Digital Workplace Crusaders

How we (IT Pros) helped kill Internet Explorer

Not long ago, Internet Explorer was the standard for corporate and of course was the browser that came pre-installed with your Windows PC.

Being so integrated with the operating system, it was only natural that Microsoft would provide plenty of “knobs and dials” to control the behavior of IE. IT Pros all over the world took advantage of these group policies and shaped Internet Explorer to work and behave in a way that suited internal security policies. This, in my opinion played a role in the demise of IE.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure most system administrators meant well by locking down Internet Explorer and took advantage of things like compatibility view mode, zone configuration and others to keep their users safe.

Unfortunately, in many cases, some of this settings were applied across the board, with little testing, and caused frustration for users accessing internal and external services.

Nature finds a way

Given IE’s reputation, users thought the browser itself was the problem, and in order to get the job done (and I don’t blame them for it) they sought alternatives.

This, in my opinion helped Firefox, Chrome and others make their way into the workplace. Sure, they were far less configurable by IT, but they worked, and they worked even better than IE, not only because they had better support for modern web standards (HTML5, CSS3, JS) but also due to this reduced support for “configurability”.

Living on the Edge

I’m probably one of the few users still favoring the default browser. In Windows 10, that’s Microsoft Edge. Edge is fine for the most part (sans the occasional memory leak, or intentional lack of support from certain web properties), as it has HTML5 support and I think given the latest releases (I’m currently on Windows 10 1803) it has improved quite a bit. I’ve only had to switch back to IE so I can use older websites that use Silverlight (yes, they are still out there!) and SharePoint 2010 (yes, I know, 2010…) , which just doesn’t play nicely with Edge for anything else than reader access.

Balance is key

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take from this is to consider user experience while securing your environment. This doesn’t just apply to browser group policy settings, but overall, we need to ensure the digital workplace experience is solid, enabling, and one that is not forcing users to find workarounds for your security settings.

To note, this won’t bring back the good old days of IE, and Microsoft still has a lot of work to do to bring users to Edge. I’m quite confident though, that the new Microsoft has the culture and the bright minds needed to make an impactful change to bring new pride and joy to using the browser behind the “e” logo.

Open Live Writer, the best blogging tool since Windows Live Writer!

For the longest time I used Windows Live Writer (WLW). Back then (2012) you had to download this extra package called Windows Live Essentials to enhance your Windows experience with tools like Movie Maker, Mail, OneDrive , and a desktop-blogging app, very similar to other Office apps (with the ribbon UI, and the feeling of Microsoft Word, but tailored to create content for blogs).

WLW was a great tool, however, active development for it concluded in 2012.

Thankfully, a group of passionate Microsoft folks took on updating the tool, which eventually was released as open source, and today is maintained by them and the  community.

Enter Open Live Writeropenlivewriter-purpleheader

You can download Open Live Writer from their website,  http://www.openlivewriter.org/. The source code on is available on GitHub. You can also follow the group’s latest updates on Twitter (@OpenLiveWriter)

I made this blog post using the tool, I have to admit the experience did not work flawlessly for me. Once my theme was imported, I was not able to do simple things like creating a new line to start a paragraph. I finished this post by first disabling the blog theme from the Blog Account tab. Once I did, I had no issues entering new lines, adding an image or doing basic formatting.

Publishing in draft mode worked as expected. Making changes meant to re-publish as draft, as the save button didn’t really work for me.

I’ll keep testing it and I’ll report back on any major findings.

SharePoint Conference 2018, my thoughts and takeaways

I can’t believe we are already in June, getting back on the saddle after a week out of the office certainly comes with its own set of challenges. Luckily for me, a good half of my pending emails had something to do with “We have updated our Privacy Policy”.

My SPC18 Experience

SharePoint Conference 2018 was a very different experience for me as this year. I assisted the organizers with sponsor/exhibitor registration and helped exhibitors get settled into their booth. I had a lot of fun! Monday morning was definitely fast paced and kept us quite busy, but it was also a great chance to meet and greet quite a few friends from the community.

Being there once again (and I doubt I’m alone in this) felt like one big family reunion after 4 years!

This wouldn’t have been possible without Jackie Baillie, Bill Baer, Jeff Teper, my parents (who provided me with flight tickets as present) as well as the folks from the community who lend a hand promoting and in buying a t-shirt from the Mikeware T-Shirt Store (closed at this time).

Setting up the store, creating the t-shirt designs and wearing the marketer hat was also quite fun and a great learning opportunity.

Now, back to SharePoint!

It was very exciting to see the focus on the humble SharePoint list. I’ve always been a fan of lists and how they enable, in just a few clicks, a very powerful way to capture and visualize data without the need of an Excel file.

This, combined with Flow and PowerApps for improved process automation and optimizing the data entry is no doubt a winning combination. Having lists that update in real time is amazing and will make SharePoint feel truly modern.

Microsoft Flow, PowerApps, Power BI and SharePoint can be considered Microsoft’s core building blocks for business applications. The SharePoint Business Applications roadmap recently published by Chris McNulty shows just how invested the team is in creating a right environment to empower the non-code folks.

Personally, I have been waiting for the ability to add a PowerApps web part so I can present the app/form on a page, I guess for my use cases I have more use of desktop for work than mobile, so bring it as soon as possible!

SharePoint spaces was definitely a surprise! I see this as the first opportunity to dream how to bring an immersive experience into the world of enterprise content management and being able to create an experience that truly delights and engages. On the other hand, spaces will help make this type of technology easier to reach, so I’m excited for what this could enable in the future.

I heard a lot of discussion about hub sites, for my perspective, this will be a key piece that will allow us to provide structure and simplify management of permissions and customizations. #hubifyEarlyhubifyOften!

I’m a big fan of the Microsoft Graph so I attended a couple of sessions where this was presented. While thIMG_20180522_142005ere’s work ahead, I think the Graph is at a point where it can be a very valuable source of information and a way to explore and learn more about the organizational dynamics of where the work happens.

In summary, I think this SPC kicked off the roadmap for 2018/19 on a high note, with lots of exciting things to look for, both for on-premises and cloud, but I’m guessing a few things will be revealed in September at Ignite, Microsoft’s premier conference for IT pros. Looking forward to that!

Keynote Blues

If you didn’t make the event and would like to see some of these announcements, check out the SharePoint Virtual Summit video on demand.

Did you hear of any features you find exciting or “just what you needed” to solve a business or communication need? Please share, I’d love to know.

Talk to you soon!

Best of breed apps vs. apps in the big bundle

I love cooking. In the last couple of years I’ve added a few select items of cookware that are best in class.
First, I bought a Round Dutch Oven. Soon after that,  I managed to get roaster and a skillet from Le Creuset. The craftsmanship and the quality of their products is amazing. I even have a favourite colour, Marseille Blue!
But, while I’d love to stock my whole kitchen with these products, there’s one small problem. They are quite expensive!
Also, it would be overkill as the value I can get from a cheaper brand like T-fal would be adequate for everyday use.
Why am I telling you this? I’ve been thinking about the apps and tools we use at work, tools and bundles that are part of this digital workplace and suddenly I start to see some parallels.

Quality is not cheap

A good quality app, will not be cheap. Yes, there are open source options and 99 cent apps on the App Store, but besides games (with ads, or in-app purchases) or a few honorable exceptions, good productivity apps are not free, or they are part of a service you are already paying for, with your money, or your data.

Hook, line and sinker

It is not uncommon to find that the free version of a productivity tool is designed so that end users will fall in love with the core features leaving out just enough.
Later on, as you get more serious usage and consider to onboard the tool to your digital workplace environment, requirements such as SSO (Single Sign On) or Data Loss prevention, will be on the table and now the “free” tool is really $9 to $30 bucks a month.
Granted, startups and some smaller companies may be OK to use the free option for a while, but at the expense of security, data protection and dissemination of information in multiple silos.

Kanban board tool as an example

Spending a few minutes using Trello will be enough to fall in love with it. The refinement and user experience are unmatched by other competitors that I’m aware of.
With this, I would dare to say that Trello is the “Le Creuset” of Kanban board tools.
Now, if I took some time to think of other use cases, I can probably find a “best of breed” tool for everything I want to do. And, just like my kitchen, things can get expensive and hard to manage really fast.

Wait, what about Office 365, the big bundle?

While Office 365 can be compared with other competitors like G-Suite, it is safe to say, the Microsoft suite is King of the Hill in the Enterprise space. The Office 365 ecosystem is unmatched in terms of having a wide selection of apps that support many different use cases to support the daily grind.
Some of the classics apps like Outlook (supported by Exchange Online) , SharePoint Online and Office apps are synonymous with workplace productivity and are well known by most information workers.
Newer additions to the family, like Stream, Flow, PowerApps or Planner are also there, helping to complete the picture.
Planner, in particular, is the Kanban board app in Office 365. And while it may not have the same UX/UI polish as Trello today, it certainly provides many (if not all) of the features you would expect.
Microsoft’s Planner has that big advantage, being part of the ecosystem, and being seamlessly connected to all other aspects of what could be required for team collaboration (SharePoint team site, email distribution list, Planner plan, Notebook, MS Teams, etc.)

So, is Trello better than Planner?

It depends! (drink if you are playing architect/consultant bingo)

What value are you getting from one over the other?  Can you manage workload in Planner and keep your project work/ communication in one location while team communication is happening though MS Teams? Is this best of breed app going to really affect the bottom line, your productivity?

If a tool is providing real value, making life easier, helping you make clients happy, then, by all means, deviate from the standard. Buy the Le Creuset fondue set!

Otherwise, for day to day use, why not stick with the bundle that works great together and as a whole provides more value than all best of breed tools that can’t really talk to each other that easily.

In summary, I think it comes down spending wisely. Personally I believe that the value proposition of the Office 365 ecosystem is the best out there to cover all aspects of collaboration. As other apps go, focus on what provides an advantage to delivering your product or service by improving your time to value, or customer satisfaction.

Cookware image by Stevensnodgrass

Reducing task management overburden

checklist for work management

Day-to-Day Task Management at Work

I have been using Outlook to manage tasks for over 10 years now. The integration is great if you live in an “email centric” world where you can quickly flag an email so that it  will end up on your task list to be eventually dealt with. I manage about 50% of my workload this way…

…That’s a problem! Work comes from all different sources, not just email.

Working in IT, have my own work queue for Incidents, Problems, Changes and other types of (ITIL type) tasks in my IT Service Management System. These are critical for my day-to-day, and yet, they do not show up on my task list in Outlook unless I flag the email notification (which adds to the burden of email) and now managing two work queues.

If you are in internal/external communications, you probably have a running list (backlog) of “postings”, articles, new employee announcements so on and so forth that need to be published on your Intranet, Extranet or Public portal. Again, these might come in the form of an email, however, most modern systems provide an approval or content review workflow functionality or at the least, the work is managed by using an online form that sends an email or creates an item in a list for you or anyone in your team to tackle.

This covers the day-to-day work for the most part. Now, if we add projects into the mix, we open another can of worms.

Project based work

Most traditional environments will use some form of project management software, such as Microsoft Project, which provides the team with the work items for the project. Again, in some cases this information is not usually stored in a centralized location.

In recent years, newer project management practices such as Agile or Scrum benefit from using tools such as Jira, Trello or Planner which can be used to create Kanban boards.

So, yes, more buckets!

Personal tasks

Last, but definitely not least, comes life related stuff!

Life is filled with other things such as errands, things to buy, “honey-do” lists, etc. How are those managed? My spouse asks me to pick a specific brand of cereal on a text message, that also needs to go on a list or I will forget!

I’ve used tools such as Wunderlist (and recently I’ve been exploring Microsoft To-Do) to manage my personal tasks. Also, on a whim, I’d probably ask Google to keep a reminder for me, which adds yet another bucket!!!

Bucket overload

Let’s recap the many “buckets of work” I keep an eye on, with the occasional fluctuation, especially in the projects area:

work-management-buckets

Can this be improved? You bet!

Simplifying personal buckets

Personal tasks should be the easiest to tackle, since there’s no need to consult anyone else. The key here is to reduce the number of buckets as much as possible and stick to one standard. I have chosen to stick with Wunderlist for the time being.

Moving to Microsoft To-Do is in my plans in the next few months, as the Wunderlist (now part of Microsoft) team has had a few months to polish the new app and improve it based on the feedback received early on when the tool was announced.

While using voice commands (with Google Now or Siri) to create tasks or reminders is handy, I find it only useful when my hands are tied with something else, I rather type my new task and have more control.

Project work management bonanza

If you are leading a digital workplace initiative, this potpourri of tools may not be a surprise to you. Any mid/large size organization will, at some point, have all these different systems and more. Some of them, being Cloud based (Software as a Service), don’t even need servers, and in most cases, a free version is provided in hopes that shadow IT will prevail.

In some areas of the organization, a project management tool will be deeply ingrained as part of the process, however, in other areas, managing tasks happens organically, but work still needs to be managed and tracked. The key here would be to find a common set of needs where the number of tools can be reduced, providing a common ground for most teams to be familiarized with. Another benefit to this will be cost savings, as some of these tools can be costly to manage and keep running

Day-to Day tasks, aka The daily grind.

Integration and savvy use of rules should help easing the load. While there are systems you can’t really change. Creating a few rules to move email notifications into folders could go a long way. For bonus points, enable a retention policy (If your license allows) to ensure you don’t keep those notifications for longer than you need.

In other cases, use tools such as Microsoft Flow, IFTTT, Zapier, that make automating tasks between systems a piece of cake. We will cover this type of tools later on.

Finally, my buckets of work reduced a bit, hopefully, further iterations and some work done at the project level can bring a simpler setup.

work-management-buckets-mid

An ideal state would be to further reduce those buckets to a minimum. If you’ve also thought about this? What does your ideal look like? How do you plan to get there?

Mine looks like this:

work-management-buckets-after
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Brainstorm, prototype and sketch with Microsoft Whiteboard app (preview)

Part of the challenge of working with teams that are geo-distributed is having a tool to  work together and sketch or prototype new products or ideas together.

Microsoft is previewing a new service, Microsoft Whiteboard app. The tool (at the time only available for Windows 10 users) allows you to have multiple people work with notes, images and free form drawing, this experience is much better if you have a touch screen but you can use your mouse to draw, drag or select elements on the whiteboard.

Running a few tests I found the app to have some challenges zooming in/out and being able to exit the search menu. The main premise is there, so I expect this to be refined in a few months when they clear the preview label.

You can start using it on your own today provided you have a Microsoft account (like Hotmail, Outlook, etc.) or a work account with Office 365 enabled. Co-authoring is only allowed for Office 365 users.

If you plan to use it for work, during the preview, the app is disabled by default but your Office 365 admin can enable it for on your tenant. Keep in mind that at present, the data you generate will be stored in US soil (if you care about that kind of thing) but will be stored in other regions in the future.

My 2 cents here: try it out, but “let it simmer” for a couple of months before you try using it for something other than testing.

Want to learn more, check out the Microsoft Whiteboard help page

Everybody Lies, but not to Google, or your Intranet search!

I recently read Everybody Lies, a book that discusses how big data and, in some aspects, machine learning can be used to explain certain behaviours in today’s world and how our digital interactions can help explain current events. I highly recommend this book!

One of the main sources of information used in the book is Google Trends. If you are not familiar with this service, it allows you to explore and compare different topics and identify their trends over time.

For example, the chart below compares the terms “Digital Workplace” and “Intranets”:

google-trends-dw-intranets

Not only it will provide a graph showing the trends of both topics over time, but will also provide information on the regions where the term is most popular as well as related searches using this term.

While this works wonders for learning about interests and social behaviours at a global scale, this got me thinking about our options for “corporate land”. If people don’t lie to Google and for example, Trends can help to identify where an outbreak of a disease can start, or how an election was won despite many pools showing different results, the closest thing we have to this type of information is our Intranet search.

Well yes, our often neglected, left to it’s own devices, good old Intranet search can be a great source to identify the trends of what employees are thinking (or caring about) inside the corporate “firewall”.

Thankfully, the search history or top searches report of your intranet (most popular Intranet solutions have this out of the box, if yours does not, let’s chat!) doesn’t need much maintenance and is definitely a great way to take the pulse of your organization.

You can use your intranet search or top searches report for:

  • Creating new content (articles, how-tos, lists, resources) of information employees are searching for –  If, for example, people are looking for cost centres, but are not finding this information, compile it, publish it!
  • Rising the best content to the top – If people are looking for the term vacation, they are most likely trying to find the vacation policy. If your Intranet supports it, make it a best bet or a preferred resource.
  • Identifying trending topics – in today’s corporate world, chances are your have a topic or two that are top of mind. Consider using this to create AMA (Ask Me Anything) forums or use tools such as Slack or Teams to help employees engage with subject matter experts in real time.
  • Enrich your editorial calendar   There may be slow months (rare this days, but it could happen) where there are no big company announcements or events. Use this gold mine to provide employees with information and resources around topics they care enough about because they are searching for them.
  • Obtain ideas for a corporate bot –  A rising trend, an internal bot can help employees with their day to day work and there are tools out there (such as Tangowork) that are making this happen even easier. Use intranet top searches as input to help build the knowledge of topics your employees might ask your bot.

I hope this helps plant the seed to take a look at your Intranet search statistics on a regular basis, try also looking at abandoned search results and other trends in your analytics.

Are you using your top intranet search results in other ways? What other sources of information can you identify internally to help build that corporate pulse? We would love to hear your thoughts.

New “Waffle” Menu in Office 365

Another day, another change in Office 365 land!

This week the new waffle menu was made available to first release (first release allows Microsoft to push updates a bit faster on your tenant) users, I looked in my main tenant, and there it was, it all its glory!

It’s a quite clean take on the apps menu that will not only bring your “pinned” apps but also recent/new documents you’ve viewed.

The main benefits are:

  • Cleaner UI
  • Documents accessible from any area in Office 365
  • Pin/un pin certain Apps
  • Other enterprise apps can be added.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of not being able to unpin certain items, like Word or Excel, which honestly, being old school, I’m used to start from my desktop, not the web. Would be great to have full control over the menu.

A few also expressed privacy concerns over the recent documents viewed showing up while presenting to others, so keep an eye on what shows up there!

new waffle menu

Yummy Waffle image courtesy of Keith McDuffee under CC licensing

OneDrive (without the Fat!)

One of the jewels of upgrading Windows 10 to the newly released Fall Creators Update is the introduction of OneDrive Files on Demand.

In a nutshell, you will be able to see all the files and folders you have on your OneDrive account in the cloud without the need to have all those files download and take precious space on your PC’s hard drive.

Want a file downloaded, right click and select “Always keep on this device”.

Want to free up some room, select a file or better yet a folder you know you don’t use very often and right click to select “Free up Space” 🙂

This is great, almost like having a cake, but none of the calories!

Miguel A. Tena

I’m an IT professional focused on workplace productivity. For over 12 years, I’ve worked with communications and HR professionals to empower people to work better together. My technical experience is in tools like SharePoint, Office 365, ThoughtFarmer, Slack and others.
 
I love business process improvement,  finding opportunities to apply Lean methodologies and automation. Once a process has been optimized, technology can make everything faster!
 
I’m keen on gamification and machine learning (artificial intelligence) to make work a joyful experienceI hope to write and provide more insights on these areas as learn more about these exciting topics.
 
I hope you find my contributions helpful, as we are on the same journey of workplace excellence!
Catch me on Twitter at @mikeware_tena