Microsoft Teams

Innovative Use of Shifts App Helps a Chemical Equipment Manufacturing Company as Employees Return to Hybrid Working

The Challenge

The organisation is a specialist chemical dosing solutions provider, based in Basingstoke. The organisation designs, manufactures and installs innovative chemical dosing solutions for the UK water industry and industrial manufacturing. 

In response to bringing staff back from the COVID-19 lockdown and furlough, this client was attempting to enable their workforce to return via a method of hybrid-working – some in the office, some at home. They needed to be able to track which employees were working in the office on which days, but also to give employees the ability to say “I want a desk on this day”. Therefore they required a mechanism for input and management of these requests.

The organisation was looking for the ability to break down by department the number of staff onsite, so for example sales would have a certain quota of people in and the engineering team would have the same, plus the head office, and so on. The client needed to be able to track personnel by department, and to be able to manage this centrally, so that they could assign specific people on particular days. They also needed to give people the ability to self-manage, so that if someone needed to change a day, they could sort that out themselves.

We utilised technology that was already available to the organisation through Microsoft Teams.  We used Shifts, which is actually for shift management rather than office-space management, but the mechanisms available meant that we were able to create a schedule, communicate that schedule to users, make it available for all the users to interact with, and also make it available on mobile devices.  

The Solution

This solution gives them the ability to plan each week in terms of what staff they have on-site and they are able to specify those people that they need in on particular days. It also gives them visibility to see who they have in and how many spaces are available, so that they can make sure that they are fully compliant with their COVID risk assessment.

Our approach meant that we utilised what they already had, but in a unique way. The client didn’t realise that the software they owned could perform this task, and what all the capabilities were. We educated them in respect of what Microsoft Shifts does and how it can be used, but then applied the software to this challenge – which was outside of what it was generally intended to be used for it. In addition we provided training, set-up and we continue to provide ongoing support to help them use it on a day-to-day basis.

The Result

The client is delighted as they now know exactly who is going to be in the office on which days! This means they can manage who is in, and also gives them peace of mind that they are maintaining social distancing while returning to this new way of hybrid working. In terms of improving productivity this solution means they’re not trying to manually manage all of this anymore. They now have a system where they can do it all automatically and so, rather than having to communicate out to everybody, the users that are effected can just go in and check on their office-space requirements. It has reduced the reliance on the emails, spreadsheets or even pieces of paper that were being used before.

Utilisation of SharePoint, Power Apps and Azure Automation Together With Training and Guidance Improves Adoption of Microsoft Teams for a Property Assurance Provider

The Challenge

The organisation, based in Castle Donnington, is a property assurance provider offering a range of specialist outsources services for the UK insurance claims sector.

They were in the process of rolling out Microsoft Teams, but they were very wary of ‘Teams Sprawl’ (seldom-used or dead Teams, empty channels and scattered data) that can arise when people start to start to use it.

Furthermore, the organisation wanted to control the Teams creation process by tracking who was creating what, whilst also installing analytics for those Teams.

While still allowing users to request the creation of new teams, the organisation wanted an approval process in the IT department. They wanted someone to say “yes we approve this to be created”, but rather than an IT administrator then creating the team (which was the current situation) they wanted the Team to be automatically created for the user.

Vantage 365 was introduced to the organisation through a personal recommendation by another local company called The Circle Bar. Based on this recommendation and the initial phone calls during which we discussed what they wanted to do, combined with proof of our expertise and experience, the organisation chose us to implement the solution.

The Solution

As the organisation was familiar with Office 365, we used as many of the Office 365 features as possible to meet their requirements. We started off with a very basic SharePoint list, which is going to store the information regarding the Teams requests. The list tracks information such as what the justification was for creating the Team and has the ability to put a review date in if required. This is for housekeeping purposes and so they can initiate clear-up operations. This further reduced the potential for lots of stagnant Teams in the environment.

Moreover, the organisation required a user-friendly interface. To provide this we simply employed a Power App. The user doesn’t need to see the SharePoint site, they can just access the front entry of the App, where they request a new Team and they can also see all of the Teams that they have previously requested.

To make things even smoother, we leveraged the App directly within Microsoft Teams, so that the user doesn’t have to go somewhere else to request a Team.

In addition, we attached a provision to the Team using Azure Automation. We have PowerShell scripts sitting out in the Azure Cloud (this is the administrators/developers Cloud, as opposed to the productivity area) and much of the code was set up there. We then used Power Automate to bridge the gap between SharePoint and Azure Automation.

We implemented processes so that when a request is made, it would start the approval process, ie find the Approvers’ List and send a notification to all those people who could approve it. Upon approval, the Team is automatically created and the end users are notified that this has happened.

Consequently, staff can no longer use the out-of-the-box experience – every new Team now has to be created using this governed process. Our solution is helping the organisation to maintain control and visibility of what is being created within Microsoft Teams. The IT department can stop any unnecessary Teams being created and can implement clean-up operations as well, because they have all of the information to hand.

Matt’s in-depth knowledge of what Office 365 is truly capable of – ‘the art of the possible’ – was vital to the success of this solution. We weren’t just looking at Office 365 this time, we were looking at all of the supporting technologies that are available from Microsoft Azure to meet the organisation’s requirements. We leveraged what they already had, helping to shape their business process, and actually implement it in an automated way, without any real user interaction.

Furthermore, we provided education and guidance to the organisation around how they can use these services within Azure, for example around facilities such as hosting scripts. We also improved their knowledge in respect of licencing, as they needed an upgraded licence to be able to fully exploit Azure. Before implementing the premium licensing, we explained what features could be added and what the additional benefits would be, so they understood exactly how it could be useful going forward.

The Result

Straight away the organisation has seen a decrease in the number of Teams that are been being created. As the requests are being pushed through the controlled mechanism and they are not having to go through IT anymore (so the processes is ‘driving itself’), they are also seeing a drop in the number of service desk requests.

This has improved efficiency and saved time for the organisation, as they no longer have to have an administrator sat on the service desk manually creating Teams for people. End users get their Teams created faster, using the new, much-reduced automated approval process (with numerous people able to rapidly approve or reject requests). The IT administrators are able to concentrate on IT support and manage the entire environment much more effectively, because they’ve got all the information in one place.

This has had a significant impact on the organisation’s adoption of Microsoft Teams. It’s still controlled, so from an IT point of view it’s a good storage solution, but it hasn’t taken away the ability for users to go and request a new Team if required. It has kept user flexibility and empowerment, but offers that freedom within organisational boundaries – the governance rules that have been put in place by implementing this process.