Looking at myself all day in Office365

LookingatMyselfLong ago

Around 2005 I was involved with creating a new SharePoint-based intranet.

At that time we had “Knowledge Areas” on our old custom-built intranet. The Knowledge Areas contained information for a specific region, function, topic or country.
They were an early version of team sites, containing a combination of FrontPage Webs, “Document Cabinets” and Forums.
Each Knowledge Area had an owner, whose name was mentioned on the homepage.

The Knowledge Areas were to be replaced with SharePoint team sites. We wanted to brighten up the design of our new intranet and made a few prototypes to show the Knowledge Area managers.

They all went berserk.

How dared we propose to add their pictures to their name? They did not want to be on public display!
HR and privacy officers stampeded into our offices or called us with questions and concerns. We could not do such an unheard of thing without approvals from all kinds of senior officers!

Of course we had a company directory where all employees could find each other, search for expertise and create organigrams. Of course there was an option to add a picture, but few people did that. I often asked people why they walked on the company’s premises freely, without a paper bag on their head, yet were afraid to show their face to other employees. For some reason this did not have the desired effect 🙂

I have have always liked seeing pictures of my colleagues, especially if they are not in my location. It helps to know what they look like, especially when you may meet them in another office or while travelling to other locations, which I did frequently in those days. But not everyone is an early adopter and some people rather wait until they have seen that no harm befalls those who have shared their looks in the directory.

The only person with an acceptable excuse (in my book) was the Director for Mergers and Acquisitions. If you saw him in your location, you could bet that an acquisition or divestiture  was in the works, with all the speculations, gossip and general unrest that go with a big organizational change. So I understood that he did not want to become too well-known.

Recently

Since 2005 we have all gotten used to seeing our own and other people’s pictures in various places on the intranet: as a contact person for a team site, in permission settings, in the enterprise social network, etc. And now that Office365 uses People Cards, it is more and more important that your profile is uptodate – with a picture to match.

BTW, if your people directory is lagging behind, these tactics may help.  And if you think your people directory is awesome, please take this test.

Now

With Office365  we have switched to the other side and suddenly I am looking at myself ALL DAY.
Not only do I see my face in the details pane in document libraries or list, in Delve, on Yammer, in Search results, but I am also displayed in the Office365 top bar.
A new Office365 profile “experience” has just been announced. I do not know yet if that exposes my face to myself even more 🙂
I find that a bit weird and disconcerting.  Does anyone else feel that this is a bit too much?

Office365bar
OK, it is a small picture on the top right, but still…

Narcissus image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Working in a SharePoint box

spintranetsinaboxRecently I have been helping to launch a new Office365-based intranet.
While we set out with the idea of “out of the box” (a sound strategy, knowing my earlier experiences with extensive customizations) we have had to create some custom things to meet the requirements of several stakeholders.

I was therefore very interested in Clearbox Consulting ‘s evaluation of 26 “SharePoint intranets in a box“.
Unfortunately this report was published when we had already progressed very far in our intranet journey, so there was no reason to buy it.
Still, it kept nagging me because I was really curious if we could have used one of the “out-of-the-box” solutions.

So you can imagine my surprise and elation when Sam Marshall provided me with a copy just before Christmas, as well as a discount code for the readers of this blog.

What is this report about?

It compares 26 products of companies claiming to have a ready-made SharePoint intranet. This means that you do not have to do any developments yourself. It is just some configuration and a little branding.

The researchers have made the evaluation by comparing a set of standard scenarios that most intranets will need:

spbox-content
Content of the report. (Screenshot from the website)

Strengths

The major strengths are:

  • Many offerings compared – I never knew there were currently 26 different products!
  • The evaluators are all experienced intranet peeps who know what they are doing.
  • The evaluation is based on recognizable business scenarios.
  • Consistent and objective evaluation. (We could never have done it, since we would undoubtedly be biased by our own requirements)

To think about

  1. The cases provided are all very common in the intranet world. However, you may have some unique requirements that are not mentioned here. In that case, you may need to create your own filtering to find out who would be the best in-a-box-partner for you.
  2. As mentioned earlier, SharePoint and Office365 are changing very rapidly, and I do not know a. how well all vendors can keep up, and b. if and how quickly SharePoint developments will catch up with the vendor’s unique features. (I heard “Corporate News”  is on the Microsoft roadmap for 2017)
  3.  I expect new vendors to appear as well as consolidations.

So, I therefore hope and expect that there will be regular updates to this report…

Who should read this report?

  • Anyone who is starting on a new intranet should definitely read this.
    This may help you to decide if SharePoint would be a good option for your organization. You may think SharePoint is too much and too big, but an out-of-the-box solution may just offer what you need without too much hassle.
    If you already know you are going the SharePoint way, the report may help you to determine if a ready-made solution would be useful. Even if you think you know SharePoint well, you will learn a few things that may be relevant for you now or later.
    You may decide not to go for a ready-made solution, or even not to go for SharePoint at all.
    The report may also trigger you to refine or extend your requirements. For instance, we all have “Company News” on our radar, but have you thought about if and how SharePoint can be used for ideation? If Communications is your major stakeholder, they may not immediately think of the need for transactions. You may want to check with all stakeholders if they have thought about those things.
  • Anyone who has to decide on the need for custom development.
    If none of these vendors mentions what you are setting out to do, you may indeed need to develop it yourself. But if they all provide this functionality, it is probably available as an app somewhere.
  • Anyone who is working on their intranet or digital workplace roadmap, to determine whether it makes sense to move to a ready-made platform in future.
  • Anyone who is curious what intranets-in-a-box have to offer.

But isn’t this a lot of money?

No, it is not.

  1. That amount of money will buy you only a few hours of consultancy.  If you want to set up your own requirements to test against, agree on it, find and talk to all the vendors, have demos and evaluate all the results in a consistent way you will need much more time than “just a few hours”.
    Besides, the evaluators have not been biased by their own requirements.
  2. I can offer you a 10% discount if you use the code IIAB2CBOX10on the product page .
  3. You can probably get away with charging this (< 500 € / £ / $) on your credit card and submitting it as expenses 🙂 .

Good to know

I have reviewed this report for a number of reasons:

  1. I was interested in the topic because I was curious if the intranet I am working on could have been done out-of-the-box, which might have saved us a ton of time and hassle.
    (Answer after reading the report: I think we really needed the extra work we have done to meet the requirements.)
  2. So far, I have been the only “practicioner” who has reviewed this report. I think it is important that someone, who is actually in the middle of a SharePoint project in a company, shares their view.
    You will find more reviews on the Clearbox blog.
  3. I have known Sam Marshall personally for a number of years. I also know most of the people who have worked with him on this report. I have great respect for all of them. Therefore I trust this report.
  4. This has been a Christmas present so I have had the time to read and think. 🙂

So, everything came together very nicely this time.

Title inspired by “Living in a box” by Living in a Box from 1987.

 

 

Promoted Links I’d like to promote

pl-headerIn my recent training sessions I noticed that my trainees thought managing Promoted Links was a bit of a pain. I wholeheartedly agree!

If you would like to know more about SharePoint Online Promoted Links, please read Greg Zelfond’s post first. It explains when and how to use this.

And…here’s how I would like to see it changed. Fortunately I can do most of these myself, but now I have to do this (or instruct a site owner) for every instance.

1. Change the default view (DIY).

When you have just added the app, you will see an empty page that prompts you to go to the “All Promoted Links” view. Why is that view not there in the first place? Or even an “Add” button at the very least?

pl_1
Why am I asked to go to another screen?

When you make that needless extra click, you get to the screen I would like to see:

pl-2
This is more like it.

I usually start by changing the default view into the All Promoted Links view. If I want to see how things look, I can easily switch to the Tiles View.

2. Allow adding the image from a library (Microsoft).

These are links, so it is logical that you have to paste or type the link to where the image leads you. But why do you also have to add a link to a picture? It would be so much easier if you could select an image from your PC or a library, like you can on Pages.

This turned out to be really annoying for my trainees, and frankly, a tad outdated.

pl-4
Adding a link to a picture feels a little outdated.

 3. Add an edit button to the “All Promoted Links” view (DIY).

When you have added some Promoted Links and you want to take a look, you check the Tile View for a preview.

pl-4real

Looks nice, but suppose I want to switch the order of the middle and right link, or have to change the URL.

How do I do that? There is no option to select the item for editing. You can go to the “All Promoted Links” view and edit the list in Datasheet view, but you can not edit everything that way.

pl-6
The datasheet view.

 

So, I have instructed my trainees to add an Edit button to the “All Promoted Links” view.

  • Click the List Tab
  • Select the “All Promoted Links” View
  • Click List Tab again
  • Select Modify View
  • Add an Edit button to the view and click OK
pl-7
Now we’re talking!

4. Make the “Tiles” view editable (Microsoft).

The Tiles view is not adjustable. All tiles will be shown on your page and there is no way to filter, limit the number that is being displayed, or add that edit button.
This means that you can not create one big list of Promoted Links and distribute them over various pages using a filter. Alas, you have to create a Promoted Links app for every page, or even per row if you want multiple rows each with its own header.

5. Show a preview of the link (Microsoft).

When you hover over a document name or over a hyperlink in the text, you will see the URL displayed in the bottom left of the page. This can help you decide if this is indeed the information you need. With a Promoted Link you see nothing, so you do not know if you are going to the place you are looking for.

6. Add the 150 * 150 px image rendition to the image library (DIY).

If you use Promoted Links often, you may want to add the image dimensions to your image renditions. It shows you quickly if your picture will show up acceptably, especially if it is not square.

In Publishing sites, go to Site Settings > Edit Image Renditions. (under Look and Feel)

Click Add New Item; add a name and the dimensions, and click Save.

pl6

Talking about the Image Rendition feature, did you know….oh no, I will leave that for another time…:-)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do YOU call Home(page)?

HomepagesweethomepageThe first page I see when I open a browser on my work laptop is the intranet. That was the case in my previous job and in my current one. When I see peers open a browser window, I rarely see another page, like a search engine page; it is generally an intranet homepage that opens first.

When discussing our new digital workplace the other day, we wondered which page should open when you open your browser. With Office 365 you have a number of options.

  • One person wanted the intranet homepage to be the first page shown, like it is today.
  • Another suggested the Delve page, although he realized that will not be the best page for launch since it needs to fill up with relevant content before people will see the benefits. I personally like the Delve-page, but not as a browser home page. To me it feels too much like a “filter bubble”.
  • A third colleague thought that the SharePoint homepage would be the best option, since it would have all your sites in one place.
  • I preferred the Office 365 landing page since I think that is the best representation of the Digital Workplace. It has all the tools I need on a regular basis: Email, Yammer, Office, SharePoint. With the recent improvements, however small, I think there is a great potential to turn that page into a very useful dashboard to start your working day.

We clearly did not agree so I decided to ask the question in the Office 365 network on Yammer.

The results surprised me!

  • Most organizations have “a specific SharePoint page” as their browser homepage. I assume that is the “intranet homepage”, because the people who voted “Other”, mentioned their intranet homepage as well, but those were not (yet) on Office 365.
  • A surprisingly high number of organizations (19%!) leave the decision to the user. This is totally unthinkable in my corporate world so perhaps these answers were given by smaller consultancies.
  • A disappointing 14% had the Office 365 landing page as their browser opening :-(.

Poll

I have given my feedback about the new Office 365 landing page to Microsoft. I hope they will develop this quickly so I will get my way one day after all 🙂

BTW, since then we decided that the new intranet homepage will be the chosen page.

If you are on, or planning to move to Office 365, what have you selected as your browser homepage?

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The new Office365 Homepage

Yesterday I logged in to my Office365 and I immediately thought : “Wow, that looks nice”. It is not often that I am struck by a beautiful page, so I decided to write about it.

This is it:

NewOffice365Homepage-NewMine
The new Office365 Homepage

 

NewOffice365Homepage-Bottom
And this is the bottom of the page. You can decide to show more documents.

 

First good impressions:

  1. The small top bar is much larger now and that really looks good. It must be my Raspberry theme, although it also looks cool with Cats  🙂
  2. The welcome message is nice, although I know it is calculated from my timezone and my account. Still, it looks vibrant and cheerful.
  3. Your most recent documents are displayed underneath.
  4. You immediately see you can install software. On iPad, you can download Office apps.
NewOffice365HP-iPad
This is the new Office365 Homepage on iPad

 

What would I like to see as improvements?

  1. It would be nice if you could also search for other things than documents. I am trying to wean myself (and my colleagues) of documents where possible, and this does not help.
  2. That also goes for the recent documents underneath the apps. I would like to see my unread email, or my unread Yammer messages, or the Tasks due today, as well as documents. If Office365 is going to be my Digital Workplace, it should display more than just documents.
  3. A little badge on each app to show the number of unread messages, or new tasks, or something like that,  would also be nice!
  4. The coloured bar overlaps the profile picture a little, so that needs some tweaking.

And this is the page as it used to look (on a different tenant) or still looks, if you are not on First Release.

NewOffice365page-old
The “old” Homepage 

 

All in all, I quite like this change and I think it can be made even better!

The new “Site Contents” layout

Just when I had recovered from the (pleasant) shock of “the new document library experience” I found out that “Site Contents” has had a design overhaul.

I have not seen many blogs on this new feature yet so let me show you more.

What did the Site Contents page look like?

OldSiteContents
The “old” look and feel of Site Contents

 

My concerns have been:

  • I personally do not like the grid layout with tiles, I can read a list better. Call me old-fashioned 🙂
  • Although the tiles occupy plenty of real estate, they do not provide as much info as they could, as I described earlier in “SharePoint tiles I’d like to see”.
  • I always forget if I have to click the tile (yes) or the … (no) to open up the list/library.

So, will my concerns be gone after the design change?

This is the new design

NewSiteContents1
The new design – top of page

 

  1. Eyecatcher: 3 new content blocks
  • Number of Site Visits
  • Trending content
  • Tips

I am not very active in my Office 365 environment, so the numbers displayed in the screenshot are not exactly informative, but you will get the gist. I am curious to see if the trending content itself will be displayed eventually, apart from the number.
I think this will create welcome transparency.

2. A new way to create new items

Instead of the “Add an app” tile you now select “New” and you can pre-select the desired item you want to add.
It appears that lists and libraries are no longer called “apps” – this calls for a happy dance!

NewSiteContents3
Creating a new item

 

If you click “Library”, you will go immediately to the new document library creation page.
If you click “apps” you will go to the known grid of app tiles.
I have not tested the Lists and Subsites yet.

3. The actual content

Underneath, your site’s real content is displayed.

NewSiteContents2
The actual Site Contents. Please note the site top bar and header stay where they are when you scroll down.

These are no longer displayed as tiles, but as a list. The list is sorted on list type, and then alphabetically on name, displaying icon, name, type, number of items and last modified date.

The subsites are displayed on a separate tab:

NewSiteContentsSubsites
The list of subsites, with #Views, and Created and Modified Dates.

 

What do I think?

I like this new design.

  • I especially like the list of apps with their smaller icons, because the smaller icons show more variety than the big blue tiles, and are therefore easier to distinguish.
  • The modified date is a granted wish. I am totally fine with “one hour ago” or “two days ago” but when it is more than a month ago,  I prefer to see the exact date.
  • Sorting the list on List type is helpful.
  • The Created and Modified Dates for the subsites are also very helpful.
  • I still have to see what extra value the 3 new blocks on top will have, but I can imagine these will be useful.
  • Also, it looks like older versions of SharePoint. While this may be a disappointment to some, at this moment it is very welcome to me. The company I work for is moving to Office 365 and I am concerned that our users will be totally lost in their new environment.

What do I miss?

  • The description of the list or library.

And…

  • The link to go back to the new look-and-feel!!!

When I noticed the new design, I found it had been changed across all my sites. That annoyed me because I did not have a screenshot of “before”.
Then I noticed a link, bottom left, saying: “Return to Classic SharePoint”. I created some screenshots of the new situation “just in case” and clicked that link…

All my sites turned back to the Classic look, with no link to the new design 😦

I can only hope that this change will be rolled out irreversibly in a few months. But if you know how to reset it, please let me know!

[Update June 13, 2016: Fortunately Andrew Gilleran knew the solution: Log out and log in again. A new session will restore the new look-and-feel! Thanks, Andrew!]

8 Tips for advertising on your intranet

Advertising-billboardfullThe other day I learned (via Kurt Kragh Sorensen’s blog) that Luton Borough Council allows advertising from external parties on their intranet.

BT has done this for some years and earned a lot of money from it, according to Mark Morrell who was managing the BT intranet at that time.
I have always loved the idea, and I asked Mark some time ago for his experiences and suggestions. (You may know by know I hate reinventing wheels)

What were the suggestions that Mark offered?

1. Use only one page to display ads.
At BT they were displayed on the news page. Too many places with advertising and your audience gets distracted easily and it might lead to irritation.
In an international organization you could use a local facilities or employee benefits-page. (Ads are often locally applicable)
Luton Borough Council has two places, one on the Homepage (!) and one on the Employee Offerings page.

2. Find advertisers that fit your business.
You could think about organizations with whom you already have contracts, which fit to your core values, or where you can advertise yourself.
Luton Borough Council does not mention any restrictions for advertisers, but that may simply not be published.

3. Arrange special offers for employees.
A discount on insurance for your employees, a free private Gold Service from your preferred car rental company, or a discount for a local shop are much more acceptable than a generic advertisement for clothing.
If BT advertised on another intranet, they also offered a special deal, such as discount on a phone subscription, for instance.
Luton Borough Council is suggesting nice offers for their staff. That is why I like it: it is a form of employee benefits.

4. Be open about the profits. 
At BT everyone knew that the proceeds of the ads were used for improving the news page, and for a quarterly magazine on paper for employees. That openness, and the fact that everyone at BT profited from the advertising, decreased resistance (which was not large anyway).
Luton Borough Council does not state where the profits go, but I hope they communicate this internally.

5. Set boundaries.
BT had a maximum of 2 ads at once, each up to 2 weeks online. The ads were not shown on “prime real estate”, so they were not taking the place of business content and not drawing an overwhelming amount of attention.
Luton Borough Council has one of their spots on the Homepage, which I would find a bit too much.

6. Specify ad requirements upfront.
Provide information such as dimensions, file types, and the amount of animation that you allow.
Luton Borough Council provides some size details, and is also very open about their (modest) fees.

7. Implement a clear process.
How are you going to find advertisers? Who approves advertisers/advertisements? Who negotiates the rates? How do you deal with complaints from employees? How much time can you spend on this process?

8. Test and measure.
Test first whether it catches on and whether there are serious objections.
Then, keep measuring if people click the ads, if no irritation occurs and whether it is profitable.

When I posted a Dutch version of this blog, I immediately received an angry comment from a civil servant, that “he never wanted to see this commercialism infect his intranet”.
I hope the employees of Luton Borough Council have fewer objections. 🙂

I have never heard that other organizations allow advertising. If you know or do, would you please let me know?