As a Microsoft partner, one of the most important things I do is show people the benefits of using Microsoft products, my current favorite being Office 365. Office 365 has gone through many iterations, improvements, and additions that enhance collaboration features and really "tie the room together." It all looks great on paper or on a website, but the true clincher is being able to see -- and experience -- the service for yourself.
For a while now, Microsoft has had what is called "MEC," also referred to as the "Microsoft Experience Center." Partners would be able to order a kit with laptops and tablets, and use these products to allow customers (you!) to experience the software in a live, exploratory setting. From a partner's perspective, this is very cool -- but can also be cumbersome. It involves the shipping and tracking of very large boxes (no doubt a big expense) as well as individually setting up each machine before the session. And, of course, what if the customer is halfway across the U.S.? In this day and age of virtual business, there has to be a better way.

In what is awesome news for both individuals and businesses looking to upgrade to Office 365 as well as the partners with the expertise to help implement these solutions, Microsoft has provided a new tool: QuickSessions.
Part of the new CIE (Customer Immersion Experience, formerly known as MEC) program, QuickSessions are essentially a virtual version of the physical kit, hosted in the powerful and growing Microsoft Azure cloud service. Certified CIE instructors can access this tool to easily provide a login "persona" in an Azure virtual machine -- giving customers the ability to experience a full Office 365 environment from anywhere.
How a QuickSession Works

If you're interested in Office 365 and experiencing it and other Microsoft solutions for yourself, contact Magenium and we'll be happy to help!

The first step in a QuickSession is to work with your CIE and Office 365 certified partner to schedule a date for the session. At Magenium, we like to ask questions before the session to not only tailor the session to your business's individual needs, but also help determine the right solutions for you.
Claiming Your QuickSession "Persona"

On the date of the QuickSession, your partner will provide you with a link and credentials. You will use this to "claim" your Office 365 persona -- which is basically a provisioned user that works like a live user in a real environment.

After claiming your persona, you can click the View Details button to obtain the Office 365 login information that you will use to experience the live environment. Once you have these credentials saved, you can click the "Connect" button.
Connecting to Your QuickSession Virtual Machine

The Connect button will download a file for you, which is titled as the first name of your persona. The user will need to add the ".RDP" extension to this filename. Then, it can be opened in the Windows Remote Desktop Connection application.

This will log you or the user in question into an Azure virtual Windows machine, which operates like any other physical machine as far as you are concerned -- in a window on your computer. At this point, you can open Internet Explorer and log into Office 365 at http://portal.office.com.
Getting the CIE Treatment

From here, you're ready to go full-bore into the immersion experience. Your partner will guide you through your session from here. The great thing about this environment is that it works exactly like a "real" Office 365 tenant. Users can chat with each other via Skype for Business, edit documents in real time, the works.

If you're ready to see how Office 365 can help your business, get in touch with us and our experts will show you the way.

 
 
Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella is known for his "cloud-first, mobile-first" approach -- and it seems that the latest versions of Microsoft Office are playing directly into this vision... which is a good thing.
Satya's profound commitment to this philosophy brings me back to when we were in what I like to call the "cloud transition" period. This was when cloud-based file services were just coming around to solve the problems highly-connected people were beginning to encounter -- anything from syncing passwords securely across browsers, having files accessible from any device at any time, and so on. I remember being so frustrated at having to develop my own workarounds, and now, consumer and business services in all areas of software are working to close these gaps. Steam now synchronizes my digital game library and even my save progress across machines while OneDrive allows me to store and access my photos from anywhere at any time -- and it keeps getting better.
Fortunately, as personal cloud-based services have risen to the task, business solutions have done so as well and continue to develop according to people's needs.

That being said,
I'm seeing many questions from clients regarding this, and even a few challenges outside the Microsoft world. For example, businesses large and small recognize SharePoint as an industry-best, secure way to store and access documents across teams, but users sometimes have trouble getting a workflow down.

I see questions like:
  • How do I save this directly to SharePoint from (X) application?
  • How can I attach a file to an email right from SharePoint?
  • How do I open a file right from SharePoint without having to download it first?
In the upcoming release of Office 2016 ProPlus for Windows, business customers will be able to (very easily, I might add) attach files directly from their SharePoint Online sites through the file menu. This instantly solves a long-existing problem -- users hate having to navigate to SharePoint and manually download files to attach them in Outlook, or using "different" ways to do this that they aren't used to or that don't fit into how they work most efficiently. As such, it's great Microsoft is stepping up to provide what users want.
Furthermore, the current Office ProPlus apps have the ability to "add new places" to users' file menu, allowing you to simply and easily save to or open from your cloud storage areas such as OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint.
What if, however, you have a user who works in other applications or file types outside of the Windows realm? For example, let's say that your business frequently generates, saves, and distributes PDF files via email. What do you do now? One solution is to sync a document library from SharePoint using the OneDrive for Business client, but this has its pros and cons and may not be the best way to tackle this problem -- especially if the document library is very large, or for compliance reasons cannot be stored on a user's local machine.

Fortunately, other software companies recognize this need for cloud convergence, such as Adobe. Their recent release of Acrobat Reader, dubbed "Acrobat Reader DC," has a built in cloud convergence function called Document Cloud.
Document Cloud offers specific SharePoint Online functionality and enables users to sign into SharePoint directly from the Adobe Reader DC application. Once signed in, users can navigate their document libraries on SharePoint and easily save to or open from their enterprise site. Reader DC even offers an easy way to attach a file to an Outlook email.

I was very, VERY excited to see this in Reader DC, as it is an alternate way for clients looking to take advantage of SharePoint as a cloud based solution to access their data. My feeling is that more and more cloud providers will work to provide inter-connected apps. It's already happening, actually, and it goes both ways. Recently, Box, a leader in online file storage, announced they are working on tighter integration with Office products. Microsoft themselves announced a partnership with Dropbox, another leader in cloud based storage.

These kinds of efforts and partnerships can only be good for all consumers who want to enjoy the benefits of Office, Office 365, and SharePoint, and need them to integrate in specific ways to their individual styles and chosen products.
 

    Peter Redmer: Online Marketing Specialist, MCP in Chicagoland

    I work with SEO, SEM, online communities, Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint, Yammer, and other digital productivity tools that help companies solve problems and make work easier... and more fun.

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