Author Archives: Ryan Thomas, EVP & GM - Microsoft Collaboration Services

Microsoft Teams vs. Zoom: Feature Comparison

For those using Zoom, hopefully you are carefully reconsidering your use based on the recent security concerns exposed. In this blog, I’ll review the features of Zoom relative to Teams to make sure users are aware of what they get and are giving up with each platform in the event they could take advantage of features that allow them to communicate and work better.   

Unlike a simple “review site,” I’ll address this from the view of a remote worker trying to get their job done and highlight the differences in functionality. This comparison is not intended to target the “social distancing cocktail party” crowd, though they may benefit from it as well. 

Security

Zoom should essentially be treated like an “open conversation” until they get their security issues fixed. The platform is easy to hack and Zoom has previously admitted to collecting and sharing users’ personal data. If security is a real concern, I would not recommend Zoom for anything that you wouldn’t feel comfortable with any random person hearing. 

Microsoft Teams does not use users’ data for anything other than to provide better services. The Microsoft 365 platform, in general, is designed around data loss prevention and information protection. However, it has more to protect as it is designed for persistent storage and collaboration on sensitive information, not just a simple video conferencing platform. 

Web Conferencing

Zoom is simple — which is part of what made it vulnerable. It’s really just an audio/video conferencing tool. Zoom makes it easy to set up a virtual meeting, meet, chat, discuss, and be done. It also doesn’t require any advanced authentication or account management besides your name. 

Teams has similar functionality, but may take a moment longer to set up a conference due to the intent of the platform. For example, Teams was built for integration with Microsoft 365, not as just a standalone product. Its scheduled meetings can be done from within its own calendar interface, which pulls directly from your Outlook/Microsoft calendar. You can also create meetings for Teams directly within Outlook and never open Teams. 

Video Calls & Chat

When it comes to one-on-one or multi-person calls and chatting, Zoom is heavily built around the ID of a meeting or user, which is senout for attendees to “join.” This system is designed to help users schedule meetings or start ad hoc video conferring meetings quickly, but it gets a lot less user-friendly when you want chat with someone, view their availability, jump on a video call, and add/remove people from that context.   

Teams is designed around the individual, not the meeting. Chatting with someone, adding another person to a chat stream, sharing documents and notes, and collaborating on files are Teams’ main goal. It’s called “Teams” for a reason — it’s meant to let smaller groups of people work together.  

It’s important to know that when sharing documents or data with people in ad hoc chats or video calls, that data is stored in OneDrive and available indefinitely if you want to continue working on it.   

Since Teams is part of the overall Microsoft 365 ecosystem, all the data is searchable and discussion/chats can be sent out via email. 

Telephone Integration

One of the biggest differences between Teams and Zoom is telephony. Zoom allows you to use a web link or a dial-in number for those joining from phones, but that’s pretty much where it leaves off. Teams has advanced integration with true calling capabilities because it was designed to replace telephone systems as well. 

For example, with the proper licensing, I can call a telephone or join someone else’s conference via a traditional dial-in number with Teams, treating it like it was a telephone. In a voice meeting or chat, when I want to add a user, I can choose to call their telephone to dial them in. If Teams knows the user, it allows you to choose to invite them via telephone or their traditional online user account.   

If you want the ability to add legitimate telephone capabilities (including receiving calls and voicemail), Teams is a much better choice. 

Complete Internal Communication

Teams was created to be complete internal communication hub — a context-based front-end to a lot of the work we perform on a daily basis. Its capabilities includeemailing, chatting, meeting, co-authoring documents, setting up calendar items, working on projects, and collaborating with both internal and external users on various secured topics and data.  

Teams allows users to work with documents in secure channels, synchronize data to desktopsand co-author documents, adding workflow and automation to them as well. It also allows users to notify others when certain changes are made or reduce notifications on items they don’t need to hear about.  

Teams provides for persistent notes integrated into meetings or work “locations and @ mentionand hashtags to message people and groups specifically or allow them to search for tagged data and conversations. 

One of the most important aspects of Teams is the ability to create multiple teams to work on specific content or projects and make sure those locations are private, secure, and audited, only accessible by the intended groups or users you define. 

Platforms

Both applications are available on all typical platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, and AndroidThere isn’t a big distinction here in terms of availability, and both tools can be browserbased. 

Price

Teams has a free version and the paid access starts with a $5 minimum licensing. However, most organizations already have Microsoft 365 Business Premium ($12.50) or E3 ($20) licensing, which includes a fullyfunctioning version of Teams at no additional cost. Prices increase if you want to use Teams as your office phone. 

Zoom has a free version with some meeting time limitations, and their standard pricing is approximately $15-20 per month. 

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that, in many ways, Teams and Zoom aren’t even comparable.  

Security aside, if all you want to do is create a video/audio conference calls from a computer, Zoom is certainly easier to set up and useBecause the functionality is very specific and limited, there isn’t much else to do with it. 

Teams, however, is designed to be an enterprise collaboration and productivity tool for business that do a lot more than calling and conferencing. The integration of documents, data, workstreams, permissions, and sharing all lend themselves to a deeper overall product. This product does come with some complexity and governance challenges that need to be addressed unless you simply want to use it for video conference calls. 

If you want to do more with the tools you have and prefer software you can manage internally via settings, provisioning, and auditing, Teams is the clear choice for you. 

How To Ensure Secure Collaboration In Microsoft Teams

In a time where remote work and distributed teams are more common than ever, ensuring your team can collaborate freely while keeping information secure is imperative. In this session, experts from Timlin Enterprises, LiveTiles, and Nucleus Cyber discuss what secure collaboration in Microsoft Teams entails and why it is important for your organization.

Watch the Webinar:

Meet the Speakers:

Ryan Thomas, CEO of Timlin Enterprises

Helping clients advance Office 365 capabilities to increase efficiency. Managed and professional services support migrations, administration, support, secure collaboration, automated business processes, and more.

Brad Hannes, Innovation Executive at LiveTiles

Defining the intelligent workplace. Giving developers and business users tools to easily create dashboards, employee portals, and corporate intranets that can be further enhanced by artificial intelligence and analytics features.

Steve Marsh, VP of Product at Nucleus Cyber

Provides a data-centric solution to secure collaboration. Delivers effective, intelligent security that minimizes data loss from internal misuse, rogue cloud environments, cyberespionage, and human error.

COVID-19 and Remote Work: Tips for Working and Collaborating Remotely

With the current COVID-19 pandemic impacting almost everyone these days, many organizations, groups, and people in general are trying to find ways to maintain business continuity very quickly.  Almost everything is more difficult when you have less time to make it happen. Since more than half of our team permanently works remotely and much of our business and customer efforts are completed remotely, we have been doing this for a while and thought the timing was right to share some of our tips and tricks with everyone out there.

Select a Technology / Tool

If you can standardize one tool for your company to use, it makes the effort a lot easier. Trying to use various different technologies to maintain continuity can be difficult. We are a Microsoft shop, so we use Microsoft Teams. Recently, Microsoft offered to give this tool away for free to help companies struggling with recent events.

In short, Microsoft Teams provides a platform for calling, video chatting, conferencing and recording, written and verbal discussion areas, file storage, document co-authoring, tagging, notifications, and more. Teams even allows for the compartmentalization of workstreams and security so you have context when collaborating in a certain location. Instead of one giant, open phone line, Teams helps streamline what you are working on and notifies when you people are working/discussing other topics.

Stop Emailing

This one is tough, but we recommend you think twice before emailing people within your organization. Email inboxes can be difficult to search properly, tedious to keep organized, and can make it hard for users to keep track of timelines and files.

In Microsoft Teams and other similar technologies, users can post documents, allow for collaboration on those documents, and determine who can and cannot edit those documents. If your team is working on a document without you, you can still hop in whenever you want to see the progress, add comments, or review updates. When you aren’t viewing the channel the document was added in, you won’t get bombarded or distracted as you might with email.

Reducing internal emails reduces clutter and distractions, and lets you choose the topics and virtual work locations that are important to you.

Talk to People

Schedule time to actively reach out and talk to your team throughout the day. We strongly suggest video chats (most laptops are equipped with a camera) so you can see their faces, look at their inflection, and remember there are human beings on the other side of these conversations. The biggest risk in remote work is the human isolation component. Now more than ever, with the recommendation to physically isolate, it is imperative for our mental health to stay connected, involved, and actively engaged in not just social activities, but also productive/work social activities.

Create Multi-Person Chats

A great way to encourage a positive online culture is to create and participate in chats between more than just two people. Go out of your way to respond, and others will follow suit. It’s inspiring to see people responding, helping, and moving the ball forward together in a way you can see (rather than just hoping it’s happening).

Consider an even wider audience chat instead of emails for major communication and news. Company-wide channels allow for responses and interaction from all the folks on the team — not just those in one department. Staying connected and cross-pollinating are the names of the game here.

Go one step further! Modern tools can securely invite people from outside your organization to participate with almost all the available activities for collaboration. Your contractors, vendors, support personnel, and partners will all be able to continue working with you — possibly better and more efficiently than they have up to until now.

Stay Notified

Since email, chat, and just about anything except a phone call or video chat are asynchronous, it’s important your technology notifies you of activities and changing information. In the old world, we called this “toast” because a small window in the lower right would pop up like a piece of toast, with just enough information on it so we knew what was going on, but not so much that had to interact or do anything about immediately unless we wanted to.

By using these notifications, you can continue working on your current efforts and glance quickly at notifications coming in. Emails and phone calls do not give you this level of anti-distraction capabilities.

Don’t Keep Documents Locally

Use the modern workplace tools to work on documents in a specific location where others can join in. When you get to the “can you take a look at this?” moment, you can easily ask and notify the group that you need some feedback. All work on the document(s) can be tracked, saved, and available for everyone at any time — without using ANY email.

Keep a History

One of our biggest issues with email is when we need to go back and look at a series of communications or activities and try to piece it back together. It feels like we must be a detective.  Choose a technology that keeps a running tab of contextual communications and documents so all you have to do is go look, maybe scroll a bit, and can view any version of the document at any time.  Then, when you add someone else to the workstream, you don’t have to try to find all the correct emails to forward to them in order to get them up to speed on the project  — they can simply go look in the channel for themselves.

Logically Segment the Work

Don’t use an advanced tool and treat it just like email. A singular Teams setup with one big channel where all your work, chats, meetings, and interaction occur is essentially the same single steam firehose that email gives you, and is not valuable.

Break up your work into logical areas, departments, projects, teams, and efforts. Don’t choose so many that you must jump around for absolutely everything, find the balance that best suits your company’s needs. If you need assistance making this determination, our specialized consultants are here to help. We are willing to help at no cost to you during this pandemic, so don’t suffer because you didn’t budget for an emergency. We are happy to have a quick call with your team to pass along best practices and get your remote work started off on the right foot.   

We hope this helps trigger some thoughts, ideas, and actions to make you and your organization more effective as you find you may have no choice but to work from home.

Stay safe,

Ryan Thomas
CEO, Timlin Enterprises

Get in touch with the Timlin Team

Top Takeaways, Announcements, and Moments from Microsoft Ignite 2019

Microsoft Ignite 2019 has come to a close, but we’re recapping all the fun that was had with a round-up of the top takeaways, announcements, and moments at this year’s event in Orlando. 

This year’s attendees were lucky enough to experience first-hand new Microsoft feature announcements, compelling sessions, and inspiring keynote speakers. 

Top Announcements from Microsoft Ignite

  • Autonomous Systems – You can now design and manage autonomous systems across their lifecycle with a comprehensive portfolio of leading-edge technology that you can apply to your real business scenarios. 
  • Microsoft Endpoint ManagerProvides transformative, modern management and security that meets customers where they are and helps them move to the cloud.
  • Microsoft Flow Becomes ‘Power Automate’UI flows bring together the rich feature set of API-based digital process automation (DPA) that is available today, with RPA UI-based automation to create a truly end-to-end automation platform.
  • Power Platform CertificationIn addition to the existing fundamentals and role-based certification types, Microsoft has added a third certification type—specialty. Specialty certifications validate deep technical skills and the ability to manage industry solutions, including third-party solutions, on or with Microsoft platforms. 
  • Teams Announcements – At Ignite, Microsoft announced a variety of new capabilities in Teams to help customers in all industries work in new ways and better respond to the evolving needs of their business.
  • Project Cortex – A new service that uses AI to create a knowledge network that reasons over your organization’s data and automatically organizes it into shared topics like projects and customers. 
  • Teams for Virtual ConsultationHealthcare providers can now schedule and conduct B2C virtual consultations through Teams with new Virtual Consults capabilities, and new features like SMS Sign-In and Global Sign-Out make it quick and easy for Firstline workers to securely access Teams from their mobile devices.
  • Edge AnnouncementThe new Microsoft Edge is built on the Chromium engine, providing best-in-class compatibility with extensions and web sites, providing great support for the latest rendering capabilities, modern web applications, and powerful developer tools across all supported platforms.
  • Updates to Azure Product and Service Offerings – A host of exciting updates about Azure Arc, Azure Stack, Azure Quantam, and Azure Synapse.

Top Takeaways from Microsoft Ignite

  • The Microsoft community is stronger than ever:  Community Central proved to be a popular place for the Microsoft community to gather and connect at this year’s event.
  • The tech industry is truly investing in women in business:  Female power and investment was a huge focus during the 2019 event, with daily sessions regarding women in business and technology, and a successful lunch & learn panel event. In addition, Microsoft is keeping the investment going after the conference — for every Ignite conference evaluation submitted, they are donating $1 to Girls Who Code.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Blair Niederhauser (@kcbrunetteintech) on

  • Microsoft Azure and the future of cloud computing:  From the Community Central day dedicated to Azure topics to the community whiteboard wall which encouraged people to talk about what Azure means to them, there sure was a lot of buzz about the future of cloud computing.

Top Moments from Microsoft Ignite 2019

Attendees of Microsoft Ignite know how to get social! Here are a few of our favorite photos shared during the week through the #MSIgnite hashtag. 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Daniel Rubino (@daniel_rubino) on

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by ShareGate (@sharegatetools) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Bexar County IT (@bexarcountyit) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Scott Duffy – Azure Trainer (@softwarearchitect.ca) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Kyla Mitsunaga (@withwarriors) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by jon (@jonmedel) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Danny (@dannycire) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Veritas Technologies LLC (@veritastechllc) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by BindTuning (@bindtuningcom) on

What were your favorite moments from MS Ignite? Let us know by following us on LinkedIn and starting a conversation with a comment on this post! 

6 Takeaways, Trends, and Observations from SPTechCon 2019

The successful completion of another SPTechCon Boston is under our belt.

As I like to do after these events, I stop and think about the people I talked to in the industry, the problems, and challenges they are encountering with various aspects of Office 365 tools and their businesses, plus what they hoped to achieve by attending the conference.

One of my main goals at SPTechCon is to speak with attendees and understand why they came to the event.  Most people come with some problems or ideas and hope to get more direct-human feedback on technology issues. 

Here are the big takeaways, challenges, and trends that I uncovered from conversations throughout the week:

Takeaways and Trends from SPTechCon 2019

1. Collaboration and Automation Are The Future

Microsoft Teams, Flow, PowerApps are the big winners over the past year and continue to lead today into the future. The desperate need for a powerful workflow engine to replace classic SharePoint features has put us in the driver’s seat to create real-world applications in SharePoint Online.

Microsoft Teams has been such a needed addition to the toolset that it’s no surprise how quickly it has taken off.  Users have switched over almost entirely to this tool for communication and collaboration, relying on classic SharePoint features for more process-based on document and information management.

2. Change is Constant in the Office 365 Ecosystem

Office 365 users have a difficult time making sure their team (often a team of one) can keep track of the features being updated and introduced by Microsoft. 

From small changes that derail a training exercise to whole new applications becoming available to an entire organization, changes to the platform are constant and can have a huge impact on how teams do business.

We, collectively, haven’t fully converted from the classic installation, service pack, and major revision model of yesterday. In the past, users and admins could review the release notes, understand the changes, test the installation, and release several feature changes on our schedule. Now, enhancements come in an unsteady stream.

This is a scary proposition to those who try to build and maintain the confidence of business while offering cutting edge capabilities.

It’s one of the reasons I publish the Timlin Office 365 Monthly Buzz Newsletter every month with updates, trends, and goings-on related to Office 365 and SharePoint. If you’d like to receive it, sign up here.

3. Understanding the Longer Microsoft Roadmap is Challenging at Best

Microsoft has never done a great job at helping us build a 3-5-year technology plan based on their feature and release roadmap – the guidance just isn’t cohesive enough. 

For example, if we knew that InfoPath and Workflow were going to be abandoned and replaced with PowerApps and Flow, we could have planned for it in advance. Also, the new versions of these tools don’t have feature parity, so they aren’t completely compatible as replacements.

This is a frustrating proposition for CIOs and technology leaders to recommend a plan, not knowing if the technology will be abandoned, what its possible replacement may be, and if something else will take its place within 2-3 years. 

The strategy, training, and political clout required to correctly implement these tools are too high to guess and hope.

4. Using Strategy and Governance Helps Identify the Right Tool(s) for the Job

The features in the Office 365 Suite contain several overlapping and interconnected capabilities.  Organizations struggle to understand how set the proper guidance, support, and train people down a path they are comfortable managing.

When there are too many ways to manage tasks, it becomes almost impossible to severely limit the choices, so many organizations turn to a “free for all” approach.  This methodology can increase initial user adoption, but almost always creates major problems if the platform takes off.

Organizations should consider when to use which tools and how to set the stage to provide solutions to their internal business problems in a well-orchestrated capacity. Information architecture, business analysis, governance, training, and ongoing support are all crucial to the success of user adoption and achieving digital transformation. 

5. Guaranteeing Proper User Adoption Isn’t Easy

Hopefully, you are noticing a theme here.  Most of these issues stem from similar problems.  Without the time or resources, you often have one of two paths to choose, or possibly both paths at the same time:

  1. Pick and choose high-value problems/solutions and solve for those.
  2. Open the spigot and let people use the tools in whatever way works for them.

Both approaches have their pros and cons, but I talked to a lot of frustrated business analysts and administrators that were expected to make these tools useful for thousands of people with no help beyond their knowledge of the platform.  This is not a good recipe.

6. Limited Time and Resources for Management and Maintenance are Commonplace

The obvious final piece of the puzzle is there isn’t enough time to make the impact these professionals want to make on their businesses.

For example, if an organization decides it needs a new ticket tracking system, it will create a team, spin up the plan, work it through to completion, provide training, support, and ongoing resources for management.  They will then require that all new tickets come through this system, thus ensuring its viability.

When organizations start using Office 365, they treat it much differently.  They bought it for email, Microsoft Office, and possibly OneDrive, and go into it assuming these are essentially desktop/individual tools.

The mindset and business approach to implementation are entirely different. Unlike a mandated/required ticketing system, many of the capabilities and solutions within Office 365 are not a pure requirement to complete work.

Instead, they are optional tools designed to create efficiency and error reduction.  You must think ahead, build solutions, and entice or require people to perform certain activities within these tools to solve specific problems.

The Roadmap Ahead In The Office 365 Industry

As you will note from these takeaways, the world, and the businesses that thrive within it, are changing.

Where we used to work so hard to create process, efficiency, and predictability, the new methods of succeeding are based on adaptability, flexibility, and some bravery to embrace and accept that the world around will be adjusting a pace that we’ve never seen before. 

Information (and misinformation) is given to the entire world in seconds, ideas, concepts, and features show up without warning. 

The classic IT mentality has been tested and appears to be failing in a world that needs something different.

In conclusion, Office 365 and SharePoint continue to help organizations harness the power of technology to improve operational efficiency. As with any technology that has numerous, regular updates, it can be challenging to keep up, though, but it’s worth it.

Reach out if you need any help as our team is very well versed in all of Office 365’s tools and capabilities.


How To Avoid Chaos By Following An Office 365 Governance Plan

avoid chaos with a governance plan

Office 365 has over 30 different applications. While you may not use all of them, failure to implement some level of governance for your critical and frequently used applications and lead to chaos — and a lot of trouble to unwind down the road.  The following are just some of the pain points that are likely to arise when you don’t follow a governance plan:

  • Symptom 1: Users can’t find information, use outdated materials, and don’t know where to put company documentation and materials.
  • Symptom 2: You can’t get anyone to use the tools, or you don’t know what they’re using
  • Symptom 3: You stumble on data that is being shared with unknown outside accounts
  • Symptom 4: You get a lot of phishing emails, and are very concerned about private data escaping
  • Symptom 5: When the IT person who managed your Intranet left the company, everything just stopped getting used
  • Symptom 6: You don’t know what these tools are good for within your organization
  • Symptom 7: The features are always changing and you’re not sure when and how to stay on top of it
  • Symptom 8: You struggle with Shadow IT

Have you encountered any of the above issues?

These problems arise when you have organic growth and use.  Content, data collections, teams, sites, folders, permissions, etc. are created, used, and shared at the discretion of most or all end users.  Little to no information architecture has been completed.  Business users lack awareness in the capabilities, so they only use a small fraction of the features or none at all.  There’s a strong need for alignment.

Establishing and executing a governance strategy enables organizations to:

  • Understand and close the gap on corporate policies relative to the technology available that can break or help follow those policies
  • Align the configuring and security of the technology and tools to align with corporate policies
  • Provide guidance to the organization regarding how these tools can help solve real-world business problems in an IT-supported manner
  • Bring a group of people together to help define and follow objectives that marry the technology to the needs of the business
  • Define specific training opportunities and requirements
  • Understand the type of internal support needed for these tools
  • Maintain a process to continuous improvement by meeting regularly to discuss how to adjust to the changing needs of the business along with the changing capabilities of the tools that serve it.
  • Remove IT as a single point of failure and single “owner” of the technology.

What do you ACTUALLY need to Govern?

Not everything needs governance, some tools are pretty specific and relatively independent.  It certainly depends on how your organization runs culturally, but the following are the common tools and applications that are often cross-used enough to require governance:

  • Microsoft Teams
  • Intranet (not an application, but common use of the tools)
  • SharePoint
  • Planner
  • OneDrive
  • OneNote

It’s important to keep in mind that one of the main goals of governance is to drive user adoption, predictable usage, and trust in the IT department to serve the business.  These factors will drastically help cut down on Shadow IT and the unsanctioned and unsupported use of external tools and sharing of organizational IP.

Microsoft Teams

Teams is new on the scene but is being adopted faster than any other new Microsoft product I’ve ever seen. This is good and bad news for those of us trying to help ensure proper long-term use of such applications.  The tendency for early sprawl is very high, and without a history of experience to rely on, it makes proactive governance more difficult for this type of application.

However, there are governance plans that will help with Teams.  The process is generally the same as the other tools or applications, but you need to understand what Teams is capable of offering so that you can understand what questions to ask to ensure proper guidance.

Teams governance should conclude with an understanding of how you agree your organization will start using Teams, but not necessarily how they will be using it down the road.  You want to understand configuration, naming conventions, permissions, content, lifecycles, sharing, training, support, guidance, and administration.  You also want to know which folks on your team(s) will be responsible for helping to support this plan tactically.

Intranet

Your intranet is your place to disseminate important company information in an organized and “findable” manner.  It makes sense to understand the needs of different departments, ensure they have the training and understanding to follow the process, and the diligence to follow-through on the plan.  Having an agreement and guidance on the type and location of content from multiple stakeholders, and plan to ensure the intranet does not become stale is critical to its long-term success.

Intranets tend to be a cultural phenomenon as opposed to a technical masterpiece.  User Adoption is the primary goal of this type of application.  Keep that in mind as you envision your organization’s needs over time.  The best intranets are the ones where people need to use them to find information.  If you don’t really need one, consider using Microsoft Teams as a quasi-Intranet instead.  Any movement away from using Email as storage mechanism for corporate knowledge and data is a good thing.

SharePoint

SharePoint has had a bad rap over the years because it’s essentially just a platform and set of services.  It doesn’t solve a whole bunch of problems by itself.  It’s not the dining room table and chairs, it’s a pile of lumber and set of nice power tools.  Most people hammer together a couple of 2x4s and then say “SharePoint sucks”, I should have just bought a table and chairs.  Having worked on this platform for over 12 years, I completely understand.  I will offer the counter-point with a Governance spin:

The beauty of SharePoint is that the pile of lumber and tools can make almost anything, but we need to think about what we really need, can build, use, and support.  It’s generally our own fault when our SharePoint implementation fails.  The key is to understand what clearly identified and agreed upon problem is being solved, before planning the build out, use, and support for it.

Governance forces us to ask for what we intend to use technology, and how we plan to use and maintain it.  If we want to use SharePoint for project management, we would create a strategy for naming conventions, permissions, templates, data contained within these sites, their lifecycle and archival plan, ownership, and more.  Most importantly, the governance team would agree to monitor, adjust, and enforce decisions that drive the guided user adoption as intended.

Planner / OneDrive / OneNote

I bundle these three together not because they don’t deserve their own attention, but because of the somewhat more fluid and individual nature of their use.  Planner could definitely have a more guided strategy if teams have expectations around how a board is built and used, but there is a lot of freedom in these particular applications.

Governance around these tools is generally kept at the policy, security, sharing, and training level because restricting how someone takes notes is not the control we want to achieve.  However, guidance for the type of data stored in OneDrive versus a Team or SharePoint site makes a lot of sense.  Knowing that a OneDrive repository will eventually be deleted after an employee departs means that data stored there needs to be user-based, not team-owned.

OneNote can be used as an agreed upon source for certain collaboration tasks within Teams and Sites, with a predictable format of naming conventions for notebooks, sections, and pages, but also allowing for the individual/personal use of these tools in whatever manner suits the employees.

Each application has some elements that can and should be governed while opening up the other aspects for freedom of use.  The key is awareness and training to help business users understand what the tools can do for them.

Build It And They Will Come

Governance does not have to be a multi-month, drawn-out project. In these cases, most organizations will abandon the effort before the go-live date.

Instead, Governance should involve some initial up-front effort, and then a small and consistent (habit-forming) commitment to making minor modifications moving forward. Just like anything else, once the system is built for ongoing success and is well understood, the torch can be passed to other folks on the team to continue the process.

Start small, don’t worry too much about backing yourselves into a corner. Meeting on a regular basis with your governance committee and other stakeholders to discuss the usage and guidance will allow you to make course corrections based on critical feedback from your user base.

Instead of building something without the user in mind, a governance plan allows the process to be intentional and deliberate, as it reinforces to those users that you are there for long-haul to continue the digital transformation journey.


How to Increase User Adoption of Office 365 Through Contextual Training

Learning a new technology in itself can be difficult. Add on all of the daily work you and your employees have to do and the quarterly goals you have to hit, and it can be quite the headache to bring in new processes. Even though you know a new technology can speed up productivity, the unknown aspects of adopting it are reason enough to deter you from trying. It’s why you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them.

Organizations try to help by investing in training when adopting a new technology tool, but it’s usually a one size fits all approach. For example, they will hire a trainer, and teams will take courses over the span of several weeks to learn how to use Office 365 tools. But at the end of the training, employees are just scratching the surface of the new tools. With all the resources available, why are they not adopting the new technology?

First, tools like Office 365 are constantly evolving. Second, teams don’t invest in training that offers tailored training, support, and guidance that’s applicable to their departments and day-to-day responsibilities.

At Timlin Enterprises, we believe contextual training is the key to unlock the technology adoption door. Let’s unpack how our approach is encouraging users to embrace Office 365.

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

First and foremost, employees need to have a reason to learn something new. For example, I don’t just go to my garage and start woodworking. I learn by building something. This would be something simple at first like a birdhouse to learn the basics until I can advance my skills to build a table. Without a goal, most people don’t have the mental energy to apply the knowledge to something that they will retain. This is the main reason generic training fails. Without a specific problem to solve, the material is forgotten.

Awareness is the First Step to User Adoption

It’s crucial to create awareness of new technology within your organization before beginning a training program. If users don’t even know they can use Office 365 for more than email and document storage, they won’t even think about it, much less attempt to use it.

Start by building awareness and knowledge of the tool and its capabilities in a way that’s relevant to employee skill sets, organizational guidance (governance), and areas with small problems. We use past customer experiences to understand what different organizational roles are most likely to need. We talk to Human Resources about document publishing and maintenance, onboarding workflows, and templates for distributing organizational information.

Offering these small sessions targeted at specific types of users and capabilities starts to generate ideas, initial knowledge, and even excitement about Office 365. This is all part of the plan. As long as people know what is possible, and they have been given a conduit to get help, you’ve given them the key to unlock the door.

Knowledge is Power

With ongoing feature awareness in full swing, start working regularly with the teams and departments to talk about inefficiencies, issues in the process, struggles, and generally trying to uncover small elements of their work that could be simple training opportunities. It’s important to bring employees through the training at a comfortable pace. We’ve found that training and support are often intertwined, with more formal training coming out of needs analysis uncovered from common support trends.

For example, we work with end users to solve small problems, showing them exactly what we did, and how the features work. It’s an opportunity to train, teach, and provide a solution all in one instance—the very essence of contextual training. We also discuss those instances internally to uncover patterns that help us understand additional proactive training opportunities. If we see several people with similar issues, we can help solve for that across a larger audience.

The goal here is really to provide practical knowledge, not theoretical capabilities. New knowledge only sticks when the user has a vested interest in learning, such as when they need a solution to complete an important task.

The Building Blocks of Digital Transformation

Contextual training and user adoption are essential as you work to achieve digital transformation within your organization. It’s a building-block approach to learning. Users can’t absorb too much information all at once. Instead, implement a contextual training program that spans several months, so users can focus on specific training that relates to their specific job and processes.

Empowering users with knowledge of the tools to solve specific problems is what impacts real change. By continually adding to their day-to-day capabilities, employees will use Office 365 more often and will eventually consider it an essential part of how they work.

Compared to pre-built training, videos, books, or intense training classes, a contextual approach really adheres to the principles of digital transformation and true learning. By investing in contextual training, you’ll see user adoption and engagement of Office 365 soar within your organization.

 

 

Offshore Support: The Detriment to Digital Transformation

Effectively supporting a platform as extensive (and complex) as Office 365 is challenging, and you need to know the resources in place are up to the task.  

It’s why we made an intentional decision when we introduced our new Office 365 Center of Excellence Managed Services to continue our approach of using only US-based support resources. An offshore approach is often in direct opposition to the goals of our company and our clients.

Digital transformation requires collaboration, automation, and task efficie

cy, and it relies heavily on clear and trustworthy communication among key stakeholders of an organization, their teams, and their vendors. I have had countless conversations with business users and owners who are frustrated with poor customer support and then turn to Shadow IT as a result of their poor experiences.

This trend of short-term cost-savings by using less expensive resources overseas has permeated beyond its original usefulness.

There is a place for offshore work, but directly engaging with business users to assist with the training, support, and implementation of Office 365 tools and capabilities is not one of them. Why? Because the successful adoption of Office 365 requires a change in people, NOT technology.

You need the right tools for the job, and this job is about applying the right people to the process.  Business users are listening only at a point when they have a need.

If there is a communication, culture, or technical barrier at that extremely impactful point in time, there is a chance you lose the opportunity to solve that organization’s problems.  

I look at each and every one of those moments as the most critical aspect of digital transformation. If we can help that one user in that instance, some small magic happens: We gained a little more of their trust.  We gave them some knowledge they lacked previously. They use the tools a little more than yesterday. They might tell their colleagues about this.

However, if the situation ended poorly, it can have a big and negative impact on the business as a whole. With the wrong people assisting your business users, you’re probably moving the needle in the wrong direction.

This applies to more than offshoring, it applies to poorly skilled support staff in general. It all adds upon the same — if your business users don’t receive the required experience during the overwhelming majority of their direct encounters, you are most likely doing more harm than good.

If your organization cares about digital transformation, keep this in mind as you build your plan to actually enable your broader workforce to adopt these tools. And if you’re interested in how we deliver expectational services by using only US-based services, learn more about our Office 365 Center of Excellence approach here.

Highlights and Observations from SPTechCon 2018

Boston’s SPTechCon for 2018 wrapped up after a flurry of activities over a 4-day event. I wanted to give a shout out to the folks that put on this event for the hard work that goes into planning and execution. A heartfelt thank you goes out to the excellent crop of speakers and vendors that put their experience, knowledge, and opinions into presentation form to help all of us in the community. Without these folks, the conference and this community would not be possible.

The Timlin Enterprises team and I had a great time at the conference this year. Here are some recurring themes and observations I would like to share based on my conversations with speakers and attendees.

SharePoint is Still Going Strong!

Although we all want to talk about Office 365 and the absolute abundance of features being offered, we cannot overlook the needs of a large number of organizations that are running SharePoint 2013.

The community and conference tailor a lot of presentations to Office 365 and cloud capabilities, however, many customers are unable to take advantage of these features since they haven’t made the investment yet.

Minimal Talk about SharePoint 2016

I didn’t talk to a single person about SharePoint 2016 during SPTechCon. This also coincides with our experience in our day-to-day consulting. It appears that organizations fall into several camps:

  1. Smaller, nimble, able to head to Office 365 without as much technical baggage to contend with. They moved to Office 365 quickly.
  2. Larger, cloud-first initiatives and chose not to upgrade on premises anymore. They’ve moved to Office 365.
  3. New players to the SharePoint world who are too small to even have SharePoint previously because of the costs. They chose to go directly to the cloud and not on-premise.
  4. Too large to migrate in all and are leveraging a slower methodology. They want to migrate. These organizations appear to be in the thick of trying it or have some elements in the cloud already.
  5. Cloud-timid organizations that are very cautious about moving their data to Office 365. These are organizations usually in Financial Services, Government, or similar industries. Their employees seem to be somewhat frustrated by falling behind in digital capabilities.

Even with a huge cloud focus, I still would have expected a couple more SharePoint 2016 or planned 2019 upgrades to show themselves. I truly hope these folks find a path forward; the features have really improved over the last six years and will continue to build upon a whole modern set of tools they have no access to use.

The Third-Party Application Market Continues to Thrive

During the initial transition to Office 365, there was some trepidation and lack of direction for how the classic SharePoint product companies would react. A lot of small, independent products popped up to see what would stick, and the larger organizations needed to adapt or become obsolete, like the Blockbusters of the world.

I love times of major change, even when it negatively impacts us in the short term. It forces the market to think, retool, and make their offerings better. It also provides new opportunities for smaller players to get their ideas into the market. Some absolutely great products have emerged based on the massive use of Office 365, and they continue to gather momentum.

Big Demand and Challenges for Constant Feature Releases in Office 365

There are big demand and challenges for the constant features being announced and released in Office 365.  Folks have a difficult time knowing which features are out there, when they are being released, and how to plan and provide them for their end users in a deliberate and supportive way.

We had a LOT of conversations about these topics. It should be a concern for organizational leadership because digital transformation efforts are very difficult to nurture when end users are unable to receive the support they need to understand and use these tools effectively.

Based on discussions with our customers, folks attending the conference, and constantly watching the landscape, I believe our community (and our business here at Timlin) will be spending most of its time over the next few years addressing these demands and challenges.

Organizations are Focused on User Adoption and Engagement

One theme throughout the conference was the focus on user adoption and employee engagement.  We heard it directly from Naomi Moneypenny of Microsoft during her keynote on Tuesday.   It was also the theme or subject of a number of the educational sessions. Microsoft has developed tools and features in Office 365 to a maturity level that the challenge is no longer technical in nature, but rather it is all about the user.

In a study provided by AIIM, 67 % of respondents indicated inadequate user training was the number one reason that their SharePoint deployment was not deemed a success. This completely coincides with what we are seeing from our customers, and why we have shifted from a technical-based approach to one entirely focused on the users.   If you build it they will come is just not going to work.  It is always good to get confirmation that what we are seeing in the Office 365 marketplace is the same as what others are now talking about.

Again, thank you to the SPTechCon event organizers for another great year. We had a great time chatting with the speakers and attendees during our sessions and on the floor at our booth. In case you missed it, you can download the slides from my and Ian Dicker’s sessions below.

And if you’re interested in learning more about our Office 365 and SharePoint Center of Excellence approach, you can download our free white paper here.

An Alternative Approach: How to Achieve Success with an Office 365 Center of Excellence

How to Achieve Success with an Office 365 Center of Excellence

The future is digital. Every company, irrespective of industry, is, or will soon be, thinking and operating like a digital company, re-engineering operations to support the new speed of business. If you’ve invested in Office 365, you have the capability to execute your own digital transformation. Enabling and sustaining that capability, however, can be challenging for even the largest organizations.  

Just maintaining deep knowledge on the entire platform and understanding the implications of each tool and every enhancement on your environment alone can be daunting. It’s why taking the “if you build it they will come” approach to Office 365 is simply destined for failure.

That’s why we developed an alternative, managed approach – the Office 365 Center of Excellence. We approach digital transformation as a process, instead of a project. Our proven methodology is made up of six pillars which we’ll explore in this blog post and will show how you can achieve the maximum success of your Office 365 investment with a Center of Excellence approach.

What is a Center of Excellence?

The Center of Excellence is a proven process methodology that provides solutions beyond standard managed services by utilizing six services areas to improve and execute on digital transformation in Office 365 and SharePoint. Through this process, Office 365 becomes an extremely powerful business productivity solution that if used and supported correctly, can greatly improve innovation, deliver business value, protect your internal and external data, decrease reliance on email, and further empower your employees.  



 

Six Pillars of a Successful Office 365 Center of Excellence

The power of the Center of Excellence (CoE) comes from combining the right skills, activities, and commitment and focusing them on your organization’s goals. There are six service areas that require focus for a successful Office 365 CoE, and communication is their underlying foundation. Let’s take a look at each service area:

  • Strategy
    Strategy is critical to success because it forces your organization to define what you need instead of expecting the technology to solve problems that have not been thoroughly defined. Strategic efforts focus heavily on asking stakeholders what problems must be solved and defining the value derived by meeting the goals. Developing a strategy first allows you to measure success in a tangible way to ensure you meet your objectives. In addition, when employees understand why they are being asked to do something, they generally respond more favorably when they know the vision of the project.
  • Governance
    Governance takes Strategy down to the service level. Governance efforts define usage policies, guidelines, and rules for your solutions. A successful plan leverages Microsoft’s best practices, demonstrates how to use different services to meet the business objectives, and ensures there is ownership of critical requirements and processes.

    Governance is critical because it requires that other parts of the business are engaged to ensure success. One of the most important aspects of governance is gaining traction with a group of stakeholders that will take ownership of the digital transformation process. And governance doesn’t stop — it requires regular meetings to discuss progress, collect feedback, and make changes to the governance plan, roadmap, and service offerings as technology and business needs change.
  • Architecture
    Architecture focuses on the technical components of leveraging Office 365, including information architecture, taxonomy, metadata, branding, user experience, best practices, technology changes, application integration, and the continuous effort to ensure that all the pieces fit together correctly for your organization.
  • Training
    Training isn’t one size fits all. It’s customized training in small doses on a regular basis in order to increase user understanding and adoption. Custom training combined with repetition increases user interaction and sends a message to the end users that your organization cares enough to ensure users have what they need to be effective.
  • Administration
    Administration components in Office 365 are different from classic on-premises platforms. The needs of patching, service packs, upgrades, and most of the routine maintenance activities are gone. However, many of those requirements have been replaced with new features and capabilities that should not be ignored. A successfully engaged administration plan will involve monitoring Microsoft messaging relating to tenant updates, changes, and outages. It’s not uncommon to see 15 or more messages per week relating to items affecting each Office 365 environment.
  • Support
    Support includes defined service level agreements based on requirements of the business. If your organization needs 24×7, one-hour response time because it’s critical to the business objectives, then this must be considered. CoE resources must have deep understanding of the platform and capabilities. While no single person understands it all, it’s imperative that your organization’s support skills align with its intended use of Office 365. With user adoption, including from your support teams, this will grow organically. While all the service areas are important, this is the area to absolutely ensure the proper resources are in place. Most customer contact, feedback, and ideas are generated through support interaction. Proper support teams will have plans to collect feedback and present this information to the governance and architecture teams to continue the circle of improvement.

The Importance of Process

The real CoE magic happens when you have the right combination of pillars driven by a defined and ongoing process, supported by the right resources for each set of activities, all of which are set with the proper cadence.

Your CoE is like a puzzle. All your components should fit together to showcase your vision with a total solution.

Without some pillars (or pieces of the puzzle), you will find there will be a hole in your process. Depending on the size of your organization, the needs and complexity of the solution will vary, but all are necessary to a certain degree.

When your entire plan is working harmoniously, it demonstrates to the organization the capability of IT to deliver on the needs of the business. This builds internal trust, while spotlighting IT as a leader and innovator in your organization, versus positioning IT as a cost center. This is key to transform your internal end users’ impressions of IT of simply providing tools and services to one where IT provides full life-cycle solutions to business problems.

A Customer-Centric Approach

The difficulty with digital transformation is that it is 100% based on people and their ability and willingness to change how they operate. When all of the pillars of the CoE are executed and maintained, user adoption will increase. As adoption increases, the entire solution becomes self-sustaining.

There is a tipping point where existing users create most of the new demand for capabilities because of their reliance on these tools. Your CoE activities drive user adoption, which in turn, support your overall transformation efforts. You should see a few of these benefits across your organization as overall user adoption grows:

  • Cultural shift from manual processes to automated technologies
  • Increased efficiency from a work processing perspective
  • Decreased reliance on email
  • Streamlined communication, searchable communication

With a Center of Excellence approach, you will begin to see an increase in user awareness, engagement, adoption, and all of the measurable and tangible benefits of true digital transformation.

If you are interested in delving deeper into the Center of Excellence methodology, you can learn more by downloading our free whitepaper here.