The most interesting updates from Ignite 2019


It might not be what you expect...

Looking across Microsoft's most well known digital workplace systems that include SharePoint, Yammer, and now Teams, this year’s Microsoft Ignite conference included a big list of useful updates to these tools. There was also an exciting-looking new knowledge management solution announced, Project Cortex.

Project Cortex describes itself as:

“AI to automatically organize your content, and delivers innovative experiences—topic cards, topic pages and knowledge centers—in Office, Outlook and Microsoft Teams.”

Having been involved with knowledge management for many years, I must admit I’m intrigued but need to see this in action in the wild before I get too excited.

There was also some excellent news for Yammer, which is getting a makeover and finally being elevated into being a genuine part of the Office 365 family. If you have a significant technical or strategic investment in Yammer, we now know that Microsoft is at least committed in the near term. However, I remain a little unconvinced about the long term relationship between Yammer and Teams being two separate solutions.

SharePoint itself also continues the trend from recent years where it is morphing into something that is becoming more and more recognisable as a complete out-of-the-box intranet and collaboration portal in its own right. As a result, I’m sure some vendors with intranet solutions for SharePoint are becoming worried about where they fit into the ecosystem. I suspect what may happen is that those that never really developed an actual product (because many just packaged up reusable pieces they had created over time and marketed them as a product) will pivot back into services. Others that had made a more robust investment in being a product business will find new areas across the Office 365 suite to add value (like Teams). There is also an opportunity for some to re-tool into supporting the success of Office 365 in other ways, like change and adoption, governance, and the wider opportunity of employee experience.

But overall and despite seeing declarations of the "Year of Yammer", Microsoft Teams appears to me as by far the most popular topic at this year’s Microsoft Ignite conference. It too of course has a range of new features and enhancements that continue to round out its capabilities as the new start page for Office 365 users.

Let's declare: The Year of Office 365 Groups

However, I was more interested in seeing if there were any updates related to Office 365 Groups. In part, this is because I think Office 365 still needs to transition from being an often confusing collection of tools into a complete digital workplace platform. Getting group membership, access and permissions, meta-data, and life cycle management right is an important foundation for achieving this. But the other reason is more practical, as the governance of Office 365 Groups through the Office 365 admin interface has been rudimentary to date.

Although its a little dry if you aren’t particularly technical, the following on-demand presentation is well worth watching to learn about new Office 365 Groups management features coming soon and the roadmap: Transform collaboration and fight shadow IT with Office 365 groups. The new features covered include groups expiry lifecycle, naming policies, classification labels, collaboration with external guests, and managing group creation permissions.

There is still work to be done to make Office 365 Groups the backbone of a well-governed digital workplace based on Office 365, but Microsoft is making reasonable progress. I particularly liked a point made in the presentation above, where they say it is time to get users thinking in terms of scenarios (use cases), rather than merely public vs private collaboration. There also appear to be improvements coming to managing external access to Office 365, which in my experience at least is still often painful.

BTW if you aren't that familiar with how Office 365 Groups and how they relate to Office 365 collaboration tools like SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, and Yammer, then I suggest watching this presentation as it puts the technical content above in context: Finding your collaboration sweet spot with Office 365 Groups, SharePoint, Teams, and Yammer. It features a case study from Cerner, who was a well known Jive customer but have now migrated from what they describe as their “legacy enterprise social network“ to Office 365. Jive is built around the concept of managed spaces and self-managing groups, so I imagine what Microsoft has now created would be a familiar rather than completely alien architecture for them to use (see the slide in the presentation titled "Identify your use cases").

In fact Cerner call out:

Office 365 Groups might not be as exciting as the potential of Project Cortex or Yammer's new user interface. Still, it is the key to better user experience and more effective governance.