How to make Microsoft Viva the centre of your digital workplace

Microsoft Viva – the employee experience platform launched by Microsoft in 2021 – has been receiving huge levels of interest from intranet, digital workplace and internal comms teams since its release. As adoption continues to rise, we decided to hold a webinar about placing Microsoft Viva at the centre of your digital workplace to deliver a more seamless digital employee experience.

In the session, which you can watch in full below, Content Formula’s Alex Yeomans, John Scott and Joe Perry explored issues including:

  • What Microsoft Viva does
  • The ins and outs of the Viva apps
  • How to use Viva Connections to integrate with other systems
  • What else you should consider when implementing Viva.

In this post, we’re going to explore some of the key takeaways from what proved to be a highly valuable deep dive into Microsoft Viva.

What is Microsoft Viva?

Microsoft Viva is a collection of apps that are generally viewed through Microsoft Teams, although some features of Viva Connections can be embedded as web parts into SharePoint. The apps focus on four different areas of employee experience:

  • Viva Connections: A gateway to internal communications and company resources
  • Viva Insights: Personalised analytics and related insights for individuals, managers and leaders that support well-being, collaboration, productivity and more
  • Viva Learning: A learning hub that aggregates learning resources from a variety of different systems and sources
  • Viva Topics: A knowledge discovery platform that uses AI to source resources and experts on different topics.

Here, we share some of the insights from the webinar.

1 Most people are in the early stages of their Viva journey

At the beginning of the webinar, the panel emphasised that Microsoft Viva is very new. Unsurprisingly, a quick poll of the participants revealed that most people are at a very early stage of their Viva journey, either experimenting or still investigating how it can be used. Even though Viva has been around for over a year, it is still evolving, and has only evolved to deliver value relatively recently as more integrations have emerged. The team expects this to accelerate as more and more organisations adopt Microsoft Viva this year and in future, and as Microsoft continues to invest in the platform.

2 Viva Learning helps to deliver learning in the flow of work… but it’s not an LMS

All too often, learning content is hidden away in different systems and repositories, such as a Learning Management System (LMS), a SharePoint library or a third-party solution. This means valuable content is often missed, and learning systems are poorly adopted. Viva Learning helps remedy this by delivering a discovery platform for learning content, surfacing resources from multiple places including your LMS, SharePoint and more right into Microsoft Teams, where people often spend their working day.

The solution leverages AI to recommend relevant course content to users based on the Office Graph, and managers can assign learning and colleagues recommend courses while a personalised dashboard facilitates easier access. Learning content also appears in Microsoft Search.

It is worth noting that Viva Learning is not an LMS; there isn’t any core functionality that you might find in a system like LMS365 such as e-learning, certification, employee attestation, learning journeys and sophisticated reporting. Organisations will need to have an LMS like LMS365 and subscriptions with learning providers to get the best out of the app, with Viva Learning principally acting as an aggregator.

3 Viva Topics is supporting knowledge management

Viva Topics is another app which helps to support knowledge management, using AI to bring together wiki-like pages on different topics and surfacing relevant resources, including SharePoint files and lists of recognised experts. For example, Content Formula is working with a house-building firm on implementing Viva Topics, and they have a topic page dedicated to loft installations, with a list of valuable AI-driven resources that can also be curated by a subject matter expert approving the AI suggestions. New relevant topic pages are suggested by AI, but can also be created manually to cover things like clients, projects, services and places.

Viva Topics pages are represented by cards that can be referenced in a Teams discussion and also appear in search.

4 Viva Insights delivers personal analytics and insights while acting like a virtual assistant

Viva Insights provides a personal dashboard of analytics about work habits, shining a light on wellbeing, productivity and collaboration. These are derived from Microsoft Graph and your interactions with Office 365, revealing things such as your overall working hours, time spent in meetings, focus time and more.

Viva Insights also uses AI to monitor your interactions across Teams, Yammer and Outlook and make suggestions about the need to follow up on meetings and emails, for example. This is already delivered in the Viva-branded emails that most of us receive, and is like a “virtual assistant” nudging you to follow up on actions. If you pay for an upgrade, managers can see analytics and insights based on their team’s actions, such as their overall time spent in meetings.

5 Viva Connections brings your intranet into Teams

Microsoft 365 is a complex and broad platform that contains multiple tools and channels. Viva Connections is a connector that consolidates content and information from some of these sources and displays them in Teams, although it can also be surfaced in SharePoint.

One way Viva Connections is commonly used is as a way to effectively view your SharePoint intranet through Teams, meaning users don’t have to leave the Teams environment to see intranet communications and content. In the webinar, we saw an example of how Entain’s intranet is viewed through Viva Connections; in organisations where Teams has high usage, this is a great way to facilitate easier intranet access.

6 The Viva Connections dashboard helps users complete tasks across the digital workplace

One of the most valuable features in the entire Viva platform is the Viva Connections Dashboard. This helps you create a dashboard of personalised cards from other Microsoft tools, non-Microsoft apps and third-party websites to provide information, updates and nudges which help users complete tasks and keep on top of their work. It can be viewed through Microsoft Teams or within a SharePoint page – usually the intranet homepage or equivalent. This can help make Connections and your intranet not just a communications hub, but a comprehensive digital workplace tool too.

In the webinar, there was a demo of the dashboard that showed the kind of information it can display, including:

  • How much annual leave remains
  • The current valuation of a pension
  • Live data from share prices
  • The travel status of buses or trains
  • A map of how to get somewhere
  • A view of upcoming meetings
  • A display of praise received through Yammer.

The dashboard can also provide access to tasks including check-ins for office visits and manager approvals for travel expenses.

Joe explained that each card is personalised, and can be targeted to different groups. One of the great things about the dashboard is that it leverages a low-code, no-code approach, making it easy for administrators to create and preview new cards. They can also utilise out-of-the-box integrations with enterprise systems like Workday and ServiceNow to deliver cards for high-value use cases like requesting time off or raising helpdesk tickets.

7 There are several elements to consider when deploying Microsoft Viva Connections

Finally, the team ran through some of the key factors that digital workplace teams need to consider before deploying Viva Connections:

  • A SharePoint home site and SharePoint global navigation are required to launch Viva Connections
  • Third-party integrations add value, and Microsoft has more coming soon
  • Multi-lingual dashboards have been released – attractive for larger, global organisations
  • If you’re launching Viva Connections, you can now add a custom name and logo in the navigation to align with your intranet branding
  • Viva Connections is free, but the full functionality of the other apps comes at an additional cost.

Want to know more about Microsoft Viva? Get in touch!

We’re working with several clients on Viva-related projects. If you’re considering deploying Microsoft Viva and have any questions, then get in touch!

What’s on the Microsoft 365 roadmap for 2022?

One of the pleasures of working with SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and the Microsoft 365 platform in general is the continual investment Microsoft drives to improve the platform, introducing new tools and features. For example, in 2021, we welcomed the Microsoft Viva suite. Sometimes, these changes are modest but have powerful potential, such as extending the formatting options for SharePoint lists. However, it can be difficult and even overwhelming for admins and IT teams to try and keep up with all the changes.

In 2022, we’re expecting another very active year for Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and 365. It’s also going to be a big year for Microsoft Viva. In this post, we’re going to cover some of the changes we’re most looking forward to here at Content Formula, but really, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s coming.

The full detailed Microsoft 365 roadmap contains over 500 items in development at the time of writing, plus over 250 more being rolled out. The Book of News summary of main announcements from November 2021’s Ignite conference is a good place to start, showing a very active roadmap ahead. Of course, there will also be some surprises that haven’t been announced, or things that have been promised but haven’t yet appeared.

Here’s our pick of the 2022 Microsoft roadmap so far.

Additions and enhancements to Microsoft Viva

The Microsoft Viva suite of apps was a high-profile launch in 2021, and is getting huge interest from digital workplace, intranet, HR and internal communications teams. We think Microsoft will continue to push Viva hard in 2022, making it an increasingly accepted part of the digital workplace landscape.

Microsoft has announced a slew of changes that will continue to enhance Viva’s value. One of these will be a whole new Viva module related to OKRs (Objective and Key Results) emerging from Microsoft’s acquisition of ally.io, an OKR software vendor. The reporting within Viva Insights will continue to expand, with new areas covering management behaviours and meeting habits, the latter being an area where businesses still exhibit bad practices.

The power of Viva Topics is going to be extended, covering Outlook and Yammer communities while also trialling an intriguing Q&A concierge service which routes queries to relevant subject-matter experts; this will help expertise location and knowledge-sharing. The power of SharePoint Syntex can also be leveraged to build topics. The library of out-of-the-box connectors for different enterprise systems across all the Viva apps will continue to expand, with some significant additions Workday and DocuSign, in particular, launching in early 2022.

Microsoft Teams goes from strength to strength

The success of Microsoft Teams has been remarkable, and is an integral part of the digital workplace for many organisations. Microsoft continue to add to it, and the 2022 roadmap should see another round of enhancements, many of which cement Teams as the all-in-one communication system for employees.

One of the most far-reaching of these enhancements is further development of Microsoft Teams Connect – the feature that enables external collaboration. It will be easier to schedule meetings in a Teams channel that is shared across multiple organisations and individuals, providing a welcome addition to enable projects involving third parties and contractors. Chat will also be extended to allow individuals to use Teams with anyone outside a work network for personal calls while still sticking to organisational security policies, thus extending Teams popularity.

There are also some enhancements to Teams analytics in the pipeline. A new device-specific analytics board will be of particular interest to organisations who have rolled out the Teams mobile app, while a board that provides data and analytics per physical workspace will be useful in co-ordinating hybrid working or improving adoption in specific locations.

Other improvements and additions include:

  • The ability to join BlueJeans and GoToMeeting calls from a Teams Room, joining existing support for Zoom and Cicso
  • More support to use Teams as part of a hotdesking solution
  • More apps for Teams being added by partners
  • Some improvements to chat, including the ability for a user to send memo reminders to themselves on a chat thread
  • An improved design for the Teams app store
  • A new virtual green room for Teams events
  • A slew of improvements for event organisers, including better Q&A, having multiple moderators and more.

Microsoft Mesh for Teams

Support for augmented and virtual reality has been steadily improving in the background, although outside some online events, specific learning sessions and niche scenarios, these 3D experiences are yet to really seize the imagination of organisations or digital workplace teams.

Despite this, large tech providers are staking a lot of future investment on AR, VR and 3D experiences, particularly for remove events, meetings and collaboration. Facebook has changed its name to Meta and shared their plans for an immersive AR / VR world called the Metaverse, which is painted a little like Second Life on steroids. Microsoft’s response is to continue to roll out Mesh – its mixed reality framework – that is now being extended to Microsoft Teams.

The introduction of Mesh in Teams allows participants to meet in 3D scenarios as avatars that display their reactions. Microsoft says this means users can maintain their presence in meetings without turning on cameras, and interact socially in more informal spaces for those much-discussed water cooler moments. The adoption and utilisation of these features in 2022 is going to be fascinating to watch, partly because we genuinely don’t know if they will take off or not.

More power for the Power Platform

Along with hybrid, low-code and no-code have been the digital workplace phrases of the year, and that looks set to continue in 2022. Microsoft are investing in a round of improvements to the Power Platform.

Some of these are designed to help organisations leverage the apps and workflow of the Power Platform more easily within the Teams experience, particularly Power Virtual Agents, to bring bots more directly into channels or target them to specific security groups. A Power BI app for Teams is also now available.

A new capability called process mining within Power Automate generates analytics and process maps across processes and workflows, aiming to provide insights on the success of processes, analysing the time spent on steps and where there are bottlenecks. We think this forensic approach will be of interest to many teams, and support continual improvement.

There are a range of other smaller improvements, too numerous to go into in-depth here, which include some interesting developments to drive citizen development. For example, within Power Virtual Agents, bot developers will be able to have conversations inside the bot authoring experience – a simple feature which could allow citizen developers to seek advice or collaborate with IT experts and their peers. This ability to collaborate and comment is being extended across the other Power Platform apps too, with notes and feedback similar to commenting in Office. Again, we see this helping to drive citizen development or offer support in cases where central IT resources are seeking input from business process owners or teams.

Upgrades to Microsoft Stream

Video is now a popular medium in many organisations, complementing internal communications, leadership communications, learning and even employee blogging (logging). Previously, Microsoft Stream the video sharing platform within the 365 platform has made it easy to embed videos within SharePoint intranets or communication sites, but the actual Stream user experience has been more of a separate app experience.

Now, Microsoft Stream is being rebranded as Microsoft Steam classic, and Stream built on SharePoint is being introduced. Video and audio files will be stored in the same way that other files are stored in SharePoint, making it even easier to integrate Stream right across the 365 suite. It also means that video and audio files will align to other SharePoint governance put in place for content services, covering permissions, compliance and more. This will bring video more efficiently into the overall 365 experience, including within a SharePoint intranet, and remove any associated barriers around video sharing and podcasting.

SharePoint Syntex additions

One of the roadmap areas we’re most excited about is an expansion of SharePoint Syntex – the AI feature that can be applied to content in various imaginative ways. In the next generation of Syntex, there is better support for using the software to construct Microsoft office documents so you can build model documents, for example, with different data and sections based on information from other elements. For example, you could automatically build standard NDA or contract documents based on information generated from your CRM system, with some variation dependent on who the contract concerns, as may be the case for UK- or US-based businesses.

We can see great value in high-volume documents areas such as contract management, invoicing or procurement processes. Used in conjunction with other parts of the Microsoft 365 suite, there are certainly some intriguing combinations that could transform inefficient processes. The ability to leverage Syntex for document searching using Syntex-generated metadata is also being extended.

Get in touch!

The new year is going to be another big one for Microsoft 365, Teams and Viva. We’re excited for all that is to come! If you’d like to discuss your strategy and plans for 2022, then get in touch!

25 business processes you can automate using Microsoft 365

Business automation and process improvement are key reasons why organisations launch Microsoft 365 and create intranets. They want to reduce costs, save time, increase productivity, speed up end-to-end processes and remove frustration for users.

Microsoft 365 customers have an incredibly powerful platform from which to start automating business processes, both simple and complex. Using different combinations of features and capabilities, you can make a real difference to your digital workplace, organisational efficiency and employee experience. The opportunity for business automation extends to some of the products that work alongside Microsoft 365, such as LiveTiles intranet, LMS365 or the Xoralia policy management tool, mainly because they are based on 365 technologies like SharePoint and Power Automate.

It’s also worth noting that Microsoft’s continuing investment in the 365 platform and Microsoft Teams means new opportunities for automation are opening up. For example, the Microsoft Viva suite of apps is providing exciting opportunities to increase productivity and improve employee experience, while Power Virtual Agents allows every organisation to leverage the power of bots. In fact, when we first published this post, we included 19 opportunities, but we’ve since expanded this to 25.

Let’s look at some of the processes you can automate, based on what we’ve seen with clients and other organisations. Just to be clear, there is a lot you can potentially do these ideas are just for starters!

  1. Updating key business policies

Many intranets have a central library of key business policies. It’s important that these are kept up to date; there may be regular reviews in place to ensure this happens. Automated reminders to content owners based on review dates introduce an automation layer to support an effective central policy library.

Potential tools to use: Xoralia policy management tool, SharePoint, Power Automate.
  1. Monitoring mandatory reads

Sometimes, it’s important for employees to read particular content for compliance, regulatory or risk reasons: perhaps a new policy, an important update or a critical communication. Monitoring who has confirmed they have read the content can be a real administrative burden. Automating this process saves vast amounts of time and effort. This can involve sending targeted reminders based on Active Directory (AD) groups to those employees still to confirm the mandatory read, and producing real-time progress reports.

Potential tools to use: Xoralia policy management tool, SharePoint, Power Automate, Power BI, Azure Active Directory
  1. Adding document metadata

Having the right metadata for documents helps with findability, but also gives users important information about the content; it may define displays in web environments, and support other outcomes such as targeting. Getting the right metadata on a document is something some organisations struggle with, especially if it all needs to be done manually.

Automation can really help add accurate document metadata. For example, if there is metadata associated with a project and a new document is added to the project workspace, the document may be able to inherit that metadata. There are also opportunities to use AI to suggest the right metadata to add through the SharePoint Syntex service.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, SharePoint, SharePoint Syntex
  1. Archiving content and data

Governance around the archiving and deletion of content and data is critical for keeping your digital workplace tidy, aligning to company retention policies and enhancing findability. Adding some automation to this process really helps so that documents, content and spaces are automatically archived based on different criteria (including review or approval from the content owner).

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, SharePoint
  1. Updating employee profiles

The employee directory and profiles are a staple of the intranet environment, but the best ones always represent the one source of truth of HR data so that profiles are always accurate, and employees don’t have to complete information across two systems.

Updates to your HR system containing individual employee data should always be reflected in individual employee profiles. For example, an update to a job title in the HR system should also be displayed on the intranet, ideally in real-time.

Potential tools to use: LiveTiles Directory, Delve, Custom-built solution, Active Directory
  1. Requests and approvals

This is perhaps the most common form of process improvement driven by intranets and Microsoft 365, using forms and workflow to deal with requests involving everything from booking travel, to organising annual leave, to requesting stationery, to ordering lunch for a client meeting. Usually, these requests need to go through an approval process. In many organisations, there will still be request and approval processes which are done using email or even paper that are just waiting to be automated. Increasingly, requests and approvals are being dealt with through chatbots that might be accessed through Microsoft Teams, or even through a mobile app for frontline staff.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, SharePoint, Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft Teams apps
  1. IT and facilities performance monitoring

Performance monitoring of different systems is an obvious area to automate, using dashboards to provide reporting and notifications when things don’t look right, based on different rules. We’ve seen many examples of this, including the monitoring of load times on different web channels or servers, or reporting on the temperature of different parts of a building.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, LiveTiles Intelligence, SharePoint, Azure application insights
  1. Microsoft 365 adoption reporting

Unsurprisingly, digital workplace teams are always interested in driving adoption of Microsoft 365 and its constituent tools. With so many tools and channels in operation, automated reporting of the use of different applications and channels via a customised dashboard is almost always of interest to teams. Increasingly, some of the behaviours of Microsoft 365 are being rolled into the new Viva Insights tool which focuses on collaboration, productivity and wellbeing, offering some organisation-wide analytics.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, Microsoft 365 out-of-the-box, Viva Insights
  1. Logging support calls

There are already systems like ServiceNow which allow users to log issues and automatically raise tickets for IT, HR and other support services. The ability to raise tickets is usually a prerequisite for running any scalable helpdesk or support service, and integrating this automation into your intranet or Microsoft Teams can be helpful. Increasingly, support calls are also being logged through chatbots. More lightweight processes might not always warrant investment in a separate system. In these instances, using your intranet platform or Microsoft365 may make a lot of sense as an affordable system to log support calls, and automation can really add value.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Forms, PowerApps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft Teams Apps
  1. Centralising notifications from different systems

Information overload is still a real issue for many users, especially with an overwhelming email in-box. Many users find it hard to keep on top of all the automated notifications, alerts, approvals and actions needed across a number of disparate systems.

Having a focused activity stream, list of notifications or notification dashboard from systems in one place (universal inbox) that can allow users to organise all the things they need to do, and ensure approvals are made more speedily. Here, there are an increasing number of options to deliver this capability within Microsoft Teams, to frontline staff via a mobile app or through a chatbot facility where employees can complete simple transactions.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, PowerApps, Microsoft Teams Apps, SharePoint, LiveTiles Everywhere, Power Virtual Agents
  1. Financial reporting and monitoring

Financial reporting is an obvious use case for a dashboard which can have considerable value for senior management and finance departments, helping to drive accountability and support decision-making. However, dashboards with simplified financial and performance data such as sales can even be presented to users on the intranet homepage as a way of keeping everybody up to date. This form of automation almost always has value.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, SharePoint
  1. Marketing automation

Marketing automation is on the wish-list of most marketing functions, but is not always put into operation. Marketing automation can be powerful in saving time and supporting your sales funnel. It can range from the simple (sending out an automatic email based on the completion of a website form) to the sophisticated (sending out a targeted message based on a range of user behaviour). Reporting on the success of your efforts is also automated.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, Power Automate, Power BI, Microsoft Dynamics, Outlook
  1. Tracking assets

IT departments often need to track and manage the assets which are given out to users, including devices, equipment, software licenses and more. It’s incredible how many teams still rely on spreadsheets and email for this exercise, even though there may be some workflow in place to issue devices for new employees. Automating this process allows you to use one source of truth for keeping track of your assets alongside stakeholder and user reporting. You can also potentially integrate this with the process for users requesting new assets, as well as the employee onboarding and offboarding process.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, Power BI, Power Automate, Microsoft Forms, Power Virtual Agents
  1. 360 appraisals

360 appraisals tend to be a process-heavy exercise involving data input from different users, reporting, approval workflow, notifications and the need to store all the data in a core system of record. In other words, 360 appraisals are ripe for automation and improvement! Appraisals can be cumbersome and time-consuming, so anything which makes them easier for everybody is welcome.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, PowerApps, SharePoint
  1. Document building

Building model documents based on different criteria is a theme often found in knowledge management. It’s of real interest in certain sectors, especially professional services, but also functions such as in-house legal teams. Being able to build automated documents like contracts and agreements based on different metadata (e.g. client name or document type) can help maintain document standards, as well as save huge amounts of time.

Often, the model document produced is a starting point which must still be completed and checked, but the process automation adds a lot of value.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, SharePoint Workflows, Microsoft Office, Power Virtual Agents
  1. Know Your Client

Know Your Client (KYC) is a standard process carried out by some companies as part of the due diligence and procurement process to onboard new clients, suppliers and vendors, and minimise risks involved. KYC may involve interrogating external databases with company information, and performing credit checks. The extent to which KYC processes can be automated varies, but there is usually scope for speeding up the process, such as using a chatbot to gather initial information or running the process through Teams if that is the system where most work gets done.

Potential tools to use: Virtual Power Agents, PowerApps, Power BI, Microsoft Forms, Power Automate, Microsoft Teams apps
  1. Resource planning

Resource planning for projects, teams and initiatives can be challenging, particularly if relevant information is scattered around different systems. For example, you may want to view core information from your HR platform, timecard systems and details of expertise from people profiles to help you assemble the right team and check availability.

Automating reporting with data from various systems to help with resource planning and specific views to aid team selection can be very powerful, helping you to create the best teams while ensuring capacity. This can be extremely valuable for managers and frontline teams where shift work is involved, or for businesses with a lot of seasonal work or intense projects.

Potential tools to use: Power BI, Microsoft Planner, Power Automate, Microsoft Shifts
  1. Project management

Project management is a broad activity which is key to the way many companies operate. Microsoft 365 can help with many aspects of project management, including providing the base for some automation. For example, some companies might choose to automatically create a collaboration space whenever a project is set up in their financial management system or equivalent, or choose to integrate real-time budgeting and financial or timecard information within their project space. This helps to embed collaboration and dashboards right into the project management processes, as well as drive efficiencies.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Planner, Power BI, Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Project, SharePoint Online, Outlook
  1. Employee onboarding

Having a formal employee onboarding programme drives efficiencies and make new starters feel welcome, supporting better employee retention. With so many checklists and tasks to complete and information to provide, there are myriad processes which can be automated or semi-automated even before a new hire’s first day. Ensuring that employees fill in the necessary forms before they start and in their first few weeks (and ensuring this information goes to the right people and systems) is a great starting point. They might need to read a policy, take a course, review information on the intranet, complete their contact details, supply particular forms and more. Some organisations particularly with frontline employees choose to invest in a dedicated employee onboarding app for this.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, LMS365, Xoralia policy management tool, Power Automate, SharePoint Online, LiveTiles content targeting, Power BI
  1. Employee offboarding

Employee onboarding gets a lot of attention, but offboarding also involves multiple processes, including ensuring equipment is recovered and sent back, completing any necessary paperwork, making adjustments in different systems, carrying out an exit interview or even issuing an invitation to join the alumni programme. This is another process where automation can streamline interactions, workflows and reporting.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, Microsoft Forms, Power BI
  1. Collecting data from the field

Sometimes, field workers or mobile employees may need to file reports with data collected when they are out and about, such as engineers making site inspections. Ideally, data should be gathered and inputted directly into mobile devices. Automation can make sure this information appears automatically in documents, databases, dashboards and even workspaces.

Potential tools to use: PowerApps, Microsoft Forms, Teams Apps, Power Virtual Agents, SharePoint, Power BI
  1. Learning and development administration

Learning and development is a critical part of employee and organisational life. However, it can take a lot of administration effort, particularly when enrolling employees onto mandatory training (which can occur annually), monitoring progress and completions and reporting sometimes even to external bodies – for compliance reasons. Automation makes a lot of sense in enrolment and tracking, especially when targeting different courses to different Microsoft AD groups. Although it’s early days, learning automation might also involve Viva Learning in the future as its capabilities evolve and develop.

Potential tools to use: LMS365, SharePoint, Power Automate, Power BI, Microsoft Viva Learning, Xoralia policy management tool, Azure Active Directory
  1. Keeping groups and lists up to date

Group and list management is often a time-consuming activity and can incorporate multiple aspects of your digital workplace, including e-mail distribution, content targeting, personalisation, security and permissions, subscriptions, employee directories and more. Groups can be highly dynamic, based on joiners and leavers, internal moves and individual preferences. Ensuring your Azure Active Directory groups are fully up to date and mirroring your needs is key. Here, automation is a must, including synchronisation with your HR system of record, as well as facilitating elements such as default membership of different communities, enabling topic subscriptions on your intranet and more.

Potential tools to use: Azure Active Directory, Power Automate, SharePoint
  1. Meetings

We spend so much of our time in meetings, yet very little automation outside of what happens when you use Outlook tends to be applied to meeting booking, even though this is an area where there are multiple opportunities to improve processes. Automation could be applied to booking equipment, creating a space, sourcing tools such as whiteboards (if for a virtual meeting), diary management, sending out reminders, constructing minutes, determining agendas, regulating the number of people in the office (due to COVID restrictions), gathering pre-meeting data and even organising travel arrangements.

Potential tools to use: Power Automate, Outlook, Microsoft Forms
  1. Knowledge Management

Viva Topics is an intriguing new part of the Viva suite of employee experience apps that uses AI to automate the presentation of content and identification of experts on different topics, and presents this information to users. In a way, this represents the partial automation of knowledge management, and is an exciting prospect. However, it comes with a caveat: Viva Topics is not plug-and-play, and requires active and ongoing knowledge curation, plus a necessary level of content, to get value out of the tool.

Potential tools to use: Microsoft Viva Topics, SharePoint

Microsoft 365 is a productivity and automation platform

You can do so much with Microsoft 365, providing a digital workplace where you can drive automation, reporting and more. In fact, there’s so much to automate, it can be hard to know where to start! If you’d like to discuss using Microsoft 365 to automate key business processes across your digital workplace, then get in touch!

7 secrets for a successful mobile intranet

A mobile intranet is a critical part of the digital communications ecosystem of any organisation. It is especially important for any company that has a significant deskless frontline workforce. For employees with no easy access to a computer during the working day, and sometimes no corporate digital identity, a mobile intranet app available on a personal device can become their major channel for digital communication, as well as the most efficient. The mobile intranet connects employees who work in factories, shops and out in the field, or who are on the go with their employers and each other.

Successfully delivering a mobile intranet is not always straightforward, and some organisations end up with low adoption and low value. Many of the necessary prerequisites for the success of a standard browser-based intranet, such as governance and the right operating model, also need to be in place for the mobile equivalent. However, there are specific approaches to consider for a mobile intranet too.

In this post, we’re going to explore seven secrets for a successful mobile intranet implementation and launch.

1 Focus on the right features for a frontline or mobile workforce

Intranets have multiple purposes and support a wide variety of organisational processes. Mature platforms and integrations mean there has been a blurring between intranets, digital workplaces, collaboration platforms and employee experience platforms. Generally, a mobile intranet may feature slimmed down versions of the capabilities of a desktop intranet, although it might include similar access to all the content included.

When you select what to include on your mobile intranet, always ensure tools and content are suited to the needs of your frontline workforce, and capabilities that are useful for work on-the-go are featured. Previously, we looked at eight must-have features of a mobile intranet, all of which are relevant to frontline staff, including:

  • Ability to remove barriers to access for all, including your frontline employees
  • Strong news delivery
  • Social collaboration and community tools
  • Content and reference pages
  • Employee directory
  • Event calendar and registration
  • Integrations that make sense for on-the-go employees or solve frontline use cases
  • Easy administration and robust analytics.

2 Go for a mobile app over responsive design

SharePoint Online and in-a-box intranet software such as LiveTiles are now responsive, ensuring they are optimised for viewing through a mobile device. While this is good news for mobile intranets, it is rarely a good standalone approach. To drive adoption and value, you need to have a mobile intranet app that will:

  • Deliver a controlled user experience for your intranet
  • Make it easier to take advantage of the native features of a mobile device
  • Allow for better governance, and meet security and compliance needs that won’t compromise your user experience.

Most intranet software will have its own dedicated mobile application, such as the SharePoint app. Intranets are increasingly being viewed through Microsoft Teams, and your Teams app could actually become your mobile intranet app too. A mobile intranet that is only delivered through responsive design is unlikely to get good adoption.

3 Make your mobile intranet available on personal devices to reach frontline staff

A major use case for a mobile intranet is to reach your frontline employees. In many companies, frontline employees do not have access to a desk, a corporate owned-device or even a digital identity. To make a mobile intranet work for this population, it must be available on personal devices, both Android and iOS. This is the only way to realistically achieve good adoption with this demographic; kiosks, shared terminals or home access will not work so well.

Some organisations get nervous about doing this due to security concerns, but also because they don’t want to intrude on employees time outside of work. In countries like the US where some sections of the workforce are on the clock employees, and Germany where workers councils are deeply involved in decision-making, there may need to be more careful consideration. However, there are many examples where a mobile intranet available on personal devices has proved valuable and popular with frontline employees, and has been highly successful in delivering organisational benefits.

4 Take advantage of native device features

Mobile devices have a range of native features that we are all accustomed to using when interacting with apps in our non-working lives. A mobile intranet app can take advantage of these features to boost effectivity, including push notifications, the ability to upload photos, voice detection and even GPS detection. In particular, push notifications can prove essential for important alerts, although they should be used sparingly. The ability to submit photos can also be useful for creating specific intranet apps focused either on engagement or transactional processes, such as reporting on-site issues that are best illustrated by a photo. Intranet chatbots also work well on a mobile device.

5 Focus on an easy onboarding and authentication experience

If you are launching a mobile intranet app, you must make it easy for users to load it onto their device and authenticate into it. If this process has numerous difficult steps to go through, it can be a barrier to adoption and a major headache for the intranet team.

For users of corporate mobile devices, this is usually in your control, and there will be a standard way to distribute apps. For employees adding an app to their personal device, it gets more complicated. Most intranet software providers will have convenient ways to do this – often through the Google Play or iOS app store – with a relatively straightforward way to authorise and authenticate the device and person. When launching your mobile app, make sure this process is as smooth and simple as possible.

6 Always get compliance and security teams involved early

Compliance and security constraints can scupper the success of a mobile intranet, negatively impacting the user experience. For example, if a mobile intranet requires VPN access, or a user has to type in a long password each time they enter the intranet, it is going to be difficult to drive adoption. Mobile intranets and apps can make compliance teams and senior executives nervous, particularly when they are accessible on a personal device.

Security, regulatory and compliance needs must be met, and can impact what is on your intranet. By engaging early with compliance and security teams, you can usually achieve the best possible experience for your mobile intranet.

There is actually a lot of middle ground that can allow you to deliver an excellent mobile intranet experience that meets all your regulatory and security requirements with very little compromise on the UX. This is often achieved by removing a small amount of content or a particular feature from your mobile intranet that is difficult from a compliance point of view, leaving the other 95% of your intranet still delivering value. Ensuring MDM approaches and app governance is in place and adding the right Terms & Conditions when employees sign-up can also make a big difference here, ticking the boxes for legal and compliance functions.

7 Consider content and links in the mobile experience

Even if you have a beautiful, responsive mobile app or an adaptive design, the success of your mobile intranet is dependent on having the right content. Most intranet content is not designed to be read on a mobile, resulting in long text and endless scrolling, or the use of imagery which is hard to view or read on a mobile. (There are lots of issues with posting images featuring text on your intranet don’t do it!)

It’s not always easy to achieve, but make sure to consider content from the mobile point of view. Generally, taking a mobile-first approach to content for example, with more concise text broken up into shorter areas with indicative subject headings is actually good for the desktop view too. If you have a policy, for example, a clear, short summary with the salient points will be welcomed both by your mobile intranet users and those with desktop access.

Most intranets now act as a convenient gateway to the wider digital workplace. Providing links to other systems is very useful, but you may need to provide a different view on the mobile intranet as you might need to link to different apps or not link to systems that are unavailable or not optimised for mobile devices.

Making your intranet mobile

Making your intranet mobile is essential, particularly if you have a frontline workforce. Use these tips for a successful implementation. If you want to discuss your mobile intranet, why not get in touch!

3 ways to deliver low code SharePoint intranet development

Low code development can be a great approach to deliver capabilities on a SharePoint intranet, helping to rapidly create a feature-rich environment at relatively low cost. When resources for your SharePoint intranet are tight or you are under pressure to deliver with ambitious deadlines, low code development can help overcome some of these challenges. In this post, we’re going to explore three of the main ways to deliver low code intranet development on your SharePoint intranet.

What is low code development?

Low code and no code solutions are platforms which empower IT developers and non-IT professionals alike to rapidly build apps, dashboards and sites that previously would have required a more traditional software approach. Using a combination of out-of-the-box templates and connectors, as well as intuitive authoring interfaces, these solutions enable development with minimal or no code needing to be written.

Note that there is a distinction between low code and no code in that the latter is designed for use by non-IT professionals, but in reality, this distinction can be a little fuzzy. For example, IT professionals might use a no code solution as part of their development. From here, we are going to refer to low code development to describe no code solutions too.

The attraction of low code solutions is compelling for both IT functions and business teams. By employing a decentralised, citizen-development approach to app design, they allow for the creation of more business-specific apps than would normally be possible with the constraints of current IT resources, and facilitate more rapid development at lower cost. All in all, low code development can play a part in digital transformation, and in enabling automation at scale throughout enterprises.

Microsoft 365 is an excellent platform for low code development, and many of the tools within the 365 suite are designed to be used via a low code approach. An intranet, with its enterprise reach and array of different features and content covering multiple uses, is also a good candidate for low code development. Carrying out low code development for an intranet based on SharePoint or SharePoint Online has real value.

You can carry this out in three main ways:

  1. Using modern SharePoint or SharePoint Online out of the box
  2. Leveraging the Power Platform
  3. Formatting SharePoint lists.

Let’s explore each of these areas in more detail.

1 Using modern SharePoint or SharePoint Online out of the box

SharePoint Online and modern SharePoint straight out of the box is revolutionising the intranet world by providing a viable platform on which to build an enterprise intranet, either straight out of the box or in conjunction with an in-a-box product like LiveTiles. Both approaches allow you to use low code development, leveraging the native features of SharePoint.

Using a communication site, it is very easy to add and rearrange different web parts to a site or individual page simply by selecting the web part of choice, and using drag and drop. These web parts cover both SharePoint features like document libraries, lists, news, calendars, images and content spotlights, and elements from other 365 tools such as Yammer feeds. The range of easy formatting and configuration options for each individual web part allows for huge flexibility. Organisations can also deploy their own custom web parts.

The ability to add and configure so many web parts with ease means central intranet teams, IT functions and decentralised intranet site owners can create and configure sophisticated SharePoint intranet sites and pages at speed, covering the vast majority of information needs without deploying any code.

2 Leveraging the Power Platform

The low code heart of Microsoft 365 is the Power Platform, a suite of four apps that support a low code and even citizen developer approach through libraries of connectors, an intuitive authoring canvas and the ability to reuse what has previously been created. Because of the seamless integration between different tools within the 365 suite, each of the four apps provide opportunities for low code development with a SharePoint intranet:

PowerApps

PowerApps allows you to create specific apps that can be available as mobile apps, or be integrated into your intranet, such as an employee onboarding app to display tasks for new hires that could be embedded into the new hires section of your intranet.

Power BI

Power BI enables powerful data visualisations, dashboards and reports that can integrate with your intranet to dynamically present organisational data, such as sales figures or health and safety reporting, and can also be used to manage and present intranet and engagement metrics.

Power Automate

Power Automate provides the ability to create automation and workflows between multiple systems that can power many capabilities across your intranet, including the ability to trigger any necessary workflows from forms that employees submit via the intranet, or present automatically updated information within pages, perhaps from another system.

Power Virtual Agents

Power Virtual Agents chatbots can be launched to integrate into the fabric of your SharePoint intranet, providing information to employees or delivering simple transactions.

3 Formatting SharePoint lists

Here at Content Formula, we’re long-term fans of SharePoint lists. Lists are one of the most powerful and flexible features of SharePoint, and are an excellent vehicle for storing and maintaining structured information that you might want to publish somewhere on your intranet, such as a directory of offices, an inventory of equipment or a list of relevant first aiders across each office.

Up to now, SharePoint lists have been quite basic in their look and feel, resembling online spreadsheets. But in the past few months, Microsoft have opened up options to format SharePoint lists, introducing attractive views for information presentation. Perhaps most excitingly, there is a growing library of pre-formatted SharePoint lists, some of which are offered out-of-the-box in SharePoint and include an asset tracker, an issue tracker and a travel request log.

Elsewhere, there is a substantial collection of list formats created by the developer community, which are available in GitHub with JSON code ready to copy and deploy. These cover use cases from budget trackers to London Underground train timetables, and are free and ready to use. Formats can also be tweaked right down to the column level to make any required changes.

We think list formats present an exciting and currently under-utilised opportunity for low code SharePoint intranet development. You can deploy these formats easily and quickly within SharePoint pages, saving hours of coding and creating a range of attractive and compelling information resources. When some of these lists are combined with flows from Power Automate, they are akin to intranet apps.

By creating and saving these list formats, you can start to create an organisation-specific marketplace of attractive, custom formatted list templates that your intranet publishing community can deploy directly onto pages. Alternatively, they might be saved as web parts and then deployed to different sites.

Go low code!

Low code intranet development is possible with SharePoint, with a variety of different options. It can help reduce costs, dramatically reduce the time to market and increase the business value of your intranet. It also engages owners of different parts of your intranet who can configure their sites to better serve user needs.

If you’d like to discuss low code intranet development, then get in touch!

How to communicate with employees without email

Email is still the most prevalent digital communication method in the workplace, but it remains an inefficient and unpopular medium. Have you ever heard anyone say they really love their inbox? Employees can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails they need to respond to, not to mention the time they need to spend doing it. Then, when they actually get to their inbox, not all of the messages in there are relevant. For example, all staff emails get sent out too frequently, many of which are not even intended for different groups. The result of this is that email communications end up being routinely ignored and missed.

Another key issue with email is that it is not always a fully inclusive method for workplace communication. Not all members of the workforce will necessarily have corporate email addresses; this is particularly true for frontline employees who may work in retail outlets, call centres, manufacturing plants, distribution centres and more. In recent years, some organisations have bridged the gap and given all their frontline employees email addresses, but this can prove expensive, particularly due to licensing costs. In organisations where an email address is also tied to a Microsoft 365 license, corporate email identities for frontline staff are often not enabled because of the costs involved.

Clients frequently ask us how they can communicate more effectively without relying on email. In this post, we’re going to explore eight approaches that can actively help in both reducing email and finding alternative methods of communication in order to:

  • Open up digital communications to those who don’t have or use email – mainly frontline staff
  • Reduce the amount of time employees spend on email to improve efficiency and raise productivity
  • Reduce the amount of data generated from email
  • Make employee inboxes less overwhelming to support wellbeing
  • Improve the quality of conversations and interactions
  • Make communications more impactful and ensure important messages don’t get missed.

We’re also going to place particular focus on some of the challenges associated with communicating with frontline or remote employees who may not have or actively use email.

1 Understand your workforce and communication needs

Any attempt to improve communications and reduce emails has to start with a good understanding of how and why your workforce use email. What are the main types of emails they send? What are their business objectives in sending them? What are the alternative channels they might use? What are their communication and information needs?

Undertaking a research and discovery process that involves speaking to stakeholders and employees, and that audits the use of email, is essential. From here, you can start to plan an employee-centric strategy that builds better alternatives to email.

2 Control all staff emails

An obvious but essential step in communicating to employees without email is to shut off some of the options. Often, one of the best approaches is to strictly control the sending out of all staff emails, limiting the use of this option to only when it absolutely needs to be used, such as for key updates from the CEO. This forces the use of better alternative channels for company-wide or wide circulation communications.

3 Pursue an omni-channel strategy for communications

Many IT functions and digital workplace teams have actively been trying to reduce their collective reliance on email. The principal way of doing this is to provide and promote the adoption of more efficient alternative solutions. These include:

  • Messaging and chat for one-to-one messaging
  • Social and collaborative solutions for communications involving more than two people
  • Intranet and portals for top-down corporate communication
  • Workflow and transactional systems to replace system notifications and / or workflow updates
  • Employee apps available on personal mobile devices for frontline communications.

These messaging, social and collaborative tools are now well-established and well-adopted across the enterprise. Anecdotally, we have heard that the use of a tool like Microsoft Teams has also been effective in reducing email consumption across some teams, so similar tools can work too.

Most organisations operate in this omni-channel world it’s unavoidable. But not everyone brings a strategic view of communications to it, and thus some fail to deliberately target the use of channels based on the purpose of communication, the audience, the message being delivered and other factors. Particularly for internal communications, having a more co-ordinated omni-channel strategy that takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of each channel can start to reduce the use of email, at least for internal communications.

For example, you may start to use an employee app like LiveTiles Reach to drive communications with a remote frontline workforce who predominantly use personal mobile devices for communication.

4 Bring communications and messaging to the daily flow of work

To encourage good adoption of email alternatives, they need to be brought into the daily flow of work. For example, many knowledge workers are spending their day in Microsoft Teams, and it therefore makes sense for employees to access internal communications and the intranet from there.

This can be more challenging for frontline employees as they are far less likely to be spending all day in a digital system. Sometimes, you need to think of creative ways to communicate with remote employees.

Recently, we completed a project with TTEC where we brought messaging into the daily flow of work through the creation of an innovative messaging system, hard-baked into the intranet experience.

TTEC provides outsourced customer experience solutions, including by providing call-centre staff for global brands. Employees actually already had email, but it was seldom used, and the TTEC team were seeking an alternative solution. An existing intranet was well-adopted, so we created a brand-new system for internal communicators and managers to send targeted messages to employees, all accessible from within a lively intranet. Frontline employees can also access these communications on their personal mobile devices via an intranet app.

This has had an excellent response from both communicators and employees, and we’re already working on the next phase of the release. In this case, bringing communication into a place where employees are more likely to be working has proved far more effective than email.

5 Ensure relevance by supporting targeted communications

Communications must be relevant to each employee for them to be read and resonate with the individual. If you bombard employees with messages that don’t apply to them, they will simply stop reading them. Here, targeting communications to employees based on their AD profile covering aspects such as location, division and role is key; any effective alternative to email must support targeting.

When we built our messaging system for TTEC, we included hyper-targeting capabilities with the ability for communicators and managers to select multiple attributes to pinpoint message recipients down to the individual employee level. Dynamic filters allow groups to be defined by country, location, department, level of seniority, type of employee, client team, team supervisor and more. Internal communicators love the ability to have such targeted messaging capabilities, while managers and supervisors can also use it to communicate with their teams. Note that having reasonably complete and accurate AD profile data is a pre-requisite for successful targeting.

6 Simplify the ecosystem and support digital employee experience

Whatever messaging system is in place, it needs to support a good digital employee experience. One way to do this is to help simplify the communication ecosystem in place, and reduce the number of channels that your employees have to access on a daily basis. For example, our solution at TTEC brought messaging into the intranet, reducing the need to access email as well. Attractive and intuitive interfaces have also contributed to the solution being well-received by frontline workers.

7 Drive self-service to reduce email

Self-service approaches can be highly effective in reducing the email traffic that is sent to IT and HR helpdesks relating to questions and issues. Here, a range of tactics can help, including:

  • Supplying content that provides answers to key questions
  • Encouraging interaction in online support communities using tools like Yammer
  • Using a chatbot to get answers
  • Encouraging users to submit and track tickets using a system like ServiceNow, integrating these with other key channels.

8 Focus on tools and tactics to engage remote employees

Engagement needs to be part of any internal communications strategy that reduces email, particularly to engage remote frontline employees who may feel less connected to an organisation than knowledge workers. Here, tools like polls and employee recognition channels, as well as tactics such as posting videos, can make all the difference compared to formal and often dreary formal corporate communications.

Communicating without email

Email has its place, but it’s simply not the best method for internal communications and communicating with frontline staff. A range of other approaches, tactics and tools can help find an effective alternative. If you’d like to discuss how to communicate without email, or find out more about solutions similar to the one implemented at TTEC, then get in touch!

ServiceNow and MS Office 365 integration

ServiceNow is an increasingly popular employee service platform that helps drive HR and IT self-service through automation and content. As a core part of the digital workplace, many organisations want to integrate ServiceNow into their core Microsoft 365 experience in order to deliver a more unified digital employee experience, as well as to deliver automation and workflow across different platforms. Although ServiceNow is not produced by Microsoft, there are multiple ways to integrate it into a 365-powered digital workplace. In this post, we’re going to explore some of the different options.

What is ServiceNow?

ServiceNow is a platform that many organisations are using as an employee service portal, delivering IT and HR support as well as other employee services. ServiceNow acts as a place for users to:

  • Access a knowledge base of authoritative, service-related content
  • Raise tickets with the helpdesk and view progress
  • Ask questions and get answers
  • Make requests and trigger appropriate workflows
  • Access a chatbot and live chat
  • View other service-orientated communications and updates.

ServiceNow is one of the most popular non-Microsoft platforms being used by larger enterprises today. When introduced successfully, it can significantly relieve the pressure on busy HR and IT helpdesks, help employees resolve issues more quickly through a self-serve approach and streamline support processes.

One of the best things about ServiceNow is that it allows teams to present content in a user-centred way more akin to an intranet experience through creating pages and defining a global navigation, for example. In some service-orientated portals and HR platforms, content publishing capabilities are an afterthought, but in ServiceNow, content can be presented in high-quality ways to drive effective self-service.

Integrating ServiceNow with Microsoft 365

Because ServiceNow is often used as the one source of truth for service-oriented content either for HR or IT support, or both – it needs to be easily accessible for employees. Integrating ServiceNow with Microsoft 365 has real value, helping to create a seamless experience that is more efficient and drives a less fragmented digital employee experience. It also helps to drive adoption of ServiceNow, and encourages the employee self-service that is often the ROI sought when acquiring the platform.

When we consider integration, it is usually about surfacing ServiceNow content and providing routes to ServiceNow across key Microsoft 365 channels such as a SharePoint intranet, Microsoft Teams or a user support Yammer community. However, it’s also possible that you may want to access elements of Microsoft 365 within ServiceNow too, even if this just entails introducing links to take you back to your SharePoint intranet.

It’s also worth noting that ServiceNow and Microsoft 365 have some overlapping features; it’s quite likely that a digital workplace team may not be using all the capabilities within ServiceNow because they are already using Microsoft 365.

Connectors

Microsoft 365 and the individual tools within the platform support out-of-the-box integrations with an ever-increasing number of other digital workplace platforms. Because ServiceNow is now a popular enterprise application, there are connectors which appear in different 365 stores and connector libraries, such as:

On the other hand, there are also connectors to Microsoft 365 within ServiceNow, with further work on these in the pipeline.

These connectors mean that integrations are much more straightforward than they used to be, and are now geared towards the most popular use cases such as searching for ServiceNow content. Of course, the ability to use APIs to establish custom integrations is available as well.

Seven high value integrations with ServiceNow

There are several different popular integrations and links between ServiceNow and Microsoft 365 that deliver value. Let’s explore seven of these in more depth.

1 Single sign-on and Azure AD integration

Without doubt the most important integration that you can carry out with ServiceNow is with Azure Active Directory. This will enable single sign-on for your users, as well as automate the starters and leavers process governing access to ServiceNow. You can also leverage different AD groups to target ServiceNow content and establish workflows, such as for new hires.

2 Add favourite links

Most SharePoint intranets allow employees to access favourite links to popular tools, usually from within the homepage but also from a toolbar. For example, in the LiveTiles intranet product, the LiveTiles Everywhere toolbar allows employees to access key links to other platforms and tools. ServiceNow is a core system that employees use on a daily basis, so including a link to it by default on your intranet increases convenience and supports adoption efforts.

3 Search for knowledge base content in the intranet search

ServiceNow provides authoritative content on IT and HR services and processes through its knowledge base capabilities. Often, employees want to be able to access this know-how content within the intranet experience, and it make sense to be able to search for this content within the intranet or Microsoft search. Here, integration delivers a lot of value, so employees have just one search box and place to go to find the HR or IT content they are looking for with no duplication of content between systems.

4 Use the global navigation to navigate between channels

Increasingly, digital workplace teams are looking to provide a global navigation that spans across different digital workplace tools, establishing a way for employees to travel between platforms and applications in as frictionless a way as possible. Here, the global navigation of an intranet can support deeper links into different screens within ServiceNow, but can also work the other way round with links back to the intranet within the ServiceNow navigation. The LiveTiles Everywhere toolbar can potentially be accessed across different tools too.

5 View tickets in progress and submit tickets

A high value integration provides employees with the ability to view the status and information about ServiceNow tickets-in-progress and let them know if action is required. It can also be useful to have a call-to-action to submit a new ticket within ServiceNow, sometimes without having to even leave the system (such as a SharePoint intranet) that the person is in. For example, in our recent work for Entain Group, we delivered an integration with ServiceNow through the LiveTiles Everywhere toolbar that means employees can view the status of their ServiceNow tickets and receive related alerts within their core intranet experience. Further integrations with Workday mean that the toolbar is an essential part of the digital employee experience at Entain.

6 Support workflows and automation

ServiceNow supports automation and workflows related to employee services, and it makes sense to link these up with other workflows across Microsoft 365 tools. For example, you could update a SharePoint list, send out a specific type email via Outlook or add a piece of information to Microsoft Dyanmics based on an action within ServiceNow. Here, you can use Power Automate to link up workflows with ServiceNow. Other areas of the Power Platform, including PowerApps and Power Virtual Agents, can also involve integration with ServiceNow.

7 Interact through chatbots

ServiceNow comes with its own intelligent chatbot, but employees can find it hugely convenient to interact with bots outside ServiceNow, helping them perform simple tasks such as submitting a ticket in ServiceNow or searching the knowledge base. This has real value in Microsoft Teams where employees can perform actions without having to enter ServiceNow, bringing employee self-service right into the heart of the daily flow of work.

Want to know more? Get in touch!

Integrating ServiceNow into your core Microsoft 365 digital workplace has real value for employees and support functions. If you’d like to discuss integrating ServiceNow and Microsoft 365, then get in touch!

7 recent improvements to Microsoft Search

Search is one of the most challenging areas of the digital workplace, but nevertheless one of the most important. Employees need to be able to quickly and effortlessly find the information, content and files they need to carry out their work. However, the increasing volume of data, the quantity of different repositories in which information and content can be found and the unrealistic expectations of employees who want everything to work just like Google make it difficult to excel in search.

Improving search requires a variety of different tactics, including working with content, reducing the number of items that can be searched for and configuring the search tools and experiences at your disposal. Taking a holistic and ongoing approach to improving and managing search is usually best.

If you have a Microsoft 365 digital workplace, the good news is that Microsoft continue to invest in search to support improvement. In recent years, they’ve started to drive a more unified search experience across the 365 universe, as well as the Windows 10 desktop. Search is also underpinned by the Microsoft Graph, bringing more personalised and valuable searching to a variety of different use cases.

In this post, we’re going to look at some of the more recent improvements to Microsoft Search that are helping to improve findability and the overall digital employee experience for those with a 365 digital workplace.

One element that has helped support the improving search is a well-designed Search & Intelligence area of the Microsoft 365 admin centre, where admin teams can receive insights, add search answers, configure filters, add data sources and control customisations, all in one place. Most of the features rolled out by Microsoft discussed in this article are controlled from here.

1 Improved support for people-centric searching

In 2020, Microsoft introduced a number of features that improved the ability to find people – a key use case within the digital workplace that underpins communication and collaboration – as well as knowledge management processes around expertise location. The people-centric search provides the ability to carry out a search relating to an individual.

There is also the ability to find skills and expertise that take into account any self-declarations of expertise that are added to your employee directory or equivalent. This is supported by machine learning that identifies areas of expertise from a user’s content and interactions, and makes suggestions for individuals to add expertise to their own profile.


People-centric search in Outlook mobile and SharePoint

2 Improvements to answers

Answers is a search feature that can prove incredibly useful when implemented well. Users can access short, Google-like answers directly in any search results that are returned, saving time and increasing findability and knowledge flow. For example, an answer could address a frequent question or provide additional information, such a list of public holidays during the year. Sensing that value, Microsoft has extended the Answers capabilities across three areas: acronyms, calendars and files.

Furthermore, administrators can now associate answers with different acronyms, so using a natural language query can ask what a particular acronym stands for. This is a useful feature for new starters in organisations where the amount of TLAs (three-latter acronyms) can reach bewildering levels. Meanwhile, calendar answers allow users to find meetings within their search results including queries like the meeting name, the time of the meeting or even an attendee. Similarly, you can now also look for Microsoft 365 files.


Acronym answers in Microsoft Teams desktop and mobile

3 Extending the search

As well as the ability to add extra Answers, Microsoft has also extended the search in a number of ways, including introducing:

  • The ability to search for Power BI assets
  • Searches for conversation threads from Yammer, Teams and Outlook, with a more straightforward capability to filter these through a conversations category
  • A catalogue of floor plans
  • An image search
  • A topic search that looks for the topics which have been automatically identified or manually created via Viva Topics.

Again, all these elements fulfil that more Google-like experience that employees are seeking, or address specific use cases such as searching floor plans that can help in desk booking processes.

4 Helping administrators to improve search

To improve findability and get the best out of Microsoft Search, it needs to be actively managed. To have a real impact, this should be done in tandem with other improvements, including tagging your content and even training users and content owners.

In the past year, Microsoft has rolled out additional administrative features which support improvement efforts. One of the most important of these is a useful form that allows users to provide feedback about their search experience and the accuracy and quality of the hits returned. The small form can ask for multiple choice or free text answers, and is embedded with a call-to-action within the search page. Specific user search feedback can be enormously powerful in refining searches, continuously improving findability and the overall search experience.

Complementing this is a Search Insights board that helps deliver analytics, such as the most popular searches being run across your tenant. This can provide clues on trending topics that you may want to address in content, search answers and more.

Finally, Microsoft is also rolling out additional options to customise search with custom filters, and tweak how search is displayed. Anything that makes it easier for admins to configure search and provide specific filters for their organisation will improve both findability and the digital employee experience; however, a corresponding effort to tag pieces of content to match any new filters may be required to get real results.


Microsoft Search analytics, administrator view

5 Adding Graph Connectors to non-365 applications

Improving digital employee experience is often about simplifying and reducing the number of different channels, tools and systems that employees need to use. Bringing different apps and information sources together into one search experience is one way to do this.

If you’re using Microsoft 365, Microsoft Search is likely to form the basis for your enterprise search experience. Here, your users may well want to view search from other key enterprise systems and repositories such as ServiceNow and Salesforce. To support this, Microsoft is investing in various Graph connectors which will enable digital workplace teams to unite search experiences and provide search for content beyond the 365 environment. These connectors allow you to incorporate data and files stored in Azure blog and data lake capabilities. The enterprise websites Graph connector is also designed to bring core intranet content into Microsoft search experiences.

Further enhancements to Graph connectors are also on their way, including the ability to cluster search results from one source such as ServiceNow, and add key HR data to profile information from your HR system of record. There will even be the ability to change the status of content from within the search experience, for example, updating a ServiceNow ticket. Additional connectors are also due to be added, including Atlassian products Jira and Confluence. Collectively, we think these changes will support the evolution of good DEX and encourage more people to search.

6 Improvements to search within specific tools

The Microsoft Graph and the ability to embed the search experience across the Microsoft stack is also improving the search within individual channels and tools across the 365 suite. Microsoft continually roll out these improvements to searching with Teams, Office, Outlook and even the general Windows 10 desktop. Some of these enhancements meet specific use cases, such as a new Org Explorer view within Outlook that provides a more robust and pleasing searchable org chart.

7 Personal query history

Microsoft Search has the ability for an individual to view their personal query history as they enter a new search. Using type-ahead capabilities, it provides a quick reference to recent or frequently performed searches that can then be re-typed with one click, saving time for users. This is just a small example of the kind of modest tweaks that can make a different to users.


Microsoft Search layout designer

Improving Microsoft Search

Improving Microsoft Search is an important task. Microsoft are investing in search to facilitate this with some of the features mentioned in this post. Despite these advances, improving search can still be a complex and fiddly process. If you’d like to discuss how to get the best out of your Microsoft Search, then get in touch!

7 strategic tips: external apps in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a platform that is continuing to evolve and receive great levels of adoption. When it first launched, few predicted that Teams would have quite the impact that it has, but it is now at the centre of the digital workplace for many organisations.

One element of the Microsoft Teams experience that is increasingly coming to the fore are the apps that can be experienced through Teams. In our experience, not many digital workplace teams and IT functions are fully leveraging the possibilities for accessing apps through Teams, meaning that many are missing out on a big opportunity.

Accessing apps through Microsoft has real value because:

  • Many employees spend their working day in Teams, thus it makes sense for them to access apps and relative content there, with Teams acting as an entry point into the wider digital workplace
  • Integrating apps into Teams means content from apps can be shared and discussed within Teams channels and chat threads, such as a page on the intranet, an e-learning course or a Jira ticket
  • Apps that have chatbots to support transactions and deliver information can be experienced through Microsoft Teams
  • Users of the Teams mobile app can also access apps and consume information through it, providing a feasible one stop shop for the digital workplace through one mobile app in a way that is relatively straightforward.

When considering an app strategy or approach to Microsoft Teams, there are several different elements to consider. In this post, we’re going to cover seven of these.

1 Deciding which apps to include

A major element of your approach to Teams apps will be deciding which apps to include. The good news here is that there are a wide range of apps available to meet employee needs, with very few barriers.

Within Microsoft Teams, there are essentially three types of apps that can be integrated into the experience. These are:

  • Microsoft 365 apps such as Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and the new Microsoft Viva suite of apps
  • Third party apps such as ServiceNow, LiveTiles intranet and Salesforce, many of which are available out of the box
  • Custom apps, built around specific use cases for your organisation or legacy applications, which can now be experienced through Teams.

Any app approach will need to include a policy on which apps to include (or exclude), and decide on a process around adding or removing apps. One handy element of the Microsoft Teams experience is that all these apps can be aggregated into the Teams app store and accessed by users in a uniform way, regardless of the type of app being used.

2 Enterprise-wide setting relating to apps

The Microsoft Teams Admin Center is the place where admins can configure enterprise-wide settings for Teams, including apps. Recently, there have been some improvements introduced that give admins even more control over how apps are experienced and the policies they want to implement, including which apps to include in the app store and which are pushed to different groups of employees.

Teams admins are able to target apps to different groups based on AD profiles. For example, you might want to target a particular app like LiveTiles Reach which delivers frontline communications to frontline workers, or an employee onboarding app to new hires. Within the Admin Centre, you can create policies that ensure a particular app automatically appears in the left-hand rail of Microsoft Teams for different AD groups.

Other settings you can control include:

  • Excluding access to particular apps already available within the Microsoft Teams store
  • Dictating which apps appear in the left-hand rail for all employees, such as an intranet app
  • Preventing apps being pinned by individuals for a more fixed Teams experience
  • Revoking an app completely.

3 Branding your enterprise app store

To provide a more branded, company-specific digital workplace experience, Microsoft has also recently introduced more flexibility to brand your own Teams enterprise app store. The Customize Store area now means that admins can decide on a logo, a custom background and specific text colours for their store. Although these changes don’t sound dramatic, they can help highlight the official apps to use, and differentiate the store experience from the normal Teams look to support increased adoption.

4 Building custom apps

One of the strongest elements of using Microsoft Teams apps is the ability to build and add custom apps that employees can access. These can range from highly complex apps that deal with specific business processes to relatively simple ones; a basic custom app might be used just to add a link to your company intranet within Teams. Defining the custom apps for your organisation is a big topic in itself, with multiple options for apps across the Microsoft 365 universe.

Within Teams, some apps can simply consist of a link and iFrame to allow employees to view information from within Teams. Some highly successful custom apps within Teams are just a set of links accessible across the top of a Teams app which might lead to a range of key pages and views, such as high value SharePoint pages or an area of ServiceNow. These simple custom apps are very straightforward to create using the Teams App Studio, and can be set up by a non-IT professional through a citizen development approach. Here, the interface allows you to set up links, tabs and more. More complex apps that might be driven though an API will need to be generated by an experienced developer.

5 Leveraging messaging extensions

Another way that Teams apps deliver value is through the ability to reference content from an app within Teams channels and conversations. For example, the LMS365 for Teams app brings a learning management platform right into the heart of Microsoft Teams. The ability for a user to search the LMS365 app for learning content they may want to share with a colleague has real value; likewise, you might want to reference a ServiceNow ticket in a conversation between a user and the IT helpdesk.

Apps that allow you to feature contextual information from the app in a Teams channel or conversation have messaging extensions; the relative information is usually presented in a card format. There are also some out-of-the-box messaging extensions such as those designed for sending praise and approvals. Considering which apps to enable messaging extensions for is another good way to add value to the Microsoft Teams app experience.

6 Utilising bots using natural language

Some apps within Teams can use chatbots driven by natural language. Chatbot interactions work very well within the Teams environment, and are increasingly being adopted by users. These can be a great way to carry out simple transactions, receive status updates on workflow and get simple answers to questions without having to visit separate apps, again, all without leaving Teams.

7 Support and governance

Of course, there are other elements to consider when formulating your approach to Teams apps relating to governance, support and training. For example, you will need to define who owns the app strategy, and who can configure the apps settings. There will need to be a process for adding and reviewing new custom and third-party apps, and you’ll need to consider communication and support for users as well as any necessary training.

Accessing apps through Microsoft Teams

Accessing apps through Microsoft Teams is becoming a core part of the Teams experience, and is popular with employees. If you haven’t previously considered an app strategy for Teams, now’s the time to start thinking about your options. If you’d like to discuss apps for Microsoft Teams, then get in touch!

Will Microsoft Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

Microsoft Viva is a brand-new employee experience platform from Microsoft that is piquing a lot of interest across HR functions, IT departments and Internal Communications teams. There are currently four apps within the Viva universe, all of which are delivered through Microsoft Teams:

Viva Insights

Viva Insights: Personalised analytics and related insights for individuals, managers and leaders that support wellbeing, collaboration, productivity and more.

Viva Topics

Viva Topics: A knowledge discovery platform that uses AI to source experts and resources on different topics concerning Microsoft 365 tools and other digital channels.

Viva Learning

Viva Learning: A learning hub that aggregates learning resources from a variety of different sources including LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, popular third-party providers and a company’s own learning content.

Viva Connections

Viva Connections: A gateway to internal communications and company resources including policies and HR information, as well as the ability to participate in different social communities.

In particular, Viva Connections is proving to be of interest to internal communications teams as it provides another way to access communication-led content. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at Viva Connections and try to answer a question that we’ve heard asked a few times: Will Microsoft Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

What exactly is Viva Connections?

Viva Connections was originally announced at Ignite 2020 as the Home Site App – a way to access and navigate resources and sites from across your organisation within Microsoft Teams. It was subsequently relaunched as Viva Connections in a move that contributed to the observation that Microsoft Viva is to some extent a rebranding exercise for initiatives that are already in-flight.

It’s still pretty early days for Microsoft Viva and there are a lot of developments to come, but at the moment Viva Connections is essentially designed to be a kind of intranet experience within the Teams environment. This is an explicit aim of the app expressed by Microsoft in a video called Living in Microsoft Teams? Now, so does your intranet!, and follows a general trend to make other applications and channels accessible from within Teams, making it a convenient entry point to the wider digital workplace.

Other intranet software providers have worked separately on apps to make their intranet accessible within Teams, including LiveTiles. For example, we recently ensured a fantastic new LiveTiles intranet for Entain was also available from within Teams.

Sam Marshall at ClearBox has done an excellent overview of Viva Connections and points out the main features of the app, including a global navigation menu that can be accessed from within the app, a main landing or home page which is a linked SharePoint home site, and a search facility that allows for the a wider search into SharePoint content. A new dashboard and mobile app are also in the pipeline, due for release later in the year.

Will Viva Connections replace my SharePoint intranet?

Some executives have expressed the hope that Viva Connections, and the Viva Suite as a whole, will provide an opportunity to replace existing services and applications with new apps that are covered by the Microsoft 365 license. This might lead to both a reduction in licensing costs and an extension in the value of a company’s investment in the Microsoft 365-driven digital workplace. This world view is particularly attractive for IT stakeholders who may be under pressure to streamline resources, and wish to make the most out of Microsoft 365 in doing so.

These stakeholders are going to be disappointed – Viva Connections does not replace your SharePoint intranet. However, it does offer some interesting options for digital workplace and internal communications teams, particularly for smaller organisations where disparate SharePoint communication sites have taken over an existing intranet as the main vehicle for employee communications.

Let’s explore some of the reasons why Viva Connections is currently not a replacement for your SharePoint intranet.

1 Viva Connections is not plug and play

One misconception about Viva Connections and other Microsoft Viva apps is that they are plug and play. The idea is a seductive one – somehow you would be able to switch everything on and you’d have an intranet that works instantly and continues to work through automation, saving you time, resources and licensing fees. This is often the thinking behind the question of replacing a SharePoint intranet, considering the potential reduction in costs and effort.

Whilst you’ll certainly be able to leverage the power of Microsoft Graph with Viva Connections, you will actually need to do considerable preparation work and ongoing management to get any value out of Viva Connections. This is not plug and play: you need foundational work, ownership, governance and continual effort, just as you would if you were managing an intranet.

2 It’s still early days

Viva Connections is still relatively new, and we can expect there to be improvements and tweaks. In fact, some core components the mobile app and dashboard are still being rolled out. One of the things we love about working with the Microsoft 365 platform is the continuing investment that Microsoft put into every tool; this means the Viva Connection app of today may be quite different in a year’s time, with potential for additional capabilities.

We are always a little wary of diving into a new technology and replacing what has gone before when it has only recently been released. Even if Viva Connections does evolve to a point where it becomes the primary way for employees to access communications, replacing your existing SharePoint intranet with Viva Connections at this early stage is not something we would advise.

3 Viva Connections is accessed through Teams

The desktop experience for Viva Connections is accessed through Teams. Although Teams usage has exploded in many organisations, particularly during the pandemic, there are still some organisations where Teams usage is still growing or patchy across the entire workforce. In some places, it hasnt even been rolled out.

At the moment, replacing an intranet with Viva Connections is only going to be an option within organisations where Teams is the centre of the digital workplace and employees are already in Teams all day, yet there are still not that many organisations who have reached that kind of status. Moreover, in our view, the digital workplace needs to be accessed through multiple front doors, including both Teams and the intranet, so switching off a browser-based intranet may well be a retrograde step.

4 Viva Connections does not cover all an intranet does

Intranets, and in particular SharePoint intranets, provide a multi-faceted platform for internal communication, content publishing, dialogue, engagement, collaboration, transactions, HR self-service, search and findability, learning, access to digital workplace tools, communities of practice, knowledge management and more. Why are intranets still a staple of the workplace technology environments provided by organisations after 25 years? Because they are versatile, flexible, convenient and essential for both everyday working and deeper digital transformation. We’re excited about what Viva Connections can do, but it simply cannot compete with the wide number of use cases in which an intranet provides value.

If you’re in a position where it looks like Viva Connections will bring more value than your current SharePoint intranet, the key issue is not to do with Viva Connections it’s more likely that you are missing out on all the benefits a modern SharePoint intranet could bring you.

5 Internal communications don’t have enough control over comms

Viva Connections is set up in a way that assumes a less hierarchical, top-down view of news throughout your organisation, typically characterised by a group of communication sites and related hub sites with more distributed ownership. While it does attempt to aggregate news in a way that is more controlled, it lacks the kind of publishing features and central news formats that internal communications teams want to achieve with an intranet.

This is where an intranet product like LiveTiles is also superior to using SharePoint straight out of the box for an intranet. Viva Connections simply does not deliver on the expectations of internal communicators compared to a SharePoint intranet.

6 The set-up for Viva Connections means you’re creating an intranet anyway

When you create the set-up for Viva Connections, you’re effectively setting up an intranet anyway, with a SharePoint home site and global navigation you need to consider. When you begin to design a homepage experience and consider a global information architecture, you are starting to define an intranet, and when you then create the governance to make that work, you’re going even further down the intranet road. If you want to make Viva Connections work, you may also want to define a SharePoint intranet that works.

Where could Viva Connections add value?

While we don’t see Viva Connections as a replacement for a SharePoint intranet, we think it has great potential. We can see its utilisation as a way to:

  • Integrate some of your existing SharePoint intranet content into Teams, particularly in companies with high Teams usage
  • Act as a catalyst to create or invigorate a SharePoint Online intranet where most communication is currently dispersed across multiple Communication sites
  • Experiment and innovate to keep your digital workplace evolving, for example, using the mobile app and dashboard feature with frontline employees.

Need advice on Viva Connections? Get in touch!

It’s still quite early days for Viva Connections, but it’s definitely one to watch and experiment with. While it’s not a replacement for your SharePoint intranet, we think it will bring value. If you’d like to discuss using Viva Connections or your SharePoint intranet, then get in touch!

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