We should be used to Microsoft announcing new capabilities and investments in Office 365 but December 1st marked two extraordinary launches.
Firstly, a brand new Office 365 plan called E5. This joins the current enterprise plan line up of E1, E3 and E4 and becomes Microsoft’s new ‘hero’ plan. We’ll cover what it contains in a moment.
The second extraordinary launch is Microsoft is becoming a telecommunications provider (or simply telco in modern syntax). Microsoft has extraordinary capacity in its global data network and is putting it to good use by offering PSTN conferencing and PSTN calling plans for Skype for Business.
Before you worry that Microsoft will start making adverts starring Maureen Lipman about ‘ologies, these PSTN capabilities are aimed squarely at organisations rather than consumers at this point.
What do I need to know from the December launch?
The key new features and capabilities are below. There’s a post on Microsoft’s Volume Licensing site covering how to licence Office 365 E5 and the standalone features.
PSTN Conferencing (Public Switch Telephone Network) offers audio conferencing within Skype for Business web conferences. If people can’t connect to a conference over the internet, it’s nice to give them a phone number so they can dial-in and listen to the audio. Currently you need to set up an account with one of the audio conferencing providers in the Office 365 Marketplace, or have on-premises Mediation Servers and PSTN gateways.
Dial-in conferencing allows meeting attendees to dial into Skype meetings through a local phone number and in the near-future, a Freephone number (when consumption billing is released for Office 365).
Dial-out conferencing enables presenters in the web conference to add others to the meeting by dialling their phone number. It also allows attendees to join the audio portion of the meeting by asking Skype for Business to call them on a specified phone number.
PBX stands for private branch exchange and is the internal phone system an organisation uses. Cloud PBX can offload that requirement entirely to the cloud, or connect cloud PBX to an on-premises PBX in hybrid configurations.
It includes all the features you’d expect including calling by name & number from Softphones, IP Phones and mobile devices, Call History & Redial, Call Hold/Retrieve, Transfer, Forwarding, Call Waiting, Simultaneous Ring, Team Calling, and so on.
Like the rest of Office 365, updates are delivered over the cloud so customers can avoid the headache of upgrading their on-premises PBX. A notable update in the pipeline will be PBX features for call centres.
Cloud PBX can be connected to the PSTN through two different capabilities. First, a customer can purchase a PSTN calling service add-on to Office 365, available initially in the US only. Alternatively, a customer can use Skype for Business software on-premises to provide PSTN connectivity.
Which brings us nicely onto PSTN Calling. This is an add-on to Cloud PBX that provides national and international calling services directly from Office 365. Instead of a customer contracting with a traditional telco and using an on-premises IP-PBX, they can purchase the Cloud PBX from Microsoft and add on PSTN Calling for a complete enterprise telephony experience for end-users.
So Microsoft is becoming a regulated carrier in each geography that this will be available. Customers can get new phone numbers for users or have phone numbers ported to the PSTN Calling service. Number provisioning will be done directly through the Office 365 admin portal or of course, via PowerShell.
Power BI Pro
Power BI Pro is a business analytics service that enables information workers to visualize and analyse data with greater speed, efficiency and understanding. Users are connected to live data through dashboards, interactive reports and visualizations that bring data to life and make it meaningful to their role. And don’t underestimate the live data here; this could come from Internet of Things (IoT) devices, wearables for example and be up to the second. Power BI provides a Power BI Desktop tool and Power BI mobile apps for iOS, Android and Windows. Excel also has Power BI enhancements such as being able to merge and use queries from multiple data sources, including public sources like Twitter alongside corporate data.
You may have heard or perhaps used Delve. Delve allows an individual to see and search the documents and sites that are important to people connected to you. It surfaces knowledge according to what and who you’re working with.
Delve Analytics on the other hand, allows managers to discover how their team or organisation works. It provides insights into important business problems like organization collaboration, who’s talking to whom, siloed team detection, identification of most connected employees, types of meetings taking place across the organization and work-life balance; which teams are consistently working beyond their shifts. Individuals can gain a fresh perspective about the way they work including time management, network analysis and influence and reach indicators.
Both Delve and Delve Analytics use Office Graph and sophisticated machine learning to map the relationships between people, content and activity that occurs across Office 365.
One of the common cloud topics is that organisations want to have full control over their content stored in cloud services. Office 365 has evolved so nearly all service operations performed by Microsoft are fully automated and any human interaction is highly controlled and kept away from customer content. Only in very rare cases does a Microsoft engineer have any reason to access customer content. Microsoft employees do not have automatic access to service operations. All access is obtained through a rigorous access control technology called Lockbox. An extension to this is Customer Lockbox and if an organisation has Customer Lockbox, they have the keys to that engineer access. The customer is notified when their content needs to be accessed by service administrators and the have total control to approve or deny such access. They can set up Just-In-Time access to specific scopes of data and all access control activities are logged and audited. So access currently goes through a secure workflow process but Lockbox makes the customer part of that process.
Customer Lockbox will be available for Exchange Online first and for SharePoint Online in Q1 of 2016.
Advanced Threat Protection
Advanced threat protection has been available for a few months now. It combats unknown & sophisticated threats in email. Let’s say you get an email with a short link, a Bit.ly link for example. When you first receive the email, the link is fine and directs you to the Sugababes fan club site as expected. However, sometime in the future that shortlink redirects you to a malware site and before you know it you’ve downloaded a One Direction virus. Safe Links provide time-of-click protection against such malicious URLs by wrapping external links in special URLs that check the destination link for threats before opening them. There’s also Safe Attachments which opens email attachments sandboxed virtual environments to detect malicious behaviour. And Click Trace keeps a record of every user who has clicked on a URL for additional protection so if you do need to take remedial action, it’s easier to know exactly where.
Equivio Analytics for eDiscovery
Back in January, Microsoft acquired Equivio, a provider of machine learning technologies for eDiscovery and information governance. If an organisation goes through a law suit, it’s extremely expensive and time consuming. Data on a given topic needs to be found and collected and once it’s harvested, typically lawyers are paid lots of money to go through that data and determine relevance. Equivio simplifies the eDiscovery process by using machine learning, tagging and predictive coding to identify relevant email and documents and reduce the amount of data that’s returned.
All of these new capabilities form part of Office 365 E5 and with the exception of the PSTN Calling plans are available as standalones licences.
In the next blog post, we’ll go deeper into the PSTN features and what they include.