Category Archives: Microsoft

Blog – Office 365 apps and applications

It’s easy to get caught up in the power of Office 365 in the browser and to forget what the desktop or mobile experience means in terms of IT roll out, support and user experience. I’ve been thinking about this for several clients and this blog summarises the state of play as of May 2018.

As Office 365 becomes bigger and more sophisticated, there is an increasing range of mobile apps and applications that you should consider installing.


But I thought Office 365 meant Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc?

If I had £10 for every time I had to explain this to people, I wouldn’t have to write blogs for a living! Office 365, despite Microsoft’s interesting choice of branding, is absolutely not synonymous with Microsoft Office. Confusingly, however, several of the licence options for Office 365 (Business Premium, E3 and E5 in particular) include desktop versions of Microsoft Office, which Microsoft like to call Pro Plus. Yes, you can in use Word and its friends with Office 365 and even install it as part of your subscription in some cases, but that doesn’t mean that Office 365 + Word + Excel + PowerPoint


But I thought Office 365 ran in a browser; why do I need to install anything?

This is true. However, it’s not the complete truth. Browsers have a number of limitations; for example, they need a decent Internet connection, without which browser applications are either slow or don’t work at all. They are also not always ideal to use on a small form factor device such as a smartphone. There are also some things that just can’t work in a browser, due to it being walled off from the underlying OS for security reasons.


So, what is in Office 365 and what should I install?

For clarity, Office 365 is an online (cloud) suite of business productivity tools, which provides a wide range of services to support core business activities across the five pillars of business activity: communication, collaboration, content, business process and people. I created this Office 365 elements diagram to illustrate this.



Quite a few of these Office 365 applications have dedicated apps for mobile devices. Right now, the list looks like:

  • Outlook
  • SharePoint
  • OneDrive
  • Yammer
  • Skype for Business
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Word
  • PowerPoint
  • Excel
  • OneNote
  • Power BI
  • Planner
  • Flow
  • PowerApps
  • Dynamics 365

There are also some mobile only applications to consider

  • Office 365 admin app
  • Microsoft authenticator app
  • Microsoft launcher
  • Staff Hub


Then there are some notable omissions, including Project Online, Forms, Sway and the O365 video portal – Stream.


In terms of what you should install, the rule is that you should install the companion app if you use this elements or feature in Office 365.


In terms of what you should install, the rule is that you should install the companion app if you use this elements or feature in Office 365. Plus, it’s a good idea to install the Authenticator (I also have Office Lens, which is a brilliant image capture app for things like documents, white boards and presentations).

If you are an O365 Admin, then the companion app is a must too.

For frontline workers (F1 licences again), consider providing the Staff Hub.

On Android, you might consider the Microsoft Launcher app, as this pulls together much of the Microsoft technology into a user-friendly alternative to whichever flavour of the Android UI is on the phone; but that’s a different topic.


What about the desktop?

In theory, this is simple. If you have Microsoft Office clients and the full Outlook client for the desktop you should use them.


In practice, it’s a bit more complex. Firstly, any member of staff that you’ve allocated an F1 (Frontline worker) licence to cannot use a desktop client to access Office 365 content, even if they are separately licensed for the client; that’s one of the restrictions of this particular licence.

If you have an older version of Office (anything before Office 2016) then you’re missing out on some functionality designed with O365 in mind. This includes the ability to directly open or save documents in Office 365 from the file dialogues as well as the remarkable multi-user editing experience.

You should also be aware that Microsoft is changing the of authentication mechanism in all cloud services to improve security. In practice this means that any older clients will no longer be able to authenticate with Office 365 or Azure from sometime in 2020; you have 18 months to get new clients rolled out.

Finally, it’s worth considering whether all your members of staff really need a desktop client. The browser versions of Office are surprisingly good for lighter weight users and Outlook Online is better than the desktop Outlook 2010 client in most cases. There is a good case to be made for many staff, including knowledge workers to shift to the simpler, more streamlined and far easier to support browser experience instead.  You can always upgrade individuals who show that they need the power of the desktop on demand.

app elements



There are many Office 365 apps from Microsoft. They mostly align directly with elements of the O365 suite and you should deploy them to staff if you use that element elsewhere, or at least allow users to install them on demand. It’s not enough to provide an email client on a phone and think you have done the job of enabling your staff; today’s Modern Workplace is rather more sophisticated than that and mobile apps open up new options for improved productivity and effectiveness.





Filed under Cloud, Microsoft, Mobile apps, Office 365, SharePoint

How to get going with Microsoft Teams – Hints and Tips

I have been spending plenty of time looking at the relatively new Microsoft Teams, as I try to decide where it fits within my company and how we would position it with our clients. It’s been an interesting journey as I have tried to unpick teh mess that MS has created around Teams vs. Groups vs. SharePoint. Great technology, risible product marketing.

This blog doesn’t seek to answer all these questions, but does share a dozen hints and tips I have aggregated over the last few weeks. Teams


Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a fairly recent addition to Office 365, pitched as the go-to collaboration and teamwork space. It has a straightforward set of features to help small, active teams work together and is focused on speed and agility rather than process and control.Teams

As standard you get:

  • Persistent real-time Team chat. This is a lot like instant messaging, except that everyone in the team takes part in the messages stay available. It’s great for small teams that need to interact throughout the day.
  • File sharing. A shared library is built into the heart of each team for quick document storage and multi-author editing.
  • Wiki. A very simple note taking area for quick notes.
  • Application plug-ins. Teams makes it very easy to add a wide range of additional applications to the team space, including Microsoft Planner, GitHub, Survey Monkey and more.

Microsoft Teams runs in the browser, as a desktop application and on mobile devices

Is it a replacement for a full intranet? Absolutely not; it lacks almost all the depth, scope and flexibility that is needed for an effective intranet (for now); nor is that it’s intended purpose. What it does do well is fill a significant gap for team collaboration, where the needs are simple, the processes are minimal and users just need to get up and running really quickly with a shared space where they can chat, share basic files and pull in some additional functionality. However, I really like that it uses other Office 365 elements behind the scenes, which means it can act as the entry point for heavy weight collaboration when that becomes necessary.

To use it well needs some thought. To integrate it into a wider digital workplace approach requires quite a bit more  planning, structure and guidance; see some of my earlier blogs.



Like all new applications, it has some limitations as well as some emerging best practice. So here are some hints and tips to help you with this.

1.    Avoid duplication of Teams

Currently, Teams doesn’t check to see if another team with the same name or purpose has already been created. Creating a new Team is incredibly easy using self-service creation for Teams, which makes it even more important that users check to see whether an equivalent before setting up a Team.

2.    Teams create Office 365 Groups and SharePoint Modern sites

Behind-the-scenes, whenever you create a team is also creates an Office 365 Group which contains all the members of the Team and provides group functionality within Microsoft Exchange for things like shared calendars. It also creates a SharePoint site, which includes the document library that holds the documents you see within Teams, along with other standard SharePoint functionality.

It’s worth understanding the relationship between the three elements: Teams, Groups and Sites and how you navigate between them when needed.

Also note that when you create a new Team it will ask if you want to connect it to an existing Group. If you have an existing group with the correct members and a strongly aligned purpose then we recommend you do this. otherwise a further Group will be created with the same name, but different ID.

3.    Have a naming convention

The ease of creation of new Teams is also its weakness. New Teams can appear at an alarming rate and the management and administration tools are weak currently. We recommend defining some clear naming conventions and ensuring these are communicated and monitored.

For example: <Team, Project or Activity name> – <Owning Department>

The Admin Center does provide some control, for example it’s possible to block some words and define suffixes or prefixes to be applied to the name.

4.    Set up channels with care

Channels help keep team conversations organised. Think of them as a workstream within each project or team activity. Everyone in the team has access to all the channels (though Microsoft are working on channel level security) and each channel has its own chat and file store (in reality this is a folder within the document library).

We recommend not creating many channels to begin with, adding them when it’s necessary to separate out streams of work or have different groups talking to each other.

5.    Targeting chat

Because chat is available to everyone there needs to be a mechanism for ‘speaking’ to an individual in the team. Thankfully that’s easy; just put @Simon or whoever else you want to mention and they will get that specific message.

6.    Extending document libraries

One of the strengths of Teams is that it has a full SharePoint Online document library in the background. The downside is that, while you can configure the library to do sophisticated things like version control, extended metadata, flows etc, the Files area in Teams doesn’t show any of this. You should step into SharePoint if you want to see/use that stuff.

Remembering the Teams is meant to be for simple collaboration, the advice is to avoid customising and extending the library to begin with. If needs emerge within the activity that need extra control then these should be assessed and the appropriate approach decided (which could include building out the SharePoint element of the Team).

7.    Link to stuff

There is a straightforward way to add extra stuff to Teams, and that’s to add new tabs in each workplace by clicking the + symbol and choosing what you want. There are lots of extras, but some of the most useful are adding a SharePoint library from elsewhere in your intranet, or adding a web page. If you use Planner or a OneNote area etc. then you can add them too.

We suggest creating a tab all document libraries on the Team site and one to the connected Team site home page.

8.    Keep track of your Teams

It’s easy to lose Teams – there is no central list that you can easily get at. Best practice is to register any new teams somewhere – we use our Hadron Connect for that and we add a link to related teams within department and team sites in the intranet.

9.    Learn some of the power features

There are loads of things that can be done my typing a command in the chat area; it’s worth learning a few.

At the top of the Teams desktop app there is a search box. Type / or @ to get a list of the commands each of these can invoke.

For example:

type @news to enable news in your Teams. Then type @news and a subject in the Team workplace to get results

type /activity and choose a team mate to see their activity

type /call to start a voice call with a team mate

type /keys to Teams keyboard shortcuts

10.        Keep a look out for new stuff

Microsoft is taking Microsoft Teams very seriously. They are adding new stuff regularly and we know it is intended to replace Skype for Business during 2018.

There is a quick way to find out what’s new and that’s to type /whatsnew – try it!

11.        Don’t forget Bots

Teams comes with a T-Bot – an automated, basic chat bot for conversational question and answer AI about using Teams – built in. You can use it from the dedicated Chat area. You can also add additional, subject specific bots.


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Filed under Collaboration, Microsoft, 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 ( 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.


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.


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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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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Filed under Innovation, Intranet, Microsoft, SharePoint

Two Weeks with a Microsoft Band

The very nice folks at Microsoft lent me one of the few Microsoft Bands in the UK and with the announcement of a 15th April UK launch I thought I should publish my observations from living with one for 2 weeks.WP_20150319_003

As ever Microsoft have done a less than spectacular job of marketing this innovative product up to now; while even the liberal Press such as the Guardian drools over the (to my mind) simply unimpressive Apple Watch, drawing appropriate comparisons with Android Wear and occasional forays into pure fitness bands such as the well-established Fitbit, there has been nary a mention of the Microsoft Band (with the exception of the ever reliable Rory Cellan-Jones. And that’s a shame.

What is Microsoft Band

Microsoft has bucked the trend, attempting to create a device that is neither a straightforward fitness band nor smart watch, but a category of its own. Let’s be clear, it’s definitely not a watch, though it has the ability to show the time. Like most of the other smart watches it doesn’t have an always on display unless you want to recharge it frequently, so you has to press the button to see the time. However it is much more than a fitness band.

The rectangular display has a full-colour touchscreen which show the now ubiquitous Microsoft tile interface. It synchronises over Bluetooth LE with your preferred smart phone (which can be a Windows, Android or Apple phone; Microsoft has been making a convincing strategy of being the only multiplatform vendor in the space), and has built-in heart monitoring and the usual collection of gyroscopes, GPS etc. So the Microsoft Band to tracks/records your heart rate and the number of steps you take throughout the day and displays these in the on-board apps along with further apps for your work outs, runs or bike rides. It has a sleep monitor which enable when you’re ready to close your eyes and turn off when you awake. Importantly, the built-in GPS means you don’t need to carry your phone during physical activity.

The other major function is its ability to pull the majority of notifications and updates from your phone, alerting you with a gentle vibration and displaying an update of whatever’s new for a few seconds. This means you can very rapidly see what’s going on on your smart phone without having to take it out of your pocket. Finally, it has a Cortana voice interface.

First impressions

It’s a simple, unobtrusive device with a discrete, if chunky black wristband, a 5 cm display and just 2 buttons. I was provided with it fully charged so immediately slipped it on my right wrist (I wear a proper watch on my left wrist and that isn’t going to change in the foreseeable future), face up, pressed the main button and was presented with the default home screen which shows the current time and date against a simple background. Always being one to eschew reading manual if I can, I jumped straight in to swiping and poking the interface. The good news is that the learning time is about 5 minutes; swipe left to see the current device status (battery charge, Bluetooth and heart monitor lock), swipe right for the list of installed applications, tap the home screen to see the health and fitness monitor readouts. A few interactions require you to press the smaller action button. ‘Simples’ as they say!


Live tiles work as you’d expect, showing the number of new notifications since last time you checked, in common with Windows Phone or Windows 8. Tapping and application icon shows a very brief summary of the email, news item etc.; just enough to know whether it’s something you need to attend to on your phone or laptop. In most cases you can’t interact further with the item, which is a shame as I like to be able to delete things from the Band and have them deleted from my phone etc. The exception is with SMS messages where you can dictate a reply via Cortana as you would when using Bluetooth with your phone. This is surprisingly accurate in quiet environments, but editing a message if you get it wrong isn’t very elegant.

You also receive incoming telephone alerts and have the ability to reject them or send a preconfigured text reply from the band; this is something I’ve used quite a bit.

The Microsoft Health app can be installed on your smart phone and provides detailed information on the health activities. There is even more information in the web application (which Microsoft barely mention, so here’s the link) and Microsoft are hinting at providing further insights driven by their massive machine learning engine running in Azure. I’m not quite sure how to use all this information yet, but is definitely encouraging me to walk more as I game my own fitness.

The band allows up to 13 apps to be installed, and you can set what order they appear as well as configure and further customise the band via the Microsoft Health app. Pimp My Band is available in the store and allows further customisation, including personalised backgrounds.



Microsoft are making some big bets with their intelligent assistant, Cortana. They are late to market compared with Siri and Google now, but Cortana running on their phones is surprisingly good and my developer friends are very impressed with the sophistication and flexibility of the APIs. Holding the secondary button on Microsoft Band fires up the Cortana listening engine, once you’ve stated your request it is passed to the phone for processing with results appearing on the Band in some cases, with more sophisticated responses showing on the phone.

It isn’t as quick as I would like, so you have to be patient for 15 or 20 seconds while it transfers the command, interprets it and acts on it. In quiet surroundings it’s very good however and does allow you to very quickly carry out the common Cortana commands such as “play music”, “pause”, “set alarm”, “remind me to…”, ”What’s in my diary today” etc. This has proved useful in a variety of situations, often when my phone is inaccessible (think running, being jostled on the tube wrapped up against the wind).

At the moment is only works with Windows Phones, but Microsoft have announced their intention to bring Cortana to the Android and iOS platforms.

As mentioned previously, my biggest reservation is the inability to activate it without pressing the button.


My big concern was how intrusive the notifications would be. Someone who receives far too many emails etc. I make a point of turning active notifications off most of my devices. For this trial I left them on, fully expecting to be driven mad by the constant trembling with my wrist. Interestingly I found it easy to ignore this if necessary or, alternatively, I could glance quickly at the screen and determine whether the notification was something I could completely ignore or should act on. I found this to be much better than interacting directly with the phone as these tend to immediately suck you into responding, reviewing other messages and then getting distracted by Facebook, latest news or other emails. Overall it’s been a great way of staying focused, contrary to my expectation.

Wearing it

Very quickly I realised wearing it face up and interacting with the screen requires you to twist your arm to almost uncomfortable angle. I suspect this will be a problem with all smart watches. One hour in I rotated the band 180⁰ so the screen is face down on my wrist; this proved to be much more comfortable and easier to use (when I did eventually read the manual I learned that this is the recommended way to wear it). There are some disadvantages with orientation: it’s a little uncomfortable with the face resting on a hard surface, also the face does tend to get dirty or scratched unless you pull your sleeve over it.

It is a shame that there’s no easy way to activate it without using your other hand; basically all smart watches tie-up both your hands in use. I’d love to have a voice command or gyroscope driven gesture to turn it on and to enable Cortana.

Although I wear it on my right wrist and I’m right-handed, operating it with my left hand presented no problems whatsoever.

It is a little chunky, with some of the technology hidden within the band itself. While it is comfortable enough to wear, it doesn’t slipped inside sleeve as easily as a traditional watch. I have been wearing it in bed to get the benefits of the sleep monitoring and this is slightly altered my normal sleeping position. As with all things technology, expect future devices to get slimmer and lighter.

Battery life is also surprisingly reasonable. I generally have recharged after 3 days, 4 in one case. It charges remarkably quickly, so a quick boost while in the shower is probably enough to avoid a full one hour recharge for weeks at a time.



Overall I’m impressed.

The ergonomics aren’t perfect, but they’re reasonably easy to live with.

The range of apps is limited, but useful to both the fitness orientated and those wedded to interactions via their phone. The SDK has been published, so expect more to come.

The build quality is good that the screen glass already shows some scratches. It’s the first device I’ve had the courage to take on to the squash court with me, that’s saying something.

The pricing is good, with the UK launch price of just under £170.

Whether Microsoft have got it right will be shown by its sales numbers. It is a genuinely useful device for certain types of user; it isn’t intrinsically limited to a particular ecosystem, unlike most competitive devices; the UI is simple and easy to get to grips with. However it isn’t a toy and it isn’t expensive jewellery and that might be Microsoft’s undoing. Time will tell.

If, after all that, you do want to buy one they are available to preorder now:

Microsoft Band

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Filed under Innovation, Microsoft, Wearables