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Four Microsoft Platforms and Products for Digital Transformation

When we talk about Digital Transformation, the first thing most people tend to think about is digital marketing—and that means consumer-facing technology. Your public website, how it’s delivered to various form factors, how you integrate an app strategy for B2C commerce or the engine driving your B2B transactions, how you track consumers’ interaction with you and interact with them, serving recommendations based on that tracking data… it’s all about the outside.

A lot of readers will ask why we’d talk about these topics on a Microsoft blog. It’s a darn good question—after all, Microsoft’s focus these past few years has, as ever, been firmly behind the proverbial firewall. Productivity and (and in) the enterprise is Microsoft’s sweet spot—not consumers—and that assessment remains true. Sort of. In point of fact, Microsoft technologies do a lot of heavy lifting in that space, even if Microsoft’s products there are less obvious.

Meanwhile, Digital Transformation taken as a whole is about more than just outreach and interaction. It’s about embracing new ways of working—working social, working mobile, powered by the cloud and not inhibited by archaic notions of a firewall—that’s how you enable your own users to move faster, work smarter, and just be more effective versions of themselves. And Microsoft is all about that. Let’s take a quick look at four key planks in the Microsoft stack that have a lot to say about how Redmond gets involved in the Digital Transformation conversation.

Azure

It all begins from the ground up, with the baseline infrastructure. Azure is Microsoft’s infrastructure in the cloud, allowing you to build server farms, develop and host business applications, and even migrate entire datacenters into a highly-available infrastructure living within Microsoft’s cloud. Whether you want to enable mobility and a broader reach, become more flexible and scalable in how you respond to business needs, or simply operationalize your hardware expenses, getting your servers out from behind your own firewall and into the Microsoft cloud is a good start.

Office 365 and Yammer

Enabling your own users to work faster and more effectively, communicating and collaborating across boundaries on devices as diverse as old Windows PCs and the latest version of iOS? That’s a concept at the core of Digital Transformation, and that’s what Office 365 and Yammer are all about.

Dynamics CRM

I read somewhere that another CRM-focused software company has “defined the customer journey”. I’d like to call shenanigans on that. Software doesn’t define anything; it supports and enables it. Dynamics CRM—integrated as it is with Yammer and Office 365, and far less expensive to license than its primary competition—can do a surprisingly thorough job of supporting and enabling how you interact with your customers. If you haven’t given it a hard look before, you might want to think about it now.

Sitecore

It’s not a Microsoft product, but Sitecore’s CMS, DMS and Customer Experience Platform are built on the .NET Framework, run on Microsoft infrastructure and are produced by last year’s Microsoft ISV Partner of the Year, so they’re about as close as you get without being shipped from Redmond. I’ve avoided writing about this in other outlets lately because third-party publishers always ask me to be objective, but the bottom line is, there’s not much point to doing a public-facing website on Microsoft’s platform with the likes of Ektron or Umbraco when Sitecore is available. Their many integrations—including with Dynamics AX, Microsoft’s ERP platform—and incredibly rich platform for digital marketing and customer experience (which enables things like email marketing, persona development and personalized content, and more) make them a no-brainer in reaching consumers in the digital age.

These four pillars are just the foundation of how Microsoft contributes to what we’re calling Digital Transformation. As ever, what you can build with .NET and Windows is only limited by your imagination—but now, both for your own internal users and your external consumers—they’ve got the goods to really go digital. If you should decide you want to move into that space with confidence, check out my colleague Michael Porter’s webinar on Wednesday, February 11.

Microsoft Releases Cloud Roadmap

roadmapMicrosoft just launched their Cloud Platform roadmap site. For one it addresses the frequent frustration customers have around the visibility, and second it actually provides a way to be able to understand and plan for what’s coming next. The link to the site is here

This roadmap gives comprehensive insights into features in various buckets: preview, development stage, in the pipeline and the ones which were cancelled. This spans cloud services like Microsoft Azure, Intune, Power BI, and Visual Studio Online; server offerings such as Windows Server, System Center, SQL Server and Visual Studio; and converged system appliance offerings such as Cloud Platform System, Analytics Platform System and StorSimple.

 

Lync Server 2013 Virtualization Whitepaper Goes Public

Virtualization of Lync Server 2013 is both supported and very common, yet understanding the proper way to virtualize the system becomes a complicated conversation. The gap between high level virtualization requirements outlined by Microsoft and the more specific details virtualization experts are requiring is quite large. The conversation normally goes like this in its simplest form:

Virtualization Expert: I want dynamic resources.
Lync Expert: You can’t have it, not supported.
Virtualization Expert: I want VMotion or Live Migration:
Lync Expert: You can’t have it, not supported.
Virtualization Expert: I need to know specific IOPS.
Lync Expert: That’s open ended, we don’t have that level of specifics…only a little bit.
Virtualization Expert: The host/guest sever requirements provided by Microsoft don’t make a lot of sense, they want to much.
Lync Expert: It is what it is, Microsoft sets the supported requirements.

The reality is that virtualization specifics are on the far left of the spectrum and Lync Server 2013 requirements are on the far right of the spectrum, meeting in the middle is almost impossible.

Toward the year end of 2014 I was contacted by Derek Seaman of Nutanix to help co-author a Lync Server 2013 Virtualization whitepaper. Nutanix are virtualization experts who focus on rapid, simple delivery of virtualization platforms into your environment…amongst other things. To read more about Nutanix and get accurate information about their expertise, you can visit their site here.

Derek and I collaborated for a few months back and forth between what it really means to virtualize Lync Server 2013. (Just to be clear, Derek is VCDX-125 on VMWare, so he kind of knows what he’s talking about).  As time went on, he began to ask the very questions my customers ask me, very detail oriented virtualization questions.  (He was using really big words).  The collaboration began to feel like a design session. Unfortunately, I was unable to provide answers he was looking for, for two reasons; 1.) I’m not a virtualization expert and 2.) I can only provide as much information about virtualizing Lync Server 2013 to him, that is given to me from Microsoft.  Derek found out that the information I was providing was falling short of what he needed answers to.  In client deployments typically what would happen is customers would just end up giving full specs based on Microsoft information or they would configure VMWare/Hyper-V the way they wanted which would probably fall out of supportability.  I would then have to recommend they open a support ticket with Microsoft to get sign off.  Neither of these are the best answer, especially for SMB size deployments.

After a few months of back and forth, the outcome of our collaboration was completed.  For the first time that I can find, a Lync Server virtualization whitepaper has been co-written, based on real world experience, by a Microsoft Certified Master on the Lync Platform and a VMWare Certified Design Expert.  I hope this paper can close that gap in the spectrum so organizations looking to virtualize and properly size their environment can finally get answer to some of those hard questions.

Read the blurb here: http://www.derekseaman.com/2015/01/sizing-microsoft-lync-server-2013-nutanix.html
Sign up for the whitepaper here: http://go.nutanix.com/bpg-microsoft-lync.html
Microsoft Virtualization whitepaper can be found here: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=41936

Hands on with new Microsoft Outlook for Android

Screenshot_2015-01-29-11-41-16Today Microsoft released a long-awaited Outlook application for iOS and Android platforms. I downloaded a preview version from Google Play and installed it to my Android phone to give it a quick test. I’m used to accessing my corporate email through the standard Android Email application (which got a significant facelift in Android 5.0) and was mostly happy with it, so I planned to give Outlook app a test drive and then delete it. But after I played with app for a few minutes I realized that it’s a keeper.

Microsoft Outlook app for Android can read email from multiple sources: Outlook.com (of course!), Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, etc. When user is first opening the application he’s prompted with a slideshow explaining most important features of the application, and then asked to configure the email accounts. I added my corporate email server (which is Office365 tenant) and proceeded to the inbox view.photofun-175116168

The first thing which I noticed was two views of the inbox:
– focused
– other

“Focused” view displayed more important emails,  “Other” contained less important. I’m not sure what algorithm Outlook app used to sort emails by these two views, but it’s working well. I’m definitely more interested in seeing email from Focused view.

photofun-14217648Just like built-in Android email application, Outlook is displaying a colored square of the left of each email message. I guess this should be sender’s picture, but in my inbox it only contained sender’s initials. I know that Email app is pulling these pictures from Google+ profile, and Outlook in theory should be either going the same, but I guess it can’t match corporate email addresses to google profiles. I wonder it Outlook app could pull user pictures from Active Directory? Maybe in a next version…

There is a “Quick filter” button which allows to quickly select all unread, flagged or messages with attachments. Very handy.

There is also a fully functional Exchange calendar built into application, which is looking and functioning great.

When I tried to compose a message, I was very nicely surprised by an option to attach a recent email attachment (i.e. a file which you attached recently or received as an attachment). I wish my desktop Outlook client had the same feature. photofun-142114623You can also attach files directly from Google Drive and Dropbox (why not OneDrive?) or take picture with a phone camera.

When I opened email message details I realized that Outlook can group messages into threads (Android email app can’t do that) and also (a killer feature!) can properly display HTML mails where image is embedded into email body. Android Email app is considering every image an attachment and displaying it at the bottom of the email message, which is seriously inconvenient.photofun-1968123631

On top of all, main email view supports finger swiping actions. Swiping message on the left deletes the message and swiping message on the right allows to “schedule” message, i.e. to create a notification based on this message and snooze the message display until further date). This feature is similar to Google Inbox app.

Microsoft Outlook client for Android is a cutting-edge, modern, useful, productive application. From now on it’s going to be my default email application on my phone.

P.S. Our own Joe Palarchio shared with me his security concerns regarding this app. He found out that application is storing user credentials and user content on it’s servers which are running on AWS (this fact probably  being a is heritage of Acompli) and doesn’t seem to respect Exchange email security policies (remote wipe, etc). I hope these concerns will be addressed in the release version of the application.

 

Lync Server 2013 Contributes to Perficient’s FlexJobs Award

Just recently, Perficient was named as a top 100 company for a remote job by FlexJobs. (Read About It) Being I work from home (as most people do in my field), I definitely felt Perficient was well deserving of this award. Although the FlexJobs criteria didn’t ask “what kind of tools do Perficient employees use to help in being remote?”, we all know what the single most common answer would be if asked; Lync Server 2013. So here is a break down of what I have to make myself productive being remote;

1.) A home office
2.) A company issued laptop
3.) Outlook connected to Office 365 Exchange Online
4.) SharePoint (On-Premises)
5.) Lync Server 2013 with Enterprise Voice. I use it extensively on my iPhone and obviously my PC.
6.) Yammer (on occasion)
7.) VPN – But only kind of. VPN is only used to do my timesheets as that system is not publically accessible…on purpose I believe.

Yes, I get it, you are probably reading all of those and thinking “why did you lend so much credence to Lync in the first paragraph, you still need all those other tools as well?”. That’s simple answer; The other technologies and the concept they represent have been around forever, so that really hasn’t changed. What ties it all together is Lync Server 2013, which in my opinion creates “Unified Communications.”
I’ve been using content management systems and email for quite some time prior to Lync going “mainstream”. Although those tools could be used while working remotely before Lync, they lacked the personal feel that Lync offers. With only those “pre-Lync” tools, I couldn’t rapidly connect with someone over IM/Voice/Video at the very moment I needed to. I required being with someone in person, which didn’t scale at all. Take for example; what if I needed talk to co-worker Jim in Chicago unscheduled. Then I needed to talk to customer Frank in Miami unscheduled 15 minutes after that? I can’t hop a flight to Chicago then to Miami in 15 minutes…I need a tool that allows me to see and communicate with these individuals immediately. That is the gap that the Unified Communications leader, Lync Server 2013, has filled.

So readers could be reading this and thinking, “Jason is bias, of course he’ll give this opinion.” Au contraire mon frere , I reached out to individuals, one of whom I don’t even know who work at Perficient.

Allison wrote this quote very professionally, so keep in mind this was a completely un-coached quote. She just joined Perficient through acquisition and her company prior didn’t have Lync.

How does Lync empower your day to day duties?
I typically get frustrated with technology, but I must say I really do like Lync.

Lync has actually saved me time and made it super easy to meet and collaborate with people remotely. Prior to the acquisition I used a conference call number, but that was only voice. If I needed to share a document or presentation I would have to schedule a GoToMeeting. That would take about 5 minutes to set up. For messaging I used a separate tool – Google Hangouts. With Lync everything is together in one tool. I can quickly schedule a meeting that includes a “Join Lync Meeting” link to join the call on my computer and an optional phone number for people that need to or prefer to call in via phone. Once in the meeting I also have the ability to share my screen, instant message people in the meeting, and record the call. I especially like the one click “New Lync Meeting” to schedule a meeting in my Outlook calendar. Only takes a second. So fast and easy.

Lync allows me to communicate securely from any location, be it office, home or the local coffee shop. It combines voice and video calls, meetings, screen sharing, and instant messaging into one, easy-to-use tool. This makes collaboration and sharing super easy.”
- Allison Gugala – Marketing Manager, Perficient

Second quote:
What would be the most challenging part of your job WITHOUT Lync?
Communication – tracking people down, scheduling meetings, answering questions, making a quick call – it’s all so much easier with Lync”
- Angie Lingk – BDE, Perficient

Now, to be fair, I also asked this question with an answer I didn’t expect;

How has the Lync Mobile “1-click” meeting join feature improved the Lync experience?
So, this is the one thing I have an issue with. It’s basically useless to me unless I am on Wi-Fi. When I’m traveling, specifically driving, I am never on Wi-Fi.”
- Angie Lingk

The “issue” Angie experienced happened to be a non-issue after all, it was simply the lack of user training. Once I explained to her how to setup the client, the Lync mobile client has become irreplaceable.
The client can indeed be configured to use with 1-click over normal cellular, which is incredibly invaluable to remote workers who don’t have good data signals. As much as the big cell carriers brag, they simply can’t get data coverage into all areas of the United States.
Stayed tuned for a subsequent blog detailing the simple Lync mobile client configuration to make your life easier while being remote.

So there you have it, Lync Server 2013 allows Perficient to be considered a top place to work fore remote workers. Without the proper tools to enable our users, Perficient would simply be unable to advertise jobs as being remote positions.

Top 10 Things to Know About Yammer External Messaging-Flexternal

Yammer is rolling out an exciting new feature which will provide the ability to add external collaborators to new conversations, existing conversations,External-Messaging2 and private messages within the Office 365 network. This will be first released for beta testing (for verified and registered admins).

The Office 365 community hosted an open discussion around this new feature led by Microsoft team. Folks on the discussion shared real time scenarios where this could prove real helpful.

  1.  We have a new person joining our team. The manager announced it internally and the excitement and kudos poured in. But the person that we were hiring wasn’t on the thread. Everyone was sort of preemptively congratulating this person even though this person wasn’t on boarded yet. Once this feature turned up, we included the new hire on the thread, and this person was able to see all the congratulatory messages and even make their first post about how excited they are to join the team.
  2. We’re working with an external person on a project. One where it doesn’t necessarily make sense to spin up an external network. Doing so would just be overkill. We want to exchange files, have conversations, etc. The external person isn’t necessarily full time on the project and we only need their input infrequently.

Here is a list of top 10 quick tips you need to know about this idea – Flexternal

  1. People who you add to the conversation will be able to contribute and add others. However, they will not be able to add you to the conversations in their network. Only you can add others at this time.
  2. People can NOT be invited to Public or Private Group as a whole but just to a thread. They can be invited to public conversations, but only to single instances. So they have to be invited to every conversation you want them to see.
  3. If you remove an external participant from a thread, they no longer see the message in Yammer, but still can find the message within their email inbox. How much of that conversation is revealed in email? For instance if there were four posts on a thread, will all four responses show in the email or just part of the conversation up until they were removed?
    Every comment from the conversation is sent individually via email. So one email will only include one comment of the conversation–not the entire thread. Let’s say you were added at the beginning of the conversation. You’ll get four separate emails. If you were added by comment three you will only receive comments three and four. Once a user is removed they will no longer receive email notifications. You also cannot view content in email. You need to sign into Yammer to view files or notes.
  4. What happens if the invited external does not already have a company Yammer network? For example, an individual contractor/consultant.
    That external user can either chose to respond via email, or signup and join their Yammer network. Obviously they wouldn’t be able to join your network.
  5. What happens if I invite an external user to a conversation at the “wrong” email address. Will they have to create a new Yammer profile or would they be able to pull the conversation into their existing inbox?
    Right now that person would be able to reply to you by email. There isn’t currently the functionality to pull the conversation into an existing inbox though.
  6. Will the network admin be able to easily identify/contact the admins of the foreign network posting to their users? The most obvious reason will be around spam and abuse.
    Microsoft is working on including ‘report as spam’ button with this feature. That button will automatically provide this feedback to them and to the network admins.
  7. Will the email address of those posting into my network be clearly available in the data exports?
    Yes - the mail addresses are available. People who will be posting into your network are the ones that are explicitly invited to conversations by other people in your network. Therefore it is similar to someone in your network cc’ing an external user in their email that is also addressed to others in the company.
  8. How will external messaging recipients be clearly identified in email interaction with a thread?
    If you are responding by email, you’ll see the same external participant icon that you see on the web (the globe icon). When responding by email you’ll also get a warning at the bottom of the email that there are external participants in the thread.
  9. It’s not possible to disable this feature at a network level at this time. This means NO administrative override.  However, Yammer External Messaging will clearly show the external party that has been added.
  10. Currently it will not allow users to communicate with Gmail/AOL/Yahoo types of email address. You have to use a corporate email address.

Microsoft giving away Power BI — for FREE?!?

As crazy as it may sound, Microsoft has decided to give away Power BI  for free.

Why?  That’s easy: they want Tableau’s market.

Well, maybe that’s not the entire answer.  After all, Microsoft played nicely with Tableau for years, largely viewing them as a partner.  But frankly, they were leaving a fairly large market opportunity untouched.  So Power BI is a whole is definitely a move in that direction.  But, if they’re giving it away, that can’t be the entire answer.

I think this move ties in with other recent Microsoft data bets — e.g. the acquisitions of Equivio and Revolution Analytics, the internal development of Cosmos and SQL-IP, the creation of Polybase for APS, the positioning of HDInsight and Azures cloud-based data services, etc.

Basically, Microsoft is doubling down on their Data Platform.  They are investing heavily in what Satya Nadella sees as a more and more data-driven world.   Given the history of Microsoft with creating ecosystems linking related (and sometimes unrelated) products, it will be interesting to see how these various products come together.

In the meantime, for the low, low price of a simple business email, it’s definitely worth checking out the new Power BI preview…

 

 

 

 

 

Office 365 – How to Configure UPN Filtering in AADSync

Azure Active Directory Sync Services (AADSync) was made “generally available” in September 2014. While the old DirSync tool is still available (and actually still linked to in the portal), AADSync should be what you’re looking to deploy at this point. As we make this transition, there is a learning curve in trying to understand how to accomplish certain tasks in AADSync that you may have previously done in DirSync.

One of the configuration settings I often implement with DirSync is the creation of a filter to only synchronize attributes with a properly formatted UPN.

Below is how this filter can be implemented using the AADSync PowerShell module.
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Mixing MPA and SPA: worst of both worlds

angry.personWhen the web was young, it was simple, it was stateless. It was originally envisioned by its creators as a set of hypertext documents linked together. Then, somebody added a forms tag and the era of web applications has begun.

Nowadays, web applications could be as complex as needed. Pretty much any kind of application could be implemented as web application. But advanced functionality requires advanced application architecture and design. There are two corner-stone design patterns for web applications – multi page web applications (MPA) and single page web applications (SPA).

MPA is traditional kind of web applications. Every time application needs to submit user input to the web server or needs to display new data to user, it have to request a new page from the server and then render it in the web browser. This approach works fine for simple pages, but when the application have a rich user interface, then pages may become very complex and loaded with a lot of data. Generating complex web pages on the server, transmitting them over the internet and rendering in the browser takes time and thus degrades user experience, because user can’t continue working with application while it’s in process of serving a new page. In the beginning of 2000s MPA were improved with AJAX technology, which allows to refresh parts of the page without reloading the whole page. That definitely makes user experience better, but it adds complexity to the page.

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7 Reasons You Should Be Fired Up For Windows 10!

win10We first heard last fall about Windows 10, Microsoft’s new operating system version. Today, we heard a whole lot more and personally, I’m thrilled!

The new vision for Windows is an operating system designed to deliver a singular, cohesive experience across a myriad of device types. Traditionally, Windows has been built for the PC. So, this is the first time that the operating system has been designed for a cloud and mobile-first world.

Windows 10 will run across an incredibly broad set of devices – from the Internet of Things, to servers in enterprise datacenters worldwide. Some of these devices have 4 inch screens – some have 80 inch screens – and some don’t have screens at all. Some of these devices you hold in your hand, others are ten feet away. Some of these devices you primarily use touch/pen, others mouse/keyboard, others controller/gesture – and some devices can switch between input types.

And across this breadth of devices, Microsoft is delivering one application platform for developers. Whether you’re building a game or a line of business application, there will be one way to write a universal app that targets the entire family. There will be one store, one way for applications to be discovered, purchased and updated across all of these devices. Awesome!

After we heard more in today’s announcement, here are my 7 reasons why you should be fired up too! Read the rest of this post »