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At the Build 2019 developer conference in Seattle, the world was given a look at some nascent features coming soon to Microsoft cloud solutions. Businesses in particular should be excited by the enhancements for the cloud-powered Microsoft 365 productivity suite. Combining the best of Windows 10, Office 365 apps, and enterprise-grade cybersecurity for a reasonable monthly subscription rate, Microsoft 365 is touted as "the world's productivity cloud—a solution to help people work smarter together on any device."
As an early adopter of Microsoft 365 (we first saw it at the Microsoft Inspire 2017 event and were immediately hooked) and current Microsoft Gold-level Partner, Amaxra took a deep dive into the new features that were either announced or launched at Build 2019. Here are our top three productivity enhancers that your business can use in Microsoft 365 to gain a real competitive advantage in a fast-paced world.
Take decisive action from inside Outlook
Clickbait headlines have proclaimed for years that "email is dead," but the fact is that the majority of business communication is done via email. The gold standard in email clients is still Microsoft Outlook, which is made better than ever thanks to the cloud-based underpinning of Microsoft 365 and native mobile apps available for iOS and Android devices.
A new feature for Outlook on mobile devices launched at Build 2019 was Actionable Messages. Think about all those times you've received an email that contained a request for you to take a specific action, such as a meeting request. Even though Outlook Mobile has a built-in calendar (unlike Gmail which requires you to open a separate calendar app), you have to tap the calendar icon at the bottom of the app to see your availability for the proposed meeting. If the request was to approve an employee's timesheet or take a survey, then you were guaranteed to leave your Outlook inbox and switch to another app.
However, the new Actionable Messages feature in Outlook Mobile enables you to take action immediately on that invitation without leaving your inbox. With Actionable Messages enabled, you will now see a "card" inline with a list of options on your calendar for when to best schedule that meeting without a conflict. You can tap the time and date on the card that fits in your busy schedule from directly inside the email. This is an obvious time saver because you took action without having to switch apps. Outlook for Android users will see these Actionable Messages first, followed soon after by iOS devices and the Mac.
A variation of the Actionable Messages feature will be available for Microsoft Word and Excel (both the online and local clients), too. Scheduled for release toward the end of Summer 2019, Microsoft 365 users will be able to add an inline @mention of a colleague when authoring a Word document or Excel spreadsheet. An @mention in Word or Excel can be used to automatically assign your colleague a task, ask them a question, or prompt them for a quick review. The @mention feature is used by Amaxra daily when collaborating in Microsoft Teams via messages, but required attaching a file or document to the message. So, we can see how this will be a major time saver for many organizations with Microsoft 365.
Microsoft could've kept the Actionable Message to themselves as a feature exclusive to Office 365 apps but instead decided to open Actionable Messages to third-party developers. Not only will Actionable Message emails work Microsoft apps, they will enable you to approve expense reports for Sage, prioritize a helpdesk ticket for Freshworks, and answer SurveyMonkey surveys right from your inbox. This means Actionable Messages are infinitely customizable. Amaxra is evaluating options for how Actionable Messages can be customized to add value to our clients, too.
Find your organization's hidden tribal knowledge
Whether you work in a tiny company or a giant enterprise, there is a quantum of knowledge that gets passed on—almost by osmosis—between employees. A company orientation and employee handbook only covers so much. Knowing where stuff is kept, the names of key people in the group, and the nuances of group dynamics and processes is termed as "tribal" knowledge. Microsoft sees that tribal knowledge (what they like to call "collective knowledge" in their marketing materials) as an untapped resource for your organization.
Across all the various Microsoft 365 apps, the Search box will now help surface your organization's tribal knowledge; often hidden in multiple documents and intranet sites. The revamped Microsoft Search box is now prominently displayed across all your Microsoft 365 solutions. The Search box is cloud powered and ties together files created in your organization using Office and Teams along with various bits of data stored in SharePoint, OneDrive, and Outlook. Thanks to a deep connection to the cloud, Microsoft Search helps you discover relevant people, content, commands, and activities from across Microsoft 365.
Finding a coworker's office is a real-world productivity enhancement you get from the new Search feature in Microsoft 365. For example, in any organization with more than a few dozen people, finding a specific person can be a challenge—especially if you're new and don't have that tribal knowledge yet. So, imagine you're new in a midsize company with 300+ employees and tasked to talk to a "PM" (what's that?) named "Daisy" in the marketing department. You type "Daisy office" into the Microsoft Search box and find not only where Daisy's office is located but you also see who else is in her organization, the files she's working on, and other pertinent information:
While this instant access to comprehensive employee information direct from the cloud is convenient, data privacy and security is an obvious concern. The good news is that Microsoft Search inherits whatever organizational privacy and security controls that you set in Microsoft 365. That means the Search results in your organization will reflect your specific data security rules. Because these rules are set up by you in the centralized cloud-based Microsoft 365 Admin Center, the Search data rules will always be up to date. Your employees will only ever see the search results for content they have access to.
Write better in Word
The most exciting of all the productivity-enhancing features for Microsoft 365 announced is called Ideas for Word. It's an editor in the cloud that provides intelligent suggestions to make your writing more concise, readable, and professional. Even though Word already has features that help with spelling and grammar, the new Ideas feature goes beyond just autocorrecting a misspelled word and chiding you to use active voice in your writing. Ideas leverages Microsoft's investment in cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to act as a "fresh set of eyes" on your writing—just like a real-life copyeditor would.
The Ideas editor is a cloud-native feature that will be added to the Word Online app soon to read through your documents and perform these professional editing functions:
- Providing estimated reading times – Ideas looks at the length of your document, your writing style, and other aspects to determine the average time it takes to read. This helps inform readers if they need three or thirty minutes to read your document
- Extracting key points – By holistically reading your document and emphasizing key points, Ideas can offer ways to punch up your copy. Ideas will automatically take copy in your Word document then suggest a variety of bullet point types and callout boxes inline that help your readers to get key information even if they are just scanning the document
- Structuring documents for readability – The most impressive of all Ideas' new features is the ability to format the whole document to make it navigable and easy to read with minimal effort on your part. For example, Ideas can tell if you are always manually making some words bold and bigger to indicate a new section. The cloud-based editor can save you time by reformatting those section heads with the appropriate Heading 1 or Heading 2 tag from the Word Styles menu that matches your document format. From there, Ideas would create a table of contents for the document automatically. It can even read through a block of text in your Word document then convert it to a preformatted table for maximum readability!
Microsoft 365 and the cloud make you more productive
Amaxra understands the great business value that the Microsoft 365 productivity suite delivers to an organization. Because Microsoft 365 is built on the cloud, new features such as Actionable Messages, enhanced Search, and Ideas for Word are added regularly to make users more productive.
If you use a legacy Microsoft Office suite (such as Office 2016) at your organization, read this blog, and want to learn how a move to the cloud can supercharge your productivity, contact us. Amaxra has expert consultants on hand to determine not only how moving to Microsoft 365 can make you more efficient but save you money in the process.
Contact me at Rosalyn.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425 749 7471 if you have any questions or comments on this blog.