As the summer winds down, I have some work to do to improve security for my tenant, but not as much as the new Office 365 Secure Score service seems to think. Thoughts are turning to the conference season. Microsoft Ignite is up first and developers are busy finishing features to show off at the event. OWA has a nice new People view, Groups are borrowing from Delve, Planner has shown up on menus and seems to be getting some new features too, including an interesting third-party Outlook add-in.
I quite like the idea of having the security features of a tenant measured against a benchmark and advice given to administrators about how they can improve security to resist threats. This is the promise of the new Office 365 Secure Score service (in preview since August 3). Although the service is only in preview, I was surprised that some obvious measurements were not picked up when I tested Secure Score against my tenant, all of which led to a low score (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Office 365 Secure Score
For instance, I was told that I should enable IRM policies when I’ve been using IRM for about two years now, including alongside the new Azure Information Protection service (also in preview), which makes extensive use of IRM templates. Maybe the two previews clash with each other.
I was also told that I should enable audit data recording for all of my Office 365 services. Again, even a brief check would have revealed that the Office 365 Unified Audit log is positively stuffed full of audit events gathered from across my tenant.
I’m sure that Secure Score will improve and solidify as time goes by. Microsoft says that they measure 27 conditions now and have some 80 planned in total, so we’re clearly at the start of the journey. Over time, I hope that my tenant score goes up from its current low level. I’m sure that it will. After all, the two errors described here would have added 25 points had the measurements been correct.
Ignite is sold out
Microsoft has announced that the Ignite conference in Atlanta (September 25-30) is now officially sold out. Some 22,000 people are expected to gather to hear about news and announcements across a range of Microsoft technology in the once-a-year bash. I’m sure that recent developments such as the availability of PowerShell for macOS and Linux will provide popular sessions, as will the general release of Windows Server 2016 (and Nano Server). Even removing the highlights, based on the ever-swelling number of sessions being added to the agenda, I think there will be great value to be gained from Ignite across all areas of Microsoft technology, including lots of Office 365 news. That is, if you’re one of the fortunate ones who have secured a conference pass.
Some will say that Ignite 2015 proved the undesirability of running a mega-conference. The keynote went on too long, the bus rides back to the hotels in Chicago were horrible, and the long lines for the dubious food served to attendees at lunchtime provided an unforgettable experience for any stomach forced to partake in what appeared on plates. I hear that all will be well in Atlanta and there won’t be a hint of baloney to be smelt. We shall see in due course.
There’s no doubt that Microsoft engineering groups are spinning up for the conference. Code is being finished so that it can be discussed (or revealed) in sessions. Marketing messages are being refined (or made up). Speakers are being coached in the gentle art of how to deliver successful conference presentations. It’s all goodness. I think. In any case, I am looking forward to meeting the multitudes in Atlanta, come what may.
Views of People redefined for OWA
Possibly as part of their preparations for Ignite, the OWA developers have been busy refreshing the People view to add some new views and the ability to pin a selected view so that it’s what you see as default. I like the “frequently contacted” view (Figure 2) but I can imagine that others will find the “on your calendar” (for today) equally useful when you just need a quick sight of whom you will be speaking with in the current day.
Figure 2: The “frequently contacted” view is pinned
The “people you may want to follow up with” view is pretty interesting because it shows contacts along with reasons why you might want to contact them again — like they have sent you a recent message that perhaps you should respond to. Of course, all of this information is derived from the Office Graph that tracks interactions for and between Office 365 users and is indicative of how pervasive the Graph’s influence is becoming.
Borrowing from Delve
Also in OWA, I note that the Office 365 Groups team has borrowed a little from the Delve interface to expose details of group members (Figure 3). The organization information looks exactly like that displayed by Delve while the other information (like the other Groups someone belongs to) is drawn from the Office 365 Graph. It’s a small but visually pleasing and useful change.
Figure 3: Viewing details of a group member
Speaking of developments in Office 365 Groups, a welcome link to Microsoft Planner has started to appear in the options menu for the OWA interface to Groups. Somewhat confusingly, it’s tucked away under a More option rather than getting its own link, but it is there (Figure 4).
Figure 4: The Planner link appears
Meanwhile, a shout-out must go to the folks who created the Apps4Pro Planner add-in for Outlook, which allows the tasks in a Microsoft Planner plan to be manipulated within Outlook. I’m not too surprised that Microsoft has not created a similar integration yet as Outlook invariably lags the browser interfaces when it comes to new functionality. In the meantime, it’s good to be able to do things like convert messages and Outlook tasks into plan tasks and to set reminders for Planner tasks.
Another Planner development that’s reported in some tenants is a new ability to assign tasks to multiple users (Figure 5). I must admit to not having seen this functionality myself, but it is an oft-requested feature that will increase the functionality of tasks.
Figure 5: Assigning a task to multiple users
Some will ask why they can’t have access to a feature like this immediately? Well, it’s likely that the feature is still in development and its use is restricted to some tenants. Then there’s the complexity of managing First Release versus Standard Release followed by the need to “flight” new code to tenants distributed across twelve Office 365 datacenter regions, some of which (U.S. Government) still don’t have access to the first iteration of Planner. Good things come to those who wait, I guess.
More help with calendars
On August 22, Microsoft announced that they had signed an agreement to acquire Genee, which produces software designed to help people schedule meetings. According to the Microsoft blog, “Genee uses natural language processing and optimized decision-making algorithms so that interacting with a virtual assistant is just like interacting with a human one”. Sounds good. I’ve never experienced many difficulties setting up meetings myself, but I can see how some artificial intelligence could be applied to the problem of finding suitable time slots to accommodate multiple people. And even when you’re a very profitable software company, it’s often easier to buy in a new feature than it is to develop from scratch. In time, we’ll see where Genee ends up inside Office 365.
Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna.
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