Microsoft Ignite Interviews with harmon.ie’s Top SharePoint Influencers

At Microsoft Ignite in September, as group of us talked to Laura Rogers (@wonderlaura) about some top of mind topics. It was in the context of the harmon.ie Top SharePoint Influencers festivities, which meant that there were a bunch of people standing around with very strong opinions about pretty much everything.

We answered questions like:

  • How are you and your clients keeping pace with the rapid changes in Office 365?
  • Are all of the rapid changes in Office 365 creating problems for end users?
  • Is the hybrid model that Microsoft provides really helping users transition to Office 365?
  • Do you think that Microsoft is going to see real competition from Slack?
  • How has your role as a SharePoint expert changed over the last year?

Fortunately, they edited out most of the long-windedness; you just get the nuggets. Thanks to harmon.ie for the recognition and the chance to capture some thoughts via these interviews.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Microsoft Teams: Is the Who-Bot the KM “Expertise Locator” We’ve Needed for Years?

By far the coolest thing I saw in the launch of Microsoft Teams yesterday was the Who-Bot.

It seems to address the age-old knowledge management question “Who knows about…”, which has for years been talked about as either “Find the Expert” or “Expertise Locator”. In some ways, it’s been one of the holy grails of knowledge management.


Every organization has people in with with expertise which is unknown. A classic example was one I ran across at a client back in the mid-1990s. Yes, we’ve been talking about this for over two decades!

In the example (which is real, as best I can remember the details), there was a PhD scientist with extremely specific and strong skills in bovine biology. That was his job, and he was damned good at it. It also so happened that in a previous part of his career, he had been an explosives expert. Also very top notch, and of course for good.

At one point at the company, our PhD friend saw that his company had launched a product which was made of materials he knew extremely well from his explosives work. But the product wasn’t using those materials efficiently, so the margins were pretty bad.

No one knew about his off-kilter expertise, but it would have accelerated the product development and led to a better product.

Had there been a Who-Bot or expertise locator, when they started the project to develop the product, they could have asked “Who knows about explosives?” or “Who knows about using chemical xyz?” Because the PhD fellow was proud of his prior achievements, those facts would have been in his profile, and they would have immediately gotten a hit. Money saved, productivity gained.


We started using Microsoft Teams yesterday like many others. I really wanted to see what the Who-Bot looked like (even at Sympraxis with two people, we can test this stuff), but I couldn’t find it anywhere.

I asked the T-Bot – which is pre-loaded in Teams, “How do I add bots?'”

Talking to the T-Bot

T-Bot suggested I head over to the bot gallery to look at my options, but I couldn’t find Who-Bot over there, either. T-Bot is really cool, though, and a great example of “bot-based help”. That’s a wave of the future, too.

I pinged a few contacts about how to enable Who-Bot, but so far no joy. I’ll update this post when I figure it out.


Now, the flip side of this is that Who-Bot is only going to find what it can find. After all this time, we actually have pretty good ways to figure out what people know.

The most obvious one is what we put into our profiles in SharePoint or elsewhere. In other words, without good metadata about each of us, Who-Bot doesn’t have much to work with.

Luckily, we’re working with a great new company to help solve this problem. As I’m quoted on the Hyperfish Web site:

Bad AD data

Hyperfish’s product and its Hyperbot (yup, there’s a bot chapter in this story, too) can help your organization essentially crowd-source improvements to your Active Directory data. It’s a fantastic product built by some very smart people. If you’re interested in it, let us know and we can give you a demo. At Sympraxis, we’re really excited to be working with Hyperfish: this is a set of problems that must be solved.

Hyperfish helps with what’s known in the KM world as explicit knowledge about your profile and skills. Explicit knowledge is known because we’ve taken the trouble to collect it, standardize it, vet it, etc. But there is another kind of knowledge known as tacit knowledge. We express our knowledge tacitly by what we work on or what we do or who we know. (KM purists may say I’m being liberal with my definitions here, but that’s the way I roll.)

Guess what? The Office Graph gets us access to some of that tacit knowledge. Based on the documents we author or view, the people we work with, etc., we can start to identify people with the knowledge we need as well.

The new People Card capabilities rolling out in Office 365 now help us to identify people with knowledge we’d never find otherwise. By seeing who is connected to or works around content and other people, we can identify the experts we need.

Office 365 People Cards

Since Who-Bot is tied into the Office Graph, I expect that we’ll get very interesting and deep, layered responses to our questions about “Who knows about…” in quite short order.

Now if I could only get the darned the Who-Bot turned on in our Sympraxis tenant!

UPDATE: I heard firm Bill Bliss at Microsoft (who owns the feature) directly and he said the WhoBot (his spelling, so it’s probably right!) is “…not done yet”. As noted by Jasper Siegmund in the. Moments, Bill also stated this on the recent Microsoft Teams AMA.

Thanks Microsoft: We Got Publishing Features Enabled

Those of you who know me realize that I can be a grouchy, cantankerous old cuss.:)

It seemed wrong to use a picture of myself, so I stole this from http://www.jeffminick.com/learning-as-i-go/you-might-be-a-grumpy-old-man-if

It seemed wrong to use a picture of myself, so I stole this from http://www.jeffminick.com/learning-as-i-go/you-might-be-a-grumpy-old-man-if

But every once in a while, I have a good experience that I really should share so that people don’t think I can only be grumpy.

Today is one of those days. But it’s a bit plus and minus.

I’ve had a support ticket open with Microsoft for exactly a month today about an Office 365 tenant where we couldn’t activate the Site Feature for SharePoint Server Publishing.

2016-10-14_13-59-05

It was originally activated (we can’t track down the history), but wasn’t fully “there”. Some of the capabilities weren’t working. So I deactivated it and tried to reactivate. Every time, the dreaded “An unexpected error has occurred.” But a correlation ID!

I’ll admit it, I’m not enamored of Microsoft support. My experience over the years has been spotty at best and this case was not a good showing. We bounced back and forth to various people “out there”. (It’s the cloud, so it doesn’t matter where they are, right?)

When we hit a month to the day today, I decided I would highlight the – erm – challenges here to Adam Harmetz (@AdamHarmetz ) at Microsoft. I’m very careful how I use my connections at Microsoft, as I don’t want to be “that guy”. Sometimes I’m “that guy”, but I try not to be. Really, I do. Truly. Most of the time.

Well, within two hours, we had the problem solved. (Adam wasn’t awake when I sent the email.) I worked with two stellar guys at Premiere Support who *really* knew their stuff.

In the words from the follow up email from the engineer I worked with:

We found that the publishing feature was failing to create the PageNotFoundError page in the Pages library, so after validating that the page layout and content types were in good shape we grabbed a healthy page from a new publishing site, moved it over to the target site, and verified that the publishing web feature was able to be activated without a hitch.

Note that I’m not giving out the two stellar guys’ names. I don’t want them to be inundated with requests! But I know who they are.

So why does all this matter? Frankly, it doesn’t matter that much that I pulled some strings and got my problem solved. We had been working around it and would have solved it eventually through normal channels.

What really matters is the fact that Adam and Stellar Guy No. 1 are going to take this case and try to make things better with it. The way it all played out is a bad user experience. Yes, UX isn’t just something on a computer screen. Every aspect of our interactions with Microsoft affects our perception of the company and its products.

These days, Microsoft can take something like this and make changes to ensure they don’t happen again. A few years ago, I would have openly complained about the fact that they weren’t a learning organization; today they are, and a fast-learning one at that.

That doesn’t mean that my next support experience – or yours – is going to be perfect. But it does mean that it might be a bit better. I long for the day when there will be no need at all to pull strings to reach a good conclusion, and I want to help Microsoft get there.

Color Codes in SharePoint SPColor Files MUST Be All Caps

With the new world of branding a tenant on Office 365, styling the suite bar and using a theme (aka Composed Look) can take you pretty far toward improving the user experience.

A Composed Look is made up of (potentially):

  • A master page – generally either Seattle or Oslo
  • Theme URL – the spcolor file to use for common classes in a SharePoint page
  • Image URL – an image to use as the background for pages
  • Font Scheme URL – spfont file to use for common classes in a SharePoint page
  • Display order – simply where in the list of Composed Looks yours is displayed

Composed Look Settings

I won’t go into all the details about how this works, but each setting above is somewhat optional: you can use an existing spcolor file, for example, but create your own spfont file. If you want to understand all the mechanics, check out Benjamin Niaulin’s article Step by Step: Create a SharePoint 2013 Composed Look

 

Change the look

Here’s a quick tip about spcolor files. I was tearing my hair out over the last few weeks trying to figure out why sometimes my iterations of an spcolor file were working and other times they weren’t. By not working, I mean that the Composed Look would simply disappear from the Change the look page. I’d revert to my last working version and slowly inch forward again.

It turned out to be something silly and obvious – once you know it!

All of the color codes in the spcolor file MUST be all capitals. So, for instance, this:

would not work, but this:

would. That was *not* easy to spot, but spot it I did.

Don’t let this one bite you; I hope that your Binglage has led you here for a solution and this helps…

Customizing the Suite Bar Theme in your Office 365 Tenant

Part of a good user experience with software is feeling that it is our own. When it comes to SharePoint, which for many people is their Intranet or at least an important work environment, we almost always do some level of branding.

It’s hard to keep up with how we are supposed to brand our Office 365 tenants these days. We have “guidance” from Microsoft that we shouldn’t customize the master pages in our tenants now, and in fact the “modern” “experiences” that are rolling out don’t even use master pages to put together the rendering of the UI.

There are some simple things we can do starting with a vanilla Office 365 tenant to make it feel more like home, though, and they aren’t all that complicated. One of the easiest things to do – and with the widest reach – is to change the theme of the Office 365 suite bar.

By default, the suite bar looks like this:

Suite Bar Default
Making the suite bar your own isn’t that complicated, and this article from Microsoft explains it: Customize your theme in the Office 365 admin center. But I often need to explain these settings to clients, so I figured I’d write up what I tell them.

Here’s what our Sympraxis suite bar looks like:

Sympraxis Suite BarIt’s not fancy or anything, and we don’t mess with any of the components of the suite bar with CSS or JavaScript tricks. We know how to do these things, but it just isn’t worth it. It’s all done by making changes in the Office 365 Admin center.

tip
Note that you need to be a Tenant Administrator to work on these settings. Being a SharePoint Administrator is not enough: you’re changing the suite bar for the entire tenant: SharePoint, Exchange (Mail), OneDrive, even Yammer. I’ve found that the “stickiness” of these changes sometimes varies across these services, but they get there in most cases.

Step by Step Instructions

Navigate to https://portal.office.com/AdminPortal/Home. This is the home page for the admin functions in Office 365. The UI here has been changing frequently, so these screenshots are current in our Sympraxis First Release Tenant as of today. Your “experience” may vary, but hopefully the basic steps will look the same.

Settings / Organization Profile

At the top of the page, you’ll see the information about your organization, such as the name, address, technical contact, etc.

Organization Profile

There is also a section to Manage custom themes for your organization.

Manage themes

Click on the Edit button.

There are a number of things you can change here. I’ll run through them in a little detail.

Select custom logo image

Custom logo imageIf you upload an image here, it will show up in the suite bar in the center.

Custom logo image

You’ll want to make sure the image fits well into the space allotted. The recommended size is “200 x 30 pixels in JPG, PNG, or GIF format, and no larger than 10 KB”. Since this image will load on every page in your Office 365 tenant, you’ll want to make sure the image is the right size and resolution to make it look good and load fast.

If you’d like the image to be a clickable link to something, you can add that in the next field. Since most people use their Office 365 tenant for internal collaboration or as their Intranet, I usually see this link going to the public-facing Internet site for the organization.

Select Background image

Background imageIf you’d like a background image across the entire suite bar, you can upload one here. As above, the image requirements are specific: “1366 x 50 pixels or less in JPG, PNG, or GIF format, and no larger than 15 KB”.

Earlier iterations of this capability came with a set of selectable images. One of the images I’ve seen most often is one with LEGO® tiles. It’s sort of cool, but that sort of image might not be your thing.

Prevent users from overriding custom theming with their own theme

Prevent users

This effectively locks the theme so that no one can override it. Frankly, I’m not sure what this prevents, as we can drop custom CSS into any page which overrides the theme, but here it is…

Set custom colors

Custom colors

Finally, we have a section where we can set custom colors for the suite bar. This is probably the change which will have the biggest impact for your users.

You can change the color from the default Office 365 / Microsoft blue and black to something which is more aligned with your organization’s identity. Even making a little switch like these colors can make your Office 365 tenant feel much more like it belongs to the organization; don’t underestimate the importance of this for the user experience.

You can change three colors here. For Sympraxis, we’ve used our logo’s purple for the Accent color (332F81), white for the Nav bar background color (ffffff), and our logo’s green for the Text and icons (A3A437).

Sympraxis colors

Save your changes

Save changesFinally, save your changes. It will take a few minutes for the changes to take effect across Office 365, but you’ll see them in every application in the suite soon enough.

Note that it’s easy to go back and change these settings or remove them entirely.

Making these changes immediately makes your users feel like the Office 365 belongs to them. They may not even notice the specific changes, but they will feel more at home. Try it out and see!