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HomePodcastS3 E3: Scaling Office 365 at the State of Indiana with Vanessa Williams

S3 E3: Scaling Office 365 at the State of Indiana with Vanessa Williams


Ready to see yet another successful transformation journey?

In today’s podcast, let’s walk through an organization’s journey in improving their support services by scaling Office 365.

Our guest, Vanessa Williams, Cloud Architect at the Office of the CTO, Indiana Office of Technology, will talk about the challenges and processes they went through to support 100 agencies and about 36,000 employees in the State of Indiana.

In this episode:

Her background

I started out with clerical administrative type work. But the reason I moved into Information Technology was because I would see opportunities to make improvements to how we did business. Whenever I come up with ideas, I would always be given all of these reasons why they couldn’t do this. The answer was always no. So, I told myself that if I moved into technology, I would strive to say yes. Moving from an IT generalist into a SharePoint-centric career in the mid-2000s has really lent itself to that SharePoint is the platform of yes.

Joining the state government

Before joining the state government about eight years ago, I actually swore up and down that I would never work for state government. I just thought it wasn’t modern enough. But over time as I was working with them on some projects, I ended up agreeing, kind of as a favor to someone, to help the state, the executive branch with their migration from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010.

As I did that process, I realized that the people who work at the Indiana Office of Technology are really smart people, and I was really impressed. It just felt like this could be a place that I could fit into. Being an independent consultant and always needing to sing for my supper, it felt nice to be able to come to a nine-to-five, so to speak, where I didn’t have to get out here and stress about where’s the next gig.

The SharePoint journey

When I joined the state, we had kind of a wild, wild west. We had a lot of organic growth in SharePoint 2007, so when we went to SharePoint 2010, I put some governance in place. I wanted to get away from the farm solutions, the service side stuff and all of the craziness that people were doing, and really get them thinking about clients’ side and how we can do this in a way that can be upgraded over time. And that made it easy for us, relatively easy, to lift into Office 365.

Key driver in serving customers

A key driver for us at the Indiana Office of Technology is really about reducing time to mission. In Indiana, we have over 100 agencies, elected offices and boards and commissions –each of which is a sovereign entity that has its own statutory mission, structure, leadership and so on. And so, we have to learn all of those businesses, all of those personalities, and work with all of those people. So I always say to our customers, “You have to define what that means for you in terms of reducing time to mission and we’ll help you get there”.

The two worlds in SharePoint Online

We kind of have two worlds in SharePoint online. We have this classic experience that a lot of people are really comfortable with and they don’t really want to move out of, and then we have Teams and modern team sites and communication sites.

When that modern experience started to light up in the government community cloud, we still had one of those older tenants where we had the option to do classic. We decided to stick with it because we didn’t want to deal with the support issues and headaches that we knew we were going to have moving to modern too early. But here we are in 2020 and we have over 100 site collections that are still classic and are incredibly difficult to unravel.

On the other hand, the customers who never used SharePoint are being the most successful in modern, because they’re not all hung up on the sub sites and the change in the hierarchy recommendations and all that. They just create a team and they do their thing. And it’s easy.

Governance in place

What we’ve tried to do is structure our governance so that it is broad enough that everybody can do their work the way that they need to do it, but still stay consistent with the baseline security and compliance requirements that all of our agencies have.

We do not allow any net new classic SharePoint online sites. Our guidance for all net new customers or any net new scenario is to use Microsoft Teams. We have that classic conversation of, “Well, if you have a few producers and many readers, you need the communication site. Anything else, you go into Teams”. So, instead of turning off guest access for Teams, we educate our team owners to be responsible.

Microsoft Teams live events

We’ve seen agencies collaborating with other agencies within state government –from meetings, collaborating on documents, and town hall meetings.

But the use case that’s really caught us by surprise has been around Teams live events. Virtually, all of our agencies have some kind of statutory requirement to have public hearings or public meetings. So, we saw Teams live events as a way to broadcast and deliver those meetings. We had call after call after call with agencies to understand their requirements –and everyone’s just a little bit different –to try to help them understand not only how to use live events, but also the limitations and how to overcome those.

Scaling Office 365 to improve support services

One of the things that we did very early on was playing around a little bit with learning pathways, which is a custom site template for Microsoft that basically indexes a big portion of the office support content. When this all broke loose, we went all-in on learning pathways and created a bot using the Azure bot framework and Q&A maker. With this bot, people can now go and ask questions, and we put some of our own custom content on there.

And I think that’s how we’re going to scale over time from a support standpoint. We have the equivalent of two FTEs working and supporting Office 365 collaboration, and that is not scalable for 36,000 employees. So we had to look at alternatives. Things like learning pathways, Yammer communities, our champions group, as well as this bot, are going to go a long way towards helping us scale.

Current struggles

One of the things that we’re really struggling with is the accessibility. The accessibility capabilities in the government community cloud are not where they need to be. Microsoft knows that, and they’re working on that and they’ve been great at listening to us. But right out of the gate, our deaf community reached out to us and said, “Hey, we’ve got some challenges here”. And so, we’ve tried to help folks overcome those as much as we can.

Making #ShiftHappen

For us, it’s really been Microsoft Teams from a collaboration standpoint that really helped us make that shift. When Teams became available in our tenant, it really helped to bring together a set of capabilities that people were not really taking advantage of. Microsoft Teams was that disruptor that made us bust out of our silos. Instead of being the Exchange team and the SharePoint team, we had to really come together and think about how we bring a support pod experience supporting Microsoft Teams. And it just really changed the way that our customers saw Office 365.

Today’s takeaway from Vanessa:

“If we want to give people all the options, we have to step back and say, ‘If I’m an absolute beginner, what’s the set of steps that I can give someone without giving them all of the alternatives and the background and the explanation that is just going to cause confusion?’”

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Dux Raymond Sy
Dux Raymond Sy
With over 20 years of business and technology experience, Dux has driven organizational transformations worldwide with his ability to simplify complex ideas and deliver relevant solutions. He serves as the Chief Brand Officer of AvePoint who has authored the LinkedIn Learning course How to Build Your Personal Brand, the book SharePoint for Project Management, as well as numerous whitepapers and articles. As a public speaker, Dux has delivered engaging, interactive presentations to more than 25,000 people at leading industry events around the world. He also hosts the modern workplace podcast #shifthappens that focuses on how leading organizations navigated their business transformation journey. Dux advocates tirelessly for inclusion, using technology for good, and philanthropic initiatives. Connect with him:


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