MJFChat: What’s ‘Modern Workplace Transformation’ (and why it matters)

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  • MJFChat: What’s ‘Modern Workplace Transformation’ (and why it matters)
We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat, recorded on December 17, is all about Microsoft’s concept of ‘Modern Workplace Transformation.’ My special guest is Microsoft Technical Fellow and Chief Technology Officer of Modern Workplace Transformation, Jeffrey Snover.

Jeffrey — who just so also happens to be the father of PowerShell — is working on Microsoft’s Modern Workplace Transformation effort. He has a lot to share around what this is; why IT Pros need to understand and embrace it; and how it will impact customers in the coming years. Jeffrey also answers quite a few reader and listener questions on all kinds of topics in this episode.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there….


Mary Jo Foley:  Hi, you’re listening to thepetri.com MJF chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley AKA yourpetri.com community magnet and I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you are readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF chat it’s going to be all about the concept of modern workplace transformation and my special guest for this chat is Microsoft technical fellow Jeffrey Snover who these days also is CTO of modern workplace transformation and as many of our IP pro listeners and readers know also the father of PowerShell. Hi Jeffrey, and thank you so much for doing this chat with me 

Jeffrey Snover: Howdy, Mary Jo – great to be talking to you again 

Mary Jo Foley: It has been too long. So, we have a bunch of questions that our readers and listeners posted to Twitter so we’re going to get right into it and I think a great place to start is talking about: what is modern workplace in quotes and how does Microsoft want us all to transform to this modern workplace 

Jeffrey Snover: My team is called the modern workplace transformation team and we have two primary focal points. One is analytics and insights – so this is how can we take a look at what you’re doing to provide you insight so that you can be healthier, more productive and more engaged and effective at doing your job. The second is, we have all these great assets that have been largely used by information workers, and how can we take those assets and tune them and fill in the needs for vertical industries and first line workers. 

Mary Jo Foley: That’s a great explanation. Nice and succinct. I actually had the fortune of watching a talk that you gave this year where you talked a little bit about this whole ‘Modern Workplace’ concept, and I really love how yo  described it there, because there’s three pillars of this and one is information and people at your fingertips, health and productive people and organizations – like you were talking about with insights and wellness – and effective businesses. So, if you we are doing an elevator pitch, what would you say based on those three pillars is the crux of Modern Workplace from a technology perspective?  

Jeffrey Snover: I’d say sort of two things. First, of course, is the substrate. The substrate for people that aren’t familiar with it, is what I call a planetary scale, no SQL data system. It is really much more than a database, right, it’s a data system. And in that, all of the things you do in the cloud – all your emails, your chats, your meetings, transcripts of those meetings – they either reside in the substrate or they reside somewhere else and then the digital twin is put in that substrate. Now, once it is in the substrate then you get common search; it’s the area where we do artificial intelligence, to look for trends to help you accelerate and advance your objectives. So, that is one area. The second I would say is, when we go and take a look at the needs of vertical industries – think healthcare, finance, retail, manufacturing government, etc. – what we see is that the big opportunity is to merge and coordinate our systems of engagement – think Teams, email, SMS, things like that, – with our systems of record – think dynamics and M365 – to combine these into an effective workflow for a particular industry. 

Mary Jo Foley: And I would assume there are like a set of building blocks or patterns and practices, as we used to call them, that can be reused to some extent across industries?  

Jeffrey Snover: Yes, that is correct. Think of approvals – that is something our team initiated. So, now within a chat, you can just ask for an approval and it is a quick thing. It goes to the designated person, they can see the results, and yes I approve or I don’t approve, that then gets recorded, you have a list of things, and that facilitates a workflow. Another example would be scheduling – a lot of businesses, you schedule things, you schedule things for an appointment with say a loan manager, or you want to set up an appointment with a doctor you need to have bookings and so that’s a building block that crosses vertical industries. 

Mary Jo Foley: OK that’s good to know. What about the graph, the Microsoft graph, where does that fit into all things here? 

Jeffrey Snover: The graph is the API, so basically you have the substrate – which is the store of the state store, for all your state – and then you have a set of services that either provide services directly or provide access to the substrate. And then those two things are then available through two heads. First legacy heads existing protocols that have been around for decades, etc. And then, MS Graph is the coherent namespace and access point to access all of it and so that is the coherent namespace to access everything. And the neat thing about the graph is, it is not just that she can get to an element in the in the graph, but that it is a graph. Which is to say, it is not just to look up in a database, but you can look up an entity and use it to traverse two related entities. So, imagine you look up a personYou know if your M365 user, the easiest way to see this is the people card and so go to office.com. By the way not enough people know about our UseOffice.com 

Mary Jo Foley: I agree. I cannot say that enough. I talk about it a lot on podcasts and people are like ‘what is that?’  

Jeffrey Snover: OK so, I’m going to speak a little out of school here. I used OWA years ago and decided ‘no this is not for me. No no no no no.’ And then, when I took over this new role in Office, it was like ‘Hey, I really need to learn the tools.’ So, I started using OWA like ‘Oh my heavens, this is not at all the thing I used years and years ago.’ And just this morning I did something and like ‘Oh my heavens this is amazing new feature.’  

Mary Jo Foley: A lot of the new stuff shows up first on the web, which is so counter intuitive to old school people like me who expected to be in the windows version first. 

Jeffrey Snover: Exactly. Anyways, Office is just glorious. And so, go to Office.com and search one of your colleagues and take a look at what’s called “the people card,” click on their name, you’ll get this people card, it’ll tell you about their contact information. But then there is a tab that’s files and you can see the files that they have been working on. Now, just to be clear, of course security and privacy is paramount, so you only see the files that you have access to. So, Mary Jo, if you were working for a Microsoft and we both went and looked at someone else’s people card, when we went to the tabs page, we might see different things. I might see a different set of files then you see because of permissions. So you can navigate to the files they’ve worked on, to email communications you’ve had with them, so the graph, again, allows you access to everything but then it also allows you to find something an traverse to its related entities. That is what is so exciting about the graph. 

Mary Jo Foley:  Back to your point about not enough people knowing about Office.com, I also feel like not enough people understand the potential of unified search across Bing, Windows and Office 365. I think that is gigantic and huge and I’m like having more people know that’s a thing, you know.  

Jeffrey Snover: It is one of those areas that has been… you know here’s my model, in general people’s hairs on fire and the last thing they want to do is spend time saying “oh what’s new in my tools.” So, it is incumbent upon us to make that experience ubiquitous, fit it into their workflows, provide them little nudges to say, “hey did you try this.” Like when I used OWA yesterday, I went to click on something and there’s this little nudge, like do this if you want that; I won’t say the details, it’s like ‘what, what’s that like Oh my heavens, this is glorious.’ And, if it had been up to me, I would not have said “Okay, now it’s time to go spend an hour learning what’s new in OWA.” One of the challenges is as a service, we are constantly updating the service – making it better, etc. And one of the challenges we have is, how do we inform people about those changes in a way that is natural and not nagging. That’s what I love, I don’t if you have seen these, sometimes they’ll be a little, you know, click here to see what’s new and they’ll be like a two minute video –I love those.  

Mary Jo Foley: I like those too, because there is so many new features every week for Teams, Microsoft 365, you can’t keep up; even if it’s your whole job. And just to have somebody say, “Oh well look what you can do now that you couldn’t do last week,” it is so helpful to me. 

Jeffrey Snover: Yeah exactly. And, by the way, you’ll find is that, kind of step-by-step, all of a sudden the things that you use to do, that would take like five steps now all-of-a-sudden takes four steps and then now-all-of-a-sudden they take three steps and all-of-a-sudden like, “oh hey, you know what things just seem to flow a little nicer.” And that thing that I have mentioned in my talk, about how, you know that vision of information at your fingertips, to me at least, the information I wanted was always one inch away. Well now often, it is really just there.   

Mary Jo Foley:  Alright, I have one more random question from myself and then I am going to launch into a whole bunch of reader questions and listener questions. So, I kept seeing references to something that Microsoft has called the modern collaboration architecture framework, mocha, and is that connected in any way to what you’re doing with modern workplace transformation or is that something else?  

Jeffrey Snover: Well, it is not in my team, so I don’t know that much about mocha. But, here’s the way to think about it and this is actually really exciting, because I know a little bit and then the little enough to get dangerous, so if I get something wrong, I get it wrong but here’s the here’s a thingIn the past, we had these product silos, right. You had a product and it had its data, and that was a silo, and it was locked in and then you had another one and another one and another one – and yeah, we integrated them within a box but, you know they would really these silos. And once, all of a sudden, you say, “Hey, the back end of those products, the information is in the substrate,” and an uniformed way to  access any of those artifacts, the entities or the features, the functions, through the graph. Now, all-of-a-sudden, it opens you up to breaking those silos and having new organizations of work, and if you think about it, that is what Teams is, right. Teams certainly has new functionality, but a lot of it is existing functionality repackaged in a different context – a context of Teams, I think of it as, it creates a context for a small group of people, a team, to come together to do work. So, it can do that because we’re breaking down the silos of things of the past. And mocha, having done, that then that opens you up to a whole new set of organizations – and mocha is just one of those. A new way to say, “Hey, here’s an interesting way to organize things.” So, what I think you are going to see is, more of that. More first and third-party ways to integrate these great capabilities that are tuned for the needs of specific users  

Mary Jo Foley: OK that’s very helpful, thank you. OK, reader questions: Brian Olsen wanted to know, how does a modern workplace impact the activities of IT pros specifically and what are the new skills that I T pros need to deliver it? 

Jeffrey Snover: Brian, buddy, part of the tribe man. I spent my entire career on IT pros and once again, you know, IT pros it is a tough job, right. It is a job of constant change and constant learning, so if you’re an old IT pro like myself, you remember the days where our number one tool in our toolkit was a bent paper clip. We would push the pins in the dip switches of a CD ROM reader, right, because otherwise we can get connected to the computer. And then, plug and play came around and we had to that throw away, and a number of people went “Oh, this is the end for IT pros. Now, like an arbitrary user can grab a CD ROM and plug into computer and it works, what will we do?” The answer is, we found new things to do. So, step-by-step, you know one, I am not making light of it at all. It is a tough job, it is a job that requires constant change, and indeed we have been doing that for years. Software as service is really a step function in change, right. So in the past, you know, lots of the requirements or duties of an IT pro was about getting software, in the form of a CD ROM, and trying to get it to – that was really hard. Well, in what I call Microsoft V2, Microsoft is now taking responsibility for that, we are doing all that hard work. There are still some IT responsibilities there, you know, making sure you have users, etc. But really the step function changes, is it frees us up to play this other very high value role for our companies and that is to be the technology advisor for how to take this technology and drive the business forward. Not just, “Hey, I got the software running” and then I leave it up to others to figure out what they are going to do with it. It’s now, we have the opportunity to step in and say, “Hey, you know this thing we use in for Teams, like where we’re talking to one another,” maybe we can use that to talk to our customers –  wouldn’t that be interesting. Maybe we can do this and use it to drive the business forward. So, once again, it is one of those time to step up and the role does change but I think it is a very high value role and a very impactful role. And by the way, there is still of course the: how do I make sure my users are secure? How do I set the appropriate policies? How do I make sure we are getting the most from this technology? But by-the-way, part of it is: how do we make sure that everybody knows how to use this technology effectively? How do I make sure that we are connected to the Internet in a way that everyone is connected on the Internet so that there is nobody is being left behind, because there they got inappropriate VPN settings? Things like that. 

Mary Jo Foley: OK, that is good. Alright another definitional question, this one is from Vishnu Nimagadda, he would like to know whether modern workplace transformation is synonymous and/or has any overlap with the idea of working from home? And he also asked: how is it different from mobile first strategy? Is it just about collaboration tools like teams or is it more than that? So, I guess people are still struggling a little bit with how to define it and how to think about it in context with other paradigms that they know. 

Jeffrey Snover: That’s a great question, Vishnu thanks for the question. When I talk about my team, the modern workplace transformation, maybe we have picked too big of a cookie, because within modern work there are these bigger trends. And we are apart of those bigger trends, but we are not leading all those. So certainly, Modern Work, we have seen in this pandemic, dramatic transformation in work. I will tell you that these transformations we are in the cards anyways and really, we just accelerated them. You know, people have been forced into this new world and it is a world where people can be effective working anywhere. Let me make this personal, so Mary Jo is you know we have talked about it many times, I’m from New England, but I’m a senior individual contributor at Microsoft. So, all my friends and family are in New England and I’m out here in Seattle – and for the last 20 years, I thought ‘Oh, I would love to move back to New England but can I be effective as a senior contributor in that role?’ I did not know that I could be.  Well guess what, since March I have been effectively working remotely even though I’m still here in Woodinville Washington, but I’ve been working remotely and it turns out I have been able to be effective; so now all-of-a-sudden I know that I’ve got the freedom to work from anywhere. Now change was required – change on my part, change on the tools, changing the workflow that we do as a company. But indeed, that is taking place. So modern workplace, back to what you said, is it in remote work? I think of it a little bit differently. I think of it as, modern work enables people to be effective using whatever style makes sense for them. Whether that’s, “Hey, let’s get together and meet personally in front of the white board” or whether it is, “Let’s have the same meeting over virtual whiteboard at whatever time zone makes sense. Whether it’s, let’s have synchronous communications or asynchronous communication, or a mix of those things. It’s empowering people to be effective whatever style of work they want to have and across whatever device. I will tell you that, I personally love my big monster monitors – I’m just love them. But, a number of people have phones and you can be effective on the phone or a big monitor, they’re just different modalities.  So, one of the features you have seen is ‘Read Your Emails.’ If you’re in the car, you obviously don’t have a 32 inch monitor and if you wanted to do some emails during your commute, we now have a mechanism by which we say, “Hey, read my emails,” and they’ll read them to you and you can respond. It really is this helping you be effective however you want to be big screen, small screen, Macintosh, PC, Chromebook, browser, synchronous communication, asynchronous communication. The world is messy, the world has always been messy, the world always will be messy –the change has been us. In the past we’d say, yes to be effective you buy a PC, use this, here’s the screen resolution – that’s the only things we’re supporting – you do this and we’ve got a greased groove for you. And now, you are the center of the universe. We were the center of the universe, you change for us and you can be effective. Now, we are putting you at the center of the universe – how do you want to be effective and we will response to that.   

Mary Jo Foley:  I see Microsoft talk a lot about ‘people-centric’ and that’s one of those terms your eyes kind of glaze over, sure, but now I feel like people-centric actually means something concrete.  

Jeffrey Snover:  I would even go up a higher level and talk about Satya. I will tell you, I just love this guy; I think he is just the right person, right leader, for the right time. I will tell you; I get invited to the closed-door meetings – the SLT meetings with close doors and we have the confidential conversation. And, every decision he does, every initiative, first starts with humanity and it is a real thing. It is not a PR thing, it’s not a marketing thing, it is the real thing. Everything starts, and is founded, in humanity. He says, “Hey, we, you, are company, we are here to server our fellow man and our society. We do so by finding profitable solutions to our most important problems – don’t be confused, we’re a business here – but our business is to serve humanity. And guess what, you say that enough times, people start to get it. People stary to say, “Hey, actually we should be doing this, and we should be doing that, and we should be this,” and you’re seeing that reflect – that kind of grounding in humanity, grounding in service – showing up in the products and I think it’s wonderful. I mean it is inspirational.  

Mary Jo Foley: Definitely a different Microsoft then when you and I first started – you working there and me covering it.  

Jeffrey Snover: Yes, it has not always been our path.  

Mary Jo Foley: Another kind of definitional question I have got here from Jason Ferguson who asked about the role of virtualization in modern workplace, especially going into the future. He wanted to know, is virtualization of apps and services a key piece of modern workplace strategy and if so, how does it figure in?  

Jeffrey Snover: That’s a great question. Certainly, it will be one of the plays in the playbook. There are so many use cases for it – like being able to say, “Hey, I want to have a virtual desktop in the cloud.” It empowers you to do a couple things. One is, it enables you to say, oh okay I can have a very lightweight machine here; all it has to do is to drive the display and a keyboard, and then I can have as powerful as a machine as I want in the cloud. And I can say, this month I have got this class machine but now I’ve got a contract that I’m working on requires a GPU, so give me a GPU. Oh, that contract ended, go back to the cheaper, less expensive machine. At the end of the day, turn that machine off and save some money. So, it gives you more flexibility there. In the end, I think you are also going to see there are various security scenarios where that makes sense. We will say, “Hey, I would like to go into a virtual environment that’s very locked down,” either for administrative purposes or for code development purposes and that environment is very tightly controlled – and I do so using RDP from an environment that’s less tightly controlled. I would not say it is the pillar, but it is definitely a pillar in that. 

Mary Jo Foley: More theoretical quest

ions for you, Martina Gromwho’s a Microsoft MVP and one of my former chat guests here, asked what your opinion would be about the biggest challenges for a modern workplace?  

Jeffrey Snover: Martina that is a great question. I would say this, you know I talk about Microsoft V1, V2, V3. Microsoft V1, these are like huge changes in the gestalt of the company. Microsoft V1, we are focused in on products. You got some code, compile the code, burn it on a CD ROM, ship it in the mail and success. Now, at the other end of the mail, people may have been struggling or successful, but we took responsibility for the product. Microsoft V2 was really a dramatic shift where we said, were going to make responsibility for the software running. We are going to deliver it as service. We don’t burn it on a CD ROM, now we’ll install  it, we’ll configure it, we’ll secure it, we’ll make sure it’s available, we’ll make sure it’s performing, we’ll make sure it’s backed up  – we took responsibility for that. I see the modern workplace transformation as the leader of an initiative of Microsoft V3, and that is my forming by the way; it’s not an official thing – It is the way I think about it. Microsoft V3 is where we take responsibility for outcomes. That you are actually being successful with the product and, in that, is a whole new set of challenges. What does it mean to be successful? How do I measure things? I had a conversation with my boss the other day, I said, “Hey, I don’t think we’re using the right metrics because what I think we want to do, is we want to figure out what our customer metrics are and those should be our metrics, their success should our success, and that’s what we should be measuring,” so how do we align those things. Additionally, I will say one of the big challenges is, how do we bring artificial intelligence to enhance people? How do we use it for good versus for not good? How do we do so in a way, that you look at it and say, oh welcome friend vs a creepy visitor. We are absolutely committed to that; we are absolutely committed that the goal of AI is to enhance individual and organization. Our customers are never the product, they are not our product. We never sell our customer information/ So, how do we do that and do it in a way that we can go fast, and make sure we never get it wrong. Those are hard problems.  

Mary Jo Foley: Yeah, for sure they are.  

Jeffrey Snover: But, by the way, one of the examples here is facial recognition. This is one that can be used for great good and great harm. Brad Smith, top of the company, drilled into this and said what is the right position to take. And we realized that, we are not in the position to take the right position, that really what it is required was a societal answer to that question. It was not enough for Microsoft to have an answer. The society had to have an answer, and so we have been pushing for the government to hold a conversation on this, so we can achieve a consensus as to what the right thing to do is. I think we are going to have a number of things like that.  

Mary Jo Foley: I do too and you’re not the only tech company who will – and I won’t call names out but some others are having some issue around that right now.  

Jeffrey Snover: Well again, the difference is, a lot of AI is about understanding a person to achieve an objective. And this is where I love Microsoft’s position. Our head and our heart are clear on this, we want to use AI to understand you, understand you why? To help you achieve your objectives, that is it. 

Mary Jo Foley: Final question from Tom Arbuthnot, also another Microsoft MVP, he asked, will Jeffrey Snover write a modern workplace transformation manifesto? The last one worked out well. 

Jeffrey Snover: Tom is referring to the Monads manifesto. Indeed, I thought about that. This framing of Microsoft V3 is a new framing; It is a framing I came up with. And, as I talk to people, it does two things. One, is it resonates – it puts work in a context that they understand and say, ‘I now see it differently. And it allows them to take a set of actions, that do not need to be coordinated, and those actions are going to add up. So I think it might be worth while writing that manifesto, so watch that space, maybe. By the way, in general, when you write these manifestos, it is an internal document until its successful. And if it fails it never sees the light of day, if it is successful we publish.  

Mary Jo Foley: You know, if you want to share it, we are always here to help 

Jeffrey Snover: Thank you Mary Jo.  

Mary Jo Foley: Anyways Jeffrey, were out of time, but I would like to say thank you so much for doing this chat. It is our big final for 2020, and I know you are really busy right now, so thanks so much for taking the time.  

Jeffrey Snover: Oh, thank you May Jo. It is such a pleasure talking to you.