A review from Seattle and Microsoft’s Global Education Partner Summit

Microsoft welcomed invited Education Partners from around the Globe to Redmond (WA) on February 2nd – 5th 2015 for the annual Global Education Partner Summit.

The conference facility at the Microsoft Campus was full of the leading partners and leading staff from Microsoft global and education team, all accessible and ready to engage in superb discussions around product releases, success stories and the changing landscape within he Education sector.

The following piece is a tiny reflection of my thoughts from a stunning, if not wet Seattle. – (I won’t mention the Super Bowl, I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it!).

#1 Expect More. Achieve More. Do More.

This was the message outlined in Anthony Salcito’s superb opening presentation. Anthony started at Microsoft helping build presentations for Bill Gates and his knowledge and passion for the education space is second to none.

His reflection of the current education landscape served as evidence to me that the connected experiences through (Azure), Office 365, Power BI, Social Listening, Dynamics CRM, devices and apps will soon become the industry recognised suite of solutions that can lead Universities to be empowered to do more, and their students to achieve more.

On that note (and this is relevant to us as a Dynamics CRM Presidents Club Member) did you know according to information released between 2008 and 2013 from the USICA CIS Survey Dynamics CRM has seen a market share growth of over 500% across Universities? And we feel that figure is still an underestimation as the survey does not cover all schools / faculties within a University or all the Universities in the UK.

#2 BI – “Basic Intelligence, not Business Intelligence”

I need to tip my hat to Amir Netz (Technical Fellow at Microsoft) who delivered possibly the best demonstration and discussion I’ve ever seen, showcasing the true “power” of Power BI.

A few things really stood out:
•This was all done using a free version of the product, reinforcing the unrivalled total cost of ownership offered across the Microsoft Productivity and Business Solutions Suite.
•We are in the midst of the data revolution, and the great opportunity lies in the fact we are only at the start.
•This latest evolution of BI should really mean we come to see BI as “Basic Intelligence” not “Business Intelligence”.

Power BI is built to deliver BI for everyone, evolving from solutions that not so long ago required IT managers or data scientists to run individual queries for users which, by the time they arrived were out of date.

As a consequence BI is now powerful enough to enable users to act on the NOW! Not purely as a reflective, reporting tool.From a Universities’ point of view they can spot trends and alerts in real time, minimising student dissatisfaction, course failings and even improve retention levels.

#3 The continual investment and evolution of Dynamics CRM

If you are a University using Office 365 (beyond just Exchange Online), Microsoft Dynamics CRM should be at the top of your list as the solution for improving student recruitment, retention, and the overall experience. The integration between Dynamics CRM and the productivity suite within Office 365 is becoming tighter with every release and the addition of Social Listening, Dynamics Marketing and Parature means Universities’ have a globally supported, industry ready solution (with a multi-million dollar R&D program) that breaks silos and empowers them to achieve more right at their fingertips.

As one client of ours once said “Students see our University as ‘one’, in reality we were 7 or 8 silo departments unable to collaborate and therefore always reacting to student’s needs. With Dynamics CRM we can now finally act as one, empowering our students and the University to achieve great things.”

#4 Windows 10

Windows 10 combined with the plethora of devices showcased left a wow factor amongst those around me. The update provides one true experience across platform and store. The expansion of Cortana adds a whole new dimension for the end user.

#5 What great company!

I wanted to end on a huge thanks to all the people across the UK (especially Matt and Mark), the Global partners and the Microsoft Staff in Redmond I spoke with over the week. The conversations and knowledge share will be invaluable as I look to further cement our marketing led strategy and leading position within the Higher Education space across Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Office 365.

Introducing Clutter from Office 365

How congested is your inbox? This month Microsoft rolled out Clutter, a feature within Office 365 that helps users focus on what matters by moving lower priority messages from the inbox to a new repository – your Clutter folder.

Using Office Graph, Clutter learns from your habits and preferences, based on documents read and shared and Yammer social interaction. It sifts through your mail, keeping what’s important upfront and sending potentially distracting messages into the Clutter folder for you to access at your leisure.

Don’t worry, if you’ve done the groundwork and already set up rules to keep your inbox tidy, Clutter won’t tamper with them. It’s also disabled by default, and if you don’t like your mail being screened, the feature can simply be turned off.

Clutter learns by example. According to Microsoft it ‘gets smarter over time, learning from your prior actions with similar messages and assessing things like the type of content and even how you are addressed in a message……The more you move, the faster it will learn.’*

The more you interact with Clutter – manually moving less important emails – the quicker it will get to grips with your inbox inclinations.

Common Question: “Will Clutter work in Outlook desktop clients?

Answer: Yes, once turned on by the user, Clutter is available and automatically added in your folder favourites.

More information on maximising Office 365 and Clutter? Contact our experts.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 Calls on Cortana

At the Microsoft Convergence Europe Conference in Barcelona on November 4th it was announced that Microsoft is adding support for Windows Phone 8.1’s digital assistant, Cortana to its latest Dynamics CRM 2015 solution.

Upgrades to Dynamics CRM 2015 – expected in December – will include a reworked user interface and integration with Cortana; a feature released in the US last May on Windows Phone 8.1 and as a beta version here in the UK in October, running on the Lumia 830, allowing users to ‘simply ask’ Cortana to perform tasks and access information.

The Microsoft Dynamics CRM upgrade will mean that Cortana can access data on protected corporate servers, so key tasks may be performed ‘on the move’, everything from setting up meetings and reminders, to searching for contacts, accounts and activities, accessing customer lists and creating new records.

4 Features for your SharePoint 2013 Intranet Homepage

Intro

A well designed homepage can be the make or break of an intranet. It forms first impressions of the system and acts as a starting point for a range of tasks and journeys.

Despite this importance, many organisations fail to get this keystone of their intranet right.  All too often the homepage becomes a static page, crowded with generic content produced by a handful of designated authors.

Inevitably this has a knock-on impact on the rest of the intranet.  Users avoid the homepage (in some cases, the intranet all together) and bookmark various other sites and pages instead.

So what can organisations do to create a relevant and engaging intranet homepage?  Crucially, there must be a recognition that users’ expectations of the intranet have changed.  Rather than just formal top-down communication, employees expect the homepage (and the intranet in general) to be a hub for bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication.

That communication is no longer limited to just change management initiatives or the CEO’s blog either.  Employees want to see information relevant to their day-to-day activity, such as personal or organisational performance data.

The functionality in SharePoint 2013 has reflected these changes in user expectations.  In this blog, we will explore 5 trending intranet homepage features and explore what SharePoint 2013 functionality is available to deliver these.

1. Creating an intranet newsfeed with SharePoint 2013

2. Surfacing intranet blogs with SharePoint 2013

3. Creating an intranet survey with SharePoint 2013

4. Creating an intranet discussion list with SharePoint 2013

1. Creating an intranet newsfeed with SharePoint 2013

An intranet newsfeed gives users the ability to rapidly and publicly communicate with one another, enabling them to ask questions, post updates, share ideas and more.

For management, it offers an opportunity to engage with employees openly, directly and personally.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Newsfeed App

The SharePoint newsfeed provides a microblogging experience familiar from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Users can post comments (including rich media), direct it at specific users with @targetting and tag it with a specific topic using #tags. Comments (as well as users and #tags) can be followed and liked.

The author’s profile picture, as well as presence (e.g. online, offline, in a meeting), is displayed on an interactive tile to the left of the comment itself. Newsfeeds can be added to multiple sites on the SharePoint intranet and all conversations are aggregated (and can be filtered) in the users’ MySite Newsfeeds.

SharePoint 2013 Newsfeed

2. Surfacing intranet blogs with SharePoint 2013

Intranet blogs open discussions around relevant topics in the way that news articles cannot. They provide authors with the ability to not only communicate a message, but also to spark conversation and collect feedback. For readers, they offer the opportunity to have their opinions to be heard and addressed.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Blog Site and Content Search Web Part

The SharePoint blog site offers authors the authoring and publishing tools they would expect from a consumer Content Management system like WordPress – including rich text editing, the ability to embed video from sources like YouTube and the ability to publish content directly from Microsoft Word. Readers can “Like” or Rate (1-5 stars) blog posts, leave comments and follow / share via RSS or email.

The SharePoint Content Search web part can aggregate all blogs from multiple site collections and surface links to them (in chronological order) via a web part on the SharePoint intranet homepage.

In this example we’ve used the SharePoint Content Search web part to display all blog posts from all SharePoint site collections. This means we are seeing an aggregated view of personal blogs (from MySites), departmental blogs (from team sites) and organisation-wide blogs.

SharePoint 2013 Blogs

 

3. Creating an intranet survey with SharePoint 2013

Intranet surveys enable creators to rapidly crowd source valuable information from a large pool of employees. As participants in the survey, employees are likely to become more engaged as a result of having a convenient channel for bottom-up feedback. Due to the potential passing traffic, the intranet homepage makes the ideal location for a SharePoint survey.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Survey App and Promoted Links App

The SharePoint survey app provides a template to quickly and easily construct surveys with various question types (multiple choice, rating scales, text fields). Once the surveys are completed it also provides graphical representations of the results (which can also be exported to Excel for further analysis).

The SharePoint promoted links app part creates metro-style tiles with a hover-over state to provide additional text information. The benefit of the tiles is that they are more visually engaging than a standard list and follow the theme of the SharePoint site.

In this example we’ve used the SharePoint promoted links app part to display 2 Calls to Action – “Take the survey” and “View the results”. When a user clicks on the “Take the survey” link, the SharePoint survey app is opened in a modal on the same page.

SharePoint 2013 Survey

4. Creating an intranet discussion list with SharePoint 2013

Intranet discussion lists, as the name suggests, allow users to discuss particular topics with their peers and subject matter experts. An intranet discussion list could be used for a wide-range of purposes, from a Questions and Answers area to a forum for Product Ideas. The benefit of discussion lists is that employees can tap into a wide organisational network of knowledge and resources.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Community Site Features and Discussion List App

The SharePoint Community Site Features allow us to create forum-style collaboration areas. Users can ask questions or start discussions using a discussion list. The content can be ordered by category. Contributors are rewarded with scores for their replies (and designated “Best Answers”) and discussion lists can be moderated by appointed users if required.

In this example we have added a noticeboard to the homepage for users to post work-related “Buy and Sell” discussions / adverts. This sort of fast-changing and unpredictable content often helps drive traffic to the homepage.

SharePoint 2013 Discussion Board

 

Conclusion

SharePoint 2013 comes equipped with all the functionality required to create a dynamic and engaging intranet homepage for users. For those that recognize the changing requirements of intranets and harness this new functionality, the rewards can be great. A good intranet homepage sets precedent for a wider intranet experience and can contribute to employee engagement and productivity.

Whilst SharePoint’s out-the-box functionality has vastly improved since 2010, the requirement for customisation remains in order to provide a fully branded and cutting-edge user experience.

If you would like to learn more visit the SharePoint page on our website or contact us.

Embedding a PowerPoint Presentation into a SharePoint 2013 Page

Intro

Office Web Apps (as part of SharePoint 2013) allow SharePoint users to view and edit Office documents (Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc.) from within the browser. Typically a user will click on a link to a document, for example in a document library, and be taken to a new page, as seen below:

SharePoint 2013 Office Web App Page

But what if you want to present a document, specifically a PowerPoint presentation, in context on another page? In this blog I will show you how to do so. Read more

Creating a SharePoint 2013 Theme

Introduction

Basic branding of SharePoint has been made easier than ever by the new release of SharePoint 2013, so it’s great that Microsoft have acknowledged that companies love branding their SharePoint solutions.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an advanced developer to create great SharePoint 2013 themes, you just need have good taste, an eye for design, and to know your brand.

In this post we go step by step on how to configure the font, colours, logo, and the background image for your new SharePoint 2013 theme. The configuration is done in the comfort of SharePoint designer.

Also in this post we also discuss other tools and techniques which make life easier when creating a theme.

Read more