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Helping users adapt to software as a service

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Microsoft apps on a phone.

Microsoft 365 is a suite of applications that includes Word, Teams, SharePoint, and many others. When it was first rolled out across Parliament in 2018, it had a big project team that provided training, guidance, and support to users. But when a project like this concludes, and the software keeps changing, there continues to be a need to keep our users up to date.

Software like Microsoft 365 is ‘Software as a service’, as is Adobe Creative Cloud, Jira, ServiceNow, and many other commonly used applications.

With software as a service, like Microsoft 365, updates are automatically rolled out in the background to organisations and users, usually on an uncertain or changing timetable. This is different to traditional software, which an organisation would manage directly, allowing them to communicate any changes in advance and give users a specific time frame to install or delay updates.

Microsoft calls these regular updates and new features ‘evergreen changes’. As a Microsoft 365 Learning Specialist, my role is to help Parliament manage them. Evergreen changes pose a real challenge for IT support and customers, who have to adapt to them as they are rolled out.

Keeping track of evergreen changes

Healthy green trees in a forest of old spruce, fir and pine trees in wilderness of a national park.

When I started in my position, I realised that I would need to keep an eye on evergreen changes to make sure my training courses and guidance stayed up to date.

It was also obvious that we had a significant gap in how we communicate these changes across Parliament.

If a major IT change was being planned, then we had a way of communicating this to our users. But smaller, less significant changes didn’t have an appropriate communications channel. We also didn’t have anyone proactively looking at upcoming evergreen changes – we were working more reactively in response to them.

There are a few teams in PDS whose focus is helping users get the most from digital tools. We put our heads together to think about this problem and decided to create a group to share updates, which we called the Digital Coaching & Adoption Forum.

This was a fortnightly meeting to discuss upcoming and released evergreen changes with customer-facing teams. We would run through my evergreen changes tracker and discuss the details of each update, including potential impact and its rollout timeline.

Speaking to our customers directly

This proved to be a great way to keep customer-facing teams up to date with evergreen changes. But there remained the challenge of communicating the information to everyone in Parliament.

After considering several options, we created an internal blog, with monthly posts covering the latest features and updates that have been rolled out in Microsoft 365.

The blog is featured in a range of newsletters across Parliament every month, so anyone who wants to learn about these changes can find them. It gives us a way to communicate without overloading our audience.

A culture change

Another aspect of our work has been encouraging a change of culture and attitude towards IT updates.

We hope our users are adapting to software updates that are frequent and rolled out in the background, and most importantly, that they are embracing the ever-changing and evolving range of applications that we have in Parliament.

Short-term challenges, long-term planning

It has been difficult to keep up with the pace of change with enough time for the many back-end teams and customer-facing teams to get on the same page.

This was especially challenging when we were rolling out Microsoft Teams. To facilitate meeting recordings, we had to move from the previous Office 365 Video app to Microsoft Stream. But during this process, Microsoft announced that they were redesigning the Microsoft Stream app to be part of SharePoint and OneDrive, rather than as a separate video platform.

In hindsight, this actually gave us an advantage as we saw the change coming and were able to plan long-term. However, it did present a big short-term challenge where we had to move our users from one application to another, knowing that in future we would have to move them again!

More than evergreen changes

Beyond what we’ve created so far, we’re always thinking about other ways we could promote evergreen changes and help users develop their skills.

One idea that we’re looking at is introducing a coaching offer for Microsoft 365, where colleagues could discuss evergreen changes, new applications and any other features they would like to use in Microsoft 365 beyond the current training courses that we offer. In the spirit of evergreen changes, this idea is a work in progress for now!

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