Announcing the death of Site Mailboxes in SharePoint Online

In case you missed it: Microsoft have announced the demise of Site Mailboxes in SharePoint Online. The timeline is challenging. You have around 4-weeks before you’ll be prevented from creating new Site Mailboxes.


We’re removing Site Mailboxes in SharePoint Online

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Published On : 31 January 2017
Expires On : 15 September 2017

Beginning March 2017, new SharePoint Online organizations will no longer have access to the Site Mailbox feature, existing SharePoint Online organizations will no longer be able to create new Site Mailboxes; however, any Site Mailboxes provisioned prior to March 2017 will continue to function.

How does this affect me?

You are receiving this message because our reporting indicates your organization has one or more Site Mailboxes available. Beginning March 2017, your users may no longer create new Site Mailboxes.

In September 2017, we will have a process in place allowing you to transition your existing Site Mailbox site to an Office 365 Group. We will communicate again in June 2017, via Message Center, with more details.

What do I need to do to prepare for this change?

If you are using the Site Mailbox feature in SharePoint Online, you should consider transitioning to Office 365 Groups, to support email-centric collaborative scenarios.


Moving home… 

Whilst in Atlanta for the Microsoft Ignite conference,  I took some time out to explore the birth place of Martin Luther King Jr.

His family home is located in the Sweet Auburn community. This National Park Service sign explains how the community was subjected to segregation and division:

Sadly, more than 50-years on, some of the areas that there were cleared for the construction of the Interstate have never recovered. There are still block wide sections where nature has reclaimed the rubble.

The sign includes a powerful quote from Fletcher Combs: 

Nobody moved out just overnight. When you clear like that, it takes time… you have to make sure that the people have a place to relocate… the next thing we knew, everybody was gone.

Whilst it originated in an era of social upheaval, it has an additional modern purpose as a warning to anyone moving their digital communities. 

The Office 365 Network is born

Ensure that every escape route and exit is still clearly visible when the lights go out

I know some of you use the Yammer Office 365 Network to seek answers and to discover new knowledge. Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to close that network. The closure is described in this article: Announcing the public preview of the new Office 365 Network online community . It is being replaced with a new publically accessible forum Office 365 Network . The forum is not built on Yammer and its usability is questionable at best though they do say they are working on that…

This is not a vote of no confidence in Yammer or a #yamexit. It is Yammer’s strength that has forced this move. By design, Yammer is not publically indexable by the likes of Google and Bing. The lack of unauthenticated discovery allows people to converse and collaborate in confidence, safe in the knowledge that their contributions will not surface in unexpected locations, be used out of context etc. There are those in Microsoft who feel that the lack of discoverability through search by non-authenticated users is a barrier that needs to be removed.

The shift to a new publically accessible platform will cause a change in the conversational dynamics. Whilst the platform is not intended for ‘break-fix’, they still want people to use the likes of Microsoft | Community (aka Microsoft Answers) for that, it is built on forum technology which, by design, lends itself to Q&A rather than collaborative discussion. Only time will tell if Microsoft manage to keep a lid on the ‘break-fix’ and are able to foster a sense of community. Another change in this area is that Microsoft will control the creation of groups. Inevitably this will keep the focus on the products rather than the wider issues and thinking that directly influences the usage and adoption of the products.

The platform also includes gamification and you can expect to be awarded badges for almost every action. Some will find this immensely irritating and others will revel in it. The value gamification brings to building a community is questionable but it’s one of the hooks Microsoft feel they need to get people to take part.

The question remains ‘how does this affect you?’

  • You have between now and the 1st of September to make the move to the new network
  • Conversations in the new network are public and you have reduced control over any content you share
  • Any member of your staff can participate, they do not need a work account (this has benefits as well as risks)
  • It’s up to you to preserve or migrate content from the Yammer Office 365 Network. Any knowledge that you wish to retain after 1st September needs to be copied out and be aware that Microsoft will not be providing tools to help you
  • The vast majority of groups will not be migrated so if you have one for collaboration, say with your Microsoft account team or a group of like minded individuals, you’ll need to find a new home for those conversations.
    • Now could be the time to switch on external access for Yammer in your home network and invite your partners to join you there
  • You should consider communicating to staff the presence of the new network and what it is intended to be used for. You could use the opportunity to reinforce desired behaviours e.g.
    • something is broken – raise a ticket
    • want something changed – raise a request
    • not sure or want to ask – use a Group in your own Yammer network
    • have something broken on a personal device – use answers.microsoft.com
    • want to request a new feature (in a Microsoft product) – use UserVoice : Customer Feedback for Microsoft Office 365
    • want to take part in the product conversations – use Office 365 Network

You may be interested in the perspectives of others on this subject:

 

It will be interesting to watch how this venture unfolds.


Quote and sign credited to Seton and in particular their Luminous Exit and Path Marker Signs – Door Exit Route (Right)

 

How we monitor and react to change in Office 365

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Let’s start with an analogy

It’s one I use when explaining how change occurs in Office 365. It might need some polish!

The super-freighter in the image moves deceptively quickly and it will cross the Atlantic in around 10 days. Whilst though it is slow to start, it takes a long time to change direction and often needs help doing so.

The vessel runs on a schedule and its movements within controlled waters are published so all mariners are aware

When out at sea, normal waves have no impact upon it and radar is constantly scanning so icebergs and other debris are foreseen and avoided.

The containers it carries change regularly and very occasionally a “reefer” falls off and is lost at sea.

Now consider Office 365 to be the super-freighter, the containers a mix of product features.

The service is evergreen – that is Microsoft updates it on a monthly cycle. Some of their Roadmap is published (schedule), some of the changes are communicated (published shipping movements), some of the changes are just imposed (containers fall overboard), new features are added whilst others are taken away (containers are loaded and others unloaded.)

As a consumer, the bulk of this is out of our control. In addition, A/B testing can temporarily add / remove functionality for specific users (or in freight terms, a container gets temporarily misplaced).

How do we monitor and react to change

To stay agile and proactive, we have established our Ships Bridge in yammer and have created an O365 Change and Strategy Group. Members of the group are encouraged to #workoutloud in order to share their thoughts, observations, alerts as quickly and as honestly as possible. The group contains key stakeholders from across the IT service and we can invite others in as the need arises. We monitor and react to change by:

1. Identifying the potential changes

For this we have a network of inquisitive radar operators. We use a combination of:

  • the Microsoft Monthly Service Update ‘newsletter’ (which is issued by our Microsoft Technical Account Manager)
  • weekly reviews of the Message Centre
  • conversations with companies that we are working with
  • a near constant eye on the Office 365 Yammer Network
  • the Office 365 Roadmap (which some of us consume using a RSS feed)
  • plus some other sources that we’d not like to reveal

All of the knowledge is discussed in the dedicated Yammer Group and when we know the MSG ID (from Message Centre postings) we tag the conversations with it (as well as adding links to threads on the O365N etc.). We also maintain a tracking spreadsheet (as you’ve got to have a spreadsheet). To be honest it is too much like hard work and Yammer and Microsoft should make this easier.

2. Discuss the potential changes

We have an allocated slot in our weekly team meetings to discuss roadmap items and how we intend to tackle them. Significant items are reviewed with projects and/or change tasks created.

The tricky part is not knowing exactly when the change will arrive. I usually take actions to try and get more information. For example, Yammer announcements are usually pretty light on actual detail. What really helps is the Change Alerts group in the O365N as customers typically in North America get the change days or weeks before it arrives in our UK tenants. By following that group, we get an early warning of impact, mitigation and customers we can talk to.

3. Test the change

Fingers crossed it arrives in our First Release* tenant. At that point we play and test it, grab screenshots and prepare the communications for it. Every Office 365 feature has a dedicated space in our Intranet. We typically prepare a new page that describes the feature and briefly explains how staff might use it.

An exception to the rule is Yammer as from this day to the next and one user to another we sometimes do not know what is an A/B and what is a feature release as they seldom use the Message Centre (though I understand plans are evolving to improve that).

4. Communicate the change

Obviously the greater the impact the more we do. Massive change means staff briefings, board meetings etc. The bulk of changes are communicated using our Intranet – we use the page created in step 3 as the news item. We also push news out across yammer – again with links back to the article. Sometimes a targeted email blast is employed and we have a dedicated service alerts banner that we can enable in our intranet. In time we will start to surface the service announcements from the Office 365 Admin Centre within our Intranet using the Office 365 Management API.

 

 

* As an aside, we operate a second tenant with a small amount of content in full First Release mode and our Production tenant has Selective First Release for named users – sometimes the change is hard to test as we do not have enough content or numbers of users in our test tenant – we are looking at using ShareGate to snapshot our production instance and replicate the content in test, though this will not replicate the number of users which is vital for testing items like people search and profiles