Microsoft Teams.

Roundup of Key Microsoft Team Features Announced at Microsoft Ignite

At the Ignite 2018 conference last week, Microsoft revealed that Microsoft Teams is now the fastest growing business app in Microsoft’s history and announced several powerful new capabilities to foster teamwork and collaboration.

As we help more of our clients strategically rollout and adopt Microsoft Teams, it is exciting to learn that many of the new features will help fill the gaps our clients have needed – particularly around security, compliance, and data loss prevention.

According to our Office 365 and Microsoft Teams strategy guru, JoAnna Battin, here are several of the new features and functionalities she says our clients will be happy to see rollout for both their Teams end users and Teams administrators.

NEW FEATURES FOR MICROSOFT TEAMS END USERS

New Meeting features:

Our team is particularly excited about the new artificial intelligence (AI) powered meeting features including background blur and meeting recording. Background Blur uses facial detection to blur your background during video meetings, and Meeting Recording allows you to playback recorded meeting content at any time with captions and a searchable, timecoded transcript.

Access your Yammer community via a tab in Teams:

You can include relevant Yammer groups directly in Teams for easy monitoring and engagement by adding them as a tab in any of your team channels. No more going back and forth between Teams and Yammer!

Enrich your private chat experience with screen sharing:

Need to quickly show someone your screen, but don’t have time for a call? You can now share your entire desktop or a specific window directly from a private chat session. You can even let them take control to collaborate on content together.

NEW FUNCTIONALITY FOR MICROSOFT TEAMS ADMINISTRATORS

Enhanced Security & Compliance Features for Messaging:

For organizations with enhanced security and compliance needs, Microsoft is releasing two new secure messaging features. With Image Annotation, users can capture images, annotate, and share them on a secure platform. IT Admins can set policies to prevent images from being stored on a mobile device or local drive. As we mentioned, Priority Notifications will alert a recipient to an urgent message and automatically notify the recipient every two minutes for up to twenty minutes – it is scheduled to roll out by the end of this year to all Teams commercial customers.

Microsoft announced that these capabilities support HIPAA compliance, and enable clinicians to communicate about patients while avoiding the privacy risks that arise when healthcare professionals use consumer chat apps. In addition to the healthcare sector, we are excited to help our clients in other fields use these features to protect their security.

Microsoft Teams Urgent Message Notification.Microsoft Teams Urgent Message Notification.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) in Teams will enable you to identify, monitor, and automatically protect sensitive information:

With DLP, you can soon create policies directly from the Security and Compliance Center to prevent sensitive information – credit card numbers, social security numbers, or health records – from being shared or leaking unintentionally. Policies will apply to both messages shared in private chat and channel conversations. Files that are shared in channels and private chats will be covered by SharePoint and OneDrive for Business DLP policies. User messages that contain the specified sensitive information will be blocked based on the DLP policy you create with options for the sender to override and send the message and/or report false positives. Stay tuned for more details.

Microsoft Teams SCC Policy configuration.

SCC Policy Configuration

Manage your teams directly from the Admin Center:

According to JoAnna, this is huge! Aadministrators will have the insights into Teams that they never had before.

A list of all teams in your organization is now available directly in the Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business Admin Center. Simply click on “Teams” in the left navigation and select “Manage Teams” to see this list. From here, you can manage membership, add or remove channels, and change settings. Additionally, you can quickly create a new team, customize it, and add members allowing you to better support your users.

Microsoft Teams Admin Center Manager.

Microsoft Teams Admin Center Manager View

Manage your team membership with dynamic groups:

We are excited about this feature – you can reduce your administrative overhead of adding and removing users by creating teams from Office 365 groups with a dynamic membership rule. For these groups, membership is managed dynamically based on user’s Azure Active Directory (AAD) attributes. Thus, when a user’s AAD attributes change, they will be added or removed automatically from the team based on the dynamic membership rules defined by the administrator. All Office 365 groups can continue to be managed directly from the Azure Admin portal. Teams will support the creation of teams from Dynamic Groups in the coming months. Learn more about dynamic groups here.

Replicate your best Team’s experience with Templates:

Finally, a real template experience!

Have you found a team setup that works best for a type of project or workstyle? You soon will be able to easily create new teams based on best practices and lessons learned by leveraging a new REST endpoint as part of the Microsoft Graph API. With Team Templates, you’ll be able to pre-define a team’s channels, apps, and tabs that can help you easily create consistent teams across your organization. You can also define team settings and auto-favorite channels, allowing your team owners to focus on collaborations rather than spending time setting up the team.

Boost your productivity with a tighter integration between Teams and SharePoint:

You’ll soon be able to enjoy the full capabilities of SharePoint libraries in your file tab with features like creating a custom view and pinning a document to the top. Additionally, you will have the ability to add SharePoint lists and SharePoint Framework web parts as tabs in your team’s channel.

Those new features will provide new ways to aggregate information between SharePoint and Teams.

Read the official Microsoft Teams announcements from Ignite: What’s New in Teams – Ignite Edition

Let us help your organization create a culture of collaboration and teamwork with Office 365 tools including Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint, Yammer, and more.
Contact us to learn more »

New Microsoft Teams Features for Meetings

Microsoft Ignite 2018 is underway! There are loads of announcements coming out each day about new capabilities and features in Office 365, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, Azure, and more. Our team is currently gathering top takeaways – stay tuned for upcoming blog posts!

In the meantime, here are two of my favorite features now available in Microsoft Teams.

Background Blur:

Microsoft Teams now allows video conference participants to blur their background.  The ‘background blur’ feature is possible due to artificial intelligence, which is able to distinguish between a person’s face and their background.  Now, employees can remotely tune into video conferences from almost anywhere – whether at the beach, a coffee shop, or home office – and it’ll go almost entirely undetected.

Meeting Recordings & Transcripts:

Microsoft is putting its machine learning technology to work with a new tool that will automatically generate real-time transcripts of your meetings, as well as captions on recordings. With meeting recording in Teams, you or other invitees who missed the meeting can playback recorded audio, video and content at any time. Pull up a transcript, powered by Microsoft Stream, and search for keywords so you can optimize your time while getting caught up.

We can help your organization create a culture of collaboration and teamwork with Office 365 tools including Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint, Yammer, and more.
Contact us to learn how we can help »

Six Myths About Moving to the Cloud: What You Really Need to Know About Moving to Office 365

Most organizations that choose to move to the cloud do so because they have decided they need it for business agility and want the cost savings that come with it.

If your organization is considering Microsoft Office 365 as your first step in moving applications to hosted solutions, you may have found similar inconsistencies in your research — making it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

A common misconception about Office 365, for example, is that it is simply a version of Office accessed by a browser.

To help in your migration to the cloud, here are six myth-busting facts about Office 365.

Myth 1: Office 365 is just Office tools in the cloud, and we can only use it online.

Fact: Office 365 is the Office you already know, plus productivity tools that will help you work more efficiently.

Whether at your desk or on the go, you have the tools to focus on the work that matters to your mission. And, since Office 365 lives in the cloud, these tools stay up to date, are simple to use and manage, and are ready to work when you are.

Myth 2: If our data moves to the cloud, our organization will no longer have control over our technology.

Fact: You still have total control over technology, but your IT department won’t have to worry about constant updates.

When you move to the cloud, time spent maintaining hardware and upgrading software is significantly reduced—eliminating headaches with it. Now your IT team can focus on advancing your organization’s technology, rather than being a repair service. Plus, you will have more time to spend improving operations and launching agile initiatives.

Instead of spending more and more portions of your budget on servers for email storage and workloads, you can think strategically and support organizational managers in a much more agile fashion, quickly responding to their needs.

Myth 3: Corporate spies, cyber thieves, and governments will have access to my data if it is in the cloud.

Fact: It’s your data, not anyone else’s.

This is a top fear about the cloud among many organizations, but it is unfounded. Your IT team manages access, sets up rights and restrictions, and provides smartphone access and options. Further, your organization remains the sole owner. You retain the rights, title, and interest in the data stored in Office 365.
Visit the Microsoft Trust Center to learn how they help safeguard your data »

Myth 4: Cloud migration is too much for my organization to handle.

Fact: We’re here to help every step of the way.

When you start considering how to move petabytes of data to the cloud, it’s easy to see why some people think “going cloud” is too big a challenge for IT departments and staff, alike. We’re not going to tell you it’s simple, but you really can get Office 365 up and running quickly.
Learn more about our Office 365 Strategic Services »

Myth 5: We have to learn all new tools to manage SharePoint Online.

Fact: SharePoint Online abstracts maintains the infrastructure, without changing anything else.

All of your hard work learning how to manage SharePoint is not lost! SharePoint Online shares the same familiar administration and management tools, whether your deployment is in the cloud, on location, or in a hybrid of the two. Although your customizations aren’t populated to the cloud, all the administrative controls remain the same.

When moving to SharePoint Online, you no longer need to bother with controlling the workload implementation—instead, your IT team can focus on controlling its configuration. With the convenient, one-time, expert-led implementation that SharePoint Online handles, your IT team can reallocate time they used to spend on implementation and can concentrate on building strong, strategic tools for the organization. SharePoint Online simply abstracts the infrastructure, enabling you to focus on the solution.

Myth 6: I have to move everything to the cloud. It is an all-or-nothing scenario.

Fact: You can move to the cloud at your own pace or use a hybrid approach.

While some early cloud supporters advocated for moving your entire organization to the cloud all at once, this isn’t a process that needs to happen overnight. Most implementations start with a hybrid approach—moving a single workload, like email, and growing from there.

The hybrid cloud creates a consistent platform that spans data centers and the cloud, simplifying IT and delivering apps and data to users on virtually any device, anywhere. It gives you control to deliver the computing power and capabilities that your organization demands and to scale up or down as needed without wasting your onsite technology investments.

As many organizations move their productivity workloads to the cloud, the path for each workload is different, and the time it takes for those migrations varies. We can help you move workloads such as file sync-and-share or email first, and then help you figure out the right long-term plan for more.

Final Thoughts

Feel free to share this with colleagues who need help separating fact from fiction when it comes to Office 365 in the cloud. It’s good to be on the same page, and you’ll save time by not having to argue about these myths.

Are you considering moving to Microsoft Office 365? If so, we can help. Explore our solutions and services for details or connect with an Xgility expert today.

Can You Use Microsoft Teams Without an Exchange License?

One of the government clients that I support has selected to use Google as their primary unified communication service. However, they also purchased an Office 365 tenant to use for SharePoint Online, Skype for Business, and OneDrive for Business. The Exchange license is turned off for all of their users. But what about Microsoft Teams? Based on conversations happening today, I can tell that there is already demand for Teams.

But according to the Microsoft roadmap, Teams won’t be available in the Government Cloud until sometime in the 3rd quarter of 2018. Here’s a screenshot:

This made me think about what the Microsoft Teams experience would be like without an Exchange license.

Setting Up a Test

First, I discovered that Teams DOES work without Exchange – and surprisingly well. As a test, I created a user in my Office 365 tenant and disabled their Exchange license.

See below for the settings:


 

From the End User’s Perspective

As the “Exchange-less” user, I was able to log into Teams (from both the web app and the desktop app) and do the following:

  1. Create a new Teams (both public and private)
  2. Add members to both teams
  3. Manage a Team’s Members, Channels, Settings, and Apps
  4. Participate in Team Conversations, including using @Mentions
  5. View meeting info from a Channel conversation
  6. Participate in a channel meeting
  7. Upload files into a Channel
  8. Update a Wiki
  9. Add Other Tabs in a Channel such as Planner
  10. Create Buckets and assign tasks in Planner
  11. Participate in a Private chat including sending files, and making both a phone and video call
  12. Access files uploaded via private chat and within a team channel via the Files left tab

Here’s what I was not able to do outright or was able to do with partial success:

  1. Schedule a meeting
  2. View Scheduled Meetings via the Meetings left tab
  3. Update my picture
  4. Configure Connectors

Here are some of the screenshots associated with a few of the processes:

That’s it from the end user perspective. So far, I learned that not having Exchange is not much of an issue.

From the Administrator’s Perspective

According to Microsoft, Teams was built to support audit log search, eDiscovery, and legal hold for channels, chats and files as well as mobile application management with Microsoft Intune. These tools reside in the O365 Security and Compliance Portal and provide the following features:

  • Auditing and Reporting
  • Compliance Content Search and eDiscovery

Let’s take a look how those features are affected when the user doesn’t have an Exchange license.

Auditing and Reporting

Audit log searches work on content that was created by accounts without an Exchange license. The following is a screen capture of what Teams activities are audited and can be reported on:


Below is a sample report showing all the Created Team, Deleted Team, and Added Channel activities. The TestUser account is the one without an Exchange license, and as you can see, that user’s activities are still being captured.


Compliance Content Search & eDiscovery

Content Search can be used to search Teams through rich filtering capabilities and exported to a specific container for compliance and litigation support. You can use Content Search to search for content in Microsoft Teams. However, without an Exchange license, you will not be able to search the group mailbox or shared calendar.

Below is an explanation from Microsoft:

“Users who participate in conversations that are part of the Chat list in Microsoft Teams must have an Exchange Online (cloud-based) mailbox in order for you to search chat conversations. That’s because conversations that are part of the Chat list are stored in the cloud-based mailboxes of the chat participants. If a chat participant doesn’t have an Exchange Online mailbox, you won’t be able to search chat conversations. For example, in an Exchange hybrid deployment, users with an on-premises mailbox might be able to participate in conversations that are part of the Chat list in Microsoft Teams. However in this case, content from these conversation aren’t searchable because the users don’t have cloud-based mailboxes.

Conversations that are part of a Microsoft Teams channel are stored in the mailbox that’s associated with the Microsoft Team. Similarly, files that team members share in a channel are stored on the team’s SharePoint site. Therefore, you have to add the Microsoft Team mailbox and SharePoint site as a content location to search conversations and files in a channel.

Alternatively, conversations that are part of the Chat list in Microsoft Teams are stored in the Exchange Online mailbox of the users who participate in the chat. And files that a user shares in Chat conversations are stored in the OneDrive for Business account of the user who shares the file. Therefore, you have to add the individual user mailboxes and OneDrive for Business accounts as content locations to search conversations and files in the Chat list.”

Conclusion

My biggest takeaway from research and testing is that users without an Exchange license can use most of the Teams functionality to collaborate and their activities are included in the audit logs.

However, not all their content will be accessible by the Office 365 Compliance and Search and eDiscovery functionalities.

If your organization is considering implementing Office 365, please contact us to discuss how our team of experts can provide personalized assistance to get your Office 365 platform and related applications deployed as quick and as painless as possible.

About the Author

Dean Virag is currently a consultant and trainer at Xgility. He’s been providing Microsoft SharePoint consulting services and training to a variety of organizations since 2009. Currently, Dean helps manage SharePoint 2010 & 2013 and Office 365 for a large federal government client as well as provides them with process automation consulting, training, and documentation services. 

 

4 Project Management Applications You Should Be Using Now

According to PWC, more than half of the companies that are unhappy with the project management software say that it is because the software is too expensive.  Are you still using sticky notes or Microsoft Excel to manage projects?  I continue to be surprised that Excel is still one of the most popular project management applications.  If you have not researched your options in the past year or even 6 months, now is the time.

For our customers running SharePoint in their data center, many project managers use Microsoft Project on their desktop and sync with either a SharePoint Project Site Template or Project Server.  The project site template allows project managers to share a Gantt chart, tasks, and documents on a SharePoint web page.  Project server takes project management to a whole new level allowing for true portfolio management, including resource scheduling/allocation, prioritization, time-sheets, and resource leveling across projects.  Our on premises customers have also had success with a 3rd party SharePoint application called BrightWork.

In the past 5 years, we have shifted, along with customers, from waterfall (PMP style) project management to Agile project management, especially when it comes to large software development projects.  At Xgility and with several of our customers, we have used a cloud based application called JIRA.  JIRA has a helpdesk component as well as an Agile cloud based project management software component.  One disadvantage for us is that JIRA is not as tightly integrated with SharePoint, Outlook, and Office 365.  The other disadvantage to JIRA is that we already have Office 365 E5 licenses.

4 Project Management Applications You Should Be Using Now

For customers using the Microsoft cloud, project managers have a new option.  Project managers can continue to use the SharePoint Project Site Template or Project Online (project server in the cloud).

Our team is really excited about a new tool called Office 365 Planner.  Office 365 Planner is based on Office 365 Groups, so you if you have tried out groups, you will notice that your Office 365 Groups will show up under planner.  I believe many customers that like Agile and don’t need true portfolio management will move to this as a project management tool.

4 Project Management Applications You Should Be Using Now 2

Features of planner include reporting, conversations, tasks and subtasks, conversations, OneNote Notebook, and document storage.  As a member, it is easy to track your tasks across multiple projects.  For a demo, check out this link.

We are happy to announce that Microsoft has introduced two new features to planner.  The first is the ability to assign multiple users per task, the second is allowing guest/external user access.

Try out planner and let us know what you think as compared with the other tools we mentioned.  As always, contact us if our team of experts can help your organization become more efficient and effective.

 

 

Author:  Kurt Greening

Editor:  Alex Finkel

Board Portal Solutions – Diligent vs Office 365

According to Wikipedia, “a Board Portal can be a custom-built, in-house application, an off-the-shelf, commercial application that is deployed by IT, or a subscription-based software as a service (SaaS).”  The portal is used to provide information to the board of directors and organize documents used to conduct a meeting.  Diligent Corporation (formerly Thompson Reuters Boardlink) has one of the leading SaaS solutions and it is a great product.  As an alternative to Diligent, several customers have asked us to compare Office 365 (SharePoint Online) to Diligent’s offering.  The purpose of this article to explain the requirements for a board portal and compare features in Diligent and SharePoint Online that meet the requirements for a Board Portal.  Both solutions have many advantages over email attachments and printed documents.

While Diligent is the leading board portal solution, some of our customers have used other SaaS solutions.  Maren, from the Xgility team, built a solution that saved $8,000 annually by replacing BoardEffect with a SharePoint site.  The solution was more secure and reduced the number of places employees had to go to save and find information needed to do their job.

Board portals provide the following features:

  • Strict Security: Due to the sensitive nature of board information, security and confidentiality is critical.  Sometimes board portals will use two-factor authentication for user logins, role-based access control to information, and full encryption of stored information and communications between members.
  • Online Accessibility: Board members can review documents or communicate with other members at any time, even when they are on the road.
  • Offline Accessibility: Board members can download documents to their computer for offline review.  However, board portals ensure that downloaded documents still support the same strict level of security.
  • Board Packet Creation, Modification, and Distribution: Corporate secretaries can use the board portal to create board materials and disseminate them online.  Edits or deletion of documents can be done and the changes are immediately distributed.  This saves the hassles associated with printing and handling changes after board packets have been printed.  Board packets are often quite thick, with 600 pages on the low-end and as many as 2,000+ pages.
  • Dashboard of Key Performance Indicators: to allow directors a quick view of the KPI of the organization’s performance, a flexible dashboard is often an integral part of Board Portal packages.
  • Online Collaboration support allows documents and board packets to allow for directors to record their comments and save a record, while reviewing such information.
  • Data Retention Policy Support: To mitigate company liability, board portals enforce data retention policies on documents, as well as board member communications.
  • Read Receipt of announcements, policy documents and any other legal documents is recorded and maintained by board portals.

board-portal-solutions-diligent-office-365-1

In reviewing the solution offered by Diligent, their main advantage is that they are a purpose-built SaaS application.  They excel at creating a board book, which is the document used by the board to prepare and follow along during a meeting.  A typical board book contains the agenda, meeting minutes (including approval), executive management reports, committee reports, new business, and adjournment.  The Board Book can be accessed online and offline.  Diligent is also known for personalized executive support.  Since Diligent is a purpose built application, they meet all of the requirements above.

Office 365 can also meet all the requirements for a Board portal, but some configuration is necessary. SharePoint Online is designed as a general purpose, enterprise wide, collaboration system.  For many companies, the work needed to customize Office 365 will outweigh the benefits of the point solution offered by Diligent.

Office 365 would be a great choice for those looking to have a platform that can be used for the collaboration and creation of the documents that are used to create the board book.  With Diligent, documents are typically created outside the application.  In addition, Office 365 should be used as a collaboration and follow up on action items assigned from the board meeting.  For instance, tasks can be assigned to company employees in the portal or new committees can be formed inside the portal.   Office 365 out-of-the-box features that would be used for a Board Portal include: calendars, OneNote notebooks, contact list, Outlook meeting invites, workflows, alerts, metadata, tasks, and subsites.

Another advantage of Office 365 is tight integration with Office products such as Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint.  Office 365 also has good mobile applications.  Some executive administrators may choose to take Notes in OneNote, but distribute the final meeting minutes for approval in Word.

In terms of security, I would prefer to trust my sensitive corporate data to a larger SaaS provider such as Microsoft.  Microsoft offers great solutions for single sign-on and two factor authentication, along with a very large security team.  While our typical recommendation is to assign SharePoint permissions based on active directory groups, assigning permissions to individual board members may be a requirement in the board portal.

The disadvantage of Office 365 when compared with Diligent is that corporate IT may have train the executive admin team to utilize best practices for security and collaboration.  Since Office 365 support is not specific to board portals, training and support should be provided by an expert like Xgility.

While some boards may still use paper or email attachments, these methods are likely to cause issues.  For instance, this may cause confusion over the latest document version and make it difficult to correct documents at last minute.  A Board Portal is a great solution to improve productivity and collaboration for executive staff, as well as to assist with proper governance and oversight.

See below for examples of a demo Board Portal Solution:

Board Portal Solution S1 Board Portal Solution S2

 

Want a free trial of Office 365?  Get your Office 365 E5 trial subscription here.  If you are ready to implement a board portal in Office 365 or would like to learn more about Microsoft’s Cloud please contact us.

 

 

Author:  Kurt Greening

Editors:  Alex Finkel and Maren Kelley

Document Scanning Solutions for SharePoint Online

The ability to integrate a scanning solution with SharePoint is a requirement for organizations looking to move a large number of paper documents to SharePoint online.  These solutions provide a way of sending a document or a batch of documents directly to a SharePoint Online document library.  Several solutions exist including PSIGEN, Ephesoft, Xerox, and KnowledgeLake Capture.

KnowledgeLake has one of the most popular scanning solutions.  Our team recently used it to build a proof of concept for a company to scan lease documents into Office 365 (SharePoint Online).  Several other Xgility customers are using this software for large scale scanning projects.

KnowledgeLake Capture provides a scanning solution for adding documents to SharePoint Online.  Along with scanning, Capture provides options for image enhancement, barcode detection, and Optical Character Recognition (OCR), that create searchable PDF files of the scanned documents.

 The Capture software accesses SharePoint Online, using the Office 365 Sign-In credentials to connect Capture with the SharePoint Online tenant.

 

The Capture workstation provides the user with a multi-pane work area for scanning, reviewing, indexing, and releasing the documents to SharePoint Online.  Many types of scanners are supported by Knowledge Lake, including Multi-function Printers (MFPs), and Dedicated Scanning Devices connected to a workstation via USB.  For our purposes, we used a HP Officejet Pro 6830 e-All-in-One Printer/Scanner connected via USB to the workstation.

Please note, the figure below shows how the required metadata fields in SharePoint are selectable by the person performing the scanning.  For more about how metadata assists with search and sorting of documents in SharePoint, see this video that shows how to use SharePoint for contracts management.

 

The Capture OCR Engine Agent automatically creates a searchable PDF file after a document or batch of documents have been successfully scanned.

The user interacts with the scanned documents using the Batch Pane to select the document and the Scanned Document Pane to review the scanned documents.

The user updates the SharePoint Online document library information, for this example, the Document Title and the Contract Date, which is required.

Once the user clicks the Accept button in the Document Index Pane, the document is added to the Contract library.

In additional to the Capture solution for workstations, KnowledgeLake offers a server version for high volume scanning and indexing.  While this is not the only solution on the market, KnowledgeLake offers a trusted option to help your organization move paper files into SharePoint.

 

If you have questions about SharePoint, document scanning, or need custom training for your organization, please contact us.

 

 

Author:  John Humen

Editors:  Kurt Greening and Alex Finkel

Transforming Communications – Skype for Business Certified Devices

Did you know you can replace your voicemail, call routing systems, and conference dial-in service with Skype for Business?  Most Office 365 customers understand that if you have an Office 365 E3 subscription, you can use Skype for Business for conference calls and screen sharing over the internet.  The Office 365 E5 subscription offers exciting possibilities for small organizations and even for very large organizations to replace their PBX systems or upgrade their VOIP telephone services.

From our days as a startup, Xgility was a cloud only company; we have never owned a server.  Our customers tour our office and we show them our “server-less closet.”  Grasshopper was our virtual phone system in the cloud.  If you called the 1-800-XGILITY number, calls were routed to employee’s voice mailboxes.  Many of our consultants used their cell phone as their primary phone, but others wanted a desk phone.  In the past, we used Poloycom phones with Vonage service in some offices and conference rooms.   In addition, we have used a conferencing system from Intercall.  Intercall can bridge our Office 365 E3 plan to allow Skype for Business and dial-in users on the same conference line.

Moving to Skype for Business with Office 365 is part of the digital transformation that both our company and many of our customers are taking.  As part of that transformation, this article will give a sample of the devices your organization might want to consider as part of the transition.  The article is organized by collaboration scenarios and provides examples of certified devices.

 

  1. Conference Rooms

Xgility recently installed a Skype for Business room system at our Ashburn office with two microphones, a speakerphone, a touch screen panel, and a pan tilt zoom camera to provide a true-to-life experience with our conference attendees.

For our small conference room, we chose the Logitech ConferenceCam Connect Video Conferencing Camera as a fixed camera and speakerphone is ideal for this space.

Logitech ConferenceCam Connect (Model # V-R0004)

 

In our large conference room we chose the Logitech SmartDock lrg room kit for Skype for Business rooms systems – with the Surface Pro 4:

Our conference rooms are resources in the Global Exchange Address List and are invited to Outlook Calendar/Skype for Business meetings, just like adding a co-worker.

The SmartDock runs a touch version of the Skype for Business client.  Your meeting is listed on the Surface Pro’s screen and with one touch, you join your conference.  Participants share their screen and start their video to collaborate with others.  Our SmartDoc has two HDMI outputs, as Skype for Business Online will soon support one screen for content and a second dedicated for video.

 

  1. Desk Phones

We don’t use desk phones anymore.  Our Polycom phones can be reconfigured to use a PSTN calling plan with Skype for Business, but we have moved to headsets and a portable Jabra speaker phone for office.  See the next section for pictures of the speakerphones and headsets.

Polycom VVX 300 -before

  1. Headsets

All of our employees have Jabra headsets and the headsets work well with or without a PSTN calling plan.  Our sales people have a Skype for Business domestic calling plan because it makes it very easy to dial a phone number as a hyperlink from a spreadsheet, Outlook, or a CRM system.  Our lead consultants and sales people have a portable speaker phone from Jabra that works very well for up to 6 people.  Since this is portable, we use this in customer offices.

Jabra Portable Speakerphone (Model # Jabra Speak 510 UC)-after

Jabra Headset

 Jabra Motion Office (Model # WHB006)

 

  1. Mobile

Skype for Business Mobile works well on smartphones with an internet connection.  I have found this to be about 90% reliable while driving as compared to my Sprint voice network, which is 99% reliable while driving.

In summary, new voice and conferencing capabilities with Office 365 have improved communications while reducing expenses.  Skype for Business certified devices enable user-friendly and flexible teaming capabilities.  If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the possibilities of using Skype for Business for conferencing purposes, contact us.

 

 

Author:  Kurt Greening

Editors:  Alex Finkel and Chris Ertz

Microsoft PowerBI

5 Reasons You Should Be Using PowerBI

PowerBI is a set of online services and tools that enables you to view, share, and collaborate on the data that is important to your organization.  PowerBI can be enabled through your Office 365 portal and is available as a free or Pro Version (stand alone).  The pro version is also available as part the Office 365 E5 bundle.  Making BI and Analytics easy to implement is very important, since Gartner cited it as the #1 CIO priority in 2016.

CIO%20Priorities

Microsoft has made great progress in the BI/Analytics space, partly due to advances in SQL server as well as Power BI.  Gartner highlights this indifference between their 2015 and February 2017 report.  Many of our customers are moving away from complex IT centric platforms such as Business Objects (SAP) and Cognos (IBM).  We have also seen impressive adoption of Tableau in our customer-base, but the progress made by PowerBI has some taking another look at Microsoft.

In this post, we will discuss 5 reason why it should be a serious consideration for your data reporting and collaboration needs.

5.  Cloud-based – PowerBI is delivered through Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 platform.  You will save time and money because Administration work has been dramatically reduced thanks to the simple to use Administration UI.  Hardware cost and maintenance savings are also greatly reduced due to the earlier fact that it is a cloud-based application.

4.  Drag and Drop – Data is visually explored using drag and drop to a free-form canvas.  This makes report authoring simple with no new languages to learn.

3.  Content Packs – Content packs are pre-build dashboards and reports for major online services that your organization may use (ex. Google Analytics, MailChimp, and SalesForce).  There are also Organizational Content packs, which allow you to package and share your own dashboards, reports, and datasets with co-workers.

2.  Natural language queries – You type a question in the search field, and PowerBI returns the data to you based on your question.  “Featured Questions” can also be created by an Admin or user with “Manage” permissions for the Office 365 site.  Those will then appear on the Power BI Site page and the Q&A collage page.

1.  Real-time dashboards with mobile alerts – See your data in realtime as it changes. Alerts provide the ability to be notified on your mobile device when data changes, hits certain thresholds or exceeds a target.  The example below, provided by Microsoft, shows retail analysis from a sample dataset.

Sample PowerBI Dashboard

Sample PowerBI Dashboard

Bonus – Power BI REST API – This is a powerful API that allows developers to manage your PowerBI data and environment.  More information on this can be found at https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn877544.aspx

In closing, I was able to load a dataset and create a dashboard within 15 minutes of seeing this for the first time.  That simplicity, along with the rich feature set make this a winner, and a product that deserves serious consideration.

If you want to see how PowerBI is assisting with AIDS prevention check out this public facing dashboard.

If you would like a demo, free trial or help with a proof of concept, please contact us.

 

Author: Donnie Wishard

Microsoft Stream – an Office 365 Video Replacement

Microsoft recently announced Microsoft Stream – a video sharing service for Microsoft users.  As some of you may know, Microsoft already has a video application called Office 365 Video.  Stream builds on what Microsoft learned from Office 365 Video, creating a more engaging, secure, and efficient place to store and collaborate with videos.  Stream will eventually be replacing Office 365 Video, but for now Office 365 Video is here to stay, according to Microsoft.

Video is the most consumed content type on the internet today.  Consumers and employees need to be able to share content in an efficient way that can help make people more productive.  This is exactly what Stream does.  Stream has been designed to provide more of a “consumer-like” experience with a simple sign-up and plenty of sharing capabilities.  This article will review some of the features/capabilities of Stream and will include some of Microsoft’s plans for Stream in the near future.

Stream is currently in a preview phase, but it is possible to start learning about it today.  To use Stream today, go to https://stream.microsoft.com/en-us/ and sign-up!  You just need a business email address, no credit card is required.  Once you sign-up, you will be in the Microsoft Stream portal where you can view and add content by dragging and dropping or selecting a file.  The screenshot below displays what it looks like to upload a video:

upload-video-microsoft-stream-xgility-blog

Stream offers some similar features to YouTube, such as using machine learning to find content that is most relevant to you and what you view/search for.  Stream will also work on all of your devices from anywhere, at any time.  When uploading content, you can manage who has permission to view your video by selecting private, public, or you can share to certain channels, etc.  Once you have uploaded a video, you will also have the ability to like, comment, and share them.  Below is what a homepage on Microsoft Stream looks like:

microsoft-stream-videos-xgility-blog

What makes Stream unique is that it’s tightly integrated with Microsoft, so it treats videos just like any other enterprise document.  You can set specific access, enable/disable external sharing, etc.  IT Managers can also control what their users have access to and what they don’t.  Many more features will come as Stream becomes more developed over-time.

In addition, Microsoft announced some features that will be coming to Microsoft Stream in the future.  First, Stream will eventually offer Live videos for corporate broadcasting purposes.  For example, if the executives at a large firm want to make a company-wide presentation on some new services that they plan to offer, they can create a Live video stream for their employees to view on Microsoft Stream.

Second, Microsoft mentioned that they may be adding the ability to search within videos using capabilities such as audio transcriptions and face detection.  This could potentially change the way we use videos.  For example, if your company creates videos to help your newer employees learn more about the services you offer, they will be able to search not only videos, but the words or people used inside of the videos themselves.  This would make employees/consumers much more productive.

Third, Microsoft will eventually integrate Stream with their other business applications such as PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, SharePoint, and more.  This will allow users to create powerful apps and workflows around their videos in Stream.  Lastly, developers will eventually be given access to the Stream API so they can build new apps on top of it.  This will most likely be used for embedding videos.

 

We are all excited to see how Microsoft Stream will help make our organization more productive when watching and sharing video content.  Check out Microsoft Stream and let us know what you think.

You can learn more about Stream or watch an intro video here.  If you have any questions or would like a demo, contact us.

 

 

Author:  Alex Finkel

Editor:  Kurt Greening