What’s new in Office 365 – April 2018

Despite the SharePoint Conference being just around the corner, Microsoft has not slowed down the release of new features into Office 365 this month. Here’s our take on what’s new.

SharePoint

Changes to SharePoint Newsfeed

Since the acquisition of Yammer, and now with the introduction of the modern SharePoint news service and Communications sites, the existing SharePoint Newsfeed feature has become superseded in just about every way. Microsoft has now signalled its intention to push tenants towards these new approaches by making the company-wide newsfeed read-only as of June 2018 and preventing any new tenants from deploying this feature. It’s worth noting that this change applies only to the company feed and that team sites will continue to support the newsfeed feature for the foreseeable future at least, however, we would recommend starting to shift wherever possible over to the new modern news features.

Updates to the SharePoint News feature

Somewhat timely given the story above, Microsoft also announced a slew of updates to the modern news capabilities in SharePoint Online. First off, the process of creating a news post has been made simpler by providing a starting point in the SharePoint home screen. Whereas before it was necessary to first navigate to the site where the news should be created, there is now a Create news post link on the SharePoint home screen that provides a single launch point for authoring news across all frequently visited (and followed) sites thus streamlining the entire process.

Search box

Choose where to publish

Once authored, it is important to track how the news article is being received. At the bottom of every news article, there are now metrics that show the number of views, likes and comments along with the ability to drill into the list of people who have liked the post and the comments that have been left.

Preview

Finally, sometimes waiting for people to find your news isn’t sufficient and the ability to send targeted people an email of curated news articles is needed. Rolling out now is the ability to create a formatted email of selected news articles with introductory text all from within the SharePoint news experience.

Sharepoint

Outlook

Source: MS Tech Community

Increased SharePoint Online storage capacity

Just at the end this month, Microsoft announced a 20x increase in the default storage capacity for SharePoint Online customers. Currently the default storage capacity is calculated on the basis of 1 TB for the tenant and 0.5GB per user.  That per-user allocation is set to increase from 0.5GB to 10GB!

Put into context, today a tenant with 100 users will see their storage allocation rise from 1.05TB to 2TB before the end of August 2018. This is obviously great news for everyone and is no doubt being driven through the uptake of SharePoint that we are witnessing by organisations centralising their document management and collaboration experiences in Office 365 and particularly Microsoft Teams (which if you didn’t already know, uses SharePoint as the content service for document storage).

Whilst on the subject of storage capacity, it should be noted that this is not an upper limit. Additional storage can be purchased on top of the default allocation on a per-gigabyte per month basis.

Microsoft Stream

We think 2018 is going to be a big year for Microsoft Stream. In case you don’t know, Microsoft Stream is designed to create a corporate video portal/streaming service; a YouTube for the organisation, if you will. Like Power BI, Microsoft Stream is available as both part of Office 365 and as a standalone offering. For Office 365 tenants, Microsoft Stream will ultimately replace the current (SharePoint-based) Office 365 Video component and in many cases, we would advocate the use of (Azure-based) Stream over O365 Video now.

In April, Microsoft announced new features for Stream, many of which help make it increasingly enterprise-ready. Administration controls have been improved to create better separation between those that can create channels and those that upload video content. Company and group admins now can “spotlight” videos to make them more prominent to users.

Where Stream begins to elevate itself is around the use of AI. Videos uploaded to Stream are processed by AI to generate both transcripts of the dialog but also to create timelines of when different people (i.e. faces) are talking. These transcripts and timelines can also be edited by video editors to correct any mistakes and highlight key speakers.

Microsoft also announced that online meetings held in Microsoft Teams will soon support the recordings of those meetings (audio & video) for consumption via Stream. In addition, Microsoft Stream will generate a speech-to-text transcript of the recording and provide the ability to search for specific words used in the meeting and allow direct access to that section of the conversation.

Planner

Add Planner tasks in Outlook Calendar

In our February round-up, we highlighted recent features added to Planner including additional views and grouping & filtering options. Now Planner has been updated with the additional capability to add a Planner plan to Outlook and view the assigned tasks in the Outlook calendar.

Azure Automation

The feature is based on creating an iCalendar feed for the plan and is similar to creating a sharing link for a document. It is worth noting that the URL for the iCalendar feed is public and could be used by anyone who has it, however, like a document share URL the links are not easily guessable and contain a form of encoding.

Add plan to Outlook

Once added to Outlook, the Planner tasks are shown in the Calendar view, supporting all the usual features such as overlaying with other calendars, but with a Planner specific hover card that provides links back to the task in Planner.

Calendar

Microsoft Teams

As Microsoft’s “hub for teamwork”, Microsoft Teams continues to evolve at a rapid pace and several new additions have been made to the product recently.

Planner tab improvements

As planning is a cornerstone of team management, the Microsoft Teams client was recently updated to expose more of the functionality of Planner directly in the Planner tab for teams. The Schedule view along with the Charts view as well as the grouping & filtering options, which we highlighted in our February round-up, can all now be used from within the Teams client meaning less navigating away to make updates to plans.

SharePoint news integration

As part of the announcements around the SharePoint news service (see above), additional capabilities have also been added to Microsoft Teams to make it easier to bring SharePoint based content into Teams channels. Firstly, the existing SharePoint tab is being split into 2 components.  The existing functionality that allows a SharePoint document library to be added as a tab will be renamed to Document Library. A new SharePoint tab will make it easier to add either a SharePoint news article or page to a channel.

Add a tab

Source: MS Tech Community

When a SharePoint page is added as a tab in Teams, the extraneous aspects of the page (Office 365 toolbar, side navigation etc.) are removed, making the page appear far more natural in the Teams client.

Teams

Source: MS Tech Community Site

Additionally, it is now possible to configure all news from a SharePoint site to be posted to a channel in Teams using the SharePoint News connector. By adding this connector to a channel in Teams, when a News article is published in SharePoint then a new message is posted in the channel conversation showing the title, summary and link to the News article. We think this is a great addition to Teams that again helps to keep the user working in context within the Teams client and brings more relevant signals to the user rather than relying on them to check for updates elsewhere.

Office 365 Groups

Microsoft has made further tweaks to the default behaviour of Office 365 Groups this month.

Groups in Outlook and Group-connected teams sites are private by default

Previously, the default setting for newly created Office 365 Groups was to make them public by default.  Having received feedback from the community that users often didn’t understand the security implications of public groups (i.e. that everyone in the organisation can find and view the content), Microsoft has now implemented a change that means that groups created in Outlook or SharePoint are now private by default and require the owners to explicitly make them public.

Group members now receive all group email in their inboxes

Finally, a further behaviour change was made to Office 365 Groups recently. Previously, when an Office 365 Group was created the default setting was to not send messages to the inboxes of group members. Based on feedback, Microsoft has reversed this behaviour but still provides the means for users and group owners to change the setting as needed.

PowerApps and Flow for Office 365

There were a few notable announcements around PowerApps and Flow recently.

“Request Sign-off” flow now in SharePoint Online

Firstly, the Microsoft Flow based “Request sign-off” approval flow was recently introduced to SharePoint Online allowing users to manually trigger approval processes on documents and list items. This capability was first revealed at the Ignite conference back in September 2017 and is now being rolled out worldwide. We have not had a great opportunity to review the flow in detail but here are our initial thoughts.

  • The flow is entirely end-user driven. The user elects when to run the flow and who should “sign-off” the document
    • Note: If the “approver” does not have permissions to view the item then the user must also share the document with the approver
  • The flow creates and updates a new column in the library called “Sign-off status”
  • The flow is available in all libraries in all sites, irrespective of whether the library has existing processes that govern document “sign-off”
    • Note: Microsoft is investigating a means to provide to configure which flows appear in document libraries but right now, there is no way to turn this flow off
  • The approval process has nothing to do with the existing Content Approval process native to SharePoint. Sign-off and Content Approval are therefore 2 different things

Overall the user experience is pleasing and in some circumstances the flow may be all that a team needs to run simple approval processes on documents, however, we are concerned that it may introduce confusion in SharePoint document libraries that enforce strict approval processes by essentially providing 2 options for document approval. In such circumstances, educating users as to the overlap and how to avoid mistakes is clearly of importance.

PowerApps Web Part preview for SharePoint Online

Microsoft introduced the preview of a new Web Part for SharePoint Online that allows a PowerApp to be hosted within a SharePoint page. When viewed by a user, the web part automatically signs the user into PowerApps (so there is no ugly authentication box) and scales to fit the dimensions of the SharePoint page and even works in the SharePoint mobile app.

We are seeing an increase in the number of PowerApps solutions we are building for clients and so providing a means to directly embed a PowerApp in a SharePoint site offers some existing options for providing a great user experience. The web part is currently in preview and available to Targeted Release tenants.

Yammer

As Yammer becomes more tightly integrated with Office 365 and other Office 365 services gain additional features that were once the domain of Yammer, then there comes a need to reduce the overlap of functionality. Microsoft announced recently that several legacy features of Yammer were being removed as of May 2018 with more modern alternatives available elsewhere in Office 365:

  • Organisation charts – Many other Office 365 services (e.g. Delve, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint people search) offer organisation charts, however, the biggest overlap is with the new people cards that appear in Outlook, SharePoint & OneDrive
  • Recent activity module on the homepage – Similarly Delve, Teams, SharePoint all provide summaries of recent activities
  • Syncing contacts on mobile apps – Many Office 365 mobile apps (e.g. Outlook/Teams) provide the means to maintain contacts from within the organisation
  • Desktop notifier application – Superseded by the new Yammer desktop app available on Windows and, unlike the notifier application, Mac OS too

Office 365 ProPlus

While it is often recognised that Office 365 is an evergreen service that allows updates and new features to be added to the services such as SharePoint, Yammer, Teams etc., it is often forgotten that Office 365 ProPlus (the version of Office 2016 that is available in certain Office 365 licenses) is similarly updated on a regular basis for Windows, Mac and mobile devices.

There have been several updates that have been released to Office 365 ProPlus for Windows recently.  Some of the most notable feature updates are:

  • Voice dictation – Office now has its own voice dictation capability to allow Word documents, PowerPoint presentations and Outlook emails to be composed by voice alone
  • Read aloud – Word has provided text-to-speech capabilities for some time; however, Outlook recently received the ability to have your computer read emails to you
  • Inking improvements – PowerPoint now supports the ability to convert handwritten notes to readable text and drawings into crisp shapes; Word now provides pen-based editing features (e.g. highlighting text, joining/splitting/inserting/deleting words) that are particularly well suited to document review processes
  • Email & Calendaring enhancements – Outlook has received several useful updates recently including the ability to mark deleted items as read, make calendar appointments reminders more prominent, view & schedule meetings in 3 time-zones and prevent a meeting invite being forwarded by recipients

Office 365 ProPlus for Mac has also been updated recently bringing some welcome new features such as:

  • Cloud document editing – Word, PowerPoint and Excel have been updated to work better with documents stored in OneDrive allowing files to be opened directly from the cloud, auto-saved directly and shared more easily
  • Actionable calendar info – Clicking on a calendar item now provides a more detailed set of information about the meeting and invitees, including the ability to perform certain actions (e.g. deleting the appointment) directly from the pop-up
  • Co-author chat – Building on top of the recently implemented co-authoring features, chat has now been added to the Word, Excel and PowerPoint clients for Mac to allow co-authoring participants to chat during the editing session
  • Resume Assistant – The LinkedIn-powered resume assistant that was first introduced in Word for Windows is now available for Mac users

Mobile Apps

The push to deliver Microsoft experiences on mobile devices continues with frequent updates to all apps on both iOS and Android.  There have been a few updates recently that are worthy of inclusion:

  • SharePoint app – support for hub sites has been added along with push notifications of comments on news/pages and overall improvements when visiting a SharePoint using the app
  • OneDrive for Business app – the Sharing dialog that appears is now consistent with the version used in desktop browsers and Office clients
  • Teams app – the ability to switch accounts and log into other Microsoft Teams tenants where you are a guest, is now supported
  • Excel app – when selecting a range of data values, Excel will now automatically perform common calculations like SUM, COUNT & AVERAGE and display the results as well as providing quick access to contextually relevant commands like sorting and filtering
  • Word app – The Read Aloud feature described earlier has been brought to the mobile app
  • Outlook app – Improvements in people cards showing organisational structure, faster previewing of attachments (including links to files stored in SharePoint), as well as additional options when responding to calendar invites have all be introduced
By | 2018-05-11T16:15:37+00:00 April 30th, 2018 |Microsoft 365, Office 365|

About the Author:

Simon Chalfont
I have played a pivotal role in the development of Intelogy, a leading Microsoft Partner specialising in Office 365, SharePoint & .NET Development, since its formation in 1995. I engage with both business stakeholders and technical professionals to ensure successful delivery of high quality software solutions. I love new technology and continue to set new targets for the development of the company.