Festive wrap-up webinar: Best of the Q&A

Festive wrap-up webinar: Best of the Q&A

On the 8th of December, we held our annual festive wrap-up webinar. We wanted to share a selection of some of the questions we received during the webinar in ​​the hope yo​u'll find them useful when planning your own initiatives in 2016. It’s a varied mixture of topics from the Digital Workplace, Social, Gamification, User Experience and more. Enjoy!

Q. What functionality can you incorporate into your intranet that connects it to the larger digital workplace?

Personalized Application Links

There’s some simple ways to do this. In some of our projects we have picked out the applications or tools that employees use day to day and provided quick links to them from the homepage of the intranet. This helps to streamline the tools employees use daily into a single digital location. Some of our larger organizations that have hundreds and sometimes thousands of different tools take it to the next level and targets those apps, so an employee from a particular function or role is only presented with the apps relevant to them.

Deeper Integration

We’re also working with another client at the moment where rather than just using their intranet portal to link to an application, and the application in this particular example is SAP, we’re actually starting to integrate the transactions within SAP that users have access to, based on their role and permissions they have.

Digitize Activities

A final way is by taking daily workloads and bringing these into the Digital Workplace. For example, a retail client we’re working with at the moment had instances where a lot of the communications they were sending out to teams was as a PDF via email. This meant there was no way for employees to feedback comments on what was being sent out, it was very static. To combat this, we’ve designed a custom campaign management page within their Unily intranet. This means that all the information they were putting on PDFs will now be digitally available on the intranet. As the campaign page has Yammer Enterprise Social functionality integrated with it, employees can make comments, feedback their opinions and have these changes dynamically updated.

We think we’ll see more and more examples of this in 2016, as organizations continue working on consolidating their Digital Workplace with the intranet at the heart.

Q.How can we make use of Microsoft Graph (Microsoft’s unified API endpoint, for accessing data, intelligence, and insights coming from the Microsoft cloud) in our on-premises solutions?

Good question, one we get asked often. Two points to mention, firstly the Microsoft Graph is collecting signals from within Office 365. We find this has the ability to provide most value to organizations when it has a collective view of what users are carrying out within the organization within Office 365 and beyond Office 365 too. Something that hasn’t been fully released yet but is being released very soon is the ability to actually feed signals into the Graph. Microsoft have suggested that this would be possible from on-premises solutions, so that’s the first piece to consider.

In terms of actually taking advantage of the Graph in an on-premises solution, it’s exposed through a unified API, so that API can be called from solutions that are hosted from within Office 365, but also outside of Office 365. Those solutions don’t necessarily need to be cloud hosted, they can be hosted in your own on-premises data center too, you just need a mechanism to be able to communicate with those APIs and handle authentication. Any application such as SharePoint on-premises that supports OAuth should be able to speak to those APIs and you can build intelligent apps to take advantage of Microsoft Graph.

Q. You mentioned gamification as a way to combat the User Experience Gap, any examples of this working well in the workplace with your clients?

One example is from our own Intranet as a Service product Unily where we’ve added a Top Contributors functionality. It pulls information from Enterprise Social network Yammer including people with the most followers, those who post the most insights and those who are most active. This all culminates together to determine who are the Top Contributors on the site. The top 3 contributors are then in a spotlight on the homepage of the intranet. Employees compete with each other to like and post more to see themselves in the spotlight.

That’s just one example but we think there’s going to be a lot more examples of that as we progress through the year. Office 365 are also promoting Gamification within their own products as they’ve recently announced Praise as part of the Delve People Experience. Praise is all about giving particular colleagues kudos for something they’ve done for you in the workplace. We love this idea and are going to take it to the next level in the Unily roadmap. Unily will use Praise functionality and allow you to assign different levels of praise and badges to different employees that support you within your organization – so that’s something to look forward to in the near future!

Q. Do you think Yammer (Microsoft’s Enterprise Social Network) is a suitable platform for a newsfeed on an intranet? Would this be a good way to introduce social to your intranet?

Absolutely and that is a common approach that we take with many organisations. Obviously it’s great for any Office 365 clients as Yammer is part of the product set, but even for organizations that have a bespoke solution developed to meet their intranet needs, Yammer is a popular choice for newsfeeds. As long as you and your organization are comfortable with the way that Yammer is architected and hosted within the cloud, then it often makes sense to use that for news feeds activity within your intranet.

Q.What’s the best way to encourage staff to collaborate? Do you have an examples?

That is a big question! We would say as a baseline point, employees have to know what’s in it for them, so you have to be doing it for the right reasons from the very beginning. For each type of user, try and set out in your mind and on paper why they’re going to use it, when they’re going to use it and what they’re going to get out of it. Unless they know how it’s going to make their lives easier, it’s difficult to get collaborative technology off the ground.

In our experience, employees will be encouraged to participate and collaborate with each other when they think they’re going to get something out of it. If they put time into something then they want to know they’ll benefit from it ultimately too, then they’re more likely to put that time in the first place.

It’s also very important that the solution you deliver is easy to use and intuitive. No user wants to sit through hours of training to use a solution to be able to collaborate with their colleagues.

Q. Do you think traditional SharePoint developer skills will soon be redundant? In 2016, what should SharePoint developers focus on?

I think we’re starting to see a trend now where Microsoft are recommending a very different development model for SharePoint and this really does stem out of the developments that have been made with Office 365 and SharePoint Online. The development practices that we now follow for SharePoint solutions are really all about ensuring that the code is running outside SharePoint using more standard web based technologies.

This stems from ensuring that custom code you provision to meet certain business requirements, if that fails or it isn’t written very well, it doesn’t impact your SharePoint farm and some of the primary and core functions running within that SharePoint environment. If that code is running outside of SharePoint, either within the sandbox, not in the SharePoint sense but in some IS web server farm or hosted within Azure, you can use whatever web-based technologies you want to write that.

Client side development techniques become much more important so that you can then hook into and integrate with the SharePoint services that you need to, to be able to build the application that you’re trying to design for and deploy.

If you’d like to watch the full Q&A from the webinar, you can watch the recording here.

Or don't hesitate to get in touch to discuss your upcoming requirements.

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Sam Hassani Principal Consultant

‘Sensible’ Sam is an asset to the consulting team. Having jumped the fence from Microsoft a few years back, he now consults and designs large scale SharePoint, O365 and Azure solutions for BrightStarr. His conscientious approach got him his nickname, and although he’s not afraid to take risks, he’s always a safe bet. Delivering stable, well thought out solutions time and time again.

In his previous job, he specialized in SharePoint, working in the field and with the product team, Sam is genuinely excited by his vocation and speaks at conferences and events with enthusiasm. Just don’t get him started on hybrid search! At the weekend Sam likes to ride his road bike and hang out with his young son.

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