Touted as the future of interactive web content authoring, Sway recently became the latest addition to the Office 365 family. Take a look into how to quickly get started with the new Sway preview and how it stacks up in the enterprise space against established offerings like SharePoint.
Amongst the deluge of announcements and releases from Microsoft in May 2015, those of you who subscribe to the Office 365 First Release program might not have noticed that a new member has joined the family—Sway. Although the consumer version has been available for some time now, an enterprise version has been sorely missing.
But why the interest I hear you say...
Touted as the future of interactive web content authoring, Microsoft has certainly created a compelling and beautifully designed competitor to traditional blogging solutions (anyone ever seen an OOTB SharePoint blog?):
The Sway promise—making it simple to create and share polished, professionally designed, interactive content
Having been subjected to the brunt of many customers complaining about the complexity of the authoring experience in SharePoint, I have been keen to see what Microsoft will be offering as an alternative in their new wave of cloud-first offerings.
Since the announcement was made, periodic checks on my O365 app launcher finally paid off when the new green Sway tile appeared late last week and I decided to see just how ready Sway is for Enterprise use...
Login and Setup
Jumping straight in, the Sway experience couldn't have been easier.
Clicking the Sway tile will redirect you to the following URL (notice the O365 flag, which I will come back to later). If you manage user access through your corporate firewall, note that this is in a different domain to both O365 and Azure.
For your first visit here, you might need to login with your corporate O365 credentials:
After successful authentication you will be able confirm your identity from the three ellipses in the top right corner (on a side note Microsoft—seriously? Do you know how confusing these are to users?) and also by inspecting the app launcher for O365 specific applications such as Delve:
Compared to the consumer version of Sway, where I have logged in with my personal Outlook account, you can see that the app launcher surfaces a different set of applications:
And that's really it for initial setup—pretty easy, right?
You can find management and administration of Sway in the O365 admin center under Service Settings > Sway. The options here are currently somewhat sparse with only two toggles to enable/disable Sway and external sharing.
Strangely, external sharing from Sway is not surfaced in the 'External Sharing' menu—meaning that you will need to check in both places for a full view of what users can/cannot share outside of your organisation. Personally, I would prefer to manage these in the same place.
When disabling Sway for users in your tenant, they will see the following error message, which is also displayed when the O365 flag in the URL mentioned above is manually set to false. (I am not sure how useful this is but it is interesting nevertheless.)
Looking through the Sway marketing material, I was excited to see what new corporate features would be available to authors in this first release. Specifically, taken from the original announcement post, Microsoft gives the following example for corporate users:
Marketing plans/campaigns, blogs, proposals and sales pitches, project plans/updates, brochures/digital fliers, newsletters, weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual reports, training manuals, and so much more. Why make a boring PDF that is hard to read on a phone when you can make a Sway?
After creating my first Sway, things are already starting to look familiar to the consumer version. We are presented with a beautiful, clean authoring experience and a selection of cards that can be dragged into place within the Sway. One would expect further additions to these cards as Sway matures and a killer feature would be to have corporate cards here that allow businesses to create/configure their own options such as latest sales report or new starters.
Sadly, the experience isn’t just familiar to the consumer version but actually identical. Although I would perhaps expect this for the cards, I had hoped the sources from which cards consume data from would have some interaction with O365 or Azure, but as shown below this is not the case (why have YouTube listed here instead of Office Video?). Although Microsoft has stated such features are coming soon I would have expected to see at least something like OneDrive for Business here.
One difference you will see from the consumer version is that the sharing dialogue presents the option (default) of sharing within your organisation, which is pretty cool. Hopefully, this will soon create Sways that appear in Delve for users to be able to discover content more easily.
Inevitably, as with any first release or preview product, there are going to be some hiccups and issues along the way. Unfortunately Sway seems to suffer from this far too frequently for my liking, with the below error screen coming up 2-3 times an hour during my testing (normally when trying to add a tweet to a Sway). This forced me to sign out and back in again, which is frustrating and likely a major blocker for enterprise adoption (again, understandable while in preview).
For SharePoint aficionados out there—notice the correlation ID at the bottom of the page, which bears a striking resemblance to a more familiar error page...
I think the new Sway version is a little nicer but does point to the use of SharePoint as a back-end service to these new web portals from Microsoft.
Conclusion and Suggestions
Sway for O365 was very easy to setup and configure—at least for me. It provides a clean, intuitive but still somewhat basic corporate blogging platform. Having now spent a solid few days looking into Sway, the potential is very promising but the current implementation is somewhat lacking.
Obviously accepting that Sway for O365 is only in preview, I hope that Microsoft quickly extends its functionality to cater for corporate rather than consumer needs. Otherwise, they risk pushing organisations away to competitors who provide this functionality today.
To make Sway the most compelling option for enterprise adoption, I suggest the following:
- Create a stable production release that businesses can adopt with the confidence that Sway will not be discontinued or deprecated as can happen with preview solutions from Microsoft (remember Fossil).
- Provide greater administrative control within an organisation to enforce functionality and styling of Sways.
- Sway templates such as Monthly Sales Report or News Article in a similar fashion to SharePoint page layouts and content types.
- Corporate sources for Sway content, which could be O365 services like Delve and Office Video but also connectors to Azure services and even on premise repositories.
- Analytics for Sway usage through Power BI, something that Microsoft has already addressed for the wider O365 platform and I hope Sway will become an integral part of this.
Beyond these suggestions, Microsoft need to answer a number of wider strategy questions about where Sway sits in their ever-increasing suite of cloud offerings…
- Is Sway a replacement for the now dated SharePoint blog feature or the wider SharePoint publishing functionality as well?
- Is this a competitor to Yammer or a companion and if so where is the integration?
- Should businesses use Sway for blogging within an existing intranet solution or treat it as a new standalone CMS for internal communication?
- How will businesses migrate existing corporate blogs and intranet material, or should they just start from scratch (I suspect the later here for obvious reasons)?