Tag Archives: Office 365

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

Pole-vaulting roadblocks to change

ChangeWhoever uttered the phrase ‘change is as good as a holiday’ obviously never worked in professional Change Management. (Or if they did, their career was short-lived).

Change can be exciting, necessary, even visionary. But it is a big deal – especially in a business landscape when you’re making significant changes to the way employees work or communicate.

In our line of work, building SharePoint intranets and Office 365 cloud solutions, when it comes to User Adoption (UA) of a major system or process change, it’s common for providers to defer to (or at least trust) their client’s internal knowledge and not push back when they opt to self-manage it. It’s very common, as is clients reallocating UA or change budget to accommodate extra layers of technical complexity.

There are intricacies and nuances to every business environment, therefore we don’t propagate a one-size-fits-all approach. However there are a few common roadblocks we encounter throughout this process, which can be dealt with in a strategic manner:

1. Management prejudice

Even good leaders are not immune to a bit of white-knuckled fear around change, and this often presents one of the most challenging obstacles. Change prejudice can exist for many reasons – perhaps a project of a similar nature failed and is viewed as a ‘poisoned chalice’, or maybe a decision maker doesn’t fully understand the benefits of a new technology.

It’s vital to take these leaders on a journey when presenting a new solution or system for their approval. Also, getting them involved through activities like an intranet Executive Blog is also a brilliant way to have them lead from the front and encourage UA.

2. Cultures

To steal a great line from Vanessa Ferguson’s guest blog (Vanessa is Director of Org Devt for our Change Management partners Apricot Consulting), cultures are the engine room of an organisation. However it’s hard to accurately define or evaluate a culture you’re already part of, as there are patterns of behaviour you might not see. Certainly it doesn’t take a genius to recognise a toxic, every-man-for-himself type of culture (and who hasn’t worked somewhere people bolt out the door of screaming ‘save yourself!’ on a daily basis). But in reality most cultural nuances are more subtle.

Working closely with Apricot we perform activities like cultural assessments e.g. sitting in on workshops, to see how people interact, their body language and how they ask questions etc. Together, we aim to promote cultures where people readily share knowledge and skills with their peers. (For an interesting discussion on ‘giver and taker cultures’, read the results of a recent McKinsey study, which shows how organisations benefit when their employees freely contribute knowledge and skills to others).

3. Key influencers

In every organisation there are certain individuals who can influence others or hold sway over behaviour. This isn’t always just someone who thinks they’re top dog, but might a person who is particularly skilled or knowledgeable, who others look to for information. Identifying these individuals and leveraging their position to influence UA is a powerful change management tool. For example, engaging a subject matter expert to publish content exclusively to SharePoint will help drive UA.

While key influencers are not always senior employees, it’s worth mentioning that unit or area managers can become roadblocks if they are not engaged properly. Some managers are so focused on the activities of their unit, they see themselves as needing to operate outside the system. This kind of manager will generally make a comment such as ‘this won’t work for my guys’ during a workshop, and can be mitigated by engaging the individual in the project and (hopefully) flipping them to become a powerful endorser of change.

4. ‘Build it and they will come’ mindset

Failing to engage people will almost always see a new system or project fall flat. And, while Change Management and UA activities need to be reinforced by strategy and planning, bringing users along to change from the outset is probably the single most important factor.

Talk to people, ask them what they need to do their jobs better, how they like to interact with each other and with information, what device they prefer to use. Then let them see the solution, test it, try to break it. Does it do what it needs to do? Then, once a system is deployed, continue to drive engagement through things like reward and recognition structures.

Ultimately, a well-executed UA or Change Management strategy can deliver that deeper level of engagement you are looking for and will result in more sustained adoption. Done properly, it also doesn’t have to blow out your budget as the ideology is fairly simple – however it does depend on the size of your organisation and the level of change required.

Do you think your organisation would be objective enough to self-manager change? Answering ‘no’ might prove to be a wise decision. Contact us and we can put you in touch with an Office 365 or SharePoint specialist to talk you through our UA and project methodology in more detail.

Blogs you might like:

9 things you need to know about User Experience

What’s the buzz with Modern UI

How to get the troops onboard with social collaboration tools

 

What’s the buzz? Demystifying Modern UI.

We’re taking a slightly less technical approach today to consider one of the most common questions raised when we start talking SITE DESIGN with clients.Sws

What is Modern UI? Or, more specifically, why is it important?

Let’s rewind back to the fifties when the Swiss, in their ever-practical wisdom, dreamed up a graphic design style that would become globally known as (wait for it) – Swiss Style. The principles of Swiss Style were all around simple, clean lines and readability, and are still widely used today. In a computing context, we started seeing what Microsoft called ‘Metro’ in the mid-nineties, which was their version of a typography-based design language, based on those classic Swiss principles.

Today, the brightly-coloured, live tile interfaces we see in products like Windows 8 are the modern evolution of this design and what we Win 8refer to as Modern User Interface (UI). The guiding Win 8thought behind Modern UI is that by minimising graphics and focusing on short, sharp content and large tiles, the user enjoys a more simplified, responsive interaction with a site.

While the above is a very broad strokes overview, we wanted to provide some context around what Microsoft were trying to achieve with Modern UI, so we can explain why we believe this design is the future of all intranet, internet and extranet sites.

Cloud computing with products like Office 365 is no longer the future, it is here and now, and delivering businesses a reliable, cost-saving alternative to traditional IT infrastructures. Enhancements like mobility and multiple device channels are also becoming commonplace and will soon be expected, at minimum, by users. (We’ve talked in previous blogs about how SharePoint 2013 delivers to these needs with its new capability set – please read if you wish to get up to speed).

The next step in the digital workplace revolution is BYOD, or bring your own device, which refers to employees bringing their own device such as smartphones, laptops and tablets to work and connecting to their corporate network. (A sure sign that the user is in the driver’s seat from an ‘access to information’ perspective).

Taking all this into account, it appears that users are starting to outgrow traditional communications channels and standard websites. Enter the Modern UI intranet. Sleek, familiar, fast and with the ability to surface user-specific content within 1-2 touches or clicks. An optimised experience across every device channel means a better user experience, which leads to higher user adoption levels, reductions in administration and training costs, and productivity increases.

As an example, we recently embarked on an exciting project with our sister company, OSC, and Microsoft Global, which involved us designing a new Office 365 communications portal tailored to the needs of the retail industry. (Feel free to read about this innovation on page 22 of the current edition of Microsoft’s Speak magazine here).

Why is this solution a potential game-changer? Because we’ve taken the standard communications platform – in this case an intranet – and totally flipped the user experience by introducing Modern UI. And, by considering the most common interactions and information needs a group of users has on a daily basis, and representing this in a scrollable, convenient format, we are delivering information straight into their hands, in a manner that is familiar to them. Further, with the introduction of dynamic news and social feeds, we are giving users the ability to contribute re-usable knowledge back to their organisation.

For some businesses, this kind of leap might be too far down the track to really consider, for others, maybe it’s the next logical step. Regardless of where you’re at, we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions and would therefore evaluate your business on its current state fully before recommending Modern UI as an option. But we hope you found this blog useful in terms of understanding Modern UI principles and potential.

Where is your company on its digital journey? Our Office 365 and SharePoint consultants will answer your questions via Live Chat on our website. Jump on over and ask away.

SkyDrive Pro keeps key docs at your fingertips

skydrive-logo2[1]

SkyDrive Pro

One of the new kids on the block in 2013 which has sparked plenty of discussion is the integration of SkyDrive Pro into SharePoint.

When this addition to the Microsoft product set was announced, some folks were confused as to why two independent programs would be named in such similar fashion. But, as with many things, the simplest explanation is often the best. So on that basis, think of SkyDrive Pro as the business solution for cloud-based document storage in the same way SkyDrive is for individuals. Where SkyDrive allows a person to sync their personal documents to the cloud, SkyDrive Pro facilitates a similar experience for SharePoint users and their business documents.

Actually SkyDrive Pro does that and bit more. It’s main purpose is to give individuals within an organisation control over where, when and how they access content, by allowing them to store and organise documents on their organisation’s SharePoint servers (i.e. in their “corporate cloud”).

As the default location for saving files, SkyDrive Pro is essentially the new MySite documents library. But it goes a step further by giving users the power to sync a SharePoint library to their PC or device, and work with files in their library by using Windows Explorer. Any files updates then sync to SharePoint when the user is next online. This is great news for companies who struggle to keep certain groups of employees e.g. a mobile sales force, away from using shared drives, as now they can utilise SkyDrive Pro to seamlessly sync their documents to SharePoint.

Other key benefits include giving users the ability to:

  • Sync team site document libraries locally
  • Share, collaborate and co-author documents with both internal and external stakeholders
  • Access their content anywhere, on any device
  • Effectively manage the content lifecycle and version control, and,
  • Manage access permissions.

In addition, Microsoft has indicated that users will have the ability to access SkyDrive Pro with native mobile client apps for Windows 8 and iOS by June 2013.

SkyDrive Pro comes with a standard 7GB storage for each user with SharePoint Online – a significant increase on the 500MB that was offered in 2010. At this stage, we are not aware of a way to increase user storage limits (above 7GB), however we expect Microsoft will consider offering a solution for this in the future. With on-premise SharePoint 2013, storage allocation is determined by the administrator.

If your organisation is considering coming across from SharePoint 2010 to 2013, it is possible to attain an update to allow SkyDrive Pro to operate alongside SharePoint Workspace – but it’s important to note that the latter no longer features in SharePoint 2013. (SkyDrive Pro can, however, perform all the same functions which 2010 users currently reply upon in Workspace).

As a final piece, it’s worth noting that while SkyDrive Pro does make offline doc syncing much easier and a better all-round experience, your users still need to be supported by sound access and administration protocols, to ensure your IP is protected. However, unlike previously, when a user could download a document and save it to their personal drive without any controls in place, risks to version control and duplication are significantly lessened by them now being able to sync documents directly back to SharePoint.

It’s no secret that Microsoft is on a mission to continually enhance their product offering to more readily connect their users with the cloud. This integration of SkyDrive Pro into the Office 2013 suite is another important step towards this goal.

Would you like to know more? Contact a member of the nSynergy team via instant chat, phone or email today.

Building the ultimate test case in our own backyard

nSynergy has offices in New York, London, Shanghai, San Francisco, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane

nSynergy has offices in New York, London, Shanghai, San Francisco, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart

While it may seem slightly unorthodox to write a blog about our own business platform, the reality is, we rely heavily upon Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 technologies to keep our processes optimised and our business profitable.

With eight offices across four continents, we have a strong presence in all global markets and push our project teams to be competitive among the world’s best providers. This is great news for our clients! But it does require us to maintain a highly collaborative, communications-focused environment, so our SharePoint consultants and developers from around the world can easily share insights and information.

In addition to running a dynamic SharePoint intranet with enterprise search capability through FAST search, we have adopted NewsGator’s Social Sites add-on to extend SharePoint’s existing capabilities. We estimate that social collaboration functionality reduced email traffic by around 50% in the first six months – although our CEO happily reports that the reduction on his personal email traffic was more like 60%! Even more importantly however, is the ability to use social collaboration as a way to harness internal knowledge.

(Great news for customers – SharePoint 2013 now includes a range of social collaboration tools – and we’ll be covering this in a separate entry soon).

Office 365’s cloud-based technologies also play a daily role in the growth of our business. For example, video conferencing and desktop sharing through Lync enhances our ability to work as a cohesive unit. From Shanghai to New York, and London to Sydney, Melbourne and several cities around Australia, our staff are able to constantly collaborate in real time.

When they are not engaging with each other, our team are contributing ideas to an innovation centre we call the Think Tank. These range from insights about SharePoint to major creative ideas, which are then fleshed out by input from other team members. These contributions to the Think Tank are regularly explored and have resulted in some exciting innovations. But more than this, we now have a culture where people want to contribute to the success of the business – and they encourage each other to challenge the status quo and come up with better solutions.

A final piece to the puzzle is the real time project collaboration we are able to have with clients through our extranet site, Engage. Through Engage, project teams from both sides can access properly governed shared files, review design concepts and track project milestones – without any concerns about version control or security.

Having our business activities underpinned by such powerful technologies as these creates the perfect backdrop for innovation. Read the full case study hereImagine what it could do for your business – get in touch with one of our professional SharePoint consultants today.

Driving collaboration and mobility with Office365

CloudsMany businesses come to a crossroads when, having outgrown their existing IT infrastructure, they have to make the call to invest in a new operating system. Some businesses bite the bullet and approach us to help them take this step, while others continue to shed money looking for quick fixes and patch up solutions.

Microsoft’s cloud offering – Office365 – is a powerful, business-focused suite of technologies that can revolutionise the way your business operates and start sending savings to your bottom line immediately.

Think about all the lost hours of productivity, the limitations of poorly governed shared drives, not to mention the bottomless pit of licensing and support provider fees. With a professionally installed Office365 environment, these issues all become a thing of the past. By integrating Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, Office 365 creates a dynamic digital workplace, which is the perfect backdrop for collaboration and ideation. This cloud solution is also fully mobile – access is available to your workforce anywhere, on any device.

Take our client Be Learning for example. As an award-winning business, renowned for innovation and big ideas, they were being severely hindered by their on-premise infrastructure, which simply couldn’t keep up with their growing needs. As they had expanded quickly, over a short period of time, a number of ad hoc IT solutions were patched over existing issues or limiting technologies (like file shares and shared drives). Email and server crashes, and constant unpredictability was costing the business thousands.

Be Learning’s greatest need was for unified communications and advanced collaboration tools – and the Microsoft Office365 suite offered precisely that – and a whole lot more. By investing in having these technologies expertly installed, Be Learning can now lay claim to a sophisticated operating environment where knowledge flows in multiple directions and interaction is seamless. Collaboration time between employees has been reduced dramatically, giving individuals more time to focus on product development and innovation. In addition, Be Learning’s sales force can retain a link to business operations while on the road through the cloud.

Be Learning can now be confident that they are fully protected and supported in their continued expansion into the global market. Read the full Be Learning case study here.

Is your business ready to take the leap into the Cloud? Get in touch with a member of the global nSynergy team today and we will tailor a solution for you.

Introducing nSynergy business collaboration solutions

IMG_20130205_162440nSynergy and OSC (Online Services Corporation) have been providing specialist SharePoint Consulting Services since 2002. With substantial experience across all industry verticals, we can ensure you give your business the competitive edge. Our services are regularly engaged by both Enterprise and SMEs. We are global, yet agile: we practice what we preach – our Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Shanghai, London, San Francisco and New York offices are one team, connected by one of the most dynamic, interactive Intranets in the world.

Each week we will be posting blogs on all things to do with Intranets: SharePoint, Office365, User Experience, User Adoption and Social Collaboration – the workplace of tomorrow. Stay tuned and feel free to respond, question, critique, contribute.