Tag Archives: OneDrive

Working with Excel files in the Power BI Service

Power BI has been able to work with Excel files since it was first introduced. Indeed, it was born from the analytic capabilities in Excel. Users can connect directly to Excel files by using the Power BI service and nothing but a browser. However, depending on the content of the Excel file, and the method of connecting, the resulting products can be very different. In this post I will attempt to clarify this behavior. A subsequent post will detail the options available when working with Excel files in Power BI Desktop.

File Structure

Excel is a multi-purpose tool. It contains all the building blocks of Power BI, and as such, it is an excellent Business Intelligence client. Excel files are also often used (much to my chagrin) as a data storage container, or as a data transport medium. Understanding how the file is structured, and what you want to do with it is key to making the right choice when combining it with Power BI.

Originally Excel files (workbooks) were collections of worksheets. Analysts could import data into those worksheets and then analyze them with the tools that Excel provided. Although Excel was never intended to be a database, it’s ease of use and familiarity led many people to begin using it that was, and “spreadmarts” (spreadsheet data marts) quickly became a problem. The problems arose because the instant data was extracted from a source it became stale, and the fact that it was being stored in worksheets meant that it could be edited (changing history) and became subject to the data size limitations of a worksheet.

To take advantage of Excel’s analytic capabilities without being subject to the issues involved in worksheet data storage, the data model was introduced, initially through PowerPivot. The data model is a “miniaturized” version of the SQL Server Analysis Services tabular engine that runs in Excel. This data model is read only, refreshable, and highly compressed which importantly means that its only data limitation is the amount of available memory available on the machine running it. Importantly, this engine is the same engine that is used by Power BI – the advantages of which we’ll explore shortly.

Excel of course still needs to be able to use worksheets and be Excel, so we can’t just remove the worksheet capability (which incidentally is effectively what Power BI Desktop is – Excel without worksheets). Therefore, today from a data perspective, Excel files can have data in the data model, worksheets or both. From the Power BI service perspective, the important thing is whether the file contains a data model, as it treats the two cases differently.

Getting Excel Data

From the Power BI service, you click the Get Data button, and then the Get button in the Files tile. You are then presented with one of two dialogs depending on whether you are using a personal workspace, or an app workspace.

Personal workspace

Importing files into a Power BI Personal Workspace

Connecting file-based data to a personal workspace

When importing into a personal workspace, there are 4 possible data sources.

A local file is one that is stored on a file system local to the machine being used. Selecting this option will allow you to work with the Excel file stored in that location, but if the file is being used as a data source (data is in the worksheets), then a Data Gateway will be required for any data refreshes. Power BI will also connect to a file stored in OneDrive, either Personal or Business (through office 365). Finally, the service can work with files stored in any accessible SharePoint site (not simply Team sites as the name would indicate).

App workspace

Importing files into a Power BI App Workspace

Connecting file-based data to an App workspace

When importing into an App workspace, there are 3 possible data sources. The Local File and SharePoint – Team Sites options are precisely the same as when importing into a personal workspace. The difference is the OneDrive – Workspace name option replaces the two other OneDrive options. Choosing this option allows you to work with files stored in the “Group OneDrive”. Since every App workspace is backed by an Office 365 or “Modern” group, it also has access to the SharePoint site for that group. The “Group OneDrive” is the Documents library within that SharePoint site. Therefore, choosing SharePoint – TeamSites and navigating to the Documents library will render the same results in a few more mouse clicks, but also give access to all other document libraries within that site.

Connect vs Import

Once you navigate to the Excel file that you want to work with, you select it, and click connect. You will then be presented with two options for the file, Import or Connect.

This choice dictates how the file is brought into the Power BI service. The structure of the file determines exactly what is brought in to the service in both cases.

Connect

Clicking the Connect button allows Power BI to connect to and work with the Excel file in place. The workbook is displayed as an Excel workbook in full fidelity in the Power BI interface using Excel Online. The file itself is shown in the Workbooks section in the Power BI interface, and it stands alone from other Power BI elements (except that regions of it can be pinned to a dashboard). Connecting to an Excel report will not create a Power BI Dataset, Report, or Dashboard. All operations, including refresh (see below) are controlled through the workbook.

At no point is the file moved, or “brought in” to the Power BI service. If the file is being stored in SharePoint, or OneDrive, anything done to the file in the Power BI service will be visible to anyone with access to the file itself, whether they are a Power BI user or not. This includes refresh, which will be discussed further below, but the important part to remember here is that if the data in the connected file is refreshed through the Power BI service, and it is being stored in SharePoint (or OneDrive), all users will be able to see updated data the next time that they open the file.

Connecting to an Excel file behaves the same way whether the file contains a data model or not, but the file must contain a data model in order to be refreshed by the Power BI service.

Connected Excel file within Power BI

Connected Excel file within Power BI

Import

Importing an Excel file behaves totally differently from connecting to it. When an Excel file is imported, it is treated as a data source to Power BI, and the assets within that file are brought into the Power BI service. Subsequent changes to the source file are not immediately reflected within the Power BI service, but are retrieved through the refresh process.

The way that the assets are brought into the service depends very much on the structure of the file, specifically whether it contains a data model or not. If the file does not contain a data model, then Power BI will use the data contained in the Excel worksheets to construct a new one. This is similar to what happens when a CSV file is imported into the service. If the file does contain a data model, then the worksheet data is imported, and that data model is brought into the service as-is. One important exception to this is if worksheet data uses the same query as an existing model, the worksheet data is ignored, and the data model is brought in as-is. This is important because Excel’s Power Pivot editor can be used to edit the model, creating calculated columns, calculated measures and relationships prior to import. The model that is automatically created when the file does not contain a model has no editing capabilities.

When an Excel file with a data model is imported, the data model (imported or created) is added to datasets, and a link to the dataset is added to the default dashboard for the workspace. If no default dashboard exists, one will be created. A report can then be authored in the service. If the workbook contains any PowerView reports, these will be converted to native Power BI reports and added to the service as well. Any embedded 3D maps are not brought in.

Imported Excel File showing calculated measures

Imported Excel File showing calculated measures

Refresh

Data refresh options, and behavior depend on both the Get Data choice (connect or import) and the structure of the Excel file.

Connected Workbooks

If the workbook is connected to the service, and it does not contain a data model, it cannot be refreshed. This is true even if the worksheets in the workbook contain data from Power Query queries. This is the only scenario that does not support refresh in any way.

If the workbook contains a data model refresh is supported. The interesting part is that refresh will be triggered not only for the data model itself, but for any worksheets that have Power Queries as a data source. Therefore, a workaround to the lack of refresh support for a worksheet with no data model is to add a blank data model.

For refresh to work, the data source must be available to the Power BI service. This means that the source must be available in the cloud or registered on an available On-Premises Data Gateway.

The important thing to note about connected workbooks is that the refresh options that are performed on them are permanent – refreshed data is stored with the workbook. This means that if the connected workbook is stored in SharePoint, or shared through OneDrive, updated data is available to all users with access regardless of whether they are Power BI users.

Imported Workbooks

Refresh options for imported workbooks are slightly more complicated. As mentioned above data is either imported from the worksheets, a data model imported into the service or both.

If data was imported from worksheets, then the Excel file is the data source from the standpoint of Power BI. If the file is stored in SharePoint or OneDrive, it will automatically be refreshed every hour by default. This means that changes to the underlying Excel file will be reflected back in the Power BI service within an hour. This feature can be disabled, but it is not possible to change to hourly schedule, nor precisely when it will occur.

Refresh options for workbooks in OneDrive/SharePoint

Refresh options for workbooks in OneDrive/SharePoint

If the file is stored on a file system, it can be scheduled more granularly, but you will need to connect to it through an On-Premises Data Gateway.

If the file contained a data model that was imported into the service, then the original source of data for that data model (the query) is what the Power BI service will refresh from (NOT the Excel file itself). In this case, the refresh options are the same as with most other Power BI data sources – Excel is taken out of the picture completely, and any changes to the source Excel file will not be reflected into the service. The exception to this is if the file had both a data model, and worksheet data that was imported.

In the case of an Excel with both a data model and worksheet data, both cases above will apply. The workbook is used as a data source for the table that was created by Power BI on import, and the original data model’s source is updated independently. This means that changes to the worksheet data are reflected in the Power BI service when refreshed, but any model changes to the original Excel file are not. Both the OneDrive and regular refresh schedules are used for imported files of this type.

Refresh options for a combined data source

Refresh options for a combined data source

The following table summarizes the refresh options available for file structure and connection type.

File Structure

Get Data option

Connect

Import

Worksheet data None Refresh from worksheet
Data model only Refresh from model source Refresh from model source
Data model plus worksheet data Refresh from model source and worksheet source Refresh from model source and worksheet

Summary

Both Excel and Power BI are powerful tools in their own rights, and the decision to use one does not preclude using the other and in fact there are many good reasons for doing so. Bringing refreshability to Excel files stored in SharePoint is just one of them. It is however important to understand how it all works in order to get the maximum impact.

OneDrive is Ready – It’s Seriously Time to Ditch the X: Drive

If you are in information worker of any sort, and have been at it for any more than a couple of years, you’ve experienced it – the X: drive. Or the S: drive, P, R, whatever the letter. It’s the drive letter that is mapped to a network based file share that contains most of the company’s documents.

My first experience with IT was in 1989, setting up and managing a Novell Netware 3 network for a University department. Logging into the network (through a DOS prompt) would automatically add a drive to your machine with all of the resources that you needed, the storage you could ever want (measured in MB). It was “magical”.

This basic model exists to this day. We’ve tried to move away from it, we’ve tried very hard. We’ve had large monolithic document management systems imposed from above like FileNet and Documentum. These solutions gained success in specific areas, as they were mandated from above. SharePoint itself came along and democratized document management to a much broader degree, but the pesky X: drive still persists. Why?

One word. Usability.

End users want to be able to open up File Explorer, navigate to their drive, browse their folder structure and work with their documents. The drive mapping metaphor has succeeded so well because it fits this scenario perfectly, and its familiarity. Ever since personal computing began, we’ve accessed file storage using drive letters.

Users use formal document management systems reluctantly. This is often due to overzealous metadata requirements (just fill out this 20 field form to store your document), burdensome procedures, or performance issues. However given the choice, they retreat to the familiarity of their file systems, and their X: drives more often than not.

Consultants and vendors preaching a new way of doing things are in the end shouting against thunder. We can’t expect users to adapt to new systems quickly – what we need, at least transitionally is for the systems to adapt to the users. This is where OneDrive comes in.

One of the most compelling features of SharePoint 2013 in my opinion was OneDrive for Business. The reason that I felt that was that for the first time, SharePoint document management was tightly integrated into File Explorer. There had been previous attempts at synchronizing (SharePoint Workspace), but that required separate client software and required a lot of manual dragging and dropping.

The implementation of OneDrive for Business was initially hobbled by restrictions and limits, and was rather confusing, limiting adoption. However, through the combination of the current OneDrive sync client, with the Files On Demand feature available in the Windows Fall Creators update, OneDrive is truly ready for widespread adoption. Over the past few years, OneDrive has become both reliable and fast, and Files on Demand combined with in-context sharing put it over the top.

OneDrive Files on Demand

Files On Demand in File Explorer

Screenshot taken while flying on airplane mode from a laptop containing a single 256 GB drive.

Files on Demand allows you to easily control what files are synchronized to your local device, while still being able to see all your file assets, directly from File Explorer.

In the figure above, the cloud icon indicates that that folder is not currently stored locally. That’s a good thing, because opening up the folder properties reveals that it is over 1 TB in size, and the drive on the laptop (that I’m currently writing this with) is only 256 GB. Moreover, that screen shot was taken while flying, and totally disconnected. I could still see things that were not on my local device.

If connected, cloud files can be interacted with the same way that local files can, by any application. Opening them just requires a little more time as the file is downloaded in the background. If you will be offline, bringing a file local is a simple matter of right clicking on that file, or folder, and selecting “Always keep on this device”.

Files on Demand is currently available to Windows Insiders, and will be generally available with the Windows Fall Creators Update on October 17, 2017.

In Context Sharing

OneDrive sharing from File Explorer

The new OneDrive in context sharing experience

Up until very recently, sharing a drive from Explorer was a rather frustrating experience. You could identify your file, right click on it, click on share, and then a browser window would pop open, and if you were lucky, you would be presented with a view of the OneDrive web user interface. This experience was jarring, and required multiple steps.

Over the past summer, OneDrive rolled out updates that change this behaviour significantly. Now clicking on share brings up the dialog above and sharing is done completely from there. No context switching, and no authentication failures.

Time to move

These two new features, combined with the performance and reliability improvements over the last few years puts OneDrive over the top. Finally, all of the usability issues have been addressed. End users can live completely in File Explorer should they wish to do so, and be oblivious to the workings of OneDrive and/or SharePoint. However, at the same time, they will gain significant benefits compared to the shared file system.

However, OneDrive provides much more than simply an alternate storage location for your files. Once content is stored in OneDrive, a whole host of options are opened. The organization benefits because all this content is immediately made discoverable through technologies like Delve and Search. File access can be tracked, helping users understand what content others find valuable. There are, however, many immediate benefits that occur directly to the users themselves. I wanted to call out three of them, but there are many more.

OneDrive File Viewing

OneDrive comes with a long list of file viewers. These viewers allow the contents of a file to be viewed without opening the underlying application, which tends to be significantly faster than opening the host application. In fact, the application itself does not need to be installed. This is valuable in itself, but when combined with Files On Demand a file can be viewed whether or not it is even stored locally. A large Adobe Illustrator file can be viewed locally without it even being present on disk. Files On Demand is also available on Mac, and in the OneDrive client, and therefore, this very same file can be viewed on iPhone, Android, iPad, anywhere the OneDrive application is available. This, to my mind, is a game changer.

Sharing

Sharing with OneDrive is not new, but sharing directly from the explorer window is. That sharing experience is also now being consolidated across devices, and embedded into Microsoft Office applications. In addition, OneDrive files can be shared externally with an anonymous link, or securely with others that have a Microsoft account (personal or organizational), but what will be shortly available is the ability to securely share files externally with people that have any type of account.

Files Restore

Announced at Ignite 2017, FilesRestore provides end users with the ability to easily track all versions of their files for the past 30 days, and to instantly restore them to a point of time anywhere in that window. Administrators have long had this capability through a set of operations, but FilesRestore puts this capability into the hands of the end user with a simple to use user interface. Users can rest assured that their files are safe not only from disaster, but from their own mistakes, malware, ransomware or anything. Files stored in OneDrive are safe.

These are but three compelling benefits that users can enjoy by moving content to OneDrive. There are many more. Foe a good overview, and to hear all of the OneDrive announcements from Ignite 2017, be sure to check out “OneDrive – Past, Present and Future“.

It’s time to ditch the shared X: drive once and for all.

Enabling the new OneDrive Sync Client for SharePoint

I recently wrote about the fact that the new OneDrive sync client now supports the synchronization of SharePoint libraries, and the benefits that it brings. Since the release however, I have heard from several people that even though they have the new client, their libraries continue to sync with the older OneDrive for Business client. Microsoft has documented all of the procedures for getting it to work in this article, but I wanted to call out a few common issues here. If you’ve been using the old OneDrive for Business Sync client, and you want to move to the Next Generation Sync Client (NGSC), you’ll want to check the items below.

Make sure you have the correct version

The Next Generation Sync Client has been available for over a year, but the ability to synchronize SharePoint libraries was only added in January 2017. If you use Windows 10, the client is updated automatically, but you may not have it yet. To check your version, right click on one of the OneDrive clouds in the system tray (not any OneDrive for Business icons) and select “Settings”

Next, click on the “About” tab and check the version.

If you have version 17.3.6743.1212 or above, you’re good to go. If not, or you’re not running Windows 10, you can download the latest version here.

Ensure That Your Tenant is Configured for the New Client

Administrators can configure their tenant to use either the new OneDrive Sync client or the old OneDrive for Business Sync Client. This configuration setting is in the SharePoint administration of Office 365. To change this setting, log into the Office 365 Admin portal (or have your tenant admin do this if you don’t have rights). The URL for the portal is https://portal.office.com/adminportal/. Once there, launch the SharePoint admin center by clicking SharePoint in the Admin Centers section.

The setting that we’re after is in the “settings” section of the SharePoint admin center. Select it, then scroll to the “Sync Client for SharePoint” section. The options are straightforward – Start the new client, or start the old one. Once selected, click on Save (scroll down for the button). This setting controls what happens when the “Sync” button is selected in a SharePoint library.

Initiate the Takeover Process

Even with this setting turned on, the old OneDrive for Business sync client may be active. You’ll need to take action to have the new client take over. This can be done one of several ways. Firstly, running the setup process for the new sync client will do it (download is above). You can also run “OneDrive.exe /takeover” to accomplish this, but the easiest approach is to simply sync a new library by clicking on its Sync button. Doing so will not only sync the new library, but will take over syncing anything that the older client is doing.

Once the takeover process is complete, the old client will be removed on the next system restart. That’s the last you’ll see of GROOVE.EXE.

OneDrive and SharePoint – Together Again

A little over a year ago I wrote a post entitled “OneDrive, TwoDrive, ThreeDrive” in which I took a slightly cheeky look of what has become known as the “Next Generation Sync Client” (NGSC) for OneDrive, and its many idiosyncrasies. I then turned that post into a speaking session (Changing the title slightly to OneDrive, TwoDrive, White Drive, BlueDrive), and that session has been presented at many events over the past year. In that post and session, it is pointed out that the NGSC still had some work to do, and that it would get done.

True to their word, it seemed that every time I presented that session, I had to modify the slides in one way or another, as another feature was added, bug was squished, or idiosyncrasy clarified. In September, at Microsoft’s Ignite event in Atlanta, Reuben Krippner announced the public preview of a new sync client (as I like to call it, the Next Next Generation Sync Client”. This version of the client addresses the principal shortcoming of its predecessor – namely that it didn’t synchronize SharePoint libraries. I’ve been running the preview ever since. With SharePoint libraries forming the backbone of all document storage in Office 365, including Office 365 Groups, this shortcoming was particularly glaring.

The good news is that this new version of the NGSC is now generally available. You can download it from the OneDrive site, or, if you use Windows 10 and are frequently updating, you’ll get it automatically. With the general availability of the new client today, it seemed like a good time to circle back and see how many of my original criticisms have been addressed.

SharePoint Library Sync

Obviously, the biggest disappointment with the original NGSC was the fact that while it added OneDrive for Business repositories in addition to OneDrive personal stores, it was unable to sync SharePoint libraries. Any library contained in an Office 365 Group or a SharePoint site was therefore excluded and resulted in users needing to run a mix of old and new client. We had this odd situation in where you would sync OneDrive for Business with the OneDrive Sync client, and all your SharePoint libraries with the OneDrive for Business sync client. Now add to it the fact that Group libraries were referred to as the Group OneDrive, and it was quite confusing for end users. Apart from the technical limitations of the old sync client (no more than 5,000 items per library, no more than 20,000 items across all libraries), adding SharePoint libraries to the new sync client greatly reduces confusion for end users and complexity for administrators.

System Tray Inconsistencies

After the rollout of the original NGSC, after connecting my personal OneDrive, my OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint libraries, I would wind up with three OneDrive icons in my system tray.

The white cloud represented the sync process for my personal OneDrive, the blue cloud with the bright white border represented my OneDrive for Business, and the blue cloud with the slightly dimmer white outline (really – look at the picture) represented all the SharePoint libraries that I was synchronizing, including Group OneDrives. If I were interacting with two different Office 365 tenants as I do today, I would have five icons for everything, and while I can certainly cope with it, the inconsistencies made it rather confusing for the end user.

Adding SharePoint libraries to the modern client reduces this complexity. Now the same scenario will show two icons – one white, one blue. The white icon represents the personal account, and the blue icon includes the OneDrive for business as well as all SharePoint libraries being synced. If two tenants are being used, as in the image below, there will be two blue icons, one for each tenant. Hovering over the icon will identify the tenant in question.

The icon styles are also now more consistent, and as an added bonus, they always line up at the top of the system tray, which is a nice touch. While we still have more than “One” drive, it’s much more understandable and usable.

File Explorer Inconsistencies

The user interface insistencies extended to the File explorer integration as well. In the same scenario as above, syncing a personal OneDrive, and a OneDrive for Business with SharePoint libraries from a single Office 365 tenant, I previously wound up with three root nodes in the Windows File Explorer.

“OneDrive – Personal” was my consumer, or personal OneDrive, “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” was my OneDrive for Business storage connected to my UnlimitedViz tenant, and “SharePoint” contained all my SharePoint synced libraries. One inconsistency is the fact that the personal icon is white in the system tray but blue in the File Explorer. In an organization, people also tend to distinguish their content stored in their OneDrive from organization content by referring to it as “personal” so the use of the word “Personal” here can cause confusion here as well. Finally, the OneDrive branding is completely thrown out the door here when it comes to SharePoint libraries. Keep in mind that at the time, the only way to synchronize SharePoint libraries was with the “OneDrive for Business Sync Client”. However, the resulting node is called “SharePoint”

The latest client makes some significant improvement in this area as well.

“OneDrive – Personal” remains my personal (consumer) OneDrive. The two nodes here names “OneDrive – Serendipity” and “OneDrive – UnlimitedViz” are my two OneDrive for Business locations on the two tenants named “UnlimitedViz” and Serendipity”. Finally, the two nodes “Serendipity” and “UnlimitedViz” contain all the synchronized SharePoint libraries in those two tenants. While the personal icon remains stubbornly blue, the nodes here make significantly more sense and in my opinion in least are much more intuitive.

Selective Sync for SharePoint Libraries

It almost goes without saying, but the all-or-nothing approach to the OneDrive for Business sync client (previously Groove), rendered a lot of large libraries un-syncable. By bringing SharePoint libraries into the NGSC, they too get to participate in the selective folder sync that the consumer client has had for quite some time.

Pause

The previous OneDrive for Business sync client wasn’t all bad, and the NGSC wasn’t all good when compared to each other. One very useful feature that the older client had that NGSC didn’t was the ability to pause a sync. Pausing is a relatively frequent need for various reasons, but the only way that the NGSC could be paused originally was by shutting it down. Given the time it required to start back up sometimes, this was a problem. Luckily, at some point over the past year, the NGSC picked up pausing capability, and you can now pause a sync for 2, 8 or 24 hours.

Stability and Performance

Apart from features, stability and performance is probably the most obvious area where the new client outshines its predecessor. There are countless tales of users having their work “eaten” by the older client. While this hasn’t happened to me, I can point to many times that a sync got corrupted, and the only way to fix it would be to resync the entire library. This would necessarily mean a new repository as the older client couldn’t work with pre-existing content. Having used it for several months now, I have yet to experience any issue that required the total resync of a library.

The sync performance of the new client is acceptable as well. To be sure, it could still be better. Startup times are quite long for me (keep in mind that I’m syncing quite a lot of content), and occasionally the sync process gets bogged down and needs to be restarted. However, it was good enough for me to decide to move my almost 1 TB of content back into OneDrive for Business. That very same content made the move in the other direction 2 years ago, due to performance issues.

Overall, I must say that my overall impression of the new OneDrive sync client is that it is finally ready for prime time. Shortly after the preview was announced in September, I was sufficiently impressed to move my relatively large Dropbox file system (where I had a 1 TB limit) over to OneDrive for Business (with its unlimited storage). I then heaped quite a bit more storage on top of it, and it seems to be performing well now. My main OD4B storage account is currently at 3.3 TB, and my personal OneDrive is at 600 GB. I even have several Groups set up in my Office 365 MVP tenant for managing my household and those libraries are synced by myself and my wife.

Stability is fine, and performance is good enough, apart from the occasional “looking for changes” hang-up. Its value and integration have tipped the scales in its favour, certainly with respect to Dropbox in my opinion. The Office team said they were going to fix it, and they did. Good for them.

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.