Blog Archive

Simple ways to cut costs through tech

We’re often told how technology can help organisations save money so here are some concrete actions that be used in organisations and teams.

Action 1 – Utilise virtual meetings

Until we develop telepathy we’re going to need to meet with other people but we can do this in a much smarter way.  Think how quick and easy a telephone call is; no travel, no hanging around, we get things done quickly.  Now translate the benefits to a meeting.  Spending time finding, booking or hiring a meeting room, getting to the room (which may involve some participants travelling in), setting up your laptop, waiting for everyone to arrive all put a dent in your time and budget.  It’s incredibly easy to hold virtual meetings from your desk or a quiet corner.  Your virtual meeting room is always ready and waiting, people can join from anywhere and if someone is only needed for part of the meeting, they can be invited into the virtual space at the appropriate time.  Many virtual meeting tools include whiteboards, presentation tools (where all participants can annotate slides), polls and moderated Q&A channels.  Also think about recording the meeting instead of taking minutes or as a record for absent staff who couldn’t attend in person.  There are plenty of free tools to run virtual meetings, share screens and documents as well as the more enterprise-ready and full-featured Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

Steps to achieve – Reduce your in-person meetings to once or twice a month and hold the rest using the virtual collaborative tools available to you.

Action 2 – Work from anywhere

We have worked with many enterprise organisations that are reducing physical office space because it is extremely expensive.  It’s possible to work in virtual teams where staff aren’t expected to come into an office.  How did your staff fare during the big UK snowfall of March 2018?  Could they work from home or if not what were the blockers?  Personally, I was stranded in Edinburgh due to the lack of flights and trains.  I was just as productive, perhaps even more so because of the room-service cheesecake on tap.  You can still remain in-touch through collaborative portals such as SharePoint and Teams and using presence information from Skype for Business.  Setting up team portals or collaborative spaces for individuals sectors, projects or clients can add a great relationship benefit because you can include external users, such as business partners, agencies or the customer in your team portals.

Steps to achieve – Set up a team channel in Microsoft Teams (there is a new free version if you don’t already have an Office 365 plan), invite the relevant colleagues and start collaborating on your project.

Action 3 – Save on software licences

We worked with a marketing firm a few years ago and due to acquisitions, an aggressive hiring plan and allowing their staff to use the tools they were familiar with, they had almost 300 disparate business intelligence reporting tools in use.  That’s an extreme example but we often see companies paying for software which is available to them in another licence they own.  For example, paying for WebEx or paying an external provider to host virtual meetings when you already have an Office 365 plan with Skype for Business.  Or paying for screen recording software when PowerPoint has the ability to record and trim screen recordings (brilliant for creating training videos) and Windows has Steps Recorder built-in (brilliant for capturing a series of screenshots for documentation).  The latest update to the Office applications allow for dictation when creating emails and documents so if you’re paying for dictation software this could be your first reduction in licence costs.

Steps to achieve – Perform an audit of software (many tools available to do this including Intune, the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit or Spiceworks Software Inventory Audit) and look for duplication of functionality.

Action 4 – Use project management tools

Breaking down projects into assigned tasks, delegating and distributing workloads can save time, duplication of effort and enable working to tight schedules.  There is a host of choices including no-cost options.  Microsoft Project is a full-featured suite for enterprise project portfolios or again, Office 365 can help here with the Planner app for simple task management across your team.

Steps to achieve – Choose a project to pilot with a project management tool and monitor the benefits from stronger planning, time management and budgeting.

Action 5 – Reduce stationery

Yes, we had to check we had the right spelling of the word; we’re not perfect!  Notepads, pens and all those colourful post-it notes cost a lot to buy, no surprise there, but they also cost a lot to store and then recycle after use.  You can’t password-protect or encrypt a notepad (bad handwriting doesn’t count as encryption), it’s not easy to search back through hundreds of pages of notes, you can’t add rich content such as graphs, videos or pictures and you can’t share notepads so people can work on a common set of notes.  Even if you don’t have mobile or touch devices, OneNote is a superb tool for digital note taking with the ability to accept handwriting (and convert to text if needed), paste pictures and then search the text within the image (or even extract the text), dictate, tag, assign tasks share and record audio and video.  The notes also synchronise between devices so you can browse your notes on your mobile phone whilst you’re on the train travelling to the next meeting.

A common task we see users perform is signing documents.  The user prints the document, walks over to the printer, signs it with a pen, scans the signed copy, shreds the printout, walks back to their desk and emails the signed scan.  Open the document in Word (even if it’s a PDF, Word 2013 onwards can open and edit PDF files), use your mouse, finger or stylus to sign the document and then select File, Share, Send a PDF.  Word will convert the annotated document to a PDF and attach it to an email for you saving time and paper.  We’ll blog about how to do this in an upcoming post.

Steps to achieve – Use OneNote in your next meeting (In your Outlook meeting, choose the Meeting Notes button on the ribbon).

 

We’ll continue this blog in part 2 with some more steps on moving to VOIP and easy steps to move to the cloud.


Teams is an App not a Service

Microsoft Teams Logo  I must admit to being frustrated when Teams was first introduced.  It automatically started at Windows login, sometimes before I’d even connected to wifi (and then would error out due to the lack of an Internet connection) and the disconnection between some of the Office 365 services Teams uses and the main apps for those services, e.g. Skype for Business, was hard to explain to customers.

The gap is closing however and Redmond are putting some thought into Teams now that it’s gaining momentum.  There is a healthy roadmap, some good product management and top level buy-in from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

There is still a gap between some of the native clients and functionality in Teams.  For example, you can do more in online meetings through Skype for Business currently than you can in a Teams meeting despite both apps using the Skype for Business online services.  Teams is now bringing in functionality for meetings that isn’t available in Skype for Business so we find ourselves in the familiar place where we have two apps with an overlap of features but which individually might not meet all our needs; we need to choose which tool to use and accept some sacrifices in functionality.  Check out this brief post from Satya introducing the updated features and the new, free edition of Teams.  We’ll blog about the differences over the next week or so.

The thing to bear in mind is Teams is a presentation layer; an app.  It connects to the existing backend Office 365 online services and enhances them with integration and connectivity to other services, including 3rd party services and apps.  This is the strength of Teams – it is a hub where we can perform 60-70% of our collaborative tasks before we might need to go into another app to continue or access deeper features.

We would like to see Teams become an Office 365 service in itself and have service definitions just like Exchange online, SharePoint online, Yammer and Skype for Business online.  It would need to find it’s own place for that to happen though, or displace Skype for Business completely.


Automatic alt-text in Pictures

Office 365 utilises Azure Intelligent Services for a number of features including dictation, designer and smart lookup.  One of the features we love is the automatic alt-text generation when you insert a picture into an Office document.

We are strong advocates that accessibility is not just important to users who need these features; everyone who creates content should be making it accessible.

A picture tells a thousand words but when a screen reader is parsing a document it will read out the alt-text for an image.  If there’s no alt-text then you’ll just hear something along the lines of ‘picture’.  Not very helpful.  It’s been possible to manually enter the alt-text of course and this is very helpful in online content for search engine optimisation.

Intelligent services can automatically generate the alt-text for you based on the image contents.  If you are dealing with sensitive images, this feature can be turned off in options as it does require information being sent to Microsoft.

Let’s insert an online image into a document to see how it performs.

Button to insert pictures in Office

 

For blatant blog-promotion SEO purposes I’m going to search for an online image of the royal wedding.  Megan Markle Prince Harry Royal Wedding Windsor Castle.  That should raise us at least one place in search results.

Search results for online pictures

 

When I insert the fourth image, intelligent services analyses it and generates an alt-text tag for me.  In this case, it’s accurate but not quite hitting the spot of wedding dress and it certainly doesn’t even try to achieve facial recognition; we know that’s a minefield.  This result is far better than leaving alt-text empty though.

alt text for an image

 

So you’ll get mixed results.  Insert the third image and you’ll get an amusing result of “A picture containing dancer, indoor, sport, red” when clearly the image is all about the military and boys in culottes.

Alt text in a picture

 

Now, we’ll try a business image and search for Donald Trump.  I can feel our SEO going up.

alt text in a picture

 

The alt-text is accurate but again, no face recognition.  Last example to see if there’s some Microsoft bias.  I inserted the Microsoft logo.

Microsoft logo

 

No alt-text was generated but there’s a button in the image option alt-text panel which you can click to generate some.  If you need to use this button, the image was typically not obvious enough for intelligent services to work out straight away so the confidence level will be lower.

Office generating alt-text for a picture

 

Our result?  A drawing of a face.  Perhaps Bill Gates’ face is in the logo subliminally.

 

Alt-text result for the Microsoft logo