I have talked more than once about how difficult it is to keep up with changes in Office 365. I did again last June at the Office 365 Engange Conference. This was an awesome event in Haarlem! I think in the future, I will have more opportunities to talk about this interesting topic.
Office 365 is a platform that is continuously evolving and adding new features. It seems that almost every day, we have something new and sometimes unexpected. This makes it difficult to keep up with changes happening. While it is true that we have some built-in tools that can help us on the follow up of the new staff being added by Microsoft in the platform, the reality is that there is not a single location or place where we can see all what is new. It is difficult to be better prepared for changes coming to the platform. We will need to use a combination of tools and resources to be as updated as possible. In this article, I will provide you with an overview of the tools and resources to help keep up with changes in Office 365.
(Official) Microsoft Change Management Toolbox
First of all, try to use change management tools and resources provided by Microsoft. Office 365 guys are supposed to be the most authoritative source of information about what is happening around the platform.
Figure 1 — Official Microsoft Change Management Toolbox
As you can see in Figure 1, the Microsoft Change Management Toolbox consists of the following resources and tools:
- Office 365 Message Center — This is the most authoritative source of what is coming for a tenant. It provides in-product notifications of important changes and new features coming to Office 365. Office 365 Message Center displays Tenant specific communications about new staff. Office 365 Message center’s target audience is the following: Office 365 Administrators, IT Communications Teams, Help Desk Teams, and anyone that needs to be aware of changes coming to Office 365.
You can access last Message Center messages directly from the Office 365 Admin Portal Home page. From there, you can browse the details of an announcement without leaving the home screen:
Figure 2 — Checking the Details of a Messages Center Announcement Directly from the Admin Portal Home Page
You can access the full list of communications listed in the Message Center by clicking on the Message Center card in the Admin Portal Home Page or by using the Message Center option under the Health menu in the Office 365 navigation menú.
Figure 3 — Options to Get Access to the Message Center
Once you are in the Messages Center, you will see the list of all active communications in the tenant. Each communication belongs to one of the following specific message categories: Stay informed, Plan for change, and Prevent or Fix issues. Note: For more information about these message categories, I recommend you read this Office 365 support article. You can use these categories to change the communications we see in the list. Select one of the available views for the Message Center:
Figure 4 — Views Available in the Message Center
If you select a message from the list, you will see message details in a panel. This provides you with details about the upcoming change, what actions should be done to be prepared for the change, and additional information about it. Another feature you will have in the Message center is the ability to edit your Message center preferences. You can configure what products you want to have communications. Note: Default configuration is to get messages from all the products sent. You can also have a Weekly email digest sent to your Global Administration email account, an alternate email address, or other configurable email addresses. Indeed, the configurable email address for the Weekly digest email is the only one you can modify. Note: Microsoft will allow you to customize the other emails in the future. You can send the Weekly digest to a wider audience, such as the email address of a Team Channel. Of course, as an Office 365 Administrator, you can forward the Weekly digest email to other interested parties.
Figure 5 — Message Center Preferences
Figure 6 shows how the weekly email digest is presented in a Microsoft Team Channel.
Figure 6 — Weekly Digest Email Received in a Microsoft Team Channel
Finally, as happens with the whole Office 365 platform, Message center is also a feature that is continuously evolving and adding new features. This includes the weekly digest email and the ability to translate messages into your local language. More features are coming, including the ability to send the Weekly digest to all the Admins in a tenant. This feature is expected to come to First Release in August 2017.
- Microsoft Tech Community — This community is intended to provide support and real world experiences. It also supposed to help with different Microsoft products and technologies, including Office 365, SharePoint, OneDrive, and other well-known Microsoft platforms. If you are not already a member of the Tech Community, I encourage you to join it as soon as possible. It is an excellent community to get help about problems or issues around Microsoft products. It is also an excellent opportunity to learn from Microsoft Product Teams and well-known (and independent) technology experts, such as Tony Redmond, Vasil Michev, Dan Holme, among others. Do not forget to regularly visit the Change alerts space at the Tech Community.
Figure 7 — Microsoft Tech Community Home Page
- Office 365 Roadmap — This is a specific public site provided by Microsoft that serves as a good heaps-up mechanism. It is not only good to review what features are being rolled out by Microsoft or are still in development, but also to look for new functionality launched, previously released, or cancelled. Note: These are also roadmap categories you can currently find in the roadmap. Roadmap items are grouped into these categories and you can narrow search of roadmap items by applying different filters.
Figure 8 — Office 365 Roadmap Filters
However, Office 365 Roadmap does not provide any timing information. Therefore, you do not have a clue about when features being currently rolled out are going to reach your tenant or for how long a feature tagged as “In development” is going to stay in this status. Finally, Office 365 Roadmap also evolves and incorporates new functionality, such as the recent ability to export the roadmap into an Excel file.
Office Blogs — While I consider Office Blogs as an Office 365 Change Management tool, sometimes it is more a Marketing Tool than a “trusted” information source about Office 365 changes. This is because of two main reasons:
- Features announced could differ in functionality when they are finally released. It has been tested and may have changed in First Release.
- Blogs do not normally contain timing information about when the new stuff will arrive to your tenant.
Another point to consider when using Office Blogs as a tool for keeping up with changes in Office 365, is the lack of filtering functionality. This makes it impossible to break down functionality for a specific tenant.
Other (Microsoft/Community) Change Management Tools
In addition to the “Official” Change Management Tools I have described so far, there are some other Microsoft/Community tools that can help you with your mission to keeping up with changes in Office 365. Let me enumerate some of the tools I have found useful for this hard work:
- Office 365 Updates Series — This is a monthly digest about new Office 365 features that is released by Microsoft each month. Each digest is a 10 minute video.
Figure 9 — Office 365 Updates Series
- Office 365 Weekly Blog by Thomas C. Finney — This is a great resource of information about changes coming to Office 365. It is not only about planned service changes, but also about any changes around how Office 365 changes are communicated. I encourage you to browse Thomas’ Blog.
- Cian Allner’s Wiki Article — You can find a great Office 365 Change Management Survival Guide a this site.
- Office 365 Update Series by Jim Naroski — This site is currently hosted in docs.com, so I expect it will be moved to another place (slideshare?) in the future.
- Paul Cunningham’s Office 365 Email Digest Message — This feature is provided by a PowerShell script. It is a good example of how you can create your own Change Management Communication Tool by using the Office 365 Communications API. Note: Paul is using the old Office 365 Communications API in his script. Following the same approach, you could create your own tool using the new Office 365 Communications API.
Keeping up with changes in Office 365 is hard word that can be alleviated by using both Change management tools provided by Microsoft and the community. If you ask my personal opinion, I would recommend you use the Office 365 Message center as your primary source of information about changes coming to Office 365. I also recommend the Microsoft Tech Community.