Microsoft continued to build momentum for this month's Ignite conference with yet another announcement — this time, an update to its SharePoint Framework that will make branding intranets easier using SharePoint Online customizations.

The Sharepoint Framework was made generally available in February 2017. With it, developers and administrators can build and deploy parts to be used in Office 365 production environments. In practical terms, this means using web technologies to build apps on SharePoint that are agile, responsive and, more to the point, mobile friendly.

Bob German, partner technology architect at Microsoft, wrote a post outlining what the new edition of Framework has under the hood and explaining why intranet site branding has caused so many problems. German identified two approaches to SharePoint branding: the classic SharePoint users, who relied heavily on customization to build their sites, and the "never customize" camp. Customization created beautiful sites, but problems arose during migration or when new upgrades appeared, problems which caused many companies to never attempt branding.  

Microsoft made customization easier for SharePoint Online users with the introduction of the Framework extensions, with the new Framework supporting client-side customizations. SharePoint Framework 1.6 includes Microsoft Graph and Web APIs, which are now at the "general availability" production environment use stage. Another Microsoft tech community explanatory note reads:

“The key role of web parts and extensions is to pull together data from a number of sources into one page. Microsoft Graph contains key information about users, groups, and their activities…With these APIs now ready for use, you can build and deploy parts that show a list of events from a group calendar, via Microsoft Graph; or you can connect to a contact management system exposed through custom APIs, amongst many possibilities."

According to Microsoft, the APIs enable "a full management experience for granting API permissions," which "puts administrators in full control." SharePoint Framework version 1.6 also makes it possible to deploy extensions across a SharePoint Online tenancy. Microsoft offered the example of customizing a header, footer or branding across sites. Tenant administrators can now opt to deploy extensions within a SharePoint Framework package across a tenancy. 

Microsoft also improved the dialog framework to work with React-based controls in this latest update. If you are looking for a deeper discussion of the branding issue with SharePoint, a good place to start is with German's blog although there will undoubtedly be a lot more on this at Ignite.

Slack to Offer Encryption Key Management

Slack has been on a roll as of late. It recently bought Atlassian’s HipChat to build its enterprise appeal. Hot on the heels of the acquisition, the company raised $427 million in funding to help with its enterprise ambitions.

In its latest move, the company is adding Enterprise Key Management (EKM), which gives Slack administrators greater control over how and what data they encrypt to provide “all of the security of an on-premises solution, with all the benefits of a cloud tool.” Slack’s chief product officer, April Underwood, made the announcement at Slack’s recent Frontier conference

The company still isn't offering a lot of detail about the new feature or how it will work, but it will obviously be a major security addition to the service which will make it considerably more attractive in the enterprise space.

Slack already encrypts the messages and files that flow through its cloud-based team collaboration app. However, this goes a step beyond by giving control of the keys that unlock that encryption to businesses using Enterprise Grid, its premium platform. The keys will be created and stored in Amazon's public cloud.

The company provided no timeline for the feature's release. However, at the rate Slack has been rolling out upgrades it should not take long, especially given enterprise fears about the safety of data that is being transferred from person to person, or team to team, through third-party software. The company claims that more than a year after its launch, Enterprise Grid had been deployed by 150 businesses worldwide. As of May, according to its own figures, Slack had 8 million daily active users.

Igloo Announces Partnership with AI-Driven Search Provider Lucidworks

Meanwhile, Kitchener, Ontario-based Igloo announced a new partnership with search firm Lucidworks during the keynote speech of Igloo's ICE conference in San Antonio, Texas. San Francisco-based Lucidworks is an enterprise search technology company the offers an application development platform and software for open source Apache Lucene and Apache Solr.

According to a statement from Igloo, the new partnership will enable Igloo to enhance search capabilities with the addition of artificial intelligence, machine learning and natural language processing. The statement said the technology will power sophisticated employee experiences for Igloo customers by finding correlations across human, machine, and application generated data in real-time and at scale.

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“We’re building the future of search right here at Igloo today, and our partnership with Lucidworks will allow us to deliver a new standard for an intelligent search experience for our customers — one suited to exceed the requirements of today and beyond,” Dan Latendre, founder and CEO of Igloo Software said in the statement.

During the ICE conference, Igloo also announced the global expansion of its intranet platform and introduced a way to organize intranet hubs for large firms with regional offices and central headquarters that need to be connected.

Kofax and PwC Announce Digital Transformation-Focused Partnership

Irvine, Calif.-based Kofax  also announced a new partnership this week. The company, which specializes in automating and digitally transforming information intensive processes, is collaborating with accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), to help PwC’s clients with their digital transformation efforts.

The goal, Kofax outlined in a statement, is to improve customer engagement, reduce operating costs, mitigate compliance risk and increase competitiveness, growth and profitability.

Kofax software offers companies artificial intelligence and deep learning, robotic process automation, multichannel capture, workflow and case management capabilities to deliver intelligent automation solutions on a single platform. PwC, for its part, will provide strategy-through-execution assistance and consulting services to deliver the intelligent automation solutions, resulting in greater business value and impact for its clients. The alliance will also enhance PwC’s ability to identify and work with Kofax to develop innovative, industry-specific solutions.

Kofax was bought by Thoma Bravo in 2017 after Lexmark International sold its enterprise software business.

MapR Technologies’ New Data Governance Monitor

Finally this week, San Jose, Calif.-based MapR Technologies, developer of an AI and analytics platform, has announced the availability of a machine learning-based data catalog with the MapR Data Platform.

The new Waterline Data Catalog for MapR is the result of a collaboration and a reseller agreement with Mountain View, Calif.-based Waterline Data. It is designed to address the speed and scale required for enterprise-wide data governance and management for next-generation AI and analytics environments.

The Waterline Data Catalog for MapR provides enterprise-wide technologies to provide data security, data tagging, data rating, data lineage, catalog searching, data dictionary, and data lifecycle management for all data residing inside or outside of the big data platform.