MVP Summit 2018

So here I am at the Microsoft MVP Summit, sitting in a room filled with faces I recognise from blogs I’ve read, Twitter accounts I follow and conference speaker lists I’ve browsed. It didn’t take long to realise I was in the right room, everyone as engaged in conversations around SharePoint and Microsoft Teams with the occasional Yammer or OneDrive mention. I was a little bit star struck at first!

While I can’t tell you anything about the things we are being shown due to NDA, I can tell you about the experience of being a first time MVP at the global MVP Summit. This is an opportunity for the product teams at Microsoft to engage with community to get feedback on ideas, gather suggestions and have an open and frank discussion.

As an MVP I have the opportunity to be the voice of my clients and local community. I can contribute to the ideas being discussed, give feedback and make suggestions to help Microsoft build a better Office 365 and SharePoint for everyone. It is good to hear others articulating their needs, issues and ideas. It’s also great to hear from the product teams themselves drilling into the suggestions to get further detail or clarify a point.

The Microsoft Campus

My excitement levels started rising as I caught the summit bus from a hotel in Bellevue. Fifteen minutes later I arrived at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond. This place is big (500 acres), buildings, a conference centre, visitors centre, football fields and trees. It reminded me of a University campus with better quality cars in the parks (spot the Tesla is very easy here).

It feels like a great place for techies to work and while you don’t see lots of geeks (takes one to know one) on experimental forms of transport, you do see a diverse workforce with the same goal, to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft really is a global company not only in terms of sales territories but also in the people it employees. Brilliant!

Microsoft Map.PNG

The Store

The company store is in Building 92, the same building I was in for SharePoint and Office 365 related sessions. I looked long and hard but couldn’t find a Clippy t-shirt, but they did sell a lot of clothing with Azure, Windows, X-Box and Microsoft Office branding. You can also buy lots of things like mugs, caps, notebooks (paper variety), Minecraft and a variety of hardware and software products.

Meeting me in the Trees

A few weeks before the Summit I joined a mentoring initiative organised by Microsoft. This lead to an invitation to a meeting at the Microsoft Treehouse, a meeting room in the trees. This venue has no power, no WiFi, no whiteboards and not heating (it was a little chilly), the perfect place to focus on a human to human conversation without distraction.

The meeting was a very small group, just 12 of us with Laura Hunter, Principal Programme Manager for Security CXP at Microsoft. The discussion was insightful and I came away with some new ideas and contacts. You can learn more about the day in this Microsoft Blog on International Women’s Day.

Microsoft Treehouse

The People

More than 2000 people from 80 countries are attending the MVP Summit. This brings real depth and different perspectives to the feedback sessions. The importance of remembering not everyone speaks English as a first language and how we need to consider this when delivering technology solutions. It’s also quite funny when as a Kiwi I had a language issue of my own trying to communicate with an American outside a homeless shelter in the old part of Seattle, we both spoke English but honestly had no idea what each of us was saying!

I’ve met MVP’s from all over the world. Pakistan, Singapore, UK, Netherlands, India, Brazil, China, Australia, South Africa, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Belarus, Israel, German, Canada and of course the United States. These people are all passionate about both technology and community.

Last but definitely not least, the Microsofties . They are really easy to engage with, they take time to listen and you never feel like you’ve asked a dump question. During the networking events, I had the opportunity to have conversations directly with people from the Product Groups and the MVP community team. These girls and guys rock!

NDA

The toughest thing about this event is that you see a lot and then have to keep what you’ve seen to yourself. All I can really say is that I am excited about what I’ve seen and look forward to seeing some of these things being available over the next year. Microsoft really are listening to their users!

The Office 365 Roadmap site is a good place to learn about upcoming features not covered by NDA.

Thank you

Thank you Microsoft for inviting me to this amazing event. It really has been a great opportunity filled with inspiration, insightful talks and great networking opportunities. I feel inspired and we haven’t finished yet!

25 year MVP Party

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Helping someone start their career

Next year will be 30 years since I got my first IT job. I was 17 years old and IT was my second choice of career, almost forced on me due to my first choice suddenly becoming out of reach. Aged 16 I was single minded about a career in the RNZAF when the unexpected happened. I was having breakfast with my Dad, when without warning my life flipped upside down. I remember eating a piece of toast, falling and then waking up with an ambulance paramedic standing over me. Dad was shaking and said, “I thought we’d lost you”. You see, we lived in the country, a long way from help. Epilepsy was something I would come to learn a lot about over the coming months.

Flying was no-longer an option, driving and swimming were also off the list of activities I could do. I had to find something else and software developer was one of the few options that had any appeal. I headed off to Polytech and learnt the programme. I was the youngest student in the course but managed to pass with pretty good marks, not the best and not the worst.

The course finished and I found myself without a job to go to. Dad put me to work on the farm, milking cows and doing other chores around the farm. A few weeks later I got a call out of the blue asking if I could come into town for an interview, my lecturer at Polytech had put my name forward to a company looking for a junior developer.

In a complete panic, I threw on a shirt and tie and Mum drove me into town (one hours drive) to the interview. I’d been in such a rush, I left my CV at home and had absolutely no idea how to present myself in an interview. Guess what!? I got the job! It turns out I was second on the list and the guy who was a shoe in for the job got asked a question that I answered better. What was it? Something along the lines of “what have you been doing since Polytech finished?”, my competitor was pretty proud of the fact that he hadn’t done much other than work on his tan. My answer was about working on the farm and practicing the things I’d learnt at Polytech using an Amstrad XT PC I had saved for while working for Dad.

What happened next was simply amazing. I had a great boss who took a chisel to me and chipped away at the rough edges I had from a life on the farm and gave me the skills to work in a corporate environment. He gave me challenges, supported my decisions and gave honest feedback (boy did I need that!).

Roll on nearly 30 years to today I heard a great talk from students pitching how we should approach them about being a mentor or offering a job. I really couldn’t help but think it was backward, shouldn’t I be the one getting the pitch, as the owner of a tech company? At first this entire concept didn’t sit well with me? Why would I approach a young person to be there mentor rather than the other way around?

After some thinking about this, it hit me. Someone had done this for me all those years ago. Someone who knew me and had much more faith in my abilities than I did, went to the trouble of putting my name forward for a job. That was the foot in the door, the rest was up to me.

What do our young people need from us to get a foot up in their career? Simple, the same thing we needed but delivered in a slightly different way. What do we need as a mentor? To know our time isn’t being wasted and the person we are supporting will put their best effort.

Here a few things you can assist a young person with:

  • How to greet people when going to an interview
  • Give honest feedback without being unkind
  • Provide an environment where they can make mistakes (safely)
  • Give opportunities to develop skill

In my experience, being a mentor has as many benefits to me as it does to the person being mentored. Helping someone develop a career is incredibly satisfying and gives you the opportunity to get a better understand of how another generation interacts with the world.

 

Migrating Access Services from SharePoint Online to On-premises

Microsoft are ending support for Access Services in SharePoint Online from April 2018. This means anyone using Access Services has to make a choice and very soon about what they do as support ends. There are several possible choices:

Option 1: Move back to SharePoint 2016 On-Premises. Note that older SharePoint versions are not supported. This provides similar functionality but means you’re moving from the cloud back to either on-premises or a hosted SharePoint environment.

  • Using Microsoft Access (Desktop), connect to the Access Web App
  • Choose Save As, choose Snapshot to export the App and related data to a local file
  • In SharePoint, go to the App management site and import the App
  • Add the exported App into a SharePoint site in your SP 2016 farm

In addition to deploying back to either an on-premises or hosted SharePoint 2016 farm, there are other options to consider.

Option 2: Converting to SharePoint Lists. This option is really only suitable to relatively simple solutions and you lose much of the functionality Access Web Apps have that lead you to use them in the first place.

Option 3: Convert to PowerApps. This is a redevelopment and is worth considering bearing in mind that there are functionality gaps between the old and new solution that may need to be worked through. Read more here.

Option 4: Convert back to a desktop Access database. The benefits of using a web based solution are lost, but it may be the option of last resort for some.

Further information that is useful for anyone using Access Web Apps can be found in the roadmap.

 

SharePoint Migration Tool

Microsoft has made Migrating to SharePoint Online a little bit easier by releasing the SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT). At the time of blogging the current release was version 0.2.75.1, the leading zero is a good clue that it’s definitely still in development and may be missing some of the things you really need. Having said that, it does solve some common migration issues and it does it for free!

Here’s a short list of things the SPMT will do for you:

·       Allows you to copy a folder on your file server to a library in SharePoint

·       If the source folder contains sub-folders it copies them too

·       Retains created and modified dates

·       Retains names of the creator and last modified

·       Does incremental copies

·       Allows setup of multiple source and destinations in a single job

·       Source can be a file server (or local disk) or SharePoint on-premises

SPMT

There are a few short comings to be aware of in the release above:

·       You cannot copy photos on your source server to an image library in SharePoint Online

·       You cannot name a migration job which makes finding the job to rerun later can be hard

·       You cannot schedule a migration job

·       If you close out, you need to run the tool and log in to Office 365 again

I’m sure many of these things will be sorted out soon. Even with these limitations the SPMT is still a very useful tool and will help with some of the basic problems with dragging and dropping files to SharePoint.

Download the SharePoint Migration Tool here:

http://spmtreleasescus.blob.core.windows.net/install/default.htm

 

Custom Vision with PowerShell

Custom Vision is service for creating computer vision models that can be interacted with via a REST API. Custom Vision is powered by Cognitive Services.

Here is a simple demo using PowerShell to determine whether a flag is from New Zealand or Australia. These flags have a lot of similarities, including the Union Jack, blue back ground and Stars, so I thought it would be a good test of the technology.

The first task is to create a project on https://customvision.ai, upload images of flags and train the model. In this case I have added two tags, New Zealand and Australia. The minimum number of photos per tag is 5. Choose a variety of angles and shapes.

CustomVisionFlags

Once the images have been uploaded, choose Train from the menu to build the model.

Next, you will need to get the API URL and Prediction Key from the Performance tab.

PredictionAPI

Now for the PowerShell bit. In this example, we call the Prediction API with the URL to a flag image.

Replace the customVisionAPIURI and Key with the values from your model. Replace the ImageURL with the URL of a flag.

$CustomVisionAPIURI = “https://southcentralus.api.cognitive.microsoft.com/customvision/v1.0/Prediction/00e38c62-acfb-4b30-9d04-481b3ea5436b/url?iterationId=ebe48241-a269-4a30-9223-c80d335462ce”
$Key = “51d70eb8f69044dd89408ae4e60b01da”

$imageURL = “http://images.all-free-download.com/images/graphicthumb/australian_flag_312448.jpg”

$bod = @{url = $imageUrl };
$jsbod = ConvertTo-Json $bod
$Result = Invoke-RestMethod -Method Post -Uri $CustomVisionAPIURI -Header @{ “Prediction-Key” = $Key } -Body $jsbod -ContentType “application/json” -ErrorAction Stop
$Result.Predictions

The results from the script:

TagId Tag Probability
—– — ———–
61740b10-a791-43a9-b6ae-edd2559431a8 Australia 1.0
3ecac738-a7d8-451d-98b9-7d5b36b20add New Zealand 1.67903181E-07

That’s it!

A practical application of this technology could be classifying photos in SharePoint. The script could be extended to run across a library of photos and populate data into a metadata column to classify the image. For example a library containing photos of different types of cattle, could be processed to determine if they are Angus, Jersey, Friesian, Hereford etc.

There are many more advanced applications of Cognitive Services such as medical image analysis, quality processes, identifying faces etc.

More technical detail on CustomVision API can be found here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/cognitive-services/computer-vision/

 

 

Office 365 Productivity

I’ve had many conversations over the years about improving productivity with technology. One that sticks in my mind was a sales person at a company I once worked for telling a client “you’ll get better productivity if you upgrade from Office 2007 to Office 2010”. I thought to myself, do you? Really? I mean really?

25 years ago, I watched a sales manager using a calculator to add up a column of numbers before typing the result into the total field. I showed him the SUM formula in Lotus 123. Later he told me this saved him several hours per month. If only he had been trained earlier!

People still do this today. Businesses are littered with people creating ‘systems’  with Microsoft Office (and other products) without fully understanding the capabilities of the tools they use. This is where the opportunity to get a productivity improvement really exists and with Office 365, the opportunity is greater still for those who are currently using file server based document storage.

So how do you improve productivity? Change the way you work!

Poor Productivity

Poor productivity can have many causes. Some of the common issues I see are:

  • Not using document templates
  • Using document templates, that aren’t well designed
  • Manual document styling
  • Collating document changes (because sharing was done via email attachment)
  • Shared Spreadsheets using a file share (no co-authoring)
  • Using the wrong tool e.g. Word tables rather than Excel spreadsheet
  • Not being able to find a document
  • Having a complicated remote access solution that is only available to a few people
  • Saving to the desktop and then filing later (if you remember)

I could go on…

Better Productivity

First things first, it shouldn’t be the IT Departments role to tell people how to work. IT should understand the requirements of the users and the organisation, then provide the tools to meet those needs.

Identify document centric processes and write them down where everyone can see them. Ask questions to identify areas for improvement

  • Does the process use paper forms or document templates that could be improved?
  • Is information being manually entered multiple times?
  • Would the process workflow benefit from automation?
  • Would co-authoring reduce the number of uncontrolled copies?
  • Would co-authoring save time on document collation?
  • Is there a drafting process with approval for published documents?
  • Does the final version of the document need to reside elsewhere?

Make sure you focus on processes where the effort is worthwhile. A few minutes saved on a process that is carried out many times a day can be a big saving over time.

Implementing a solution

Office 365 comes with the applications you know (and love) with the added benefit of online document management and collaboration (SharePoint), workflow (Flow), forms and mobile apps (PowerApps) and a range of tools for communicating, organising and collaborating inside and outside the organisation.

Don’t forget to take a second look inside the box and make time to understand the tools you have. Take advantage of the new capabilities to get a real productivity benefit.

 

 

SharePoint News from Ignite 2017

The Future of SharePoint, 2017 Edition

This year’s Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando Florida, was the place to be for anyone interested in SharePoint and Office 365. An enormous number of announcements were made covering almost every aspect of the Office and Office Servers.

Microsoft continued the 3 year release cycle for SharePoint, announcing SharePoint 2019 will be released mid-2018. That’s right, a new server release of SharePoint for On-premises users. Microsoft Exchange 2019 server was also announced, which is good news for those businesses who prefer to say on-premises.

Office 365 had more news than it is humanly possible to keep up with. Here are some of the big items to look forward to:

SharePoint

  • News sites – mobile notifications, save for later, news digests, publish to Teams
  • Hub sites – global activity rollups, global search scopes and more
  • Communication sites – custom layouts and Yammer integration
  • Web-parts – lots of new web-parts for Modern sites including Forms and PowerApps!
  • LinkedIn integration – better profiles and expert search
  • Dynamic Record identification and management
  • Better photo and image search – indexing written content in images
  • Multi-geo support – one tenant across multiple geographic locations
  • Improved mobile experiences
  • Conditional formatting of lists
  • New Admin console
  • SharePoint 2019 Server for on-premises users

PowerApps and Flow

  • Did I mention PowerApps web-parts for SharePoint?
  • A clear announcement that PowerApps will replace InfoPath
  • Document Approval for SharePoint and OneDrive for Business
  • PowerApps web-parts for SharePoint

OneDrive for Business

  • One place to see all your files – OneDrive, SharePoint and Groups!
  • Multi-geo support – one tenant across multiple geographic locations
  • OneDrive Client for Mac
  • End user file restore (30 day backup)
  • External Sharing without needing a Microsoft Account with one time use codes
  • Files on-demand

Teams

  • Add SharePoint pages to Teams
  • Push news from SharePoint to Teams
  • Connect Office Groups to Teams
  • Link existing SharePoint Team sites to Teams!

Security and Compliance

  • Site level conditional access policies
  • Service level encryption where the user (tenant owner) has the keys
  • End-user mass content restore – great if you need to bulk recover documents

There have been a huge number of announcements and chances are I have missed a few. It’s a really exciting time for us SharePoint and Office 365 people!