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.

Introducing Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015

Organisations across the Globe are looking to bridge the gap between sales and marketing and deliver consistent experiences that drive revenue and customer satisfaction.

What’s new in Dynamics CRM 2015?

Streamlined, multi-channel marketing

Marketing teams are more than ever before being held responsible for campaign ROI yet most are unable to track campaign metrics and returns from beginning to end. More than 50% of CMO’s feel unprepared for the new marketing landscape.

Microsoft Dynamics Marketing 

  • New email editor featuring an entry level drag and drop editor to a advanced editor for CSS and HTML experts.
  • Webinar integration.
  • Improved inbound lead scoring allowing marketing teams to effectively measure campaign returns.
  • Manage marketing resource management and campaigns with a new marketing calendar.

CRM 2015 within Microsoft Dynamics Marketing email editor

Updated guided sales process 

The functionality available in CRM 2015 builds on the business process flows introduced in the CRM 2013 release. Within CRM 2015 organisations can implement complex business processes (e.g. one specific to products and one for services)

Maximise cross-sell and up-sell opportunities with the ability to bundle products and recommended products for cross-sell / up-sell.

Sales hierarchies 

Visually understand how information across accounts, products or users relate in hierarchical charts.

  • View contacts relationships across an account, allowing you to leverage connections for future opportunity.
  • View organisations sub accounts, drilling in to see where opportunities lie.

CRM 2015 Hierarchy

Improved CRM for tablets

Using Dynamics CRM on tablets has now become even easier with enhanced personalisation via dash boards and views available. Furthermore records and changes can now be created offline and synchronised when reconnected.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 tablet application update

Capture key metrics with rollup fields 

The ability to view the total number (in revenue) of open opportunities against an account, the total lifetime value (in closed opportunity revenue) against an account and the total number of high value service cases related to a record is now available out of the box with Dynamics CRM 2015.

Contact our experts for more information (including upgrading) on Dynamics CRM 2015.

Displaying Promoted Links on Multiple Lines

The promoted links app is a great way to display visual links to your SharePoint users. Out of the box they come with a few customisation options, allowing you to open links in new tabs, in a modal dialog or act as a normal link. They also let you chose a custom image, and provided the image is transparent, will always stay within the brand of your SharePoint site.


Read more

What is the SharePoint Community Site and how should it be used?

What is the SharePoint Community Site?

In the words of Microsoft, “a Community Site is a new site template that provides a forum experience in the SharePoint environment”.

There are 4 main components to the SharePoint Community Site that will be familiar to users of any forum:

Feature Description
Discussions Members can post an opinion or question to start a new discussion. Other members can reply to and like the post. The member that started the discussion has the ability to mark a chosen response as the ‘Best Reply’. Moderators have the ability to mark a chosen discussion as a ‘Featured Discussion’.
Categories Members can create categories to organise their discussions. When a new discussion is posted it can be assigned a category which other users can filter by.
Badges and Reputation Moderators can assign badges to members to indicate their status within the community, e.g. Subject Expert. Members can earn reputation by posting in discussions and through recognition by other members of their posts (e.g. when their content is liked or marked as a best answer).
Members A list of all members, including their badges and reputation earned, is held on the community site. Community Sites can be set to allow any new users to join or an approval process can be set to manage new members.

For more technical information on Community Sites I recommend the following TechNet article.

The general benefits of a Community Site, much like other social features, are clear. Again, in Microsoft’s words, “communities promote open communication and information exchange by enabling people to share their expertise and seek help from others who have knowledge in specific areas of interest.”

However, without structure or purpose, communities will fail regardless of the underlying technology. Those that go down the “build it and they will come” route risk damaging the credibility of social technologies within their business when adoption falls flat on its face because users have no idea of where to start.

The purpose of this blog article is to provide 3 use cases of the SharePoint Community Site. In each example, you will see how the SharePoint Community Site template (enhanced by other SharePoint features) can be used in typical business scenarios. Each use case includes actual screenshots of the solution.

Having read the article, you will have:

  • A better understanding of what the SharePoint Community Site is
  • More ideas around how the SharePoint Community Site can be used in a real-world scenario
  • Three, easy to implement, SharePoint Community Site solutions to get started

Read more

SharePoint Online Website Examples


SharePoint Online, a component of Microsoft’s Office 365 suite, provides subscribing organisations with public-facing website functionality. This type of SharePoint public-facing website lacks the full feature set of SharePoint, but is perfectly adequate for websites with basic functionality (not necessarily small or low-traffic sites).

We were recently approached to deliver 2 such websites for a client (N.B. as an educational organisation they were eligible for the A2 Office 365 Plan, meaning their SharePoint Online website licensing and hosting was completely free)

Both of the SharePoint Online websites can be viewed here:


In this blog post we will give a brief overview of the two websites, exploring:

  • SharePoint Online Website Author Requirements (content management and analytics)
  • SharePoint Online Website Visitor Requirements (user experience and accessibility)
  • SharePoint Online Website Features Leveraged (blog site, list apps and library apps)

Read more

How To: Displaying SharePoint Blogs on a SharePoint Online Homepage


In this post I will explain how to use the Content Query web part to display SharePoint blog posts on a SharePoint Online intranet site.

Displaying SharePoint Blogs on a SharePoint Online Homepage

We will explore three ways this feature can be built to display all blog posts, including filtering of the results in the Content Query web part.

1. Displaying all Blog Posts

Firstly we will add the web part and configure it to show all blogs.

Edit the page and in the ribbon under the ‘insert tab’, select ‘Web Part’; then select the ‘Content Rollup’ category and then select the ‘Content Query Web Part’, click ‘Add’.

Adding the Content Query Web Part

Next, ‘Edit the Web Part’.

Edit the Content Query Web Part

In the Query section, under ‘List type’, select ‘Posts’ from the drop down underneath, ‘Show items from this list type:’

Edit the Content Query Web Part Query

In the ‘Appearance’ section, change the ‘Title’ to ‘Our Blogs’.

Edit the Content Query Web Part Title

In the ‘Presentation’ section, set the item limit to 10, and make sure the ‘Fields to display’ link field is left blank. Save the Web Part and the page.

Edit the Content Query Web Part Presentation 1

Edit the Content Query Web Part Presentation 2

The Web Part will now display all blogs.

Content Query Web Part displaying all blogs

2. Displaying Featured Blogs

In order to display only ‘Featured blogs’ through the ‘Content Query’ web part, we first need to add an additional column to our ‘Posts list’ on our blog site.

To do this, navigate to your blog homepage and click ‘Manage Posts’.

Manage Posts

Click ‘List Settings’ under the list tab in the ribbon.

Posts List Settings

Click ‘Create column’ under the columns heading.

Create Column

Call the column “Feature Blog?” and select column type ‘Yes/No’ (check box).  In the description box you might want to enter a prompt for the user, e.g. “Would you like this blog to be featured?” Featured blogs are displayed to users on the intranet homepage. It is also worth setting the ‘Default value’ to ‘No’.

Feature Blogs Column

Now edit some of the blogs and tick the box to make them a ‘Feature Blog’.

Edit Blogs

Navigate back to the page containing your Content Query web part and ‘edit’ the web part.

In ‘the appearance’ section, change the name to ‘Featured Blogs’.

Content Query Webpart Title

In the ‘Query’ section, under ‘Additional Filters’ heading, set up the filter as follows:

Show items when: Featured Blog?…is equal to…Yes

Content Query Webpart Query

Click ‘OK’ and save the page.  Your web part will now only display those blogs that your content authors specify as ‘featured’.

Content Query Webpart displaying Feature Blogs

3. Displaying Popular Blogs

Next, we will configure the web part to only show ‘Popular blogs’ e.g. blogs that have a user rating of 4 or more stars out of 5 (on average).

In order to display only ‘Popular blogs’ through our Content Query web part, we first need to change the ‘Rating Settings’ on our blog site.

To do this, navigate to your blog homepage and click ‘manage post’ as before, on the ‘Posts List’ open the ribbon and click ‘List Settings’.

Posts List Settings

Click ‘Rating settings’ under the ‘General Settings’ heading.

Post Rating Settings

Change the voting/rating experience for this list from ‘Likes’ to ‘Star Ratings’.

Change Post Rating to Stars

Rate some of the blogs by clicking on the stars.

Rate Blogs

Now navigate back to the page containing your Content Query web part and edit the Web Part.

In the ‘Appearance’ section, change the name to ‘Our Top Rated Blogs’.

Content Editor Web Part Title

In the Query section under the ‘Additional Filters’ heading, set up the filter as follows:

Show items when: Rating (0-5)…is greater than or equal to…4

Content Editor Web Part Query

Click OK and save the page.  Your web part will now only display those blogs that have an average user rating of 4 or more stars out of 5.

Content Editor Web Part displaying Popular Blogs

This should now all be set up, we hope you found this page useful.