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Microsoft Office Moves Deeper Into Cloud, Mobile

Microsoft announced a host of changes to its productivity suite poised to affect desktop and Office 365 customers later this year. The emphasis is on cloud and mobility.
Windows 10 Build 10061: App Revamps Galore
Windows 10 Build 10061: App Revamps Galore
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Microsoft's enterprise-focused Ignite conference is proving a hotspot for updates on productivity offerings. Monday's keynote shed some light on how the company plans to accommodate a more mobile and cloud-focused workforce of the future.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Skype engineering, explained five key areas of enabling modern productivity that will be core to Microsoft's products. Teams, mobile work, meetings, content co-creation and intelligence are all critical for employees across industries. Work is not where we go but what we do, he said.

While most workers have smartphones, tablets and laptops, he noted that it's really the users that are mobile -- not their devices. In order to truly enable mobile employees, "it's critical that the mobile experience of the user across the day really happens," he emphasized.

The way we work is increasingly influenced by Millennials, and Office is no different. Many of the day's updates reflect the mobile preferences of a generation who owned cellphones before they learned to drive, as well as millennials' tendency to work together. Changes to Delve and Office 365 group help simplify collaboration for employees, no matter where they are.

"The idea is, we really want to get people out of the silos in which they're working," said general manager for the Office marketing team, Julia White, in an interview with InformationWeek.

[Technology Is A Human Endeavor]

To boost productivity among modern workers, Microsoft is rolling out a host of updates and new offerings across its Office desktop suite and Office 365 platform. Here's an in-depth look at the many changes to come over the next few months:

Office 2016 preview

In the newest version of its productivity suite, Microsoft is "continuing [our] overall ability to fundamentally change the workplace," explained White. Office 2016, released for preview yesterday, emphasizes teamwork, business intelligence and better IT control.

The new Office will bring additional end-user features including improved data visualization and data loss prevention in Excel, and modern email attachments in Outlook. Users will no longer have to browse for files, but can choose from a list of recently used documents or grab files from SharePoint or OneDrive. All content is automatically save to, and shared from, OneDrive. This includes documents made with the new Microsoft Word co-authoring feature, which allows multiple workers to collaborate on a project at once. The new Word is not available in preview yet, said White, but will be released in coming months.

Office 2016 also addresses the growing need for business intelligence. Users have access to a newly integrated Excel Power Query, Excel forecasting functions, automatic relationship detection for Data Model PivotTable, and Excel data cards.

New IT controls in the Office 2016 preview include data loss protection, Information Rights Management protection for Visio files, and multi-factor authentication that streamlines the sign-on process for the entire Office suite.

Skype for Business

The preview will bring new features for Skype for Business, including Call Monitor, which keeps a downsized window of a call in view when a caller redirects their focus. A new interface enables faster control access, revamped dial pad and new IM layout.

Going forward, every meeting in Office 365 will be a Skype for Business meeting. For larger audiences, new Skype for Business broadcast meetings allow hosts to accommodate up to 10,000 people per meeting in real time.

Office 365 Groups

While individual productivity is important, team productivity is essential to getting work done. Office 365 Groups brings employees together through email, meetings, note-taking, content creation, video, instant message and tweets while ensuring that all group participants can see all relevant information.

The Groups feature is designed to bring a familiar consumer experience to the workplace. It's integrated with the consumer network, so users can navigate a Skype-inspired interface to send messages to colleagues or clients.

Sway for Business and Education

A few months after the October announcement of its consumer preview, Sway is coming to business and education subscribers later this month. The platform is a tool for creating and sharing content through coauthoring, interactive charts and embedded Office documents.

After its preview rolled out, White said, the most common form of feedback involved questions about how Sway could be applied in the workplace. Microsoft had planned on a business and education rollout later this year but has delivering faster than expected.

Office Delve updates

A new organization view in Delve will give users a personalized graph of relevant people and documents. The goal in this feature is to visualize information like which teams and people are working together, who has the most engagement, how many business hours are spent in meetings, number of emails sent, and even data regarding work-life balance. Such information can help employees determine which teams aren't working together and which ones should be.

It's a lot of information, and it's understandable that people might have privacy concerns. "We've been working with customers and analysts in trying to get that right," said White, who noted that the feature "can feel creepy." It's amazing insight, she explained, but it has to be handled in a way that feels comfortable for people.