In Part One of this series we discussed how Microsoft has extended the capabilities Exchange 2013 and Outlook 2013 to cater for the sharing of emails and documents via the reintroduction of Public Folders, but has failed to cater for the ability to share with individuals or groups beyond using email to send attachments. We also showed how in a Microsoft world, the inbox remained the centre for collaboration, with email remaining the discussion mechanism around attachments.
We also showed how studies like those of McKinsey Global Consulting have shown how initiatives that are structured around moving workers, particular knowledge workers, beyond email to more social forms of collaboration, has the ability to improve productivity by up to 25%. Email is not an inherently bad technology. Yet its inappropriate use as a means for collaboration around content does have an impact on knowledge worker productivity and effectiveness.
As an active promotor of Social Business collaboration, moving beyond email in a Microsoft world obviously means something else than just Microsoft Exchange and Outlook 2013.
Welcome the entrance of Microsoft's new SharePoint 2013 version into Redmond's collaboration equation.
Introducing Microsoft SharePoint 2013
The introduction of Microsoft SharePoint 2013 to the Exchange and Outlook 2013 environment brings additional capabilities to those offered by Exchange and Outlook alone. Of relevance to our discussion is the introduction of a new capability that Microsoft calls “Site Mailboxes” to the combination of Exchange/SharePoint/SQL Server/ Outlook 2013.
Site Mailboxes are effectively a new form of Exchange Folders that appear in an Outlook 2013 inbox where users can drag and drop emails and attachments to share with groups or individuals. Through enhancements made in their technology the emails and attachments will appear together as before, but the content can be physically separated with attachments being stored in the SharePoint SQL Server database automatically, whilst the email body remains within the Exchange Datastore. This means that users can then;
- Share emails and attachments with individuals or groups for collaboration, and
- Leverage SharePoint/SQl Server technology to send links within emails rather than physically distribute attachments with the emails.
- Leverage the reintroduced Public Folders as a repository or Public Information via the Inbox.
On the surface admittedly a great move forward towards a world beyond email towards more productive way of collaboration, but has Microsoft really made any significant enhancements to the way the people work?
- Email volume increases dramatically through Microsoft – No one has ever requested more email. Yet in a Microsoft world, the inbox remains the centre for collaboration and email remains the vehicle for collaboration through discussions, requests and feedback on documents.
- Inbox Management effort dramatically increases through Microsoft - How does a user get information into these 'Site Mailboxes” to share? SImple. They drag the email and attachments from their personal inbox into “Site Mailbox' for that user or group. In a Microsoft World, everything flows into the inbox and then the user decides what needs to be shared, and physically drags that email to the relevant 'Site Mailbox'. Everything still revolves around the inbox, only now activities to manage the increased traffic increases. As the user has to make a conscious decision as to whether the information in an email warrants sharing, the prospect of omitting critical, necessary feedback or discussion on something being collaborated upon increases substantially.
- Collaboration becomes exponentially more complex, not simplified - Because of their legacy reliance upon files, folders and tree hierarchies, every user will have to set up a separate “Site Mailbox' folder for each individual user that they share files with. If they share with various groups of people, they will also need to set up and manage separate Site Mailboxes for them as well. Even in a small work group of 4 people, a user would need to set up separate Site Mailboxes for User A, User B and User C, plus one for User A&B, User A&C and User B&C (Site Mailboxes) just to cater for the various combinations of collaboration required. Imagine if you will the complexity of catering for all possibilities of collaboration in a workgroup of 5, 6 or even ten users? Below is a formula that determines the number of 'Site Mailboxes' to cover the number of 'Site Mailboxes” based upon the number of users that are likely to collaborate – the “Microsoft Collaboration Complexity”
- share emails and attachments with individuals is 10
- share emails and attachments with workgroups of two additional people= 10! / (10-2)! x2!= (10x9x8!) / 8! x2!= 45 Separate Mailboxes
Microsoft Collaboration Complexity
For a department of 10 people, the number of 'site mailboxes' required to;
- share mails and attachments with workgroups consisting of three additional users adds another 120 Site Mailboxes if all combinations would be catered.
With Microsoft's reliance upon email as the collaboration medium for discussions, feedback and instructions, plus their reliance upon their legacy directory, tree structure for file management there processes are complex. Add to this the use of Site Mail boxes along with all the reasons why Microsoft reasoned against using Public Folders by Microsoft in Exchange 2010 and the inefficiencies of their approach is apparent.
One need only look at existing Public Folders to see the complexities in action. Consider the actual Public Folder hierarchy from an earlier installation of Microsoft Exchange below.
Now multiply that by the addition of 'Site Mailboxes” for use in sharing with individuals and groups and the complexities become apparent.
Collaboration in a Microsoft world is complex at best!
Users can access documents straight from their email client, by Microsoft is currently recommending against that as certain document meta data (such as versioning and co-auhoring) are not available via Exchange 2013 & Outlook 2013. (http://blogs.technet.com/b/exchange/archive/2012/08/22/site-mailboxes-in-the-new-office.aspx)
Site Mailboxes within Microsoft's SharePoint 2013 Server
The rationale behind Microsoft's strategy for “Site Mailboxes” and combining SQL Server Outlook/Exchange/SharePoint 2013 tighter than before, is to enable e-mail to be accessible from the SharePoint sites within the Browser. A user preferring to leverage the browser as their interface of choice would therefore have access to the mail items around which Collaboration is based, and the documents in question.
As seen by the image below, the interface is certainly clean and intuitive.
However, that's were the potential benefits end.
For accessing mail, users remain dependant upon someone in the team physically dragging and dropping an email related to the collaboration activity, from their personal inbox into the site mail box for it to be made available. Hence earlier statements around Microsoft's strategy being solely email based, and therefore engaging practices that will actually increase email traffic, inbox sizes and use as the collaboration mechanism are being supported even in SharePoint.
Admittedly, they have gone some way to integrating the two product sets, but still it is not complete by any means. For example;
- calendar integration between the two platforms is not good,
- Site Mailboxes are supported with Outlook 2013 although synchronisation between the two are not automatic and can require an Outlook restart,
- Site Mailboxes are not available via Outlook Web Access.
- Outlook Calendar can not appear in SharePoint 2013.
Clearly, their focus is upon Outlook 2013 as the client first and foremost, and why not. Outlook 2013 is a chargeable license now unless purchased with part of the newer Office 2013 suite of products.
It's a Mobile World
Undoubtedly, today's corporate environment is characterised by mobility. Not necessarily relating to work out of the office, but mobility in relation to the preferred device types of Knowledge Workers. While PC's remain on desktops, access to necessary collaboration and communication capabilities in this social adept world also revolves around the use of Smartphones and tablets from increasing number of diverse suppliers.
Hence, mobility in accessing key collaboration capabilities is of paramount importance.
Microsoft have made significant inroads into Mobility with the release and general avaialbility of these 2013 range of server and desktop products. Today Microsoft support Windows Smartphones and the latest App[le iOS and Google Android operating systems in being able to support HTML5 displays. Based upon current penetration of these product set that equates to just under 23% of available devices.
However, that still leaves more than 75% of potential users with a mobile experience that is less than useful.
Consider the 'classic' mode of display which Microsoft provides for these users. Consider the increased difficulty this provides users especially with Public Folder hierarchies and the new 'Site Mailboxes” increasing complexity.
Now explain to me again how Microsoft have made the right moves around collaboration and going beyond email.
To me, Microsoft have certainly not got it right.