Announcing: m365 Virtual Community and 3 Global Launch parties

M365 Virtual Launch Party

We are Better in Together Mode

I recently asked the community, “What is most important in a Technology User Group?”

(I asked on Linkedin and Twitter and got some enthusiastic responses with a consistent answer.. networking and friendships.  In total we had 76 responses.)

Absolutely… it’s about the networking and friendships you create.

I had so much fun with everyone putting on these recent virtual events, and I appreciate the spirit of the community to accomplish great things.  I have a heard a few comments recently that had me thinking what should I do… what could we do to bring the community together?

Jamaican Microsoft Community

“There isn’t a community in my area, these recent virtual events have been so needed.”

“I don’t get an opportunity to speak at events in my country, I really appreciate being able to have an opportunity to have a voice.”

“So many community events have been cancelled because of COVID.”

overheard at M365VM

It was during the M365 Virtual Marathon event I was able to rekindle so many friendships from communities I had visited all over the world and create new connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.  The outpouring of energy and excitement was palpable.  What next? I was anxious to do something that takes it to the next level. Let me share it was with the M365VM committee that I first shared my intentions to build a M365 global virtual user group. 

As a result, imagine what we could do with a platform where we could connect as a technology community.  Not just one or two annual events, but a truly global user group. With the newly announced 7×7 and the Microsoft Teams Together Mode and a community focused platform announced I couldn’t wait to help launch a truly global community on M365 with Microsoft technology at it’s core using the latest and greatest from Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Power Platform and beyond.

Party Poster for the first of 3 parties…

Announcing: Microsoft 365 Global Virtual Community!

M365 Global Virtual Community – Party Planning Committee Meeting

What is it? This will be a global user group focused on Microsoft Technologies. We want to support experts from around the world presenting to our global community. The opportunity will be for both experts and people interested to learn, but just as above the most important part of the community is the networking and friendships.

SharePoint 2010 Launch Party by the Community
(L-R Christian Buckley, Erica Toelle, Joel Oleson)

When I was at Microsoft I LOVED the launch parties.  I still remember the Windows XP launch party, the SharePoint 2001 launch party, Office XP, 2003, 2007 and so many more.  They were epic and so meaningful.  When SharePoint 2010 launched I partnered with Christian and Erica to throw the most amazing party at a club in Seattle.  Erica had some amazing connections for DJs for Music. Christian brings a fantastic energy and excitement and helped me with the marketing.  We had hundreds of people show up to a club in Seattle area, and we coordinated parties all over the world. It was a blast!

So you really should register to join the community. There’s no cost to it. We’ll reveal more about the community at the Launch Party… but think education, training, speakers, but you know we know that friendships and networking are event more important.

Before all that, we’re going to pull ourselves together at this virtual launch party that should rival the best parties. It may take some imagination, but I hope we can connect and have a blast!

>> Register to be a member of the M365 Global Virtual Community

PARTY CENTRAL

What better for launching a community than a *launch party* for the M365 global Virtual Community.  I want a virtual party that is the biggest virtual tech party. It’s global, so we really need 3 parties. One for each of the 3 eight hour periods. We are naming the parties Rising Sun for APAC (Asia Pacific), Apex for EMEA (Europe Middle East Africa), and

I’ve reached out to some friends and influencers including getting the band back together.  We’ve got Galen Keene, Ryan Schouten as executive producers with Jeff Willinger, Christian Buckley, Maarten Visser, Serge Tremblay, and many more.  We’ve been working on the details for a couple months.

PARTY CENTRAL MUSIC DJs and DANCING

Let’s start with the Music and DJs. The most popular Microsoft DJ is clearly Joey Snow.  Because he’s been DJ at more Microsoft and SharePoint Parties than anyone as long as I’ve been involved.  At this virtual party we have reached out to Joey and he’s on board! We will be featuring mixes from the famous DJ Joey Snow and his high energy summertime mixes perfect for dancing. You can check out some of his mix samples at Spreaker Bash Music where he regularly drops some dope mixes.

Pictured: Joey Snow DJ in a high energy mix of a Red Party

Those who have been in the community a long time know Keith Richie.  He was essential most important plugged in Microsoft PSS/CSS support engineer back in the day.  You couldn’t find a SharePoint Ranger who wasn’t on a first name basis with Keith.

See the source image
The Maestro – Keith Richie

Top Fans have said, “Thematically versatile with a distinctive signature sound, Keith Richie’s music is overall beautifully haunting, deeply emotive and often darkly thematic – yet never ghoulish, alienating or overtly frightening in nature” 

As a result, we’ll feature some songs inspired by the Microsoft Community in his Pillars in Time as well as his latest album of 20 years of music.

Keith Richie’s Latest Album Launched in April 2020.
2049 – An Anthology of 49 songs from 20 years of music.

PARTY CENTRAL: COSPLAY COSTUME CONTEST

Are you a Trekkie or Trekker?

Have you ever been to a Comicon or SCI FI convention? Jana Babackova and Joy Apple have planned the most epic Cosplay contest.  So, we are looking for both individuals and teams who are interested in participating in this awesome contest. Don’t be worried if this is your first time. I would expect most will be trying this out for the first time.

>> Register as a Team or Individual

MIND BLOWING LIGHTNING TALKS and PANEL OF THE FUTURE

Fastest speed round with 10 minute talks from your favorite speakers in bite sized chunks talking about the future.  As a result, we will have compelling topics such as Future of Microsoft 365, Mars, Quantum computing, Autonomous Enterprise, Future of Mixed Reality, Future of AI. 

<CALL FOR PANELS and Lightning TALKS> Coming soon! Come back!

Best way to keep in touch is to register for the party. We will have about a dozen -v10 minute lightning talks. I’m working with Christian Buckley on Panels and a fantastic line up of quick powerful speakers.

MASS TRIVIA and GAMES

Maarten Visser has put together a Power Apps based trivia game.  We are collecting questions for a fun and action packed amazing trivia game. No need to register for the game specifically, but be sure to join the event early and don’t miss it!

Lots of fun and more to be announced. We’re planning a virtual lobby in SharePoint spaces with parties running together mode and 7×7. Haven’t seen that happen yet? Let’s make it happen!

>>Don’t forget to Register to be a member of the M365 Global Virtual Community

Register for the 3! AWESOME virtual parties to come. Rising Sun has been announced for August 26/27.

Microsoft SharePoint Workflow End Of Life

Some very important news for SharePoint environments everywhere. Microsoft has clearly identified the end of the legacy SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 workflows with a few different timelines to be aware of. The most surprising is the one month clock to the end of SharePoint 2010 workflow creation with November being the date 2010 end of existing workflow support. SharePoint 2013 workflows remain supported but deprecated. Those on premise will be supported through 2026.

This summary image below was created and provided to save you some time to see if you’re impacted. If you are. I highly recommend you read the full article, tools, and support article. Here are the short links provided by Chris McNulty in his end of life SharePoint workflow announcement to the tech community. https://aka.ms/sp-workflows-update Support article on the SharePoint Workflow and SharePoint Designer creation to Power Automate and finally the Migration guidance for getting from SharePoint 2010 Workflow or SharePoint 2013 workflow to Power Automate.

Like the image above? Feel free to use it.

Behind the Scenes of the Microsoft 365 Virtual Marathon: Microsoft Woodstock

This isn’t an exposé, but I think you do deserve to hear some of the behind the scenes from the first edition of the Microsoft 365 Virtual Marathon and I will tell you right now won’t be the last. We had a blast and the feedback we’ve gotten from everyone involved has been fantastic. I’ve been working on building community in Orange County California ever since I got a job in the heart of Irvine California working for Perficient. It just made sense to help re-kick start the user group and based on failed past attempts at putting on an event at the heart of OC, it was time to try again. With the support of Ryan Schouten a very strong, reliable, trustworthy and really you can fill in all of the other parts of the scout law. I knew I could make it happen. Not long after Ryan and I toured the MTC picking out rooms for the event, we had Galen Keene, and Jeff Willinger were on board. We had a committee, a date, a venue and before long these were in stone with the support from Microsoft Irvine MTC. Then COVID19 hit.

Everything changed overnight. I had three events cancelled in a row. I was grounded. It was an event in Philly where I credit Russ Basiura with fighting like a lion to make the event happen, and the speakers and sponsors getting on board to back him up after he wrestled a giant to make it happen. He and I had some long calls to make that first visible M365 Virtual Modern Workplace Teams Event to make ripples. Going from 100 local attendees to 1300 online registered attendees. Recordings are available.

An incredible front lines keynote by Michael Gannotti, this experience gave me confidence and which reminded me that we were making a difference and could do a lot to lift the spirits of the community. Max’s “Rounding” Teams solution was a perfect way of demonstrating that Microsoft and Healthcare were made for each other. It was the comment from Mike Fitz that I paraphrase, “Events are cancelling left and right, not enough events are going virtual.” He went on to explain what doing a virtual event means for the community. That was enough. I had lived through the MVP summit going virtual and saw some of the gaps I knew how to solve from that event, but having heard the feedback first hand again I knew how important the community is to each of us individually. Bill Baer’s Virtual SharePint tweet, it brought a few of us together. A virtual SharePint, community moments of inspiration. Joining not the first edition, but seeing so many familiar faces with people laughing, sharing stories and experiences. It was more than meaningful. In addition, it was a second hand story of friend that had passed from COVID19 that made it strike home even more that this community needed something to bring us together even more.

The Philly event had a formula of building a solution based on Teams Live Events. I may have shared some stories about the MVP summit to plant some seeds, or Russ may have simply decided to run with it. Either way he had lined up some experts to take the speakers through tech checks and had awesome support to pull off a fantastic event. At work we then ran a series of webinars run on Teams Live events, and I was that much more comfortable with the tech, despite my frustration with the reports, the lack of good attendance numbers or detail.

It was with all of this in mind that after seeing a cancellation for the M365 Saturday event based on someone in our committee suggesting we kill it, that I shot out a quick response that NO, we should not cancel, but should convert it to a virtual event based on Teams live events. Ryan replaced the meeting and despite a couple of the committee dropping due to workload (both of them came back as speakers and absolutely supported us), and Galen and Jeff joined me as I shared my vision of taking this big. Even on day one I was suggesting we do some math. What does 15 sessions wide with 24 hours deep look like? Oh another event is already doing 35 hours? Let’s go 36 and end with SharePint. Someone suggested olympics as a theme due to the cancelled Olympics. The ideas kept firing. I reached out to Bill Baer then Jon Levesque both were immediately on board and our event was off the ground. We then started talking about Jeff Teper as a Keynote and with all our keynotes knowing we’d want to have Laurie Pottmeyer or Karuana we quickly decided we’d have keynotes at the beginning and end of every day, why not one every 4 hours. After a few tweets and Dan Holme was reaching out suggesting we chat with Jackie and talk to SPC. What a great match that was. SPC would handle sponsorships and vendor management and we could continue to focus on the speakers and platform. Microsoft Teams. We had a very clear vision for what we wanted to deliver. Working with Lyman, Shirley and Jackie has been smooth. They’ve done such a fantastic job with ensuring value for sponsors.

As an MVP you get a M365 Tenant with 5 users. Believe it or not, the event we decided to pull of was born on an MVP tenant of Ryan Schouten. Yes, the SharePointKnight tenant. There’s irony in that, but it wasn’t by design and that story is not for today. Leveraging key Tech platform sessionize for speakers and eventbrite for attendees, and plans to integrate all of jazz with SPSevents for marketing and community outreach. SPSEvents has grown as a platform to support events and has built in capabilities to support both Sessionize and Eventbrite. Perfect!

We’d use Azure sites to build out http://m365virtualmarathon.com with JSON feeds from sessionize to pull in speaker info, session info, and schedule. We had a bigger vision for how we wanted the UX to work with awesome filtering and sorting capabilities, and unbeknownst to us on the other side of the world Yoshi had already cracked the code using PowerBI with that same JSON feed from sessionize. Brilliant work!

https://bit.ly/m365Marathon

Beautiful PowerBI Report of sessions

Not only is the work a beautiful way of displaying the sessions it does a fantastic job at helping the user to wrap their head around the incredible sessions that the speakers put together.

Ultimately we had over 743 sessions submitted and over 400 sessions delivered. A behind the scenes secret I’m happy to share… we didn’t turn away a single speaker who submitted, showed up to tech checks, and showed up to present.

Three hundred thirty eight speakers were selected to speak. During the attempts to recruit speakers from around the world, I started thinking about the Latin American community. How could we best support them? What about the Japanese. I clearly remember my first session overseas at a TechEd in Japan with my first translator. I knew first hand what it would mean to the attendees to be able to support foreign language. It was at this moment that I knew we needed to find a way to support foreign language tracks. It was in a conversation with Ai, an MVP from Japan that I was able to convince her that it was better that we come together as a community rather than having them run a separate event in Japanese. I do feel that our event was better by having them. The most smooth running track was the Japanese track. Three of the top 4 tweets and most tweeted were Japanese! Incredible showing by some of the most intelligent people in the community. I was very humbled when I saw the stats from tygraph when we finished the event. We had over 2000 tweets during the event with sentiment that broke the tygraph record.

We reached out to the French of course! I’ve been involved in events in Montreal, Paris, Morocco, Tunis, Algeria and despite my challenge with travel I was fully aware of the incredible community in Tahiti and New Caledonia. Serge and Patrick did an awesome job. French spans from Lebanon to New Caledonia with French speakers in most time zones in between. After we reached out to the Spanish speaking/Latin American and Hispanic communities, we reached out to the Japanese, Korean and why not share more love with Europe. Was so great to see the MVPs and speakers from places I had visited in Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Spain, and so many more… and embrace what we were trying to do. We wanted this to be big tent. I credit Ricardo Munoz Monge, may he rest in peace, for helping us unite the English speaking and Spanish speaking communities around a dozen events in Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile. Haaron, Juan, Manuel, Vladimir and Andres Rojas did a fantastic job on the Spanish speaking tracks. Olivia Ha was a great contact for helping us get Korean community connected. They are a very tight group. They were very interested in having chat not just among presenters and speakers, but a very key feature for attendees which resulted in some interesting session experiences as they were asking for a lot of participation backstage. I have been to Korea a couple of times, but this was the first time connecting with the Korean community. Other parts of Asia including Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia all had speakers and attendees. Over 35 Myanmar attendees was a surprise. The largest amount of attendees was actually in India. I credit Dipti for helping us organize and represent Asia Pacific providing some of the best recruiters. We had universities in India inviting their students to attend. We event built a certificate of attendance to support some special requests from some attendees in India.

Both Brazil and Portugal are close to my heart. Reaching out to my friends from Brazil Teched from back in 2012 and Rodrigo Pinto who I’ve met in Lisbon Portugal a couple of times and hung out in Seattle/Redmond at least a couple of times during MVP Summit, not to mention SPC parties. I was excited to see an attendee from Angola who joined.

Jeff Willinger played an important role. Not only did he allow us to use his home as the core for the operation, but in addition he made sure we were fed and offered us showers and beds even if we only used them for an hour or two. His session was first up for the day right after the keynote and another right about midnight. He kept the pulse on social and helped us be aware of sentiment. I was super excited when he told us we trended for about an hour an a half. #M365VM hashtag served us well. The Japanese team really adopted it. 7 of the top 10 tweeters were Japanese.

tyGraph supplied us with a very cool tool for measuring our reach, impressions and sentiment
https://link.tygraph.com/M365VM

As could be implied by my previous statement, due to challenges with Microsoft Teams Guest access requirements, if you did not show up to the tech check, and you did not join us in Teams, you likely had trouble getting in. You not only need permissions to the Speaker Team as a member, but you actually needed to login once or accept the invite so your teams client would give you the option to select the SharePointKnight tenant when ready to speak. We missed a handful of speakers who we were reaching out to on Facebook messenger and email asking them to join us. A couple speakers were stopped by cyclone level rains, and another was smart enough to record so even the cyclone wouldn’t stop them.

Our design on the schedule was setup to be dynamic. With all users using the web interface with join links, we could simply update the join links and hope that cache would flush and users would be sent to the right place. We were using short links thinking that would be super simple to update the short links. Unfortunately bit.ly doesn’t let you update the link, so that bit of brilliance let us down. We won’t be using bit.ly next time. It still didn’t keep us from updating the links inside of sessionize where our JSON feed was updating the schedule. As I said we could pull links and even full sessions if we needed to. Let’s back up to the beginning of the event and give you some insights and behind the scenes.

Keynotes

Jeff Teper, yes, the godfather, was our keynote. Father SharePoint Christmas. We didn’t want anything interfering with his delivery. The day before the event we decided we wanted to use the 30 minute prior to his session to help prepare users for this new way to consume an event. The focus was on the single session schedule page and our plan was to update the page 30 minute prior to the event with a series of join links with a bold and easy to use button. Sometimes that button was hard to get to, and since it was at the bottom of the description we ran into situations where it would take extreme scrolling skills to get to the button which sometimes showed up as a faint link.

Jeff delivered a fantastic session pre-recorded, but special for our event. Despite some issues with audio, yes you have to check that tiny little box to include system audio (why is that not default?). Other audio with the AltSpaceVR demo might have caused a slight hiccup during the starting line presentation as well as some funny camera work, but despite that, the video was playing smoothly and on time. That’s when disaster struck in the last 10 minutes of the session the feed cut out for a few seconds, and then poof it was gone. We were already deep into production setup for the next set of 17 simultaneous sessions, when we discovered that Teams Live events had a boo boo that was a service issue that affected a number of tenants not only ours. There’s no restarting an ended event on Teams Live events. So we did what we could. We immediately setup the link to point to our copy of the keynote on Youtube and shifted our focus to the breakouts. It was also replayed at the end of day 1 as Asia kicked off, and again for the beginning of Europe. Lots of airplay and since then it has gotten 2500 views through the event page linking directly to the video. (All videos from the event will be up on our M365 Virtual Marathon channel on Youtube shortly. We estimate over 350 hours of rich content from the event will be available on the channel within the next week. Subscribe for notifications.)

The other keynotes went off without a hitch. We took some liberties to do intros, and played looping vendor videos before and after each keynote. Really it was quite smooth. Jon Levesque’s session on the community being more than about Tech is absolutely spot on! I’m so glad we were able to include that message in a strong way.

Of the 17 sessions, 12 started just flawlessly for the most part… save 5. There were about five that simply would not start either timing out or giving us errors. One even started but would pop back into pre-live mode a couple of different times with no explanation at the time. After some troubleshooting we decided to move those 5 sessions to Teams Meetings and again using our sessionize link update tricks we were back in action communicating with those speakers and getting them into new rooms. Gokan is a warrior. His popular Mastering Teams session had over 200 attendees running in a Teams Meeting. Why so many of those attendees joined and turned on audio I may never know, but dogs, kids, and random conversations turned that meeting into a cry for why is this NOT “Teams Live events.” We were happy to say that was the only time we had to move our scheduled live events to teams meetings during the event.

We jumped on with Microsoft support and they dug in. We heard within 30 minutes from Dan Holme and Karuana that what we were experiencing was not a tenant limit or a bandwidth issue, but a performance related issue affecting multiple tenants and within that hour all our functionality and more was restored.

Microsoft increased the tenant limits beyond 15 during COVID to 50 concurrent Live events, and we wanted to increase our maximum support as a result. I’m happy to report our record was 22 officially maybe more. We did not have any further issues with trying to take speakers LIVE and the fluke event was just that a fluke.

How does one produce 400+ sessions? With an army of trained volunteer producers. For the most part we leaned on our relationship with the foreign language track owners to staff their own tracks and we would provide tech checks and training. For English we reached out and recruited speakers and community folks. We had 50 volunteers from around the world. These producer volunteers would go on to produce 287 sessions leaving the organizers aka executive producing team to support 136 sessions and check on the other sessions to ensure they get covered.

Producer Volunteers covered nearly 70% of all sessions, but there was plenty of work to be done. Hope you’ll sign up next time!

We believe in testing. What we didn’t get the opportunity to test was what happens when you have dozens of sessions going on simultaneously and a producer drops and speaker drops before the next producer and speaker show up. I’ll tell you what happens. The live event stops and it won’t restart. This is a nightmare. We were running our sessions about 7-8 hours deep per track. This means we wanted the live event to run for 8 consecutive hours even if we only had 3 hours with an hour break and then another 3 hours plus buffer. Remember we have keynotes every 4 hours so during the second keynote the live meetings started to drop as speakers were dropping to watch the keynote and as producers felt it was ok to take a break, and much didn’t have the next shift anyway. When a live event ends there is currently no way to revive it. Hence we needed to have a virtual account or one of us exec producers sitting on every room at all times to keep them alive. Not only would we have to check on them we’d need to keep them open. After that great insight we had very little problem and could start to focus on the real logistical issues.

Day 1 never really ended. By around midnight I suggested that Ryan should go down and that if Galen could last we should try to stay 2 wide on the executive producer side. I say executive producer because our role of having every session covered by at least one producer didn’t work out. We had 50 producers. That sounds incredible right? If each of those producers covered at least 4 sessions that would get us nearly half way. Not even close. Instead Ryan, Galen and I would defy gravity and take on typically 4-8 sessions each to fill in the gaps. Most speakers I worked with would think “Joel” jumped in made sure I could share and then bounced. Yep, that’s about it. At peak I was producing or holding onto twelve simultaneous sessions and only had time to make sure that speakers were not having issues. Use the chat if you have issues was about all I had time to convey as I would jump from room to room listening for speakers voices and watching for slides rarely coming off mute. Despite this limited chaos we were effective in our efforts and ultimately between the three of us we were able to cover 20+ wide sessions. A given Windows 10 client can join 4 simultaneous sessions. With my three clients I was able to bounce from room to room during peak performance within seconds to verify audio. It allowed me then to focus on the problem areas where speakers may be having a variety of issues from a no show (very limited), guest login issues (more common such as joining accidentally as attendee such as mobile or browser), audio issues (common), or speakers waiting to be introduced (odd but happened a few times). Expectation setting was mostly covered in both speaker training and producer training, but I don’t think the speakers were aware we really only had enough actual 1:1 producer to producer ratio to cover about 2/3rds of the sessions. The rest were our scrappy crew of executive producers who were primarily focused on solving problems: sessions with no producer and quickly focused on problem sessions. For the most part the troubleshooting was happening 20-10 minutes prior to the session starting, but I’m sorry to say there were a handful of situations we weren’t able to correct quickly enough to share the special producer PowerPoint to send the message attendees should pick one of the other 20 or so sessions happening at the time. Galen, did a fantastic job training and signing up the producers on an intense schedule. Producers needed to commit to at least one 3 hour block in order to make the cut. We really did have some of the most incredible producers ever. I’m looking now and we had 129 sessions that were not assigned a specific producer at the widest this was 11 sessions just in English track to be covered by our scrappy team of producers.

Producers and Volunteers

Some notable highly recommended very skilled producers who covered multiple shifts and many of these were speakers as well. Incredible dedication and spirit:

Russ Bassiura, Jana Babackova, Dipti Chhatrapati, Tomasz Poszytek, Chirag Patel, Maarten Visser, Michael Mukalian, John Moore, Lalit Mohan, Nicolaus Georgault, David Riberot

Producer Sample Schedule

The purple reflects sessions the 3 of us exec producers would jump in to get things started then jump to verify the other producers had things under control. Galen would yell out. Joel take room 10-14! Ryan you get room 6-8 and 10. I got 1 and 3. Monitoring chat from the various rooms was critical. Feature request. Give me sentiment analysis on the chats coming from rooms and color them for me. I was watching the chat activity streams from rooms I was not in, and trying to determine who needed help. Having 3 machines in front of me connected across 12 rooms monitoring chat for screams for help felt like you were in a hospital intensive care unit.

In the afternoon I enjoyed sitting on the Japanese and Korean sessions. The Japanese had an incredibly packed session, and the Koreans loved their chat. They were running over 16 in as Organizer so they could have all the features. It’s no surprise we ended up having to fix session rooms that closed on more than 3 occasions. We had to keep reminding organizers not to his that big red END button. So tempting. As I said, we were trying to hold these rooms open for 8 hours so any end was not only a disaster for the next session, but in some cases the next 5 sessions that would need new links as a result.

The Virtual Marathon ended up being more of a marathon than I would have imagined. I knew it was long, but when talking about how we would transition to our counterparts in Asia and Europe we ultimately decided with our war room approach and in trying to cover a half dozen sessions, we decided we should keep two of us going at any given hour. I asked Ryan to go down around midnight. We told him we’d wake him up if we needed him. I put in a 25 hour shift essentially starting at 6am and going strong till 7am the next morning when Ryan got up and taking a 2 hour nap before getting up and joining up for day 2 keynote. Galen stayed up till about 10am with only a 30 min cat nap on the couch, but later took a rest. Very impressive. So throughout the night we had at least 2 of us covering and checking across all sessions and holding onto all sessions through the block. You’d think that APAC or EMEA would be easier, but in reality our widest 22 concurrent was in Europe peak hours when we had 14 English plus German, 2 Spanish, Portuguese, and 2 French even 2 Japanese and Korean.

How did the community respond to AltSpaceVR as a community gathering place? We ultimately had 106 unique people enter the space over 400 times in total meaning most users visited on average 4 times.

Attendees

M365VirtualMarathon.com site statistics during covering the dates for the event

Looking at our Eventbrite registration we ultimately had over 12,750 attendees from 115 different countries spread into 3 eight hour periods. This is how we determined how we’d follow the sun. 4 x 8 hour blocks providing equal periods starting with keynotes with mid keynotes and end keynotes.

I hope this event was as enjoyable for you as it was for me. There’s more I could go into what I want to see in improvements, but I’m working on a deck for Microsoft on that topic. We learned a lot! I’m also making myself available virtually with my executive producer team. We are making ourselves available for Running Teams Live Events: Microsoft 365 Virtual Marathon Case Study. Love to share our experiences and help train your team or User Group so you can run your next event virtually.

Feedback

Let me end with my favorite end user feedback from the event…

Demistifying Microsoft Groups: 5 Keys to Successful Group Management

Microsoft Groups have been used for securing resources and providing membership abilities for more than three decades, before AD even early NT 4 Domains with local groups on servers.  With the advent of Azure AD and the Office 365 Cloud, the newer Microsoft 365 groups have evolved beyond the on premises groups to provide not only access control for files, email distribution and resources, but also security boundaries including the one of the newest features in Teams the information barriers which give you the ability to isolate one group of people from another including their ability to even see them or collaborate with them in the user interface. It’s more important than ever to have a hybrid strategy to manage your groups.

>> Register for a free educational webinar with Joel Oleson on “Demystifying Microsoft Groups: 5 Keys to Successful Group Management on June 2nd. More details below.

Microsoft Groups are used for these main uses:

  • Identity Based Security Perimeter including providing employee only access to internal resources
  • Membership and Access Controls including Application Authorization and SAAS Licensing
  • Email Notification and Distribution including alerts a group inbox or lists for forwarding

Four Types of Microsoft Groups

There are 4 main Microsoft groups in a hybrid environment and you will see overlap in groups between on-premises and the Microsoft cloud. In addition there is a group mailbox, but that function is primarily being replaced by capabilities in Microsoft 365 Groups with Outlook/Exchange online.

  • Microsoft 365 Groups cloud only
  • Security groups – both
  • Distribution groups – both
  • Mail enabled groups – both

You can synchronize groups, but the full sync including write back has limitations especially when discussing the Microsoft 365 group membership. We will continue to see innovation in efforts by Microsoft to make one or 2 way sync better, but it has a long way to go. Much of this is leveraged by AD contact objects internally which prevent access inadvertently being shared from cloud to on-premises.

Microsoft Group Management

Management of Groups in hybrid involved a number of different Admin interfaces.  In your on premise environment you’re using Active Directory and Exchange or even better… PowerShell.  In the cloud you have more options including Azure Active Directory, Microsoft 365 Admin center, Exchange Admin Center.  For policies on the groups you might find yourself using Teams Admin Center and Security and Compliance center.  Microsoft Graph is a great way to script or automate Microsoft 365 group changes.  Think of PowerShell for wide sweeping service wide changes across multiple groups and Graph for granular narrow changes such as changes on a large group. Microsoft Graph is only available in the cloud while PowerShell is available in both cloud and on premises. 

Delegation of rights and management is often provided to the owners while membership itself can be dynamic based on AD user attributes or rules.  These dynamic membership based groups can be configured both on premises and in the cloud with Microsoft 365 groups.  Identity is synchronized with Azure AD Connect.  Various single sign on and MFA solutions are supported for authentication and ensuring a good user experience both at work and remote including mobile support.

5 Keys to Successful Group Management:

Define your Hybrid Group Management Strategy for Service Wide Governance and Security.  There are changes that should only be made in one environment or the other.  Those that think they should simply sync all changes both ways are missing out on zero trust security positioning.  There are often differences with sensitive data internal where those groups should not be synchronized to the cloud.  Governance is not just about security.  Consider naming strategies, usage, reporting, and auditing.  Ownership and policies around lifecycle.

Plan Self Service or IT Led with Oversight  The goal should be self service with oversight, but for some services you may decide to have support desk manage membership.  Smaller companies may use IT support or have IT or HR in the lifecycle or approval process.  Service desk can be burdened for simple membership that could better be managed by the group owner.  Think full lifecycle.   Dynamic groups are the best as it will ensure attributes determine who should have membership.  There are tools that provide identity and access management including membership.  Groups delegation is important but along with it comes responsibility and accountability. 

Provision your Groups with lifecycle membership in mind.  Gather additional metadata including owner, secondary owner, department, location, and other contextual data.  Imagine the owner leaves, the situation you need to avoid is orphaned groups on sensitive data.  It’s chaos to have groups without proper ownership and management.  Relying on the support desk to understand management is asking for trouble if they don’t know who should be a member. 

Audit your groups usage and lifecycle periodically.  We need to ensure that groups never become orphaned (no owner) and we also need to ensure that groups membership is valid, and that its existence still valid.  If a group should be removed, that’s what needs to happen.  Ideally these audits should be as automated as possible with pressure on owners to do the validation and attestation.

Archive or Delete Unused Groups – There’s nothing worse than stale groups giving people rights that they should no longer have.  Even when a group has no members doesn’t mean it isn’t a threat.  It could be used to gain access to resources.  The more groups the greater the chance for mistakes to be made.  You should be not only auditing the groups, but regularly deleting, archiving, and cleaning up the mess.  Dynamic groups are a great way to go to focus on ensuring membership is valid based on rules, but also ensuring owners are regularly reviewing their group.  Do they still need it?  This shouldn’t be a once in a lifetime type question. 

Enjoy the infographic. Feel free to download it blog about it, share it. It is created with creative commons sharealike license. You can download the high resolution printable PDF “Microsoft Groups Demystified: 5 Keys to Successful Group Management” on slideshare or the the JPG version of “Microsoft Groups Demystified: 5 Keys to Successful Group Management.” Love to hear your feedback on social media or in the comments.

Groups are powerful, and yet most companies struggle with management and see self service group management as identity chaos with security nightmares.  Tools such as Cayosoft can help you get a better handle on your hybrid group management strategies.  Keeping groups transparent and understood across the organization as a responsibility and accountability is the most important key to successful group management. 

Join me on a webinar where we can dive into this topic for an hour with Q&A sponsored by Cayosoft.

Free Webinar: Microsoft Groups Demystified: 5 Keys to Successful Group Management

>> Register Now

When: June 4th at 2pm Eastern Time / 11am Pacific Time

Speakers: Joel Oleson, MVP & RD, Director at Perficient and Robert Bobel, CEO of Cayosoft, Hybrid expert

Description: How are you handling Microsoft groups as you adopt more and more of the cloud? What should you do with your DLs? For hybrid environments, legacy groups can be a real struggle, and most organizations leave security groups in place while creating new ones in the cloud. Double the groups can mean double the frustration.

Join us for this webinar, where we’ll explore the history of security groups and distribution lists and dive deep into how best to approach users and strategies for on-premises and cloud group coexistence and synchronization. We’ll also explore the new Teams Information Boundaries and Unified Labeling and classifications to paint a clearer picture of security and classification in Microsoft 365. 

This session will take comprehensive look at Microsoft “Groups end to end” and work to cover some common groups questions:

  • What about lifecycle and cleanup? 
  • Policy & Naming standards?
  • Is write-back an option? 
  • How do I sync my groups? 
  • What can I do for coexistence and hybrid?
  • I want to copy my on-prem groups can I do that?
  • Can I setup my groups as dynamic or rule-based in the cloud (and potential additional costs)? 

>> Register Now

7 Innovative ways Project Cortex Delivers Business Value Infographic

Project Cortex

Understanding Microsoft Project Cortex

Project Cortex applies AI to automatically organize your content.  It delivers innovative experiences with Topic cards, Topic pages, and both knowledge and content centers across the productivity tools of Office 365 including Teams, SharePoint, Outlook and Office apps.  It has features and tools that enhance the experiences you use everyday to connect experts to the data and capturing knowledge in innovative enhancements based on AI in ways never possible before.

If you’re one of the thousands of people looking to wrap your head around Project Cortex this is the right place.  Maybe you understand it at a high level, but struggling with how to “sell” this transformative tool to the business.  You know it’s a worthwhile investment, but can you say this is what you should be focusing on right now. 

What is Project Cortex?

Project Cortex has many components and features in it’s AI tentacles of reasoned and gathered insights and providing highlighted topics, but the two main components of these AI based Knowledge services are first the Knowledge Center based on AI “Machine Learning” and second the Content Center based on AI Machine Teaching models, classifiers and extractors which allows humans to train the AI to improve content extraction and enable business automation.  The third component is reinforcement which is an important components to both sides of this AI “brain.”  Reinforcement supports seeding topics through acronmys, taxonomy, and new topics.  The administrative interfaces of Project Cortex are designed for managing what it looks at including blocked topics, blacklisted or whitelisted content areas, and an interface for reviewing the recommended topics. 

This infographic and article was written to help you understand the business value of Project Cortex and hopefully arm you with easy ways to explain it.  Our companion webinar on June 2 will dive into each of these business value statements.

7 Innovative Ways Microsoft Project Cortex Delivers Business Value

  1. Empower teams with knowledge and expertise in the apps you use everyday.  Imagine being able to open up a document and have references back to explanations, other documents and experts who have a deeper level of knowledge and understanding!  Everyone benefits when you can find answers without getting up from your desk to go find someone.  The power of connecting topics like acronyms to a knowledge center of content is brilliant.
  2. Advanced Artificial Intelligence to harness collective knowledge.  AI is super powerful, it scales, it reasons, and gets better and better over time at extracting, grouping, filtering, clustering and ultimately building an incredible knowledge center of topics that can be tapped by the organization.  With very little human interaction, AI will gather and automate so much of what can be automated and Project Cortex gives us the connections and tools to get at the semi structured content that is scatered across our data, collaboration, storage and content services repositories.
  3. Connect people to knowledge and knowledge to people. Features built into Project Cortex help build ontologies and models, it knows how to group and cluster knowledge into a knowledge graph built to extend the Microsoft graph of people.  It helps cluster the data into recommended Topics on Topic pages with experts, files, definitions, questions and answers.  What it’s doing is helping make it easier to find answers to the questions you never knew you had.  It provides contextual knowledge providing context clues in the productivity tools and one click answers including experts and data in a knowledge center backed by an enhanced knowledge graph and topic pages that are easy to use and designed to evolve over time like a wiki.
  4. Streamline business processes with security, compliance, and automation.  With the powerful content center, the business teaches the AI about the incoming data and content types of the organization.  It learns to classify and model data through machine teaching and training.  Powerful extractors and classifiers help extract fields, metadata, and structured content enabling business processes to be automated in ways never possible right in the Microsoft 365 platform where much of this data already lives.  Power Platform tools such as PowerApps, Power Automate and Power Virtual agents can be used to streamline business processes for approvals, forms, applications, custom actions, and real engagement.  
  5. Discover information across topics platforms and connected data. As Project Cortex is looking at changes it has the ability to leverage trends, popularity, connections to help you keep on top of the topics that mean the most to you.  You can follow Topics and be aware of what’s happening in new ways only possible through AI.  The Microsoft graph has been extended to help connect not only files, objects, usage and activities, but expertise, topics, knowledge and relationships through ontologies which are easy to navigate and discover incredible insights on Topic pages.
  6. Empower organizational agility, drive efficiencies and cost savings. A better connected organization is able move more quickly, it is able to be more transparent and work in the open.  Through new capabilities as the workstreams are more automated, the business is able to make decisions faster eliminating waste and enabling cost savings opportunities through knowledge that is gathered.  An organization can work more closely together and be more aware as silos of information are broken down through transparency and knowledge sharing in context.
  7. Automate extraction and tagging improves search and discovery based on seeding topics from your taxonomies.  It is true that metadata makes content more easy to find, filter and group.  Taxonomies help us organize our content.  Humans are very bad at tagging.  They are inconsistent and yes, it’s a pain! They don’t want to do it.  AI is very good at tagging and it is very consistent.  The good news it gets better and better and a good taxonomy is the best medicine for ensuring a happier and healthier Project Cortex.  You can seed the taxonomy, acronyms, and even directly add new topics into the knowledge center.  Populating these is   a best practice that helps help provide a more intelligent AI which improves search and a stronger ontology to work from which starts adding value even faster.   

Project Cortex has a lot going on as the biggest thing happening in Microsoft 365 this year.  It’s the culmination of a lot of technology innovation and integrates across all of the major workloads.  It has promise to add the ability to add additional compliance as it classifies and extract content, it has the ability to boost business productivity and ramp up new employees looking for contextual clues in content.  There’s so much in this package that adds real differentiation.  This is knowledge management on steroids while democratizing AI and making it more accessible to all.  Project Cortex is poised to reinvent business process automation with the Power Platform while infusing knowledge into the tools we use everyday. 

Here’s the infographic in full form.

Project Cortex Infographic

Download the 7 Innovative Ways Project Cortex Delivers Business Value infographic as a JPG or the Project Cortex Infographic as a PDF. Feel free to use this infographic in your efforts to help your business understand Microsoft Project Cortex. It’s creative commons share alike with attribution.

Join us on the upcoming Free Project Cortex webinar

Webinar: 7 Innovative ways Project Cortex Delivers Business Value

>>Register Now

Project Cortex applies AI to automatically organize your content.  It delivers innovative experiences with Topic cards, Topic pages, and both knowledge and content centers across the productivity tools of Office 365 including Teams, SharePoint, Outlook and Office apps.  It has features and tools that enhance the experiences you use everyday to connect experts to the data and capturing knowledge in innovative enhancements based on AI in ways never possible before.

What is Project Cortex?  What value does it provide?  What can AI do for my business?  If you’re either trying to wrap your head around project Cortex or simply trying to understand the business value, this webinar is for you!

When: June 2nd at 11am PDT/12pm MDT/1pm CDT/2pm EDT/7pm BST/8pm CEST

>> Register Now!

Speaker: Joel Oleson

Sponsored by WAND