Microsoft Infuses the Cloud with Intelligent Communications and Intelligent SearchSeptember 25, 2017
Today at Microsoft’s annual IT event, Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft introduced new capabilities around Windows 10, Office 365, and Azure that infuse cloud, artificial intelligence, and mixed reality across each of them. Microsoft showcased its commitment to providing customers with access to the latest generation of capabilities across its platform.
Microsoft has some big plans for streamlining collaboration and communication in Office 365, and it is centered on Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams will become the new hub for communications, including the infusion of Skype for Business Online features into Microsoft Teams. Over time, Teams will become both the server and client replacement for Skype for Business which will offer “one stop shopping” for personal, team, and all collaborative communications. This integration is powered by a new, modern Skype infrastructure which delivers enterprise-grade voice, video, and meeting experiences.
Over time, teams will gain new calling features and meeting enhancements that exist in Skype for Business today, including inbound/outbound PSTN calling, hold, call transfer, and voicemail. Teams will also gain access to audio conferencing features which will allow anyone to join a Teams meeting from any landline.
The transition from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams will not be an overnight changing of the guard and is expected to take well into 2018 while we wait for new versions of Skype for Business server on-premises along with feature updates to Microsoft Teams. The new Skype for Business Server is currently targeted for release in the second half (H2) of the 2018 calendar year.
Microsoft has focused on improving its data platform and artificial intelligence capabilities for some time. From the Azure Platform which includes Azure Data Lake, Azure Analysis Services, Azure Machine Learning, and other cognitive services to Office 365, Microsoft is infusing the intelligent features of the cloud across Office 365. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used to provide more relevant search results everywhere you search across Office 365.
For those that have been using Office 365 for some team, you are already a part of the transition from reactive search experiences to the ever more proactive search experiences Microsoft provides today. By brining the best and most relevant search results forward, customers will have access to the right data and result at the right time.
To bring Microsoft’s Office 365 search services even further forward, customers will begin to see new insights surfaced through additional data points in the Microsoft Graph, including the integration of LinkedIn data with Office 365. LinkedIn data will now be surfaced directly in Office 365 profile cards across Outlook/Exchange, Skype, Teams, and SharePoint Online. In addition to the new capabilities in Microsoft’s online services, customers will have the ability to search for people and content inside the organization directly from the Windows 10 taskbar.
ACTS have been delivering next-generation solutions on the Office 365 platform since its inception. If you’re interested in taking your Office 365 deployment to the next level to make use of these new capabilities, contact us today.
Upcoming Changes to Azure Active Directory Administrative ExperienceSeptember 20, 2017
The steady deprecation of management experiences from the Classic Azure Portal continues with the recently announced retirement of the Azure Active Directory admin experience. On November 30th, 2017, the classic admin center will be retired and all admin capabilities will occur through the new Azure Admin experience in the new portal.
The deprecation of the classic portal represents a major milestone for the Azure Active Directory and identity management teams. Through the new portal, administrators have a single pane of glass to manage Azure Active Directory, Microsoft Intune, Azure Identity Protection, Cloud App Discovery, and more!
If you’re currently administering one or more directories in Azure and have yet to onboard to the new management experience, you’re encouraged to do so prior to November 30th, 2017. Note that several Azure AD related services including Azure Information Protection (formerly Azure Rights Management Service or Azure RMS) and Azure Access Control Services (Azure ACS) will also both be moving. Azure Information Protection has already been migrated to the new portal and ACS will be surfaced through a yet to be announced URL in the future. ACS was previously deprecated in April 2017 (source). For new implementations that require integrating with common identity providers such as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook Azure AD B2C should be used.
Another unknown area is Azure MFA. The management of that service is still tied to a classic experience and no announcements have been made to date in regards to surfacing that functionality in the new portal.
Even with these unknowns, the future of Azure Active Directory is bright. If you’re looking for more information on Azure Active Directory and how Microsoft’s cloud identity solutions can help you, contact us today.
Discovering Delve: The Smart Way to InformationAugust 5, 2016
Microsoft Office 365, sometimes referred to as Microsoft 365 or Office 365, is a Web-based version of Microsoft’s Office suite of enterprise-grade productivity applications (Office, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Microsoft Office Web Apps). In simpler terms, the Microsoft Office 365 suite is a hosted, online version of the traditional installed version of Microsoft Office software.
Introducing the new Office Delve, where users can search for information related to other users and find specific data on what the other users have been working on – forming a true collaborative environment within Office 365. While users can team up to work on a single document, there could be several documents of interest to a number of users across the organization. Delve essentially ‘fishes’ out the pertinent information that will be of the greatest interest to a user at a particular moment. At the same time, Microsoft Delve is designed to provide a degree of transparency throughout the organization without undermining user’s privacy. For instance, if a user has marked the document as private then Delve will prohibit other users from accessing that document.
By far, Delve helps you discover the information that’s likely to be most interesting to you right now – across the Office 365 platform. Let’s say you forgot the title of a document or the location of the document on your computer. Instead of going places and trying to search for your document, using Delve simplifies the search, and shows you documents no matter where they’re stored. Additionally, Delve also allows you to view your team members’ profiles, since profiles are similar to electronic business cards you share within the organization.
The main purpose of Delve is to surface content and information that is important to you with much less effort, providing an automatic mechanism to search for information with seamless ease and simplicity. Undoubtedly, big data being a reality – tons of content is being created within the organization every single day, and it could take hours and hours just to find a specific piece of information. Delve is the answer for information sourcing!
Within Delve, documents are typically displayed in display blocks called content cards. The content cards are formatted in the following manner:
Top of the card: User who has recently modified the document and modification date.
- Document title
- Rendered image of the title page or an image representing the file type
- File type and author that created the document
- Social links: Email link, who can see the document, talk about on Yammer
- Number of views
- Add to board
If you are still unable to find the required information, a powerful search option is available, and documents in the pane will be filtered by the search term entered. Also available is hit highlighting, which highlights areas in the document where the search term is first discovered. So, in essence, Delve is inevitably the smart way to information!
Leveraging Accounts Payable Automation Using SharePointNovember 27, 2015
The accounts payable process or function is vastly important since it involves nearly all of a company’s payments outside of payroll. Regardless of the company’s size, the mission of accounts payable is to pay only the company’s bills and invoices that are authentic and accurate.
In order to safeguard company’s cash and other valuable assets, the accounts payable process should have strong internal controls. A few reasons for internal controls are to:
- avoid paying a fraudulent invoice
- avoid paying an inaccurate invoice
- avoid paying a vendor invoice twice
- ensure all vendor invoices are accounted for
- accurate reporting to various stakeholders
Departments like accounting and human resources which generally are information intensive, typically generate a huge amount of data in terms of records throughout their daily processes. Invoices and expense approvals, vendor payments, etc. generate paperwork that requires human intervention in the form of approvals at each interval of the process. With that said, Accounts Payable (AP) automation enables you to classify, and index paper documents as well as electronic invoices. Processors, approvers, and managers save time and improve accuracy with tools such as queue-based workflow and automatic email notifications, resulting in cost reduction, improved accuracy, and enhanced operational efficiency.
Microsoft SharePoint as a powerful collaborative and information sharing platform allows for:
- Increased AP Cost Savings – It significantly reduces the costs of processing invoices, purchase orders, checks, receipts, packing slips and other paper-based documents. It removes hidden costs associated with storing, searching and finding paper documents located in storage rooms.
- Maximized Return on Investment (ROI) – Using SharePoint for accounts payable drives user adoption and increases end-user satisfaction by deploying a cost-effective and low-risk solution that uses the proven SharePoint platform.
- Increased Productivity – Standardizing or automating repeatable tasks by creating workflows at every stage of the accounts payable process certainly reduces risks and human errors and prevents late or lost payments.
More specifically, here’s what SharePoint can do for your AP automation:
- Automate critical business processes and cut costs, such as invoice processing, approving purchase orders, processing work orders, etc.
- Harness the power of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server workflow, forms, security, document management, etc.
- Rapidly develop and deploy business solutions
- Seamlessly integrate with other business systems to share data throughout the enterprise
- Identify process bottlenecks and improve efficiency
- Enhance business intelligence with reporting, audit logs, dashboards & alerts
ACTS is a Microsoft Business Critical SharePoint partner, and with its proven Business Outcome Model (BOM) Methodology always starts with asking: How can we help you deliver better business outcomes using the technology tools currently available? By interviewing your employees, executives and business process owners, we fully understand how your organization functions, your critical business processes, and how and where new technology can deliver competitive-edge-gaining advantages. After becoming thoroughly familiar with your operations, our experts build a business-outcome-focused plan on the best way to use technology to:
- Intelligently capture your relevant data with efficiency
- Automate processes based on streamlined workflows
- Accurately deliver the right information to the right people
Written by Tech Team
SharePoint as a foundation for Records Management and eDiscoveryFebruary 17, 2014
by Megan Sproles
The term “e-discovery” gets thrown around a lot, and generally the perception is “we should do something about records management before we get sued.” While it’s true that there are companies that provide services to bring your business systems into compliance for records management, legal liability protection, and to prepare for dealing with e-discovery, the truth is that these are not “all or nothing” concepts. Even while you perhaps evaluate packages or solution providers, there are steps your business can be taking to improve your situation. If you are running SharePoint then you already have a lot of the tools you need in-house.
What is Records Management?
First, of course, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page:
- Records Management: managing specific documents, which are considered the records of the business. Defining which documents are records is often half the problem, but once defined, there needs to be a structured multi-stage life cycle defined for the documents – when they will be archived, and when they will be destroyed.
- e-discovery: this is not strictly speaking a certification for how documents are stored, but is more concerned with the ability to identify and deliver documents in answer to legal procedures. Of course one would hope these are rare, but the reality is that many businesses have to frequently produce documents for litigation. The goal of e-discovery is to reduce the administrative workload in complying with the request while still satisfying the legal requirements.
The primary concern with both e-discovery and records management is governance. Your business must have the policies to properly handle your business records and documents. Where this generally falls apart is in enforcing the rules. The problem isn’t that employees try to break the rules — it’s just that often complex or difficult rules can get in the way of getting the job done, and so they end up being ignored. Automation was supposed to solve this problem, but often creates more of a problem than it solves.
When “Good Enough” is Good Enough
Business records must be stored in an organized, managed manner. Records that are stored must also be either archived or destroyed at established times or milestones. Full compliance with various legal aspects of e-Discovery and/or records management require business review and possibly technical customization from an experienced partner. But taking care of the basic concepts is absolutely manageable by any business. Cleaning up document handling and record keeping using SharePoint’s existing capabilities will serve your business both in day to day operations and in the event of an audit or compliance review.
More senior SharePoint users are familiar with features like managed metadata and workflows. However not many businesses are using the advanced capabilities that SharePoint offers which can be quite powerful with the proper policies and governance in place:
- Enterprise Content Types allow managing business documents in a standard way across the organization
- Retention Policies can prevent the shared drive buildup of documents and content by putting standard archive and expiration policies on content types. This ensures that legal documents are retained as necessary, but standard working documents are cleared out at a reasonable pace.
- Document Sets provide a way of tracking a collection of related matter as a single unit, applying policies to all documents within the set in a single transaction.
- Document IDs enable SharePoint to assign a unique ID code to every document, making it easier to track and identify the document even as it is moved to different libraries or even different sites.
- SharePoint’s Content Organizer feature provides a way to route documents based on content type and tag values. For example while all contracts are routed to purchasing, contracts tagged as being over $5,000 in value might be routed to the legal department first for review.
SharePoint also has a robust document conversion engine, so even though various documents may arrive in various formats, they can be filed in a uniform format. This feature is somewhat more advanced – the engine to perform the specific conversion must be available. However this document conversion is an open API, so it is possible to customize a conversion engine that, for example, extracts specific information from files and tags the destination file with the information.
To reiterate – for a proper Records Management program or eDiscovery preparation, a business should always seek the advice of a certified expert to implement the structure and business rules necessary to ensure legal and financial compliance. However, until that full process becomes necessary or mandatory, SharePoint can certainly provide the tools and framework to better organize and manage business documents and records.