teams, there is no organisational hierarchy. Office 365 Groups are good for team collaboration and ongoing projects; also because the file store is actually in SharePoint, it does allow customisation so that libraries can have additional metadata and the full power of SharePoint; you can also create additional libraries within each Group;  however these are only  visible when you step into the SharePoint view of the Group,  not in this simplified view in Outlook etc. Our suggestion to make this really work for bigger organisations is to combine it with Cloud2’s Connect product, which will provide the hierarchy and a powerful entry portal. Individual Groups are very easy to set up, but there  is always some effort required to train users, determine best practice and extend some of the Group sites to meet organisational needs.
  4. SharePoint intranet
    • SharePoint is a huge application, highly suited for enterprise needs and with a massive range of capability to support collaboration, content management, communication, business processes and people. However this comes with complexity and the need to configure everything before it is effective (which is why Microsoft have introduced the previous three items). It will pretty much do everything that an organisation needs but a typical SharePoint Project in the corporate world takes upwards of 100 days of services. Even with digital workspace accelerators,  such as Hadron, the effort is still around 30 days, though these tend to incorporate other parts of the O365 stack such as Yammer and Skype for business. Where SharePoint really shines is for organisations with complex process needs , a requirement to govern some types of content and where the organisation itself is sophisticated with  a large amount of structure and enterprise level business needs.

 

    Clearly this isn’t a one size fits all situation and is unlikely at any one of the above will answer all the collaboration and content needs of an organisation. The right thing to do is to mix and match the technologies in the Office 365 suite in a way that suits your organisation, your strategy and budget. Whatever you do, research the tools and think hard before jumping in.

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Filed under Intranet, Microsoft, SharePoint, UI and UX

Teams vs. Groups – Microsoft moves their vision forward a few more steps

Office 365 continues to develop, and it seems like something changes more or less every fortnight. This isn’t a bad thing, as long as Microsoft continue to make reasonable business decisions about the features and functionality; though the pace of change continues to present some challenges for partners and users alike.

One of the most recent announcements is the release of Microsoft Teams, an apparently new component in Office 365. Actually, not quite so new as this looks an awful lot like the immediate successor to Groups.

Groups was always a little odd; it started out as exactly that, pretty much a permissions group on to which Microsoft then tagged some collaborative functionality, initially as a shallow end alternative to a SharePoint collaboration or team site; this has evolved over a few iterations to now usefully include Skype-based group Conversations, Files (actually a SharePoint library, but with limited customisability), Calendar, OneNote Notebook (we really approve of that), Planner (their Trello competitor) and a related SharePoint Site. However, the Groups strategy was clearly work in progress. For example they got as far as introducing them into the Outlook online client and OneDrive for Business, though not really into SharePoint, which was odd. There are mobile apps, but no Group tile in the O365 App Launcher. Jeff Teper shared some of this thinking early in 2016 and indicated that there would be a change that would see Groups becoming Teams, removing the confusion between permissions groups and collaborative sites. It’s good to see this come to fruition.

Microsoft are describing it as an entirely new experience…

With the introduction of Microsoft Teams, Office 365 now has mail, social, and chat connections to SharePoint and OneDrive. When you create a team, you create or connect to an existing Office 365 group, and the group gets a SharePoint team site.

msteams

It is worth reading Dan Holmes pleasantly marketing-spin-free  description.

So with the imminent launch of Microsoft Teams (it is currently in preview) there have already been some changes. Groups appears to have disappeared from most places and Microsoft continue to tweak the positioning against full-blown SharePoint Online.

Microsoft Teams is available in preview to eligible Office 365 commercial customers beginning November 2, 2016. We expect the service to become generally available in the first quarter of calendar year 2017.

There have been some immediate refinements to the Office365 offering plans:

  • Business Essentials  explicitly  references  including Teams,  with no mention of SharePoint
  • Enterprise plans such as E1 take business essentials and adds SharePoint Online, Delve, Video Portal, Skype Broadcast, without the 300 user limit.

It’s not yet clear whether Business Essentials no longer includes SharePoint at all or whether it simply hidden away as being perceived as too complicated for simpler use cases. Whether you agree with that or not, is likely that Teams are here to stay for a while and they do provide a simpler means of creating a rich collaboration and team site than ever before.

 

 

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There’s a new buzzword in town and it’s “Digital Workspace”.

 

There’s a new buzzword in town and it’s “Digital Workspace”.

I’m not a great fan of buzzwords and often they serve the needs of marketing hype without any substance, with a tendency to create more confusion and uncertainty than clarity and understanding; at their worst they provide a new bandwagon to people who like to think that they are ready adopters to jump aboard, regardless of the direction the horses are heading or the robustness of their chosen means of conveyance! Nevertheless buzzwords are here to stay and often they foreshadow things to come; we saw it with the emergence of the cloud, and also with the hype surrounding portals prior to that. So maybe Digital Workspace is something we should consider.

 

As our world activities, both business and personal, become increasingly online there is a transition from the physical to virtual. In the past very much about us and what we did was determined by geography, our where determined our what, when and how. Digital Workspaces are the tools we use (based on software, hardware, connectivity, security, information architecture etc.) to allow us to break the geographical constraints and transition to a new way of working that is enabled by technology to break down the constraint of geography.

 

What that means is that we should be able to do most of what we need to do regardless of where we are. This doesn’t just mean not going into the office or factory or client site every day; effective digital workspaces are always available, allowing effective work whenever and wherever suits the individual; this might be while walking down the street, waiting for a train, in the gap between meetings or while collaborating in a room with colleagues.

The Digital Workspace encompasses many tools and technologies. In the old days we might have thought about these activities being confined to a set of applications on a single PC or, somewhat more recently within an intranet portal, for example. Today the concept is more inclusive and should include tools and solutions for:

  • Content – finding, creating, publishing and managing information in all forms.
  • Collaboration – working with colleagues, internal and external, to achieve some common purpose; both in real time (simultaneous editing, chat, voice and video conferencing) and non-real-time.
  • Communication – delivering and receiving important messaging, news and announcements and supporting 360° feedback mechanisms across organisations and operational networks. Try this and let me know if you want
  • Process – structured activities that manage or deliver required outcomes and often involving electronic forms and electronic workflow.
  • People – ensuring team members, colleagues and collaborators can find each other effectively based on the needs of the moment and form effective teams.

 

 

 

The movement to always on, always accessible Digital Workspaces is a tangible element of digital transformation. Of course that’s another buzzword so perhaps I should attempt the definition:

Digital transformation is the profound transformation of personal and business activities, processes, competencies and ways of working to effectively adopt and be enabled by a full range of digital technologies, effective digital transformation is managed in a strategic and prioritised way and takes account of their impact across society as well as within the confines of an organisation.

 

Meanwhile Wikipedia states, “Digital transformation is the changes associated with the application of digital technology in all aspects of human society. Digital transformation may be thought of as the third stage of embracing digital technologies:

digital competence→ digital usage → digital transformation”

As Wikipedia also states, the transformation means that digital usages “enables new types of innovation and creativity, rather than simply enhance and support the traditional methods.” This is important as it’s not just about doing the same things more efficiently but about doing some entirely new things which are only possible as a result of the digital transformation. My previous comments about being able to work regardless of geography is part of that. Meanwhile be going paperless is not digital transformation unless new models and ways of working emerge from being decoupled from paper-based processes. An example of this, that we use routinely, is being able to work on the same document at the same time from multiple different locations and often involving people from multiple organisations.

It’s relatively easy to be focused on solving discrete business problems with individual digital technologies. It’s not even that hard to putting in digital platforms spoken address multiple business needs. However transformative digital workspaces should have the ability to allow organisations to become different, freeing their staff not only from location, but from other aspects of physical interaction and constraint, operating in joined up ways across devices, applications and people and able to be rapidly moulded to the changing needs of the organisation.

The current state-of-the-art in technology is beginning to deliver this, joining up generic technologies such as the extensive range available within Office 365, Azure, Amazon Web services etc. with personal applications on smart phones and tablets and taking advantage of hyper scale cloud-based services for things like machine learning, augmented reality and more.

True digital workspaces are not an application or even a suite of technologies, they are suite of platforms, sufficiently integrated that people, teams and organisations can achieve new things and evolve at the new speed of business.

 

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Filed under Innovation, Intranet

The changing shape of modern intranets

I talk a lot about the five pillars of enterprise intranets: Content, Communication, Collaboration, People and Process; in the past we were the first company to develop a solution accelerator for enterprise intranets. This became our Hadron 8020 portal and attempted to serve all those needs and act as the one place that users can go to carry out the organisational activities based on the way these five pillars interact. However times are changing, Microsoft have evolved their technology and, in the process made the overall technology landscape more complex and fragmented; this is beginning to have a knock-on effect on what’s needed from Hadron and other modern intranets.

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Putting people in their place

Assuming the provocative title has piqued your interest into reading the first paragraph, then let me explain… I actually believe that people are the heart of an organisation, but organisations are more than just people.

Of course there are all the elements of WHAT an organisation does, HOW it does it and a whole bunch of very important stuff about principles, culture, purpose – the WHY of an organisation (see the excellent talk by Simon Sinek: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action).

However organisations are also shaped by more physical considerations WHERE they are and how their departmental STRUCTURE manifests itself and these interact strongly with people. In short it is important to address people, place and department. As we become more flexible in our working habits, as we collaborate more commonly outside our immediate colleagues and with boundaries of our working locations becoming fuzzy this sense of people, place and team is increasingly important; it impacts the logistics of our working days and it affects our tendency to collaborate effectively within the culture of our organisations.

We have seen may attempts at staff directories, from the horrendous paper versions of old to digital directories, whether provided through Outlook, web portals, CRM etc. However, almost without exception, there has been little effort to link people to the teams and departments they work in and the places they are most likely to be found. There is an interesting blog by Phil Crofts on the subject of creating and maintain directories here

Even small organisations have this need – in my ~20 person company we identified 8 distinct locations, 15 functional teams. In larger organisations these run to dozens or hundreds. Small or large, knowing about the physical ‘shape’ of the organisation and how their colleagues are placed in that shape is an important part of the sense of community; it’s also handy when planning meetings or making travel plans.

Hadron Connect - places

Although traditional staff directories often list departments and even have location addresses, these do little to actively connect the dots, showing how People are part of teams and work in places; how Places host Departments and are clustered or distant from each other on a map; how Departments are concentrated or diffused around their team members and office locations.

Who we are and what we do may not be defined by where we are and who we are with, but these certainly have a strong influence. Perhaps we should be treating it seriously, surfacing this information in our organisations beyond the scope of a simple directory and reflecting on what it means for our What, How and Why…

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15 Reasons Not to Use Folders in SharePoint (and 3 reasons why you could)

I hate folders as a means of organising content. It’s a deeply broken approach and carrying it over to SharePoint is one of my pet hates. I have even written a song about it. So I pulled this together from my involvement in various conversations and involvement in a discussion arising from an article written by Gregory Zelfond. http://sharepointmaven.com/12-reasons-folders-sharepoint-bad-idea/

  1. No right place – this is the biggest issue and most easily understood; folders force you to put a document or file in a single location, even if it might legitimately be associated with several places. A project report could be put in a folder with all the other documents for that project, or in a folder for reports, or in a folder for documents that are archived; in reality it should be in all three but that creates duplicates. SharePoint metadata would let you tag the document as being a Report, associate it with a Project, set its status to Archived and more. Different views would let you see (or hide) all Archive documents, all project reports, all documents that are not in draft that have be modified by me in the last 7 days and include the Technology tag, etcetera, etcetera. And you can switch between views with a single click.
  2. Usability – Unless you have a rigorous and actively managed file plan (and, let’s face it, no one actually does this well) then the folder structure is only known to the person/team who created it. Everyone else has to inefficiently browse the contents hidden in the folders in the hope of finding the document or file.
  3. URL length limitation – SharePoint builds the URL using all folder and sub-folder. However the URL length is limited to around 255 characters; beyond that you get an error. Deep folder structures simply break in SharePoint.
  4. Unfixed URL – Moving a file from one folder to another changes the file URL, so any fixed links to it will break.
  5. Security – You can use folders to define security for groups of files in SharePoint, however ongoing management of this is as big an administrative nightmare as it is on file servers.
  6. User experience – The user experience (UX, navigation, finding the documents) is marginally worse than it is on file servers – it’s slow, content is hidden until you open the folder. Moving content within folders is terrible within the browser, navigating between folders is horrible too. (though you can open the library in Windows Explorer).
  7. File duplication – Folders actively cause file duplication, partly because there is no one, right place for a given document or file (in fact you often have to put a file in multiple paces because folders are so inflexible), partly because you can’t see that the file already exists elsewhere. If you are striving for a ‘single version of the truth’ then creating duplicates immediately undermines this principle.
  8. A single view – One of SharePoint’s many great features is the ability to have multiple views of content, with the flexibility for users to filter and modify the view on an ad hoc, temporary basis. But not with folders, in a folder view you get just one view of your content and it is pretty poor, for the reasons above and below. Using metadata, you can create unlimited number of views by whatever properties you have setup (i.e. organize documents by date, by customer, by project, etc.) .
  9. Can’t Sort & Filter – Burying files in folders means you can only benefit from the sorting and filtering capabilities of document libraries and metadata navigation within the folder you are in.
  10. Inflexible – It’s hard to change the folder structure (though again you can use Windows Explorer), while changing metadata is easy and can be done as bulk actions.
  11. Lost documents – It is so very easy to misplace documents by putting it in the wrong folder and not knowing where it is. So then you create a duplicate copy, and the mess begins.
  12. Navigation – When you are in a particular sub-folder, there is no easy way to tell which folder you are in and no easy way to navigate to the parent folder, a sibling folder etc. since there is no breadcrumb trail or tree view by default.;
  13. Cost – If all you are doing is recreating the same mess of nested folders you had on file share within SharePoint all you have done is increase the cost (SharePoint infrastructure is more expensive than a file server) and you have cunningly avoided almost all the benefits of SharePoint.
  14. Visibility – the only way to know how active a folder is/how many documents it contains is to open it. It could be empty; it could have ten thousand documents; you just don’t know. A grouped SharePoint view in SharePoint using metadata shows many docs are in each group (and lets you carry out counts and other basic arithmetic on column values, such as Average file size). If there are no items in a group then the group doesn’t clutter up the screen.

    The power of SharePoint views - who needs folders when you can have groups, filters, metadata navigation and more?

    The power of SharePoint views – who needs folders when you can have groups, filters, metadata navigation and more?

  15. Data Integrity – There is little control over the naming of folders, so you can have spelling errors, non-standard conventions, unhelpful abbreviations etc. Metadata driven views can be driven by lists and taxonomies to avoid this.

Exceptions

The big problem is that folders are traditionally used to categorise content, whereas they were originally designed to group content. Just because we have learned to use folders inappropriately doesn’t mean we should continue to do so. However folders have some legitimacy for their original purpose. If you genuinely need to group files together then you can use a folder in SharePoint; this is usually because you need to perform a group action on them, such as delete them all. Similarly folders may be used (despite point 5 above) to assign grouped security to the content – simply moving a file into the folder gives it some security; as long as the security rules are very simple to apply and understand. In both cases you still should avoid folders – use a Document Set instead, since they are much more powerful, intelligent and intuitive. Even then we strongly advocate having only a single level of folders and never, ever more than two,

The only other reason for retaining is that you can’t get users to adopt the new, better way of doing things. At this point you have to use your judgement – generally staff work for the company and the company can dictate ways of working; there are rules for not operating machines without guards, even though they can be somewhat inconvenient for operators (until it saves one losing an arm); the digital health of your knowledge is as important. However if a team or individual chooses to stick with folders for their own content then that may be OK; as long as it doesn’t disadvantage other staff and that they aren’t wasting company resources (working time, support desk resources, computing time) in the process. A suitable policy for use of your intranet can address this – shared content, core business processes, managed information should not allow use of folders in libraries; personal and team working areas may use folders, but should avoid deeply nested folders, should also use flat views (where the folder structure is hidden) and must be actively managed by the team to avoid duplicates and misfiling.

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