3 Hidden Gems of Office 365

Thanksgiving 2016 saw Mphasis globally roll-out of Office 365. Since then I find myself working quite frequently with the online versions of the various traditional Office applications – Word, Powerpoint, Excel and Outlook. Besides these very frequently used apps I have found 3 others which are absolute gems – make my life efficient… and now that I use them wonder how I could ever have been effective prior to their introduction.

Yammer

While it is compared to a Facebook equivalent, adopting it as such greatly undervalues the collaborative capabilities Yammer brings to the enterprise. I have had the opportunity to put this to good use on one of our recent pursuits.

This particular opportunity comprised a team from India (Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai), Qatar, London and the US (NY and San Jose). Over the course of the pursuit – since November ’16, we have had close to 60 people collaborate. Typically all the “collaboration” would have happened via e-mail, however, this time we decided to try out the newly rolled out Yammer (which till then had been used to share ideas – thank god no jokes…). For this we created a private group (needed to control access) and have not only used it for the pursuit, but continue to use it as we start the project.

A couple of idiosyncrasies of Yammer

  1. If you want to share files and want team members to collaboratively edit them, it is better to use a shared OneDrive folder. Uploading to the “files” section does not provide a “edit in <desktop application>” option. The online versions do not support all the features of the desktop application.
  2. There is no ability to pin a particular conversation thread – this is a bit of a nuisance as important threads tend to scroll away – very similar to Facebook, but not necessarily good for an enterprise collaboration tool.
  3. There is a feature called “Bookmark” – to get to anything you bookmark is a couple of steps and can be accessed via your profile.
  4. You can post to only one group – which becomes a bit of a chore once the organization has really adopted Yammer (I am a member of 35+ groups)

Power BI

I have been following the evolution of Power BI for the last 18+ months. I believe it has now matured enough to give Tableau and Qlikview some real competition especially on the lower complexity level of the spectrum. Because of its close association with Excel and Power Pivot, most business users are able to create reports with a very small learning curve – in many ways an ideal replacement for Excel reports. The really nice part about it is the ability to publish the report online and share it within the enterprise. One area of concern for many CIOs I have spoken with has been that all the data will be on the cloud (a special part of the Azure cloud).

I consider Power BI to be a work in progress. It will frustrate the “advanced users” because of the limited capabilities – both in terms of functionality (missing ability to add error bars) and formatting (scaling axes). However, for the “simple users” it is delight, most standard charts are supported, and if not, then additional charts can be downloaded from the (as of this publishing) Custom Visualization Gallery (try the Infographic Designer).

I personally liked the fact that they have incorporated the “R script” engine allowing you to undertake extremely advanced analytics and predictive modelling. I see the ability of this tool to truly democratize data and help organizations move to being more data and analytics driven. With monthly updates, the tool is evolving extremely rapidly and am observing the adoption rates increase very significantly since the new year.

NOTE: In order to use your enterprise data, you will need the Power BI Pro version, which has a list price of $ 9.99/user/month. ALL users who need to access enterprise data need a license.

PowerApps + Flow

The third gem I discovered was PowerApps and Flow. While you can use each one individually, PowerApps provides the User Interaction (both Big Web and Mobile) Flow is meant to handle information integration and workflows.

I was able to create a simple flow picking up my LinkedIn posts via Twitter, because LI does not yet expose services capable of being used directly by Flow – I am sure this will change as LI gets more integrated within Microsoft, and post them to appropriate groups in Yammer based on tagging I had done in LI.

PowerApps are even simpler, especially when you are going to use SharePoint Lists to store the data collected/displayed. You can create one directly from the List menu (if you are the administrator of the list) and with a few clicks and a couple of UI tweaks have a mobile app which can be published to the enterprise. Users need to have the PowerApp app installed on their mobile device.

Conclusion

Microsoft has done a phenomenal job with the O365 release – not only the device independence of the core applications, but also the introduction of new applications which provide a differentiated work experience. One of the key tenets of digital transformation and attracting the millennial talent is Employee Experience. It is safe to say that migrating to O365 and properly adopting the various tools which form a part of the suite will play a key part in providing that superior Employee Experience.

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