Corporate community leadership and management in times of crisis

In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is plenty of information about working remotely and crisis communications.  This post is about neither of these.  I want to focus on the role communities within organisations can play in supporting people through times of crisis

The Edelman Trust Barometer shows that in the last 2 years the most trusted people are now my employer and, after scientists, my fellow citizens in my country and in my community.  And whilst people are most reliant on news organisations for information on the coronavirus, it is, in fact, employer communications that are the most believed source.  This places a great expectation on organisational leaders, corporate communicators and community managers as employees turn to them and their work community for trusted answers.  So how can we address this?  How can we build community resilience and demonstrate care?

“Leadership in communities is as much about influence as it is authority”

Make your intranet your source of truth

With all the talk of collaboration and remote working tools, it can be easy to forget the humble intranet.

Make sure you have a dedicated page for the crisis response and that you are linking to the credible expert sources.  Your “sponsorship” of government or health sources passes on your trusted position to these. Use this page as the source of truth and link to it from any communications you send out and add it as a tab in any collaboration tools, such as Teams, so it is easy to get clear and consistent information out to different groups of colleagues.

Have a prominent link or news item on the intranet homepage so people can find it quickly – ideally show when it was last updated to keep people’s confidence it is accurate.  Call out any specific actions clearly and consider having sections on what you know and don’t know.  People are looking to see if colleagues have been affected, and what steps they need to take.

Activate and engage your employee community 

Tools like Teams helps get the work done remotely but doesn’t always engage the community or cut across pockets of knowledge. This is where enterprise social networks (ESNs) like Yammer come into their own. 

Whilst your intranet gives you your source of truth, your ESN gives your employees a voice.  Set up a crisis community to allow them to raise concerns and questions as it’s better to know what they are than think they don’t exist if you can’t see them.  Use it to ask for their help or ideas. Set up an official profile such as “Company News” to act as a spokesperson, posting links back to the intranet and giving the official view in any answers. It will save time and effort when people look at their ESN feed. 

Run Q&A sessions with senior leaders at set times to connect them to the issues faced by remote workers and frontline staff.  It makes the leadership team both present and visible. 

Coach your leaders

Leadership in communities is as much about influence as it is authority so make sure your leadership team feel confident to participate in your network.  In a crisis, the situation can change rapidly so have leaders post updates as close to real-time as possible and be authentic. Don’t try to control the narrative – you have the intranet page for that. Instead control how you react. Use natural language and if you don’t know the answers yet, say so. 

Remind them that the ESN is really an extension of the workplace, so ask them what they would say if they were briefing a group of staff in a meeting, or if they overheard a question in a corridor.  Get them to use this response as the basis for what they can post.  Take the time to thank people for their efforts or ideas directly – it demonstrates leaders are listening and builds the psychological safety for people to speak up.

The power in communities

Communities are geared to support their members. There is an unwritten social contract between members based on the common interest they share. This sense of connection and support is important, narrowing the emotional distance even when working remotely.  Trust is the currency of these communities, so listen to what is being said and be present. Remember that in many cases communities will mobilise to protect themselves.  If this mobilisation is supported with active leadership then we can create resilience in our people instead of reliance.

Simon Terry, creator of the Collaboration Value Maturity Model and collaboration thought leader draws similar conclusions in his recent article Three Key Roles For Yammer A Crisis

Matt Dodd – Digital Workplace Consultant – Engage Squared

“Matt changes the way people work, create and connect through human-centered approaches to culture, leadership and digital services.
He combines design, empathy and systems thinking to deliver value to individuals and organisations.
Since 2004, he’s been working with large organisations delivering digital-based change and workplaces. ”

Hourglass and laptop computer

SharePoint 2010

You might have read it before but I’m going to tell you again. SharePoint 2010 is going out of support on 13th October 2020. But what does that actually mean? We’re here to tell you!

SharePoint 2010 has been in ‘Extended Support’ for 4 years, meaning you’ve only been receiving security updates across that period. If you were an early adopter, you’re probably really happy with your return on investment. Perhaps you’re apprehensive about migrating.

Let’s start with what happens if you don’t. You won’t be compliant with standards & regulations and could lose business. You won’t have any support from Microsoft without a very costly support agreement. You’ll be vulnerable to any new security issues that arise. Your critical business functions could kick the bucket. You’ll be hard pressed to find agencies with people who remember how to use 2010, let alone want to.

So, what are my options? The way we see it, you have 2.5 options, On-Premise, Cloud or a combination of both (the half). However, for most of you, choosing the correct option has never been simpler.

Does my organisation NEED to be On-Premise?

With SharePoint Online as strong as it currently is, Office 365 is a truly great option. There’s no need to worry about servers, infrastructure or any maintenance. The lowest availability that Office 365 has had over since the start of 2017 is 99.97%. That’s about 2.6 hours a year, which would be a dream to achieve the 3 nines with an on-premise hosted environment. And what’s more, if you are affected by the outages, Microsoft will fix it for you.

You also get access to the entire Office 365 suite. Perhaps you can replace your costly, aging, 2010 customisations with, much easier to develop, Power Apps & Flows. If not, you have access to more APIs than ever (including the Microsoft Graph) and the SharePoint Framework (SPFx), which will soon integrate with Word, Microsoft Teams and Outlook as part of the Fluid Framework.

If the answer to the above question was Yes, our next question is:


Is your security & compliance team pressuring you to stay On-Premise because that’s what they believe is compliant? Office 365 is more complaint by global and local standards than ever & the Security & Compliance centre makes it easier to track any exceptions or potential threats.

Microsoft compliance offerings

Microsoft offers a comprehensive set of compliance offerings to help your organization comply with national, regional, and industry-specific requirements governing the collection and use of data.

Global & US Government Compliance
Industry & Regional Compliance

Image reference: Current Office 365 Compliance

On Premises

If you do need to stay on-premise, what version is right for you? 2013 is already well into its lifespan, and you’ll likely have to repeat this exercise in 2023. SharePoint 2016 can use SPFx once it has been upgraded to Feature Pack 2, but SharePoint Server 2019 has SPFx & the Modern Experience (including all the out-of-the-box mobile responsive features that come with it) that, in our opinion, makes it a no brainer, despite sharing much of the underlying architecture from 2016.

Regardless of your decision, the steps to prepare are all the same.

  • Compile a list of customisations/business apps/processes that are business critical
    • Now is a great time to categorise them whether they need updating or not
  • Audit your SharePoint content to see what needs to be migrated (if any)
    • Now is a great time to have a spring clean so your new SharePoint environment isn’t clogged from the beginning
    • Identify who your content owners are

This will help you & your organisation to understand the size of the task at hand and can help you start planning your move. If you decide you want to upgrade your environment instead of starting anew, you will need to upgrade to SharePoint 2013, then SharePoint 2016 and then finally SharePoint 2019 (if you want to go that far).

SharePoint 2010 Server and Dependencies
SharePoint Servers & Dependencies

Image reference:


Things are much simpler if you want to migrate to Office 365. You can create a new tenant in a matter of minutes, sync your active Directory to Azure Active Directory and have people up and running in less than the time it took to write this blog post. Microsoft PowerApps and Power Automate are natural successors to many of your On-Premise customisations.

Someone with intermediate Excel skills (a citizen developer) could potentially replace an expensive bespoke customisation made in InfoPath Forms and Designer workflows in a matter of days.

The page authoring experience of Modern SharePoint is now so easy to use that you can create an entire Intranet quicker than ever before, especially if you’ve consolidated pages from your old intranet in the audit, as suggested above.

Whilst there’s no way of directly migrating old Intranet pages to Modern SharePoint, you can easily improve them. You can also use migration tools such as ShareGate to migrate documents, files, images and lists from old SharePoint/Network drive to SharePoint Online & OneDrive respectively.

You will also get access to Microsoft’s continuous stream of updates to Office 365, constantly improving your return on investment.

Finally, most Office 365 licenses come with Exchange Online, making it easier than ever to give your users email on the move. Microsoft are also keen to help with licensing, offering FastTrack adoption support.

Remember it’s not the end of the world if you don’t migrate by 13th October… providing nothing goes wrong on the 14th!

Microsoft vs Covid-19: How tech is helping amidst the chaos

As we watch the rest of the world move to remote working, we are all preparing ourselves to hunker down into the isolation of our homes.  However, many organisations are just beginning their journey to the modern workplace and may face significant disruption to their business and financial wellbeing in the coming months.

As a Microsoft Partner, we wanted to share with you some useful resources available to you and your company right now, no matter where you are on your journey to the cloud.

  1. Crisis Communication App

First up, The Crisis Communication App is a single portal that equips companies in delivering all COVID-19 related communication to their users, as well as updates from reputable sources such as WHO or the CDC. Employees can report their work status (whether they are working from home or sick) or send requests for help. The app is built on PowerApps and is ready to be rolled out very quickly (within one day) to the whole workforce for no cost.

During this uncertain and challenging time, your workforce has an expectation that they will be well-informed and feel supported. The app provides:

  • A platform for companies to push out updates and communications, targeted by country or group
  • Offers a single source of truth for information
  •  A reference point for emergency contacts
  • A way to easily update your working from home status and out of office message

NB: Microsoft has temporarily changed the PowerApps licensing requirements for this app by classifying ‘push notifications’ as a standard connector not requiring premium licenses. 

  1. Free Microsoft Teams

“Teams is a pivotal part of the remote work experience, and Microsoft is committed to making Teams available to everyone,”

Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft Corporate Vice President

Microsoft has offered Microsoft Teams (Office 365 E1) free for 6 months as a response to a new working dynamic. Companies can get on board with Microsoft Teams rapidly to allow their remote employees to keep in touch by sending instant messages and making calls, sharing files and collaborating with their teams in a central, secure location. Since 31st of January, Microsoft has seen a 500% increase in Teams meetings as companies rush to adopt.

If you want to get started on Teams yourself sign in here with a work or school email address, or here with a Gmail or Outlook email. If you want to roll out Teams to your whole organisation, contact your Microsoft representative.

If Teams is completely new to your company, here are some free training resources available at Microsoft LearnRegionally delivered webinars and Role-specific learning paths

  1. Health Bot Service

The Health Bot Service is an AI-powered, compliant healthcare experience that can take requests, ask about symptoms and assist in getting people to trusted services and information. The specific COVID-19 template has built an up-to-date medical library based on CDC recommendations for concerns and care navigation. The service can integrate into channels such as Teams, Facebook, Webchat etc. The Health Bot Service is a great tool to organise request loads from the business and triage information requests.

For more information, click here.

  1. Focus Assist

Disclaimer – this is not a recent feature specific to COVID, but it’s more useful than ever with remote working. It’s difficult withholding a good work/life balance when we are literally working where we live. I envy those lucky few with a full office set up at home that can close the door on their laptop at 5 pm. But for some of us, it’s hard to not graze away on emails throughout the evening, jump on questions or feel a niggling sense of an unread notification.

Focus Assist is a handy feature that allows you to minimise or completely stop notifications. You can set up your hours of work and enjoy the tranquil relaxation of a noiseless phone after you have commuted from your dining table to the sofa.

We hope these resources are useful to you and take away (some of!) the stress of getting everyone working from home. We will remain online and will operate as usual throughout this challenging time. Stay safe out there everyone!

See here: for the full bank of Microsoft COVID 19 response resources.

Laura Williams – UX Designer – Engage Squared

Year of Yammer Down Under

When we heard that the global Yammer team was in town for the Ignite tour we jumped at the chance to get up close and personal with them and the new Yammer. We knew we wouldn’t be the only ones, so we organised two exclusive business user group events, in Melbourne and Sydney respectivly, to satisfy the Yammer die-hards (and those without Ignite tour tickets).  

The events kicked off with an animated demo of all the new features from Steven Nguyen the primo Yammer evangelist. The live video capture was a highlight, but he also covered some great advancements in community management features such as pinning conversations at the top of a group and stopping replies all together on controversial posts.

Jason Mayans, Yammer Program Manager, then continued to define the new simplified Yammer vision as well as some stories from his colourful 21-year tenure with Microsoft. We ended with an insightful audience Q&A and more importantly drinks and nibbles.

Main takeaways from the events

  • A clear vision for Yammer: It’s great to have a clear direction from the team for the future of Yammer, simply summed up with three pillars: Leadership engagement, knowledge and community. This helps to clarify and position Yammer as an ‘outer loop’ tool to enable broad, organisational conversations, in contrast with the ‘inner loop’ tools; helping to answer the common questions around when to use Yammer and when to use Teams.
  • KISS: The much-loved acronym for ‘Keep It Simple Silly’ sums up the new direction from the Yammer team – don’t over complicate things. Simplifying the design by reducing to only one feed, decluttering the layout and adding a splash of colour makes the new interface feel modern and relevant.

The best of the new with Yammer

  • Yammer from Outlook: Don’t just consume – respond directly from your email. Interactively reply to the Yammer post from within the email to ensure everyone has their say.
  • Live video mobile video capture: Natively film, edit and publish a video from within Yammer. And do it quickly. With supercharged rendering, your video will be ready before you know it
  • Community focus: Communities replace groups in the new Yammer, bringing with them some needed customisation options and clarity on their purpose.

What can you do to prepare?

  • Join the Yammer public preview program from here  
  • Get a sneak peek and ask a member of Engage Squared to give you a quick demo
  • Join the O365 BUG (Business user group) meetups in Melbourne & Sydney to keep up to date with all the new updates
  • Start engaging your business now to plan for your launch or re-launch   
D3 logo

Introducing D3, our insight-driven Experience Design Agency

As we enter the new year, we’ve been reflecting on everything we have achieved for our clients, employees and partners. We’ve worked hard, delivered real value, and no doubt been a bit lucky, and that’s led to continued success at Engage Squared.

For nearly a decade we’ve seen how digital has influenced the way we live and interact with work life. The pace at which digital brings change will continue to accelerate into this decade and beyond, for better or worse.

One thing is for sure, doing more of the same is simply not enough. As an agency, seeking out new and better ways of delivering value for our clients is at the forefront of our agenda. We have delivered some exceptional work (even if we do say so ourselves!) for our clients and helped them solve complex productivity challenges.

At the centre of our approach has been a focus on employees; we’ve always been looking for ways to empower people to enjoy work, using tech to be more productive, collaborative and connected.

After thousands of projects, launched to more than 2 million employees, we’ve noticed a clear pattern.

There’s a missing link between the employee experience and customer experience. The two parallels are rarely aligned, with brands continuing to build capability across both streams with little consideration for the impact they bring to one another.

With this in mind, we look forward to an aligned future where impact is considered across the spectrum.

To do so, we’ve launched D3, a sister agency with a focus on experience design. D3 will focus on partnering with our clients to help them identify opportunity and resolve friction across the customer journey. By working hand in hand, both brands will be able to help our clients optimise their business for success by tackling experience challenges within the organisation and externally with their customers.

Engage Square and D3 logos

To drive the success of D3 we have partnered with Roy Badawi, who will lead D3 as CEO and co-founder.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s Roy worked with NEC Computers Australia before moving to the UK and joining Content and Code, a leading Microsoft practice where he led brands such as Vodafone, BBC, Crown Agents and TUI. After 6 years in the UK, Roy moved to Dubai to lead Digitas as Managing Director, a Publicis group agency. During his time in the ME he was responsible for brands such as Mastercard, Johnson and Johnson, Bloomingdale’s, Harvey Nichols, Jaguar Land Rover, Emirates, Daimler and Etihad Airlines amongst others. After 6 years at Digitas, he spent a further 2 years in Dubai as CEO of Revonic, a leading experience design agency where he spearheaded the transformation of the agency before returning home to Australia.

Stephen Monk, CEO of Engage Squared, said “I am very excited to bring our approach to the customer experience world with D3. Roy is a trusted colleague and is no stranger to the Engage Squared family, and we’re excited that we’re able to bring his proven skill and insights to solve customer experience challenges with organisations here.

Roy Badawi, CEO of D3, added “I am very excited to be back on home soil and to partner with Engage Squared to launch D3. When we decided to bring to market a new agency, we reflected on our last 20 years in the industry and revisited our successes and failures to create an agency that cuts through the noise and moves with agility and clear focus. I’m looking forward to writing the next chapter in my career and working with some amazing people and local brands.

To find out more about D3 and the range of experience design services on offer please visit

About D3

D3 is an experience design agency that partners with its clients to help them discover opportunity and resolve friction across the customer journey, fusing the experience with digital applications that drive business success. Strategy, UX, Design, Technology.

About Engage Squared

Engage Squared is on a mission to empower employees to enjoy work more, using Microsoft tools to make work more productive, collaborative and connected. We work with large organisations to empower teams and individuals to use new technology to work productively, to help their leaders connect with staff, and to tailor Office 365 workloads to boost productivity.

My Top 4 Microsoft Ignite Learns

My recent visit to Microsoft Ignite in Orlando was a trip of firsts for me. Before last week I had never been to either America or a Microsoft conference; it was a sensory assault to say the least. Everything was big, the coffee was strange and I witnessed grown men do outrageous things just for some free swag. There has been a lot to process in the week following so I wanted to round up some of my thoughts and favorites in a top 4 list of learns and observations.

Top 4 product learns at Ignite:

Yammer: There were lots of exciting updates, but Yammer stood out for me – and not just because of the radical facelift. They doubled down on the core use cases for an enterprise-wide knowledge-sharing platform. This explanation of the ‘how’ provided a clear link to the ‘why’; connecting leaders and employees, which was great to see. The integration story was another strong focus, promising a consistent Yammer experience across Teams, SharePoint and Outlook. Hopefully, this will finally quell the rumors that Yammer is going to be culled from the O365 stack. My top updates:

  • Modern look and feel – Simple, less cluttered and more ‘social media-esque’.
  • Communities replacing groups – Following the updates, communities will be better able to brand themselves and define their purpose.
  • Community manager tools – Filtering and closing questions in communities
  • Refined Feed – Enhanced by AI and machine learning to further personalise the experience; showing you what’s important, driving discovery and open sharing
  • Video on the go – Instantly capture, trim, apply filters, and publish with a new video experience
  • Outlook integrations – Participate in Yammer conversations without leaving your Outlook inbox

Teams: There wasn’t any one stand out announcement for Teams for me – rather, a wave of useful and much needed improvements to experience and functionality. It’s great to see how closely Microsoft are listening to feedback. The abundance of some of the less sexy administrative updates show that they are continuously building out this tool into a powerful teamwork tool for enterprises. There are so many updates, but here are my top picks:

  • Live captioning in meetings – Captions for speech will be available, appearing in real time
  • Meeting options – Introducing the ability to clearly define presenters and attendees, allowing you to take back control of speaking arrangements  
  • Tasks in teams – Provides a new, unified view of your personal and assigned tasks within Teams
  • Private Channels – Enable users to create channels within existing teams that can be viewed and accessed only by select members
  • Pop out chat – Easily manage chat windows by popping them out of your
  • Outlook integrations – Users can move an email conversation from Outlook, including attachments, into a Teams chat or channel conversation
  • Echo avoidance – Detects another endpoint and automatically mutes. No more echoes!  (Probably my favorite)

Project Cortex – Coined as the biggest announcement since Microsoft Teams, there was certainly a lot of buzz around Project Cortex. As a non-technical consultant, I will attempt to describe it (albeit crudely). It is an artificially intelligent knowledge network that automatically connects and defines information so that users don’t have to.
It is was borne out of the difficulty of connecting the information in your company to the people who need it. The three core outputs are:

  • Organize knowledge across teams and systems
  • Empower people with knowledge and expertise “just-in-time”, in the apps used every day
  • Intelligently manage and protect content with built-in security and workflow

Fluid framework – I can best describe the fluid framework (again, a non-techy so bear with me), as a deconstructed collaboration framework that takes the principle of document co-authoring and simplifies it down a level to specific data sets. This allows users to collaborate on sets of content that live in numerous locations at the same time, without going into each document to modify. This will help to ensure that only the latest content is displayed and will be invaluable to critical and sensitive information. I think this graphic does a great job of explaining it:

Yammer will now use the Office 365 profile

Yammer profiles are about to change. And for many, this is long overdue!

From late September, profile pages in Yammer will synchronise with your Office profile – which means that staff will no longer be able to have different personal information in Yammer and Office 365.

What does this mean?

After September’s update, Office 365 profiles will become the single source of truth for contact information, ‘about me’ bios and profile pictures across all applications. This has long been true in most of the Office 365 apps – but Yammer has always had a separate profile system.

Sometimes this has been desirable – savvy Yammer members were able to change their display names to include additional information (such as indicating that they were out of the office or travelling).

But more often than not, having different profiles led to confusion. The disconnect between Office 365 and Yammer profiles meant that Yammer often had outdated or inconsistent information. It also meant that staff could (unintentionally) contravene HR policies – like changing their job titles. The disconnect also occassionally led to technical problems, with official profile pictures showing up in Office 365, but completely missing in Yammer!

Moving forward Yammer profiles will automatically sync with Office 365 profiles to ensure parity.

*If a Yammer member does not have a corresponding Office 365 identity, they will not be affected by this feature.

After the change takes effect, Yammer members who wish to change project, education and skills information will have to navigate to their Office 365 profile. Get there by selecting the profile picture in the top right and corner after signing into and then update profile (see below). Depending on your settings users may have to contact their IT administrator to update their name, job title and profile picture.


Office 365 profile

How to access your Office 365 profile


How will this affect your users?

Office 365 user profiles will soon override Yammer profiles. When this happens anything that has been added to the Yammer profile will be lost and any non-AAD profile properties (profile fields that are only found on the Yammer profile) will disappear, for example, custom ‘about me’ information, or a link to a staff member’s Facebook page.

Next steps

There are a few steps that you may want to take to ensure minimal disruption when this update comes into play:

  • Update training content, materials and onboarding processes

It’s handy to get in quick and update any reference materials so that users can self-serve any issues and add Office 365 profile population to the onboarding process.

  • Let your users know

Communicate the change to your staff, explain that their Office 365 profile is now the single source of truth and let them know how to edit it. This is important as it may affect keyword searches and results on Yammer.

And if your staff have created custom information in Yammer – let them know that this change will cause that data to dissappear.

Preferred Parterner Announcement

Engage Squared Recognised as “Microsoft Preferred Partner” for Business Applications

Microsoft Preferred Partner for SharePoint Business Applications Microsoft SharePoint Business Applications Partner Program Charter Member PowerApps Flow SharePoint Microsoft Teams

Joins exclusive ranks as a “Charter Member” in the Microsoft 365 Business Applications Partner Program – one of just 37 companies worldwide and the only Australian consultancy to make the list.

Engage Squared is excited to be recognised for our innovative work with PowerApps, SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and Flow.

As a preferred partner, Engage Squared has access to Microsoft resources that will help us deliver even more effective digital workplace solutions to our customers. These resources include connections to Microsoft advisors, access to product roadmap information that informs the technology strategies underpinning our implementations, and exclusive technical knowledge bases.

We’re particularly excited by this program because it reinforces the value we see in Microsoft’s holistic approach to technology solutions – deploying the power of Microsoft 365 to achieve easy to implement automation, applications and knowledge management.

Seen from a product perspective, these three things map to Microsoft Flow, PowerApps and Power BI (which create the “Business Applications”, in Microsoft parlance) and SharePoint (which provides the knowledge management). When we combine these approaches into a single solution, rather than leaving them siloed within distinct projects, we can fuel transformative business change.

Case Study: ATO

Productivity soars as ATO wins back 55,000 hours a year with “Intranet Accelerator”

In the words of our CEO, Stephen Monk: “It’s gratifying to be recognised by Microsoft for our innovative work with business applications.

We believe when you make people’s work lives more enjoyable and productive, you make their organisation stronger and more effective. It’s extremely rewarding to work with Microsoft’s app technologies because they can solve so many different problems so quickly. 

We’ve helped our customers implement solutions ranging from a PowerApps engagement that saved more than three days of effort every week, to more holistic solutions streamlining a diverse range of business processes—such as front-line health and safety, procurement and the project management and delivery of portfolios worth billions of dollars. 

It’s exhilarating to be part of this program and to continue working closely with Microsoft in solving new business problems as they emerge. Having exclusive access to the Microsoft product team is particularly rewarding. 

“Combining powerful technologies to solve problems for people is why we’re here. It’s about bringing people and technology together.”

Case Study: Aboriginal Legal Service

Connecting and Empowering Community Legal Workers with Office 365 

“Our community teams now have a system that will radically improve their efficiency as they deliver services and work with Aboriginal community members in our 26 locations across NSW and ACT”

– Michael Higgins, Chief Operating Officer, Aboriginal Legal Service

Banner - Business User Group meetup

Event recap: “Bots in the Real World: Truth, Hype and Demos”

A lot of us long for the day we can kick up our feet and let Cortana manage our professional lives. Or we worry that our jobs will be stolen by bots.

This month at the Melbourne Office 365 Business User Group (BUG), they took a shot at cutting through the hype and getting to something practical.

Facilitated by Engage Squared and hosted at Microsoft’s office at Southbank, they had 90+ registrants and a full house on the day.

Host Jack Hendy (an adoption specialist at Engage Squared) kicked off the session with…

“What’s new in Office 365”:

  • Cortana can be tagged in emails to help arrange meetings (Your personal assistant, just @Cortana)
  • New Q&A functionality in Yammer (Lets you mark answers to questions)
  • Microsoft Whiteboard App (Allows you to add reactions, integrates with SurfaceHub and has “ink beautification”: Bad handwriting? No worries)
  • PowerPoint-designed slides (Make your company’s branding consistent using custom templates and automated suggestions)
  • New customisable and unified Microsoft Search (A reason to use Bing)

AnswerBot: Going with the Flow

Their first presenter, Jason Soo from law firm Hill and Wilcox, introduced us to the basic Question and Answer (QnA) bot, enhanced with Flow. The bot solution leveraged Flow’s approval workflow, allowing the bot to update its QnA knowledge base with new answers to new questions.

This bot/Flow duo:

  • Captured questions from a Yammer group (this could be any ‘front door’/entry point, such as an intranet or website)
  • Answered questions parsed through the Azure QnA Maker
    • If the question is “like for like” or the answer has a high degree of confidence (an adjustable setting in QnA Maker), the response is posted in Yammer
  • If the confidence score is low or no match has been found, an approval flow is triggered which then presents a subject matter expert with the question, a potential answer and an option to submit another answer
    • This can be extremely powerful for enterprise-wide bots, as subject matter experts can be tied to different knowledge bases (owned by different portfolios/organisational groups), all connected to one bot
  • The answer, once accepted in Yammer, is automatically added back to the associated knowledge base

Apart from the ‘learning’ AnswerBot is capable of, she can be used to drive uptake and draw audiences to platforms like Yammer.

Jason also showed how he was able to set up AnswerBot (Flow not included) in 5 minutes using an Ignite video found here.

Codee: Journey from FAQs to Teams Governance

Next on deck was Adrian Tan and Sarah Aquilina from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Codee started her journey as an Office 365 FAQ assistant and is currently on the road to becoming much more, starting off with Teams Governance.

How do you transition an organisation of 13000 people[1] off Lotus notes and onto Office 365 while keeping up with basic (but necessary) queries?

The answer was Codee (formally known as BAE).

Codee is a basic QnA bot (living in Teams) that also leverages the Azure QnA Maker. Sarah, a non-technical stakeholder, showed how she was able to use the QnA maker to manage and improve the bot without needing help from the rest of her team.

The related cost of Azure consumption and virtual machines in the cloud was also discussed. The group agreed that different business problems called for different levels of investment and the free options provided by Microsoft to trial bots made it easy to get started. Generally, the ROI associated with the automation of answers to high-volume, repetitive questions was seen to pay for the initial outlay quite quickly.

Adrian, the program manager at DHHS concluded that paying the monthly cost to maintain Codee allowed his team to focus their efforts on activities more impactful to the business.

Codee is currently being developed to have the ability to create Teams at DHHS and asking for Teams names, owners and settings during the provisioning process.

ZELA: The Truth and the Hype

Elaine Van Bergen finished off with the (not so cold) hard truth: bots are just apps.

They’re apps that can be used to supplement other content in areas such as websites, Yammer and Teams.

In its more advanced stages, a bot:

  • Can be used to greet and attempt to assist users (and refer them to humans if sentiment analysis or the specificity of the questions warrant it)
  • Can be used with voice recognition or integrated with IVRs to provide feedback and activate workflows

While these examples are exciting, Elaine emphasised that while it’s easy to create bots and get immediate returns, any complexity or customisation will find you needing developers. It was also recommended to run basic bot projects before delving into more technical projects.

Elaine then introduced ZELA to the group.

ZELA is Microsoft’s internally built bot that assists with high-volume, low-risk queries to the legal department which previously lead to bottlenecks. ZELA helps with:

  • Answering self-help queries such as “where can I find…”
  • Client requests for support
  • Answering general, front-line questions from clients

The group agreed ZELA was a good example of fast value-for-effort and was intrigued by its use in a department as critical as Legal.


The session concluded with a prize giveaway, thanks to sponsorship by Logitech.

If you’re in interested in future Business User Group meetups, please join them and us at the next meeting!





[1] DHHS, ‘People Strategy 2020’, Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria, 2017, p 15,, (accessed 4 July 2019).

Banner - UAT Testing

Doing UAT Right

Of all forms of testing, user acceptance testing is often the most essential to get right. Why? Because it saves you money. Too often I find organisations underprepared for the task of doing UAT properly and I believe this is largely due to the organisation not knowing the true impact of NOT doing UAT properly.

In 2017, IBM found the cost to fix a bug found after a build was 4 to 5 times higher1 than if the bug had been found in the design phase. More alarmingly, it was 100 times higher if the bug was found after deployment to production.

diagram cost of bug fixing over stages

4 Steps to getting UAT right

  1. Define your UAT team
    It’s important to avoid restricting your UAT team to project team members. The most important group to include in UAT testing is the “real” end users of your solution. And the key word here is ‘users’. This is crucial because they’re the people who will use the solution daily. Every persona and stakeholder group should be included, which means that people from each group should be selected to join the UAT team. Prepare that UAT team early and enable focused UAT to happen by booking in the UAT resources ahead of time. Consider booking time in your UAT team’s schedule to enable them to adequately perform UAT.
  2. Confirm test cases and acceptance criteria
    Agree upon user stories and their acceptance criteria during the design phase of your project. Each user story should cover a specific use case or scenario of the solution and therefore lends itself to being turned into test cases for your UAT. The test cases are normally a set of actions which the UAT team member can carry out to verify if the solution has worked as intended. The acceptance criteria define what is considered to be “working” in the solution.
  3. Develop a UAT plan Consider the following when writing your plan:
    • When will UAT start and finish?
      – It is important that a finite date is applied to the UAT period to avoid perpetual testing.
    • How will the test results be collected?
      – Write down how the communication between your project team and your UAT team will take place while testing. Doing this prevents the project team from the nightmare of receiving emails, word documents, spreadsheets, screenshots (or no screenshots) and endless discussions through email and other channels.
      – Collecting and managing bugs in a central repository will also mitigate the risk of duplication of bugs, as well as assist with the management of bugs through the correction and retesting process.
    • How will you label any bugs found (bugs, feature-requests, usability, training, etc.)
    • Who will triage the results?
      Remember: the triage process can bury you. Plan ahead and appoint someone to manage the triage and confirmation of defects.
  4. Conduct UAT
    Provide the UAT team with the list of test cases (as demonstrated in table1 below) as well as for instructions about how to log a bug well (i.e. the bugs should include the account used for testing, the device used for testing, screenshots, URLs, description of how to reproduce, etc.). Consider holding a UAT ‘briefing session’ to take the UAT team through what is expected of them throughout the UAT period.
    With the UAT plan in place and the UAT team readied for the task, the UAT can begin with the tests being performed and the results recorded. Were the tests successful, or did defects result? Any bugs raised then need to be triaged, confirmed as defects, corrected and re-tested.

    Table1 – Sample UAT test caseSample test case:
    As a user, I can see news on the home page
    ID Acceptance criteria description Pass/Fail/other Comments
    1234 Verify that you can see a news carousel on the homepage
    1234 Verify that the news carousel auto rotates
    1234 Verify that you can click on a news image and be taken to the news page
    1234 Verify that when you click on the navigation arrows in the carousel, the image displayed changes.
  5. Close and sign off UAT
    Once all testing is complete and all bugs are corrected, the project team should conduct a UAT closure meeting. During the meeting, you should look to tie up any loose ends, and formally close the testing period. Signing off or closing the UAT period means that you can move your solution into production.

Many development teams, including Engage Squared, apply an agile approach to projects with continuous integration and continuous testing. Agile’s incremental approach allows more feedback, flexibility, and of course testing, so that every time a feature, fix, or function is added or changed in the code it’s checked for bugs. In turn, we have found this helps avoid preventable bugs – ultimately saving time and money.