If someone asks me what the best and worst thing about SaaS software the answer is easy: it’s constantly changing. It’s great that we buy a subscription for service where customers and admins are consistently pushed features, enhancements, and fixes without any manual intervention needed by administrators. However, that benefit comes at the cost of navigating an ever-changing technological landscape. Often the changes introduced are beneficial, but some can be difficult to plan for and manage. That challenge is exacerbated because it’s an ongoing need to stay on top of these changes.

Microsoft has recently introduced several significant changes to Microsoft 365, and there are four worth noting if you oversee administering a Microsoft 365 tenant. If you are not considering these changes and impacts in your Microsoft 365 roadmap, now is the time to start planning for them.

1. Stream (Classic) to Stream (On SharePoint) Migration

Stream has been undergoing a change to move from the classic, siloed experience into the best possible landing spot: SharePoint. I’ve sat on many calls with the Stream product team, and they keep emphasizing the fact that they realized video is just another document type in Microsoft 365, and it makes more sense to put that in SharePoint–the best place to manage user-generated files.

I’m very excited about this change, but it raises the question of how the transition will occur. Microsoft has now provided timelines, guidance, and even tooling to make the migration. Here are some upcoming dates and details from their documentation I think are worthy of noting:

  • “August 15, 2023 – No new videos can be uploaded to Stream (Classic) for any customers.
  • October 15, 2023 – Users will no longer be able to access or use Stream (Classic) unless admin takes action to delay this change. This change can be delayed until February 15, 2024.
  • February 15, 2024 – Stream (Classic) is fully retired & automatically disabled. Users & admins are no longer able to access or use Stream (Classic). Any remaining content in Stream (Classic) that wasn’t migrated will be deleted. Stream (Classic) links and embed codes will no longer redirect to the migrated videos in OneDrive & SharePoint.”

It is critical to start understanding the migration process and begin planning to avoid having videos deleted. It was also announced recently that admins can scan and filter types of videos (i.e., meeting recordings) to choose what content to migrate. Note that this migration tool is not yet available to tenants other than commercial, but it will follow a similar schedule when the tool is made available for government tenants.

2. SharePoint 2013 Workflow Retirement

Your organization has likely already done some work to remediate SharePoint 2010 workflows by deleting or converting them to Power Automate. Microsoft has now taken the next step to move off the SharePoint 2013 workflow engine, and they have announced guidance and dates for this transition. The recommendation is still the same as for 2010 workflows: move to Power Automate or a third-party solution.

“SharePoint 2013 workflow will be turned off for new tenants as of April 2, 2024, and will be removed from existing tenants and will be fully retired as of April 2, 2026. This applies to all environments, including Government Clouds and Department of Defense. If you are using SharePoint 2013 workflow, we recommend migrating to Power Automate or other supported workflow orchestration solutions […] There will not be an option to extend SharePoint 2013 workflow beyond April 2, 2026.”

At the very least, it is suggested that admins immediately disable the creation of new 2013 workflows outlined in the above announcement. The Microsoft 365 Assessment tool will provide a Power BI report to identify usage and start planning your remediations. I recommend avoiding a third-party workflow solution in favor of Power Automate. This could also be an opportunity to engage your business with a Power Platform Center of Excellence to enable the next generation of business user-created workflows if you haven’t already.

3. Microsoft Loop Preview

The idea for Microsoft embedded in the Fluid Framework has been teased for a long time. We have had access to Loop Components in Microsoft Teams for a while now, but we finally have the ability to preview the entire content management experience of Loop. It is highly suggested that if you have a commercial tenant, you enable a preview either with your whole organization or a subset to start understanding the application and prepare for the organizational change that will happen as it enters general availability. If you don’t want to enable it in your production tenant or you work manage government tenants and wish to see it, create a Microsoft 365 developer tenant.

Enabling the preview is very simple, and Microsoft has provided guidance to set it up. My suggestion is to pilot it with a select group of content creators that understand the range of content creation options in Microsoft 365 and want to find new ways to enhance the lifecycle of a new type of content. That last point is essential to note this is truly a new content experience in Microsoft 365. It has a familiar content editing approach to something like Microsoft Word and OneNote, but its content creation experience and hierarchy (workspace, page/subpage, component) are brand new. We will discuss Copilot next, and while not yet available in the Loop preview right now, I’m perhaps most excited to see its implementation in Loop more than any other Microsoft 365 application.

I wrote this blog post in Loop to continue learning more about the application and its implications for a Microsoft 365 strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with Loop, watch this introductory video on Loop by Microsoft Mechanics.

Loop Overview

4. Heard of Copilot Yet?

The title for this section is purposely tongue-in-cheek. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Large Language Models (LLM) have turned the technology industry upside down. This technology is not suddenly new, but its emergence into consumer applications and the attention it has received make it feel that way. Copilot is Microsoft’s application of LLM into just about every possible corner of their clouds. Copilot also feels like a natural progression from the contextualized, intelligent information provided by the Microsoft Graph, and it’s no coincidence Copilot will depend on the Graph.

Just recently, it was announced that the “Copilotification” of Microsoft 365 continues with the addition of Copilot in SharePoint, and this is on top of the announcement a few weeks ago that Copilot is coming to several Viva modules. There are still many details about Copilot that are unknown beyond announcements and product launch videos. The most immediate questions are around licensing and availability, but the question a Microsoft 365 admin must be asking is how ready their organization is for this change. Like the BYOD policies from users wanting to use their smartphones for work or Google expectations for enterprise search, we will next contend with users desiring a ChatGPT-like experience in their work productivity applications.

Like any other tool, Copilot is only as good as the information made available to that tool. If your current Microsoft 365 usage isn’t well designed, implemented, governed, and secured, it will not suddenly make all that better. If anything, enhancements like LLM only reinforce the need for proper design, strategy, and change management. Even with the ambiguities around what Copilot will look like, start ensuring your Microsoft 365 tenant is set up and ready for this next wave of content management innovation.

Conclusion

It is undoubtedly an exciting time to use Microsoft 365 in your organization, but the need for planning and strategy becomes more important by the day. If your business is ready to explore use cases and build a roadmap with a top-tier Microsoft cloud partner, reach out to learn more about our funded Innovation Jumpstart offering. This engagement allows us to work with customers to identify and accelerate digital innovation opportunities fully funded by Microsoft for qualifying organizations. This results in a prioritized list of desired business outcomes, recommended technology paths, and even solution or reference architectures.

The pandemic has changed the way Microsoft has had to deliver new product enhancements, but it hasn’t slowed down the respective productive teams from unveiling significant changes to Microsoft 365. Last week, the Microsoft Build conference became the showcase for several Microsoft 365 announcements, and now that it is complete, we can summarize and reflect on how these announcements will change the way we use the platform.

In this post we will look at the highlight announcements and discuss how these changes can impact your usage of Microsoft 365, whether you’re an administrator, user, or implementer.

Microsoft Lists

There is no doubt that one of the biggest announcements last week was Microsoft Lists. What this effectively continues is the trend of Microsoft taking the pieces of SharePoint and building them out across Microsoft 365.

The biggest change is that now Microsoft Lists are their own application inside of Microsoft 365 with its own landing page. It takes what we already had in modern SharePoint lists and made them available outside of just a SharePoint context. Now these lists, which are really small applications, can be outside of SharePoint or can be created inside of a Group connected SharePoint Team Site (but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be available to create in Communication sites, although you can still get much of the functionality as a SharePoint list in that site design).

Microsoft Lists

These lists have the functionality we are used to like custom formatting, integration with Power Apps/Power Automate, rich filtering, and editing experiences, and more. There are some good enhancements such as a gallery (or “card”) view, a modern monthly calendar view, conditional metadata show/hide based on criteria, a conversational notification creation interface, and a lot more. Also, there are now prebuilt templates for various list types, and all of this is seamlessly available to be surfaced inside of Microsoft Teams.

The richness of Microsoft Lists will allow users to build rather complex applications with a very straight forward yet powerful interface, and when you want to do something more complex, the Power Platform will allow you to enhance them even further.

Here are Microsoft resources explaining the announcement in greater detail:

Enhancements to Microsoft Teams

While Microsoft Lists may have been the biggest single addition to Microsoft 365 last week, there remains no mystery that Microsoft Teams continues to be the darling of Microsoft 365. To that end, there are several changes that make Teams an ever more compelling product, and that is especially true as the pandemic pushes more organizations to embrace distributed work.

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There have been recent changes such as a new 3×3 video grid when in a call, “raise a hand” to ask a question and changes to the pre-join experience that allows you to set settings easier. These weren’t announced directly at BUILD, but these are important changes worth mentioning. To get an overview, see this video on Microsoft Mechanics: Microsoft Teams Updates | May 2020 and Beyond. One seemingly small but important change is that now when using the search box in Teams, it can now default to your current context such as a chat, which will have a very big discoverability improvement.

Regarding developer announcements at Build, several new changes were announced:

  • New interface inside of tenant administration to build Teams templates where you can set pre-defined channels and tabs/apps.
  • New Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code extensions to build apps for Teams.
  • Single-button deployment of Power Apps applications into Teams.
  • New Power Automate triggers for Teams.
  • Customizable application notifications using the Microsoft Graph.

The biggest takeaway from all these announcements is that Microsoft wants to provide as many avenues to quickly extend Teams whether that’s a more traditional programmatic solution using the Visual Studio family of products or using the Power Platform to enable a new class of power users that are familiar with those products.

Read more about these announcements at the Microsoft Teams blog: What’s New in Microsoft Teams | Build Edition 2020.

Project Cortex Release Date and Taxonomy APIs

While Project Cortex was announced at the Ignite Conference last year, we now know that Project Cortex will enter general availability in early summer this year, which may be no more than a month or two away. While the impact of Project Cortex will have on our Microsoft 365 implementations remains to be seen, it certainly has the promise to change the dynamic of how we do information management in Microsoft 365.

The interesting announcement that came out for developers were new APIs to complete CRUD operations on the Term Store through the Microsoft Graph. This has never been possible before, and it will be interesting to see how customers will integrate this functionality. What is clear is that if you have been ignoring either the Microsoft Graph or Managed Metadata, the time is to investigate how these opportunities can maximize your Microsoft 365 investment.

Microsoft Graph Connectors Entering Targeted Release

Like Project Cortex, this is not a new announcement, but the fact that these are now going to be more broadly available in the targeted release channel in the near future is an exciting development. Essentially, these connectors allow your organization to surface external data sources into search using the Microsoft Graph. If you’re interested in seeing the range of connectors available, check out the Microsoft Graph Connectors gallery.

Implement Today

If you are interested in more Microsoft 365 Announcements, Microsoft has released its Build conference book of news that summarizes all the announcements across all their product lines.

There are great announcements last week but digesting them can be daunting. Let AIS help you understand their impact on your organization and help ensure your investment in Microsoft 365 is being maximized. Contact us today to start the conversation.

Whether you are just starting your journey to Office 365, or you are expanding your usage of the platform, it’s important that you stop and define what you hope to accomplish in your project. User research is the most productive activity your team can do to define and shape your project. Many underestimate the value of investing time and money into user research when a team believes they already understand what needs to be built.

The Need to Define the Problem

A common misunderstanding with user research is that it’s intended to help create the solution. While it’s true that user research assists in this, the main purpose of user research is to define the problem you are trying to solve.

Often, in an attempt to save money, companies will reduce or jettison altogether user research. User research ensures a higher likelihood that your implementation will succeed and is well received and adopted. This makes end users feel like they had a voice in the project and that their unique challenges were considered. And the good news is that it’s not all or nothing. There are ways to do user research that will significantly help your project without breaking the budget.

An important distinction needs to be made that user research is not about asking people what their preferences are. While preferences can lend to insights, it is not the goal of user research. Erika Hall in her book Just Enough Research says:

“As you start interviewing people involved in business and design decisions, you might hear them refer to what they do or don’t like. ‘Like’ is not a part of the critical thinker’s vocabulary. On some level, we all want the things we do to be liked (particularly on Facebook), so it’s easy to treat likability as a leading success indicator. But the concept of ‘liking’ is as subjective as it is empty. It is a superficial and self-reported mental state unmoored from any particular behavior. This means you can’t get any useful insights from any given individual reporting that they like or hate a particular thing. I like horses, but I’m not going to buy any online.” (pg. 13)

What Can I Expect When Doing User Research?

Many companies that do not have in house user research experience are unaware of the key steps and activities used. Project goals and requirements vary, requiring slightly different approaches, but the core concepts are often the same.

The first thing that usually occurs is soliciting input from the project team or stakeholders before engaging end-users. These inputs can come in the form of workshops or interviews, but it is important at this stage to understand how the stakeholders involved in commissioning and running the project view the organization’s needs.

After gathering initial input, end-users need to be identified and interviewed to understand the many aspects of how they currently work, what their needs are, and how the various tools and processes they currently use do and do not satisfy their needs.

Below are some sample questions asked during a user interview for end-users regarding their existing intranet:

  • Is there content on the intranet you looked for and were unable to find?
  • What do you do when you cannot find the information you are looking for? Has this happened with the current intranet?
  • What are other tools and applications you need to do your work?
  • What are the most important things that the organization needs from you and you need from the organization?

The answers to these questions and the insights gleaned can be distilled to define the core issues that a new modern workplace solution needs to solve. From here, the team can work together on what specific solutions will address the issues, goals, and needs of the end-users.

AIS did this recently for the ACA Compliance Group in a project to help them roll out Microsoft Teams and Planner. Through systematic user research, the AIS team was able to identify opportunities to leverage these tools to address ACA’s collaboration and content management needs. Read more about our work with ACA Compliance Group.

Other Benefits of User Research

While the primary benefit of user research is to define the problem and help your team ultimately marry that to the correct technological solution, there are many other benefits of doing user research. Here are a few.

  1. It generates interest inside of the organization. When doing research, many people will get a chance to be heard, and often times those are the very individuals that are some of the biggest supporters as the project moves along.
  2. It helps with change management and ultimately increases adoption of the final solution. Change is hard and bringing users into that process greatly increases the odds that the modern workplace solution they receive will aid them in their work. Nothing will slow down the adoption of a new solution faster than those who receive the solution feeling like their challenges were not taken into consideration.
  3. It helps your organization communicate the value of the new implementation in a way that appeals to people across the organization. It is always more impactful to frame your new investment in terms that will appeal to users.

Start Now and Continue to Iterate

If you take away one thing from this piece, I hope you realize the value of user research and how it can bring unique insights to your project that are otherwise left untapped. User research is one of those activities that truly never finishes because an organization and its people are constantly changing, but the more research is used, the better the end result.

Nielsen-Norman Group, a well-known user experience firm publishes its best intranets every year, and it is no mistake that time after time user research is a core component of these successful projects. In this year’s report, it specifically mentions the value of bringing in outside firms to bring expertise and perspective. AIS has years of experience helping organizations do great user research. If you are planning your next Office 365 project, please reach out to AIS for a Modern Workplace Assessment and begin your journey to building a successful modern workplace solution!