Microsoft unveils whole host of Office 365, SharePoint and OneDrive updates at #MSIgnite

Ignite 2017, Microsofts annual conference where anything and everything new coming out of Redmon is discussed, is well underway and as expected, the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 is going to see a lot of improvements within Office 365, and in particular SharePoint and OneDrive.

Jeff Teper announced Tuesday that there is going to be a new SharePoint 2019 (part of a whole Office 2019 package) server release that is expected to be in preview from the middle of 2018, however as yet there is no other information around that. He also went on to discuss a range of other services and features that we will start to see on First Release (or rather, Targeted Release as Microsoft now plans to call it) over the coming 6 months.

Here is what we know so far…

New SharePoint Hub Sites

Hub Sites are going to be the latest addition to the recently created Modern Sites that Microsoft have been rolling out. The Hub sites interface will allow users to bring together related sites to roll up news and activity, to simplify search, and to create cohesion with shared navigation and look-and-feel.

SharePoint New Hub Sites

It seems that Hub Sites arent going to replace Publishing Sites, particularly if organisations are using customised WebParts and extensions. However, Microsoft does see them as being primarily used for knowledge sharing in contrast to a Communication Site which will be used to tell your story, share your work and showcase your product across the organization.

A Whole New SharePoint Admin Centre

Bill Baer, Senior Product Manager (SharePoint) announced a whole new SharePoint Admin Centre interface that is designed to surface the most important information and quickly help you discover some of the most important information about the service, both its health, and how your organization is using SharePoint Online.

SharePoint New Admin Centre

It will also improve upon Site Management and Device Access something that has had a complete overhaul in recent months to include features such as conditional access policies across user, location, and device pivots to help you secure access to your information.

Improvements to Communication Sites

Microsoft has announced that a whole range of new and improved WebParts are going to be released before the end of the year within Communication sites. These include things for Planner, Microsoft Forms, Group Calendar, File Viewer, Spacer and Divider, Twitter, and Connectors (to add third-party services). Microsoft also plans to improve the Yammer WebPart for Communications Sites so that it displays well within mobile apps, among other WebPart improvements.

New Microsoft Teams Features

Microsoft Teams also has some improvements in the pipeline. Soon, users will be able to display dynamic, data-driven pages and news articles, not just documents stored in SharePoint libraries within a tab in your Team.
Microsoft Teams Modern Pages

It has also been announced that, in the not too distant future, Skype for Business will be replaced by Microsoft Teams.

Teams, which is still less than a year old, already contains features like instant messaging and file sharing with Skype, but will now integrate other capabilities like connectivity to phone networks, bringing features like voicemail, conference calls and call transfers. This will be based on the Skype infrastructure, which already powers audio and video communications in the application.

Microsoft have not provided a timeline for this transition, and judging by analysts commentary this isnt expected to be any time before mid-2019.

Office 365 Security & Compliance

Security and Compliance has seen a lot of improvement over the past year and Microsoft are planning to continue this work by adding Multi-Geo Capabilities in Office 365 essentially allowing organisations to choose which regions are used for storing, as well as search indexing of their data.

In addition to this, Microsoft have also announced that device access policies for content stored and consumed within SharePoint and OneDrive can be specified at site collection level, allowing organisations to limit access from these devices on a site by site basis, based on the classification of the content.

Got Office 365? Why opting for a non-SharePoint intranet is madness!

These days there is unprecedented choice in the intranet and collaboration space. Not only is there maturity in the intranet software market, but there are also overlapping capabilities with social and collaboration platforms from Yammer to Slack to Workplace by Facebook. Intranet teams have a lot of different options.

One direction of travel is the emergence of a range of hosted or cloud intranets which provide attractive interfaces, templates, the key capabilities youd expect and, above all, convenience and speed. Intranet implementation projects are now much easier and faster and building an enterprise-ready, feature-rich intranet has never been easier.

Turnkey SharePoint intranets

The turnkey intranet market itself has evolved into two key segments:

  • Standalone and self-contained in-a-box solutions
  • Those that sit on top of SharePoint Online and Office 365 (some also work with SharePoint on premises).

Intranet managers can opt for strong intranet solutions, either SharePoint based or non-SharePoint based.

But if you are using Office 365 in your organisation, and there are many companies who are or are planning to, there are some clear advantages in implementing a SharePoint-based intranet. In fact. wed go as far to say that opting for a non-SharePoint intranet-in-a-box solution when you have Office 365 really doesnt make much sense at all.

Heres five reasons why:

Creating an integrated digital workplace

In the past couple of years theres been a lot of talk about the digital workplace and having a more consistent, coherent and integrated experience of the wider portfolio of applications in use throughout the organisation, as well as valuable data and content. This helps drive efficiency and process improvement, helps with findability through an integrated search, maintains common standards across different systems and reduces the chance of a frustrating user experience.

Its generally recognised that the intranet plays an important role in the digital workplace, often as the front door or point of entry to different applications and critical documents. Its also usually the place to carry out a search and for employees to find what they need to do their work every day.

If youre investing in Office 365 its very likely that some of the key elements of your digital workplace use Office 365. You may use the document libraries, rich collaboration or the search.  A SharePoint intranet-in-a-box product like Wizdom makes it much easier to use the intranet as the front door to current capabilities as well as future functionality on the Office 365 roadmap.

A non-Sharepoint intranet makes it much harder to achieve an integrated digital workplace experience. There will be no integrated search and no simple integration with SharePoint. If your digital workplace is largely based on Office 365 and you want to the intranet to be a gateway to your digital workplace, a non-SharePoint based intranet will likely stymie your efforts.

Unlocking the value of Office 365

Your intranet is a strategic investment and so is Office 365. As well as delivering a more integrated digital workplace, a user-friendly SharePoint-based intranet layer can help drive Office 365 adoption which means youre more likely to be achieving ROI.  Your SharePoint turnkey intranet can:

  • Highlight many of the features within Office 365, explaining the benefits and raising awareness of these tools through communications
  • Add some context to the tools on offer so they have more value. So, for example, a Yammer group might make more sense and have more value for users when it is combined with intranet-based content or document libraries, therefore driving adoption.
  • Make Office 365 tools easier to reach and find, through integration into the intranet experience. There are many ways to integrate a product like Wizdom with Office 365, from using Delve and Graph for showing recently documents accessed, to creating a learning portal based on Office 365 video, to adding links in the intranet navigation to these tools.
  • Improve the usability of Office 365 with a great interface that employees are already familiar with.

Avoiding duplication of costs

If youre an Office 365 subscriber youre already paying for a rich set of collaborative technologies with different options including Yammer, Microsoft Teams and the capabilities of SharePoint itself. Most intranet products now come with their own in-built collaboration capability so when you subscribe to a non-SharePoint intranet product, youre probably paying for capabilities you already have.

Our chosen SharePoint in-a-box product, Wizdom, is a native SharePoint application so it doesnt duplicate the functionality youve already paid for, instead providing a far tighter experience layer on top of Office 365. (The same argument applies to SharePont on premises).

Avoiding duplication also helps to reduce costs for budget constrained intranet teams not only in terms of licensing but also in all those hidden costs such as training, upgrades and more.

Avoiding user confusion

One of the constant challenges for intranet teams is driving adoption and best use of your digital channels across your wider digital workplace. Having a non-SharePoint intranet and Office 365 running in parallel can undermine those efforts by having two parallel systems with overlapping capability.

While employees like choice, they also like clarity. Its far better to have a standard system for collaboration which everybody can use and is properly supported, rather than have two competing systems. The aim for an intranet and Office 365 is to remove silos, not create them.

Stay future-proofed

Recently Microsoft has really sped up its product release cycle with a real expansion of the apps available within the Office 365 suite, including Sway, Teams and more. Theres always pressure to add new features to your intranet and you may be able to use some of the new powerful apps from Office 365.  Even if theres no pressing need now, there may be in the future.

With an intranet like Wizdom, youll be future-proofed for the changes that Microsoft make, ensuring they are part of your digital workplace and helping to drive adoption through the intranet interface. A non-SharePoint intranet wont keep up providing a frustrating and fragmented experience for your users.

Make the right decision

Take it from us, if youre going down the Office 365 road a non-SharePoint intranet makes little sense. We predict that at some stage in the future that you will want your intranet to integrate with your core suite of Office 365 tools. And if you dont want to, your stakeholders and your users will eventually demand it.

Wizdom is a perfect choice. Youll be buying an intranet which keeps up to date with Office 365, but also provides the best integrated experience available as a native SharePoint app.

Earlier in the post we stated that Office 365 is a strategic investment and so is your intranet – with a SharePoint intranet-in a box youre effectively investing in both

The rise of the digital workplace and its impact on intranet

If youre an intranet professional, have been investigating a new intranet product, or are working on an Office 365 roadmap, youre likely to have come across the digital workplace. Its a term and a concept thats been steadily growing in popularity over the past three years and have now entered the mainstream.

Originally, the digital workplace was used as a term by some of the leading players in the intranet and collaboration world such as the Digital Workplace Group and Jane McConnell. That growth has extended to organizations such as Microsoft, Accenture, and Gartner. Its now often used within organizations to describe functions, roles, and even intranets.

Defining the digital workplace

Defining the digital workplace isnt as straightforward as it might seem, and there is no consensus about exactly what it is. It means different things to different people, and use varies across different organisations.

In our experience, there are three over-lapping definitions:

  1. Its an experience. The digital workplace is the employee experience of all workplace technology, covering a wide portfolio of applications, the relative interfaces, the hardware in use and so on. Its the digital equivalent to the physical workplace.
  2. Its a specific environment. Some see the digital workplace as a specific digital ecosystem a company provides where there is some integration and the employee can access a wide series of applications. Usually the intranet acts as the front door to the digital workplace and will be a significant part of it
  3. Its a concept or a mindset. Others view the digital workplace as more a way of thinking a holistic and strategic way of looking at the employee experience of technology at work.

In reality, these three definitions are strongly interlinked as the concept emphasizes the importance of the experience which leads to development of specific environments!

The intranet as the key channel in the digital workplace

Although some organisations have chosen to re-brand their intranet as a digital workplace, we view intranets as being distinct and different. The digital workplace has a wider focus, while the intranet is usually the most important channel within it.

There are several reasons why the intranet is the key channel within the digital workplace:

  1. The intranet is the perfect starting point for employees to access the wider digital workplace, a gateway to other systems and apps.
  2. Intranets can usually be accessed by all employees so they are the logical channel to be the focus for any integrated experience.
  3. Intranets have evolved to include new capabilities such as collaboration, so many essential digital workplace tools are already included in the intranet.
  4. Intranets are flexible so new links and features can be added, keeping up with the ever-expanding digital workplace.
  5. Intranets can be used to communicate the how and why of using wider digital tools critical for digital workplace adoption and giving context to all the tools and apps in use.
  6. Many organisations are using Office 365 as the center of their digital workplace and an intranet is a great vehicle to leverage your investment with Microsoft.

Four positive trends from the rise of the digital workplace

The rise of the digital workplace has been great for intranets and the teams behind them. Heres four key trends which we see happening with our clients and beyond.

1. Intranets are becoming more essential

In the past, some intranets have typically been regarded as nice to haves and not essential to everyday working. This is changing.The digital workplace emphasizes the importance of having an integrated, high quality employee experience of workplace tools. Intranets are stepping up to the plate to be the natural entry point into the wider digital workplace, as well as the place to complete tasks. Intranet software providers are making it easier to deliver key apps and features and integrate other systems so that the intranet is truly the go to place for employees to get things done.

2. Senior stakeholders are seeing the strategic importance of the intranet

The digital workplace encourages a more strategic view of technology, emphasizing its importance in digital transformation, employee engagement, and more.With the intranet as a central part of the digital workplace, senior stakeholders are more likely to take the intranet seriously and see its true potential.

3. There are new opportunities for intranet teams

Intranet teams are sometimes misunderstood or under-appreciated within the organizations they serve. The teams are also small so the opportunities for career advancement may be limited.The digital workplace offers an opportunity for intranet teams to lead the way in a new and growing area, work with a wider set of technologies and make a real difference. This exposure and focus can lead to new challenges and opportunities for intranet professionals.

4. Organizations are moving forward with the future of work

Because the digital workplace promotes a more holistic view of workplace technology, it often means different stakeholders from across your organization will work together to move forward in a coordinated way.Hopefully, they are uniting behind a shared vision of the future of work within your organization.This is great news as it can help intranets to evolve too as the modern, essential interface for employees, enabling new ways of working and working in harmony with other applications.

Raise a glass for the digital workplace!

The digital workplace concept is here to stay and intranets will benefit enormously. Were already starting to see more interest from senior leaders, better career prospects for teams, and vastly improved intranets.Naturally, there is a still a long way to go, as the digital workplace concept is still young. However, were confident that the next five years or so will prove to an exciting time for intranets and also the people who manage them.

The original article was published here.

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