We've heard a lot about the "new" Microsoft over the last few years, complete with promises of fast innovation and the impact this would have on existing products. Microsoft delivered on these promises in 2014, with the addition of many new features and products within Office 365. It was a year of open communication filled with Roadmaps, Yam Jams and User Voice sites. In many ways, 2014 was a fulfillment of the promises made by Microsoft at the last SharePoint Conference.
2014 in Review
A few features and products stood out as highlights of 2014. All were released through Microsoft’s First Release program and are on the way to being generally available. The products were released in phases, which allowed for a staged release and continual improvement cycle. Both Delve and Groups have added additional features since the first release and we should expect to see the next wave of Office features in early 2015. What makes each of these releases so significant is their combination of multiple technologies and features, which creates complete solutions across common tools.
Delve was the flagship release of Office 365 in 2014, first presented as Oslo during the 2014 SharePoint Conference. It promised to help us connect in ways that hadn’t existed before. Under the covers this is a combination of powerful search and office graphing features that help map common elements across teams and groups. The idea is that the application will present data proactively based on who we are and who we are working with. Delve has been a great addition to Office 365 and provides an easy way for users to interact together with common content.
Groups is another feature that pulls together several products' components into one solution. Groups, which launched in the fall of 2014, allows users to easily create groups with which to share messages (email), calendars and documents. When you create a group you create the framework for a team to work together across multiple mediums.
The first time I saw Groups, I had a number of questions, the most prominent one being -- “how does this fall into line with the tools I am already using for documents, conversations and calendars?” I've come to the conclusion that this is a different way of doing some of the same things that we are already doing -- it's a complementary set of tools to those we already use. Over time, Groups' features will align and integrate with existing features in Yammer and SharePoint, but for now they'll remain different ways to accomplish the same things.
Office 365 Video
The final highlight of 2014 came towards the end of the year when Microsoft released Office 365 Video. This is the first type of solution from Microsoft that comes “ready to go” out of the box, with minimal configuration and customization required. The beauty of the Office 365 Video Solution is the ability to combine the features of Azure Media Services with the easy to use presentation features of SharePoint. SharePoint has traditionally been unable to fill the gap when it comes to storing and rendering videos to be displayed, but when combined with Azure Media Services, the Office Video Portal is able to fill most organizations' internal video needs.
What's in Store for 2015?
After such a full 2014, the only thing that I can clearly predict for 2015 is that more change is coming. There's no indication that the rate of releases will slow down, so we need to be aware of what's coming and use that knowledge to help coordinate resources so we can provide the best possible solution for our teams.
No one group will use every Office 365 feature, and no team can continuously switch focus to use a new tool every week. We need to recognize what tools are working well for our organizations and what gaps exist. We can use this knowledge to help evaluate new tools and features to determine our response. It can be overwhelming to have to pick one path from the many choices and dedicate the energy to making it a success. Armed with a strong understanding of how users work and their daily pain points, we can determine which of the new features we should implement internally. If we lose our understanding of our users, we lose the ability to help them improve how they work with technology.
The best way to keep up to date on the changes is to follow the Office Blog. It's the first to post changes and notifications and is often times the best place to get details (or links to more details). The blog combines all of the products into one condensed view, allowing you to stay informed from one location.
In addition to the blog, Microsoft has become quite active in its Office 365 Yammer community group. This allows you to interact directly with Microsoft Product team members, to ask them questions, provide feedback or learn from their experiences. Plenty of the community members can also provide insight as you work through projects or learn about new features. This group has demonstrated Microsoft's interest in hearing from users, and this is one of the preferred channels. We need to take advantage of this open door for communication to ensure that our voice is heard as it shapes the future of the products.