Office 365 guru Julia White tells the story of Office 365 at Ignite Conference

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Julia White is quickly becoming the name synonymous with Office and Office 365. With her introduction of Office for iPad and Android previews last year, it feels like Julia has been delivering keynote presentations on Office for mobile for quite some time. Today Julia gave another compelling pitch for Office 365 integration at Microsoft’s first-ever Ignite Conference in Chicago. Aside from waxing poetic about Office 365 on stages, Julia typically provides more in-depth content about the progress of the Office team, through the Office Blogs. After today’s Ignite appearance, Julia released a blog post that accompanied her presentation today on stage.

Titled Modern Productivity – Office news at Ignite, Julia, explains all the new capabilities that are coming to Office 365 and how they are helping reinvent the platform.

“For Office, our focus is on reinventing productivity for people and organizations. All of the new and coming Office capabilities we showed today at Ignite extend from our belief that productivity is at the heart of business success. But, how we work, where we work, with whom we work is changing rapidly and the technology must enable this modern workplace. Successful organizations have moved from static hierarchies of people and the way communication flows between them, to dynamic networks of open sharing; from individual productivity to collective value co-creation; from work being where you go to being what you do. And, for organizations, it is also about attracting and retaining the best, new talent. Today, workplace technology is a critical factor as the Millennial generation become the majority of the workforce.” – Julia White, Microsoft.

First up, Julia talks about how the Office team is building more collaboration into Office 365 with a feature called Office 365 Groups. Office 365 Groups is a ubiquitous group element that offers users the ability to email, meet, take notes, created, video, IM, tweet in order to provide themselves with all the informational context necessary for group collaborations. The previews of the new Office 365 Groups ‘hub’ was demoed on the stage earlier today, and members in the Office Delve preview program should see this update coming soon.

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Next up Julia talks about human mobility and what that means to the Office 365 team. Alongside the year old chant from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, it seems Julia and the Office 365 team share the same sentiment. According to Julia, people tend to spend roughly 80 percent of their time staring at and clicking the same native applications found on tablets and phones. Microsoft is deciding to invest more deeply in order create fantastic native support for Word, PowePoint, Excel, Outlook, One Note, Skype, and OneDrive. Microsoft is building out Office universal applications for Windows 10 in order to offer those 80% of users a better native experience. Demoed at last week’s keynote was an example of the Uber app (typically a phone first app) being used to schedule a pickup on the desktop within Outlook. This level of integration will become increasingly open to other 3rd party applications, potentially making the Outlook app a one stop shop for enterprise organization.

Julia tackles the discussion of meetings as well in her post today. The Office 365 team saw an opportunity for broadening Office 365’s ability to streamline meetings. Moving forward, setting up a meeting in Office 365, users will now have an automatic Skype for Business option. Users will not need to do a lot of hoop jumping in order to collaborate in meetings using video. The goal is to make the annoyances of video conferencing a thing of the past. Ideally, video conferencing should be as seamless as walking into a conference room or clicking a link, and a video pops up. Skype for Business is rolling out currently, and the Office 365 team will monitoring feedback very carefully. 

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If for whatever reason video conferencing is completely out of the question, the Office 365 team is working aggressively on prioritizing co-creation and co-authoring. Earlier today, Microsoft released a public preview of Office 2016. According to Julia, the transition from Office 2013’s “me-centric” usability has now found Office 2016 being “we-centric”. With the new preview, content creators can experience real-time co-authoring in Word 2016. Unfortunately, there is no news on Excel at this point. It’s probably for the best as that could get messy quickly. Email attachments are another area the Office 365 team tweaked in the preview of Office 2016. Emails attachments are now shared from the cloud. Office 365 will also receive its second significant addition to the suite later this month. The online PowerPoint-like presentation software Sway will soon be bundled into Office 365 business and education subscriptions. Julia and the team are very encouraged by the activity they’ve been receiving thus far from Sway.

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The Office 365 team will also attempt to make big data easier to digest. With services like Office Graph, Delve, and Clutter, the Office 365 team is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in menial office work. Office Graph is the backbone that can help draw signals and relationships between people, content and interactions that arise in Office 365. A combination of a service called Clutter in Outlook on top of Office Graph automatically removes low priority emails based on users past email sorting behavior. Delve is another service that uses Office Graphs underpinnings. On stage today, organization view in a preview version of Delve provided interactive dashboards to help users identify trends across employee engagement.

The running theme of today’s Ignite Conference seemed to be an emphasis on security.

The running theme of today’s Ignite Conference seemed to be an emphasis on security. With the conferences audience being an enterprise crowd, it’s a no-brainer that the security catch-phrase was dropped at the end of most presentations. Also announced today was file level encryption for all content and email in Office 365 as well as Customer Lockbox. The Customer Lockbox feature provides the user a host of controls over data access within Office 365.

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Julia admits that the Office of old was bit of a hassle, “A decade ago, rolling out experiences like this would require significant integration work, custom coding, new hardware and storage purchases, and taking on more legacy project debt.” However, Office 365 customers (particularly IT Pros) are being offered more tools and greater control over the product without the hassle of reinventing the ‘company’ wheel with each new feature or addition.