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Viva Connections: What your intranet wants to be


Microsoft earlier this month announced Microsoft Viva, a new integrated Employee Experience Platform (EXP) that brings together communications, knowledge, learning, resources, and insights inand delivers them via Microsoft Teams. There are four modules: Viva Topics, Viva Insights, Viva Learning, and Viva Connections. While every organization may not use all four modules, or every aspect of each module, Microsoft Viva includes something for every organization.

I’m excited about all the aspects of Microsoft Viva. I love how the modules are integrated, secure, people-centric, and designed to be delivered in Microsoft Teams. One of the best parts is that the branding and classification of Viva as an EXP facilitates a conversation between IT, HR, and Communications. It helps each of these departments think more holistically about the value they can bring together — and moves the intranet conversation to focus on employee experience more comprehensively.

Many organizations have done so for years, but I’ve seen way too many where this conversation doesn’t happen — mainly because different departments still work in silos and aren’t focused on the holistic employee digital experience. This is a huge value proposition for Microsoft Viva because it concretely demonstrates the value of “better together” inside every organization — not just with Microsoft technology. Each element alone is great, and together, they’re even better.

Here, I want to focus on why your intranet, if it could have a voice, wants to leverage the capabilities in Viva Connections.

Getting ready for Viva Connections

One of the reasons many intranet projects fail is that organizations place too much emphasis on communications and not enough on work integration. Great intranets are not about building websites that mimic the organization chart (who we are and what we do) and delivering news. A great intranet is about creating experiences and services that help everyone in the organization do their job.

Since the services that are needed by different types of people in an organization may differ, the best intranets deliver both services and news targeted to each type of service consumer – based on our role, our geography, our work group, or our interests. Is Viva Connections going to magically do that for you? Unfortunately, no. But you can make it work for you if you get ready by doing the following:

  • Understanding your organizational priorities.
  • Understanding the critical internal services in your organization and the information that supports these services, including descriptions, forms, policies, procedures, applications, contacts, and training.
  • Understanding your key user roles or personas and the information and services each one needs to be successful.
  • Defining the information architecture (sites, navigation, pages, and metadata) and audience groups to support the services.
  • Planning governance, including content management and accountability.
  • Implementing ongoing learning opportunities to ensure that everyone has the right skills and knowledge to be successful.
  • Building your intranet in SharePoint and ensuring that you have a home site.

What to expect

Viva Connections doesn’t create the intelligent intranet for you; it provides the infrastructure to deliver your intranet to your users in the context of where they are probably already working — Microsoft Teams — and creates a framework for extending your intranet and making it better. Is it the “home site app in Teams” promised at Ignite 2020? Yes, but it’s more than that.

To better understand Viva Connections, I’ve tried to read every Microsoft blog post, and watch all the videos and listen to as many podcasts and interviews as I can. I also reached out to Omar Shahine, vice president of product, Microsoft 365 — OneDrive and SharePoint, to clarify things. While Viva Connections will include features that are available directly in SharePoint, it also includes native Teams apps that will only work in Microsoft Teams. I expect more specific examples at Microsoft Ignite next week.

Here is how I understand the elements of Viva Connections:

The Personalized Feed 

The feed is designed to deliver a curated, personalized feed of important news, conversations, and communities (i.e. Yammer). Curation means that content authors need to understand how to target content — and it means IT must ensure that relevant audiences are available. This is an important reason why it is so critically important to understand your key organizational information “audiences” as part of your intranet planning.

You will need to create the necessary Azure Active Directory Groups in advance and train content authors and curators to use targeting when they create news and other information to minimize the noise in each person’s feed. News features announced at Ignite 2020, such as the ability to “boost” news in the feed until it has been viewed or for a specific date or number of impressions, help ensure that authoritative news is prioritized. I don’t think that you need Viva Connections to experience “boosted” news, but the personalized feed includes much more than just SharePoint news (what is already shown in the personalized news on the SharePoint start page). The feed is different from the existing My Feed web part in SharePoint, which is driven by signals in the Microsoft Graph and your activity.

The feed in Viva Connections is more focused on SharePoint News, Yammer Announcements, and other “announcement-style” information.

The Dashboard

The Dashboard is a new experience that provides a framework for presenting targeted apps to users — for example, Teams or SharePoint Framework apps, images and video, or URLs. The dashboard tiles can either link the user to the app experience or deliver the experience inside the dashboard itself (such as when submitting a time off request). The dashboard apps feel a lot like the home screen widgets in iOS 14 — and SharePoint web parts, for that matter.

The idea of having “snippets” of application code delivered in the context of an intranet is hardly new. But many intranet solutions don’t evolve to the point where these apps are delivered. I’m hoping the dashboard provides a simplified way of creating and delivering these app widgets by non-developers. (Shahine  promised it will be “just like creating a SharePoint page. This has me very excited to see the experience!) I find the naming here a little confusing; it would be easier for me to explain the entire experience as a dashboard and the widgets as Resources in the Dashboard – but that’s just me.

Resources

Looking at the screenshots and GIFs provided from Microsoft and Seth Patton’s blog post introducing Viva Connections, Resources in Viva Connections include (or could include) several things:

  • Pinned resources. I don’t know whether these are things you pin or the organization pins on your behalf.
  • Recently opened SharePoint sites.
  • Global navigation links from the home site.
  • Links to your top Yammer communities and a way to see all communities.
  • Links to your top video playlists and a way to see all video playlists.

This is where I want more clarification, because if you have resources that employees need all the time and you haven’t already targeted them in your global intranet navigation, you probably need to go back and re-think your global nav. That said, it feels like Resources provides a way of “boosting” these items in the Teams experience from an app perspective. Exploring the global navigation can mean a lot of scrolling to get to key resources you need every day — like submitting an expense report — or that the organization wants to make more visible, such as the latest COVID-19 policy update.

What it looks like

I grabbed this screenshot from a video on the Microsoft Viva Connections for leaders page and added my own annotations. This is the one screenshot where I was able to see all the elements of Microsoft Viva in one place, and it shows the desktop experience in Teams.

Viva Connections detail Microsoft

Viva Connections in Microsoft Teams.

  1. This is essentially the link to the “home site app in Teams” branded with your own name and logo. You could call the app the name of your company or the name of your intranet. This is how you experience Viva Connections; it is not branded “Viva Connections,” it’s branded with a name and colors you choose. When you click the app link, you see the home page of your intranet. The example shows a home page with what looks like a vertical section. I’m not sure whether this is a special section only visible in Teams or whether these same elements are curated in SharePoint in the browser and just delivered in Teams.
  2. This is the navigation on the home site of your intranet, which is likely providing the source for your global navigation. Notice the “My SharePoint” link to the SharePoint start page that you get when you enable the home site. You don’t get any “automatic” navigation when you deploy the home site. This is something that your information architect should design based on understanding your organization and tested with your users before deploying. I design intranet global navigation experiences as part of my work — and until you test your proposed navigation with real users, you won’t realize what’s missing or needs to be adjusted.
  3. These are the Dashboard apps that your organization has created and targeted for the logged-in user.
  4. This is where the personalized feed can be added to your home site. This will be available in the browser in addition to Teams.
  5. This shows the other Teams apps that are part of Microsoft Viva: Insights, Learning, and Topics.
  6. This looks like the News web part in SharePoint, shown using the Tiles layout with the four most-recent stories featured. The News web part and this layout are not new — and you can choose to use this layout on your intranet (or any) home page today.

What will it cost?

It’s not clear how Viva Connections will be priced, but from what I’ve read and heard, it’s not going to be 100% free. Here’s what I know so far:

  • Viva Topics is an add-on to existing Microsoft 365 licenses and pricing is listed at $5 user/month and requires an annual commitment.
  • Insights is available as a free personal app in Microsoft Teams today. The advanced tools and integrations described at the launch announcement for Viva Insights require a license for Microsoft Workplace Analytics.
  • Viva Learning includes integration with third-party services like Pluralsight, Skillsoft, and SAP SuccessFactors, which have their own licensing model; it’s not clear whether there will be free aspects of Viva Learning (for example, the integration with Microsoft Learn content).
  • Viva Connections pricing (if any) is a mystery. There may be pricing for elements in the Dashboard that leverage premium connectors similar to the pricing for Power Automate, but I am hoping that the ability to deliver a home site in Teams is not going to require an additional fee. Beyond that, we will have to wait until Ignite to learn more.

More to come at Ignite

Hopefully, you’re convinced that you need to plan to take advantage of Viva Connections, if only to make your intranet (and all of its users) happy! Microsoft is tweeting just enough teases to make it clear you are going to want to participate in Microsoft Ignite. I will post more as I learn more, and I’m sure the dialogue will continue as we get to try out the connective tissue in Viva Connections.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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