Intelligent Workplace Q & A with Microsoft MVP Stephanie Donahue and Juan Larios

Posted by: Stacy Burris on March 29,2019

PAIT Group's Stephanie Donahue and Powell 365's Juan Larios recently got together at the North American Collaboration Summit this past March 14-15, 2019.   They took this opportunity to record their discussion of some hot topic questions that have been circulating on the future of work and the intelligent workplace.  Watch and listen as they dig into the world of Office 365, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams, and so much more.



*You can also check this duo out in a previously recorded webinar covering Modernizing SharePoint Deployment.


Transcribed Conversation

Stephanie:        Hi, I'm Stephanie Donahue and I'm here with ...

Juan:                   Juan Larios.

Stephanie:        We are at the North American Collaboration Summit this week and we are here with, I think, about 300 other people. It's been a really successful conference. How are things going at the Powell booth?

Juan:                Really good, good traffic. Lots of people coming and saying hello and taking a look at the product, so it's been good.

Stephanie:        Awesome. We're going to talk about a couple of topics. Ones that are pretty common and we're hearing it this week and just figured we'd talk through maybe some thoughts on what the answers to these questions might be.

Juan:                Yeah, sounds good.

Stephanie:        All right, so I'll line up the first one. Let's see. How would you mimic everyday life in the workplace? What does that question mean to you?

Juan:                I think more so now than ever, it's around bringing everything together into one place. We've been clear that we're moving towards the direction of kind of bringing all the applications together to one place, but when you look at productivity and you look how users are behaving and using different applications, it's just impossible to kind of grasp everything and integrate all of these different tools together. It was providing kind of a place where everybody can come and do their work. I think that the work life and personal life for kind of that fringe space is ... It's becoming blurrier and blurrier. To me-

Stephanie:        [crosstalk 00:01:29] our work hours.

Juan:                Yes, exactly. Providing something that can provide value there is, I think, part of that story of mimicking everyday life.

Stephanie:        I see it a lot in mobile, so everything's going to mobile and that kind of blending your work and home life, your hours get blended. We're answering emails from home, but now we're also having access to additional applications. We do a lot of social networking. While we're at home it's Facebook, Twitter, and these other platforms. I think we're seeing that now. Things like Microsoft Teams, I'm getting push notifications to my phone. When my team's working in the evening, I can easily sit on my couch and kind of answer stuff just like I would my personal social network. I think some interesting things going on there, that whole effort for a balanced work life, it's interesting, because you might think of it as being intrusive, but I think that same functionality can be really helpful if you're out and about maybe taking a couple hours to go do something personal and something urgent comes up with work, you can still go about what you're doing and be able to answer things.

Juan:                Yeah, I think it's also different, like you and I working in this space and having a career that is very much the entire life spans what we do. You're from a speaking perspective, you travel, you're kind of always on the go with work. Have you seen a complete cutoff of the typical information worker where they clock in and clock out or has that kind of shifted and changed into more of what you experience now in terms of work culture?

Stephanie:        Yeah, so me personally, I do a lot of traveling, so I definitely work a blended schedule, but what we're finding is that it's really valuable to our employees as well. We have scenarios where we have an employee whose husband gets off at work in the middle of the afternoon, they go work out together and then they come back into the office. That level of flexibility is really important because they get to spend time together, but then that person also works a little later into the evening. They happen to work from home in this particular case, which is also kind of a nice flexibility to have. I think we're seeing a lot of those scenarios. More people work from home now than ever. They work from all kinds of different locations, coffee shops, things like that. Not just me being a traveler, but just being a normal employee, being able to do something to engage in a personal relationship, doing something to be able to have the flexibility of working from home, just really a big win for our employees.

Juan:                Nice. Good. You know, one of the things we talked about a little while ago is around the intelligent intranet and when I think about the work culture kind of changing, I kind of see this merging of technologies where you see efficiencies all over the place. I mean I'm googling around different applications and all of a sudden I get bombarded with ads for that application. When I'm looking for things now my search experience is aided by the fact that I've been doing all of this research on other apps and other things. You see these micro efficiencies, I think, all over the place, when I text and the response, my possible responses come up for me to just tap a response instead of typing it out. I wonder if you see those little micro efficiencies in the workplace, in the intranet, in teams, and where maybe you can see what an intelligent intranet might kind of look like?

Stephanie:        We're already experiencing that really now with Microsoft Graph and the ability for ... As you work through Office 365, you have emails, you have documents you're using, you have meetings where you're interacting with people. Graph is picking up on all of that so that when it presents documents to you, you have that great new home page. It's presenting things that I think are going to be interesting to me. It's recommended. That's using the Graph. It's learning from you. It knows your org chart. It knows who your manager is. It knows who you've had meetings with lately and it knows the documents associated to those meetings and the ones you've been working on recently. It's combining all of that information and giving you really relevant information, just even on your mobile device, on your desktop. It kind of follows you everywhere.

Stephanie:        It's really kind of changing the way people work because more relevant information gets back to you. We've been asked a thousand times, "We want it to work like Google." This is even better than Google because it knows you and knows who you are. It knows your role. It can present more relevant information than just a blanket search. That's really where we're seeing it right now. It's a big emphasis in 365 for that kind of thing.

Juan:                What's missing, in your opinion? What is kind of not quite there yet? I'm very curious what you've seen from of the product.

Stephanie:        I think the one thing we're still getting a lot of requests for, there's some confusion around the metadata tagging and how do I get all that stuff that's piled into my file shares? I need to get active information into SharePoint and 365 and Teams, but I'm really not sure how to sort it out. That is still a very manual process of going through, identifying relevant information, what kind of metadata tags does it have and also not going overboard. You still have a lot of people going, "Okay, if I need to find this stuff, I'm going to tag it with like 15 different metadata tags." No one wants to take the time to tag something with 15 metadata tags. We look at an intelligent intranet and being able to identify what's in that document and be able to surface it in search. While things have gotten a lot better, the refinement and that sort of thing, I think, will continue to build. That's really how do I get reorganized in the cloud and a lot of that process still very [crosstalk 00:07:35].

Juan:                Yeah. I saw Mark is very much involved in the bots these days, which is really cool to see. One of the things that I've seen with the Bot Framework and the card dialogue that comes up when you interact with a bot, is the ability to take action on something. I think he put together the Q&A example, the Q&A with a bot, which is very interesting, but one of the things that I think is somewhat missing and I think dictates, I think, the future of where I would like to be involved is an actionable experience. An example of the QA, being able to ask a QA, not only getting a response but no, that's missing. That's not part of my index of questions. Maybe I should create a new question and request an answer and then actually add that back to my backlog of Q&A, and actually being able to drive that experience all from one place.

Juan:                The ability then to transform the search experience as well. Was that search experience relevant for you? Did that actually get the search results, or do we need to configure a search in a way that applies this search query in a certain way and retrieve certain content that's missing here? Being able to have that experience, I think, is missing and it's slowly coming into fruition, but have you seen any other examples where there is an actionable step to interact with the end user and use AI and use cognitive services to maybe provide additional value?

Stephanie:        I think right now the examples we're seeing on the internet, this kind of the build a bot in five minutes kind of thing, we are still kind of in that real basic kind of example that we have available. I think the possibilities are there. I just don't think we've seen a lot of people build them out yet. There's a lot of opportunity there, I think, to use things like Microsoft Flow in combination. What happens to that trigger? The bot gets an answer back. Does it then go trigger a workflow that can go have an action on it? If you're inputting something that's an issue for, let's say, manufacturing plant floor, they're entering an issue into the bot, maybe the bot can go do something with that.

Stephanie:        Maybe it can go notify someone that something needs done or maybe it could put in a request to go fill something that needs to be filled, if something needs to be ordered and it needs to go place that order first. I see it maybe potentially going that route. I just don't think we're quite there yet with seeing a lot of those examples in the workplace, but I think very soon we're going to see a lot of that sort of thing starts to surface.

Juan:                Very cool, very cool. Good. Good. There's a development cycle, I think, with Microsoft, and you correct me if I'm wrong, I mean you're much more in tune there, where a new product comes out and it's almost like testing the market. Because of it, the product's not as mature, but it's kind of a version one, a minimal viable product, just a little more mature than a minimal viable product. If it sticks and there is a good direction for that, then continued investment is done there from a development and monetary perspective. If not, then you part ways and you kind of focus on something else. With something like Microsoft Teams, obviously it's past the point of a minimal viable product. It is the clear direction of the collaboration space in SharePoint.

Juan:                What has your experience been like in what you've seen with organizations adopting Microsoft Teams, and maybe what are the challenges of introducing something new? We're introducing a new product with with Hub and I think we will experience some of the same pain points. I'm curious to kind of get your thoughts and what you're seeing in terms of adoption. What is the typical user, resisting or absorbing it in a way, maybe that you haven't seen before, knowing what you know about Microsoft and the way they produce products?

Stephanie:        It's a little bit of a mix because it depends on the perspective. I think when the end user gets a hold of Teams, it takes off. They understand it. It's intuitive. It's not the experience we've always had with SharePoint. For a long time, you roll out SharePoint and they kind of don't do much with it and it takes a while for them to kind of get the hang of it. You come back in a couple of weeks and you show them more and they continue to build. Our very first experience with Teams when it was first released, we showed it to a customer, we demoed it, we let them have it for a few weeks.

Stephanie:        When we came back they demoed to us. We were like, whoa. They did new stuff with this that we hadn't even thought of yet. It was a totally different experience than what we've seen before, and it's because it's so user friendly, it's easy to understand and it's easy to kind of get in there and go, oh, there's a connector. I can get into a third party tool that I use. I can integrate Smartsheet. I can integrate Facebook if I'm a marketing department. There was these things that just started kind of happening for them in addition to just that plain file sharing and conversation piece around Teams.

Stephanie:        From our perspective, Teams has gone very smoothly. You know, you always have like little things you've got to work through, but the user adoption has been tremendous. Now it's actually the IT departments that are pulling things back and slowing it down a little to say, "Whoa, that scaled faster than I thought. How do we put governance around this? How do we make sure that whole process is controlled?" I don't know how Hub's going so far with your testing, but I think the message there, from a user adoption perspective, make it useful, make it easy. I think people kind of gravitate to what makes their life easier very quickly and they're going to implement it.

Juan:                I don't know how you would ask me this, but I think there's an interesting perspective of ... I wouldn't reactionary, but you ... I think you have a different perspective in implementation from working with customers. In a lot of ways we are reactionary to what customers want too, but because we're putting a product, I think building a product and building services or providing services is a little bit different. I think I wanted to capture maybe the differences between the two, but I'm not sure what kind of question to ask there.

Stephanie:        What about something regarding the pace of deployment?

Juan:                Yeah, the pace of deployment or the pace of Microsoft? What were you thinking?

Stephanie:        More of deployment in general, so how fast I can spin out an intranet with and without additional tools. From a modernization standpoint, how about we go that route, from a modernization standpoint we've seen people rapidly adopting SharePoint, rolling out sites kind of faster than we've ever seen before. Then I can say, how does that go for you guys and how is that different with the product and maybe go from there?

Juan:                Okay. All right. Okay.

Stephanie:        Modern versus future, how to take it to the next level. That kind of goes into that. What we're seeing now, I think, with intranet deployment, moderns out. It's so much easier to just spin up your sites, communication sites, team sites. You get everything pushed out more quickly. It's kind of a different world and that's the pace I think we're running at now. It's like let's get it up and running quickly. Let's get it pushed out. You know, modern sites, I think, great, but they do also still have some limitations. You kind of have to learn to work within the construct of what Microsoft is giving you, and that's because it's all mobile friendly. They want to kind of restrict what you're changing. From a product perspective, you're coming from the Powell 365 side of things. How's that changed for you guys and what does that look like from a deployment perspective?

Juan:                Well, I think first we've had to make a lot of changes into our product to allow for modern sites, everything from configuration to how can we make the experience from the development of something that would be handled by development and heavy development effort or technical skills that most organizations maybe aren't willing to invest. When you analyze how much time you're investing in some of these development efforts and the value you're getting at the other side, sometimes getting a tool to give you a rapid deployment, rapid management, and being able to aid you in that, it gives you better value than investing in a lot of services or development service anyways.

Juan:                For us, I think the stakes have kind of been raised. Now when you looked at documents and seeing metadata and seeing organization at that level, now it's at a higher level. Now it's these sites that are independent out there and you now have to manage everything kind of holistically. It's kind of now working at a different level.

Juan:                I think that you can definitely use the modern experience. You should, it's a great platform, but taking a product that can manage that over time, that can deploy, that can really help you build something quickly and getting to ... We say time to market, but it's really just building something of value that's of value today, not waiting six months or three months or two weeks or a week, really. It's building something that you can do today and then quickly push it out. I think that's where a tool like Powell Manager can really, really help. Then we're also adding management features to help you understand your content. The stakes have been raised because now we're looking at different metadata tagging foresight, better management of all of your information architecture, not just at the site collection level, at the lower levels, but now being able to look at all your teams, all of your sites [crosstalk 00:19:20].

Stephanie:        The future looks like taking modern to the next level and saying, okay, we're not just building modern instruments but we are taking it to the next level so we can find things more easily and categorize them, manage them better, because it is the scale. It's the sprawl that happens when you get into 365. Every time you create a team, it's not just a team, it's a SharePoint site, it's an area in Planner. It's an area in Stream. It's an area in Power BI. You have all this stuff that gets created. It sounds like you guys are headed down the route of how do I manage all of those things that are happening in my environment a little bit, keep it under control a little bit better?

Juan:                Yeah. We're already there in some areas and we're continuing to mature in some areas. We're always kind of, in a lot of ways, at the mercy of Microsoft in terms of releasing APIs and giving them that kind of opening up the doors for that, but I think they've been really good at opening up the places that we need to kind of get in and manage and do some work to provide value.

Stephanie:        Very cool. Cool. I think we covered the questions.

Juan:                Yeah, I think we did.

Stephanie:        Well, I think that's all we have for you guys. Thanks for joining us. Enjoy the rest of the conference.

Juan:                Yes.

Stephanie:        I'm going to head down to the session to celebrate 10 years of women in SharePoint. We're having some cake. It'll be a really good time.

Juan:                Great. Thanks for doing this.

Stephanie:        Good to see you.

Juan:                Good to see you. Bye.

Topics: Future of Work, Modern, Intelligent Workplace, Digital Transformation

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