ladder to the sky

Microsoft has followed through with its promises to increase the rate of releases coming out of Redmond, Wash. 

In the last month alone we've seen a lot of updates and releases, with new tools and new features and functionality introduced in popular tools.

And whether your organization committed to the cloud after deciding a multi-billion dollar IT company has better data centers and cybersecurity than you could ever afford or set up, or is still holding off from moving to the cloud for regulatory, compliance or paranoid reasons — a lot of these new bells and whistles are only available for those with cloud deployments.   

While the releases touch on many parts of the organization, I would like to take a look at the latest Office 365 releases through a knowledge management (KM) lens. 

The Connected Knowledge Worker

A lot of the tools in the Office 365 environment support knowledge management work:

  • Outlook — the old war horse — for email, calendaring and basic task management 
  • MS Office — the Office365 subscription includes download and installation of full Office apps to work offline
  • Project, OneNote Online, Dynamics CRM, PowerBI — the fancy add ins 
  • SharePoint Online, OneDrive, Yammer and Delve — the core online abilities
  • Planner — the latest tool added to the plethora of capabilities

Collectively these tools allow us to tackle many problems, from many different angles. And occasionally, yes, there is considerable overlap between the tool sets. 

Core to many organizational environments, or custom built KM “applications,” is SharePoint. The May 4 “Future of SharePoint” event in San Francisco concentrated on new developments: the new “modern” look and feel for Team Sites, the improvements to document libraries and lists, improved integration of SharePoint Online and OneDrive, and, of course, “the intranet in your pocket” — the new IOS apps and other mobile developments. 

Team Sites store a lot of organizational knowledge, so the new look is welcome. With both improved SharePoint search and Delve, surfacing that knowledge and then sharing it should be easier. Microsoft built these sites from the ground up with responsive design too, so beyond looking good, they should work well with mobile browsers too if you're not equipped with an iPad and the new IOS apps. The aim is for mobile workforce to have an easier time finding pertinent knowledge while on the go. 

No mention was made at the Future of SharePoint event of some other pertinent features introduced at Ignite last year: the Knowledge Management Portal, Microsites with new Article page types and "boards." At the time, Microsoft pushed this set of features as an almost complete “easy intranet in a box” solution.  

Boards act as the interface of Delve, the Office365 SharePoint home page and, in a slightly different form, appear on the new Team Sites.

boards in office 365

Fig 1 Boards in Office 365 SharePoint home page

Managing Knowledge, or Managing Knowledge Workers?

I would argue planning and tracking work has a knowledge management element to it. Consider if you could pull deeper analytics from a tool down the line to assess how many and what variety of tasks your team has dealt with in the last month, quarter, year, etc.

With that in mind, the latest app introduced to Office 365 is Microsoft Planner. This tool also uses Boards in its interface. Is it a lightweight project management tool or a task management tool on steroids? The Microsoft website presents it under the Work Management heading, so that solves that mystery.  

Planner allows you to bring teams together to plan common workloads. Boards come into play to manage tasks, with tasks being assigned to individuals and then categorized by dropping them into “buckets.” 

Although I love this terminology, if you have used Kanban boards for task management, it can be a bit confusing — this is definitely not Kanban. Although you could reconfigure your buckets to mimic a Kanban board with categories like not started, in progress and complete, that's not the direction Microsoft was taking with its boards, which are more customized and personalized.

Boards can also be used to share resources from OneDrive or SharePoint document libraries, adding resources to the task. Planner's other main view is a graphical dashboard that gives a visual overview of the tasks the team is working on:

Microsoft Planner Dashboard

Fig 2. The MS Planner dashboard view

Microsoft is clearly doing some good work on the knowledge management front, with easier to use Team Sites and mobile access being two clear signs of progress. While I haven't had the opportunity to test Delve out firsthand, it’s a product that certainly seems to deliver on knowledge discovery and sharing.

Now if only Microsoft could come up with a convincing story of how Yammer will integrate seamlessly with all these other tools, I could be quite happy ....

Title image Michael Pardo/public domain