Tag Archives: Mobility solutions

How LiveTiles modernises design and UX in SharePoint

Live-Tiles-logoLiveTiles launched globally in early October and many of you have been in touch to request further product information. In this post we chat with Sepi Ghajar, Senior Consultant and lead LiveTiles Architect in New York, about some of the most commonly asked questions, including what LiveTiles is, what it does and how can it change the way your business operates.

So, what is LiveTiles?

LiveTiles is a product that enables you to have a superior design, functionality and user experience in SharePoint and to reduce the time it takes to build customised interfaces from months to hours – or even minutes. It’s also the first browser-based design tool to support modern UI (user interface) design, rapid mobile site development and out-of-the-box integration with external line of business systems. LiveTiles can be deployed to SharePoint on-premise or to the cloud (SharePoint Online) with Office 365.

How does LiveTiles make using SharePoint easier?
LiveTiles is a very simple, modern interface and doesn’t require a high degree of technical proficiency to operate. It has a straight-forward ‘drag and drop’ functionality and comes with a range of pre-configured apps and tiles. Each of these has in-built functionality and can easily connect to (and display content from) within SharePoint – as well as applications such as Yammer, Dynamics CRM and many third party business systems.

Why does LiveTiles offer a superior UX?
We talk about LiveTiles as ‘flipping the traditional intranet model on its head’ because the days of one-way intranets – where people log in and have to follow a global navigation to source information – are gone. This is not how people prefer (or expect) to work anymore. Good UX now demands that we offer faster, more intuitive, convenient and personalised experiences. Combined with the fact that touch technology is now so ingrained in our daily lives – LiveTiles takes this demand and lets you easily deploy sites that users want to engage with.

Example of LiveTiles as a horizontal scrolling interface.

Example of LiveTiles being deployed as a horizontal scrolling interface.

When a user logs in to LiveTiles they see only information pertaining to them. Individual tasks, schedules, rosters, training videos, business intelligence, and automated workflows are seamlessly combined with global information like a social collaboration newsfeed, corporate policies, important notices or alerts. LiveTiles also leverages SharePoint 2013’s enterprise-grade search capability, meaning enhanced document previews, metadata and people search, as well as discoverable social hashtags or conversations. Strictly speaking, everything a worker needs in their entire day is located within their LiveTiles interface.

In what ways can installing LiveTiles result in cost savings?
From a business value perspective, LiveTiles shortens the amount of time it takes for businesses to see real value from their Office 365 or SharePoint investment. It also helps reduce the risk around technology implementation complexities, and also to achieve sustained user adoption.There are also significant savings to be made from increased employee productivity and collaboration. As an example, the simple act of automating leave requests can reduce a hefty administrative burden and the associated productivity vacuum and costs. Even if each employee only spends an hour submitting and tracking their form each time they take leave, across an entire company, savings of both time and money add up very quickly.

Another example is the use of rich media content to train and educate employees in different geo-locations. The ability to host and manage this through LiveTiles can result in entire training modules being entirely online, removing the need for training facilities, collateral and personnel, and also reducing employee down-time.

How does LiveTiles integrate with SharePoint?
As mentioned earlier, LiveTiles comes with a range of pre-configured apps and tiles which have the ability to connect to both SharePoint and external data sources.

This is achieved by installing the package to SharePoint Solution Gallery. Once the installation is complete, LiveTiles enables you to create aggregated content pages within SharePoint by offering a broad range of page templates with pre-populated and pre-configured content, retrieved from SharePoint lists and librarians. Included in the range of page templates are up to 10 industry specific templates, such as Retail, Education and Manufacturing.

And external business applications or systems?
LiveTiles can connect to and interact with any external data source using SharePoint Business Connectivity Services. Its comprehensive and easy to use tool set allows users to arrange external content as desired on the pages, and to apply look and feel branding concepts by simply dragging and dropping them onto the template.

Got a question for Sepi? Get in touch via marketing@nsynergy.com. nSynergy are the only licensed LiveTiles seller in Australasia. Feel free to contact a member of our Solutions team to arrange a free consultation.

Previous SharePoint blogs you might enjoy:

Why a SharePoint project is like building a house (or should be) – Part 1

Why a SharePoint project is like building a house – Part 2 The Build

What’s the buzz? Demystifying Modern UI

User Experience: 9 things you need to know before you can call it UX

Do you know why social giants like Facebook and Twitter resisted monetizing their sites for the first few years?

Because their sites wouldn’t have been cool if they did. Nor would they have gained the trust of millions of users.

By deveiStock_000020818259_ExtraSmallloping sites that focused exclusively on UX, both Facebook and Twitter built legions of followers who became so entrenched in the experience they couldn’t live without it. Then they launched user-targeted advertising and started raking in the billions. (Anecdotally, Facebook makes $3 million a day from their mobile ads alone).

What does this have to do with ICT projects? Pretty much everything. When it comes to deploying Office 365 or SharePoint solutions, if your audience doesn’t get on-board and use it, it will fail. So, how do you stop your investment from winding up in the big graveyard-for-unadopted-IT-projects in the sky?

You guessed it – by creating a rich UX. And, while UX conversations are not new, they are more relevant than ever with the range of optimisation features available out-of-the-box. E.g. SharePoint 2013’s mobile development platform, catering for the demand for superior UX across multiple device channels.

There is a depth and breadth of information about UX out there, so we thought it might be useful to give UX a shakedown, and highlight what we believe are the most important lessons.

1. What it is

Type ‘What is UX’ into a search engine and you will turn up dozens of results. However, in the context we are discussing, UX is the quality of human interaction a person has with a site or system. It involves creating a consistent, meaningful experience that drives engagement. UX frames the user as the hero in the story – not a bit player. And, as indicated above, UX can make or break an ICT project.

2. Why it’s top of the pops

The digital revolution has permanently shifted the balance of power. Forget what you think you know about how information should be packaged and presented to an audience – be they employee, customer or other – it no longer matters. Mobility, tablets, BYOD, cloud computing – have all put the user in the driver’s seat when it comes to access to and consumption of information. Your solution needs to be as agile as they are. End of story.

3. The UX attributes you need to nail

Good UX should make a user’s interaction with your site or system easy, dynamic and reliable and includes things like intuitive information architecture and content. Great UX will also be meaningful, reduce pain points and help the user be productive on any device. (Deliver a great UX and you’ll get adoption levels to where you will derive the required ROI). Going one step further, exceptional UX delivers what is referred to as an immersive digital experience, meaning one which deeply involves the senses. Just like the social giants, deliver an immersive experience and you will have loyal users for life.

4. Accept that great functionality comes second

Firstly, we should point out that it’s perfectly OK to come second. To all the developers and technicians out there, your work is equally as important as UX, maybe even more so because you turn a vision into reality. But UX planning should be first. In our experience, if people see something they like, they will use it. Which is why we evolved our approach beyond the traditional SharePoint project model several years ago – because we saw how dazzling clients with technical expertise and high-level solution ideas straight off the bat was limiting our ability to deliver standout UX. Why? Because we had gone too far down the technical path, so by the time UX became part of the conversation, our clients already had expectations in mind about how the system would function.

5. Do the leg work

Requirements gathering is the strategic process of learning about an audience – who they are, what they like, how they access and use information, and so on. It’s vital to invest time in this early on, as the outputs from this research will help you to make informed choices when it comes to UX design. Also, poor UX is expensive to remedy once a solution has been deployed.

To gather requirements, we utilise several best practice UX methodologies including:

  • User Stories – helps us to understand how different people will interact with a site by ‘storytelling’ and evaluating real situations.
  • Persona Profiling – the process of identifying several core types of users within your organisation, how they work, what is important to them etc.
  • Low fidelity wireframes – lo-fi wireframing is the process of quickly mapping out a basic interface to use as a starting point for discussion.
  • Rapid prototyping – the extension of lo-fi wireframing, this involves building a ‘proof of concept’

Talking to your actual audience is also crucial. It’s natural for project steering committees to put their ‘user hats’ on and draw on their own needs/desires, but these are unlikely to reflect those of the broader user group.

6. UX is more than just good design

There are a number of players required to create a rich, meaningful UX. Jobs in the ‘usability’ space have increased significantly in the last few years, and we ourselves now benefit from the value these experts bring to projects. However our graphic designers (and your content authors) also play a key role in translating a strategic UX vision into a complimentary, exciting visual design.

7. It’s not something users’ needs to think about

Good UX should almost fly under the radar, in the sense that if it works, it just works. The user is not likely to finish engaging with your site and want to contact you to say how memorable it was. Particularly in a professional environment. (Rest assured you will soon know about it if you deploy a site with poor UX). For this reason it’s a good idea to set up the correct success metrics e.g. user adoption levels, regularity and duration of use etc. As your users are unlikely to tell you how good it is unless you ask.

8. The tools are out there, so innovate

SharePoint 2013 comes with number of new additions to the feature set, including custom mobile development and social collaboration functionality. This all works in your favour as it helps users to be productive anywhere, on any device, and collaborate in ways that are familiar to them. As well as taking advantage of these tools, consider what custom features or apps would benefit your users and engage the services of an experienced provider to build them. (We have a number of great tools we use, partner with and recommend to clients because they drive UX effectively – ask us).

9. It’s not a silver bullet

Just a final point to reiterate that UX forms part of a well-planned, skilfully built and deployed platform. A successful project is very much the sum of all its parts, so while UX should come first and be a priority, it must be underpinned by sound development, testing and change management practices.

As an exercise, jump onto your company intranet or website and try to imagine you are a first time user. How would you rate UX, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)? If you’re anywhere under the 7 mark, get in touch, we can help.

Get mobile already in SharePoint 2013

If you’vSharePoint 2013 mobility solutionse been reading up about the new features of SharePoint 2013 – or even if you’re simply on a fact finding mission about the software – one expression you will have heard many times is ‘device channels’. This refers to exciting new functionality which gives you the power to build a customised user experience for different devices E.g. smart phone, tablet.

Mobility has fast become a cornerstone of the digital landscape and many organisations now recognise the business value in delivering a superior user experience across multiple channels. In light of this, Microsoft has invested heavily in extending SharePoint 2013’s capabilities to now offer a new platform for mobile development.

This enhanced functionality is centred around presenting content to the user based on the device they are using. Out of the box, SharePoint 2013 comes with three distinct views: Classic – the old school (fairly clunky) version that came with SharePoint 2010, Contemporary – a clean HTML 5 view, and Full Screen – the total user experience. This means content can be mapped to show different master pages and style sheets to users of a certain device (or group of devices) – resulting in an optimised experience for all. However it’s important to remember that, as with many things SharePoint, some custom development by an experienced SharePoint technician is still required to ensure that mobile pages are set up correctly and built upon the requirements of your user group.

SharePoint 2013 also embraces the wonderful world of apps! We are particularly excited about this as it really enhances not just the mobile features, but also the social collaboration tools within SharePoint 2013. While Microsoft has only designed this range of native apps for Windows and iOS at this point (no Android folks), we still believe this creates opportunities for higher engagement and adds to the overall modern experience.

A new Geo-location feature is also available to mobile users who wish to make lists ‘location aware’ and show coordinates through Bing Maps. This will allow people to track or log data that is location specific when they are out of the office. And finally, new Push Notifications functionality means that apps running on mobile devices can be configured to receive notifications from a SharePoint site.

To wrap up: a smart, customised and carefully rolled out installation of this mobile functionality has the power to dramatically boost the productivity of your employees – whatever their physical location might be. Which could put paid to the old ‘But I was out of the office’ excuse for good…

If you are interested in our SharePoint Consulting services, or would like to learn more about how SharePoint 2013 can benefit your business, please get in touch with us today.