Tag Archives: Office 365

SharePoint and Power BI – Better Together


Ever since 2007, SharePoint has included Business Intelligence amongst its core workloads. There have been a variety of approaches to the workload over the years, but today those core workloads include Excel Services/Excel Online, PerformancePoint, SQL Server Reporting Services Integrated Mode, and Power Pivot for SharePoint.

Power Pivot for SharePoint and Excel Services go hand in hand and can really be considered as one of the main pillars, leaving us with three. If we quickly examine these three pillars in SharePoint 2016, it’s pretty easy to spot an emerging trend. Excel Services is gone from SharePoint 2016, its capabilities being added to Excel Online. Excel Online connects to, but does not run on SharePoint. PerformancePoint still exists in 2016, but it has received precisely 0 new features – it is identical to the version in SharePoint 2013, and remains a part of product for legacy reasons. For all intents and purposes, I consider PerformancePoint to be deprecated. SSRS Integrated mode has been greatly improved in 2016, but contains nowhere near the improvements that the Native Mode version of SSRS has in 2016.

At the same time, the past year has witnessed the spectacular rise of Power BI. Power BI is clearly the focus area for Business Intelligence within Microsoft for cloud based BI delivery. Last fall the SQL team announced that on-premises customers were not being ignored, and that SSRS was the platform for on premises BI delivery They also sketched out a roadmap that showed both platforms being able to deliver the same type of reports. In June 2016, the team delivered on a portion of this vision with SQL Server 2016 Reporting Service.

So where does this leave SharePoint in the Business Intelligence ecosystem?

In my opinion, it leaves it right where it should be – as an integrating platform, and NOT as a runtime platform as it has been in the past. SharePoint provides in context BI by connecting content to reports, and providing dashboards connected to multiple sources. In 2016, SharePoint connects to Excel Online to deliver Analytical reports. Excel runs with SharePoint now, not on it. SSRS Integrated mode still runs on SharePoint, but the investments in Native mode are a clear indication to me that this will be the direction here as well. Unfortunately, Sharepoint has been lacking tight integration with Power BI.

The recent Ignite 2016 conference was the first public appearance of the Power BI web part.

Figure 1: Insert web part dialog with Power BI web part

The Power BI web part works with Modern Sharepoint pages and is based on the new SharePoint Framework (SPFx), which means that it is completely client-side. Why does this matter to us? The fact that it is completely client side means that it will work both in SharePoint Online and on premises. Initially, it will only work with SharePoint Online, but that is because the SharePoint Framework is currently unavailable on premises.

To use the new web part, first create or edit a Modern SharePoint page. The Modern pages support the new Modern web parts. Click on a “+” icon to open the insert part control (Figure 1). Once inserted, add the report URL, and the page. The report page should immediately render within the context of the SharePoint page.

Figure 2: Power BI Report page rendered within a SharePoint page

Since the web part is rendering client side, the consuming user obviously needs to have access to the report. This means that the source report must have been shared with them through Power BI dashboard sharing, or the report is in a group within which the consuming user is a member. This latter case makes the most sense given that all Office 365 Groups will have a corresponding Modern Team site. Embedding the report within group pages should “just work”.

The devil is of course in the details, and all of these details are not yet available, but Given the number of questions that I have received over the past year about Sharepoint/Power BI integration, I expect that its existence will come as welcome news. Over time I would expect to see it picking up support for parameters and the ability to work with individual report items (this is speculation, but it makes sense). It’s also not much of a stretch to see how SSRS could make available a Modern web part that worked in the same fashion with on premises SSRSs. That web part could conceivably work both on premises an Online, bringing SSRS to SharePoint Online for the first time.

SharePoint is still very much a platform for integration and for Business Intelligence content delivery. SSRS and Power BI will be the de facto reporting engines for on-premises and the cloud respectively, and Sharepoint will be the dashboarding/integrating platform for both environments.

Microsoft Re-Adopts Yammer as a first class citizen

“The reports of Yammer’s death are greatly exaggerated”

  • Ignite Attendee

Shortly after Microsoft purchased Yammer in the summer of 2012, it was all that the Office division could talk about. Yammer was to replace the conversation feed in SharePoint, the entire development team would adopt the quick shipping Yammer style, and we SharePoint MVPs were told that we were all Yammer MVPs. The conversation feed did in fact replace SharePoint’s in Office 365, and hooks were added to allow it to work with on-premises SharePoint. The SharePoint team moved to a quick shipping cloud first approach, but some time around 2014, the name Yammer was used less and less. At the 2015 Microsoft Ignite conference Yammer had a presence, but it was very muted compared to previous events. At the same time, a new conversations technology appeared in Office 365 Groups that was based on Exchange.

This trend led to a great deal of speculation that Yammer was on the wane. When Microsoft goes silent on a product, it normally means the end of it (Active X, Silverlight, SharePoint Designer, Silverlight). There are notable exceptions to this (SSRS), but it’s normally the case. However, at the same time they continued to make significant investments in it, and most of these investments were architectural (move data centres, Integration with Azure Active Directory). This has sent a very mixed message to the market – why would they continue to invest (heavily) in a dead product? It was almost as if they weren’t sure what to do with it, and were hedging their bets.

The Ignite 2016 conference has removed the mixed part of this messaging. Yammer is quite clearly the social strategy for Microsoft in Office 365. One needs only to look at the attention that Yammer received at the conference. At Ignite 2015, on the show floor, Yammer had a small pedestal with a single screen. It’s significantly larger at Ignite 2016.

There were a number of freebies being handed out. I haven’t seen a new Yammer T-shirt in years, and they were being handed out by the dozens. That itself is telling, but I found the iconography to be particularly interesting.

MVP Amy Dolzine

The renewed investment extended to the social events as well. The Yammer team hosted an event .

These investments are a clear sign, but what really matters is the product itself, and this is where the rubber hits the road. Yammer is becoming more and more tightly integrated with the Office 365 suite all of the time. A lot of architectural work has been done to facilitate this. In fact, next year, Microsoft will be dropping the standalone version of Yammer, and the Enterprise license along with it, making it first class component of Office 365. One look no further that the embedded Yammer conversation views:

In context Yammer conversations embedded in a SharePoint Publishing page

The above shows threaded discussions happening within the context of the content, in this case, a SharePoint publishing page. This is accomplished through the use of the new Yammer web part, which is built with the new SharePoint Framework, and delivered in Modern SharePoint pages. This feature is not available yet, but is coming very soon. The above image is not a mock -up. In fact, if you look at a list of modern web parts in a test environment today, there are only a couple that represent integration points – two of them stand out – Power BI, and Yammer.

Yammer is now an integral part of Office 365 Groups – another topic that was well represented at Ignite. I could attempt to articulate how this works, and why it matters, but this has already been done by Naomi Moneypenny here. There is also a Microsoft blog post discussing it available here. In a nutshell, Yammer will leverage all of the other Groups capabilities including SharePoint for document storage and OneNote for Notes capture, replacing its own native storage systems. Office 365 Groups will use Yammer for threaded discussions.

The approach to Yammer is different than the one we’ve become accustomed to. Yammer is to become an integral part of Office 365 Groups, providing the social component to the excellent content experience of Groups. Yammer becomes a part of a greater whole which, in my opinion is all to the good. Yammer has often been presented and used as a standalone solution. I’ve often felt that the threaded conversations in Yammer work well, but trying to use it for content management or event management is frustrating at best. Integration points between it and Office 365 have been poor to non-existent. The Yammer Add-in for SharePoint was recently removed from the store. Yammer groups have been different than Office 365 Groups leading to a disjointed experience. This is true no longer – now there are only Groups. The same group backing a SharePoint Team site backs Yammer’s social content. Yammer will also share OneDrive, OneNote and calendars, unifying all of the non-social content.

Yammer doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

SharePoint 2016 Team SItes and Groups – It All Comes Together

SharePoint is back. With a vengeance.

For the past few years, SharePoint has been relegated to a supporting role within Office 365. It even lost its identity a few years back, with the name “SharePoint” being replaced by the bland “Sites”. This has been exacerbated recently by the rise of Groups (referred to either as Outlook Groups or Office 365 Groups). If Groups are the way forward, what value can SharePoint provide?

A lot, as it turns out.

Office 365 Groups

I refer to them as Office 365 Groups, because they incorporate elements from multiple Office 365 products. However, they are also referred to as Outlook Groups, which is the name of the mobile app. The interesting thing is that if you scratch the surface of the Groups user interface in either OneDrive or OneNote, you can see pretty quickly that it’s really a SharePoint site, or more specifically a site collection. Just look at the URL.

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In SharePoint, a Group is a specific type of site collection with a single document library for files (the OneDrive), and a library for other supporting files (including the Group OneNote). The difference is that a Group is what it is – it can’t be extended or modified to any significant degree. You can’t even access the All Content or site settings by adding “/_layouts/15/viewlsts.aspx” to the site URL (if you try, you get redirected to the main OneDrive view of the Group). SharePoint is really just there as the container. This can be frustrating, because as anyone that has worked with SharePoint knows, it can be much, much more.

The introduction of Groups initially caused confusion, particularly for users of SharePoint team sites, or Yammer. Was OneDrive replacing SharePoint (which is kind of silly… OneDrive IS SharePoint)? Did the new Exchange based conversations mean that Yammer was dead? Those questions have been hanging out there unanswered for quite some time.

Once I understood them, I came to really like Office 365 Groups. They bring together multiple tools into a single coherent location with a clear security boundary, and they are relatively simple to manage. One of the criticisms of Groups has been that there is no single central UI. Groups are manifested in Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive, OneNote and Power BI, but there’s really no central starting point for a group. It’s like a city of suburbs in search of a downtown.

There have been more than a few detractors of Groups as well. Most of them relate to their immaturity. The Outlook conversations provide excellent email integration (obviously) but were not as full featured as Yammer in other ways. There have been several others, but the biggest complaint seems to me to be the fact that a SharePoint team site provides much more functionality than a simple OneDrive library. These factors have been a significant blocker for the adoption of Office 365 Groups.

That all changed with the Future of SharePoint event on May 4, 2016.

The New Team Sites

Team sites have been the traditional place for groups of people to work in the world of SharePoint. These sites would be decorated with web parts, both in and out of the box in order to augment their capabilities, and to provide a window into other team based content structures such as calendars, custom lists, reports, etc. Team sites have always seemed like the logical starting place for group data, and now they are.

Beginning in mid 2016, whenever a new group is created, a new team site will be created as well. Conversely, a new team site will create an Office 365 Group, with all of its components (OneDrive, OneNote, Mail address, Planner, Power BI Workspace). To be totally clear, this new style of team site is a SharePoint site collection, and not a subsite (or web), which means that its security details are bound to that of the group.

Yammer users may wonder what this means for the previously announced integration with both Groups and Azure Active Directory. Nothing was announced at the event, so this is pure speculation on my part, but I would have to assume that if there is to be a 1:1 correspondence between Office 365 Groups, and Yammer groups, that Yammer will be a part of this as well. Given SharePoint’s strengths, I can only assume that this will be the place that all non conversational Yammer content is stored (files, calendars, etc.

The new team site will intrinsically integrate many of the things that formerly needed to be added on later, and the new Office 365 connectors mean that many other content sources can be added with a minimum of effort.

External Sharing

While both SharePoint and Yammer have had external sharing for several years now, and Yammer now has external groups (with a lowercase g…), Office 365 groups have been restricted to members of the tenant’s Azure Active Directory. Therefore, if we now have a 1:1 correspondence between Groups and team sites, and we are also able to use Yammer as the conversations provider, Office 365 groups need to accommodate external users.

The good news is that soon, they will. Thanks to Wictor Wilen’s sharp eye, we can see in the Office 365 admin center that as of this writing, the infrastructure to support external access to groups has already rolled out. Coincidentally (or not), Yammer support of external groups also rolled out in the same timeframe.

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The new SharePoint team sites, and their integration with Groups will give Office 365 that entry point that so many have been missing. It is exceedingly easy, and fast to get up and running with a usable site that is automatically integrated across the platform.  When you create a Group, you not only have the AAD group, but a team site, a calendar, a distribution list, a conversation platform, a Planner Plan and a Power BI workspace. At the same time, it brings SharePoint back out of the shadows, and back in to the limelight.

SharePoint is back at the center of Office 365, and it’s better than ever.

OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive

I’m calling it ThreeDrive now.

The much ballyhooed “Next Generation Sync Client for OneDrive for Business rolled out with the Windows 10 November update. You’d be excused for not noticing, because it looks pretty much the same as the old OneDrive consumer client. In fact, it IS the new OneDrive consumer client as well but it supports OneDrive for Business too. It’s not obvious that it supports OneDrive for Business because as of this writing, it requires a registry key entry. If you sign up for the OneDrive for Business preview, you’ll get the new sync client and the instructions, but for convenience, the key is:

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\OneDrive] – “EnableAddAccounts”=dword:00000001

Presumably, at some point that registry key will be switched on for everyone by an update. Once it has been added, when you open the OneDrive settings, you will now see an option to add a business account.

Once added, your Office 365 OneDrive will be synchronized using the same (more robust) engine as the consumer client, you’ll be able to do selective sync of folders, etc. Once you add your business account, you’ll see two sync “clouds” in your system tray, one blue, and one white. White is your consumer OneDrive, and blue your OneDrive for Business.

I’m pretty sure that this brings us to TwoDrive. You’ll also get (at least) two entries in your Windows File explorer, one for Personal, and one for your corporate OneDrive. If you connect multiple Office 365 accounts, you’ll get multiple blue cloud icons, and multiple explorer entries.

I don’t know why the consumer client icon is blue, but it is what it is. To me, white would help with understanding. We do however have a single sync client! Well, not so fast. If I need to sync SharePoint libraries from either on-prem or Office 365, I will still need the older OneDrive for Business sync client, with all of the same limitations. This is also true for the OneDrives contained in an Office 365 group.

Once that’s installed, by syncing a library, you’ll get another blue cloud icon that is indistinguishable from the icons created by the new sync client, and you’ll get an entry in File Explorer for SharePoint.

Everything should be working at this point. However, although I have gotten my head around this, I find it pretty confusing, and I work in this environment for a living. I know that I’m not alone, I recently spent about an hour with my friend and fellow MVP Marc Anderson helping him get his head around it, so it’s certainly not simple.

I am quite happy to see the new sync client, and the harmonization that it brings. I also know that the need for the old OneDrive for Business sync client will go away as the new client gains the ability to sync with SharePoint libraries and Group based OneDrives. I personally use cloud based storage solutions from a number of vendors, and they all have strengths and weaknesses. OneDrive is still the best deal out there, and it’s also the best solution for corporate sharing. I am however concerned about the complexity. I can imagine the following future conversation with a customer.

Me: You should really look at OneDrive for Business for offline access to your content

Customer: Oh, I have OneDrive already. Didn’t Microsoft just limit its storage capacity?

M: No – they had only turned on unlimited storage for a small test group. They just decided not to move forward with it as earlier announced. Besides, that’s only for the consumer OneDrive, not OneDrive for Business.

C: So they’re not the same thing?

M: No – OneDrive is a consumer product, and you log into it with a Microsoft account. OneDrive for Business is a business product, and you get it with an Office 365 business account. You need a corporate account to use it. It gives each person that uses it 1 TB of storage.

C: So if it’s they’re different things, why are they both called OneDrive?

M: I know. Never mind.

C: OK, so how do I get them both working?

M: Well, you have the November update for Windows 10, right? All that you need to do is to go into your OneDrive settings, and add your business account.

C: Oh, so they use the same sync client?

M: Yes. That’s fairly new. There used to be an exclusive OneDrive for Business client, but you don’t need it now.

C: OK. (adds the business account) So how do I work with it?

M: You see those two cloud icons in your tray? The white one is your consumer account, and the blue one is your business account.

C: I thought that it was one sync client. Why are there two icons?

M: That’s so you can see the two different repositories. They are both driven by the same sync engine. It makes sense.

C: OK, cool. And how do I access my files?

M: Just open up File Explorer. The one that says OneDrive – Personal is your consumer account. The one that says OneDrive – your company name is your business OneDrive.

C: So the business one is my personal OneDrive in Office 365?

M: Yes. I know… the term “Personal” is a bit confusing, but it is what it is.

C: That’s fine. Why is personal cloud icon blue in File Explorer but not in the tray?

M: I have no idea

C: OK – so how do I sync my Office 365 Group OneDrives?

M: Oh. Remember when I mentioned the old sync client? You’ll need that to sync those. The new client doesn’t support them yet, but it will.

C: I thought the old one doesn’t work very well?

M: It’s not as good, but it’ll do for this purpose.

C: OK, how do I install that?

M: You have Office installed, so you already have it. Just open up the OneDrive in your browser, and click on the sync icon.

C: OK (does it). So how do I know it’s working?

M: Open up your tray. See that you have another blue cloud icon? That’s the older sync client.

C: How do I tell the difference between this and the other one?

M: Just hover over the icon. The one that’s just called OneDrive for Business is the older engine. The one that contains your company name is the new one.

C: Am I going to get another icon for every OneDrive that I sync?

M: No – in this case, they all use the same icon. If you hover over and select open the folder, you’ll see what’s syncing.

C: OK. So where do I find my files?

M: Open up File Explorer. Under your two OneDrives, you’ll see a new entry for SharePoint. Click on that, and you’ll see your content.

C: What’s SharePoint?

M: *sigh*

I really quite like OneDrive, and what it can do. It’s even more valuable to me when the people that I interact with use it too, and after walking through this explanation over the past few days, I can see a few barriers to entry. I’d love to see this whole thing simplified.

Sharing Power BI Content with Office 365 Groups

The Power BI sharing story got a lot clearer this week with the changes in the service that go along with General Availability. These changes included the integration with Office 365 groups, which will in my opinion, be the preferred way to share Power BI content with others.

If you’re unfamiliar with Office 365 Groups, what you need to know is that Groups is not a product per se, but really an integration mechanism that binds together multiple elements of Office 365, and as of now, Power BI. When a group is created, a number of things happen – a distribution list is created in Exchange, a Site Collection is created in SharePoint containing that Group’s OneDrive, and an Azure Active Directory group is created for membership in AAD. Now, a Power BI workspace is created for that group as well.

How Power BI works with groups

If you’ve been working with the Power BI preview already, you are familiar with the personal workspace. This is the workspace that you see when you first log into the Power BI service, and until now, the only workspace that was available. Within the personal workspace, you can create datasets, reports, and dashboards. Dashboards can be shared to the personal workspace of other people within the organization, but now you can also switch to the workspace of an Office 365 Group. To do so, click on the Workspace selector in Power BI. Initially, it will be labelled “My Workspace”.

You’ll then be able to select from any of your Office 365 groups. All groups that you are a member of should appear here automatically, you don’t need to register them. Once selected, you’ll be working within the context of that group. If it’s empty, you’ll be prompted to add data, and if not, you’ll be taken to a default dashboard. Everything that you do at this point will be done within the context of that group, and will not affect your personal workspace. In addition, everything that you do here will be visible to all members of the group that use Power BI. There is no need to “share” anything.

Sharing to the personal dashboard vs sharing via groups

Groups represent a fundamental change to sharing in Power BI. The Personal Workspace is just that, personal. It is possible to share dashboards from here with colleagues, but the assumption is that you are the only person that may make changes. A Groups workspace turns that on its head, and assumes that everything is shared by default.

When you share a dashboard from the Personal Workspace, recipients can view the dashboard, and interact with the underlying reports. There is (currently) no mechanism to allow those recipients to make changes to those reports and dashboards. However, when working in the Groups workspace, any member of the group can make changes. Any changes made are also immediately visible to all other members of the group.

Update – 2015/09/26 – Groups can now share dashboards outwardly in the same manner as personal workspaces. Thanks Ajay for the comment.

Personal OneDrive vs Group One Drive

In its original incarnation, Power BI worked with Excel files stored in SharePoint Online document libraries, including OneDrive libraries. With this version, Power BI will refresh and render Excel workbooks with full fidelity as well, but now they MUST be stored in a OneDrive library. Each user receives a single OneDrive library through Office 365, and they may also have a OneDrive personal library. In addition, each group also has a OneDrive library, and these can be used as well. The way to use them is to connect to the workbook from within the Group’s workspace.

In order to connect to an Excel Workbook from the Personal Workspace, you click on “Get Data”, click the “Get” button in the Files section, and select from Local File, OneDrive – Business, or OneDrive Personal.

Selecting from Local File or OneDrive personal will import the contents of a workbook into a Power BI dataset. That dataset will be refreshable directly from OneDrive, or through the Personal Gateway if Local File was chosen. However, selecting OneDrive – Business will allow you to select your file, then give a further two options.

“Import” is the same process as OneDrive – personal, or local file – the date is imported from the workbook into the dataset. However “Connect” establishes a report connection between the Power BI service and the OneDrive file, allowing it to be rendered in the Power BI site through Excel Services.

Once this is done, the workbook will appear in the Reports section in Power BI with a small Excel icon beside it. Unlike other sources, no dataset or dashboard are created because the report is a self-contained entity.

The experience is quite similar within a Groups workspace, with one important difference – neither OneDrive-Personal nor OneDrive – Business are options.

Instead, we are presented with the Group’s OneDrive which makes sense given that we’re in the Group workspace. The group OneDrive is backed by Office 365 which means that it functions the same way as OneDrive – Business. Excel workbooks can either be imported or connected to.

Can we use Power BI with Team Sites like before?

As mentioned above, the original Power BI service rendered workbooks from any SharePoint Online document library. The new service works with OneDrive libraries only. This means that any workbooks that are currently stored in SharePoint Online and use Power BI features will need to be moved into Group based OneDrive, or personal OneDrive in order to be able to continue to take advantage of Power BI features. In other words, Groups are REALLY important to Power BI. The original Power BI for Office 365 service will continue to be available, but will shut down on December 31, 2015.

Sharing Externally

The V1 service allowed for the external sharing of workbooks through the external sharing facilities of SharePoint. However, due to licensing restrictions, the experience wasn’t optimal. If the data model was too large, the external user would not be able to open the workbook in a browser, and would instead be required to download it in its entirety in order to open it. This was because the external user would most likely not have a Power BI license. The V2 service allows users to share dashboards from their Personal Workspaces, and to collaborate fully in Group Workspaces, but there is currently no way to share Power BI content externally, or anonymously. This has been identified as a priority, but is not available yet.

I have no specific information about how this might be done, so I am free to speculate. I suspect that the Groups mechanism will be leveraged to accomplish external content sharing. At the moment, Office 365 groups do not allow for external members, but if they did, ths would solve the external sharing problem. I’m betting that this will be the approach.

Microsoft is betting a great deal on Office 365 groups, and Power BI is one of the first services to demonstrate this deep integration. If you’re already or will be invested in Power BI, I would strongly suggest that you get familiar with them.