Tuesday 9/26 – New web experiences in Office 365 that empower your users

Official Description…

More than ever before, users expect an unparalleled productivity experience on the web. We’ve designed Office 365 to be a universal toolkit that empowers everyone with powerful communication, collaboration and authoring tools that work for you. See the big changes coming to the Office 365 browser experience to help your users navigate documents and apps, get started quicker, and understand the applications and services available to them.

Slides: <link>

Blake Takes…

Yet another overly excited start to another session…

  • “so exciting”
  • “amazing innovations”
  • “super proud”

So apparently www.office.com is something to which we all have access as MS 365 subscribers. It is not entirely clear what the difference is between that and the O365 waffle. I attempted to log in with my GRE credentials and there was an “SSO error”. I can, however, log in with my personal SP site credentials. So, someone is going to have to get to the bottom of how SSO works with office.com for GRE users.

Microsoft Fluent is a new design language that Microsoft is pushing. It will be implemented in the MS 365 arena first. It will likely be a good plan to have the developer types look into getting fluent with Fluent.

So Office 365 is set up as a bit of a personal dashboard. It may be another option besides Delve, SP tile, or SHI StartScreen. It is definitely worth looking into. It would be ideal if someone at the service desk started to get into this. Here is what my personal dashboard looks like for my personal SP instance:

The Office.com UI does also present a lot of analytics around documents. There are features like:

  • “pin” – mark a document as important
  • “subscribe” – get updates on document changes
  • “discover” – suggests document that may be relevant
  • “remove from list” – prune documents that are not actually relevant
There is a dashboard within Office.com also aggregates SP site/team information and OneDrive information. It looks pretty promising.
There is also a major search feature built into Office.com. It works just like the search from within the O365 search center. This includes People search. Again, all of this is encapsulated within the office.com UI.
They are now shifting to the O365 UI, which we are already quite familiar with by now. They are, however, showing a new UI for the app launcher (waffle) that I have not seen on out tennant. I assume this is a “coming soon” thingy.

Monday 9/25 – Expo Pano

This ridiculously restrictive layout won’t do the shot justice, but here is the Expo floor in all of it’s gory, err…I mean glory…

Here’s another angle…

Monday 9/25 – Accelerate Office 265 Adoption Through Microsoft FastTrack Services

Official Description…

I can’t find it.

Blake’s Takes…

So I refuse to cede my groovy high-top table for one, and another presentation magically appeared. For kicks, I’m gonna just stay and watch.

So Stiller and Meara are leading off with a number of funny questions, which I always totally love!

  • “How many of you work in IT groups that have lots of extra time?”
  • “How many of your users read your carefully crafted how-to emails?” 

According to the presenters, engaging MS FastTrack services “guarantees” Adoption success. Part of the discovery process. Is doing “a day in the life” with the users. During this discovery, a lot of shadow IT can be uncovered.

FastTrack productivity library

And the presenters brought fidget spinners…that looked like this…

Getting one was like this…

Monday 9/25 – Microsoft Office 365 adoption: If you can’t measure it, it’s not happening

Official Description…

Organizations invest a lot of money when they decide to use Office 365. Getting value for that investment is important, and the only way of understanding whether end users are taking advantage of the complete spectrum of Office 365 functionality is to measure what’s happening. With real data about real users you can see which parts of Office 365 are being used and which are not. You know whether your adoption programs are effective or need to make changes. This session covers the tools available in Office 365 to help you understand user adoption. You’ll not only learn HOW to measure adoption, but also WHAT to measure and WHY.

Slides: <link>

Blake’s Takes…

This particular presentation is titled: “Microsoft Office 365 adoption: if you can’t measure it, it’s not happening. “The reason I’m here is that I believe this to be the God’s honest truth, regardless to which higher power you submit.

So far the two presenters have talked about the idea of measuring adoption without actually explaining how it would be done. I love when presenters do this. It’s like the infomercial for the “extreme fat burning system” where they discuss the the fact they plan to reveal the secret for the entirety of the infomercial without ever revealing anything.

“O365 report reader administrator” role is new. It allows access to Usage Reports in the Admin center, but that is the only access granted is to the report data–that’s it. After the access if granted, it will be one of the tiles the user sees. The user access report are across the O365 apps (SharePoint, OneDrive, Outlook, etc.)

Activity reports are being generated on TEAMS starting this month. We are being assured that there are new measures added to the Admin Center Reports on a monthly basis.

Office 365 Usage Analytics will be the new name for the Adoption Content Pack. Early 2018, this will be available/rebranded, and it will measure adoption rather than usage. We gotta get on this…

They are, shockingly, a number of third party tools for analytics that leverage the date from Microsoft Graph. And of course, none were mentioned.

They did direct us to this discussion on adoption “tools”.

Monday 9/25 – Power transformative change with Microsoft business applications and platform

Official Description…


Digital transformation is top of mind for businesses. Your business applications and application platform are critical to powering your company’s transformation. Join James Phillips, Microsoft Corporate Vice President, Business Applications Group, to learn about Microsoft’s vision and strategy for business applications. See how modern applications are powered by data and intelligence, how they make the most of your Office 365 investments and how the Microsoft application platform enables you to extend and create new business applications to adapt for the future.

Blake’s Takes…

We kicked this off with a stat: 2020 – 50% of workforce is millennials.

GRE, you have been warned.

Incidentally, I just walked a half-mile to get here. Seriously, I’ve had shorter walks traversing the UWEC campus back in my college heyday. Like the calories from the banana I ate for breakfast are long burned up. And when I arrived, the main session was again full. I’m now in the largest overflow room I’ve ever seen. And I’m happy to be here.

On an unrelated note, there is one woman at this conference for every 25 men. This has created a bathroom paradox the likes of which I’ve never experienced. The lines for the men’s bathroom are 50-75 deep. The lines for the women’s bathroom aren’t. The key to timely relief, and being male at an IT conference of this magnitude, is to aim high. Yes, you need to take as many escalators as possible to the top level in whichever building you find yourself. No one reaches for the sky when they need to go, that’s why I do. I had the bathroom on the fourth level all to myself. As I was coming back down the escalators, the same endless line from the main level restroom had barely moved.

The first part of this session, was ironically, on PowerPoint. What strikes me is the overuse of hyperbole during these presentations. [presenter inserts a 3D object into a slide] “That was amazing! See, engineers can create amazingly beautiful slides!” Honestly, it was interesting, cool maybe, it was not amazing. And insisting verbally that it was “amazing” makes it amazing naught.

The world’s largest human just sat in the chair next to me. There are 3,000 seats in this place–plenty empty–but apparently, right next to me was the obvious place to sit? I’m having a flashback to the flight that brought me down here. Of course, I’m partially at fault. Religiously taking an aisle seat nearly guarantees that someone will grab the seat next to you. I should’ve situated myself right in the middle of a row…next time.

We are still in the midst of a demo of PPT, Word, Excel, etc… The presenter is continuously professing her undying “love” for these tools. Personally, I’d choose a less intense verb. I’ll spare everyone the details of the cool things she’s demoing in Excel, as they are not particularly cool.

Microsoft Teams will replace Skype for Business. That does not affect us, but I figured I’d toss that in for the hell of it.

So this Cortana thing is Microsoft’s Siri or Echo. You can leverage it to automatically schedule a meeting. Again, they are hitting us with a blight of functionality that would take months of training and use before our users could even approach efficiency.

Microsoft Teams now allows for external access as long as “the externals users are on the Microsoft global Azure AD”. Also “Teams really allows your personality to shine with emojis and GIFs.” Phew! Again, the presenter just asked the audience to clap to raise the energy in the room. If you can’t generate “energy” with your presentation, asking for “energy” is a tad pathetic. Better would be to rework your presentation, so that it inspires authentic “energy”.

The presenter is demoing all of the MS 365 apps on her phone. This brings to mind the difficulties we’ve had so far in doing this @ GRE. It’s something we should work out once and for all. We need to be able to demo this, as it would be a clear driver for adoption. It would also be a clear driver migrating files off the S:\ drive. The current process of VPN + AirWatch is considerably more clunky than the unified MS 365 experience. And MS 365 would not require VPN.

GE has 220,000 mailboxes on Exchange online. If they can do it, we can do it–right?! We are being treated to yet another over-produced video on how GE solved every company problem they ever had with Microsoft’s tools. Incredible! “Really excited”, “Faster progress then EVER before”, “Totally awesome developments”, lots of fresh hyperbole–yay!

One of the things that makes any conference “totally awesome” is hearing what didn’t work. I want to hear about the struggles. I want to hear how obstacles were overcome. If GE indeed solved every business issue ever with Microsoft, I want the details. I seriously doubt registering each user with an O365 Pro Plus account was all it took. They did use O365 Pro Plus as a precursor to moving to Outlook in the cloud. They big gain for them was the 50GB mailbox size. I guess if you can shift the storage problem to someone else–mission accomplished! New term “Employee Delighter”–I’m going to be saying that all the time from now on.

The million dollar question was just asked: “What can’t my work life mimic my consumer life?” That’s a great question IMHO.

They are doing a demo of Auto Pilot, which is a way to provision laptops and desktops running Windows 10 remotely via the cloud. Windows 10 also provides a rich analytics dashboard. It is interesting, because you can get stats on usage of various apps, as well as stats on the space used. In their example, they showed that there were 300GBs of data in OneDrive, but only 66% of users were actively utilizing the tool.

Monday 9/25 – Vision Keynote

Official Description…


Plan ahead for Monday’s Vision Keynote with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella.


Blake’s Takes…




So this kicked off with me being on the wrong end of the longest walkway in Orlando. As a result, I’m viewing the keynote with 3,500 of my closest friends in overflow area #1.

The keynote predictably starts with some pro bloggers doing a morning news style variety slapstick–lots of inside jokes that I’d totally get if I had ever watched their surely witty podcasts, which I have not, so I didn’t get the inside comedy jokes. The main event predictably kicks off with an overly enthusiastic pixie pumping up the geeks by declaring all of us “change agents” that will lead our organizations into the future. She just introduced Satya, who is ostensibly Microsoft’s Steve Jobs. He is rather charismatic, but that’s not surprising considering he’s running the mothership. There is a heavy emphasis on the after-effects of the Hurricanes. “1 of 10 of you have traveled here from areas that were ravaged by Harvey, Irma, and Jose.”

Incidentally, there are either 21,000, 25,000, or 30,000+ attendees depending on who I ask. The latter estimate came courtesy of whacky announcer guy who was doing Keynote pre-game show. So, I’m guessing we can scratch that one as overly ambitious. Satya is giving all of up a pep talk by stating the obvious: “As technologists and decisions makes, we have to keep in mind the timeless values of what we do. How will we use technology to empower. Tech should embellish the power of human beings. We want tech to provide new levels of inclusiveness and bla…bla…bla…you get the idea.” Microsoft’s mission statement (in case you missed it): Empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more! Incidentally, there is a loud breather siting directly behind my ears. Each inhale and exhale is resonating in stereo from behind whilst Sataya regales me from the huge screen in front of me. The net effect of this is that I feel like I can hear Sataya breathing and talking to me simultaneously. Lots of focus on “change”. Funny, I feel like I was listening to this exact same pitch a decade ago in San Diego at the last ever Stellent Crescendo conference. I guess the old saying is literally true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sataya has this quirk of saying “Microsoft three six five” as opposed to “office three sixty-five”. Since he is obviously the expert, expect me to start referring to it as “Microsoft three six five” as well. Modern Workplace They are doing a case study on Ford Motor Co. It’s a lot of buzzwords (mixed reality, collaboration, innovate) and jargon (Microsoft Hub, GitHub, multi-factor authentication). They are demoing a “Microsoft HoloLens” — allows people to collaborate in a 3D space with these goofy goggles on their face. It looks like something right out of Star Trek. The folks doing the demo are using mid air to scroll through menus that are being rendered by the sweet goggles. I’m struck by how preposterous (and expensive, ~$5,000) this sort of technology is. If we are concerned about confusion between the MS Word desktop application and the MS Word App, we ain’t passing out HoloLens goggles anytime soon.

Demos of this level of complexity always cause me to wax philosophical about the divide between technology companies like Microsoft and their customers. Clearly, Microsoft can’t just stop innovating. Meanwhile, back at good ol’ GRE, we can’t continuously introduce new technology and functionality for our users lest we risk extreme confusion, building frustration and ultimately complete abandonment. This effect is inherent in the tech company vs. customers relationship. I contend that the missing link is (and will always be) the rare individual who can translate the myriad functionality baked into tools like Microsoft three six five into user productivity. Too many IT folk simply understand the technology. Users understand their business processes. Business Analysts try to span that gap, but it would be a gross simplification of reality to contend that BAs can become expert enough in the technology or the business processes to design intelligent solutions on their own. What is needed, is a technologist, who can imbed him/herself in the business process (literally or figuratively), so that he or she can truly feel the user’s pain. In turn, the technology solution that is developed will actually serve the purpose of serving the user. Unlike the complex utopia we are being drowned in at the moment, that is the IT utopia that would actually usher in a wave of change. Business Applications We’ve moved to the Business Applications pillar of Microsoft’s strategy. We’re hearing about Dynamics 365.

  • “Very rich data substrate”
  • “AI-first customer applications”

That sums up what I’ve gleaned from this section.

Applications & Infrastructure + Data Q&A


GRE is a software company, because we develop applications. So says Satya. We need to democratize the ability to build AI apps, apparently. We are being treated to a number promotional video snippets where people in suits and lab coats are staring at arrays of mentors and pointing at graphs and things. Needless to say, I’m not convinced. 
Some of these AI (Artificial Intelligence) scenarios are frighteningly close to SkyNet. They are like Rosie the Robot meets the Deathstar. I’ve seen have a dozen episodes of Black Mirror that are eeriely similar to portions of this Keynote (shivers down spine). “What if we could discover that super conductive material that would allow for lossless energy transfer?” Asks Satya “That could be the solution to our energy problem,” he contends. Of course, AI, coupled with Quantum computing, would facilitate something like this. A panel of experts (mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists) is attempting to do a “Quantum Computing for Dummies” mini-symposium. So far, it ain’t working…for me. We are so far afield from the task at hand, that I’m mildly annoyed. We are getting a Klein-Gordon equation breakdown. The dude next to me just yawned; the guy behind me stopped breathing; people are starting to leave the room. My (dirty) chai tea latte is wearing off, I’m getting drowsy. “Abstract and esoteric” – that is how this discussion was just described. That was an apt assessment. This entire presentation reminded me of high school: a bunch of topics that I barely understood, would likely never use again in my life, and was happy to be done with.

Sunday 9/24 – Revelry & Some Food, I Think

After working out–you always have to test out the hotel workout facilities right when you arrive–I was planning on a quiet evening chilling out by the pool with my iPad and my complimentary beverage ticket….

…and then someone yelled out “Blake!” from across the poolside tiki bar. It was my old partner in crime, from the bad ol’ days @ Cargill, none other than Douglas “Dougie” Trieber. I honestly had no idea I was going to know anyone here.

We sat at the pool bar and worked out the finer points of SharePoint for about 42 seconds, then we yucked it up as we reminisced the balance of the evening. By the end of the evening, I came to realize that I’ve been doing this IT thing for a (much too) looooong time…

Sunday 9/24 – Arrival

Back at the ol’ stompin’ grounds for some spectacular geek-a-luscious IT conference happenings. I was last here in the spring of 2009 for the IOUG Collaborate Conference.



Got muh badge. Got muh swag (backpack–chose the blue option, t-shirt & water bottle–the orange one).


Got the Microsoft Ignite app installed on the ol’ mobile communications device. I’m all set!!! It ain’t SanFran, but it’ll have to do.


[In Order] To Explain It All…

“Remember, a writer writes always.”
—Larry (Billy Crystal) from the movie: Throw Mama From the Train