Office 365 Periodic Table with Bruce Harple

Danny Ryan

Co-Host – Danny Ryan

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Sam Marshall

Guest – Bruce Harple

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Danny:Hello and welcome to the Two Bald Brothers and a Microphone Podcast. This is your host Danny Ryan, one of the bald brothers, and I am here with … You’ve got plenty of hair Bruce, so I can’t call you a bald brother. I’ll call you a brother.


Bruce:For now. For now.


Danny:You’re a brother of mine, how about that? I’m here with Bruce. We’re doing this remotely via Microsoft Teams, which is a new thing for me. Always try new things, right? Always be up for new things. Today we are going to talk about a subject that I think is near and dear to a lot of folks, and specific about Office 365. Get us started Bruce. What do you want to chat about today?


Bruce:Yeah, so, what I want to talk about is there’s this great platform out there right, called Office 365. That many, many, many enterprises are moving to. The value proposition is just so great. It really is a sound, and very large … We kind of call it a collaboration, communication, and coordination platform. There’s kind of a good news, and bad news story to Office 365, right? The good news is there are 29 different products within this platform for you to leverage for collaboration, communication, and coordination. The bad news is there are 29 different products. You know, for collaboration, communication, and coordination, right? It’s this phenomenal platform, but it’s almost too much.


In fact, there’s a SharePoint kind of blogger, by the name of Matt Wade, who has put together this thing, he calls it the “Periodic Table of Office 365” and Danny, I know you can kind of add that link to the podcast.


Danny:Absolutely. I’ll put this up on the blog. Absolutely.


Bruce:Yeah, but it’s a great representation. I mean, it’s a play on the periodic table, but it just goes to show you how much functionality there is out there with Office 365. And the challenge for IT organizations is, I can’t just turn these 29 separate, disparate functions loose on my enterprise because they’ll be overwhelmed, right?




Bruce:And they really won’t know. I mean… So a great example for communication do I use Outlook for communication? Do I use Teams? Do I use Yammer? Do I use Skype for Business? Do I use my Newsfeeds? What do I use and when do I use Outlook versus Teams, versus Yammer, versus Skype for Business. It can create a lot of churn in organizations. It can create a lot of confusion if you don’t have a vision, a plan a strategy for communication on this platform.


Then I think something that then if you’d take it a step further you’ve got these 29 separate functions, products, and Office 365. What a lot of organizations want is they want that unified, single, cohesive kind of homepage for their organization.


So if I’m going to collaborate, communicate, and coordinate with my teams I want to have one landing page, one homepage I can go to right? And from there … From that one page, I can do what I need to do if I have a project team I’m working with I can go and figure out how do I get to my team.


If I’m involved in sales and there are pursuit teams how do I work with those teams? Or if I’m trying to consume company announcements I want it all to come into one place. Kind of out of the box when you turn on all these capabilities in Office 365 you don’t get that single unified landing page for an enterprise. You gotta kind of create that. And you gotta kind of lay that on top of Office 365.


The challenge for companies is how do I consume all of this amazing functionality but consume it in an effective way? How do I wrap a cohesive user experience around that so people can consume it in a fast efficient organized way?


I think that’s the challenge right and kind of what I wanted to talk about related to that challenge. So how do I go after that challenge? How do I help my user communities out there consume all these amazing capabilities out there? Not just 365, and do it in a structured way and do it in a way that maybe I roll out capabilities incrementally. I don’t just turn everything on and overwhelm people. I do it in an organized way and I really addressed the needs for collaboration, the needs for communication and the needs for coordination.


Danny:I just got out of a meeting where we discussed something similar to this which was, if you have like six or seven- I was joking around with Jeff Meyer about this- But if you have so many different ways to share information and it’s so complicated as far as when, where do I share? It ends up stifling collaboration. I think you have to take the steps to simplify. You have to. I know we’ve done some stuff internally at Three Will where we’re using Teams and we’ve turned off things like Yammer and we’re trying to simplify the whole experience. You have to do that because you can’t just throw a bunch of products at your end-users and so go for it.


Bruce:Yeah you know Dan we’re big believers at ThreeWill in taking something that is very, very big, and Office 365 is big. I mean that’s the good news it does a lot. We’re big believes in taking something big and breaking it down into smaller consumable pieces. Don’t try to kind of- What’s the expression “eat the whole elephant at one time” right.




Bruce:You gotta kind of break it down and just consume it in smaller increments you know that your organization can consume and be successful with.




Bruce:So what I was going to do was just kind of outline- how does someone like ThreeWill- How do we come in and help customers consume this platform? How do we, instead of consuming it in one gigantic bite how do we break it up and go after this in an incremental way?


So what I wanted to do was walk through the steps that we would go through with customers to help them understand the platform. Understand how to consume it effectively for their organization.


Danny:That’s great yeah, because I think it is- Like most things like this it’s a maturity thing and you gotta do this in phases and how do you go from where you are today to where you need to be as an organization? So awesome.


Bruce:Yeah and we really look at this just like in everything that we do, we feel like we’re a solutions-oriented company. What we’re doing is trying to help customers build and implement collaboration, communication and coordination solutions. That’s what we are.


The steps that we would walk a customer through as it relates to Office 365 are the same steps we would use back when it was just SharePoint or we would use if we were going to look at leveraging for a more custom solution maybe.


I was going to just kind of walk through to the steps Danny and the podcast, this one, and we can always, in later podcasts, drill into more detail.


Danny:Sure. Absolutely that sounds great.


Bruce:As it makes sense.


Step one is taking the time to understand your current state. So what are you doing today?  And by the way, it might be you go after this focusing just on collaboration or just on communications or just on coordination, you know how do we work together? You don’t have to bite all three of those pillars of Office 365. You can go after it one at a time.


But understanding your current state it’s trying to understand who your users are, your groups are, their usage today of whatever they’re using today to do their jobs. You’re looking at policies, governance, security. But looking at where are we successful and also where are the challenges and impediments and where are the opportunities for us to further help our organization work more efficiently, more effectively.


Really just kind of understanding where you are today.  Like I said, I think understanding successes, pains, challenges, impediments and opportunities is a key part of that. Because that’s going to feed into where your future state is going to be. So that’s kind of step one.


Step two is looking at your core use cases. Your core usage scenarios. This is looking at, again within the pillars of collaboration, communications, and coordination. What are the critical usage requirement within one of those? This is where we look at content management. Enterprise integration and collaboration. Portals, workflow, business intelligent search. All those kind of functional usages of a platform like Office 365 that you want to leverage. But really understanding, again, what are those core use cases? What is most important to the organization?


That’s step two and then step three is taking that current state analysis, taking those use cases, those usage scenarios and then designing that future state. So taking- and that’s where in that future state you’re saying, here’s this phenomenal platform called Office 365 with these 29 different functional components right. What of those components am I gonna use and how am I gonna use them within those pillars of communication, collaboration, and coordination?


This is where you’re looking at your overall information architecture. How you’re going to information management. How are people going to discover information content? How are we going to share content? How are we going to collaborate as teams? Either at a corporate level. At a project level. At an apartment level. At an individual level. What’s that future state look like? It’s designing that future state.


And then step four is developing the road map. Chances are you’re not going to be able to get to that future state all at once because it’s just going to be too much for the organization to consume. Too much to implement and roll out. Again, back to my point about breaking things up into smaller incremental chunks and back to kind of- You know Danny we’re an agile scrum company and we believe in that inspect and adapt and you do things incrementally right.




Bruce:You know the roadmap is really how do I get from where I am today to my future state and how do I get there incrementally?


So what does phase one look like? What does phase two look like? And what’s the reasoning behind that? So why does that roadmap look the way it does? Which should be driven back by those core use cases and core requirements. The challenges ,the impediments, the opportunities. It really should be driven by mapping all that into your future state.


The last step, and an incredibly important one especially in Office 365 is defining your governance, model, and plan. Because in this environment, in this platform you do what to govern it because you want to govern the growth of the platform. You want to govern the usage of the platform so that everything fits into that future state design that you’ve put in place. Governance is a key piece of that.


So those are the five steps that we would walk a customer through and help to get to the point where they’d have that roadmap. They’d have that future state, and they’d know how to get from where they are today to how they can effectively consume this phenomenal platform.




And is that some- Is that typically- Is that done over a couple of days, a week or what does that typically look like?


Bruce:What we do- I mean so the starting point for anybody would be, we have what we call a “collaboration workshop,” and we structure the workshop. It can be anywhere from one day to three days. Again we spend some time up front trying to understand an organizations vision for collaboration, communication, and coordination and just try to structure that workshop to what a customer is trying to accomplish.


But the purpose of that workshop is to spend a little big of time on the current state. Spend some time talking about the future state. And walking through some of those capabilities in Office 365. Getting to the point where coming out of that workshop, what we have is a communication, collaboration and coordination assessment with associated recommendations.


You’ll have a high-level future state design. Your Office 365 communication, collaboration and coordination roadmap, you know we kind of have a product [inaudible 00:14:33] estimation for implementing that initial phase of the road map. So the workshop is designed to be something where we can narrow in on exactly what part of collaboration, communication and coordination you want to focus on and let’s get to where we come out of that work shop with an initial view of your future and how to get there.


Danny:That’s great. As you mentioned earlier maybe we just in upcoming podcast break these out a little bit more and go into a little bit more depth. That’d be awesome to do.


Bruce:Yeah we could even pool our [inaudible 00:15:19] our collaboration practice lead, and maybe we do some joint podcast and drill into more of the details.


Danny:I like it. I like it, that sounds like we got a topic for the next one.


Well, I appreciate you walking us through this. I know you do have a lot of options with Office 365. I know you guys have been doing these types of workshops for quite a while starting with doing some of the SharePoint deployment planning services years ago and were update. We’ve got a lot of different things that we need to cover to come up with an effective strategy and plan around what people are moving to with an Office 365 and I appreciate the time and energy that you and Bo and others are putting behind this. This is great stuff.


Bruce:Yeah absolutely, we’ve got a lot of passion around this. We enjoy engaging in these conversations with customers for sure.


Danny:Yeah and when we look at the practices with migrations leading to collaboration and then sustainment I know the heart of what we do is around collaboration, and so I appreciate us having some good, especially workshops. Some way of us getting together with clients and furthering the conversation beyond just sales and just really getting into the heart of the matter with things. That’s great.




Danny:Awesome. Thanks for doing this Bruce and thank you, everybody, for listening and I’ll put the- at the bottom of this blog post as well I’ll put up more information on the collaboration workshop and how to learn more about what’s covered during that workshop and next steps from there.


Thanks, everybody for listening and have a wonderful day. Take care.


Bruce:Take care buddy.




Additional Credits

Podcast Producer – Oliver Penegar
Intro/Outro Music – Daniel Bassett

read more
empty.authorOffice 365 Periodic Table with Bruce Harple

Dashboards are Key to the Digital Workplace

Danny Ryan

Co-Host – Danny Ryan

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Sam Marshall

Guest – Tim Coalson

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Danny:Hello, and welcome to the Two Bald Brothers and A Microphone podcast. I am here with a dude that’s bald, it’s Tim Colsen, you want to be my brother?


Tim:I will be your brother.


Danny:My brother from another mother. It’s in the afternoon on a Thursday, we’re wrapping up things, hopefully before too long and Tim is ready to make his commitment for this quarter to get his podcast done.


Tim:I’m ready.


Danny:You’re ready for this. And we’re gonna talk about JIRA.


Tim:Not JIRA specifically, but then I’d like to expand that a little bit more into a conversation of dashboards.




Tim:Because JIRA is a dashboard, which I found very helpful, but then it made me think about a lot of the solutions provided for various customers are related to dashboards that I thought are very helpful.


Danny:Now, JIRA it’s a product from Atlassian and we knew them from way back from doing stuff with confluence and they also have some … they have hip chat, which is some yammer type of functionality. And with JIRA, it’s usually used for issue tracking primarily.


Tim:Yep. Issues. So I work on a support site. So I work … I’m a consultant for ThreeWill and I work for-




Tim:A company that has a support site. So they’re in the tax and accounting software business. So they have a support site that supports their products so, as a person working on their support site, we have tickets that get in or to either indicating new functionality that the company wants to add to the support site, or if there is some enhancements that they want to make or heaven forbid there’s a problem on the support site that we need to resolve. Then JIRA tickets get created and assigned to people.


Danny:So it’s not just tickets? It’s also enhancements that you using it-




Danny:Like to manage a backlog of things you’re going after?


Tim:Exactly, exactly.




Tim:In a lot of ways they’re like our product backlogs that we use when ThreeWill actually manages a product, we use more of a scrum methodology, so we’ll have product backlog on them. So essentially JIRA, in our case is a backlog of things to do, whether it’s enhancements, whether its bug fixes, but you know within there you can specify okay, is it a bug fix? What environment is it happening? Is it in production? What’s the criticality? Does it need to be fixed as a production patch or can it slotted for a future release?


Danny:Okay. And, since we’re talking about dashboards, is there a personal dashboard that shows you what to work on next? I mean that’s probably the key thing is you’re just … there’s plenty of things out there to work on, but what’s the next thing you’re working on?


Tim:Right, so it’s a very flexible customizable tool so our manager that, our project manager, or our boss on the project, he has created a dashboard, and we don’t necessarily use scrum, but we do have a release schedule so basically we schedule our JIRA items around releases.




Tim:So within a release we’ll determine, which JIRA items are gonna be worked on, which enhancements, which bug fixes are gonna be worked on and then each of those JIRA items can get assigned to a person. At a release level we can see, “Okay, here’s all of the JIRA items within the release.” But on that dashboard, then you can see among all those JIRA items that are for the release, which ones are assigned to Tim. And then, which ones are assigned to Danny, so then you can start to break it down and then each day as we go through our status, we’ll pull up the JIRA items assigned to that person and go through each of those JIRA items and say, “Okay, what’s the status of this JIRA item?” Or do you have any impediments on any of the JIRA items that you’re working on?


Danny:Do you have a daily stand up or something a long those lines?


Tim:Yes, we do. We have a daily meeting.


Danny:A daily meeting.


Tim:And this dashboard becomes the foundation for those meetings, so that’s the real value of it because our team is remote. We have team members in India, we have team members in Chicago, we have team members in Las Vegas, we have team members in Alfreda. Having something we can all look at, even though often times we’re using a screen share, we can all individually be looking. It’s a public site, so it’s publicly accessible. It’s a cloud based solution. So we’re all accessing it from our local location, and then usually the person who is running the meeting is pulling up the dashboard and sharing it through screen share software but, essentially becomes one thing we can all look at to agree upon, here’s our scope, here’s what you’re working on, and then each day, through the day as I work on these items, I can go update the status.


I can move it from an underdevelopment to a QA, so then the QA person sees it, okay now this has moved into my queue. So now it’s time for me to do QA on this item. And then that person, you know, once they have gone through and done the QA work, they can push it to a UAT status. So all these different statuses are driven within these dashboards, that way, along every stage of the development process, you can follow these items and see where they are.


Danny:And you aren’t using confluence or hipchat, hipchap … hipchat in conjunction with these? You’re using other collaboration tools, or are you using Skype or [crosstalk 00:06:03] or what are you [crosstalk 00:06:06]?


Tim:We use Skype for business mule. We’ll use it for like, chatting with each other or we’ll use adobe connect, generally what we use for our screen share at least, the person who initiates most of our meetings. We also use a lot of the Skype for business chat, screen sharing. Since everything we do is essentially remote. Remote software especially … Skype for business I like it a lot. I like using my headset at my laptop, that way I can continue to have access to my keyboard without a phone on my shoulders.


Danny:And this isn’t a client that’s dabbling with teams or that’s just Skype for business?


Tim:Skype for business, yes.


Danny:Mm-hmm (affirmative) Nice. What else about dashboard? What’s been your experience? Tell me.


Tim:One of the customers that we did work for in the past, what they did is run energy efficiency programs for electric companies. Electric companies generally don’t want to build new infrastructure. They want to maximize their investment, and their current resources that they’ve developed. So, one way to that is to try to minimize power usage during peak periods. That way they can avoid maxing out their power. There’s various ways they do that. There’s things they install on people’s air conditions to be able to remotely control them and tune them down during peak times. There are other programs, where they’ll go into low income houses, and they’ll do caulking and insulation for the people, to just help reduce their power usage.


So essentially, this company would contract with power companies to run these programs. So, you know, part of their contract agreement was … they had various measurements that they wanted to be able to measure, you know, month over month, and year over year. To see, are they hitting the targets that were estimated for them to get the value for the service they were purchasing. So essentially, we created a dashboard that would allow the customer to go in and be able to look at each of these different measurements for all these different types of programs that were running, to see if they were hitting their targets. This also included some school education, where they would go in and give kits to students, which included some light bulbs, and some other educational material on ways to reduce power consumption.


Danny:I actually bought one of those smart thermostats for when I moved into this new house, and it’s part of that … there is a program that Sony MC, that’s who I use for electricity, that they have where they’ll help reimburse some of the cost for it. And then they’ll end up lowering your bill because they can turn it down on peak time, which I thought was pretty neat to be able to do that.


Tim:That’s essentially one of the different offerings that this company provided, that capability.




Tim:This dashboard, it showed information at a … this was program that was run across multiple power companies and in this case, we actually used a cube on the back end and had it secured so that each company could see their own data, but could only see their own data. They couldn’t see other companies’ data, but then people with privileged access could then look at the data across the different companies. Dashboards can be created in such a way, that they’re secured by users and then … for example, sales, where sales reps could see their own numbers, however, a manager could look across all the different sales people and see all the different numbers, and see them in an aggregate level. You can see where these dashboards would be fine value for different levels of people within a process, and you can secure the data as necessary.


To only allow people to see what they should see, but it can be essentially driven from the same set of data being rolled up to different levels so that different people at different levels can make the appropriate decisions.


Danny:In this, the energy company that you’re talking about … That’s not related to JIRA, this is using like SQL server.


Tim:Right, this was a SQL server using power bi as a front end for that data. But generally, just the value of dashboards, as you think about the processes that you’re involved in on a daily basis, whether that be sales, whether that be some business process, there’s often times, you can think of data that’s really valuable for your team to look at and talk about together. So as a software consultant, working on different development tasks, you know, JIRA is very helpful for us to plan out our releases. For a utility company trying to make sure they’re getting the value out of the contract they’ve made with this energy efficiency company, a dashboard that lets them start to look, to see … okay, or the goals that were established that would make this program beneficial to us.


Are those goals being met? Being able to go to a dashboard and look at that data, and see okay are the numbers being hit? It is certainly a value.


Danny:If you turn around, you’ll see my dashboard, up on my whiteboard, I got-


Tim:Yeah, I see a graph. It looks like it’s going left to right, low to high. That’s usually a good trend.


Danny:Well, that’s what I need to stay above that red line, so I’ll be monitoring.


Tim:So that’s your goal?


Danny:Yes, that’s my goal. I’m old school with this.


Tim:Certainly, obviously the nice part about … many scrum teams do use, you know, whiteboards as their, quote dashboard, to be able to track their status. Now products like JIRA are very nice when you do have that, yeah. Geographically segregated team, that way you can all look at the same information without having a webcam shining on your board but-


Danny:Nice. Nice.


Tim:Yeah, it’s just a nice tool and I was thinking about the value of that tool. Our team and our collaboration, I was thinking about just dashboards in general. And as a business process, it’s often good to consider what data would our team find valuable to be able to look at together, and collaborate on that data. That way we have, kind of, a common vision. And their able to see the progress that we’re making against that vision.


Danny:One, I have to tell you a story to wrap us up here. It’s funny, and it makes fun of me. So, that’s my favorite type of story. So, when we moved to this new house. The heater downstairs in the basement, you know, did all the things that I thought I should be doing with it like changing out the air filter, and all the home maintenance things that I thought were necessary. And as I mentioned, I switched out the smart thermometer on the first floor, and it worked out great.


It was like Alexa … no she’s listening, but I can set the temperature using her. We know what we’re talking about. She will not be mentioned. So, I though that was awesome, and then it was about a month or two ago, upstairs, just no matter what we did … the heater wasn’t turning, cranking out heat. And I went around and said, I have no idea what this is, I thought I’ve taken care of everything here.


So, we called up the home warranty company, cause it was still under warranty, well we extended it out a year. They came out and it was like okay, and showed him up stairs and I showed him the thermometer, I turned up the thermostat and showed him how no heat was coming out. I’m sitting there and I’m walking downstairs to go down to the basement, to show him the heater and then he says, is it okay if I go up there?


He points in the laundry room to go up to the attic. I didn’t realize I had another heater up in the attic.


Tim:Oh no.


Danny:I go, “Oh I know this happens to you sometimes but I get the idiot of the day because I didn’t know …” I said, “You’re going to have, when you go and change the filter, it’s going to have like a years worth of stuff in it.” And so that’s what it was. He pulled it out. We ended up making a sweater out of that.


Tim:Oh wow.


Danny:He switched it out. There was some things he had to reset but it was easy enough for him to fix. He’s like, “You don’t know how often this happens to us.” I’m sure you’re saying that just to make me feel a little bit better but that’s my energy story of the day.


Tim:So back to our dashboard, he probably had a dashboard of appointments for the day, and saw your appointment and …


Danny:Dashboards are good.




Danny:Absolutely. Well thank you for taking the time to do this. Appreciate all your hard work out there, and good stuff. Thank you Tim.


Tim:Thank you Danny.


Danny:Okay, take care, bye bye.


Additional Credits

Podcast Producer – Oliver Penegar
Intro/Outro Music – Daniel Bassett

read more
empty.authorDashboards are Key to the Digital Workplace

Augmented Reality in Manufacturing with Bob Meads

Danny Ryan

Co-Host – Danny Ryan

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Jeff Meyer

Guest – Bob Meads


Tommy Ryan

Co-Host – Tommy Ryan

Bio – LinkedIn – Twitter

Danny Ryan:Hello and welcome to the Two Bald Brothers and a Microphone podcast. This is one of the bald brothers, Danny Ryan. I’m here with Tommy Ryan. Hey Tommy.


Tommy Ryan:Hey Danny.


Danny Ryan:How are you doing?


Tommy Ryan:Good.


Danny Ryan:Good. Welcome back. I think the last couple of podcasts you haven’t been there with me. It’s just been the lone bald brother. So good to have you back here, Tommy’s here in the room. We’ve got three folks in here. We have Bob Meads. Bob Meads, how are you doing?


Bob Meads:I’m doing well guys, how’re you doing?


Danny Ryan:The man in the flesh.


Tommy Ryan:The man in the flesh.


Bob Meads:The man in the room with hair.


Danny Ryan:And Bob wanted to learn what not to do for a podcast and I told you, Bob we can show you what not to do.


Bob Meads:That’s outstanding. I could use all of the bad experience I can get.


Danny Ryan:Learn from others, that’s a very important thing, absolutely important thing. So just to get us kicked off here, how do you guys know each other? What’s the background between Tommy Ryan and Mr. Bob Meads?


Tommy Ryan:Oh we met back in the days of Siemen, so Bob is more that traditional engineer that knew about HMI’s and programming and my kind of world into the programming world was going to Siemens. I was a chemical engineer and looked at Siemens as a way to get into information technology. And we met there, and we were on a hotline …


Bob Meads:Yeah. WinCC Hotline on the Alpharetta, that’s right that’s right, and I had just gotten my degree. I was ex-NAVY, submarines and then I went to school to be a software developer, so my first job as a software developer was Siemens, and then Tommy came on, and he was more of a technical sales. Had lots of fun experiences with large customers, if I can remember.


Tommy Ryan:Drilling oil.


Bob Meads:Yeah and he taught me how to talk nice to customers and things like that so I had a lot of great experiences, and we’ve certainly kept in touch from our Siemens days.


Danny Ryan:In everything you guys learned about technology comes back to the relationship with Emilio Matt, is that correct?


Bob Meads:Yeah, Emilio. Surely he’s going to be listening to this at some point, how are you doing?


Danny Ryan:Excellent, excellent. So neat background, you’ve stayed in manufacturing now and then started your own company. Tell me more about that.


Bob Meads:Well I’ve actually got two companies. I started a company called iQuest 20 years ago this year when I left Siemens if you can believe it. And I started out doing consulting for WinCC which is the SCADA that Siemens has, and I knew quite a bit about it, and I branched out into doing entire plans, doing PLC programming and things like that. So I got a partner, we have a machine shop, we build panels, and I’m always kind of looking at what’s coming next, what technology’s coming next. So I’ve progressed with that, and when the iPad 2 came out, we started looking at ways that we could use that out on the plant floor other than just hey here’s a portable computer, because that’s not the point of a mobile device, right.


So we started a company called IQ Agent and we’re looking at this iPad and my partner Patrick Mir and I were sitting around thinking about okay how can we do this? And he said well let’s do a SCADA client, an HMI client, but put it on an iPad. And I said well that’s not interesting, that’s what they already have. They already have those screens, and we pitched a few ideas around and I think he got a little irritated with me because I kept knocking him down, and finally he says what do you want to do with it? And I said I want to look at the plant through my iPad, and when it sees a machine it recognizes, I want it to pop up all the data that we have about that machine. And that’s what IQ Agent does, and so we got a developer, we started banging out code, we got a prototype in late 2011, we put in for a couple of patents that we were awarded and so we started IQ Agent. And that’s about 80 percent of my focus today.


Danny Ryan:Wow, and then you started … the background has been primarily with Microsoft software, and now you’re getting into the AR stuff now, so it’s Hololens or … how did things come along?


Bob Meads:With IQ Agent we started out on iPads, which is IOS because the iPad 2 was really the first hardware that could run what we want it to do. It had an accelerometer, it had a really good camera, it was fast, and people wanted to use it. So we started developing for that and as other people caught up like Microsoft came out with the Surface tablets, and so we created a client for that, it’s up on the Windows store as well. And then the wearables, when Hololens came out, it was pretty awesome. We were very interested in it and what we always wanted to do was do a fully augmented reality application. So Hololens allowed us to do that. Now with Apple, they have AR Kit, which we’ve created another version of IQ Agent called IQ Agent AR, which works with tablets and phones and it allows us to do similar things that we can do on the Microsoft platform. And we also have an Android version, so we’re trying to hit all of the platforms that people are going to use it.


Danny Ryan:Interesting. So now you’ve moved beyond just Microsoft and looking at, sort of, what’s the device that somebody has in their hand typically.


Bob Meads:Yeah that’s right. We like doing native apps because we take, like with the Hololens, we can use the stuff that Hololens has to put out holograms out on the plant floor, place pieces of data, documents, and schematics around the areas of the equipment where it makes sense. We do that in other ways out on IOS simply because it’s a different platform; it’s got different strengths and weaknesses.


Danny Ryan:Nice. I love that you’re passionate about this AR stuff, I can tell. I can tell you’re excited about it and that is wonderful. That is just good stuff.


Bob Meads:I have goosebumps. I really, I actually have goosebumps.


Danny Ryan:So start me off at a high level. I know virtual reality and you are in a completely different place, you’re not seeing anything about reality, and then you have augmented reality, where it’s combining what you see with additional information. I know this is going to be tough, but imagine I don’t know anything about what you are talking about. Just give me a definition of what the different types of reality are.


Bob Meads:This is kind of important, and I see a lot of questions like this. Virtual reality is when we’re creating an entire world. So gaming is a really good use of this, so if you think about Halo or you think about some of these other games where you put a headset on and everywhere you look, you’re looking at that world. Now at this point, you can’t see the real world, so you have to restrain yourself. You can’t do virtual reality in the middle of your kid’s playroom because you’re going to start stepping on legos and tripping over furniture. So virtual reality, basically we’re just recreating everything. Then we have what we call informed reality, which is really just kind of like a heads-up display when you have a live view maybe through a camera and we’re just popping up relevant information based on things in there. It’s not really part of the world, but we see it. So if you watch football, and you see that they do the yellow line for the first down and things like that, some people call that augmented reality, some call it informed reality where they’re putting up data.


Augmented reality basically what that means is we’re actually creating computer-generated objects that look like they’re part of the real world. So you could put out a globe and you’re viewing it through your mobile device and you can walk all the way around the globe, and you can move the globe, and you can see the globe, and it would look like it’s actually there, maybe sitting on your desk, but it’s not. So we’re viewing that. And then we have what Microsoft, I believe, has started calling mixed reality. And the difference between augmented reality and mixed reality is the level of interaction and occlusion. So with augmented reality a lot of these apps, if you put something up and somebody walks between you and where that object apparently is, you don’t lose sight of that object. It’s still in your field of view. In mixed reality, it’s different. If someone walks between it, you may not see the object, or if it’s behind a door it might occlude part of it. And plus I have the ability to interact with that and Microsoft uses the term hologram, I think it’s dead on, it’s really relevant. Does that answer your question about the different types of realities that are out there now?


Danny Ryan:Yeah. You should’ve come in here this morning and had a red pill and a blue pill and said Danny which one do you want.


Bob Meads:Yeah I left them out in the car man. I wouldn’t want to start breaking out …


Danny Ryan:Do you want the truth?


Bob Meads:Yeah I’m telling you, I’d start breaking out in my …


Danny Ryan:Are you going to start talking about jacking into the matrix and stuff like that? No, leave that alone.


Bob Meads:Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Yeah, I watch that movie every week.


Danny Ryan:Let’s talk about what you’re working on now, where you see this going, paint the picture there.


Bob Meads:Well augmented reality and mixed reality is what we’re very very interested in IQ Agent, and when I first launched the product back in 2012, we called it practical augmented reality because what we were doing is, we used QR codes to identify pieces of equipment and there’s a lot of cool technology out there, object recognition, network triangulation and stuff like that. Not of that stuff is really deterministic and a lot of that stuff is not really ready for the plant floor and when you start trying to add infrastructure to support your app in a plant, that’s pretty much when you get shutdown. But QR codes are no problem, so we use QR codes and we had the idea of creating points of interest out in a plant, just like Google Maps. But a point of interest in a plant might be a motor, it might be the output of a production line, or whatever, and so our original app, it would find that QR code, it would scan it, it would know exactly what equipment it was and where it’s at, and then it would popup what we call a POI display. It would show live data coming out of the PLC or the SCADA system, you could chart it, we could pull up the schematics, we could watch a video on how to change filters, stuff like that.


Now since Apple has come out with AR kit, we can go one further. So we use the same backend, the same POI configuration, but now when we scan the QR code with AR kit, it uses the POI to tell it what data is relevant to this AR scene, and it also gives us a physical frame of reference, so that when I place objects like a speed by a speed sensor or something like that, we have a frame of reference so I know that it’s going to stay there. So what we’re doing with AR kit is basically that. We’re using the QR code, you scan it, and then you can create a scene on a machine by placing live data points around sensors, videos, voice recordings, schematics, around the areas where it matters. So like if there’s a filter, I might place a video of how to change that filter right where the filter is or something like that.


Danny Ryan:Nice.


Bob Meads:And you can actually save that and then anyone else using the IQ Agent AR app scans that QR code that scene’s instantly created right then. So it’s not just on that mobile device, it’s global. And we’re really excited about that. The beauty of what augmented reality does, and it’s a game changer, I mean this is a paradigm shift happening right now, and I’ll explain why I think that in a moment, but basically with augmented reality, one of the things is we can place data in context to the real world. We don’t have to think about it. And I think we talked about this before but if you know about manufacturing plants and plant floor, we’ve come full circle in about 30 or 40 years because before we had programmable logic controllers, when we built machines, we had to put all of the indications and the measurements about how it was doing right there, that’s how it made sense. So we would have valves, we’d have gauges, we would have lights, it’s all wired in, right. And so we could look at the machine and we could know what it’s doing.


Well when we got PLC’s in the 70’s after the transistor was invented, it allowed us to create programmable logic controllers, and so we didn’t have to have all of this physical information right there, we would put the sensors in, and then we would wire it back to a computer. So now you’ve got a guy in a control room that’s looking really at a virtual representation of that machine, maybe it’s a motor or a pump. And I’ve got a little drawing of a gauge, and it’s got a little needle on it, and I’ve got a pressure indicator, and I’ve got a temperature indicator, but it’s all in the computer, right?


Danny Ryan:Yeah.


Bob Meads:Well that’s great because I can be in one place and see all the information about the machine. The bad news is you’re not at the machine. So, if a maintenance guy walks up to a machine today, he can’t see anything, because all of that stuff is sitting on some 2D display somewhere. This is the problem that we are solving, and so with augmented reality I can take all of the visualization components that are on that SCADA screen, and actually place them in context to the real world, augmented reality. So I can put my gauges and my dials and my switches right back where they need, and I can see that on my mobile device, I can see that on my Hololens, I can see it on … I believe Apple’s coming out with some glasses, Tim Cook get on that man. You know, I can see it on my Apple glasses, and so it’s full circle. And the reason why I think this is such a paradigm change is because there are a lot of electronic manufacturers out there that sell displays. HMI displays that people are putting their expensive OEMs or embedding these HMI displays, why? So that people can see information about the machine.


When we have augmented reality and the operator can just simply put on a pair of glasses, or pull out their phone and view the machine through that, they can not only see all of the information about the machine, but they can customize it and put it exactly where it makes sense to them. And they don’t have to pay the price for that panel; we don’t have to pay somebody to wire it, we don’t have to buy that electronic. So I think that very soon, all of these electronic manufacturers that are creating these HMI displays and panels and things like that, are going to be getting a lot fewer sales because of the rise of augmented reality.


Danny Ryan:And traditionally manufacturings of technology lagger, it’s interesting to see this, where you have a technology that’s coming into play where it could drive innovation and to other industries.


Bob Meads:Well I can tell you Tommy and I were talking about this, and when Tommy and I were at Siemens, we both remember when Windows NT came out, and it took a long time for the plant floor to get on Windows NT and then remember, I think Windows 95 had come out, and it took a long time for people to really embrace that and things. And what do you think, the lag was like really 5 to 7 years for new technology for plants, and what I’m seeing with things like augmented reality, you know I’ve got some major customers using this. Major household names, pharmaceutical companies, textile companies, and every big company that I get into and that I’m successful with, I’m selling to the same job title, and that job title has something like either external technology acquisition, innovation, things like that. And basically part of these people’s job description is to go out and look at new technology, augmented reality, internet of things, mobility, and they know that they can profit from these, and they know the use cases of these types of things, so they have people going out and looking to go out, identify technology, doing a pilot, doing a use case, seeing if it’s really going to work and then they can roll it out. That’s where I’ve been really successful getting my technology into some big companies.


Danny Ryan:That’s awesome, that’s awesome. So right now, are people prototyping this now inside of organizations or what does it look like as it stands today? If I went to a typical manufacturing plant, do you see people with Hololens on or how far off are we from that being something that’s a part of …


Bob Meads:I mean the biggest thing, I’ve actually sold product for people who only want to use Hololens. But you don’t see people with Hololens a lot out on the plant floor, it’s still kind of big. It’s still kind of bulky. You know, Microsoft came out a couple of months ago and said that Hololens has this certain safety rating, there’s some bigger safety ratings that people want. But the Hololens is great, it’s cool. If you haven’t seen it, go on YouTube, look at some of the videos. But it’s not something I could comfortably wear for a long time. And then there’s other factors like when you start putting things in people’s field of vision, and they’re out on a plant floor, you know then safety, right.


So with the Hololens, we see it mostly in labs, and we see it in environments where they know the technology is coming, they know that it’s going to be useful. The headset, the hardware is not quite ready. However, it’s coming. Hololens and this is my opinion now, Hololens is so far ahead of anything that’s on the market that they announced they’re going straight to generation 3, I think in 2019. They’re not even doing Gen 2, and I believe that that’s because there’s other stuff out there.


DAQRI’s got a pretty good solution that’s kind of expensive in my opinion; there are some pros and cons on it against the Hololens, Magic Leap, we don’t know if they have anything yet other than lots of money because we haven’t seen anything.


ViewsIQ’s got some nice stuff, I’m still kind of digging into that, but nobody has the comfortable safety rated glasses yet. I predict we’re going to see those in 2019 and when we do, this is a point somebody made, we’ve got the IQ Agent AR app for our iPhones and iPad Pros, and so we’re placing data in context to the real world and you can hold the tablet up and you can view these data points as if they’re part of the real world.


Now that’s really cool, but it’s not as useful as regular IQ Agent where you just scan the QR code and you’ve got the data, simply because I have to hold my arm in a place to see this data. And so people say well that’s not as useful, and they’re correct, they’re absolutely correct. So they said Bob, why did you spend all of this money creating this app. And I did it because I know that we’re going to get Apple glasses, and the day those Apple glasses come out, my IQ Agent AR app is going to be from very cool to this is something I have to have on the plant floor, because now we’re hands free and you just put the glasses on and then IQ Agent works, we see this data.


Tommy Ryan:You can build the apps now …


Bob Meads:I can build them now.


Tommy Ryan:… and then it becomes even more powerful.


Bob Meads:Well the thing is one of the unique things about the business model we have is if you take somebody who’s just doing AR, they’re banging out AR and say hey here’s a Hololens and here’s our AR app or here’s our DAQRI, whatever, if you’re not using it as AR with that platform, it’s useless. It doesn’t help you. So unless you can find an immediate use case, you’re not going to get your ROI. You know, how long is this $3000, DAQRI glasses I think are like $5000. With IQ Agent, you can put it out there right now, and it’s going to work on any iPhone, any iPad, and Android device now. If you want to get into AR, great, it already works. You go get an AR capable iPhone, whatever, it works. If you want to do Hololens, it just works. So we’ve tried to reduce that risk of having too much technology, and things like that. We’ve tried to really reduce that, but yes you can build it now or you can use it now, and I call that future proofing.


Danny Ryan:Okay. I didn’t hear anything you said after you said the word DAQRI so that just sort of through me off. Because it’s Friday, you know that …


Bob Meads:It’s not that kind of daiquiri. DAQRI’s a cool company; they’ve got this … Are you familiar with their …


Danny Ryan:I’m not, no I’m familiar with DAQRI, but not that, probably not the same daiquiri.


Bob Meads:No, these aren’t flavored daiquiris, but DAQRI is D A Q R I, they have an augmented reality helmet, which was, it was pretty expensive when it came out, but you can build augmented reality apps, augmented reality base procedures. They’ve just recently come out with glasses that are a lower cost that you can do the same thing. They use a different method than say, Hololens does, it’s all voice controlled, voice engaged, where Hololens uses gestures. And personally, to me, the DAQRI system is nice, but I like using gestures. And I think going forward, when we talked about a paradigm shift away from 2D displays, that includes the keyboard and the mouse. Those are the beta maxes of UI’s, and those things are going away. When we get our glasses, I don’t want to pull up a virtual keyboard and type stuff on it, why would I do that? I want to do gestures, I want to speak, I want to use voice, I want to point at things and interact in that way, so gestures are really just a natural extension of that.


Danny Ryan:And I haven’t heard anything you’ve said since you said the word helmet, I’ve been thinking about Spaceballs.


Bob Meads:You know, I get the same thing, man. It is funny; I watched that movie, I just cackle my butt off.


Danny Ryan:“I see your schwartz is as big as mine.”


Bob Meads:Yes, right. Dark Helmet, yeah. It’s funny, and you know, John Candy’s role in that, you know the, “I’m a mog, part man part dog. I’m my own best friend.” My son just looks at me; he’s like what are you doing. He just doesn’t get that kind of humor.


Danny Ryan:Well the places where Tommy and I have seen, in particular, the Hololens, one is we saw there was a demo that Microsoft does where you have people collaborating … we do a lot of enterprise collaboration …


Tommy Ryan:Holoportation


Danny Ryan:And the idea of people working across Microsoft teams, and being in different locations, and seeing physical objects together and working on those objects. That’s one place we’ve seen where Microsoft’s trying to drive, sort of this is where we can go with this. You don’t even have to be in the same room together to interact with something like that which is cool.


Bob Meads:Well, the whole idea of Holoportation, or holographic collaboration, and they show the demo where the guy and his daughter comes in, and I think that’s coming. I mean you have to have pretty specialized equipment right now to actually have that experience, but people want that experience, and there’s a lot of science fiction books out there that talk about a time when you just go into a room and then now boom you’re in a meeting, and it’s just like you’re there. I think that’s coming as well because we’re going to have that technology. Basically, all you’re going to have to do is digitize yourself, and have an avatar that can be recreated.


Tommy Ryan:Emojis.


Bob Meads:Well you know I was going to bring that up because we already, Apple has already shown us, and I think you can do this on Google now but the animojis, where it’s actually doing what you call a dot scatter on your face, and then basically the size and angular changes of those dots gives you feedback, and so the animoji can actually mimic your facial expression. Well, think about that. Extend that out a little bit, and then we can easily imagine an avatar of ourself having a conversation with someone somewhere else, and it’s just like we’re face to face because why do we want to meet with people face to face? It’s because we convey information through body posturing and facial expressions and you don’t get that over a phone call, and you don’t necessarily get it as much over a video call. But with where I think that technology’s going, you would get all of this stuff, and I think it’s part of it, so.


Danny Ryan:Tommy and I were talking this morning about the emotional bank account. I just want to have these Hololens to put them on and when my wife comes in the room to see her emo… maybe I don’t want to see this, her emotional bank account. It’s the whole idea of whether you’re …


Tommy Ryan:[inaudible 00:25:23]


Danny Ryan:… yeah, like a heads-up display on people’s emotional bank accounts.


Bob Meads:Well you know the thing is we’re going to a part where, you know you talk about the singularity and are you guys familiar Ray Kurzweil’s work, and we’re all going to be robots in 2045, that’s where he’s going with it. He’s not crazy, he’s written a lot of books on it, but I do believe that we are constantly digitizing ourself, and it’s going to be to a point of where if you have augmented reality or mixed reality built into glasses, contact lenses, direct brain implant, if you think about it, if I had that technology, why would anybody ever create a physical sign? Why would anybody create directions? In the real world, it would be featureless buildings, but everybody’s augmented, and they see the signs and they see the lights and things like that. I think ultimately, that’s probably where it’s going, but I’ve read science fiction stories that talk about the ability, kind of like you said, where if I didn’t like somebody in the room, it would erase them out of it. I literally would not see them; they’d not see me. Seriously, seriously.


Danny Ryan:Tommy’s like, “I haven’t seen Danny in years.”


Tommy Ryan:It’s like, where’d he go? Why is that coffee cup floating?


Danny Ryan:Well the other place that Tommy and I have seen it is, there’s a restaurant that creates an addictively delicious chicken sandwich.


Tommy Ryan:Oh yeah.


Danny Ryan:And the whole concept of building out new stores and prototyping new stores, they had a room that they could work on prototyping what the next version of their store was, and seeing that. So I think that’s another place where people … it’s a physical thing too, so they’re trying to simulate what’s the next version of a store looks like.


Tommy Ryan:A more productive environment regarding flow, and how do you serve the customer.


Danny Ryan:Where is this going to go, how is this going to affect when I put it here, and …


Tommy Ryan:Then we talked about introducing say a new product that you want to sell, well, how are you going to make it, where are they going to stand, how does that flow in the store, and is that viable. Because they’re always competing with the footprint, and making sure they give the best customer experience.


Bob Meads:Well you know IKEA does that. IKEA has an app that allows you to say hey I want this table and you can put it in your room, and I believe that it’s scaled and you see exactly how it’s going to look and will it fit in that space. Coca-Cola has an app, and it’s really for vendors, that if they wanted to get one of the new coke machines that does all of the mixing and stuff, it shows them what it would look like and things like that. I foresee these types of apps where I’m trying on clothes, or I’m trying on certain things, and it just portrays it on you. I mean I think there’s already stuff out there that does the same thing.


Danny Ryan:Yup.


Tommy Ryan:Yup.


Danny Ryan:We’re coming up on our 30 min … when you’re talking about stuff you love to talk about, it just flies by doesn’t it?


Bob Meads:Yes it does.


Danny Ryan:Well thank you for taking the time to do this, and I’ll share everything, and we were joking about what not to do with podcasts, and I wish you the best of luck. My only piece of advice is, just do it. It’s like anything; you just have to try going after it for a while and also, with anything, just have low expectations. And then build. And then learn. And then build. And then learn.


Bob Meads:Well you know marketing and things like that, it’s just not going to happen overnight. You can’t just create a twitter account and have 50,000 followers the next day that mean anything.


Danny Ryan:Well you could pay for them and have 50,000.


Bob Meads:Well I mean that’s what I’m saying, but they don’t mean anything, you know they don’t mean anything. But I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you guys.


Danny Ryan:Absolutely.


Bob Meads:You guys have a great business.


Danny Ryan:Well thank you, I appreciate that.


Bob Meads:I appreciate working with you so, hey.


Danny Ryan:Stay in touch, and next time maybe you’ll bring some stuff with you to show us as well.


Bob Meads:Well we’d have to do a video version of this, but I do have some cool stuff to show, so yeah I would love to do that.


Danny Ryan:So tell me, what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you? Is it through a website, is it through Twitter, is it through something else, or?


Bob Meads:Well if you just go to, we’ve got videos on all the different platforms. You can see what IQ Agent looks like on the Hololens, on the RealWear HMT-1, which is a wearable, something that we’re very excited about on the iPad. You can; if you have one of these devices, even an iPad or an iPhone, we have a demo kit that you can download that’s got the QR codes, and you can just scan it and you can create AR scenes, or you could see exactly how it looks.


Additional Credits

Podcast Producer – Oliver Penegar
Intro/Outro Music – Daniel Bassett

read more
empty.authorAugmented Reality in Manufacturing with Bob Meads

Free ThreeWill Webinars for 2017

Danny serves as Vice President of Business Development at ThreeWill. His primary responsibilities are to make sure that we are building partnerships with the right clients and getting out the message about how we can help clients.

We’re excited to announce our Webinar Schedule for 2017 (all times in EST)…

  1. Moving from SharePoint Online Dedicated to Multi-Tenant – 1/26/17 @ 1:00pm – Listen Now
  2. Migrating from Jive to Office 365 – 2/23/17 @ 1:00pm – Listen Now
  3. Complex SharePoint Online/2016 Migrations – 3/30/17 @ 1:00pm – Listen Now
  4. Creating Award-Winning SharePoint Intranets – 4/27/17 @ 1:00pm – Watch Now
  5. Find Anything in SharePoint with Amazon-Like Faceted Search – 6/29/17 @ 1:00pm – Watch Now
  6. Budgeting for 2018 SharePoint Initiatives – 10/26/17 @ 1:00pm – Register
  7. Successful SharePoint Farm Assessments – 11/30/17 @ 1:00pm – Register

The schedule is subject to change (especially if presenters get overloaded on projects). Let us know in the comments if you have other topics that you would like us to cover.

Sign up below to get notified about upcoming events or follow us on twitter.

SharePoint is a web application platform in the Microsoft Office server suite. Launched in 2001, SharePoint combines various functions which are traditionally separate applications: intranet, extranet, content management, document management, personal cloud, enterprise social networking, enterprise search, business intelligence, workflow management, web content management, and an enterprise application store. SharePoint servers have traditionally been deployed for internal use in mid-size businesses and large departments alongside Microsoft Exchange, Skype for Business, and Office Web Apps; but Microsoft’s ‘Office 365’ software as a service offering (which includes a version of SharePoint) has led to increased usage of SharePoint in smaller organizations.

While Office 365 provides SharePoint as a service, installing SharePoint on premises typically requires multiple virtual machines, at least two separate physical servers, and is a somewhat significant installation and configuration effort. The software is based on an n-tier service oriented architecture. Enterprise application software (for example, email servers, ERP, BI and CRM products) often either requires or integrates with elements of SharePoint. As an application platform, SharePoint provides central management, governance, and security controls. The SharePoint platform manages Internet Information Services (IIS) via form-based management tooling.

Since the release of SharePoint 2013, Microsoft’s primary channel for distribution of SharePoint has been Office 365, where the product is continuously being upgraded. New versions are released every few years, and represent a supported snapshot of the cloud software. Microsoft currently has three tiers of pricing for SharePoint 2013, including a free version (whose future is currently uncertain). SharePoint 2013 is also resold through a cloud model by many third-party vendors. The next on-premises release is SharePoint 2016, expected to have increased hybrid cloud integration.

Office 365 is the brand name used by Microsoft for a group of software plus services subscriptions that provides productivity software and related services to its subscribers. For consumers, the service allows the use of Microsoft Office apps on Windows and OS X, provides storage space on Microsoft’s cloud storage service OneDrive, and grants 60 Skype minutes per month. For business and enterprise users, Office 365 offers plans including e-mail and social networking services through hosted versions of Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, SharePoint and Office Online, integration with Yammer, as well as access to the Office software.

After a beta test that began in October 2010, Office 365 was launched on June 28, 2011, as a successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (MSBPOS), originally aimed at corporate users. With the release of Microsoft Office 2013, Office 365 was expanded to include new plans aimed at different types of businesses, along with new plans aimed at general consumers wanting to use the Office desktop software on a subscription basis—with an emphasis on the rolling release model.

read more
Danny RyanFree ThreeWill Webinars for 2017

Top Ten Reasons You Need Power BI

Bo is a Principal Consultant for ThreeWill. He has 18 years of full lifecycle software development experience.


In honor of David Letterman’s departure from Late Night with David Letterman, I’m doing a top ten on the reasons you need Power BI.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to imagine the drumroll for each.  What I like about Dave’s Top Ten is that they are timely, relevant and usually pretty funny.  So I thought that while Power BI is a typically a serious topic, it can probably be a little fun, at least I hope so.  While my top 10 list are obvious exaggerations I hope you can find some of them a little relatable and maybe some of the details for each relevant to you and your needs.  You may also notice below that I’ve broadened Power BI to include features that you’ll find in both Excel, Power BI for Office 365 and in the Power BI Preview because all of these technologies work together. Drum roll please….

#10. Corporate Upgrade from Office 95 is Behind Schedule

We’ve all been in the situation before where the latest and greatest is out there but you just can’t have it yet.  You might be looking at all the new shiny things Power BI has to offer, but for one reason or another, you’re stuck back on an old version of Excel.  Microsoft has recognized this and within the Microsoft Power BI Preview has created the Microsoft Power BI Designer client tool.  It’s specifically designed to create reports for the new Power BI experience.  Even if you are on the latest version of Excel, this is a tool worth checking out since it has built from the ground up to work with the new Power BI experience.

#9. Haven’t taken Vacation in 27 Years because no one else can Create the Sales Report

It’s likely today someone still has the role of gathering up data on a daily, weekly or monthly basis compiling it into some sort of report-able form and then disseminating that information out.  Often times these roles are called analysts but they aren’t getting to analyze data, instead they act more as data curators.  The client tools available in Excel along with the features in Power BI for Office 365 and Power BI Preview should help users focus less on repeated data curation and more on data analysis. By using Power Query, an analyst can to connect to many different sources of data, merge that data together and load it into PowerPivot all in a manner than is recorded and repeatable as a Power Query. Then with PowerPivot they can compress huge data sources, create relationships between data sources and even model hierarchies or create calculations.  Once all the data is modeled and in a friendly format for end users, then it can be easily put into Power View by dragging and dropping fields to create visualizations.  Finally, with Power BI for Office 365 or Power BI Preview these workbooks can be uploaded, shared and set up with scheduled data refreshes so that they are always up to date.

#8. Management’s New Chant is “Hadoop, There It Is”

Honestly, I don’t know much about Hadoop, but I’m sure there are a lot of you out there who do and Microsoft has realized that, too.  When I opened up Power Query in Excel, I counted 32 different types of data sources I could use, seriously 32!  You’ve got all the standard fair in Microsoft’s wheel house from Excel, Access, SQL Server and Azure all the way to databases like Sybase, MySQL, DB2 and Teradata.  If that’s not enough there’s basically any OData feed, anything that’s like a table on the web (more on that in a second) and stuff like Salesforce and Hadoop. Beyond the sheer number of available data sources, Power Query also supports a Data Catalog where queries are available for use by others.  In this catalog there are public and private catalogs available. You can think of public queries as those that Microsoft makes available for everyone.  Public examples include things like population data pulled from a table in Wikipedia or census data from the US Census Bureau.  The private catalog would be your corporate queries that you or others in your organization have published to your own tenant for use just by others within your organization. While on the topic of corporate queries, another thing to think about is that underlying your corporate queries is likely corporate data that is in all likelihood stored on-premises.  Since Power BI is essentially Microsoft’s cloud BI offering, you’ll need to make data available by using the Data Management Gateway service.  A Power BI administrator can manage the settings for your tenant, and it does require the installation of gateway software to make your on-premises data available within Office 365.  If you are interested in more you can follow the instructions in Create a Data Management Gateway.

#7. Email Inbox is now referred to as My Reports Repository

By now everyone knows that emailing attachments is generally a bad idea.  There are the obvious issues of multiple copies, lost emails, storage space and so on.  Within Office 365, the share button has really become the way to ensure everyone is on the same page for any type of content and ensure we don’t end up clogging our inboxes with attachments.  Technologies like Delve and One Drive for Business are really leveraging this sharing behavior to create a powerful experience for users and a single place to go for content.  Power BI is no different when it comes to leveraging sharing.  Whether it’s the current Power BI for Office 365 sites experience or the new Power BI Preview experience, sharing is the way to point everyone to a single source of a report or dashboard. Obviously sharing is a great way to pull users into a report, but sometimes you likely also want to allow for a better self-discovery experience and this is where Power BI for Office 365 sites comes in.  When you install the app in a site, you get a special landing page that rolls up all your Excel documents from your document libraries.  You can then build a more engaging and cohesive experience for your users by choosing to enable specific Excel reports which creates a thumbnail of the contents for a visual representation.  You can also chose to feature key reports and even Power BI Q&A results (Natural Language Queries) on the page.  Through featuring items, you can have them shown more prominently to users without having to navigate down through document libraries and folders.

#6. Excel Spreadsheet is so big people just call it “Big Mama”

We’ve all probably had to deal with a large Excel workbook in the past at some point.  Maybe it’s one that has just grown overtime or maybe it’s one that is an extract of an internal system that allows people to report on it.  In either case Power BI supports larger workbooks than just a regular SharePoint Site, thus allowing you to work with more Excel data in Office 365.  There are some important things to consider about your work book size and what happens when you try to view the Excel file online. In addition to supporting larger workbooks, if you utilized PowerPivot you can create a memory-efficient Data Model so you don’t run into the 10 MB size limit for data outside your model.  How good is the compression you ask?  Well Matt Allington has shown an example where the compression ratio was 92.2%.  In tests of my own using the Power BI – Getting Started Guide I saw significant compression of the 2 sample Excel inputs (each 45 MB) as well as other data sources and a final Excel workbook of around 5 MB.  While working through the getting started guide, I did also learn a valuable lesson, you have a choice between using the 32 bit and 64 bit versions of Excel, go with the 64 bit version, otherwise, you can run up against the 2 GB limit just based on how much memory Excel and PowerPivot need to work.

#5. Everyone Keeps Telling You How Much Cooler The Charts on The Fitbit Site Are Then Yours

We all love visualizing data and it really confirms the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”.  I guess in BI it might more aptly be “a chart is worth a thousand data points”.  In Excel, we’ve always had lots of charts available as Pivot Charts but these days Power View is where it’s at.  While Pivot Tables and Charts are typically okay solutions for dealing with relatively small sets of data you really want to leverage PowerPivot and Power View for enterprise data or if you are planning on uploading your Excel files to Power BI Preview where only Power Views are available to be shown as reports currently. Power View is actually a special type of worksheet within Excel and there are a large number of visualizations available.  Since Power View is a special type of worksheet in Excel when you upload it into Power BI it can be surfaced as an interactive report where users can do things like click on bar charts to affect other charts or use slicers to filter data and even use a timeline control to see how data changes over time which is one of my favorites.  If you haven’t thought about the value in how seeing something like a bubble chart when viewed over time you should really check out Let my dataset change your mindset from Hans Rosling.  His Ted talk isn’t on Power BI but it’s an eye opener on seeing a bubble chart as it changes over time. Additionally, you have Power Map which allows for showing data on geographically. If your data source has city, state, zip code or even latitude and longitude it can be mapped and combined with different calculations to visually show your data on a map in many different ways like heat maps, bubble charts, and column charts.  There is actually another great demonstration from that’s part of the Microsoft Virtual Academy Power BI Jump Start where Michael Tejedor shows a Power Map over time to determine energy usage for Microsoft buildings in Seattle.

#4. Support Center is really into NASCAR

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a huge buzzword these days, and there is no escaping it.  Not only are people creating more data, but now so are “things.”  Regardless of the source sometimes this data is really just transient data that you just want a real time view of how things are doing and not necessarily a more static historical view.  It is times like these that things like gauges in your car such as your speedometer come to mind.  The great thing is that the new Power BI dashboard can support just such real-time scenarios as shown by Amir Netz in his Power BI and Azure Stream Analytics demo.  While a typical data source in Power BI has a daily or weekly refresh frequency through the powerful integration of Azure and Power BI, you can use Azure Stream Analytics to push data into Power BI rather than have Power BI attempt to pull data from a source.  If you are interested in this you can find an article here.

#3. Marketing Team just got iPads and Immediately Threw their Desktops out the Window

Let’s face it, gone are the days where in corporate IT we can really force everyone to be on a specific version of Internet Explorer.  There are more devices than ever with executives on tablets, marketing on MacBooks and many companies embracing a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) philosophy.  What’s great about Power BI for Office 365, Excel Services and certainly the Power BI Technical Preview is that they leverage HTML 5 so that users on tablets and mobile devices can have a great experience.  When building your reports in client applications like Power View, you can be sure that when they are published and shared your users will have a great experience with powerful visualizations and interactivity.  Additionally, within the Power BI Preview it even has native apps for iOS and Windows for an even better experience than the browser.

#2. Focus Groups have determined everyone likes “Dashboard Thingies”

In the land of BI, dashboard is a pretty broad term and most people use it all the time to mean many of things.  I’d like to define it as a “one stop shop” for one or more visualizations that matters to me.  While that sounds pretty simple I really want to focus on that last part “that matters to me.”  Depending on a person’s department or role within an organization, what matters to them can vary. I really like the simplified approach inside of Power BI Preview where Dashboards are front and center and can be easily manipulated.  Users can start with nothing but a dataset created from an ever growing number of data sources and create reports within the browser, in Excel or in Power BI Designer.  Dashboards can be assembled for each user’s preference by pinning different reports or pinning the results of simply Natural Language Queries against the available datasets.  The ability to pin and easily manipulate the size and position of each visualization on a dashboard means everyone can see just the things they care about from an underlying data source.  Also if an analyst is creating dashboards for others, they can of course also share their dashboard with others so there is a common dashboard as well.

And the #1 Reason You Need Power BI is… Reporting Strategy, code-named Whack-A-Mole, is really Killing your Arm

If you’ve had to create charts, reports and dashboards for very long a theme that often emerges is that as soon as your consumers look at the reports they often have more questions about the data.  First, asking questions of the data is a good thing; it helps deepen an understanding of it.  However, it can feel a bit like a game of Whack-a-Mole where you are constantly responding to variations of reports that are based on the same data because you don’t have a tool or strategy in place that lets user’s do this for themselves.  In Power BI, the mantra is self-service BI and it applies to many different roles or experience levels that must interact with data. In Excel an analyst can utilize self-service BI though things like Power Query to find and gather data from many data sources.  They can publish these queries to a catalog for others to use.  They can utilize PowerPivot to allow Excel to create a Data Model for them and, of course, they can create Power View reports for users.  Finally, they can upload the Excel to a SharePoint site as a Report or Power BI Preview to make it available as a dataset to create reports and dashboards on. In Power BI (both Power BI for Office 365 and Power BI Preview) report consumers can use the Natural Language Query to ask questions of the data which will render charts and reports real time that were not even created by an analyst but simply as a result of the questions asked.  In Power BI Preview, users can even open datasets and just drag and drop available fields in the browser to create reports which they can pin to a dashboard.  This sort of power really empowers the users and speeds up the cycles, no longer requiring an analyst to create yet another report variant.


Hopefully, you enjoyed a little humor around some of the really great self-service features that Power BI offers.  Whether you’re an analyst, a power user or just a consumer of reports and dashboards, there is bound to be something you can benefit from with the client tools offered in Excel like Power Query, PowerPivot, Power View and Power Map and the online offerings of Power BI for Office 365 sites and the new Power BI Preview.

Next Step

We have a webinar coming up in June on getting up to date on Microsoft’s BI Offering. Join us then for more information on this important subject.

read more
Bo GeorgeTop Ten Reasons You Need Power BI

Power BI Primer

Bo is a Principal Consultant for ThreeWill. He has 18 years of full lifecycle software development experience.


Recently, I have been doing a lot of research on the evolution of business intelligence within Office 365 and wanted to do a quick primer for others.  The goal of this primer is not to teach you about creating dashboards or reports or any of the awesome stuff; What I do want to share with you in this primer is some information on the constantly evolving landscape within Office 365 that I myself had.  Admittedly, I’m putting the cart before the horse a little here since it all starts with your data sources and client tools like Excel, but I’m saving that stuff for a later post.

What is Power BI?

I couldn’t start a primer without a really big question first, right?  The term Power BI is used so much that it is easy to feel like it means that all business intelligence technologies are now under that umbrella.  However, I really think Microsoft intends the term Power BI to just mean the cloud based Power BI service.  Simple enough right?  Well, not quite because even when we boil it down to this service, there are currently two experiences available that Microsoft is working to unify.

Dueling Experiences

Power BI for Office 365

This is also referred to as the “current” experience, and you can find out more here.  It is available as an app that you add to any SharePoint Site that integrates with Excel and Excel Services.  More technically, it is what is referred to a Provider-Hosted App (PHA).  Essentially, from a SharePoint site you can launch the app and you are redirected to the provider hosted app with a URL similar to Which might look something like below.

Power BI For SharePoint App

Power BI For Office 365 App

The first thing the app is doing is rolling up the Excel files from the SharePoint document libraries in your site into a more engaging end user experience.  From here, you can do many things including:

  • Enable a workbook to get a nice preview thumbnail generated from the first sheet in the workbook.
  • Mark a workbook as a featured reports to make them more visible to visitors of the app
  • Allow users to favorite the workbooks
  • Add a workbook to Q&A to allow Natural Language Queries against its data

Of those bullets above, the last one to me is the most exciting because anyone that has done much work with business intelligence knows that by its very nature people are going to want to ask new and different questions of the data.  Take the screen shot below, this was not a report I created but simply a question I asked of data that was in one of the workbooks.

Power BI For SharePoint Natural Language Query

Power BI For SharePoint Natural Language Query

The last few things I wanted to mention about Power BI for Office 365 before moving on, is that from what I’ve seen in a desktop browser the typical experience for viewing reports uses Silverlight.  This applies to both asking questions and when launching a report.  Note that launching a report is still rendering using Excel Services just as if you opened it directly from a document library.  When on mobile, launching a report does switch to HTML5 rendering, but asking questions of the data still appears dependent upon Silverlight at this time.  These are relevant when considering mobile and also lead into the “new” experience.”

Power BI Preview

This new experience is more of a standalone service in that it is not dependent upon a SharePoint site and Excel files being placed in document libraries.  The app resides on the URL  Also you can launch it outside of Office 365 and login with your Office 365 account and can get to it from a tickler when you are in Power BI for Office 365.  For more imformation here.  This new experience is HTML5 based so it renders well on many form factors and there are even apps available for iOS and Windows Tablets.

Power BI Preview Dashboard

Power BI Preview Dashboard

My first question with the new preview service was, “Can I take an Excel workbook that I’d worked so hard on and just drop it in?”  The answer is a definite “yes”; you can use the Get Data function to bring in all sorts of data sources including Excel files.  In fact, Excel Files are just one of many possible data sources, a list that is constantly growing.  The list of data sources includes things that you’d expect like Excel, Azure SQL and SQL Server Analysis Services, but it also includes things like GitHub, Google Analytics, Salesforce and many others.  Interestingly, there is also support for a Power BI Designer File which comes from a new client tool that is available called Power BI Designer.  I’ll cover it more in another post about the client tools, but it exists for users who may not have Excel 2013 and still want to create reports in Power BI Preview.

The goal with all the data sources is that Power BI Preview becomes your single view for dashboards across all sources of cloud and on-premises data.  With all the available data sources, you don’t necessarily have to first go through Excel like you do with Power BI for Office 365.  Don’t get me wrong, that experience is still great, but who doesn’t love having more options?

In Power BI Preview, you’ll notice your data sources are shown as Datasets and then you have Reports.  These can currently come from Power View in Excel but not PivotTables or PivotCharts.  I suspect this will change overtime though.  You can also create reports by clicking on a dataset and using the Fields and Filters to compose a report or even by starting with a Natural Language Query and building upon it.

Finally, you have Dashboards where things all really come together.  You can compose these by pinning visualizations from Reports such as Power Views from Excel.  You can even pin the results of a Natural Language Query so that it’s easily viewed by others.

What is Not Power BI?

Okay, now that I’ve provided a little about what Power BI is, I also wanted to share a little about what it isn’t just to make sure there isn’t any confusion.  If you’ve been around earlier versions of SharePoint and done much with business intelligence, you’ve probably heard of a BI Center.  The good news is that this still exists and can be used with or without Power BI for Office 365.  You can find a little comparison information in Compare a BI Center site to Power BI for Office 365 sites.  Ultimately, a BI Center was and still is a special type of site in SharePoint.  You can still store and manage BI content such as data sources and Excel workbooks.   Depending on the user license, there are some behavioral differences, particularly as it relates to work book size when viewed online. See File size limits for workbooks in SharePoint Online for more.  There is also a table in the capabilities section of Power BI for Office 365 FAQ that compares feature differences.

Licensing Questions

Let me go on record stating that I don’t sell Office 365 quote licensing or get into that particular area.  I am a technology guy, after all.  Having said that, licensing has still confused me so I thought I would share some of my thoughts and findings to support them.

First, if you are just going “old school” with your business intelligence offering, I think you can take a purely BI Center approach as mentioned in Compare a BI Center site to Power BI for Office 365 sites you just need to have SharePoint Online (Plan 2).  You won’t get some of the cool stuff that comes with Power BI, and you’ll have some constraints, (see “What is Not Power BI above?”) but you also can save some on costs potentially.

Now if you want Power BI it is an add-on to Plan 2 part of a Power BI for Office 365 offering.  You can find those details here Power BI for Office 365 Service Description.  Within Power BI, just as there are two experiences there are two pricing models (Power BI for Office 365 and Power BI Preview) models but according to Power BI Transition these are being consolidated into one model.


I’m not sure why I always have to end on a summary, it just feels like the right thing to do I guess.  Hopefully I have answered some questions you might have and provided some helpful links to dig into things a little further in terms of what matters to you.  I hope to get into more “fun” topics in upcoming posts including building reports, charts and dashboards using all those Power [Whatever] tools like Power Query, PowerPivot, Power View and Power Map.

read more
Bo GeorgePower BI Primer

Basic Analytics with SharePoint Designer Workflow and Access Reports

Grant Lewis is an Software Engineer with ThreeWill. Grant’s consulting experience consists of using Microsoft technologies to enhance business operations in a manufacturing environment.


Analytics are a valuable resource to evaluate business processes to diagnose problems and implement efficiencies. There are many professional offerings that will provide analytics, however these tools can have high costs, both for licensing and developmental effort. As an alternative to this, you can create basic analytics with SharePoint data using only SharePoint Designer and Microsoft Office.

This is a basic example of simple analytics requiring only out of the box (OOB) SharePoint workflows and Microsoft Access. In this example, I will be interested in capturing and analyzing the timing of items in a SharePoint list as they move through certain statuses; however, this process could be adopted to any number of uses.

This guide is divided into two steps. In the first step, I’ll show how to create a SharePoint Designer workflow to capture and document status change events in a SharePoint list. In the second step, I’ll show how to use Microsoft Access to create some basic reporting on the status events captured by the workflow we created in step one.

Step One: Create a SharePoint workflow to log events

Firstly, I’ll assume that I have a SharePoint list that has a status field. In this example, the status field will have the following states: Cancelled, Implemented, In Progress, On Hold, Pending Update, Received, Rejected, Sent to Approver A, and Sent to Approver B.

Next, we will need a place to store the status change events that we will be capturing. A SharePoint list is a logical place to store these events. Create an Events list to store the following fields:

  • ChangeDate – the date and time when the change occurred
  • ChangedBy – who the change was performed by
  • StatusBefore –the status was before the change
  • StatusAfter –the status following the change
  • SourceID – the list item ID for the item that changed


Because this basic example will be using SharePoint workflows instead of List Event Receivers, we will not have access to the previous state of the status field. Therefore, we need to store the previous status value in the source list. To do this, I added a Previous Status field in the source list to store the previous value of the status field.

Note: Because this field should be used only by a SharePoint workflow, it would be a good idea to hide this from view of the user. My preferred method to accomplish this is to set the ShowInNewForm, ShowInEditForm, and ShowInViewForm properties of the SPField object ( False. These properties are not exposed in the UI so you will need to use PowerShell or SharePoint Manager 2013 (

The next step is to create the workflow to log the status change events in the Events list. Open SharePoint Designer and create a new List Workflow for the list with the Status information.

For the first step of the workflow, we want to add a condition so that an event is only added to the Events list if the status has changed. Add an “If any value equals any value” condition.


Set the first value equal to the Status field, set the comparison to “not equals”, and set the second value to the Previous Status field.


Next, we need to add an item to the Events list to capture the status change event. Insert a “Create List Item” action beneath the condition.


For “this list,”select the Events list and add the fields that you want to capture. For this example, we will capture the following fields:

  • Modified -> ChangeDate
  • Modified By -> ChangedBy
  • ID -> SourceID
  • Previous Status -> StatusBefore
  • Status -> Current Status


Note: You could also create a link to the item that created the event by storing the Workflow Context: Current Item URL field. This may be useful to have a way to quickly get back to the item in question to get additional information.

The Last Step of the workflow is to store the current value of the Status field in the Previous Status field to signify that we have captured this status change. Add an “Update List Item” action.


Click “this list” and add the Previous Status field and set value to Current Item:Status.



The end result of the workflow should look like the below.


Step Two: Create Reports in Microsoft Access

The next step is to use Microsoft Access to connect to your Events list in SharePoint. In Access, select the External Data tab, select the More drop-down, and click SharePoint List.


Enter the URL of the site that houses the Events list and follow the steps of the wizard to connect to the list. If you would like the data to stay current, make sure you select “Link to the data source by creating a linked table” option.


Note: Alternatively, you can use the “Open with Access” option in the SharePoint Ribbon to create a linked table in Access.


Next, we need to create some queries in Access. The first finds the starting and ending time during which a particular item was in a certain status. I named this query StatusStartEndTime.


SELECT Events.SourceID, Events.StatusBefore, Events.StatusAfter, Events.ChangeDate,


SELECT max(e.changedate)

FROM Events e

WHERE e.StatusAfter = Events.StatusBefore and e.SourceList = Events.SourceList and e.SourceID = Events.SourceID and e.ChangeDate < Events.ChangeDate

) AS PreviousChangeDate

FROM Events

WHERE Events.StatusBefore <> null;

The next query that I create uses the results of the above query to calculate the elapsed time (in minutes) that each item was in a certain status. I call this query StatusMinutes.


SELECT StatusStartEndTime.SourceList, StatusStartEndTime.SourceID, StatusStartEndTime.StatusBefore AS Status, sum(DateDiff(&amp;quot;n&amp;quot;, StatusStartEndTime.PreviousChangeDate, StatusStartEndTime.ChangeDate)) AS ElapsedMinutes

FROM StatusStartEndTime

GROUP BY StatusStartEndTime.SourceList, StatusStartEndTime.SourceID, StatusStartEndTime.StatusBefore;

This last query is the building block that will allow us to drill down into some interesting information.

For example, let’s say we would like to know the average, minimum, and maximum time spent in each status. We could create the following SQL query:

SELECT DISTINCT (status), round(avg(ElapsedMinutes)) AS AverageTime, round(max(ElapsedMinutes)) AS MaxTime, round(min(ElapsedMinutes)) AS MinTime

FROM StatusMinutes

GROUP BY status;


We could of course use Access reports to display the data in a more aesthetically appealing manner.


From this information, we can extract information like which states take the longest to complete or which states have the most variability.

This is only the beginning of the analysis that you can perform. There are numerous other cases that could be analyzed with this data. Another useful case would be to find items that stayed in a certain state longer than a defined amount of time. With that information the cases could be investigated individually to determine why those particular items took longer than normal and whether any changes can be made to speed up the process.


While business intelligence and other analytics tools have their place, this example demonstrates that you can do some very basic analysis and reporting using OOB SharePoint and Microsoft Office tools.

read more
Grant LewisBasic Analytics with SharePoint Designer Workflow and Access Reports

Free Office 365 / Azure / Salesforce / SharePoint Webinars for 2015

Danny serves as Vice President of Business Development at ThreeWill. His primary responsibilities are to make sure that we are building partnerships with the right clients and getting out the message about how we can help clients.

We’re excited to announce our Webinar Schedule for 2015 (all times in EST)…

  1. OneDrive for Business – Tommy Ryan – 1/23/15 @ 1:00pm – Registration –
  2. Migrating to Office 365 – Chris Edwards – 4/17/15 @ 1:00pm –
  3. Moving from Full Trust Code to the New Cloud App Model – Pete Skelly – 5/22/15 @ 1:00pm –
  4. Get Up To Date on Microsoft’s BI Offering – Bo George – 6/26/15 @ 1:00pm –
  5. Integrating Office 365 and Salesforce – Eric Bowden – 7/17/15 @ 1:00pm –
  6. Getting Started with Salesforce Development – Tim Coalson – 8/21/15 @ 1:00pm –
  7. Moving from Office 365 Dedicated to Multi-Tenant – Kirk Liemohn – 9/25/15 @ 1:00pm –
  8. Integrating Visual Studio Online and Office 365 – Lane Goolsby – 12/11/15 @ 1:00pm –

The schedule is subject to change (especially if presenters get overloaded on projects). Let us know in the comments if you have other topics that you would like us to cover.

Sign up below to get notified about upcoming events or follow us on twitter.

SharePoint is a web application platform in the Microsoft Office server suite. Launched in 2001, SharePoint combines various functions which are traditionally separate applications: intranet, extranet, content management, document management, personal cloud, enterprise social networking, enterprise search, business intelligence, workflow management, web content management, and an enterprise application store. SharePoint servers have traditionally been deployed for internal use in mid-size businesses and large departments alongside Microsoft Exchange, Skype for Business, and Office Web Apps; but Microsoft’s ‘Office 365’ software as a service offering (which includes a version of SharePoint) has led to increased usage of SharePoint in smaller organizations.

While Office 365 provides SharePoint as a service, installing SharePoint on premises typically requires multiple virtual machines, at least two separate physical servers, and is a somewhat significant installation and configuration effort. The software is based on an n-tier service oriented architecture. Enterprise application software (for example, email servers, ERP, BI and CRM products) often either requires or integrates with elements of SharePoint. As an application platform, SharePoint provides central management, governance, and security controls. The SharePoint platform manages Internet Information Services (IIS) via form-based management tooling.

Since the release of SharePoint 2013, Microsoft’s primary channel for distribution of SharePoint has been Office 365, where the product is continuously being upgraded. New versions are released every few years, and represent a supported snapshot of the cloud software. Microsoft currently has three tiers of pricing for SharePoint 2013, including a free version (whose future is currently uncertain). SharePoint 2013 is also resold through a cloud model by many third-party vendors. The next on-premises release is SharePoint 2016, expected to have increased hybrid cloud integration.

Office 365 is the brand name used by Microsoft for a group of software plus services subscriptions that provides productivity software and related services to its subscribers. For consumers, the service allows the use of Microsoft Office apps on Windows and OS X, provides storage space on Microsoft’s cloud storage service OneDrive, and grants 60 Skype minutes per month. For business and enterprise users, Office 365 offers plans including e-mail and social networking services through hosted versions of Exchange Server, Skype for Business Server, SharePoint and Office Online, integration with Yammer, as well as access to the Office software.

After a beta test that began in October 2010, Office 365 was launched on June 28, 2011, as a successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (MSBPOS), originally aimed at corporate users. With the release of Microsoft Office 2013, Office 365 was expanded to include new plans aimed at different types of businesses, along with new plans aimed at general consumers wanting to use the Office desktop software on a subscription basis—with an emphasis on the rolling release model.

read more
Danny RyanFree Office 365 / Azure / Salesforce / SharePoint Webinars for 2015

PowerPivot Primer

Tim is a Senior Consultant at ThreeWill. He has 15 years of consulting experience designing and developing browser-based solutions using Microsoft technologies. Experience over the last 8 years has focused on the design and implementation of SharePoint Intranets, Extranets and Public Sites.

PowerPivot for Excel and SharePoint 2010

PowerPivot is an exciting new addition to the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack that provides a lot of power to end-users.  For office savvy users who have Excel 2010 and the PowerPivot add-in, analysis against backend datasources is quick and powerful.  For users who may have less knowledge of the data or who aren’t as fluent with Excel, Workbooks with one or many Worksheets can be exposed through a browser to broaden the availability to any user who may have a need to analyze the data.

One of the latest additions to the Microsoft Business Intelligence stack is PowerPivot.  PowerPivot leverages the comfort and familiarity of Excel with the power of Analysis Services and other data sources to allow business users to analyze mission critical data without the need for IT involvement.

As a business user with Excel 2010 and the free PowerPivot add-in, a connection to a secured datasource can quickly be configured using AD or SQL Server permissions and slicing and dicing of data can be achieved in minutes.  However, there are times when personal manipulation and viewing of this data is not enough; the data needs to be shared with other users who may not be able to easily access it for any number of reasons (don’t have Excel 2010, don’t know the data, etc).  This is where PowerPivot for SharePoint 2010 comes in.  PowerPivot workbooks can be published to a PowerPivot Gallery in SharePoint 2010 where a user-friendly view of the data can be surfaced through the web browser along with the capabilities of slicing and dicing the data to get greater understanding of what is happening in the business.

With PowerPivot, tens of millions of rows can now be imported into Excel and manipulated in real time. This ability to handle massive amounts of data natively from the ubiquitous Excel application empowers business users with the ability to perform true real time analytics that previously required massive servers and tended to be painstakingly tedious.

While a blog doesn’t serve well to share all of the capabilities of this powerful set of tools, I would like to share a quick example of how to retrieve SQL Server Analysis Server (SSAS) data into an Excel 2010 PowerPivot workbook, format the names to be user friendly, and make the workbook available to end-users through SharePoint 2010.  Since many of you are probably familiar with the AdventureWorks 2008 database examples, I’ll start out with a very simple example that merely displays Sales totals that can be sliced and diced by Calendar Year, Product Category, Product Sub Category and Product.  I’ll then follow-up with something that is more visually appealing by adding a Chart as a second worksheet in the work book.

This walk-through begins with the assumption that you have Excel 2010 and that you have downloaded and installed the free PowerPivot add-in. The plugin can be found here.

The Walk-Through

Open Excel 2010 and note the new PowerPivot tab that is now available on the top row.

New PowerPivot tab available

Next, click on the PowerPivot Window button at the top left.

PowerPivot button

Note that you are presented with several data source options:  database, report, Azure DataMarket, etc.

In my example, I want to retrieve data from an Analysis Services database, so I specify the server and database as shown below.

After pointing to the correct database, a wizard will guide you through the steps of choosing the data that will be available in the Excel Workbook.

You can specify an MDX query or alternately select the Design button so that you are presented with a graphical interface to select your data.  In my example, I am selecting the Design button.

Now I can use the graphical interface to select the measures and dimensions that I want to see.

For this example, I want to look at Internet Sales Amounts and I want to see them based on Calendar Year, Product Category, Product Sub Category and Product so I drag the corresponding fields onto the design surface as shown in the following screen shots.

Now that I have selected the appropriate data elements, I click OK to continue through the wizard.

The corresponding MDX query is displayed based upon the facts and dimensions that have been selected using the designer.  Click Finish to continue.

A “Success” dialog is displayed to indicate the number of rows that met the criteria for the MDX query and the rows that were subsequently imported into the Excel Workbook.

So, now you can see the individual rows that were retrieved.  Note that the columns above have all been imported as Text data types.  Before you can leverage the numeric data in meaningful ways, you must update the data type to numeric which is shown below.

Select the column that you want to update and specify the data type and the display format.

Now you can close the PowerPivot window and return to the Excel Worksheet where you can begin to build meaningful displays that will help visualize the data.

In this simple example, I’m going to select a PivotTable, but as you can see I have several choices of how to present my data.

I’m going to put the PivotTable on the existing sheet which is Sheet1 in my example.

Now you can begin to build out your PivotTable by specifying the values to display as well as the “Slicers”.  Slicers are dimensional data that allow you to “slice” the fact data.  In our case, we will be able to slice the sales data by Calendar Year, Product Category, Product Sub Category and Product. As a general rule, each Dimension imported from the SSAS cube will be a slicer. For those who are familiar with SSAS cubes, this makes for a good analogy for what a slicer really does.

Select the Sales Amount field and drag it over to the Values column.

Specify a Custom Name for this amount if you like.  Also specify that we will be summing the Sales Amount.

Next, select the Calendar Year field and drag it into the Slicers Horizontal column.  Then, select the Product Category, Product SubCategory and Product fields and drag them to the Slicers Vertical column to achieve the display above.

Next, let’s give user-friendly names to the slicers by right-clicking on them and choosing the Slicer Settings.

Now, you can update the Display Caption to “Calendar Year”.  You can also change other items such as Sorting or Filtering if desired.

Lastly, we’ll update the Sales Amount field with a new caption and currency display as shown below.

(Note my total Sales Amount of $29,358,677.22.)

When I click the CY 2001 button in the Calendar Year slicer, note the sales amount changes to a much smaller number, $3,266,373.66.  This is because we are now only looking at sales for Calendar Year 2001.  Note also that the other slicers are updated to reflect what data applies to CY 2001.  So, we can see that only the Bikes Product Category was available in 2001.

Next, clear the Calendar Year filter by clicking on the red filter icon next to Calendar Year.

With the Calendar Year filter now cleared, click on the Clothing button in the Product Category slicer to see sales for Clothing.  Note that clothing was only available in Calendar Years 2003 and 2004.

Now that we have our workbook functioning, let’s navigate to the SharePoint PowerPivot gallery and upload the Excel Workbook.

First, access the PowerPivot Gallery on your site.

Within the PowerPivot Gallery, click the documents tab and select the upload document option.

Browse to the Excel Workbook and click Open.

Note that Workbook is now uploaded to SharePoint and the hour glass icon indicates that the thumbnail preview is being created. The thumbnail generation process can take several minutes.

When I refresh the page, I can now see that a thumbnail image has been created so that a User can easily see the visual display of the workbook along with a title and other information without opening the workbook.  Click on either image to navigate to the first sheet of the workbook in the browser.

Note that the look of the display is very similar to what was experienced in Excel.  Now users who access this SharePoint site can slice the data similar to what we did earlier in Excel.

In this scenario, I have picked the Bike Stands Product SubCategory.

While this display is very informative, it is not very visually compelling so let’s go back to Excel and add another Worksheet to this Workbook to make it more visually appealing.  Instead of updating the existing Excel Workbook, I have decided to make a copy and update the copy.  This will allow me to demonstrate the PowerPivot Gallery display of a Workbook with a single Worksheet and a Workbook with multiple Worksheets.  So, make a copy of the first Workbook and open the copy.

Navigate to the PowerPivot tab and select the PivotChart option.

Specify to add the chart to a new Worksheet.

Note that a new chart has been added along with the same field options as I had before.  Similar to before, I can now begin to select the fact and dimension values to create an appropriate display.

In this example, I chose to display Sales by Product Category with the ability to filter or slice the data based on Calendar Year.  Note that I also renamed the Worksheets to have more meaningful names.

Now, I want to upload my updated Workbook to the PowerPivot Gallery on the SharePoint site

Having navigated back to the PowerPivot Gallery, I navigate to the documents tab and select the Upload document option.

I select the “copy” to upload.

Note that I now have two PowerPivot Workbooks in the gallery.  As I hover over each of the smaller thumbnails, the larger thumbnail updates to provide a larger image.

Select the new worksheet to see the PivotChart.

Select the Calendar Year 2001button in the Calendar Year slicer to narrow down the data to only 2001.  Note that only bikes were sold during the year 2001.

read more
Tim CoalsonPowerPivot Primer

PerformancePoint Primer

Bo is a Principal Consultant for ThreeWill. He has 18 years of full lifecycle software development experience.


If you have stood up SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise, you have no doubt noticed that PerformancePoint is now a first class citizen. In MOSS 2007 there was integration, but it wasn’t the sort of integration that stares you in the face and begs to be taken for a spin. The improved integration and bundling will no doubt encourage more and more businesses to dip their toes into the business intelligence waters. But the water can be deep and the opposite shore can look dauntingly far away. So where do you start? My recommendation is to stick close to the shore at first, get your bearings and then work out your plan for crossing the ocean.

Staying Close To Shore

Starting with a proof of concept that leverages SharePoint lists is great way to get your feet wet. This is especially true if your company is not yet mature with full blown business intelligence solutions but does understand the power of custom lists in SharePoint. Even if you do have a robust helping of Analysis Service cubes to draw on for data, starting with SharePoint lists can still be a good way to get an idea of how you can organize your UI and establish how users will interact with it.

Some advantages of prototyping with SharePoint lists include:

  • Allows for rapid creation and modification of your underlying data
  • PerformancePoint manages pivoting the data for you and extracting your facts and dimensions
  • You can easily plug your data into KPIs, build scorecards and create dashboards
  • Your users can see a working solution without the time and expense of building a SSAS cube

Starting With What You Know

Whether you are a SharePoint administrator or developer, there may come a time when you are asked to dive into the business intelligence waters. Below is a brief overview of the approach I took as a SharePoint developer exploring these new found capabilities. If you are in need of some help with the deployment of PerformancePoint, there is a great PerformancePoint Services blog post that walks you all the way through to a Business Intelligence Center, which is where I begin.

First, you will need some data to work with. I started by creating two SharePoint lists that act as highly de-normalized data sources. My goal was to quickly create some data that could be displayed in PerformancePoint. The lists were very simple with essentially the same list schema to hold sales data and sales goals.

  • Product (Single line of text)
  • Product Category (Single line of text)
  • Purchase Date (Date and Time)
  • Product Cost (Number)
  • Purchase Quantity (Number)
  • Sales Amount Calculated (calculation based on other columns)

Naturally, you can create as many columns to describe your data as you need (I have used Product and Product Category). Make sure to leverage the SharePoint field types including single line text, numeric and date as these help PerformancePoint figure out the purpose of the data in a given column.

Going Into Deeper Waters

Once I created my SharePoint lists, it was time to launch Dashboard Designer. Dashboard Designer is the tool for managing your PerformancePoint content within SharePoint. I created a new data source using the SharePoint list template. On the Editor tab, I provided the SharePoint site and list information and chose to use an unattended service account. I could have selected the per-user identity, but I would have also needed to configure Kerberos.

On the Time tab, I chose my time dimension. The time dimension is important since you will most often want to see data broken out by month, quarter, year, etc. This is one place where PerformancePoint is trying to make sense of the field types from my list. Since Purchase Date was a date and time field, I selected it as my default time dimension and specified my time period levels.

Lastly, on the View tab, I adjusted the columns to suit my KPI and scorecard needs. PerformancePoint does a pretty good job at this already, but the option is there to change the column type. If you want to use it for slicing and dicing then select dimension and if you plan to aggregate data in it then select fact.

Time To Explore Further

With a useable data source created, it was time to really start tip-toeing out into PerformancePoint and set up my KPIs. The KPIs will be the building blocks for scorecards and dashboards.

I began by creating a new “Blank KPI” and naming it “Sales of Natural Things” since I planned to filter on the “Natural” product category. By default, a KPI has one actual and one target (goal), but it can have multiple actuals and targets. Clicking on the data mappings column allowed me to select my SharePoint list data source and choose my Sales Amount measure. Measures are created from my fact columns. I selected a dimension filter for product category and set my calculation to be sum of children. Sum of children allows for child items, such as products, to be summed for my KPI when I build my scorecard.

I recommend you do some exploring on the many other options available on a KPI including specifying numbers formats, deciding which visual indicators to use and providing thresholds for the icons of that indicator. This process can be tedious and time consuming. If you multi-select rows, you can actually bulk edit many of these settings. You can even copy and paste entire KPIs when you need to create similar KPIs.

To populate my new scorecard, I brought over my KPIs and dimensions from the tool pane on the left, making sure to stack them in the appropriate order. For some KPIs and dimensions I bumped them under others as children. I also changed the metric settings by right-clicking on my target cells and choosing the metric settings option. These settings allow me to modify how the indicator, variance, scoring and values are shown in this column. Finally, I spent a little time selecting rows and formatting the fonts and colors to break up the scorecard visually.

Admittedly, I haven’t done this phase of PerformancePoint justice, in part because it has so many options that it really requires a solid exploration to establish your bearings. I encourage you to spend a good amount of experimentation time here seeing the effects of different approaches to your scorecard. The exploration in this phase is why starting with simple SharePoint lists is so helpful. It allows you time to spend discovering your options with KPIs and scorecards before going full steam ahead.

Inviting Others Into The Water

Dashboards are the containers for your scorecards and other PerformancePoint content. They are how you get your hard work into your user’s hands so they can begin using what you have produced. Dashboards can be created using standard web part pages and there are sometimes good reasons to do this (covered in a future post).

For my prototype I used the standard dashboard available in Dashboard Designer. By dragging content (scorecards, reports or filters) onto a web part zone, I created a dashboard. I then gave my page a name and deployed it to the SharePoint dashboards library where end users could access it. The image below shows the scorecard after I expanded it to the details.


SharePoint 2010 coupled with the more tightly integrated PerformancePoint Server provides a lot of Business Intelligence features that your company or your clients will want to leverage. The SharePoint list data source provides a quick way to begin learning about the PeformancePoint KPIs, scorecards and dashboards and allows you to prototype solutions to help educate your business users about these new and powerful capabilities. And while KPIs and scorecards are not all that can make up this solution, they are a good start at dipping your toes in before going headlong into things like analytic grids and the decomposition tree which I will cover in an upcoming post.

read more
Bo GeorgePerformancePoint Primer

SharePoint 2010 BI Primer

Tim is a Senior Consultant at ThreeWill. He has 15 years of consulting experience designing and developing browser-based solutions using Microsoft technologies. Experience over the last 8 years has focused on the design and implementation of SharePoint Intranets, Extranets and Public Sites.

Simple PerformancePoint Dashboard

SharePoint 2010 BI Primer Introduction

In any organization there are business users who need information to understand current and historical trends so they can make appropriate business decisions.  In a Financial role, this might be tracking Actual expenses to Forecasted expenses.  In a Sales role, this could be tracking Forecasted sales to Actual sales with a need to see this information broken down by Year, Region, State and Sales Person.  In a Services Management role, this might include tracking Actual and Forecasted performance metrics to ensure that Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with external customers are being met (or not) so that appropriate adjustments can be made to avoid financial penalties or an unsatisfied customer. This last scenario, tracking of key performance metrics, is one that ThreeWill was recently engaged to develop leveraging features of both PerformancePoint (PP) and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).  The initial engagement consisted of creating a prototype that was demonstrated within a multi-million dollar Request For Proposal (RFP) meeting.  After winning the RFP, the client initiated a second engagement with ThreeWill to create a Production version of the earlier prototype that expanded the functionality to include a greater number of Service offerings and was more scalable and reliable.

In this blog and in subsequent blogs, we would like to share the Business Intelligence functionality that we leveraged in the development of the prototype and Production instance as well as “lessons learned” as we moved from a prototype to a fully functional Production system.  In this first blog, we would like to provide a brief overview of the functionality available in PerformancePoint and SQL Server Reporting Services that we leveraged.  In the subsequent blogs, we will drill-down into more of the nitty-gritty technical details and discuss how we “beefed-up” some of the native PP and SSRS presentation by leveraging JQuery and Ajax.  Also, we will discuss how we secured the application and data leveraging Active Directory, SharePoint Groups, Kerberos and SQL Server Analysis Server  Roles (SSAS).

What is PerformancePoint?

Dashboard Designer

PerformancePoint is a set of related objects that can be leveraged individually or together to provide meaningful views of data.  These views of data can take the form of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) where actual values are compared against a target or goal value with a corresponding visual indicator to give a quick indication of the performance.  Or, these views of data can be more complex where drilling up and down in the data through dates (Year, Quarter, Month, Week) and other dimension hierarchies (Country, State, County, City) is possible using the Analytic controls in PerformancePoint.  KPIs and analytic charts and grids are a few of the objects included in PerformancePoint.  Other objects include dashboards, filters, scorecards as well as a very cool Silverlight control called the Decomposition Tree that integrates with the analytic controls to provide a “left to right” drill-down capability.  To work with and organize these objects in a meaningful way, a client application called the PerformancePoint Dashboard Designer is used.  PerformancePoint Designer reads and writes PerformancePoint objects to/from a document library that is hosted in a SharePoint site.  Filters, scorecards, KPIs, analytic grids and charts are all available to be hosted as web parts on SharePoint web part pages so they can be mixed and matched as needed or on the special PerformancePoint dashboard pages that come with tab-like navigation.  PerformancePoint objects can display data from a variety of data sources including Analysis Services, Excel Services, Excel workbooks, SharePoint list data and SQL Server tables and views.  During the initial prototype development, we primarily leveraged a SharePoint list data source so we could quickly create a custom SharePoint list and add data using the datasheet view.  However, we did eventually create an Analysis Services data source so that we could demonstrate some of the more visually compelling functionality available in the analytic chart and associated Decomposition Tree.

What is SQL Server Reporting Services?

Report Builder Content Types

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) has been around for a while but the SSRS add-on to SharePoint surfaced for Windows SharePoint Services v3 and MOSS 2007.  In a nutshell, the SSRS add-on provides, in SharePoint vernacular, custom content types that can be applied to SharePoint document libraries.  These custom content types allow SSRS data sources, data models, and reports to be created and managed in SharePoint leveraging the security infrastructure that is included out of box.  If a user has access to update the document library, they can add new or update existing SSRS reports from within SharePoint using the click-once ReportBuilder application that comes bundled with the SSRS add-on for SharePoint.  By leveraging SSRS in SharePoint, reports can be easily previewed, printed and even exported to excel and other formats using the included Report Viewer.

While there is a lot of additional capabilities provided in SSRS, such as scheduling reports, the primary use of SSRS in our scenario was to provide access to detail data, allow exporting of the data, and to provide “ad hoc” report development by end-users using the ReportBuilder application.

PerformancePoint and SQL Server Reporting Services

As previously mentioned, we needed to build a solution that would provide Performance Metrics for the variety of services that our client provided to it’s customers.  The target audience for our client solution included two sets of users.  One set of users that we’ll call the Committee Users could see summary data for each of our services as well as the service data broken out by regions.  However, the detail data that rolled up to create regional and overall totals was not accessible by the committee users.  Our second set of users that we’ll call Regional Users could only see data for their particular region.  They could see this data summed up for each service as well as all of the details.

Define SSAS Role

To achieve this level of security, we were able to leverage SSAS roles.  While I won’t go into detail about the creation, configuration and assignment of SSAS Roles in this blog, it is significant to point out that securing the data within SSAS allowed us to share KPIs and other objects among the two user groups knowing that the data security would only display the data appropriate for the currently logged-in SharePoint user.  So users from all of the regions could log into the same region dashboard and would only see data for their region.

To provide a quick view of all of the Key Performance Indicators defined for each Service offering,  PerformancePoint KPIs and Scorecards were the primary focus of our effort.  KPIs were created for each individual performance metric and actual and target values were mapped for both current month and year to date.  The KPIs were grouped under the appropriate Service category and displayed in a PerformancePoint scorecard.  For each of the performance metrics, a green, yellow or red icon was displayed to indicate how well the actual performance values mapped to the targeted performance values that were agreed upon in the SLA.

Drill-Down using Decomposition Tree

In addition to seeing Summary data, the Regional users needed the ability to view and analyze the detail transactional data.  To provide visual views of the data that could be used for analysis, we leveraged the Analytic Chart.  Analytic charts provide the real “coolness” factor with the ability to drill-down into the data based upon the attributes or dimensions defined in the data. In our case (as in most cases), a date dimension was defined so we were able to drill-down into the details by Year, Quarter, Month and Day.  Analytic charts are flexible in that they can be presented as a bar chart, stacked bar chart, 100% stacked bar chart, pie chart or line chart.  Analytic charts are built/configured within the PerformancePoint Designer application where the measures, dimensions or named sets can be configured using drag and drop.  By right-clicking on an analytic chart, a number of options are made available including but not limited to drill-down, drill-up, sort, filter, pivot and the Decomposition Tree.  The decomposition tree always seems to be a crowd favorite as it provides a nice visual way to drill up and down the hierarchy.  The decomposition tree is built using Silverlight so Silverlight must be installed on the client for this option to be available.  Otherwise, it will not be displayed.

Besides being able to drill-down into the data and do visual analysis, there was also a requirement to see the raw detail data and be able to export this data into Excel for further analysis. SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) was a good fit for this requirement as we were able to define parameterized reports to show the detail data in a viewer that was searchable, printable and exportable into Excel and other formats.


Export Report Details to ExcelConclusion

Many organizations own SharePoint and take advantage of the document management features that have been available since the first version of the product.  However, SharePoint has continued to mature as both a product and a development platform, adding capabilities such as PerformancePoint and the SSRS integration that can be leveraged to solve business problems for both internal and external customers.  My goal for this post was to provide a high-level view of a real-world problem and how we leveraged PerformancePoint and SSRS to solve that problem.  In subsequent posts, we will share more detail about these features and some of the lessons learned as we integrated these features to provide a client solution.

read more
Tim CoalsonSharePoint 2010 BI Primer