Posted in Delve, Information Management, Microsoft Graph, Office 365, SharePoint Online, Yammer

Knowledge Management in Office 365

A few articles in the past few weeks, and some internal discussions, prompted some thinking around how Office 365 can support knowledge management (KM) – however that may be defined.

What is Knowledge Management?

According to many knowledge management sources online, knowledge management appeared around 1990, and paralleled the rise of document management. Both appear to have arisen as computers appeared (from the mid 1980s) and digital ways of capturing and managing information took hold, and records management was still primarily focused on the management of paper records.

An early (1994) definition for the term ‘knowledge management’ suggested that it was ‘… the process of capturing, distributing, and effectively using knowledge’ (Davenport, 1994. Koenig, 2012)

Bryant Duhon expanded on this somewhat imprecise definition in his 1998 article ‘It’s All in our Heads’ (my emphasis):

‘Knowledge management is a discipline that promotes an integrated approach to identifying, capturing, evaluating, retrieving, and sharing all of an enterprise’s information assets. These assets may include databases, documents, policies, procedures, and previously un-captured expertise and experience in individual workers.’ (Duhon, 1998)

A key element was capturing the knowledge acquired by individuals.

Koenig (2012) noted that ‘Perhaps the most central thrust in KM is to capture and make available, so it can be used by others in the organization, the information and knowledge that is in people’s heads as it were, and that has never been explicitly set down.’

Explicit/implicit versus tacit knowledge

Generally speaking, there is a difference between explicit and implicit knowledge, the information that is recorded, and ‘the information and knowledge that is in people’s heads’ (and walks out doors when people leave).

The latter is defined generally as tacit knowledge. That is, information that is ‘understood or implied, without being stated’, from the Latin tacitus, the past participle of tacere ‘be silent’. (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tacit)

I have worked with the issue of how to access and capture the knowledge in the heads of departing employees since around 1984, when I was first made aware that the departure of some very senior and/or long-term staff meant that we would lose access to the information they knew, gained not only from learned knowledge but also in many cases from many decades of personal experience.

At the time it was not my responsibility to worry about it, but I saw attempts to conduct interviews and document procedures and processes with departing (or already departed) employees.

This pre-digital era activity stuck in my head – was interviewing the departed employees the only way to get this information out of their heads?

(As a side note I learned that it was important to interview and talk to my ageing parents and their siblings about their memories and experiences before those memories were lost forever).

Enter the computer age

I consider myself lucky to have been witness over a generation to the change in working practices from paper to digital.

The start of the digital era from the mid 1980s and ubiquitous access to computers on desktops, person to person emails, network file shares and personal folders created another related dilemma – even if the information was created (or captured) by a user, how could it be accessed?

Users were encouraged to put this information in repositories – mostly document management systems – but the fact that email and information on file shares were stored in different servers meant that unless users would actively move emails to a document management system, that information remained hidden away.

What was needed was a way for users to create and store information – emails, documents – wherever they wanted to put it, and for that information to be accessible, restricted only by relevant security controls.

The only systems that seemed to really do this effectively were eDiscovery tools. Perhaps this was not surprising, as the survival (and financial viability) of a company might depend on the ability to find the information that was required.

The rise of smart phones and ubiquitous, always-on, digital communication within the past 10 years has only added to the types of knowledge available and the methods used to capture it.

In my opinion, traditional recordkeeping practices have not kept up and often remain rooted in the idea that knowledge can be stored in a single location or container. How does one capture instant messages sent via encrypted messaging services in a records container?

Microsoft Graph

Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Graph in 2015. The image below demonstrates how the Graph connects content created and stored through the Office 365 (and connected) environment/s.

microsoft_graph.png

The image above should resonate with most people who work in an office. We send emails, create documents or data, set tasks, make appointments, attend and record meetings, have digital conversations, send messages, connect with colleagues, maintaining personal profiles.

The Microsoft Graph collects and analyses this information and presents it to users based on their context. According to Microsoft:

‘Microsoft Graph is made up of resources connected by relationships. For example, a user can be connected to a group through a member of relationship, and to another user through a manager relationship. (The Graph) can traverse these relationships to access these connected resources and perform actions on them through the API. You can also get valuable insights and intelligence about the data from Microsoft Graph. For example, you can get the popular files trending around a particular user, or get the most relevant people around a user.’

(Source for image and text: https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/graph/docs)

According to Tony Redmond, Microsoft Graph’s REST-based APIs provide ‘… a common access approach to all manner of Office 365 data from Exchange and SharePoint to Teams and Planner’. The Graph Explorer, a newly introduced user interface, extends the ability to access information, wherever it lives. (https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/graph/graph-explorer)

How does a person access this knowledge?

In my opinion, two key points about tacit knowledge are that:

  • It can be captured easily, just as other digital applications capture information about us, including by what we click on or search for.
  • It can be accessed without a person necessarily having to search for it.

Most of us by now are familiar with the way Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, Amazon and so on capture information about our interests and present suggestions for what we might like to do next. It does this by understanding our context

Organisational knowledge management should be the same. Users should go about their business using the various digital applications available to them and other users should be able to see that information or knowledge because they have an interest in the same subject matter, or need to know it to do their work.

Users should be presented with information (subject to any security restrictions) because it relates to their work context or interests. They should not have to go looking for knowledge (although that is an option, just as finding a friend in Facebook is an option), knowledge should come to them.

How does Office 365 do this?

Most Office 365 enterprise or business users will have one or two ways to access this information:

  • Delve (may require a higher licence such as E3 for enterprise clients)
  • The One Drive for Business ‘Discover’ option.

The ‘Discover’ option allows a user to explore further, to see what others are working on. The response I get to Discover is both positive and slightly startled – the latter because it will be possible to know what others are actually doing.

Why is this important?

The ability to access and ‘harness’ collective knowledge in this way is essential to modern day workplaces.

To quote Microsoft:

‘As the pace of work accelerates, it’s more important than ever that you tap into the collective knowledge of your organisation to find answers, inform decision making, re-purpose successes and learn from lessons of the past’. (Moneypenny, 2017)

Serendipitous discovery

In his 2007 book ‘Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder’, David Weinberger spoke about three types of order:

  • The first order is the order of physical things, like how books are lined up on shelves in a library.
  • The second order is the catalogue order. A catalogue typically refers to a physical order; it is still physical, but one can make several catalogs of the same physical order. Weinberger’s prime example is the card catalog of libraries.
  • The third order of order is the digital order, where there is no limit to the number of possible orderings. The digital order frees itself from physical reality, and in it, everything can be connected and related to everything else: Everything is miscellaneous.

The phrase ‘herding cats’ always comes to mind in relation to digital information. It resists order or compartmentalisation.

Further, your order is not my order, my way of browsing or searching may not correspond with your logic for storing or describing it (especially on network file shares!).

The internet pioneered serendipitous discovery. It is now completely taken for granted when, as noted above, we are are offered suggested friends in Facebook, jobs in LinkedIn, purchases on eBay and so on. We are presented this information because the application has collected information about what we clicked on, what jobs we do (or did), who our friends are, and what we like to search for.

The idea that our work environment can do the same thing and present information automatically based on our context (information finds us) is sometimes surprising for people used to the second order of things.

 

Davenport, Thomas H. (1994), Saving IT’s Soul: Human Centered Information Management.  Harvard Business Review,  March-April, 72 (2)pp. 119-131. Duhon, Bryant (1998), It’s All in our Heads. Inform, September, 12 (8). Quoted in Koenig (2012).

Duhon, Bryant (1998), It’s All in our Heads. Inform, September, 12 (8), pp. 8-13.

Koenig, Michael (4 May 2012), What is KM? Knowledge Management Explained, http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/Editorial/What-Is-…/What-is-KM-Knowledge-Management-Explained-82405.aspx, accessed 21 July 2017

Naomi Moneypenny (17 May 2017), Harnessing Collective Knowledge with SharePoint and Yammer, https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/SharePoint-Blog/Harnessing-Collective-Knowledge-with-SharePoint-and-Yammer/ba-p/70164, accessed 21 July 2017

Redmond, Tony (20 July 2017), Exploring Office 365 with the Graph Explorer, https://www.petri.com/exploring-office-365-graph-explorer, accessed 21 July 2017

Weinberger, David, (2007) ‘Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder’

Posted in Office 365, Products and applications, SharePoint Online

Migrating to SharePoint Online – Early Learning with Modern and Communication sites

We have had a ‘controlled’ on-premise SharePoint environment since early 2012, starting with SharePoint 2010 and moving to SharePoint 2013 two and a half years ago.

‘Controlled’ in this sense means that users cannot create their own sites or sub-sites and site owners are responsible for managing their sites, including creating libraries and lists and managing page content.

Governance model

Our governance model, originally based on a Microsoft governance model, provided a good balance between (a) the need for excessive IT control and effort (there’s only two of us managing the whole environment), and (b) the potential for a feral environment when site creation gets out of hand.

An early decision was made to use multiple web applications for teams, projects, publishing sites, the intranet, and ‘apps’ (a handful of ‘purpose-built’ sites).

Another key governance decision made in 2012 was to keep the environment as much as possible ‘out of the box’ (OOTB) and avoid customization. By doing this we aimed to ensure that upgrades would be relatively straightforward. This didn’t prevent site owners from being fairly creative with their sites, especially site pages.

Preparing for SharePoint Online

If you are planning to move to Office 365 and SharePoint Online (SPO), you should understand how existing sites will migrate to the new platform, especially with the release of new ‘modern’ SharePoint sites and more recently ‘communication’ sites.

One of the first considerations is the architecture of the new SPO sites. These use only name-based paths – ‘/sites’ or ‘/teams’. If you have (like we did) multiple web applications or complex hierarchies of sites, you will need to consider how these will map to the new architecture.

For example:

  • Sites in multiple web applications will need to be mapped to either /teams or /sites. For example, one of our web applications was /projects; these will be migrated to /teams and all new project sites will be Office 365 Group based, with a ‘PRJ’ prefix.
  • Sites in complex hierarchies can, potentially, continue in SPO, but the SPO model is more suited to multiple, separate sites at the same level. A hierarchy or organisational structure may change and this could cause problems for moving content between sites. Having said that, all SharePoint sites site under the top level https://(organisation name).sharepoint.com ‘root’ site, followed by either /sites or /teams – e.g., https://(organisation name).sharepoint.com/sites/example.

Migrating site content

Most SharePoint site content consists of a combination of pages, libraries and lists, and the data stored in each.

Each has a new counterpart in SPO and you need to understood these in advance of migrating. Note however that Microsoft have continued the ‘classic’ look in SPO so that the pages look the same (for the time being); libraries and lists on the other hand are converted immediately to the new ‘modern’ style on migration.

Libraries and Lists

The most visible change to libraries and lists is the removal of the familiar ribbon menu and its replacement with a much simpler and user-friendly version, one that is almost identical with the new ‘ribbon’ that appears in OneDrive for Business.

The main library ribbon is as follows:

SPOLibRib1

The ribbon changes when a document is selected, in this case a Word document:

SPOLibRib2

The new ‘ribbon’ was designed to make it as easy as possible for users to add, edit and access content, including on mobile devices, focusing on the primary actions users need to perform:

  • Add new content (including creating a new Office document from within the library, or a new folder or link)
  • Edit content (including by using Office Online applications)
  • Move and copy content
  • Share content

The ribbon is minimalistic and expands with additional options with a document is selected. The following options are accessed by clicking the three-dot ‘ellipsis’ to the far right of the ribbon menu, or clicking on the ellipsis to the right of the document name:

  • Copy to
  • Rename
  • Version history
  • Alert me
  • Manage by Alerts
  • Check Out/In

‘Flow’ is a new option in both libraries and lists, replacing the older style library or list workflows (and possibly some simple SharePoint Designer workflows).

The primary consideration when moving to modern libraries and lists is change management. On a positive note, users who found the old ribbon menu just a bit too complex should find the new ribbon simple to use.

Library Settings and List Settings still remain and have the same look and feel; this option is now accessed from the gear/cog icon.

A new (or rather slightly modified) option for SPO users on the ribbon is the ability to synchronise (‘sync’) the SPO library selected with File Explorer. This option allows users to access SPO content from the familiar File Explorer view, although various library options such as check out/in are not available; the documents in File Explorer are copies.

  • Note: Migrating to SPO provides the opportunity to ‘clean up’ libraries and lists, especially libraries without content.

Site pages

Perhaps one of the most challenging changes for SharePoint administrators and site owners or users will be the introduction of new ‘modern’ pages. This may be a challenge for organisations that have implemented or allowed site page customizations.

SharePoint Administrators need to make themselves familiar with the structure and layout of modern site pages well in advance of any planned migration, especially to understand how existing pages will migrate.

The main changes to site pages are the absence of the ribbon and completely new web parts. Instead of a ribbon, each new web part includes various editing options, outlined below.

The introduction of ‘communication’ sites in late June 2017 added to both the site type potential as well as the options for constructing a page. All of these changes make the new site pages mobile friendly.

Another key point to consider, in terms of site design, is whether sub-sites are really required.

New site page web parts

The new web parts are visible when any modern page is placed in edit mode; when you click on the page you will see the + option that allows you to add the required web part. This replaces the ‘App Part’ and ‘Web Part’ options under the SP2013 ribbon ‘INSERT’ option.

The new web parts are presented in three groups.

The first section offers the following web parts.

  • Text. Allows formatted text to be insert in a defined area on the page. Similar in a way to the FORMAT TEXT options on the ribbon menu in SP2013, and also presenting text in a Content Editor Web Part. However, it only includes rich text (headings, formatting, but no tables or images).
  • Image. Allows an image to be placed on the page, similar to SP2013 INSERT – Picture. No text can be added, and so if you need to place text and images together, you may end up with multiple text boxes with an image above or below.
  • Document. Displays the first page of a document within a defined area. This may used as alternative to a table.
  • Link. Allows a direct link to be provided to any other content. Similar to INSERT – Link in SP2013.
  • Embed. Almost the same as the ‘Embed Code’ option in SP2013 INSERT ribbon menu, but note there are some limitations.
  • Highlighted Content. Allows different types of content from the site or other locations to be displayed on the page. The content can be filtered and sorted, and various layout options are available. Type options are: Documents, Pages, News, Videos, Images, Events, Issues, Tasks, Links, Contacts, or All. As at the date of writing this post, the option to display the content from a List is still not available – but see below.

The next section offers various page layout options, similar to the Text Layout option under FORMAT TEXT.

  • One column
  • Two columns
  • Three columns
  • One-third left column
  • One-third right column

The last section offers the following web parts.

  • Bing maps. Displays a Bing map.
  • Document library (preview). Presents an editable list view of documents.
  • Events. Displays items created in the events list.
  • Hero. Provides a way to highlight and link to content using two different designs: ‘topic’, which presents 1 – 5 tiles; ‘showcase’ which presents 1 – 5 layers. The tiles or layers both include the ability to add a photograph and a link to other content.
  • Image gallery. Displays photographs from an image library.
  • List (preview). Presents an editable list view of a list.
  • News. Displays news that is created as news pages.
  • Office 365 Video. To be deprecated in favour of Stream (see below). Presents a link to a video.
  • People. Shows people from Active Directory.
  • Power BI (preview).
  • Quick chart. Displays a chart.
  • Quick links. Displays links to other content.
  • Site activity. Presents a tiled list of content that has been created recently on the site.
  • Stream (preview). This will replace the option under SP2013 INSERT – Video.
  • Yammer feed. Displays a Yammer group feed.

For more details on the new page options, see:
https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/SharePoint-Blog/Reach-your-audience-via-SharePoint-communication-sites-in-Office/ba-p/70079

Considerations using the new modern pages

Aside from the overall page layout using the new web parts in modern pages, the key issues we have identified so far with migrating old site pages have been the following, none of which are possible in the OOTB modern site pages without (possibly) using the SharePoint Framework (see below):

  • Content presented in tables, including images.
  • Images with links, including image maps.
  • Multicoloured text.
  • Images embedded next to text.

If you have allowed extensive page editing or customisations, you may need to consider how to move away from this model.

Why are the page options now limited?

In a word – consistency, but also flexibility using the new SharePoint Framework (SPFx). Site Owners (and others) may have been able to create a range of page content in SP2013 or SP2010. Without central control, this could result in a range of user experiences which may in turn affect user take up. Consistency across SharePoint sites provides users with a familiar navigation model.

The need to access SharePoint on mobile devices also likely drove the requirement for consistency of content.

What are the other options?

The new SharePoint Framework (SPFx) offers the ability to create your own custom SharePoint web parts.

However, rather than use SPFx to re-create the web parts or options that no longer exist, it may be worth considering whether these ways of presenting information are still valid – for example, presenting information in a table on a page was a popular option, but was it the best way to present that content?

Posted in Office 365, Products and applications, SharePoint Online

Office 365 – SharePoint Communication Sites

Microsoft released the new ‘Communication Sites’ into the SharePoint environment for First Release customers in late July 2017. The release of these new and eagerly anticipated site types underlined the need for a good SharePoint architecture, especially when moving from on-premise to online in Office 365.

What are Communication Sites?

To quote Microsoft, Commmunication Sites ‘… are perfect for internal cross-company campaigns, weekly and monthly reports or status updates, product launches, events and more.’ (Source: https://blogs.office.com/en-us/2017/06/27/sharepoint-communication-sites-begin-rollout-to-office-365-customers/)

But what are they and how do they fit into your SharePoint architecture? What the relationship between Communication Sites and other sites using the publishing features of SharePoint?

Communication sites are, essentially, a new type of online-only site with three different top-level site page designs:

  • Topic. Use when you have ‘a lot of information to share, such as news, events and other content’.
  • Showcase. Use when you want ‘to feature a product, team or event using photos or images’.
  • Blank. Build your own.

Depending on the architecture of your current SharePoint environment, topic-based SharPoint sites have the ability to replace the top-level site of a publishing-based intranet site. The default layout of topic-based sites makes use of the ‘hero’ web part that presents information in several ’tiles’ on the screen as well as other web parts such as ‘news’, ‘events’, ‘documents’ and ‘contacts’. Multiple columns can be displayed on the page and various other options are possible, including by using the SharePoint Framework.

Showcase-based sites, on the other hand, allow you to promote and showcase parts of the organisation, events or products. The default layout also uses the hero web part that allows content to be displayed in one to five layers.

The blank design allows you to create your own site structure.

To quote Microsoft on the link above (which includes lots of screenshots), ‘When you create a page on a communication site, you can embed documents and video, and dynamically pull in real-time data from across Office 365, including documents from SharePoint, Power BI reports, Microsoft Stream videos and Yammer discussions. The resulting page is a rich and dynamic communication’.

How do you create Communication Sites?

Communication sites are created in the same (new) way as Office 365 Group-based sites, by clicking on the ‘Create Site’ option in the SharePoint portal (https://(your company).sharepoint.com/_layouts/15/sharepoint.aspx).

Clicking this option presents two options as shown above: (a) team sites and (b) communication sites. Only authorised users who can create O365 Groups can create a Group-based team site or a Communication site.

Creating a new Communication site using this option does not create an O365 Group, unlike a Group-based team site.

Note: The path for both new Group-based and Communication sites is set in the SharePoint Admin portal. In our experience most Group-based sites need to be created in the /teams name path, while Communication sites should be created in the /sites name path. It can take a little while (we found up to 20 minutes) for the changed option to appear in the SharePoint portal, ‘create site’ option.

SPOComms_DesignName

When the ‘Communication Site’ option is selected, the authorised user must (a) select which design (topic, showcase, or blank) and (b) give the site a name (which becomes the URL address). We found it was very easy for a use not to select the correct site design because it appears on the left, whereas all the other options including the name appear on the right of the site creation process. The new site is created quickly after ‘Finish’ is selected – in a matter of minutes.

Note: The new sign designs are only available at the top level of the site. New sub-sites are standard sub-sites which, depending on your set up, are probably going to be ‘classic’ site pages with modern libraries and lists. The site pages can of course be easily swapped over for a new modern page, but these pages do not include (or do not seem to inherit) the same design options as on the top level topic and showcase based sites. There may be an architecture or design reason for this – see below.

Using Communication Sites

As noted above, Communication sites have two primary potential uses:

  • Replacement for top level intranet sites that are usually built on sites with publishing features enabled
  • New ‘showcase’ sites, that may also already exist as publishing sites

The meaning of ‘intranet’ in this context may vary, but in our context the intranet is a standard top-level site, with multiple sub-sites, with publishing features enabled and common organisation-wide centralised information such as news, organisational structure and information, and policies and forms. It may also include extensive customisation. Other types of ‘intranet’ might include:

  • The top level in a hierarchy of team and publishing sites, all known as the ‘intranet’.
  • Any other SharePoint site that is known as the ‘intranet’. This might include team sites.

Considerations when using Communication Sites

As noted above, the ‘topic’ and ‘showcase’ design elements of Communication sites are restricted to the top level site only. However, many ‘intranet’ sites include at least one level of sub-site. Therefore, careful consideration needs to be given to the architecture of the proposed ‘intranet’ if a decision is made to use Commmunication sites instead of traditional publishing sites for this purpose.

Communication sites include the following default elements:

  • Top level site page, using the ‘hero’ web part that provides links to other information.
  • Site pages (includes the top level page and any news pages)
  • News (pages)
  • Events (calendar)
  • Documents (library)

Other apps that can be added to these sites include:

  • Custom list
  • Site mailbox

Organisations may also make use of the SharePoint Framework to add other types of content on the pages.

Clearly, this may limit the potential to use a Communication site to completely replace an existing multi-sub-site intranet.

The lesson that may be drawn from this is that Communication sites using the ‘topic’ design are not intended to be a complete replacement for a multi-sub-site intranet. The inference is that replacement intranets may actually be made up of multiple different sites.

A possible structure (based on a typical intranet site) might be made up of the following elements:

  • Organisation ‘home site’ using the ‘topic’ design. This would typically be the first ‘go-to’ place for users to learn more about how the organisation works, the latest news, and policies and forms. It may also include multiple links to other applications or content. ‘Hero’ web part links may point to content within the site, or to other Communication sites (topic or showcase).
  • A dedicated sub-site for policies and forms.
  • News pages
  • Multiple ‘showcase’ design sites for each organisational area or event, to promote their work, instead of using sub-sites from the main site to do this.
  • Multiple sites under the ‘/teams’ (includes Group-based sites) and ‘/sites’ name paths.

How do you find anything?

A possible concern to separating elements of existing SharePoint sites into completely separate sites is finding the content; if the information forms part of the same site, it should be possible to find it relatively easily.

The simple answer to this is that the ‘Search’ option in SharePoint Online no longer points to the same site by default, and instead searches across all SharePoint content, regardless of its location.

Conclusions

Organisations that continue to host their SharePoint sites in on-premise servers will need to consider and plan how to migrate their sites, including their intranet, into the new SharePoint Online environment, with the following options:

  • Team, publishing and other ‘traditional’ site types created via the SharePoint Admin portal, under the ‘/sites’ or ‘/teams’ paths.
  • Office 365-Group based sites, created from the SharePoint Portal, which also creates a Group and all associated elements. Alternatively, O365 Groups created in the ‘Groups’ section of the Office 365 Admin portal, that create O365-linked SharePoint sites. The latter option is preferred to maintain naming conventions and restrict uncontrolled growth and inconsistent naming of both Groups and SharePoint sites.
  • Communication sites, created from the SharePoint portal.

Traditional, multi-level intranets will almost certainly need to be discarded in favour of multi-site based intranet content, unless the organisation is prepared to use standard sub-site (modern) page layouts to present information to users.

Organisations that continue to want to have complex intranet sites may need to explore the SharePoint Framework and engage third-party vendors who can support this model.

Whichever option is selected, an important element not to lose sight of is the ability to access (and if necessary, add to or edit) content via a mobile device. The more complex the site, the harder it will be (without considerable extra cost) to present it on a mobile device.