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UX will pay off – Understanding and Implementing Good UX

UX will pay off – Understanding and Implementing Good UX

Next up is talking about User Experience! So we’ve talked about usability in my previous blog, Usability – It’s All About the Users. It was all about ensuring that users can use an interface and find what they’re looking for, but that’s not all there is to design. The next important component is the experience, the user experience! UX is all about what a user will do and what they are persuaded to do by an interface or product.

The Real World Example
Back to my example of the Business Journal site from last time, I had a good experience on the site prior to attempting to setup my subscription.  The brand is trusted and well known to me, the site was laid out well, I could find information, it wasn’t cluttered, and I was intrigued enough to continue reading (all good things, there must have been a strong information scent…). I saw an ad about a discount on the subscription. So they had me and my money…up until that whole unusable site issue we talked about, which caused them a missed conversion (aka missed revenue) and my trust in them has decreased, significantly and I will probably look elsewhere for information before attempting to sign-up with them again…  Keep reading to make sure you aren’t making the same mistakes.

A simple definition
UX is how a user feels when interacting with an interface.  In order for a user to have a good experience the user must trust the company/provider and experience positive emotions towards the interfaces or products while interacting with them. If we achieve this, then we will be able to persuade them to do what we want (with only GOOD intentions of course!).


What a Customer/User “Will Do”
If a site does not provide the user with an experience that adheres to what they are looking for, they will leave or be very frustrated if they have no choice but to stay.  If you’re selling news articles that require a subscription, you do not want your user to go elsewhere after only utilizing the free content because of a bad experience on your site! You lost business, not because you weren’t good at delivering your product, but because of an experience that you CAN control.  Let’s walk through some of the most important factors that make a good UX.

  1. Designing for the right audience
    Notice when I was talking about my example, I said that that “the brand is trusted and well known to ME”. This is very important. Someone else may not have had the same feeling and trust towards the brand because they have had different experiences with the company or maybe none at all. It is important to know your users. YOU are NOT the USER, your developers are not the user, and neither are the project stakeholders (most likely). The target audience is your user and they have different wants, needs, and experiences that need to be taken into account when designing. Target audience should be the first thing to be defined to give you an idea of their likes, dislikes, ages, gender, environments, history, etc. and also to know who you will need to engage to actually do your UX testing when you’re ready.
  1. Understanding Blocks and Drives
    Once you understand the targeted users, in order to persuade them to covert (convert doesn’t necessarily mean buy, it means completing whatever goal you have set) the next step is to understand what drives them and blocks them from completing a task. A drive is a need that motivates the user towards the objective and a block is an emotional barrier that must be overcome if a user is to be persuaded to complete the objective. Maybe they are techy, into sharing on social media, and they love reading news online, but they already have various subscriptions to different news sites. How would you persuade them to subscribe to your news site? If you can encourage and support a user’s drive and diminish a user’s block you will have a better chance in persuading them to convert.
  1. Using the Right Tools
    I don’t mean the right software or development methodology, I mean the right tools to gain trust, to evoke emotion, and persuade the user, known as PET design. The tools allow you to leverage drives and diminish blocks to complete the objective. The tools include things like:

    • Displaying certification/award logos and social proof (user ratings and reviews) to gain a user’s trust
    • Challenging the user to engage them and encourage intrinsic motivation to continue the task by playing on the user’s emotions
    • Providing a rebate, coupon, or freebie with purchase or sign-up to persuade the user. BEWARE on this one, these types of extrinsic rewards do not gain long-term loyalty.
    There are many tools you can add to your design to accomplish the PET goals, but it is important to use the RIGHT tools for your users and not to use too many! Checkout more tools from Human Factor’s PET Toolbox.

What UX is not…One word, Marketing
Marketing is creative and involves the design and generation of graphics, logos, and color palettes and ultimately making things pretty.  These items are important to the experience and it’s also important to make items that are pleasing to the eye because a well-designed interface/product is a factor of trust, but that’s not the only thing that goes into a good design.  I wouldn’t consider Google or Facebook beautiful, but I like them and that’s because they provide a good experience.

Designing properly for good usability and UX takes time and knowledge and companies are no longer hiring developers to go off and design and build an application and come back a few months later to deliver. Why? Because they are missing one thing…the users! All of our companies would not be here without our users and customers and they must not be forgotten.  Usability and UX are key to delivering the applications and products that will sell and gain user adoption.

Stay tuned for my next blog where I will be applying the concepts we’ve been discussing around Usability and UX to SharePoint Mobile interfaces.

Question and comments can be addressed directly to:

Melissa McElroy
User Experience & Social Collaboration Evangelist – Senior Manager
e. melissa.mcelroy@mpspartners.com
LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/melissamcelroy

Posted in SharePoint, Usability, User Experience | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 ways to Show Up in your profile – MPS Social Series 4 of 8

Profile Pages are the point of origin for participating in Enterprise Social. They represent home base; the bottom line on who you are and what you’re interested in. Here’s where folks should create and strengthen a personal brand; it’s you, when you’re physically absent. Though branding is a big part of what profile pages are about, they also offer the opportunity for seamless access to topics, documents and people of interest. While these Enterprise Social thresholds should be taken seriously, showing up dull, stiff and without personality is, well…not the most effective approach.

  1. Be comprehensive (and appealing) in the About You section.
    First, you must add a photo. Must! The shaded angular silhouette in the upper left hand corner is an immediate turn off. Why? Because no one looks like that. And if that’s how you present yourself, then it kind of feels like you’re no one. Choose a current pic that’s not too corporate and not too casual. For guys, a collared shirt without a tie is fine. And while T-shirts are not really recommended, it depends on the role you have in the company. Either way, make it pleasant.

    Next, fully populate the options when sharing your interests, skills and expertise. Include some of your relevant accomplishments. Tell a bit about your history, but not too much. And most importantly, give details regarding your immediate focus and what it means. The profile below offers a great example of this. My focus is on making the most of SharePoint’s out-of-the-box capabilities. Instantly, we know the focus and why it’s important. Keep in mind that some of the information in a profile will be auto-populated from other corporate systems, such as HR or Active Directory. That’s a good thing. It leaves you to concentrate on the more compelling aspects of who you are and what you do.

    Bing. SharePoint profile pictures. cmswire.com

  1. Take full advantage of the content storage capabilities.

    Most Profile Pages have fairly rich content storage and sharing capabilities. For example, Office 2013 (as a default) will save files to an individual’s profile page with an option to sync to a local drive as well. This feature gives the gift of continuous access, even when disconnected. What’s more, you can designate who you want to share docs with and set exact permissions, (like read, edit, and so on) all from your profile page. Content that was once housed in email and hard drives is now managed and governed from a single pane of glass. This can go a long towards promoting productive workflow.

  1. Be a blogger!

    If you claim to be an expert, then show me. Demonstrate what you have to offer by speaking about it on a regular basis. If Business Intelligence is your claim to fame, then blog about it at least twice a month. It’s not necessary to wax on for hundreds of words during every post. Mix it up. Find a way to create short, engaging entries that offer something new on how to use a feature or process. Or share an informed opinion about how one of your customers or colleagues is using BI. Work to bring real value to your peers. You’ll also want to use different visual elements to illustrate your points and break up the text. Maybe add a video one week with only a brief comment; or graphs that underscore what you’re trying to say. And no matter how techy or corporate your topic is, make sure you offer more than just dry information. Add some juice, like humor or a story. Make it pop!

  1. Give credit where credit is due.

    As you interact on your profile page; with individuals or elements of content, go the extra mile in recognizing peers, contributors and participants. This is the real value of Enterprise Social; people coming together. It’s about the collective. Two heads are better than one and all that jazz. But don’t be gratuitous. When we rightly highlight the contributions of others, the community becomes stronger. Because we are building on a foundation of trust and appreciation. The extent of the value this creates cannot be overemphasized.

    Bing. Profile pictures. S3.amazonaws.com

  1. Be diligent about keeping your page up-to-date.

    Keeping your Profile Page fresh and current doesn’t have to be a laborious task. Set aside a block of time once a month to scan your page for the following things:

  1. Is there old content that’s no longer viable? Delete or archive it.
  2. Check shared docs to make sure those associations still make sense. If not simply end sharing and alter permissions.
  3. Is your role evolving? Think about how to express those changes.
  4. Does your picture need to be refreshed? Changing the pic after 3-4 months can help keep you top of mind. People always notice an updated profile picture.
  5. Are the documents, people, and sites you follow bringing value? If not, switch them out and seek new associations.

The bottom-line on creating Profiles is this – take the time to make it great. It’s intended to be an image of you, who you are and what you brilliantly bring to the table. An excellent Profile Page sets the stage for the value of your participation in the enterprise, socially speaking. And this value will easily extend beyond the social platforms, increasing your stock and differentiating YOUR brand across the organization. To bring the point home, I’ll make a request. Go to your LinkedIn profile and consider how well it’s constructed. How can you improve it to strengthen your identity in that important social arena? If you have a few minutes, do it now, https://www.linkedin.com/  it’s a good way to see exactly what I’m talking about.

Don’t forget to come back in two weeks to learn more. Up next in the series, 4 keys to successful Community Sites. It’s my take on what community is all about.

Question and comments can be addressed directly to:

Melissa McElroy
User Experience & Social Collaboration Evangelist – Senior Manager
e. melissa.mcelroy@mpspartners.com
LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/melissamcelroy

Posted in Enterprise Social | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Targeting mobile devices with your application (1 of 3)

In this post we will be looking at options that are available while building applications that target a wide range of devices.

Selecting a solution would be based on factors like – target user’s preferred device (desktop, tablet, smartphone etc.), minimum required functionality set, technology infrastructure and cost. This is a whole different topic of discussion, perhaps for a later post.

For now we will just look at the options, talk about their pros & cons and ways to implement them. But before targeting devices and form factors, let’s start with the three core factors that define the usability of the mobile application:

While building any mobile application, it is always a good idea to think about the set of functionality that the application delivers to its mobile users. There are high chances that it will be a small set of the functionality available in the web application for desktop browsers or the desktop version of the app. The time spent in identifying what the users care most about goes a long way. So the way to start would be to select the functionality that makes the most sense in the mobile application and bringing it front and center.

User experience
How easily are those functionalities accessible? How intuitive is the navigation? Is the JavaScript animation preventing access to something rather important or the swipe handler responds after the user has already swiped for the second time? Keeping in mind that there is no mouse pointer, it might be difficult to tap that link or copy that text. There are endless such things that need to be considered.

Browsing the internet from a wireless smart phone might not always be a pleasant experience depending on your coverage, the wireless network or the resources of the device itself. Would the application be able to handle a lost connectivity or spotty connection gracefully? The application should transfer bytes over the network in small chunks, rather than multiple sections making their own server calls all at the same time. Depending on what the application does, it might be worthwhile to enable offline working on the application.

In the following posts we will explore options that are available to target mobile devices with your application. Throughout the series we will keep the above mentioned factors in mind.

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4 roads to Success in Enterprise Social – MPS Social Series 3 of 8

Now that you’re embarking on the Enterprise Social journey, you’ll need to nail down a starting point. Being selective is critical, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Simply target processes and functions you know could benefit from a more streamlined approach. Maybe sales cycles are long and complex. Or design and engineering seem bogged down. Wherever you land, hold on to these ideas. A) Executive commitment is a must! And there needs to be agreement on visible participation. B) User adoption is a crucial element of success. Create a worthy plan for getting and keeping participants engaged. C) Be willing to shift your approach based on learnings along the way.

  1. Sales is almost always a good place to start.

Sales people are busy, active, often aggressive workers who need access to far flung knowledge; whether internal or among partners and clients. Enterprise Social blasts past conventional barriers that slow things down. Imagine this: A top sales exec has a fantastic opportunity with a new client. But the proposal preparation is daunting. She needs information from R&D, Engineering and Customer Service. Her current method involves launching emails and phone calls (sometimes scavenging for who to contact) and then spending days, perhaps weeks, integrating the knowledge into a cohesive proposal.


Now picture a sales hub that surfaces all the information in one place. Living documents are at her fingertips. She can collaborate with authors in real time. A host of experts are engaged and can be reached instantly via ‘presence’. Customer Service methods are detailed and reps are available for spontaneous discussions. She can ask questions of peers on a community news feed and get answers and ideas back within minutes. An entire process that might have taken weeks, can be reduced to a few days.

  1. Human Resources has lot to say…and do.

Human Resources (or whatever your organization calls it) is a multifaceted discipline that’s paramount to the health of a business. These days, onboarding and training are often confined to ‘interactive’ websites. Except the interaction is usually between employees and grids of videos, or pages of dense text punctuated by pics; or worse yet, pages of dense text without pics. Let’s be honest, these sites are deadly boring. And the value of the (ahem) interaction is diminished by the relatively staid approach.

Add Enterprise Social capabilities and the landscape shifts. Onboarding and mundane HR tasks are brought to life by the reality of genuine interaction. With people. Consider this, while going through required onboarding tasks, you can instantly engage with other newbies to swap stories and gain perspective. Perhaps there’s a live event including many employees and a few experts who came to discuss a particular topic in real time, like healthcare elections, or the giving campaign. Maybe instructors are instantly available via presence or in activity streams to help you get through an online class or test. See where I’m going? Access to humans is what real interaction is about!

  1. In R&D or engineering, a small world is best!

The ability to engineer solutions and products that customers clamor for is no small feat. And as organizations grow into global entities with teams scattered around the world, this work becomes even more difficult. Connecting these big-brained individuals in intuitive ways can shrink design and development cycles drastically.

Let’s say a design team in California is about to wrap a long development and build phase. The product, created for US markets, is ready to launch. As it turns out, a team of engineers in Copenhagen just began white-boarding a similar product. The Danish market is different, so the products won’t be identical. But here’s where it gets good. The engineering teams are socially connected. That means the designers in Denmark have seamless access to the work done by the California teams. Danish and American engineers can easily collaborate real time on every aspect of the project. Often, teams like these don’t have a clue what the other is involved in. These silos of brilliance might as well be invisible. With Enterprise Social, product development time is slashed because the firm’s far flung expertise is truly shared across the organization.


  1. Go ahead and choose already!

I could suggest another target area for Enterprise Social. But I won’t. You get the idea. Swift access to information, colleagues and experts speeds business processes and outcomes. Period. So pick one already. And know that successful initiatives usually start with small teams tackling specific measurable problems.

Now, a few words about how to get (and keep) these teams engaged.

  1. Expose them to the tools pre-deployment. Consider scheduling a light-hearted training session with food and drinks to get them going. Say 3pm on a Thursday?
  2. Solicit insight from team members before rolling out the tools.
  3. Make a big splash of it. Create posters. Give away mugs and flash drives. Launch a campaign.
  4. Sell the value in advance. Maybe use timed email blasts to show the before pains and the awesome after’s.
  5. Gain not only executive sponsorship, but get full exec participation. They MUST lead by example.
  6. Check in early and often. How’s it going? What’s working? What isn’t?
  7. Listen, listen, and listen some more. Respond and adapt accordingly.

So what’s on deck until next time? Find a way to move closer to your goal of choosing an area or team to target. Sit down with a top salesperson and ask about pain points they regularly experience. Or troll the web for case studies to get your juices flowing. Another option, take a look at the interactive tool kit from Yammer, designed to help you begin your firm’s social journey. Whatever solution you ultimately choose to launch your social network, this toolkit from Yammer can help shape your direction.

And of course, come back in two weeks for my next post in the series, 5 ways to Show Up in your profile!

Question and comments can be addressed directly to:

Melissa McElroy
User Experience & Social Collaboration Evangelist – Senior Manager
e. melissa.mcelroy@mpspartners.com
LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/melissamcelroy

Posted in Enterprise Social | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Usability – It’s all about the users!

In this blog series we will be discussing Usability and User Experience, what they are, what they are not and why they are so important.  Usability and UX are not just for externally facing customer sites, it is important to apply these concepts to your internal sites and applications as well, employees are users too!  After we have a good understanding of the terms, we will continue on to look at these topics in respect to SharePoint mobile interfaces.  Let’s start with understanding usability.

Usability – Is ensuring that the user can complete the desired task.  Simple, right? It seems simple enough, but far too often interfaces are confusing! Information is not organized in a manner that meets the user’s expectations or mental model (how we expect something to work based on prior knowledge), information is hard to find, and feedback provided by the interface like error messages and prompts are not useful or intuitive. If a user is having difficulty getting signed up for a service, they may go elsewhere because it is just too difficult.  Users have enough going on in their lives, the systems they use should simplify tasks, not make them harder.

I had an issue on a site the other day and I won’t divulge what site I was on, but I will say it’s a well-known business journal and a subscription is needed to view their digital media.  I entered in all of my information, clicked next, entered my payment information, and clicked Submit. I received….

Error -  This email address already exists.

Ok…..so did you just charge my credit card? Can I login? I’m confused….so I go to login. The site tells me that my account is not activated and that I need to confirm my email address via a link they’ve sent…but you said it already exists and now it’s not setup? I’m even more confused.  Needless to say, I never signed up for the subscription and got my information elsewhere and the company… well they lost out on a sale. So, let’s talk about how this can be avoided….

What a user “Can Do”
Usability is all about what a user can do with an interface. Not, can they click on the logo to go home or a link to read an article, all of that is functionality, usability is can they complete the tasks that they expect to be able to accomplish.  Can they find what they’re looking for in the navigation bar(s) and search? Can they easily find information when looking at a product page? When populating information, is it clear what fields are required and what information and in what format it should be entered?

If a user cannot find something, then to them, it doesn’t exist! 

Put simply, users should not need training to interact with the interfaces.  That is not to say that a user doesn’t need training to understand a business process, like how to do month end for accounts payable.  When a process is understood, the interface that is utilized to complete or retrieve information about that process should be intuitive for simple tasks and provide cues to guide the user for more complicated tasks.  Have you ever been trained on how to use Bing? Or an online banking site or app? Probably not, and I bet that you use these products often, multiple times a week even and can successfully accomplish your tasks.

When a user interacts with an interface they should be able to remember how to complete the process.  Users should not be expected to have a manual in front of them to use an application.  Helping users remember can be accomplished with information chunking, implementing functionality that follows the user’s mental model, and using best practices and standards that are put in place such as common icons and colors.  And just in case they can’t remember, there should be on screen help or the ability to search for help information.


The handles imply pull to open, the mental model of how the door should function was not followed, so cues had to be added.

Interfaces should allow users to complete their tasks in a timely manner, understanding that some processes just take longer, but are there ways the process can be better?  As important as optimization is, there is another factor related to efficiency and that is how many errors the user encounters in the application. I am not just talking about bugs in the code, where an error is handled. I am referring to being able to clearly understand what is being asked of them so they have less errors when populating information, being able to click on the right link because they are properly spaced, and being able to select the right information because the labels make sense.


The value? Which value do I need to correct? The necessary information is not provided for the user to easily correct the error.

Design for your Audience
Always keep in mind who is going to use the application when designing.  A children’s website will be designed very differently from a college information database based on the knowledge of the user as well as the intent of the site.  Keep in mind what is important to your audience on the page, their level of expertise on the topic, and the mode and environment in which they will be accessing the information.  Creating personas before doing design work is one way to ensure that the users are kept in mind throughout design.

The Benefits
In addition to having satisfied users and customers, usability can save and make you money.  Money can be saved by making processes more efficient, eliminating unnecessary work, and decreasing training costs.  Revenue can be increased by re-designing to reduce drop-off rates and increase conversion rates.  Checkout Human Factor’s ROI calculators to better understand how your bottom line can be improved with usability.

So…How do we accomplish this?
First, talk to the users. The users are the ones that hold the knowledge on how to make an application successful and we can learn a lot from them through interviews, focus groups, surveys, and other analysis techniques.  After we learn from the users, put together user personas and use cases, generate the design, test with the users and optimize as necessary, develop, test, and optimize some more.   When the users test an application, there will be items that come up that were not thought of during design. It’s ok, that’s why we test and optimize in an iterative fashion.

Now that we know a little bit about the important factors in how to ensure the user CAN use the application, in my next blog we will talk about the user experience and what the user WILL do in an application.

Question and comments can be addressed directly to:

Melissa McElroy User Experience & Social Collaboration Evangelist – Senior Manager
e. melissa.mcelroy@mpspartners.com
LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/melissamcelroy

Posted in SharePoint, Usability, User Experience | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Power BI: Part 2- Capabilities

In Part 1 of this 3 part series on Power BI, I discussed the tenets of self-service analytics and how Power BI could be an enabler.  In part 2 of this series, the focus will be on the specific capabilities of the Power BI platform. How to perform specific tasks with Power BI will not be addressed, only the capabilities and potential of the overall platform. Part 3 of the series will discuss and review deployment scenarios.

As a review, the major components of Power BI are: Power Query, Power Pivot, Power View, Power Maps (available as Excel plugins), Question & Answer (available via Office 365) and SharePoint as the delivery mechanism. Each of the components is designed to complement the other components of the Power BI platform. From a data management perspective, the components can be categorized as follows:



From a process perspective, the components of the Power BI platform build upon one another in the following manner:



The above process flow serves to illustrate how the components of the Power BI platform may be used to build and deploy a solution. Now the question is what are the capabilities of the components and how can they be leveraged.

Power Query – Data Discover & Transformation

The first questions that are asked when building an analytics solution are what is the goal/purpose of the solution, what data is required and where does the data exist? Power Query provides the capabilities to address these questions.

With Power Query, multiple internal or external data sources can be imported and subsequently transformed to fulfill the defined solution requirements. Query results are stored as tabs within an Excel Power Pivot workbook. The data sources may come from standard sources such as databases, files and web services. Additionally, data may come from external sources such as web pages, and registered data providers such as the Azure Data Marketplace or even Wikipedia.

This provides the capability for data enrichment that has not been readily available in the past. An example would be supplementing internal customer address data with web based public data on average household incomes. Furthermore, transformation rules can be generated that filter or augment the data prior to final analysis. The transformation rules can be saved for future use when the data is refreshed. The following figure illustrates the process.


For registered data providers, Power Query can facilitate data discovery using simple queries such as “Average home selling price in region ABC”. Using this capability Power Query presents samples of candidate data. Based on the samples, the most appropriate can be selected based on requirements. Power Query will then retrieve the associated data, making it available for transformation and analysis.

The following figure shows an example of an online query performed for the “mean income for California counties”.  Note that Power Query presents multiple options.  A preview of each data source is displayed as it is selected.  Once an appropriate source has been chosen,  it can be imported into Excel.


Figure 1: Power Query online search

Here is the data that was retrieved


Figure 2: Power Query results selection

Next the data is filtered by Los Angeles


As previously stated, data retrieved via Power Query may be stored as a tab in the associated Excel Power Pivot workbook where further data integration and consolidation may be performed.

Power Pivot – Data Integration and Consolidation

Once data has been identified, it needs to be integrated and consolidated for further analysis. Power Pivot can be used for this task. Power Pivot does not provide some of the data discovery capabilities of Power Query but, it can leverage Power Query data as well as integrate data from other sources. Power Pivot overcomes the data volume limitations of Excel by allowing for the analysis of millions of rows of data from multiple data sources. This is accomplished via a column oriented in-memory analytics engine and data compression.

Each Power Pivot source is materialized as a tab in an Excel Power Pivot workbook. Relationships can then be established among the data sources using common fields. This will require some level of planning and design to ensure that relationships do exist among the data. In addition to defining relationships, Power Pivot supports the Data Analysis Expression (DAX) Language which is used to define calculations and perform data manipulation and analysis. It is possible to define calculated columns and fields that are context aware, key performance indicators and hierarchies. The following figures illustrate how data sources and data relationships are materialized in Power Pivot.


Figure 3: Power Pivot Data Sources


Figure 4: Power Pivot Data Source Relationships

It is also possible to create perspectives (views) of Power Pivot data that may provide a limited subset of fields available in the Power Pivot model. This would be useful to design functional views of the data (Sale, Operations, Finance, etc.)

Power Pivot has an additional component that can be integrated into SharePoint. In a SharePoint environment, Power Pivot query processing and data refresh for published workbooks is enabled through Power Pivot server components that are available in SQL Server 2008 R2 and later. The Power Pivot for SharePoint feature provides services, a management dashboard, library templates, application pages, and reports for using and managing server software. Power Pivot server components are fully integrated in SharePoint. SharePoint administrators use Central Administration to configure and manage Power Pivot services in the farm. Power Pivot workbooks stored in SharePoint are stored in a Power Pivot gallery that provides previews of the contents of Power Pivot based Excel reports.

Power Pivot workbooks can serve as data sources for Excel pivot tables, SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), Power View/Power Map visualizations and other Power Pivot workbooks. Power Pivot workbooks also form the foundation for Power BI Question & Answer functionality.

Power View – Data Visualization

Power View facilitates data visualization. Visualizations are developed in Excel and leverage an underlying Power Pivot Model, Tabular Mode SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) instance or more recently, a Multidimensional Mode SSAS instance.

Power View allows for the creation of highly complex and interactive visualizations. The associated model (Power Pivot, SSAS Tabular or SSAS Multidimensional) provides the context that drives the visualization.

Several Types of visualization are available in Power View in the forms of:

Tables – Flat Table, Matrix (Pivot Table), Card (Data visualized as a note card)

Bar Chart – Stacked Bar, 100% Stacked Bar, Clustered Bar

Column Chart – Stacked Column, 100% Stacked Column, Clustered Column

Maps – Bing Maps

Other – Line, Scatter, Pie

Slicers – Objects which filter data

Tiles – Provide filtering capability and facilitates nesting of objects

Within Excel, each Power View visualization resides on a separate tab and may contain 1 or more of any of the aforementioned visualization objects. This provides flexibly in creating visualizations that are only limited by one’s imagination. Objects may also be nested. The following figure illustrates some of these capabilities:


Figure 5: Power View Visualization Objects

The above figure depicts a tile object that is filtering on “Bikes”. The Tile object contains a table, column chart and bar chart. On the right hand side of the image is displayed a context sensitive menu that contains formatting options for the selected visualization object.

Power View visualizations can be developed in Excel and uploaded to SharePoint for distribution. Furthermore Power View visualizations can be created directly in SharePoint. When created directly in SharePoint, the Power View visualizations may be exported to PowerPoint with their full interactivity.

Power Maps – Data Visualization

Power Maps extend the data visualization capabilities of Power View with a focus on Geo-spatial data.  Data can be visualized as column, bubble, heat map or regional (used with country, region, postal codes) charts with multiple map layers, annotated with text or overlaid with two dimensional charts.  Data maybe mapped using standard country, region/province/state, postal codes as well as longitude and latitude.  Data to be mapped can be provided by Power Pivot or individual worksheets within an Excel workbook.

A Power Map visualization within an Excel workbook is called a tour and each tour contains individual sheets referred to as scenes. This provides the ability to map multiple areas  or scenarios within a single Power Map visualization.   Additionally the tour and its associated scenes may be played back and captured as video or screen shots for distribution.

One more dimension of a Power Map visualization is time.   A time attribute may be associated with data in a Power Map visualization so that the changes in the data values may be displayed over time.  Time can be specified as a day, month, quarter, or year.  The associated values may be displayed as point in time, cumulative or static until replaced.  Using this feature with the ability to record and playback Power Map tours provides significant visibly and insight into what the data visualizations represent.  The following figure shows a Power Map tour and scenes.


Figure 6: Power Maps Visualization

The left side of the visualization displays the Power Map tour and its associated scenes.  The tour name is “Product Line” and the scene names are “Product Line Sales” and “Product Line Margin” respectively.

The mapping mechanism for Power Maps is Provided by Bing Maps.  This means it is possible to zoom in/out, tilt/rotate and display the visualization in a globe or projected (flat) view.

Self Service BI – Question & Answer

There are times when data is available but not appropriately formatted for presentation or there may be ad hoc questions that need to be asked.  This is where Question & Answer (Q&A) becomes relevant.  Normally one would just consume a Power Pivot workbook or Power View/Power Map visualization as-is.  Q&A moves beyond that.  Q&A can be used to query existing Power Pivot workbooks as well as data that is on premises.

Q&A is a component of Power BI that is hosted via Office 365.  Data sources can be queried using natural language queries within the context of the data selected data. An example of such a query would be “Total sales for product line 123 and in the United States”.  Q&A parses the query as it is entered and presents its version of what it considers is being asked.  To best take advantage of Q&A, a vocabulary of synonyms should be established to tie business concepts to the underlying data.

If the same question is asked regularly, then that question may be saved as a featured question in the Q&A catalogue. Also, Power Pivot workbooks can be saved as favorites and presented as featured workbooks for analysis (see the following figure).


Figure 7: Q&A Featured Questions & Reports

Q&A will determine the best way to display query results based on what s being asked.  Results may be presented as a single value, table, chart (bar, line) or a map.  If required, an option exists to override the query results display format (see the  following figure).

In the figure below, underneath the entered query is the Power BI interpretation of the query.  On the right hand side of the visualization are the options to change the visualization display format.




What has been presented thus far is a high level overview of Power BI capabilities with the intent of providing ideas as to how it can be deployed as a component of a self-service analytics strategy.  With planning and understanding of these capabilities, it is possible to develop and deploy highly interactive, functional and complex analytics solutions that can meet the needs of multiple business roles and scenarios.

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6 BIG don’ts on the road to Enterprise Social – MPS Social Series 2 of 8

It’s clear that deploying Enterprise Social technologies can represent big wins for businesses. You agree, right?  So how best can you position your organization for success? Begin by avoiding a few seemingly harmless pitfalls. These simple mistakes can create unwanted drag on your efforts; crushing participant enthusiasm and leading to lackluster outcomes. If your organization falls prey to any one of these errors, you’ll likely end up wedged in a corner trying to figure out how to jumpstart momentum and regain credibility. Let’s evaluate what not to do.

1)      Don’t kill a grass roots network.

Because humans are prolific in using social media, (1.5B have at least one social media account) sometimes they’re inclined to go it alone – sans sanctioned support. Big picture, that’s not a bad thing. What’s not to love about having a built-in faction spurring adoption and leading other teams down the happy road to social success? Well, control, for one thing.  IT types get very persnickety when not running the show. For good reason. There are myriad challenges and issues to be considered. But the knee-jerk reaction to kill a thriving outlaw implementation is out-of-place. Instead, sit down with the rebels, uncover why they are so engaged and the value they’ve experienced. Then create a plan that deftly applies a framework which serves mutual interests. Don’t be heavy handed! This is a delicate dance. Get it right and this small group of mavericks will be prized allies as you extend the value of Enterprise Social across your organization.

2)      Don’t imagine that consumer tools are a good start.

Avanade’s 2013 survey on Enterprise Social reveals that many BDMs who’ve adopted social networking technologies report using Facebook at up to four times that of enterprise class tools like SharePoint or Chatter. There’s value here and it may seem like an easy first step. Yet this approach all-but guarantees the intrusion of several significant challenges.  First, once that community gets rolling and starts to experience value, it can be really difficult to move the participants away from it. After all, it’s working. And Facebook is home. People know it well. Why would they scrap it for some corporate wannabe and lose the freedom and spontaneity they’ve created? Second, you have absolutely zero control. Any guidelines you want to impose over content, process, or privacy are nonexistent. The consequences can yield unimaginable problems. The easy answer, don’t start with Facebook. Get ahead of these issues by offering an excellent business-class option early.

3)      Don’t pitch it over the fence.

If you think marketing or sales is a good place to start, you could be right. But don’t just hand the project off to a mid-level marketing manager and wait to see what happens. One of two things is likely; you’ll end up with a project that’s languishing and ineffective, or you’ll create a wild duck environment that’ll require reigning in. Instead, have conversations with leadership from the appropriate disciplines. Sales and marketing are good starting points, but engineering or research might be the genesis in your organization, talking to your users (the real users, not just their managers) will help you build a successful tool and quickly drive adoption. Once you’ve gained commitment, create a social success council. Call it what you will, but populate it with key stakeholders who are fervent about guiding the project through to success. Establish a regular cadence to assess progress, capitalize on new learnings or alter course. And (this should go without saying) make sure that much of that cadence is facilitated using enterprise social methods.

4)      Don’t begin without a clear business objective.

Enterprise Social is like any other business initiative. Sort of. You need a clear set of objectives in mind; ones that can be evaluated when the dust begins to clear. Being selective is crucial. Let’s say increasing top line sales is the thing. OK, good one. But it’s too general, drill down to the base denominator.  Increases in top line revenue could come from higher closing ratios, or hawking your wares to a greater number of prospects, or tightening the sales cycle or…see my point? Seek the ultimate result, but your objective should be focused on improving a step in the process. Here’s an example. If proposal development averages 14 days, perhaps getting down to ten is a good goal. More proposals out the door faster will surely contribute to enhanced revenues. And it should be fairly simple to measure. This leads to my next point.

5)      Don’t expect to use traditional ROI models.

Again, Enterprise Social is like any other business initiative. Except it’s kind of, sort of, not. Measuring success here using traditional methods has proven highly ineffective. Organizations must rethink how to measure value. The criteria needs to be more granular, more indicative of improving a specific process. For instance, we know how much time is wasted looking for documents or searching for experts. These well-worn pain points stall productivity and frustrate those involved. If you decide that finding experts is your goal, be clear about the current limitations and the associated impact.  Then create a tracking mechanism to reveal how Enterprise Social is affecting the process. Once you know the process has improved, you can bet there’s contribution to a larger goal. The bottom line is analysts are already seeing data that points to an intriguing connection between social engagement and corporate financial performance.


6)      Don’t think adoption will take care of itself.

Since humans are deeply engaged in social media networks in their personal lives, logic suggests that when presented with similar tools in the work environment, said humans (having now donned their spiffy employee hats) will leap tall buildings to take part in this new, yet familiar endeavor.  Build it and they will come. Uh…no. Here’s why. In general, only a small minority of employees are actively or highly engaged in their work, around 35% or so. The other 60 plus percent are moderately engaged to actively disengaged. So what’s the fix? Work on the culture; the stories, systems and structures within the company. But you should be doing that already. I’ll share more about user adoption in my next post.


Image from Microsoft Enterprise Social / Microsoft News Center, July 2013

Now here’s a bit of homework. Do a little internal research on your own. See if you can uncover a rogue network in your organization to capitalize on. Or begin to list processes that you know are cumbersome and could use modernizing. Finally, be sure to come back in two weeks for the next post in the series, 4 roads to Success in Enterprise Social.

Question and comments can be addressed directly to:

Melissa McElroy
User Experience & Social Collaboration Evangelist – Senior Manager
e. melissa.mcelroy@mpspartners.com
LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/melissamcelroy

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SharePoint 2013 One More Hidden Gem

If you are working with SharePoint 2013, you might always wonder how nice it would be if you could use OOB “Get stared with your site” tiles for your web parts, application pages, apps, lists etc. If you are wondering how to do this, you are in the right spot.

OOB Get Started With Your Site Tile:


Let’s get started then

  • Go to Settings >> Site Contents
  • Click on add an app, then search for “Promoted Links” app.
    • Once found click on it to add/create your own promoted links list.
    • Give it a name.
  • Navigate into the list by clicking it (obvious!)
    • You will see “The list is empty. Add tiles from the All Promoted Links view.”
    • Click on “All Promoted Links” hyperlink.
    • Start adding your links here.
  • Here is a my sample link


  • Order: The tiles in the sequence you want them displayed.
  • All fields are self-explanatory.
  • Note: adding/editing the list items I found “All Promoted Links” view makes life easy.
  • Once you are done adding the links, go back to the page where you want to display them.
    • Click edit page
    • Navigate to Insert section
    • Click App part/webpart then select your list, save page and browse!

The Final Results:


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Five reasons to launch Enterprise Social NOW! – MPS Social Series 1 of 8

Enterprise Social is top-of-mind for every business leader worth his or her paper. That’s why MPS Partners is bringing its well-earned insight to the topic via an eight-part blog series; designed to help organizations get the most from this pivotal trend.

Consumers are serious about social. A full 67% of all Internet users are active on social media sites. And the numbers suggest undeniable value for the participants. After all, month after month, they keep coming back. Yet many business leaders still ask, can the value of social tools really translate to my enterprise? In a word? Uh…yeah! The question is no longer whether thoughtfully-selected social tools can impact your business. The question is…how?

Buffer post, May 2, 2013, written by Leo Widrich.

So let’s take a moment to align our thinking. What is Enterprise Social? Essentially, it’s the adoption of tools and processes that propel new modes of collaboration, information sharing and decision making across and beyond an enterprise; allowing employees, partners and customers to build new value together by crashing through conventional hierarchies and silos. And it’s working. Smart businesses are already deeply engaged in becoming more social. And those who haven’t begun the journey are late to the party. Here’s why it’s crucial to begin now.

1) There’s no more B2B or B2C. There’s only H2H.
Humans communicate with humans, period. And today 1.5B people around the globe have at least one social networking account. Social technology is a normal part of daily life for a bunch of folks, and there’s no turning back. Like never before, they easily share things, uncover solutions, keep up with friends and public figures, and discuss topics that interest them. These facts bring me to reason #2.

2) Your employees, partners and customers are among these people.
Inside your business, employees want to harness information, connect, engage and work together in new ways. They expect options like the ones they have in their personal lives.
Outside your business, customers have become savvier; empowered by the wealth of information they can access. They too expect to connect in new ways. The consequence? Swift, seamless communication is no longer a luxury. It’s a business necessity.

3) By 2025, 75% of the workforce will be Millennials.
This generation (also known as Gen Y) grew up as the World Wide Web found its footing. Technology, social tools and mobility is inherent in the fabric of their lives. They wouldn’t know how to exist without the ever-present technology that they depend on. To spur innovation and fresh ideas, your business must fling open its doors to this bold new crowd of thought leaders. In truth, even Boomers have evolved into digital natives; and attracting, engaging and retaining the best employees (Boomer, Gen X or Gen Y) depends in large measure on your willingness to embrace this new way of communicating. Only offering them email and a file share is a non-starter.


4) Your competition is already doing it.
Studies suggest that 72% of companies are engaged in using at least one social software tool. Perhaps more telling, 82% of those currently invested say that over the next 12 months, they plan to extend social to other business areas, heightening the value prop. Of course, many are moving to the next level by deploying true Enterprise Social tools, like Microsoft SharePoint or Salesforce Chatter. Dragging your feet on this only puts you further behind.

5) Enterprise Social is disruptive! Or is it?
Depending on who you ask, the answer will vary. And so what? Truth is, the balance of power has shifted from the corporation to the individual. And technology is nothing more than a brilliant enabler. Content, authenticity, integrity, reputation, commitment and follow-through remain the true currency of any successful organization. Deploy Enterprise Social to mimic a flattened world – allowing direct contact between stakeholders: customers to product developers, VPs to frontline workers, salespeople to suppliers and so on. As a result, processes will become more streamlined and communications more satisfying and effective. The goal is a nimble, lean and connected enterprise.

Now what? First, plan to come back in about a week and check out the next post of the series, 6 BIG don’ts on the road to Enterprise Social. And since you can’t wait to learn more, read this social whitepaper to see what my colleague at MPS Partners has written. His comprehensive whitepaper breaks down the components of Enterprise Social; from profiles and newsfeeds, to activity streams and analytics. It’s satisfying food for thought as you assess the value of these capabilities for your organization.

Question and comments can be addressed directly to:
Melissa McElroy
User Experience & Social Collaboration Evangelist – Senior Manager
e. melissa.mcelroy@mpspartners.com
LinkedIn http://linkedin.com/in/melissamcelroy

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WABS Integration Pattern – Dynamic Router

Continuing from my previous blog on WABS Patterns, we will implement another enterprise integration pattern in this series.

We will continue utilizing the WABS features set that are available in the current version.  As and when new bits come out, our blog series will be updated to reflect the changes.

The patterns that we will address in this post will be Dynamic Router.

For this pattern each message recipient will define the rules on the type of the messages it can handle and process.   The message will be routed to the right message recipient when the message parameters are matched against the rules.

For Windows Azure infrastructure, Topic and the Queues provides this functionality.   We will use Azure Topics and create subscriptions and extend that by including the custom code in Bridges.


Contoso accepts orders for multiple brands of products they sell from many different partners across the country and around the globe.  Contoso partners could be sending order data either via FTP or via web-services.  Along the way the message must be dynamically routed based on the metadata information.  Their order fulfillment is often based on the region for logistics and distribution purpose.  This is done by looking up the data value from the message at runtime and promoting the properties to Brokered Message  using custom code in the bridge for routing messages.   Since the message are promoted at runtime dynamically, from within the bridge there is no need to manually set the properties and it’s value at design time.  Once the order is dynamically determined, all orders are placed in separate holding areas for further processing by the back end line of business system.   Each regional fulfillment center will then subscribe to these order messages and process them appropriately.

BizTalk Server Approach

To implement this pattern as BizTalk Server Solution we should

  1. Create schema to receive the message.
  2. Orchestration will subscribe to the message
  3. Orchestration will promote the message properties, in our case Region
  4. Message properties specific to routing (like address and transport type) will be set on Dynamic send port in orchestration
  5. Dynamic send port will route the message based on the transport protocol and the address set

WABS Integration Services Approach

The figure below represents a BizTalk Service Project.


Just like BizTalk Promoted properties, we do similar processing with Brokered Messages objects that contain the properties collection for routing the messages. As can be seen, we have Bridges that allow input into our process:



OrderMetaData is an XML Bridge that is surfaced through an FTP Source.  The source allows a pull from an FTP site.   FTP source pulls the Order data with some metadata.

Figure  below shows the OrderMetaData configuration


Message received on Bridge is an XML message with schema as below:


We are extending the dynamic features available on Azure Topics by implementing the Brokered Message properties collection (equivalent of promoted properties in BizTalk).  Our goal is to dynamically assign the values to properties at runtime.  To implement that we have created a metadata record on an order that will identify the Property Key(s) that need to be promoted at runtime for the Azure infrastructure recipient.

Bridge custom code

The OrderMetadata Bridge is extended to include custom code to promote the properties at run time.  Custom code on the bridge is available on Decode, Validate, Enrich, Transform and Encode stage.

Custom code can be created on either before message enters into the stage (OnEnter) or after message exits the stage (OnExit).

Following screenshot displays the custom code inspector (On Enter) properties for the Enrich Stage within Bridge.  There are step by step instructions on creating custom code in bridge on MSDN.


A few key points to keep in mind while creating custom code for Bridge:

  1. Fully qualified assembly names (with strong name) need to be entered as a Type on Code Inspector.
  2. Copy Local needs to be set to true.
  3. IMessageInspector (of Microsoft.BizTalk.Services namespace located in Visual Studio Extension directory – Common7\IDE\Extensions\Microsoft\Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services SDK\) must be implemented.
  4. Logic in Task.Factory.StartNew method must be implemented.

The following is the custom code implementing the IMessageInspector.   The code that is reading the input message that was received on the bridge and based on the metada key, finds out the value of the actual data element.


The code above is generic enough to promote the properties based on Metadata key(s).   Alternatively a schema could have been modified to promote all the properties of an message based on a specific record (say Messageheader).

Routing and Filtering

Once the enriched message exits the bridge, it is sent to Azure topic regionroute. Topics give us the ability to add subscriptions on the fly and hence creating the message recipient dynamically.


Topic is created with 2 subscriptions

  • Subscription Illinois with Default rule of “region=’IL’


  • Subscription Washington with Default rule of “region=’WA’


Once the artifacts are deployed they can be viewed and verified in BizTalk Services portal as shown below :



I like to use Service Bus Explorer tool to look into the Azure infrastructure.    Exploring the message into subscription, it can be noticed that message custom properties contains the promoted value for the metadata Key defined which was used to route to right recipient.


Below is the detail tracking information on all the activity performed when the bridge was executed.


Upon clicking on detail on one of the tracking activity, it will show the detail message information. In the case below it shows the all custom message inspector that was executed on ordermetadata bridge.


The message was finally routed to regionroute topic:



Install Windows Azure BizTalk Services SDK.  Developer SDK features the support for BizTalk service Project template in Visual Studio.

Provision BizTalk Services.

Required information to Deploy BizTalk Services Project.


FTP Route:

  1. Drop orderinstanceIL.XML (region = IL) or orderinstanceWA (region = WA) into FTP Source Location (free FTP hosting is available at DriveHq.com)
  2. Ordermetadata brige will pickup the data from FTP Source
  3. XML message received will be used to promote the properties into Brokered Message collection based on the metadata key
  4. It will be sent to regionroute Topic
  5. Based on the rules defined data will be routed to appropriate topic subscription.


This example showed how the WABS and Azure technology provides some new (Topics with rules) and existing (Promoted properties) features in the Windows Azure Cloud.  The queues and topic infrastructure give us a much more dynamic way to route and subscribe to messages in our integration solutions with WABS feature to implement custom code in the bridge.

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