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Office 365 People Experiences

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Following on my previous posts in series “Office 365 – A day in life of an end user”, today I bring to you a recent discussion between the Microsoft team and Office 365 community around Delve. It touches on some real great areas on how this new feature enhances the people experience.

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Overview

On March 18th, Microsoft and the Delve product team hosted the Delve YamJam to answer questions about the product announcement that Delve will rollout to all eligible Office 365 business customers worldwide and that in addition, Delve will now surface content from email and social feeds within Office 365. Below is a summary of what was discussed during the YamJam. We hope you join us live next time!

Resources

Specific Questions

  • Rollout 
  • Functionality 
  • Feature Requests 
  • Best Practices 

Rollout

Q: When will it hit our production tenant?

A: As of 3/16/2015, Delve has started rolling out to eligible Office 365 business customers worldwide. Delve has been part of the First Release program since September 2014. Delve will also be included in the Office 365 Business Essentials and Business Premium plans. Delve will be rolled out to all customers that have one of the above subscriptions, both new and existing.

Q: Is there a roll out schedule for Delve? I’m wondering when my company might have the feature available so that some of us can start getting familiar and encourage engagement among our workforce.

A: We have started rolling Delve out to all eligible tenants, so you should see Delve in your tenant quite soon. It should show up in your App Launcher in a matter of weeks. All new capabilities will spend a bit of time in First Release before getting to worldwide, some will get quicker, some will take some more time. You can always turn on First Release to get new scenarios sooner, but do know we are working on this one.

Q: Any ideas on why our organization would not be seeing the ability to pin content to boards? Also, it seems as if Delve is not surfacing content from our Yammer instance. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated!

A: Those capabilities are in First Release program (which is something you can enroll in as-well) and will get to broader public soon. This page will give you a glance between different scenarios in the pipeline with First Release vs Standard Release .

Q: If I have a brand new tenant and I turn on first release I get boards. But if we are an existing tenant that has been waiting for the regular release cycle, we don’t get boards? Shouldn’t a tenant get whatever the current “package” of features that Delve provides, at the time of Delve hitting your tenant?

A:  New scenarios will always come to First Release first, we’ve also added this page to help you guys in the loop on these.

Q: What’s Delve’s team release cycle? What’s is the next major functionality on Delve you have planned to bring to the customers? Can you share the roadmap? 

A: We will be adding support for more content types such as OneNote, etc., in addition looking forward to building API’s to Office Graph so you can integrate content and activity from LOB, 3rd party systems, etc. Mobile is a hot topic too. You’ll definitely see more at Ignite conference for this, and we are working on a great session to show what’s cooking in the oven.

 

Q: Are the new signal sources immediately live for orgs that already have Delve? Or do they need to roll out as part of an update?

A:  As of 3/16/2015, Delve has started rolling out to eligible Office 365 business customers worldwide. Delve has been part of the First Release program since September 2014. Check out this page for Adminsthat includes more information.

Q: When are we likely to see updated content on Office Support to cover the new enhancements?

A: We are actively updating our content for Delve on Office.com – a good starting point is this article.

Q: Is it required to configure the O365 Login for Yammer to get the Delve Integration in the next couple of days, or will it also work with the standalone Yammer SSO?

A: It is required to have Yammer selected as your Enterprise Social solution in your O365 settings in order to see the Yammer integration once it is available. Here is the documentation to make Yammer your default.

Q: What is the licensing plan for Delve? What is the lowest tier of user type that can be used, and what will they be limited to access?

A: Delve is included in the Office 365 Enterprise E1 – E4 subscription plans (including the corresponding A2 – A4 and G1 – G4 plans for Academic and Government customers respectively). Over the next couple months, Delve will also be included in the Office 365 Business Essentials and Business Premium plans. Delve will be rolled out to all customers that have one of the above subscriptions, both new and existing.

Q: I understand you need a E1-E4 license, and you need an active SharePoint Online service, however is there any dependency on Exchange? We have an O365 plan without Exchange, will we still get Delve when it is deployed?

A: Yes, you will, but with more signals and activity the better the graph gets.

Functionality

Q: Does Delve support Office365 Video?

A: Yes. Office365 Video is supported in First Release.

Q: Do we get control of the signals into Delve though the Compliance Center?

A: Currently we consume signals from across O365. Are you suggesting you would want the ability to limit those? It might have an impact on the relevancy, as the graph depends on more signals to get smarter.

Q: In terms of tagging cards with keywords, is there something like “auto suggest” where it crawls the document or post to suggest possible tags?

A: Not today, but that sounds like a great idea for providing smart suggestions! We know that not all documents will get tagged manually, so suggesting tags is an interesting approach if the accuracy can be high enough. We don’t have this out of box, but in the future this would be good to see if this could be a great partner solution.

Q: Is authoring possible on documents through Delve?

A: You can open any documents within Delve using the powerful rich Office web clients. You should be able to edit documents using the familiar Word, PowerPoint and Excel apps. You can also add them to boards (when that makes it to worldwide rollout) so you can collect content, videos, etc. related to a given topic and share that collection with others.

Q: Some of the thumbnails for PowerPoint docs don’t show correctly for us: the background color of the first slide shows, but no text. Is this fixed in the next release?

A: Our current algorithm for picking a thumbnail utilizes the highest resolution image within a document. It could be that the background you are referring to is actually an image. Could you post an example document for us to look into? We’re taking input to see how we can improve this going forward.

Q: Delve became available to us today, and we’re already seeing concerns about private content in SharePoint sites. Right now I’m working with an HR director that is removing content from her site because the view count in Delve is showing in the hundreds. The documentation shows this number increments whenever a document is viewed, including whenever the logged in user views it. When does this number get reset, or is it a lifetime number? How could Delve go live for us today and a document that only 10 people can access have 134 views?

A: Tip: by clicking on the pawns icon on the card you can see exactly who a document is shared with. Also remember that document views do not just come from Delve, but from accessing the content from a document library as well. Every time you, yourself, view and edit or save a new version to the document, each goes to that count. You can always set the permissions of the content by the little people icons on the card, and/or also hide certain content from Delve via as an admin. The views are kept since the document was uploaded, and they are not introduced by Delve. If you for example, try to run a search query and you hover over the search result to see the preview you will also see the view count there. This is also a part of SharePoint 2013 on-premises. This page helps to explain security in Delve.

Q: How frequent does Delve graph objects gets updated? Will there be a real-time API for live feed/update? Is there a rate limit applied on APIs?

A: The update frequency depends on the type of information going into the graph. Creating a document takes a bit longer than updating an existing one, for example. For document activities you can expect indexing latency for the most part. We’re always looking at how we can get these closer to real-time and optimizing certain activity updates where we can.

Q: Is there a way to set parameters for the Delve feed? Perhaps by date? In the My Work feed, how far back does Delve go to pull in documents?

A: Today the Delve feed changes based on your usage of Office and updates automatically. “My Work” is sorted on recency, so scrolling down will take you back in time. As we adding more content types we will definitely look into filtering/sorting options for those.

Q: Are we only able to see activities of site user whom we follow or can search for any user to view their shared documents?

A: Delve shows content that is shared with you from OneDrive for Business, SharePoint, and Exchange. You can use Delve to search for any user within your Office 365 tenancy and see the documents they work on that you have access to.á

Q: Are all file-types stored in OneDrive discoverable by Delve? One of our folks has noticed that Project Files (MPP) don’t seem to show up.

A: At this time, only Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF and Office Videos files are discoverable by Delve. We are working on OneNote support as we speak!

Q: Our security team posed an interesting question in an internal Delve discussion. It centers around discoverability of someone’s boards. So if someone is put on legal hold, opposing council might really want to see/discover who someone is connected to and use Delve boards as a way to gain further insight. Has there been any discussion about this?

A: There has some discussions, but not much. We think there is value in eDiscovery center tapping into Office Graph down the road, vs just using the search index and activity logs.

Q: As Delve uncovers content that sometimes you aren’t aware was public, is there a way to quickly hide items that are appearing?

A: Yes, you can always click the “who can see this?” icon on the cards and change the document permissions.

Q: Since tags and notes was deprecated last year I’m wondering if Office graph can aid in adding Yammer commenting/conversations to publishing new articles? If so could you briefly highlight?  I understand that we will soon be able to place/embed a feed for Yammer conversations relating to a particular document. In the same vein, could we also embed a Yammer feed for conversations relating to a particular Sharepoint news article?

A: In Delve, there will be the possibility to have Yammer conversations for any content type that we support in the experience. Adding a Yammer feed to a specific open graph object is an idea we are evaluating, so definitely stay tuned. It’s available if it exists on a Yammer Group, not standalone. Boards are another type of object Yammer conversations might be integrated with.

The first release experience includes these content sources:

– Office Docs: Content from across OneDrive for Business and SharePoint team sites that you work on or have been shared with you.

– Videos: Trending video’s from the new O365 Video Portal, that you have permissions to view.

– Email attachments: Trending and most relevant email attachments that have been shared with you.

– (and very soon) Links in Yammer: External links discussed in public groups in Yammer will also show up in Delve.

Q: Delve is in French for me, how do I switch to the English or language of my choosing? Not everyone in our tenant speaks the same language.

A: Have you tried changing your browser language preference? Delve will support all languages supported for Office 365.

Q: Is it possible to track the Sharing history “sharing graph” of a document based on information in Office Graph?

A: No, this is something you would need to do with the e-discovery center with-in O365. Delve is tailored for end-users and we are always sensitive on privacy of each user.

Feature Requests

Q: Will the Board tagging concept be proliferated across the Office 365 suite? For instance, instead of tagging through Delve, have the ability to tag to a Board in Outlook, SharePoint, Yammer, OneDrive.

A: We are currently working on the ability to rename boards. The design of the new Boards system is definitely targeted to be more pervasively accessible. We would love to see “+Add to Board” available everywhere. One other idea we have is, how cool would it be if we can one day auto-board content. We know there are partners/developers that already have some really great ideas on this.

Q: For Boards, will there be an ability to organize them into a hierarchy if we wanted to create some type of structure? For an example, we may want to place key topics on a landing page. Would be a great feature for a future portal.

A: Thanks for the suggestion! Boards are still new and we’re certainly interested to hear ideas like this for how we can improve and utilize them moving forward. Sharing boards is something we do have in mind and are working on.

Q: Any plans for a leaderboard of most followed boards; some way for people to see most relevant/ popular topics?

A: Great idea! Including some leaderboard concepts in Delve would make the workplace more fun but also help with discovery. We can see a dashboard, analytics on top of Office Graph which can surface not just boards but also interesting artifacts later down the road.

Q: As a partner, I would love to be able to create a board for a user based on the context of their day as well as known upcoming activities, populated with contextualized recommendations for them.

A: Delve will get more context sensitive over time! It’ll become more and more smart about what you have to know to make the most of your work day.

Q: It would be nice to see more telemetry around the use of tags in boards. That way users or admins can see what tags are more popular (maybe even trending). It would also be nice to be able to manage and consolidate tags at an admin level.

A: That sounds like an interesting feature! We’re discussing ways users can do more with boards.

Q: I’m interested in a future hybrid story in Delve where it can ingest objects from an on-prem search instance. I would love to see a story where I can get items from LOB systems into it.

A: That is a great idea. Something we are definitely looking into for the future. We know customers have a tremendous amount of content on-prem.

Q: When can we expect an API to allow us to inject foreign objects into the office graph? We have a large and complex intranet. I would expect to inject objects (articles, videos, documents) that live on intranet sites (SharePoint, WordPress, Jive, Confluence, etc.). Ultimately, I would like to considering tearing down the traditional concept of intranet search in favor of publishing objects to the office graph.

A: We are working on this. We are planning to have a set of API’s to add external content as-well as pull insights from the Office Graph to power your own apps. Long term, we do plan to support that with the extensibility as-well as natively with SharePoint intranet sites/pages.

Q: Will there be a Delve App? What about a SharePoint App for Delve?

A: We’re working on native applications for Delve on different platforms and are looking into when to roll out on which platform. While not from us, folks from Mavention built something cool. You can check it out here .

Q: Are there plans to integrate delve into the Office Backstage screen? I can open files from OneDrive for business that were recently used, but it would be great if I could have a Delve option to search from with in Excel (for Example). At the moment I find myself opening Excel looking in the recent files and then going to Delve to search hand open the file from there. For instance, I’d like to be able to search from with Excel for a file just like I do in Delve. 

A:  That’s a fantastic idea! Here’s a similar idea: we’ve seen that a lot of users search for names of people as a way to find things in Delve. What if you could search for a person and get the documents you’d see on their page in Delve? We’re listening to your feedback and open to suggestions.

Q: When will Delve include signals from Yammer and how? 

A: We are already enabling sending/receiving signals from Yammer into the Office Graph and Delve. As a first step, very soon you will see URLs within in Yammer in Delve on First Release. Once rolled out, you can click on the Yammer button on each Delve board to start a Yammer a conversation. Yammer integration in the form of Yammer links showing up in Delve and Yammer post action on the cards are coming soon to First Release. Stayed tuned!

Q: Does Microsoft plan on developing or releasing other apps besides Delve that showcase Office Graph technology? Maybe something else that depicts the other uses of Office Graph?

A:  The Office Graph drives a number of page/app experiences in the Office 365 Video portal. Things like “Popular” and “You might also like” . Also, don’t forget the Clutter feature in Outlook. We also have some other cool things cooking in the oven. We are just scratching the surface. Today, with over 6 Billion signals in the Office Graph, we have so much more we can do.

Q: Any plans for an iPhone app?

A: We’re working on native applications for Delve. Are there any features you would particularly want on your iPhone? Thanks!

Q: Any announcements forthcoming around #skype4b and Delve? 

A: Nothing to announce now. Any new information will be posted here, and the Office Roadmap is always a great place to check.

Q: What ever happened to the Windows Store (8.1) app for Delve that was shown at SPC14? Maybe it will make an appearance with Windows 10?

A: Windows 10 is important to us, and we are looking into investments in this area. We have no date to share yet, but such an investment matches well with our productivity focus of Windows 10.

The app mentioned was a great prototype environment for us to mature scenarios. We took some learnings from there and some things didn’t work as expected. The best part was the notifications.

With all the noise, we need really smart/intelligent notifications that anticipate what is really relevant for you. Notifications should have a high bar, it should have an impact for you in the next 2-4 hours and not something that you would care about in the context of a week.

Q: Distant integration scenario, it would be cool if Delve was incorporated into other products like HoloLens so that as the user interacts with other business content, suggestions could be superimposed in that environment.

A: We are waiting to get a prototype to play around with some ideas. Also, check out this Productivity Future Vision video.

Q: It would also be nice to see some updates to the Office Graph API documentation. There are a lot of ActorId (i.e.: 1050) that the community has found that aren’t listed. It’s a supportability issue I know on your end, but I know a lot has been added since some of the early documentation has come out.

A: Thanks for the feedback, we’ll look into it.

Q: Let me mention two of my favorite news “discovery” apps here in case the Delve team wants to build in future enhancements: Zite and Yahoo! News. I love how I can train Zite and it brings me new stuff from places I wouldn’t normally travel. I love Y! News because of their content popularity and summary algorithms that condense the info into a more consumable format.

A: Thanks for sharing! We love exploring other applications that customers use and enjoy. We’ll have to give these ones a spin.

Best Practices

Q: Where is there an example of a live Delve instance in action that we could see and interact with?

A: Although not an interactive experience, Satya shared how he uses Delve. If you’re a Microsoft partner, you may be eligible to spin up a tenant here .

Q: Is your vision of the future of work “Not caring where documents are anymore” so to speak? Seeing a trend of “Just put it in your personal OneDrive for Business and let Delve take care of it”

What is your vision of the flow in which people need to work?

A: We think the cloud is a great example of how to abstract the knowledge from the physical storage. Knowledge should be organized around metadata, behavior and workflows and not based on “folder”.. In the past we have been relying on as physical locations as a indicator of metadata, but I think we are living in a much more agile and abstract world.

Q: We just (today) got delve in our Tenant. What’s the best way to ramp up?

A: Good starting point is this page. Go to the home page of Delve and see if you find relevant info. Go to the pages of your coworkers and see if you discover what they are working on.

we also have email templates you can share with your users explaining delve and pointing to more help documentation. Check this link here for more info, as well as the Learning Center.

Q: What’s the best way to socialize the use of Delve?

A: Great question John. We’ve found that showing people the value of Delve (for example searching for people in meetings to see who they are and what they are working on) works well. Some folks send email about what Delve can do, but not everyone likes getting more email. :)

Demo it :-). Showcase main Help articles and videos. Talk about the value of Discovery AND Search. Talk about all the signals created that would be typically lost across all users, and that the service is listening and listening and listening and providing a very refined, relevant, useful nudge of content and people of interest, based on these now “not lost” signals.

Demos are definitely the best way. Nothing convinces people more than seeing the real data personalized for them.

Q: I’ve had a few users express that they think Delve feels very Big Brother-ish and invasive. Has anyone else heard that, and if so, how did you counter the objection?

A: It’s a valid thought process. Insights from software based on data are always going to be a balance of convenience and privacy. Delve provides convenience while always respecting your privacy. People only see what they have access to. Delve never changes permissions. You may also share this article with any users that may have privacy concerns.

We think Delve does a great job in providing transparency around the workplace. We believe the future is that IWs can become far more efficient by getting tailored information delivered to them. To be clear, Delve will never change permissions on any documents. Because the information shown in Delve is personalized, users will only see content they already have permissions to. Also, other people cannot see others’ private activities, such as what documents they’ve read, emails they’ve sent and received, or Lync conversations they’ve been in.

Q: What is the use case for a 5 person to 15 person low-end scenario vs just use SharePoint for what it already does? Once you get to 100+ seats, I begin to see how Delve “applies” but “our 100 seat customers do not”. They think Delve is for a 100,000 employee company like Microsoft only! Any suggestions or articles that you can point to?

A: Even with 100 people we still find a massive disconnect between people working on similar projects or sharing knowledge, Yammer is exposing (in a good way) the work others are doing and let’s people be more efficient and collaborate well. I would imagine Delve will be the same, people will be able to see what similar things there colleagues are working on and possibly save time by not reinventing the wheel! There’s a lot of good stuff that comes into my feed from across my entire organization, but even in my own small team of about 50 people I find a lot of value. We don’t always know the entire audience to which we should share something. It’s nice when something I didn’t know about pops up in my feed, and to know that my work will show up for others to find in case I neglected to explicitly share it.

The thing I personally use Delve for the most is to go find information when I know a certain person in my team is working on that area. There’s no need to track a person down or wait for an email response to get a pointer to information all the time anymore. I just go to their page in Delve and save myself a lot of time.

Q: I found Delve to be absolutely useless as I had admin access, I could see a whole load of stuff that I’m not interested in, and that meant I couldn’t easily find stuff I was interested in. I asked for that access to be removed, as technically I’m in Delivery and O365 is now in Support … and now Delve is proving very useful. That raises an interesting question about how do other companies manage admin access;  separate logins or elevated permissions granted when needed?

A: I like to hear more on this scenario, but agreed. Being an Admin is never easy! Maybe we should have relevancy tailored for the admin user.

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Wish List: Four keys for SURFACE and SharePoint Next

Microsoft made a big splash with the unveiling of their long-awaited Surface Tablet yesterday.  Never mind the interesting choice of branding (anyone familiar with the previous Microsoft Surface will be surprised they took the name from the world’s coolest cocktail table and applied it to a slate), the big question in our secret mountaintop command center here at Perficient’s World SharePoint HQ is no surprise: What can Microsoft do to ensure that SharePoint’s “Wave 15” release takes full advantage of the company’s slick new tablet?

With that question foremost in mind, and in the name of truth, justice and instant analysis, I’ve compiled a quick list of my take on the four most important qualities that Wave 15 SharePoint will need to support if it’s truly to play well with the new Surface Tablet.  Microsoft’s ability to provide answers to these needs—or not—will say a lot about the potential of their different product groups to work together.  If they want to compete in the consumer market and retain their enterprise dominance going forward, that’s a must.

By the way, these are not predictions, but really more of a wish list.  Once Wave 15 goes public, we’ll come back down the list and see how they did.

Without further ado, then, here it is: Four SharePoint 15 MUST HAVES to take full advantage of the Surface Tablet (and coincidentally, the iPad).

1. Command interaction needs to be TOUCH FRIENDLY.  Hey, Ribbon!  Yes, you.  Even with a sound information architecture and a simplified navigation scheme, navigating the basic commands of a SharePoint site from a tablet can be awkward.  Anyone who has seen me fat-fingering various apps on my NewsGator-for-iPad video blog knows how important it is to design user interfaces that will allow people to swipe, pinch, and expand with the touch of two fingers.  This is as true for SharePoint as it is for any other web CMS.  SharePoint 2010’s ribbon made this occasionally problematic, leaving slate users longing for the days of Clippy to swoop in and show us how it’s really done.  Let’s hope Microsoft got it right for the Surface.

2. RESPONSIVE design is key.  You can no longer assume that everyone hitting a SharePoint site is doing so from a supported, “first tier”, desktop browser.  Even three years ago that was a relatively safe gamble, but it’s no longer the case.  Among many other things, Surface is Microsoft’s public admission of that.  SharePoint 15 will need to be highly customizable from a UI perspective, allowing designers the freedom they’ve only had in limited amounts thus far, in order to take advantage of designs that adapt to the form factor of the platform used to access them.

3. An INTEGRATED USER EXPERIENCE is essential.  There’s been a lot of talk about the “Metro” UI of  Windows 8 and the Windows Phone.  It’s beautiful and slick and very appealing, although of course some have grumbled that it’s too much of a jump from the traditional Windows style.  To truly integrate into this brave new world, SharePoint Next needs to look and feel like an extension of Windows 8 and (less difficult by far) play well with its cousin, Office 15.

4. Do you think we could get an APP for that?  SharePoint apps on the iPad are extremely limited in scope.  If Microsoft takes an integrated user experience with Windows 8 seriously, and really wants SharePoint to be functional on their own Surface Tablet, they’ll publish and support their own official SharePoint app that does more than just expose basic lists and libraries.  Search?  Records Management?  BI Dashboards?  Social feeds?  There are plenty of possibilities here if only they’d seize the day and attack them—and Surface seems like the perfect opportunity.  And while they’re at it, would it be too much to ask to write one for iPad?  The Bing app is both gorgeous and functional, the Lync app is great, and the OneNote app is really helpful– you know they can do it if they just decide it’s worth doing.

It’s said we’ll be seeing a public beta for Wave 15 soon.  Once that happens, I’ll be looking for any sign of these features and reporting back on just how the beta measures up.

MS Exec Nitin Bhatia on Yammer Acquisition (from TechCrunch)

We all have a great many questions about the roadmap impact of Microsoft’s much-discussed (and still, as of this writing, unofficial) acquisition of Yammer.  Serendipitously, TechCrunch has published an interview with departing Microsoft executive Nitin Bhatia, someone who might have better guesses than the rest of us.  In the interview, Mr. Bhatia– who is departing for NextDocs– gives his thoughts on Yammer as it stands today, and how SharePoint and Yammer might complement one another in the future.

One theory this interview does not advance is the hot theory that Dynamics CRM and a SalesForce/Chatter compete motion are driving this move.  Telling?

On Yammer:

“I used Yammer for a while to test it out and I thought it was fairly good but not quite where it needs to be.”

Sounds like a fairly lukewarm endorsement.  But wait, there’s more.

 “[Yammer] certainly does break periodically. We weren’t really aligned on Yammer when we were using it. There’s no doubt that scalability is still a concern.”

So what will Microsoft do to improve reliability?  Read on.

On the acquisition’s future implications:

“My gut instinct is that Yammer will be left alone as a stand-alone product like Skype business. Then they will integrate Yammer with Sharepoint as part of the collaboration suite, and over time, it will become a big part of Sharepoint.”

One very interesting thought Mr. Bhatia brings forward is the possibility of Microsoft leveraging its Facebook investment and relationships to improve its solution for enterprise collaboration.

“I think what Microsoft is going to do is leverage its Facebook relationship to really develop and grow this product into a more scalable enterprise-ready software that they can build out. Microsoft will take the core of the product and start from there. They’ll have to make some sizable changes to it, but I think the Sharepoint engineering team can pull it off with the relationship Microsoft has with Facebook.”

He goes on to laud the Office division’s success in creating enterprise-ready software, which is valid praise.  Microsoft may have its share of critics, but the ubiquity of Office and SharePoint make a pretty solid case for the value of their software.  This is a company with a very solid track record and that’s a good sign for the enterprise regardless.

“They’ll review it and get it to the point where it is suitable for large companies. Sharepoint is used in projects that have over 300,000 people. Scalability is a big thing for Microsoft and it clearly has to be reviewed as the product evolves.”

For more, please read the original interview on TechCrunch’s own site.

Your Culture = Your Intranet

The last month at Perficient has seen me working on various social intranet projects both here in the Midwest, and outside of my usual stomping grounds.  On a project in Philadelphia, I was treated to a close-up sight of that city’s beautiful City Hall every day, and it got me thinking about architecture, culture, and corporate intranets.

How exactly does an American civic building designed to evoke the grandeur of Imperial France lead me to intranets?  You’d be right to wonder, so I can tell I’ve got some explaining to do.  Let’s start with my least favorite question.  When it comes to SharePoint portals, applications and intranets, it seems that clients and customers always love to ask me one thing:

“C’mon, Rich, you’ve built a lot of these.  What are other companies in our industry doing?”

It’s not a bad question, mind.  Some people are genuinely curious, looking for ways to deploy an admittedly rather general toolset in a way that provides direct business value.  Sometimes, it’s their thinly-veiled way to get an idea of what their competition’s up to.  Other times, they lack confidence in their own ideas and want to borrow from what’s working elsewhere.  In many cases it’s all of the above.

I get it.  Business, and the ways technology supports it, isn’t always rocket science.  If it works in one place, there’s a pretty good chance that it works somewhere else.  A repeatable process or best practice quickly becomes part of the public domain.  (Of course, what’s best isn’t always what’s cool, or all pop music would still sound remarkably like The Beatles.  Thankfully good business only cares about the bottom line– so, what’s best.)

When it comes to designing intranets, though, I’m going to say that approach does not hold up.  In general, enterprise IT is like offensive schemes in the NFL– as any student of football could tell you, there’s only two or three ways to do things well in any given era of the game, and any winning innovation is relentlessly copied by coaches leaguewide.  (This is how Gartner and Forrester make their money– always driving the next best-practice trends.)  But I think intranets are more like high-school football, where a team’s offensive scheme is built to maximize the talent around it, and often reflects the very nature of the community the school and its team represents.

And that idea of reflecting a community– or a culture, as the case may be– is what brings us to civic architecture and intranet design, my friends.

The Intranet as City Hall

I’ve always believed that you can tell a great deal about either a city’s heritage or its aspirations by the architecture of its civic buildings. Not so much the courthouses– those always seem to hearken back to Ancient Rome in their neoclassical designs, in an overt homage to the Roman code of laws, I suppose.  I’m thinking of City Halls in particular.  New York.  Philadelphia.  The list goes on.

Emerging, outer suburbs, meanwhile, build sleek, modern courts and offices to set themselves apart from their inner-ring brethren. In many cases, “who we are” is defined as much by “who we want to be” or “who we were” as it is by whom we really are.  Who we want to be?  That’d be your institutional vision.  Who we are/were?  Your corporate values, ladies and gentlemen.  You see where I’m going now, I think.

As an example, my own adopted city, Milwaukee, was once home to an overwhelming majority of German immigrants.  As an outward display of this Teutonic heritage, Milwaukee erected a City Hall for itself of brazenly Germanic design.  The building still stands as the emotional and geographical heart of the city, even after assimilation and successive waves of immigration have long since pushed the actual German  presence in the city to its margins.

When people think of Milwaukee, they could think of any number of things: the Brewers, the Violent Femmes, Happy Days, divisive recall elections– oops, that’s Madison.  But no, when it comes to Milwaukee, they usually think of bratwurst and beer.  They’re not wrong.  The German influence is alive and well, even now with all the Germans living out in the suburbs and unable to speak a single word auf Deutsch.

There’s a parallel here when we consider good intranets– you can learn a lot about the culture of an enterprise from the look, feel and organization of their portal.  Done right, an enterprise intranet will work like Milwaukee’s City Hall.  It will project a sense of what makes a company unique and individual, and in the best cases, what makes it a special place to work.  That’s where the “what are other companies doing?” question runs out of steam.

If your company has a certain culture, a certain personality, that needs to be reflected front and center in your intranet.  Consider the mission, vision and values of your company– how can we use a shared understanding of those concepts to drive how our intranet works?

Making It Real

Branding is certainly an important aspect of this.  I once worked for an infrastructure-focused Microsoft partner that only paid vague lip service to UI design and branding.  Coming from a web design background myself, I always believed companies like this were doing their clients a disservice by trying to build them a collaborative intranet application without a real effort to give it a unique identity that lined up with the company’s mission, vision and values.  An ugly tool is an unpopular tool.

There’s a reason businesses spend so much money on marketing to the consumer.  They want their products to look good, because if all else is equal, people will buy the more visually appealing product.  If you care about your employees and their productivity, you want their internal tools to be welcoming as well as functional in this world of slick applications and beautiful, content-rich websites.  (Now that the UI of a SharePoint site is so easy to customize, there’s no reason for anyone to suffer through an out-of-the-box SharePoint experience.  Any consultant who tells you otherwise is hiding something.)

Beyond branding, what else can you do to reflect your corporate culture in an intranet?  In agile, open organizations, enabling social media with tools like NewsGator Social Sites is an obvious answer.  These social applications bring the discussion, creativity and innovation already present at the grass-roots level and bubble it up for all to take advantage of.  Not every corporate culture is best reflected (or even energized) by internal social networking, however.

Many clients have asked me about a “killer app” for SharePoint, and my answer is typically, “Well, what can’t you do today that you wish you could do tomorrow?”  SharePoint is never going to replace your ERP or CRM systems; it’s not a line of business application.  What it can do, of course, is integrate with your line of business systems in powerful and valuable ways.  Whether it’s through BCS and the Microsoft BI suite, a slick and powerful connector to meaningful data like Duet Enterprise for SAP, or integration to customer relationship management software like Microsoft CRM, that’s how SharePoint provides the so-called “killer app” to support your business.  That’s definitely a reflection of culture.

Other applications enable people to do the things most typical of your organization.  If you’re a matrixed organization that’s heavily dependent on process, approval workflows and document management will be your keys to success.  If you work in healthcare, tying into your EHR system will help you keep the focus on the patient.  If you work in a fast-moving organization of any kind, Lync integration for real-time presence and communication throughout the portal becomes a must.  That’s the nice thing about a SharePoint-based intranet in particular– the list can go on and on.

Of course, I wouldn’t write about this stuff if we hadn’t done it.  I’ve got examples and war stories to cover the above and so much more.  The obvious irony in my saying so, of course, is that those stories don’t matter– yours do.  I only hope that I’ve made some sense, and helped others out there realize that when you’re redesigning your intranet, who your company is should be far more important than what the competition is doing.  Intranets can’t be one-size-fits-all, or you could install them off a disk and go your merry way.  Build your own City Hall, and build it to reflect your own corporate or institutional mission, vision and values.  You’ll be glad you did.

There are more SharePoint designs on the Internet, Horatio….

A comment was recently posted to one of my older blogs looking for more than text.  “Words, words, words,” the commentor said, quoting Shakespeare’s Hamlet– “Are there visual examples of SharePoint Designer done right?”

As it happens, there are.  Of course, we need to be clear that not all SharePoint visuals are conceived through SharePoint Designer.  And as always, we can’t go without our traditional caveat that visuals are only a part of the experienceUI is just one element of UX.

That said, our commentor is right.  Pictures help.  But you might have to pay for them.  Intranets aren’t public, so it’s hard to find good examples of intranet design.

In the last few years, SharePoint has done very well for itself in Nielsen Norman Group’s annual study of the Ten Best Intranets.  If you purchase a copy, you’ll find some great examples of SharePoint-based work.

The same SharePoint platform that we use for Intranets is used to host plenty of public-facing internet sites as well. Some fantastic designs have been done on this platform. Wssdemo.com provides a good sampling and a handy Silverlight pivot viewer to quickly find a site that appeals to your own sensibilities.

I’d also suggest just browsing around for SharePoint video case studies (using Bing to earn credits and get social context, of course).

Much like the Bible, you can find a quote from Hamlet for anything.  After all, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Or in this case, more things on the internet.  You just have to know where to find them!

Building a Social Business Environment

Mark Fidelman recently posted an interesting article on Forbes.com titled “Microsoft’s View of the Future Workplace is Brilliant, Here’s Why” in the article Mark shares how he’s visited Microsoft Technology Centers  in the past couple of months and its left him

“feeling both energized and alarmed. Energized because I am seeing a dramatic rise in the attention given to social business and the foundation for it is being laid by social CIOs. These CIOs and their executive counterparts understand how the social and mobile transformations are changing the game. Never has business been handed so much opportunity and so much risk.

Perficient Chicago office. Open spaces, great views!

The blueprint for this opportunity has been drawn by several social business thought leaders. But rarely has it been represented in physical form.

To see that, the opportunity is best demonstrated at one of Microsoft’s MTC around the world. If you haven’t seen a demonstration there, it can best be described as the Enterprise equivalent of a Microsoft or Apple Store. As Microsoft MTC Director Adam Hecktman put it to me, “We’re here to help envision, architect and demonstrate the needs of our customers.” Thanks to the fully equipped MTCs, anyone can see a live simulation of their current and future technologies under several different circumstances.

The MTC demonstrations are leading to a rush of new technology implementations. “Every square foot is built around some element of the customer’s decision making process,” Hecktman explains, “we’re reducing the risk for businesses to quickly prepare and implement Microsoft technologies.”

Seamless in person & online collaboration - you can see the conference room with the door pulled up in the background.

It struck me while visiting with the Fortune 500 intertwined with my stopovers at the MTCs that the future workplace will need to evolve. Seeing the juxtaposition of the digitally enabled MTCs next to the analog (think 1960s Mad Men era) workplaces of today, I was alarmed by the amount work that needs to be done to accommodate a more social and mobile workforce.

In this new workplace model, born of the social and mobile age, what are the best ways to meet the workplace challenges of the future? What do we see as the digital office of the future? How do we accommodate the unprecedented numbers of mobile devices entering the workforce?”

Mark’s post immediately made me think of Perficient‘s Chicago office.  This is a physical office space built for collaboration – from the open spaces,  meeting rooms and conference room that has a rolling door that opens it into a large collaboration area (with a kitchen) everything about the office says ‘lets collaborate’.

Perficient Chicago Office

Using SharePoint and NewsGator Social Sites the team collaborates both online with remote team members and in person leveraging Lync (on mobile devices too) to seamlessly move from online to voice collaboration.

I think Mark raises a really interesting point, when you start to think about physical spaces being built for how, when and where we work today and where we’re headed, we may increasingly find physical office spaces built to enable Social Business requirements.

You can follow Mark’s blog on Forbes.com here.

Lync, SharePoint, OneNote, NewsGator & more on the iPad

Rich Wood and I recently chatted about how Rich is able to use Microsoft technologies on his iPad.  In this video Rich shares how he uses Lync, SharePoint, NewsGator Social Sites, One Note, Bing and more on his iPad to allow him to use it as more than just a consumer or entertainment device.

SharePoint and Social with Mike Gannotti (@gannotti)

I recently caught up with Mike Gannotti in Philadelphia. We talked about his new role in the Philadelphia MTC, SharePoint, Social Media, Dogfooding (of course!) Tahoe (Mike’s been around SharePoint for a while), Social Business, Women in SharePoint & more. I learned that Mike is the Seventh most followed Microsoft entity on Twitter! You can see the video here

SharePoint 2010 Permissions and RunWithElevatedPrivileges Context

These days, many people are using SharePoint anonymously or creating mash-ups of data from various SharePoint sources.  As a result, these various resources have differing permissions governing their visibility.  For example, the Managed Metadata Term Store cannot be accessed anonymously. 

Indeed, the most likely occurrence, and where I discovered this problem, is when you want to display all items in a list even if the current user doesn’t have permissions to edit or view the item.  My specific situation was for an editor that needs to know a particular topic exists but doesn’t have the permission to see or edit the topic.

Displaying content from a secure source on a site must be done after the user has logged in or (more likely) via SPSecurity.RunWithElevatedPrivileges.  This was the only solution in my case.

Once inside the RunWithElevatedPrivileges security delegate, it’s well known that you must recreate any object that you need to access with full permissions.  This is because previously created objects maintain their security context once inside the security delegate.  So an SPSite created outside of the delegate will have the same permissions as it does inside the delegate.  Although not necessarily straightforward, it’s intuitive that permissions would not get remapped within the delegate.

Slightly less intuitive, and poorly documented, is the fact that the security context for objects created within the security delegate is maintained once you leave the delegate.  So if you get a reference to an SPListItem within the security delegate and pass it outside of the delegate, you will still have full control on the item because it was referenced from within the security delegate!

This behavior can lead to some interesting ramifications.  In my case, the use of the DoesUserHavePermissions method on the SPListItem class was acting strangely.  Calling this method on the item I got out of a security delegate always returned true because the security context followed the object.  To avoid this unfortunate situation, I had to get a reference to the item outside of the security delegate to get the correct permissions for the object.

In general, treat SPSecurity.RunWithElevatedPrivileges as a separate context entirely and don’t reuse objects across the context boundary for items with permissions.

Take Your SharePoint With You: NewsGator Social Sites on the iPad

So you’re using NewsGator Social Sites on your SharePoint intranet and you want to stay connected when you’re on the go?  Check out my new video blog on using the iPad app for NewsGator Social Sites.  As NewsGator’s inaugural Partner of the Year (2011), we just might know a little something about this.

Oh, and if you’re not using Social Sites to make SharePoint more social, you probably should be.  There’s a lot of knowledge out there to be managed that winds up slipping through your fingers if you don’t bring those conversations online and take advantage of crowdsourcing!

That link again in cut-and-paste format: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtzumRCYsEU&feature=digest_mon

Enjoy!