Community events: community run, community attended, community benefits. These events are fantastic learning and networking opportunities, but they can’t happen without the support of sponsors.
We’ve been running successful local events for over 15 yrs.
The Twin Cities is an established and engaged Microsoft community
Our next M365 Twin Cities event is on November 11, 2023. Aside from the recent COVID hiatus, we’ve been running successful events since 2008 – covering topics from SharePoint through the range of M365 products and anything that integrates with the platform including Azure, Power Platform, 3rd party products and services, and more.
Our audience includes folks from the Twin Cities metro area and across Minnesota, as well as lots of folks that come from across the upper Midwest and Canada. If you’re from Minnesota, you’re already familiar with the business and organizational landscape here, but it includes a rich variety of Fortune 500 companies, some of the largest private companies (including the largest) in the world, and government folks from all levels.
Pre-COVID we were getting 600-700 registrations (which translate to email reachable folks) and 300-400 onsite. That’s a typical registration drop off, but wonderful attendance. Our first event back post-COVID had not quite 400 registrations and over 200 people on-site. We were content with these numbers as a return event but are working to grow towards our previous numbers – though a lot has obviously changed in the past few years.
People were excited to be back in-person. Our sponsors in January were thrilled to be able to talk to folks again. There was a lot of excitement in the community.
We’re aiming to build on that.
We’ve got a handful of different sponsorship levels, but we’re mainly aiming for Company Sponsors and Track Sponsors where we can. If these don’t fit, let me know and we can look at other options that might fit.
We’ve got room for 6 5 track sponsors – who also get to present a session as part of that track. Tracks include: Viva, Teams, AI/Copilot, Power BI, Power Platform, and Development
The best opportunities are face-to-face – being on-site for the actual event, meeting attendees, and talking about your products and services firsthand.
Sponsors have tables set up in a wide-open space where attendees register and food is served – so attendees will know where you are and have reasons to hang around. We’ll also have plenty of time between sessions for you to visit with attendees.
Where does the money go?
Funds from sponsors go primarily to pay for the venue and food costs. The rest of the budget is for various operational expenses (insurance, printing costs, etc.) and thanking our speakers who volunteer their time and expenses to participate (speaker dinner, etc.). We don’t make money doing this.
Our local (‘ish) community is blessed to be large and involved. We have multiple larger events that happen throughout the year and plenty of smaller more niche groups as well. As part of Microsoft’s MGCI effort – we’re working to expand where we can, strengthen where we’re able, and aim to support users at all levels through community events.
If you’d like to talk with organizers and community members, join us for our M365TC #CoffeeCrew meetups that happen more frequently throughout the year. We try to move around the metro area so more people can participate easily. Join our mailing group.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the sponsors we’ve had over the years. Please consider returning this Fall. New folks also very welcome to join the club. 🙂
Microsoft made some pricing announcements today at their Inspire conference that included a $30 charge per person per month for M365 Copilot (AI) licensing. First impression? That’s pretty steep… But let’s dig in a bit.
Not everyone is going to need it (at first).
It’s pretty easy to justify when you know your value per hour and can calculate how much time you’ll save using the new features of Copilot. In many cases it’ll be easy to justify $30 a month cost when you can measure savings directly: “Hey, that thing takes 15 minutes, I do it 10 times a month”… Done.
Other use cases likely won’t be that straightforward, but we’ll see how they manifest.
With this, I’ve already seen it come up in multiple conversations and threads… Know your users and review your use cases before licensing. At this price point, most companies aren’t going to license everyone – at least right away. And there will likely be other added licenses in the mix as well. Don’t expect the Microsoft licensing topic to get any less confusing in the near future (unless maybe we can use AI to help sort out your licensing use cases… Copilot for Licensing?).
SaaS pricing is hard
A little background. SaaS pricing is a challenge. Dig in a little bit and you’ll see plenty of threads talking about how hard it is for companies (especially startups) to price their products. M365, Power Platform, and the rest of the cloud services out there ultimately are SaaS offerings (Software as a Service) – though it may be a bit of a simplification. Microsoft and other big players in the space at least had some historical product pricing to start from that (may or may not directly) lead to subscription pricing used for SaaS.
The nature of cloud-based apps – as we’ve been talking about for as long as Microsoft has been in the cloud – is that we get regular, rapid, incremental updates. We get new features and changes basically weekly – for good or bad. (“Bad” only really for trainers and folks trying to keep up with it all…) This replaces the old 3-year-cycle of product releases from Microsoft where it was much easier to justify a price increase. You could easily put together the list of new and improved features vs. the last product (now 3 years old). Now, things move so fast it’s challenging to keep up and get a high-level view of increased value over time – it’s almost an expectation.
Stepping back a bit, as initial moves to the cloud resolved, it became fairly easy for most organizations to rationalize M365 pricing. Now, years later, not much (relatively speaking) has changed in the pricing, but much has changed with the offering and capabilities. Some organizations have moved up from one level to another, but many have also stayed with the same licensing since they first adopted M365.
Microsoft needs (or at least wants) new revenue streams (oh look, a stock price jump at the time I published this) and it’s harder to justify price increases when you’re incrementally updating your software – harder for end users to see. But incremental (smaller, but more often) updates are the norm with cloud-based software. Vendors then are forced to rebrand and offer bigger bangs to justify step ups in cost. Enter Copilot and today’s licensing announcements. Viva is in this same boat. And don’t forget the recent “Entra” branding for authentication and ID services – just wait.
Power Platform (as part of the Dynamics/D365 product group) has been working on this challenge for a while now. Initial feature offerings were heavily in the M365 integration space – leveraging tens of millions of users. They got the traction they were looking for and at the same time were building a ravenous (#PowerAddicts) community around it to pull the movement ahead even more. But they’ve been seemingly challenged to get a mass shift to newly licensed products and offerings. It does seem to be shifting, but more slowly than (I expect) they’d like. As Power Apps and its sibling products grow and Dataverse finds its space in the storage area – more folks are realizing the business value and making the move to additional licensing.
Cost of ownership
There’s more than the $X/month/user. There’s also the cost of managing and training – after you’ve spent time and money evaluating the technology. Don’t overlook that. Give plenty of time for architecture folks to review functionality, security folks to review risk, your tenant admins time to ramp up, and trainers time to produce the materials you’ll need. It wouldn’t shock me if early on we see a “you need to take this training before we’ll buy this feature for you” sort of approach.
Finally, $30 a month is a baseline. Many large enterprises are able to negotiate pricing, so keep that in mind. Sorry SMB. 🙁
Copilot is a consistent brand, but it’s not one single cost. There will be a collection of products across the Microsoft stack and licensing will be different and separate for each. Copilot for Business (from Microsoft-owned GitHub) is a nice example since it’s so different from M365 offerings. It’s still “Copilot” but a very different offering for developers rather than business users (though… there’s the “maker” argument for another day. 🙂 )
Bottom line is, start thinking about Copilot licensing across the stack. There will likely be additional offerings. We already know about several in the flurry of announcements.
Not everything falls under “Copilot” either. Teams Premium, while feeling like a bit of an overlap with Copilot, has its own licensing and capabilities. You may need one, or the other, or both – hence the importance of evaluating your environment and users before diving in.
Microsoft is all over the security concerns. ChatGPT and others have highlighted the risk of playing with AI in the public domain and its collection of user data to learn and train itself.
Microsoft is working overtime to let folks how data is used, how their version of AI is being built, and how common components (LLM) are kept separate from organizational data (Microsoft Graph). There’s obviously going to be some risk with data in the cloud, but efforts and intention are in place. Each organization will need to evaluate the risks for themselves. As with other technologies, certain areas will be slower to adopt due to risk. We’ll keep hearing more from Microsoft and the community on this.
As the capabilities of software increase – so will the costs. This isn’t a bad thing. Microsoft and their industry peers are adding new capabilities far faster than they have in the past and many of them add great value for their users.
The challenge to us as consumers again falls into keeping up with the changes. As much as these new capabilities benefit us, we need to invest time and effort to learn how to best use them and reap the benefits.
It’s easy to get sucked into the hype. There’s a lot of cool stuff here. Just temper your expectations a bit to not get too frustrated or disappointed. We’re early in the AI application cycle. It’s going to take time to mature and polish implementation. Exciting times.
Another BIG event going on this week in the M365 world: M365 Conference 2023 in Las Vegas. It’s a 3rd party conference, though heavily invested and involved with by Microsoft by way of speakers, keynotes, sponsorship and other content. Lots of big announcements.
But not everyone can attend.
Not everyone can get there. Not everyone *wants to* attend or go to Vegas. And with a looming recession and/or economic outlook for many organizations, it might not be a great time to send folks to out of state costly conferences.
Now, I’m not trying to poo-poo these big events. They’ve got a ton of value. I speak at some of them. They’re a fantastic opportunity to step away from your day-to-day responsibilities (if you can…) meet with community (topic-wise, not geographic community) folks, spend time chatting, building broader networks, or meet and connect with Microsoft and vendor contacts. The coverage that larger events offer is also extremely important in that you can see so many sessions, workshops, vendors, and more in one spot. In addition to this week’s event, there are events like 365 EduCon that offer options in more cities throughout the year.
What I am saying is that local – usually community-run – events have a place, an important one – for many folks.
Community events like our M365TwinCities event (working on a Fall date…), the upcoming MN M365 User Group Spring Workshop, or even frequent M365TC #CoffeeCrew events fill important gaps in our communities. In upcoming weeks here in Minnesota we’ll be reviewing this week’s big announcements from Microsoft, offering more in depth coverage with workshop sessions, or just having a coffee and connecting with others. Similar groups will be meeting all over the US and the world doing the same thing.
SO. Get familiar with your local community. Join it. Take part in it. Contribute to it with your time and experience. And if there’s not a community you’re looking for – consider building one!
No. “Direct action” buttons aren’t a new feature or button type. It’s just a term I’ve used in conversations and sessions talking about Power Apps and more often than not SharePoint lists or Microsoft Lists.
The default experiences users see with Lists or wizard-created apps in Power Apps are to act on a record or item as a whole (see image below). This by itself is fine as it accounts for plenty of use cases. However, there are also times where users want to take a specific action on a record. For example, in the case of managing requests, users may want to take ownership of a request, quickly assign a priority, or close a request. These can be accomplished with buttons build specifically for those use cases.
In the default experience, operating on items in a data source (List, or other) the “close request” activity requires both technical knowledge and business knowledge.
The technical knowledge they need looks something like: Find the item, open/edit the item, change the value for the specific field from one value to another, and close/save the item.
The business knowledge users need, at a minimum, is to change *which field* to *which value*.
You’d hope both of these activities would be intuitive, but in many cases they are not. In most cases the process and user experience can be improved – even a little bit. Enter “direct action” buttons.
What does a simple, typical example look like? How about this? In a work request list, setting a request priority with a button click:
Logically, the example image probably has its priorities messed up (please rescue the raccoon before mowing the grass), but it illustrates a user wanting to take specific changes to an individual item.
The above items are in a Power Apps gallery. So, the code – in the OnSelect formula for the button might look something like this:
Once you get started down this path, there are so many options for makers to fulfill business needs with these approaches.
Intake lists (a generic term for request lists of all types) often evolve over time. These lists might start simply where “closing” a request is literally changing a status field from “open” to “closed”. As these processes mature, closing a request might turn into something like:
Change a status field to “closed”
Store the name of the person that closed the request (in a field separate from the modifiedby field)
Capture the date/time the request was closed (in a field separate from the modified field)
Send a notification to someone about the ticket closing (send an email, post to a Teams channel, etc.)
While the requirements get more complicated, all of these tasks can still be dealt with using Power Apps formulas or other approaches.
Alternate – JSON
There are ways to create buttons and actions within the List interface using JSON to implement view and column formatting. This is, by some, billed as another “no-code” approach, though it is not in my opinion. It is, however, an approved approach within the platform.
The formula roughly translates to: If the item is already set to high priority, disable the button. If not, enable the button.
Refresh as needed
I haven’t looked into the details of the mechanics behind how screens and data sources work, but sometimes the screen updates right away after a Patch, other times it doesn’t. So, try the Patch and see if the screen and controls update the way you want. If they do, great! If the data doesn’t update quickly, you could add a Refresh to your button to force the data to refresh.
The “trick” here is that the refresh isn’t of the controls, but of the data source: Refresh(DataSource)
I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s taken me so long to get a post out. It’s not technically challenging. In fact, it’s quite simple from the Power Apps perspective. From an experienced maker or pro-dev perspective, creating buttons is second nature. Power Apps offers plenty of power and flexibility in this department.
I think I just wanted to give enough context for makers to understand that while the concept is simple, the potential and implications can be huge – both in the capabilities makers have and in the improved experience for users. For makers, using something like Patch is a next step after working with the default form and the Save/Cancel options that come with the default experiences offered by Lists and wizard-created Power Apps.
It’s not rocket science. But plenty of folks just haven’t gone here yet. After almost every session where I mention “direct action” buttons, people are super excited about the possibilities. When they figure it out – it opens up so many cool options. Just a small step of growing in the Power Platform.
Note: The Patch function does NOT bypass Microsoft (and SharePoint) Lists updating the Modified date and Modified By fields. These fields do get updated when the Patch function updates anything in the item/record.
Our first post-COVID M365 “Saturday” Twin Cities event was on January 21, 2023. Not our normal time of year, but we (the organizing committee, attendees, sponsors, and speakers) have been chomping at the bit to get back in-person so here we are. 🙂 Normally, we host our events twice a year – in the Spring and Fall. Our schedule is primarily dictated by living in the upper Midwest, where Winter can be harsh, and Summer is dedicated to being outside. No one wants to give up summer weekends. So that leaves us with the “shoulder seasons” where we have plenty of other variables to deal with, but we’ve historically had success with. However, we wanted to get back as soon as possible – so here we are. All things considered; I think the event went off well for all involved.
Coming back post-COVID for this event had its own new variables to work with. Specific to the pandemic, were people willing to come back to an in-person event? We knew there were some vocal and passionate folks that would but weren’t sure we’d get back to our normal volume on the first event back. We definitely weren’t as large as we’ve been, but still had successful numbers, I think.
I’m pretty sure there was also a bit of Zoom/Online meeting fatigue. People just want to be back in-person. Me included. That part probably helped us a bit.
Scheduling in the middle of a Minnesota Winter would throw some challenges at us. Weather could have a huge impact. Folks may not want to travel to the event from outside the metro. It can get *really* cold this time of year. Thankfully the day of, we lucked out with both moderate temperatures and no snow. But we likely lost a few sponsors, speakers, and attendees that didn’t plan to attend even with the chance of having to travel in adverse conditions.
For attendees, registering for the event and deciding at the last minute to attend or not isn’t a big deal (for them – it stinks for organizers). They can sign up but not come if the weather turned. For speakers, we figured we’d lean on local folks where we could, but not limit our selection, to local and regional speakers that would be less likely to need to cancel. Signing sponsors for the event seemed to take the biggest hit as we usually have a mix of local, regional, and national companies – even international from time to time. For this event most sponsors ended up being local companies with only 2 coming from out of state. We love *all* our sponsors, but it was unique to have such a local focus.
As we returned to hosting in-person events again, we find ourselves figuring out *how* to do it again. Here are the tools that we’ve used. Maybe it’ll help you if you’re starting an event or building a community.
Note: We’re definitely not a benchmark, but if any information here helps someone else run an event, then fantastic. 🙂 What do you use?
Sessionize has become the standard for managing the Call for Speakers (CFS), speaker submissions, the session approval process, and communication between event organizers and speakers. We also use it to schedule sessions, which we do as a part of the review and approval process.
Note: For our Winter 2023 event, we had the most submissions we’ve ever had. It took our team over 4 hours to sort through 130 sessions submitted by 59 speakers and walk away with a schedule for a one day event with 10 rooms and 4 speaking slots per room.
We’ve used Eventbrite for years. It may be time to revisit this tool as it’s changed quite a bit over the years, but it does still do the primary job of letting us set up an event with all the required details and allow folks to register for it. This gives us an attendee list, allows us to do a bit of information gathering during the registration process, and gives us a platform to provide (opt-in) email addresses for sponsors. We also use the registration list export to populate our master mailing list that we keep from event to event.
We do ask for a few additional bits of info during registration – Custom Questions:
Primary attendee “role” – Useful to us and for sponsors
Dietary restrictions – to get an idea of how many alternate meals to provide
Attendees opt-out for sponsor emails
Multiple ticket “types”
Something new we did this time around. Rather than keeping registration open through the event, we used to close the main registration a few days ahead of time to get printables and other things done. What we found was that closing registration can be confusing for folks finding the site prior to the event and after we’ve closed tickets… So, this year we added a second “ticket” (Eventbrite term) that opened at the same time we closed the main “ticket”. This approach allows us to go forward with sending the main attendee list to the printer to create badges while still having a normal registration process from the perspective of folks signing up. Then we print a smaller group of badges on our own the night before the event.
Attendee list for vendors
After the event, we use the filtered (by opt-out) attendee list to distribute to sponsors – providing name, company, and email.
Attendee list for printing badges
Eventbrite used to provide additional functionality for creating badges but has backed that out and now offers integration to partner products to do it. We opted to export our list to Excel and do a mail merge with Microsoft Word using Avery name tag templates (#5390). We send the file to Kinko’s where they print and cut the badges from card stock. This method is less expensive than printing to Avery labels but is a pain as we need to sort the badges ourselves. (Sorry volunteers, but thank you for sorting these)
We were initially interested in the Community Days site as it manages the main calendar for our community – which is great for scheduling and making folks aware of local/regional events. But the site itself has pretty good utility with one of the biggest benefits being integration with Sessionize. As sessions and speakers are approved and scheduled, the list of speakers, speaker info, session info, and schedule are all available on the event site almost instantaneously.
The Sessionize integration here is also key for speakers as it pulls directly from current Sessionize data – as the speakers update their biographic info and contact information, it’s available through our event page.
During event ramp-up, this will likely be our primary point of contact for folks looking for information on our event. Between events, we’ll likely still maintain a presence with a traditional website or page.
We maintain a domain and website for our team, event, and community. This is our primary “surface” when we’re in-between actively planning an event and have active Eventbrite and Community Days pages. Our current site is a manually created HTML/Bootstrap site – so there are definitely other ways of doing that. I don’t remember how we got here, but I think the decision had to do with having the control we wanted to integrate with other platforms. At the moment we’re using the approach of using Community Days page and integrations during event ramp-up and maintaining the manual site throughout the rest of the year.
Lots of options for building and hosting sites. We briefly considered WordPress as it would be super easy to maintain content on it. At the end of the day, it’s a “what’s your hammer” sort of decision. Use the tool that you’re comfortable with.
We also use our homepage as a connection to Constant Contact sign-up pages for the various groups we want to connect with: Speakers, sponsors, attendees, and Coffee Crew (networking events between the big events):
Finally, we also use the site to host historical content like sessions from previous events as well as any other items we need to make available that might not fit on the Community Days page. Most recently, we host our printable schedule file here.
The domain also provides us with a little more legitimacy when dealing with sponsors as well as creating distribution groups for ourselves. 🙂
While all of our attendees aren’t on social media, we still maintain accounts on these as we do have plenty of folks in the community that do connect with us here. We’ll hit these sites hard as we plan for and ramp up to our primary events to drive speaker submissions, sponsor sign-ups, and attendee registrations.
We also manage Coffee Crew (small networking events) events on our Facebook page, make them public, and share the link on all of our channels. We could probably use something like Meetup here but haven’t made the change yet.
Note: We’ve often considered a page on LinkedIn but haven’t made that move yet. We’re not sure if it will bring additional visibility or just be another site to maintain.
There are two main things we use Constant Contact for – maintaining a master list of attendees and providing a place for folks to add themselves to contact lists between events.
We have mailing lists for: Attendees, Speakers, Sponsors, and our Coffee Crew. These include signup forms for each, branded with our logo.
We try not to spam our attendee list as it’s the folks we’re trying to serve. We currently use these lists to ping the community as we’re planning events, have a “Save the Date” announcement, have opened registration, want to get feedback with a poll or something. When we’re actively working on an event, we’ll usually switch over to the Eventbrite email tool so we’re only hitting the folks that have registered.
We’ll also use the speaker and sponsor lists when we have dates announced and start our call for speakers and call for sponsors.
For years we used Guidebook. But when we decided to return and run another event post-COVID, we also decided to trim down a bit and be a bit more frugal with our sponsor dollars. So, we cut Guidebook and went to a more manual option that we’ll likely change or build on for future events.
Our current tool post-Guidebook is Microsoft Forms. We’ve created forms for attendee feedback for the event, session feedback, feedback from sponsors, and other smaller questions.
Budget – Excel
Yes, we have a budget. As we balance the dollars from sponsors, we figure out what we can afford while running our event. We use Excel to track this. The spreadsheet I have right now has reference columns from a previous event or two, has an estimate column, and an actual spend column. I have a second tab/page where I track paid sponsors revenue.
M365 – OneDrive / SharePoint / Microsoft Lists / Microsoft Teams (paid/free)
Yes, of course we’re using M365. Though, admittedly we need to clean up our tenant (who doesn’t). We’ve been using it for years and both the product capabilities and how we use it has evolved significantly.
Document libraries and OneDrive for managing content, our logo files, sponsor logo files, any other support docs like sponsor level info sheets, etc.
I’m currently managing our sponsor lists and process in a List and will be adding some automation and forms to streamline it when I’m able. Maybe something to blog about after we have it working smoothly.
We use Teams for our virtual meetings and ongoing persistent conversations threads.
(Update) Microsoft Community Tenant
Don’t forget to check out the Microsoft Community Tenant. It’s a free M365 offering for folks doing exactly what we’re doing, and you want to do – run community events. (Thank you Karuana for the reminder)
Now, go sign up for it, use it, then pull together some case study content for a session at your own conference. People love case studies.
That’s everything I can think of at the moment. If we come up with other tools, we’ll update or post follow-ups.
Let me know if this helps and/or if you have any questions!
While I’m currently talking and thinking about sponsors for our #M365TC event later this week, the following applies to many/most events in our community – even the paid events.
We can’t do this without you. Yes, it’s a somewhat symbiotic relationship between event organizers, sponsors, attendees, and even speakers. Sponsors have another marketing path and sales gets the opportunity to meet with potential clients and customers. We, the event organizers get to put on our event and reach attendees with our knowledge, experience, news – aka: training.
Hopefully it’s mutually beneficial. To what degree of success, is up to many variables, but those of us organizing events do focus on making it a valuable experience for all. Like many things, it’s a bit of a balancing game for everyone involved – finding the right exposure for all without breaking trust with others.
As an organizer of a free community event, we’re even more dependent on sponsors to bring these events to life and we do very much appreciate your investment in time and money.
For the #M365TC – M365 Twin Cities Winter 2023 event, we had a shorter prep timeline than we usually do and scheduled our “back to in-person” event a bit off of our usual “shoulder season” in Minnesota dates – but sponsors still came through. I assume your sales and marketing folks have also been chomping at the bit to some degree to return to in-person opportunities. While there has been a plethora of virtual event opportunities, it’s just not the same for networking and community development.
I could put a blurb about each but wouldn’t do them justice – so please click on each, check them out, and be sure to visit with them on Saturday (no really, have a chat – more than just getting their bingo sticker…). We’ve got a few new folks in addition to companies that have been regular and ongoing supporters. While we have a few out-of-town companies, this event will be very local-focused – I suspect a combination of shorter duration planning, MN winters, being so close to the start of the year, and companies getting back up to speed post-COVID.
So, say “Hello”, visit with them on Saturday, and thank them for making our event possible!
M365TC is and organization and event built on the foundation of 10+ years of SharePoint Saturday events. M365TC – like SharePoint Saturdays, SQL Saturdays, and Code Camps, and others – is a free one-day in-person training event put on and supported by the community. Organized by volunteers. Paid for by sponsors. With sessions presented by industry, platform, and community experts in their fields. It’s a ton of great learning potential for you as an individual and for your organization as a whole.
It’s an opportunity for attendees to get free training regardless of organizational budgets. It’s an opportunity for folks to exercise their personal initiative to learn and explore. It’s an opportunity for new speakers to give presenting a try and experienced speakers opportunities to share their knowledge. It’s a mentoring opportunity. It’s a touch point for local service providers and broader service and product vendors to connect with local folks as customers and partners. It’s a networking event to connect with peers in the metro and region.
We usually have two events per year – in the Spring and Fall – that support the rapidly changing technology we talk about. If we have a successful January 2023 event, we’ll likely return to that cadence starting in the Fall of 2023.
Sponsors in progress (Please spread the word to help support the event!)
“M365” is a shift from “SharePoint” as the Microsoft ecosystem shifted, morphed, and expanded. Our SharePoint Saturday events had SharePoint at the center but covered plenty of tangential topics where technology and skill integrations happened. Now, under the M365 umbrella, SharePoint is still a foundational piece but is complemented by a suite of related products and platforms – led now by Teams and working along other areas such as the Power Platform and Azure to name just a few. “M365” provides for the broader scope required to attract attendees, speakers, and sponsors.
Our event here in Minnesota has historically been one of the larger events in the country, though the pandemic took a bite out of our momentum. It’ll take a little time to work back to the events we’ve had in the past – assuming the community still demands them. So please let us know if you are interested in what we’re doing by registering to attend, by spreading the word to co-workers and peers, by letting your organizational leadership and vendors know that we need sponsors to put these events on.
A while back I started using OneNote for ALL of my notes and journaling while I work rather than a pile of Post-Its and cards all over my desk. For the most part I’ll use a single page per day and from time to time add a separate page if I’m gathering thoughts on a particular topic.
Search in OneNote is pretty fantastic, so finding notes and thoughts is easy. Without going crazy down a wiki-like path, sometimes I like to refer back to a specific page though and make the connection more static by adding a link from one OneNote page to another. The basics are super easy – just like the typical cut-and-paste folks have been doing for years.
The link to a page is found when you right-click on the page name and select “Copy Link to Page”.
Pasting that link is also super easy, but if your default paste is set to “Keep Text Only” you get a crazy long not-user-friendly link by default. What I pasted below shows just the edge of 5 lines of characters users don’t want to see. The highlighted Paste Option is “Keep Text Only”.
Note: As you can see both above and below, you can also change the default paste option if you’d like.
The Paste Options dropdown shows up immediately after pasting. If you select the “Keep Source Formatting” Paste Option (highlighted below) you get a nice, user-friendly link as shown below.
Bonus note: Quickly get the current date (which I use for my journal page titles) with the Shift-Alt-D key combo.
I want to highlight a feature that Microsoft added to the M365 Admin Center, specifically to Message Center, and highlight why it’s important for folks – NOT just administrators – to be aware of.
I missed the announcement when this feature was released, but heard about it when listening to one of the M365Voice podcasts where Sarah mentioned it.
If you take nothing else away from this blog post, just know this:
Message Center syncs with Microsoft Planner.
This feature should be considered for a part of your M365 governance plan. It’s one of those examples where work is being done for you – work that should be setting your change management process up for success. That’s honestly the biggest reason I’m writing this. The feature isn’t getting anywhere near the exposure that it should.
Anyone that gets Message Center email digests and/or logs into the Admin Center to check the Message Center should be looking at this. Anyone that wants to keep up to date with system and service outages, with upcoming features, with feature deprecations, with feature and service updates and more should take a look.
Want to get to the details quickly? Use the links in the References section below to Microsoft’s materials.
So, why is this feature so important? The short answer is “governance”. The longer explanation covers a lot of ground and gets into topics like change management. The content delivered via the Message Center is critical to organizations’ ability to manage platforms and services that orgs have come to rely on. Keeping up with those platforms is getting increasingly difficult in a world of cloud-based services where features are changing at a rate that’s challenging to keep current with. The volume of information coming through is also tough to keep up with – even Microsoft calls this out when announcing the sync feature as a way to help mitigate the issue.
Access to the Message Center has been another challenge. While updates have been made by the way of new roles and permissions, the Message Center has historically been the realm of administrators, which somewhat slowed or restricted the flow of content to everyone that needed it.
Finally, targeting or aligning Message Center content with the appropriate audience has also been a challenge both from the content creator side and from the content consumer side. When new content is released, getting it in the hands of the right folks can be critically important. Historically, responsibility for this has fallen on administrators – the folks most likely to be monitoring Message Center. While admins are certainly capable of doing this job, they’re 1) usually more than busy with their own responsibilities and 2) the “who should know what” function should really be dictated by governance planning and/or someone with the high-level vision of what the org is doing with the platforms and services they’re using.
Extra: The “crawl” investment to get this feature working is very low. It’s super easy to get the basics configured and up and running. Lots of bang for your buck.
While the “how” of a blog post is usually where the guts of the article are found, in this case the feature is extremely simple. The “whys” and “what’s next” are really where the interesting stuff is. But let’s step through it anyhow.
Inside of Admin Center, navigate to the Message Center
Admin (show all) –> Health –> Message Center
Click “Planner syncing”
Click “Set up syncing”
Set up your plan:
Select an existing plan or create a new Microsoft Planner plan (will open a new browser tab) by entering a name and selecting a privacy level.
Within the plan, create a bucket if needed, and select the bucket that Message Center content will be synced with. A “To Do” bucket is created by default with new plans. Best practices are TBD yet, but I think something like “Inbox” or “Triage” seems like a good place to start and indicates action needs to be taken on items that show up in the bucket.
Choose messages to sync:
All updates vs. major updates
Select the types of messages
Select the products or services – This is where most organizations will likely do a little filtering in terms of which products the organization is using or not using.
Choose which current messages to import:
The sync does a one-time pull from existing messages in Message Center. Users can select 0-4 weeks worth of content in week increments. This is nice for bringing recent items in, or to just prove the sync and filters are working.
Review your selections:
At this point, the connection is set up. The automation is not yet, but is prompted next. Selecting to automate will create a flow using Power Automate.
Note: Sync start date defaults to the current date. If you’d like to select an earlier time in the day, you’ll need to select a future date (tomorrow) to select an earlier time, like something in the middle of the night. Default schedule is once a day but you can schedule it for syncing further apart.
Select “Create flow with Power Automate”
You may also need to create a connection before creating the flow. This is where you have an opportunity to select the account being used to connect to Message Center. Check the best practices in your org for setting up connections.
Note: Message Center shows the last sync as well as a link to Sync now in the upper right of the screen.
If you chose to sync existing messages, check your Planner plan to see if they’ve come across.
Editable and Cancellable
Once the sync has been set up it can still be edited and cancelled. Clicking on the same “Planner Syncing” link will open the sync details information where settings can be updated and the sync can be cancelled.
Cancelling the sync will even remove the flow if one was created (nice touch!).
The sync process involves Microsoft Planner at a minimum, and likely also uses Power Automate if you opted for the automatic sync. If those tools were already being used in your organization there are likely already policies, permissions, and practices to consider. If either tool is new to your org, you’ll need to take whatever steps are needed to ensure they are managed properly within the policies of your org.
The Roles of Roles
A topic often overlooked is roles from the perspective of technical platforms and services. Now, “roles” and “jobs” can be easily confused or thought of as the same thing. Sometimes they are, but often not. In many cases, a person in one job has many roles. It is important though to understand roles for platforms and services. A single person might be a user for one tool, a champion for another, or an owner for something else. Understanding who does what or who’s responsible for something is critical to determine what information – say, Message Center content – needs to get into whose hands to fulfill their role responsibilities the best they can.
It takes time and deliberate effort by an organization to identify and define tech-specific roles and to align policies and procedures around them. Performance and training are obvious reasons to make the investment, but understanding which audience needs to see what content related to change management issues is another legit reason, as is platform ROI improvement.
A topic for another time… Let me know if this is something you’re interested in as I’m working on a service offering around technical platforms, roles, and skills.
Once the sync from Message Center to Planner is set up, one hurdle has been bypassed and organizations have a lot more flexibility and options for getting the right information in the right persons’ hands – significantly improving the org’s ability to deliver for the business.
The initial sync configuration covered above is the “crawl” approach – getting the connection made between Message Center and Planner – making the content immediately more accessible. From there, “walk” and “run” scenarios can take several directions – depending on your organization’s change management practices, the tools available, the culture within the org, and more. A few potential areas are listed below:
If Planner is already being used, the powers that be will want to consider which plan to use and what rules around that plan need to be implemented. There may be best practices for setting up users, which buckets to create, any automation options that can be used, etc. In the video linked below Microsoft suggests a few different bucket approaches that can be used.
If Teams is being used in your organization (more and more likely) then you may want to consider integrating your Message Center plan one or more Teams to facilitate discussions, tasks, and more related to Message Center content, change management, etc.
If you’ve scheduled the sync for regular downloads, there is already a flow set up through Power Automate. If Power Automate is already being used at your organization someone will want to make sure the flow conforms to whatever policies are in place. If Power Automate is new to the org someone will want to review its usage and potentially walk through whatever is required to add a new technology.