What’s new in Office 365 – February 2018

Fittingly, as February is the shortest month of the year, there are relatively few news stories to report especially in comparison to last month’s bumper crop of announcements.  Don’t be disappointed however because some of them have major significance.  Right, let’s dive in.

SharePoint Admin Center Preview launched into Targeted Release tenants

As mentioned in last month’s post, Microsoft started rolling out the new SharePoint Admin Center in preview to tenants on the Targeted Release ring and reached 100% roll-out in mid-February.  Naturally, we have been very keen to see what the new experience has to offer so we’ve spent some time exploring it.  We’ve prepared a quick lap around the new SharePoint Admin Center preview post that dives into a little more detail but suffice to say that our summary is that the emphasis should, at this time, be placed on the word “preview”.  There is certainly a lot to like about new Admin center and it certainly bodes well for the future, but it is ultimately deficient in so many areas that its usefulness at this time is limited.

OneDrive for Business goes on the offensive

In an attempt to address the competitive landscape for cloud-based document storage, Microsoft launched an initiative this month targeting Box, Dropbox and Google customers with more than 500 users by offering OneDrive for Business for free for the remaining duration of their existing contracts, up to a limit of 3 years.  Microsoft are keen for organisations, presumably those with existing on-premises IT that have only taken tentative steps towards cloud computing, using rival cloud-based document platforms to experience the unique offerings of OneDrive such as real-time co-authoring across the range of PC, Mac, mobile & web and intelligent and personalised search with the Microsoft Graph coupled with more standard features such as document versioning and synchronisation of files using the OneDrive app.  The offer is available now until 30th June 2018.

New features added to Planner

Planner is Microsoft’s team task management solution for Office 365 and it received some welcome new features this month. Four major enhancements were released.

Schedule view

Previously, plan items were shown either in the Kanban-style “Board” view or via a “Charts” page.  The schedule view now introduces a familiar calendar style visualisation of a plan that makes it much easier to see what’s happening and when tasks are due for completion.  The interface is interactive too and borrows many concepts from similar calendaring tools such as Outlook Calendar meaning tasks can be moved by drag & drop as well as stretched to change the duration/due date.  Both Week and Month views are available.

Screenshot of Schedule view in Planner

Schedule view in Planner

Grouping & filtering

Although available in all views but most useful in the “Board” view, Planner now has the ability to more easily group and filter tasks.  There are 4 main filter options: keyword, due date, label and assignment.  These allow for quite complex querying of tasks.

For example, here a filter has been applied to show tasks with the word “review” in the title that are assigned to 3 named people.

Screenshot of new filtering options in Planner

New filtering options in Planner

Additionally, more options have been added to the Group by drop-down menu.  Tasks can now also be grouped by bucket, assigned to, progress, due date and labels.  Grouping and filtering can be used together to change the visualisation of the filtered tasks.

Screenshot of filtered and sorted view in Planner

Filtered and sorted view in Planner

More modern web parts added to SharePoint Online

Following the enhancements to existing page and image editing web parts last month, Microsoft introduced some new modern web parts to SharePoint Online this month, all with the intention of bringing data outside of SharePoint into modern and classic pages.

The Planner web part allows task information from Planner to be shown on SharePoint pages.  There is the choice of showing either the Board or Chart view.

Screenshot of new Planner web part in Board display mode

Planner web part in Board display mode

Screenshot of Planner web part in Charts display mode

Planner web part in Charts display mode

The Board layout is particularly useful as it allows new tasks to be added and existing items to be updated.

The Twitter web part provides a simple mechanism to embed information from Twitter.  The web part can be configured to show tweets from a single Twitter user, a specific tweet or collection as well was a pre-configured search.

Screenshot of Twitter web part embedded on SharePoint modern page

Twitter web part embedded on SharePoint modern page

Building on the existing function of Office 365 Groups and restricted to the SharePoint site associated with an Office 365 Group, the Office 365 Connectors web part allows content to be embedded from external services such as Google Analytics, Salesforce and Bitbucket, with others to follow shortly.

Screenshot of Connectors web part

Connectors web part available connections

Finally, of the new web parts, the Kindle Instant Preview allows a book available on Kindle to be promoted on a SharePoint site including the ability to preview or buy.

Two existing web parts were also updated this month.  The Power BI web part received the ability to embed interactive Power BI reports while the Image web part now offers automatic alt-text suggestions based on analysis of the image using AI.

Screenshot of AI powered alt text suggestion for picture in updated Image web part

Suggested alt text for uploaded picture

All these new and updated web parts should now be rolled out to all Office 365 tenants.

Happy Birthday, SharePoint Framework

The SharePoint Framework, Microsoft latest extensibility framework for SharePoint, celebrated its 1st anniversary this month.  In its first year, the SharePoint Framework (SPFx) has delivered an astonishing number of features and enhancements that demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to this development platform.  SPFx is undoubtedly here to stay and should now be evaluated first as the preferred customisation option particularly for SharePoint Online but increasingly for SharePoint on-premises.   Ultimately, as a standards-based development framework (meaning that the underlying technologies are recognised across the industry) SPFx is designed to make it easy and safe to extend the SharePoint experience whilst still preserving the hygiene of the SharePoint platform.

GDPR features added to Compliance Manager

Compliance Manager is a solution provided by Microsoft designed to help organisations manage and track their compliance with the regulatory and standards obligations that apply to their organisation.  When using Microsoft Cloud services, part of the responsibility for compliance lies with Microsoft and part lies with the organisation.  Compliance Manager helps organisations understand this shared responsibility and track their own progression towards compliance and subsequent monitoring.  In February, Compliance Manager introduced some key features to help organisations track their compliance with the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Look out for a more detailed overview of the changes in a future blog post.

Significant features added to Microsoft Teams

Not content with a major update to the Teams client last month, Microsoft has added some major new features to Microsoft Teams this month, including one of the most requested features on the Microsoft Teams customer feedback site.  The following new functionality has been introduced:

  • Share chat history – in cases where a new participant is added to an existing chat, there is now an option to share all, some or none of the history of the chat with this new person.
  • @mentions somebody in a chat – previously @mentions were restricted to channel conversations but now are supported in 1:1 and group chats with notifications appearing in the activity feed to raise awareness.
  • Mute a chat – sometimes a group chat can be active at a time when you want to concentrate so there is now an ability to mute a chat so that alerts are disabled allowing you to focus on the task at hand and catch up on the conversation at a later time.
  • Quick reply to a chat message from notifications – when a notification appears on Windows or Mac apps there is now a facility to quickly reply using the notification window rather than launching the full Teams client.
  • Restore a deleted channel – deleted channels can now be restored (up to 21 days after deletion) from within the Teams interface by all team members (with the option to restrict to owners only in the team’s settings).
  • New features for Teams iOS & Android apps – many of the above features have also been incorporated into the mobile apps, however, some additional features have also been added including PSTN calling & voicemail for Enterprise Voice customers (as part of the Skype for Business to Teams transition work) and the ability to join Teams meetings as an external user.

Ordinarily, this would have been a satisfying number of feature enhancements for one month, however, the best was saved for last and addressed one of the most requested features in the Teams community.  Right at the end of February, Microsoft announced that they were expanding the scope of external guests in Microsoft Teams.  Previously, the requirements for external guests in Microsoft Teams had set a high-bar in terms of requiring guests to have existing Azure AD identities which was different from how other forms of external sharing was supported across Office 365 and limited its applicability to many customers.  Now external guests can be added using just a business or consumer email account (e.g. outlook.com, gmail.com etc.) and gain the same external sharing features that were previously available only to Azure AD guests as well as being able to be managed and monitored via the enterprise-grade security of Office 365 and Azure AD, including options such as conditional access policies, multi-factor authentication and activity reports.  This is a major advancement for Microsoft Teams and will no doubt enhance its suitability for cross-organisation collaboration.  This feature is expected to be rolled out in March 2018.

On the horizon…

Time again to gaze into the Office 365 crystal ball and discuss what we know is coming soon.

Hub sites

During the bi-weekly Office PnP webcast, the SharePoint Engineering Team revealed that PowerShell support for creating and managing Hub Sites was being added to the SharePoint Online Management Shell ahead of the release of the Hub Sites functionality to Targeted Release tenants in early March.  Hub sites were announced at the Ignite conference last year and provide a simple mechanism for SharePoint sites to be grouped together such that they then share common navigation, theming and search functionality.  Hub Sites represent a significant step towards creating modern intranet on SharePoint that can easily and quickly reflect changes in the organisational structure.  We are very excited about Hub Sites and will be keen to report back our findings as soon as possible.

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.