Category Archives: Office 365

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.

Elements

 

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

 

Summary

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.

 

 

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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

Enjoy…

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

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