As with many other valuable assets, the real benefit from Microsoft’s new Office 365 Customer Success Center can be found below the surface

This is a second post on topics germaine to a new web site launched by Microsoft in early October, 2014, the Office 365 Customer Success Center. This post describes the “Get related resources” and “Learn how it works” tabs included with each of the 5 “Scenarios” presented on the site. The first post on this topic is titled Microsoft Debuts a Success Site for Office 365.

The old adage “be sure to look below the surface (no pun intended)” applies to the Office 365 Customer Success Center web site. Readers with a high level of interest in any one of the 5 “Scenarios” for an Office 365 implementation, or, better yet, all of them, will want to click on the “Get related resources” and “Learn how it works” buttons included with each.

Get related resources

and save a lot of effort putting together your implementation plan. A click on this button from any one of the 5 listed “Scenarios” lands a visitor on the same page, which is a list of content provided at no charge by Microsoft.

As we just mentioned, some of this content would otherwise carry a price. All of the content can certainly be consumed to save a lot of time otherwise required to structure a promising plan for implementing Office 365. For example, the “Countdown Template” includes professionally rendered graphic elements and is editable. So organizations can simply fill in the blanks to put together an arguably attractive marketing communications piece entirely suitable for distribution to internal personnel.

The content included for each of the 5 “Scenarios” in each section of the “Get Started” and “Ongoing Learning” columns will save almost any organization a lot of time. Of course time means money, so we recommend Office 365 stakeholders take the time required to reviewing each of these pieces. The “Ongoing Learning” section includes links to video presentations on Youtube. The “Get Started” examples are marketing communications templates, which are editable. Why take the risk of missing the right phrasing proven to motivate personnel within an organization like yours, when Microsoft provides this content to you at no charge. No brainer, right?

Learn how it works

Readers will likely find the “Learn how it works” section to be a “productivity hub” on steroids. The only “want to have” we would express about this set of training content is a wish list request for more video content. Each of the training aids is composed of text and images. But we would recommend Microsoft consider adding video training to this set. Of course SharePoint-Videos is an enthusiastic champion of video training, which we think would really benefit this already great section of the site.

Training content is all directed to the actual Office 365 user, so stakeholders attentive to the need for end user support will likely want to incorporate this content into their support plan.

In the next post to this blog we will take a look at the “Adoption” section of the Office 365 Customer Success Center site.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Microsoft Debuts a Success Site for Office 365

With little public fanfare, Microsoft quietly launched a new web site for Office 365 in early October, 2014. This website is titled Office 365 Customer Success Center. The site includes lots of content most Office 365 stakeholders will likely end up consuming.

The positive tone implicit to the title is fitting, especially given Microsoft’s objectives for the site. The site exists to serve as a resource for Office 365 stakeholders and their partners as they work to drive user adoption of the unique features of the Office 365 suite of computing tools. This writer attended Microsoft’s Office 365 Summit in New York City, and, specifically, the adoption track. The presentations made during this one day event provided attendees with a lot of information likely to be very useful as they address their respective needs to draft adoption strategies capable of supporting the unique needs of their respective communities of users for a premier cloud, SaaS solution like Office 365.

Office 365 Customer Success Center includes 6 sections (actually each of these sections is more a sub site, than simply a section) titled:

  • Scenarios
  • Adoption
  • Deployment
  • Communities
  • Partners
  • and Resources

Scenarios

Five of what actually amount to rationales for implementing Office 365 are included in the Scenarios section of the site. Each of these 5 computing procedures constitutes an important feature of most any Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program for an organization.

  • “Get it done from anywhere” is a core component of BYOD and, typically, a key driver for implementing the program in the first place
  • “Emails and calendar on the go” are both likely to be on the top of most any list of “most popular” activities for mobile personnel engaged in business computing. So providing them with a section of this sub site makes a lot of sense
  • “Store, sync and share your files” can be problematic for personnel outside of their office. Nevertheless, successfully following an organization’s guidelines with regard to how corporate data is to be handled can’t simply stop at the front door. So learning about how to successfully safeguard this data, on the go, via Office 365 will likely be a section stakeholders will want to explore
  • “Run more effective meetings” is an objective magnetizing interest from many organizations. Sharing desktops, and video conference calls are moving up the ladder of “must have” computing capabilities, if, for no other reason than the cost savings they promise when compared to their in-person meeting sibling
  • “Work like a network” directly promotes Yammer as a cloud SaaS uniquely capable to “[help] your organization listen, adapt, and grow in new ways by working like a network.” Yammer is all about news feeds. Many organizations support collaboration objectives to encourage personnel to share more information as a method of improving productivity.

In the next post to this blog we will take a look at how each of these 5 topics are treated on the Office 365 Customer Success Center web site.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Another couple of points for organizations to consider when they consider migrating to SharePoint Online, Office 365

As Vlad Catrinescu, a Microsoft MVP and widely acknowledged SharePoint subject matter expert recently pointed out in a post to his Absolute SharePoint blog, Microsoft will soon remove two features from SharePoint Online, Office 365. Organizations contemplating an implementation of this cloud SaaS should familiarize themselves with the features before reaching a conclusion on this question.

The title of Catrinescu’s post is Microsoft killing some features in Office 365 SharePoint Online. The features Catrinescu identifies are (and the following is a direct quote from Catrinescu’s blog post)

  • The “Tasks” link in your MySite
  • The “Sync to Outlook” Button
  • SharePoint Tags
  • SharePoint Notes

Catrinescu provides some workaround tips as well as links to posts on Microsoft’s support site, so readers with time are encouraged to read his post.

We share his interest in trying to find out why Microsoft decided to remove the features and will surely share any verified information we come up with on the topic. Catrinescu thinks a number of these changes stem from Microsoft’s effort to offload collaboration features from SharePoint over to Yammer. We agree with this assessment, though, once again, we reiterate we have no definitive information directly from Microsoft on the topic.

Eliminating the “Sync to Outlook” feature makes sense when one considers recent announcements about Outlook Web Access (OWA). Microsoft is in the process of adding features to OWA, so removing hooks between SharePoint Online, Office 365 and Outlook on the desktop makes sense.

But the question of whether or not these changes make sense, or not, is likely not to be of significance to organizations already using SharePoint on premises, who are considering implementing SharePoint Online, Office 365, either in a hybrid computing architecture, or via a migration. If your organization is already using the Sync to Outlook feature, or if you need hooks to tasks from MySites, you will likely want to closely consider what you are planning to do and leave open an opportunity to change plans

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Exploring How SharePoint Online, Office 365 Might Impact the Future of SharePoint Branding

Correct branding is a mission critical feature of, arguably, most, if not any successful implementation of SharePoint. In turn, adding an effective brand to SharePoint components — sites, libraries, lists, even newsfeeds — supports and hastens user adoption of the computing platform. So getting a glimpse of the likely future of best of breed branding methods for SharePoint and SharePoint Online, Office 365 makes sense.

SharePoint-Videos has published sets of specialized training content on branding for SharePoint 2010 and 2013. These sets have been led by Yaroslav Pentsarskyy, an acknowledged subject matter expert on the topic, published author, SharePoint MVP and a group manager at Avanade. You can learn more about these content sets on the following links:

Therefore we are pleased to announce a webinar, to be held on Thursday, October 23, 2014 titled The Role of Branding in the Future of SharePoint. We are jointly sponsoring this event (which is a free webinar) with RackSpace. The panel participants will include Yaroslav, Randy Drisgill and John Ross (both of whom have also been awarded SharePoint MVP status).

SharePoint stakeholders who may be looking to gain a better understanding of how the graphical design of user interfaces impacts on how end users adopt SharePoint computing are likely to benefit by attending the webinar. The topic is not only compelling, but the panel of experts selected for the discussion ensures the audience will be treated to a “correct” view of the topic and the development options available to organizations looking for the maximum benefit from a SharePoint branding effort.

There are many methods of accomplishing tasks in SharePoint. Features tend to overlap. Users can, inadvertently, chooses a “wrong” approach. So a premium ought to be put on information communicated from widely acknowledged subject matter experts like the participants in this panel discussion.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

If improved collaboration is an objective for SharePoint implementation, consider supporting it with external data

Many organizations implement SharePoint to promote better collaboration between Lines of Business (LoBs). The notion is SharePoint newsfeeds, rating systems, and tags for items/people/events/whatever, will all contribute to better efficiency across an enterprise. Efficiency means not only a lower cost of operation (as the result of substantially less duplication of effort), but higher levels of user adoption of SharePoint.

It may make sense for these organizations to develop solutions to expose external data for users to consume within the SharePoint work space. External data often amounts to information compiled by LoBs. This information is produced by LoB specific procedures, almost always implemented to support day-to-day business. Adding data about core LoB processes for the whole enterprise to consume makes sense, especially when Yammer newsfeeds, and SharePoint tags can be used to ensure all personnel are aware the data is available to be consumed.

SharePoint-Videos offers two sets of specialized training on both segments of the kind of effort we are espousing in this post. SharePoint administrators, developers, and architects can gain an overview of how it might make sense to pull external data into SharePoint from a course we recently hosted, titled SharePoint 2013: Working with External Data in SharePoint 2013 using BCS and Workflows. This course is led by Fabian Williams, a widely acknowledged subject matter expert on the topic, published author, and SharePoint Server MVP.

The course on collaboration is, presently, only available to subscribers to our web site, and is titled SP13-317 Making Enterprise Social Real in your Organization with Yammer and SharePoint. This course is led by Naomi Moneypenny, who is the CTO of Synxi, an ISV with machine learning solutions for SharePoint and Yammer.

If you would like to learn more about how these two sets of content can be used, together, to add value to collaboration efforts, please contact us. We’ll be eager to expand on this conversation with you.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It makes sense to keep technical training for SharePoint end users as simple as possible

Because SharePoint end users often are responsible for tasks completely unrelated to SharePoint, but need to successfully process computing tasks within a SharePoint work space, it makes sense to keep the presentation of technical training materials for them as simple, and as direct as possible. Few interactions could be more difficult than the effort a Tier I SharePoint support person might have to make to help a confused end user select the right training content from a page full of training assets. But this unpleasant experience can arise if SharePoint stakeholders inadvertently end up inundating end users with just too much training content.

We think a system like our VisualSP help system for SharePoint, provides the most useful method of exposing training content to SharePoint end users within the context of the SharePoint work space. VisualSP encloses all of the links to training content within a curated section of the SharePoint user experience. End users can access training content either from a tab in the SharePoint ribbon, or from a graphic box located directly on the SharePoint page. So end users can be directed to identify specific areas on the SharePoint page where all of the training content will be available to them.

With content curated around how various scopes work in SharePoint there is no need for a help system like ours to guess about what an end user needs to do on a page. Guessing about objectives was a big component of Microsoft’s “Clippy” in-context technical support system. But “Clippy” was not well received by Office users, and was eventually removed as an option. We think it’s better, as we mentioned above, to simply expose authoritative technical training content, with a demonstrated high level of utility when accessed on-demand.

If, in contrast, an in-context help system serves up technical content on each and very feature of a SharePoint scope, the risk of end user “information deluge” is great. SharePoint end users simply don’t have the time, or the interest to warrant an effort to provide them with technical information about each and every feature in a document library, or a list.

The most damage done by this latter type of in-context help system is to diminish end user enthusiasm for SharePoint computing, which ought to be at the very center of an adoption effort.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Function trumps form when SharePoint stakeholders consider how best to provision technical training content to end users

Branding should be an important consideration for SharePoint functionality wherever possible. A voluminous quantity of usability research has demonstrated the comparatively greater usefulness of technical features branded to appeal to end users. But for end users in need of technical training content to help them successfully complete work in a SharePoint computing environment, it may make more sense to eschew branding in lieu of greater functionality.

Our VisualSP help system for SharePoint is a case in point. Out-of-the-box, the in-context access system of our product amounts to the tab it creates in a SharePoint 2010, 2013, or Online ribbon. But sometimes end users may struggle to find the tab. This difficulty is more likely to arise where they have already been instructed to use either the circle with the question mark at the upper right of the out-of-the-box SharePoint user interface, or the search box prominently displayed on each page.

For these users, asking them to now look for a different on-screen emblem, this time a tab in the ribbon labeled “help” may amount to asking a bit too much. So the best solution for these users is to implement our VisualSP web part. This web part can be added to any SharePoint page. We provide some branding controls for our web part. The web part can even be implemented to over ride the ribbon tab with content unique to a page, site collection, or even a web application in SharePoint.

But it may be a right decision to opt to expose the content directly on the SharePoint page, where users can’t miss it. Perhaps it would be better to brand just how the technical training content end users require is actually, and finally, presented to them. But with the content plainly visible on the web page, the likelihood of someone informing a support team they can’t find it, should be “slim to none.”

Sacrificing design for functionality makes sense if end users have a burning need for the kind of on demand technical training content best suited for an in-context method of exposing it to them, like our VisualSP product. If branding is a very important consideration, perhaps designers can build an attractive (and prominent) box for the content exposed by our VisualSP web part directly on the page.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more how this method can benefit your organization.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Lots of interest in OneDrive for Business at Office 365 Summit, New York

At the Office 365 Summit in New York City, a lot of the discussion in the Adoption track focused on learning more about OneDrive for Business. Cynthia Wade, the leader of the track spent a lot of time fielding topics on OneDrive for Business. From the level of interest her audience exhibited in the topic, OneDrive for Business likely represents the primary basis for user interaction with Office 365 for most larger organizations in the fall of 2014.

The reliability of any estimate of how users are actually consuming Microsoft’s Office cloud, SaaS offer was reinforced by a set of comments from Cynthia’s audience on how best to roll out this new computing platform. A majority of the audience affirmed the notion of using pilot efforts to carefully roll out the Office 365 computing platform across their organizations.

If organizations are slowly rolling out this computing platform one shouldn’t infer any lack of interest from this pace. This even was very well attended. This writer noted a cross section of Microsft partners, SMBs and even larger organizations in attendance. We attended the adoption track, but we need to note two other tracks were running at the same time. One of the tracks spoke to development, while the other was dedicated to sales and MEC.

Although we didn’t choose to attend the developer track, we can say the way the new set of Office 365 APIs was presented in the morning’s Keynote was worth a comment. The availability of these APIs affords Microsoft an opportunity to transform an otherwise defensive position on the question of the depth of apps for its cloud and mobile devices into a big opportunity. Now any App developer for any platform can simply plug in these APIs to literally drop Office 365 in.

We expect Microsoft will add further clarity on just what the benefits of adding Office 365 to apps is likely to mean. By feeding each segment of the range of Office 365 consumers portions of big benefits, it’s probably a reasonable assumption the platform will be a topic of major interest for the foreseeable future.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Social Groups and SharePoint promise big returns, but require a substantial effort

SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, Office 365 have been designed with collaboration as one of the primary out-of-the box feature sets. So organizations can benefit by implementing Yammer groups, but should plan on a lot of effort to ensure success.

We’ve recently published several posts to this blog about a new set of video training content exclusively offered on SharePoint-Videos: SP13-317 Making Enterprise Social Real in your Organization with Yammer and SharePoint. Naomi Moneypenny, who leads this curriculum, emphasizes the importance of Yammer groups for the ROI opportunity they represent. In her opinion, a finely tuned Yammer group can perform like “email on steroids”.

But Moneypenny also makes very clear the selectivity organizations must exercised when they choose an administrator for a Yammer group, if the choice is to prove to be the right one. In this writer’s opinion, specific organizations can make a highly useful determination as to whether or not the effort required is worth it, based on the objective for the Yammer group.

Organizations operating within very heavily regulated industries can especially benefit from high performance Yammer groups. It is much easier to monitor compliance with new guidelines when key personnel who need to perform differently when regulations change are all participants within a Yammer group. As well, new information can be disseminated to this same group in a much faster fashion when the information is included in a Yammer group alert. Finally, everyone benefits when members of a Yammer group are posting status updates on the topic of how they are deciding to implement these new regulations.

On the other hand, some organizations simply won’t benefit from even a finely tuned, high performance Yammer group. So, for them, it won’t make sense to make the effort required to get the group going correctly.

Bottom line, SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, Office 365 are computing application platforms. When they are understood in this way, then stakeholders should narrow their focus and highlight a specific set of computing procedures (enterprise content management, enterprise document management, collaboration, business intelligence) rather than maintain a very horizontal approach seeking to capitalize on all of the features and capabilities of the platform.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

It make sense to incorporate risk management policies into SharePoint and/or SharePoint Online workflow architecture

Workflows designed to automate organizational processes should be designed to support approved risk management procedures. The potential for problems to arise from workflows designed without attention to these procedures is too great to proceed otherwise.

Properly attending to this requirement means proposing applications of SharePoint’s out-of-the-box approval workflow not only “horizontally”, but also “vertically” within one’s organization. This step will ensure all of the stakeholders have been informed about the proposed automated process before it is actually implemented.

SharePoint, and/or SharePoint Online stakeholders can safeguard against the chance of implementation of workflows before this necessary “reality check” against approved risk management policies and procedures has been completed by incorporating the topic of workflows in a governance plan, and designating points of required approval within the publishing process for any of these automated procedures.

Anyone with an interest in learning more about why taking these steps should be mandatory for any organization need only read a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal. This article, titled Texas Hospital Changes Ebola Patient Account, includes mention of the type of problem we have just presented: “the hospital had ‘identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records interacted in this specific case,’”. The interaction between these portions, as clarified in a companion article appearing in the New York Times, on the same day, is actually controlled by two separate “workflows”.

Few, if any organizations want to take the risk of ignoring the kind of sound risk management policy required to ensure safe automated processing of otherwise repetitive tasks. But in the case of the hospital mentioned above, the fact two separate workflow procedures apparently were in place for two different groups of personnel, who otherwise maintained an important (if not vital) hierarchical decision-making system, potentially hid information of critical importance to the organization, itself.

SharePoint-Videos offers several sets of video training content on building workflows with SharePoint 2007, 2013, and even SharePoint Online, Office 365. More information about the sets we offer can be found on our SharePoint Corporate DVDs page on our web site.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved