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People-centric Office 365 features seek to address information silos

As organizations continue to increase mobility, experts say users are spending more and more time searching for and updating employee contact information within systems.

ATLANTA -- Combing through information silos to find the correct employee contact information can take days of...

production away from users each year, resulting in substantial losses of productivity, revenue and efficiency.

Employees in companies of all sizes surely have stories similar to those from Brad Eilers, an application architect manager who consults for software companies. A lack of people-centric features and missing information can lead to the type of interaction Eilers said he has weekly with colleagues.

"Just last week, I was trying to contact someone who messaged me asking to give them a call," Eilers said at the Microsoft Ignite conference. "The Outlook profile I pulled up had no contact number to call. I looked at the directory, and it had the incorrect number there, too. It's a weekly basis where I'm having trouble finding contact information."

Eilers was among dozens of attendees who gathered to hear what Chris Johnson, co-founder and CTO of Hyperfish, based in Kirkland, Wash., had to say about key people-centric Office 365 features that can help employees easily and efficiently find information.

The mishmash of organizational information and the need for it to be uniform and organized is a more recent issue. As companies continue to increase mobility and require more ways to stay in contact with employees, the issues around finding this information have steadily grown.

It's up to days per year that employees are spending searching for contact information, documents or organization charts.
Chris Johnsonco-founder and CTO of Hyperfish

"Organizations have to spend a ton of money on help desk and support processes to update this stuff," Johnson said. "From the users' side, on average, per user, per year, they are taking four hours per year updating their own information. It's up to days per year that employees are spending searching for contact information, documents or organization charts."

While Johnson ran through a list of 10 people-centric features he said he believes help break down the information silos, he stressed that employees have a responsibility to keep their information updated. It's with that focus in mind that Johnson co-founded Hyperfish last year to help organizations stay on top of their own internal processes.

"If you don't have the data to light up these features, it's all moot," Johnson said, as he tallied through the various features -- including everyday features, like Outlook contact cards, which provide basic contact information and a profile picture.

Other people-centric features, including automating basic business processes, can be left in the wind if data is missing or incomplete.

"There are many tasks today that could be automated, but when you automate it, it has to make a decision based on data. And if the data isn't there, it won't work," Johnson said.

One common situation where companies run into information issues is mergers and acquisitions. Organizations often have very different internal methods of gathering employee information.

"It's a massive IT project to consolidate, and, sometimes, companies don't bother doing it," Johnson said. "It has downstream business impacts."

Hyperfish is trying to solve this issue for companies by providing employees alerts if they updated information in one location and not another. It is also introducing artificial-intelligence capabilities to help companies fill out missing directory items. Before starting Hyperfish, Johnson worked as a group product manager for Office 365.

"People-centric features are where the value of Office 365 is," Johnson said. "Without rich profile data, some features will work, but the experience is a big deal for users, and it's a better experience with photos, titles [and] all the correct information."

On a daily basis, the challenge presented by information silos can seem minute and trivial. But added up over time, the efficiency and ease that stems from having the correct employee contact information can have a snowball effect.

"It's not something where I can say I spend exactly 30 minutes each day searching for information," Eilers said. "But it's a lot of regular tasks I have that are just a little bit slower because I have to try to find something in an alternate way, when it could be right in front of me."

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