Timlin’s Shift from SharePoint Designer to Flow & PowerApps

SharePoint Designer has been a go-to tool for SharePoint admins and developers for over a decade. And it has been a great tool, in the right hands of an accomplished developer.  When combined with the powerful forms capabilities in InfoPath, it proved to be a powerful tool to automate business processes but did require extensive expertise.

However, with the move to the cloud, Designer-based solutions have struggled.

Not only do Flow and PowerApps dominate the headlines, but they also enjoy nearly all of Microsoft’s R&D dollars for no/low-code solutions in Office 365.  SharePoint Designer has been stagnant with no new releases since the 2013 version.  Mainstream support for the product ends on 7/13/2021.  It is actually quite surprising that the tool is still used as much as it is.

There also have been recent advisories where Designer solutions could not be opened or edited for several days. And I have personally witnessed Designer blow away an entire section of a workflow when the desktop application suddenly crashed. Unfortunately, the version restoration capabilities available for Designer solutions running in on-prem environments does not work for SharePoint Online.

As risk continues to increase for Designer-based solutions, advancements in Flow and PowerApps make these the new, go-to tools for new solution creation at Timlin.

We have recently engaged with a number of customers with complicated SharePoint designer based solutions where we have rebuilt those solutions using the Flow and PowerApps tools.  With the recent innovations in Flow and PowerApps, the time is right to look closely at retiring SharePoint designer based solutions.  Thus, we recommend performing an inventory of your SharePoint environment and noting all Designer solutions and develop a rebuild strategy.

If you have any questions or need assistance, you can reach out to our team here and we will happily give guidance on performing a SharePoint inventory.

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

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.

The Ultimate Guide to SPTechCon Boston

It’s summertime and that means the annual SPTechCon Boston conference is happening in a few weeks. The Sharepoint & Office 365 conference will be in the Bay State from August 26 – 29, 2018. The conference is a training, problem-solving, and networking event for those who are working with SharePoint, OneDrive, and Office 365. Attendees will have access to users and companies to find solutions to their current environments. In addition, attendees will have many opportunities to collaborate with other users and to discover strategies to work smarter and increase productivity within their organizations.

If you’re planning to attend SPTechCon this year, we put together this ultimate guide so you know all the details, and information, and even a couple of strategies to make the most of your experience.

SPTechCon Key Dates

Now until August 10th: Registration open – get your ticket to SPTechCon Boston here. Register using our code TIM18 to receive a discount.

August 10th: Registration Ends

August 15th: Last day to make hotel reservations at Sheraton Boston Hotel

August 26th: First Day of Conference — Tutorials & Challenges, Exhibit Hall Open and Evening Reception with Lightning talks (at 5 pm)

August 27th: Second Day of Conference — Technical Classes, Keynote by Karuana Gatimu from Microsoft, Exhibit Hall Open, Networking Reception (at 5:30 pm)

August 28th: Third Day of Conference — Technical Classes, Naomi Moneypenny from Microsoft, Exhibit Hall Open, O365 User Group Meeting (at 5:30 pm)

August 29th: Last Day of Conference — Stump the Experts (at 10 am), Interactive Panel Discussion (at 10:45 am), Technical Classes  

Exciting Programs Happening at SPTechCon Boston

Office 365 Hands-On Challenge

When: Sunday, August 26, 2018 
Join fellow members on August 26th of the collaborative Office 365 and SharePoint community in participating in a challenge to create digital collaborative solutions for Plymouth State University’s Music and Theater Department. There will be up to five teams each with a different Office 365 related challenge to solve, and each team will have an expert advisor from the SPTechCon Speakers to guide them through hurdles uncovered in the challenge. To learn more and to apply to participate in the challenge,
visit the conference website.

Communication Sites as a Real-World Example

When: Monday, August 27 at 11:30 am
Description: Ian Dicker, Director of Architecture at Timlin Enterprises will provide a real-world example of an intranet built using Communication Sites, extensions, and web parts using the SharePoint Framework. He will discuss the design challenges and how they were addressed. Add this session to your agenda here

Digital Transformation and Employee Engagement – How to Make It Happen with Office 365
When: Monday, August 27, 2018, at 3:15 pm
Description: In this session, Ryan Thomas, CEO of Timlin Enterprises, will provide specific ideas on what you can do to help your organization successfully implement features in Office 365 that result in increased user adoption and true employee engagement. User adoption is not a project and requires a disciplined, process-driven approach with the proper strategy, governance, architecture, and training components. This approach ensures you engage your employees and gain the business value of digital transformation using O365.

Ask SharePoint & Office 365 Experts Anything
When: Tuesday, August 28, 2018, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Description: This will be a 1:1 discussion with experts in the SharePoint community as we hold a combined SharePoint User Group meeting for the entire New England region. Speakers from the SPTechCon Conference as well as other Microsoft and MVP attendees will take your questions in an informal setting. For more details, 
visit the conference website.

Stump the Experts
When: Wednesday, August 29, 2018, at 10:00 am
Timlin Enterprises is excited to moderate this year’s Stump the Experts Panel happening on August 29th at 10 am. This will be an open discussion where you can test your knowledge or find out the answers to troubling SharePoint and Office 365 topics against some of the best. So come prepared to listen, learn some new things, and to have some fun.

How To Get The Most Out Of Your SPTechCon Experience

  • To make the most of your attendance, you need to prepare.  Build your conference schedule in advance, but make sure you leave some time open during the day to recharge and find some solitude. Conferences are jam packed with sessions and networking so you want to make sure you have time in your day to see everything you want to see, without burning out by the end of each day.
  • Register for SPTechCon Boston before August 10th and use the Timlin discount code, TIM18.
  • Set goals for networking and education. While you’re planning your schedule, make a list of the new things you want to learn while attending SPTechCon and who you want to meet.
  • Speak to the companies in the Exhibit Hall. They want to chat with you and this is a great way to warm up to networking and conversing with those people on your list. While you’re in the Exhibit Hall, be sure to say hello to the Timlin team at booth #301.
  • Join the conversation on social media. Connect with speakers and other Sharepoint and Office 365 users by chatting on Twitter under the official conference hashtag, #SPTechCon

We can’t wait to SPTechCon Boston and look forward to seeing you there! Let us know if you’ll be coming to the conference by following and sending us a message on Twitter, @TimlinEnt.

Seven Key Ways to Gain Value from Office 365 User Adoption

To maximize your Office 365 investment, you need to ensure user adoption, so it’s imperative to incorporate proven change acceptance techniques when introducing new technology to your employees. Once you have business and IT alignment in regards to your innovation goals, it’s time to implement the software and ensure your users adopt, use, and expand their skills within Office 365.

Let’s explore seven key areas of value your business will realize with full Office 365 user adoption.

1.) Increased Efficiency and Innovation

With a functioning and adopted Office 365 solution in place, you save time managing technology and can focus on delivering innovation to your business. In order to achieve this level of innovation, your users will need to know how to properly use the Office 365 tools and will need to be comfortable using them on a daily basis.

Continually provide the solutions you know users need. For example, don’t let users randomly discover tools like Microsoft Teams. Instead, engage with and provide them with training, guidelines, and a process for using Teams to ensure they’re using it optimally amongst their own teams and across departments.

“With a functioning and adopted Office 365 solution in place, you save time required for managing technology and instead, can focus on delivering innovation and value to your business.”

2.) Protected Data: Internally and Externally

In 2017 alone, there were 1,120 total data breaches and more than 171 million personal records of consumers exposed. This number of attacks is only expected to increase, with a target on small and large companies alike.

Luckily, Office 365 has tremendous control and compliance capabilities across email, SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams, and Yammer, which makes it easier to control and protect proprietary information.

Properly enacting the policies, procedures, retention, disposition, data loss prevention, and information protection enable content sharing, internally and externally, while ensuring data is secure. Using Office 365 tools to collaborate with external partners, as opposed to non-supported third-party tools like Box or Dropbox, also ensures your content is properly governed and risk is reduced.

3.) Effectively Managed Intellectual Property

When your users have properly adopted Office 365, confidential or proprietary information moves to your intranet, Teams or team sites, communication sites, project areas, and OneDrive. By reducing your organization’s reliance on email, and instead, storing key information in a reliable system specifically designed for a search-first user experience, you more efficiently manage critical data and intellectual property.

Gone are the days when file shares, email, and the “My Documents” folder are haphazardly used. And with today’s agile workforce, it’s key that your important knowledge is maintained within your organization’s Office 365 structure and not in someone’s inbox, on their own personal device, or another unsupported third-party service.

“Using Office 365 components for more than simple email and document storage creates new opportunities for improving efficiencies.”

4.) Increased Business Intelligence

Once users have adopted Office 365, your organization can use Power BI to access valuable data stored in the various tools and deliver insights to make intelligent business decisions.

Microsoft has long been a leader in this area for a decade. Gartner has positioned them as a Leader in their Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms for ten consecutive years. Sample areas where Power BI delivers insight include:

  • Key financial metrics
  • IT spend
  • Sales effectiveness

It’s another way using Office 365 components for more than simple email and document storage creates new opportunities for improving your organization’s efficiencies.

5.) Empowered Employees

With Office 365, you can empower employees by enabling more effective collaboration and supporting decentralized teams and remote workers through tools like intranets, extranets, and collaboration solutions using SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive and all the features in Office 365. Employees now have a work environment that’s intelligent, flexible, and secure, and they can collaborate from anywhere, on any device.

6.) Decreased Reliance on Email & Client Applications

With Office 365, you eliminate the need to upgrade your desktop software, patch servers, and perform platform migrations every four years. This time savings improves productivity, allowing you to identify your organization’s business opportunities instead of just worrying about the IT problems. The underlying changes with upgrades, server patches, and platform migrations still happen, but they are gradual and more manageable as they happen over the platform life cycles.

Embracing and supporting employees’ use of Office 365 also keeps them on the front edge of modern technology, providing opportunities to grow their skills and career.

7.) Accelerated Digital Transformation

The difficulty with digital transformation is that it is 100% based on people and their ability and willingness to change how they operate. Users can send emails and use online file shares, but social content, publishing, project management, document management, business automation, and business intelligence are a different story. Full user adoption accelerates the speed of business and your digital transformation.

Unfortunately, an organization cannot simply deploy software and expect magic to happen. It’s accelerating broader business activities, processes, competencies, and models to fully leverage digital technologies. It’s challenging business leaders to harness technology to shape their specific destiny. It’s a living process that shifts throughout the journey.

It’s why 88% rely on third-party providers for at least one component.  

 It’s also why we leverage a proven process methodology that we refer to as Center of Excellence service for Office 365 and related technologies.

Interested in learning more about a Center of Excellence approach? Download our free whitepaper here.

The New Role of IT: How to Be Successful with Office 365 in the Face of Constant Change and Innovation

Over the past few years, IT has transitioned from a department focused on infrastructure and support to one of innovation, transformation, and competitive advantage. Traditional roles, resources, and expectations have been disrupted by shifting user demands and needs. To keep up and ahead of these demands, the IT department now has an important seat at the executive table. The role of IT is to not only provide technical support but to also provide fresh solutions and tools that will keep their organization ahead of the wave of innovation.

Cloud Computing Brings Change and Innovation

The focus in IT has been sky-high. Organizations and users fully understand and prefer the flexibility and collaboration of cloud technology. Now, IT is expected to lead the charge into the cloud by providing innovation, efficiency, collaboration, and—most importantly—business value. But many IT departments have high expectations to provide increased, faster, and better results with fewer resources and less time. Without the right technology and budgets, supporting, training, and managing SaaS technology becomes a daunting task.

At the same time of all this change and disruption, Office 365 has emerged and is aimed squarely at supplying the tools to make these capabilities accessible and less daunting for IT departments. By 2019, Microsoft expects two-thirds of their traditional Office customers to migrate to Office 365 subscription plans. This demonstrates a new normal for IT and the end-user community.

So as IT faces this new normal, how can you be successful in this new role? It requires two requisites.
Let’s dive in.

Business and IT Alignment

Leading business transformation with these new tools requires vision and focus. Without a laser-focused vision and a means to measure your intended success, most implementations are based on assumptions, and IT professionals are guessing their way through the process.

Instead of playing a guessing game, IT can take a step up to align technology with the needs of the business. IT can no longer work in a silo — they need to be invited to the table to define, release, and support solutions that will improve the business.

To successfully align IT with business, start by:

  • Meet with all stakeholders to understand their specific requirements—in detail—and clearly communicate why the services will benefit them and how business value will be achieved.
  • Implement solutions like Office 365 that meet all requirements.
  • Align stakeholders when planning and deploying collaboration solutions.

User Adoption

Just because an organization deploys Office 365, doesn’t mean they’ll reap the benefits of digital transformation. ‘Build it and they will come’ simply doesn’t work with this type of solution. The difficulty is that success is 100% based on people and their abilities and willingness to change how they operate. Users can send emails and use online file shares, but social content, publishing, project management, document management, business automation, business intelligence, etc., need support from skilled personnel.

The path to success begins at user awareness, which leads to user engagement, and ends with user adoption. Here are a few ways to become successful in your user adoption strategies:

  • Awareness
    It’s important to communicate to end users the benefits that the Office 365 platform provides. Initial and ongoing communication across your end user community enlightens them on what is possible, prevents misunderstandings, and provides a sense of belonging to the organization. When internal groups are aware that tools and technologies are available to them, they are more likely to use and build upon them.
  • Engagement
    Aware employees become engaged employees. Employee engagement goes beyond knowing tools, capabilities, and information exist and leads to genuine and sustained interest in how they can do their jobs better for the overall success of the organization. This occurs only when your tools are delivered deliberately and with purpose, training, support, and ongoing enhancements to suit user needs. Ongoing communication of the vision and value these tools bring to the organization fosters engagement and leads to adoption.
  • Adoption
    Successful adoption is the holy grail in the land of collaboration and digital transformation. Adoption occurs when the user community employs the tools, services, and solutions provided for them because they want to take advantage of the value they continue to experience. Additionally, engaged employees who have adopted the use of the tools in their everyday work will encourage their colleagues and new hires to do the same, promoting the use of the capabilities across their own teams and departments. True adoption leads to employee efficiency and fewer user complaints and increases the organization’s confidence in IT to deliver solutions that meet business needs.

How a Center of Excellence Drives User Adoption and Value

In today’s changing IT landscape, it’s imperative to incorporate proven change acceptance techniques. With the above requisites along with a proven, deliberate framework, organizations can begin to truly realize the value of their Office 365 investment.

An alternative approach to achieving this success is the Office 365 Center of Excellence (CoE). What is the Center of Excellence? It is a proven process methodology that utilizes six services areas to improve and execute on digital transformation in Office 365 and SharePoint. It can greatly improve innovation, deliver business value, protect your internal and external data, decrease reliance on email, and empower your employees.

Learn more about the Center of Excellence framework by downloading our free whitepaper here.

Top 10 Reasons You Need an Office 365 Center of Excellence

Adopting and using Office 365 is a big investment and enabling and sustaining the capabilities of the Office 365 platform can be challenging even for the largest organization. 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.

“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”

One proven solution to maximizing and sustaining your Office 365 and SharePoint solutions is to adopt a managed, Center of Excellence approach. Let’s explore the common challenges of companies with Office 365 and SharePoint solutions and how a Center of Excellence can remedy them.

  1. You struggle with user adoption or see other colleagues struggling to understand the value of Office 365. Users will not flock to the higher value features of Office 365 without training and support. They can send emails and use online file shares on their own, but social content, publishing, project management, document management, business automation, business intelligence, and a lot more, need support from skilled personnel.
  2. You know you need a broader Vision, Roadmap, and Plan. A plan is required to provide the platform tools, but there are a lot of moving parts required to effectively launch, train, and support your end users for an effective set of capabilities.
  3. You know there is a lot of capability in those menu items, but you don’t really know what they do or how to use them effectively. Office 365 is a big platform – it’s Microsoft Teams, Project Online, Planner, SharePoint & SharePoint Online, OneDrive, Exchange, PowerBI, Flow, Yammer, and PowerApps and more – and it takes dedication by multiple people to truly understand all the functionality. There is a lot of value to be gained with the right people to help you understand and leverage it.
  4. You need help with Governance & Communication strategies. Governance is a difficult undertaking for many organizations. You see the value in bringing in a partner that has experience in helping organizations understand how to undertake envisioning of key, strategic elements of platforms this large. A partner with a process and set of questions ready to hit the ground running will save you a lot of time.
  5. You can’t keep up with all the enhancements. Microsoft is releasing changes to the Office 365 platform at a brisk pace. Keeping up with the features in your tenant, applications, and the impact they have on your end users can be difficult to manage. You need someone who not only is abreast of all of the enhancements but also knows your deployment and is accustomed to reviewing your administration center, identifying the key information, and working within a framework to communicate the updates to you and your team.
  6. You need Training that is specific to your policies, guidelines, and intended use of Office 365. Generic training falls short when you’ve spent the time to deliver and support Office 365 in a way that works best for your users. You don’t want all that effort to be wasted with “one size fits all” training. You want to guide your users down the path you have built for them.
  7. You have varying needs that can be difficult to forecast. You may need architecture, development, analysis, or troubleshooting at various times. You also may not understand the best way to solve a problem because you don’t have the experience in-house to understand the depth of all the features available to you.
  8. Your IT Department wants to focus on solutions, projects, and innovation, not training and support. Time spent supporting user requests takes employees away from other priority work. Ad hoc responses and supporting users is critical, but it’s not what every IT expert or Business Analyst wants from their career. Keep your people happy and engaged in doing the work they enjoy that provides value to your organization. Delegate the rest.
  9. You need elasticity in your team. Sometimes you need more help for small projects, sometimes you need less. Many times, you have two critical issues or projects, and it’s difficult to triage. Employees go on vacation and many prefer not to be on-call. A small cost to provide around the clock SLAs may be highly valuable to your organization.
  10. You don’t have a full-time employee with enough skills across the platform.  Between a variety of skills (Business Analyst, Developer, Architect, Support Engineer, Workflow Specialist, Information Rights Guru, etc.) it is simply too difficult to have a single person or team fractionally available that knows you, your organization, and Office 365. It’s much more valuable and cost-effective to set this up as a service.

Learn more about the Center of Excellence framework by downloading our free whitepaper here.

Digital Transformation as a Service

Digital Transformation as a Service with Office 365

The Future is Digital.

If you subscribe to Microsoft’s perspective, every company, irrespective of industry, is, or will soon be, thinking and operating like a digital company.[1]

Why? The high-level answers are similar, and the granular ones vary by organization. At the core, businesses are looking to Digital Transformation to increase efficiency, agility, collaboration, innovation, and security … resulting in a competitive advantage.

It’s a Living Process

Unfortunately, Digital Transformation is not a project. It is also more than email and document storage “moved to the cloud.” It is an ongoing and living process that shifts throughout the journey. An organization cannot simply deploy software and expect the magic to happen.  As a matter of fact, most organizations have failed in their Digital Transformation attempts.

An Office 365 ‘Center of Excellence’ Approach Increases Adoption

While there is no magic wand, through our experience in consulting and gaining knowledge about what works, we have uncovered methodologies that drastically increase the odds of user adoption, which is the glue that holds Digital Transformation efforts together. We have developed what we refer to as a ‘Center of Excellence’ service for Office 365 and related technologies. It’s simply a term to describe an ongoing process of defined activities, communications, templates, training, and effort focused on end users.

Many organizations have invested in Office 365 and related technologies and have the capability to execute on Digital Transformation. The difficulty is that Digital Transformation is 100% based on people and their ability and willingness to change how they operate. It’s why 90% of our activities are targeted at the end user, helping them improve their ability to collaborate and communicate, empowering them to do their jobs better and more efficiently.

This Center of Excellence service is made up pillars, or service areas. They are meant to be circular and connected. We start with Vision, Strategy, Governance, Architecture/Design, and then tactically provide Training, Administration, Configuration, Development, and Support. Each service has elements to complete up front to ensure the process runs smoothly. For example, you cannot design a Strategy without understanding the organization’s Vision and the Governance plan to manage the process to get there. There are clear interdependencies in the process, which is why the sum is greater than the parts when all the pillars work together, helping our customers optimize their operations.

Guiding Principles

There are also some guiding principles to a Center of Excellence approach:

  1. Cross-Pollination by Design – Create and enforce specific scheduled activities that will require collaboration and communication internally and with the customer.
  2. Create Trust – Solve problems and build credibility by providing the best possible service is a requirement for user adoption. If people do not believe you can help them, they will turn elsewhere.
  3. It’s About the Business – This is not an IT exercise. The technology is the tool that enables Digital Transformation by solving problems, removing roadblocks, and allowing progress and innovation to occur as new needs arise. It’s NOT a solution looking for a problem.
  4. It’s a Process – You don’t “install” Digital Transformation, you build it.
  5. Embrace Change – The platform, business needs, users, and tools are shifting at an incredible pace. Stay on top of those changes and continue to refine the “playbook”.

The process is working. If you have been struggling to gain traction with your business users and only feel as if you’re scratching the surface, a Center of Excellence solution or some of its aspects might be an option for you to consider. Contact us if you’d like to learn more.

The Starting Point

As a forward-thinking leader, the starting point is for you to see the vision of what these modern tools and applications can do for your organization and getting stakeholders to and want to get there. Those are two very distinct elements. We talk with a lot of organizations, and they generally fall into two camps. One sees the value, knows why it’s important, but also realizes they have struggled with their current knowledge and resources to get there. The other doesn’t see the value. The latter makes for more difficult conversations and is outside the scope of this post, but look for the “Need and Value for Digital Transformation” in future post.

[1] Microsoft Enterprise Team, March 2017

Why We Offer an Office 365 Center of Excellence Instead of Managed Services

About three years ago, Timlin Enterprises began developing a Managed Services offering for SharePoint. We hired and trained new staff, developed processes and systems to ensure we could provide high-quality SharePoint support, and began offering the solution to our customers. Our first customers were typically running SharePoint 2010 or 2013 on-premise, and our services were designed to alleviate the need to install patches and monitor logs. The service grew over time, and we kept adding customers and staff to meet growing demand.

Not too long after we began providing Managed Services for SharePoint customers, we started offering them to our Office 365 customers as well. Right from the start, we noticed the type of support we were providing to our Office 365 customers was a bit different than what we were providing to SharePoint customers … it was more proactive in nature. While we certainly did (and still do) receive requests to help with a critical configuration issue or problem, the nature of our customer interactions was more about helping improve their Office 365 user adoption, providing training, and aiding with small projects to continuously improve end-user solutions.

Office 365 Innovation Picks Up

As you probably know, the growth of the Office 365 platform over the last three years has been tremendous. In October 2017, Microsoft reported that the number of commercial monthly active users was at 120 million. Further, they expect to have two-thirds of Office users in the cloud by fiscal 2019.

“About a year ago, our service began evolving in a few notable ways”

Timin Enterprises has been growing along with the Office 365 platform; and, approximately a year ago, our service began evolving in a few notable new ways:

  • Clients began asking us about the new features and tools in the Office 365 platform, questions like: How does Planner differ from Trello, What is Delve all about, and Should I use Teams?
  • Our customers were overwhelmed with the pace of innovation in the platform. They wanted to know what was new – from Teams to Project Online and Planner to SharePoint and OneDrive to Exchange and PowerBI to Flow, Yammer, and PowerApps – and how what was new pertained to them. They also wanted to know if anything major changed (hello modern document libraries), so they could provide users with ample lead time and deliver the required training.
  • Client also told us they wanted to improve user adoption and make sure the Office 365 platform was being used effectively without exposing the organization to security breaches.

Managed Services vs. What We Offer

As we reviewed our business, we realized that the name “Managed Services” was not an accurate representation of the solutions we were providing our clients.

Personally, I’ve worked for two excellent managed services providers in my career. Both companies provided not only IT infrastructure managed services, but also Application Managed Services. Their application services were centered around ERP or CRM solutions and were focused on keeping the applications running, performing required maintenance, and answering technical questions. These companies had a pre-built list of tasks and services that were included in the plan.

The big difference between these application services and what we provide for Office 365 comes down to the fact that Office 365 is not an application, but a platform. For some businesses, this means providing a document management solution, other companies may need help with a project portal for collaboration, and yet others may need assistance with a knowledge management platform built on SharePoint. Each customer tends to use Office 365 tools and functionality in a different manner. This fact alone makes it close to impossible to come up with a consistent, known set of tasks.

In addition, a user of a CRM or ERP system has a much more defined set of actions they need to perform on the application. For example, a salesperson needs to update their opportunities, make note of their prospect meetings, and update their forecast. An accounting clerk needs to make the necessary accounting entries. However, users who collaborate on a SharePoint project or Team site use the platform in different ways.

“We are not just keeping things running, we’re making things better”

A Center of Excellence is Born

About three months ago, we rebranded our service offering to a Center of Excellence (CoE) for Office 365. This provides a better description of not only the solutions we provide, but also more importantly, what organizations need in order to maximize their Office 365 capabilities. Office 365 is a robust and extendable platform, that if implemented and governed correctly, can make a tremendous difference in business productivity in an organization.

Our CoE approach is designed to increase user adoption, help set up and manage an Office 365 governance plan, provide support for ongoing questions and issues, and help our customers deploy platform features to modernize your business operations to support the new speed of business.

We are not just keeping things running, as Microsoft handles that for you with Office 365. Our whole focus is helping you get the most value from the platform and increase the value you receive from your investment. We start with Strategy, Governance, and Architecture, and then tactically provide Training, Administration, and Support.

Learn more about the Center of Excellence framework by downloading our free whitepaper here.