Optimizing Business Processes with Office 365, Teams and the Power Platform

Optimizing Business Processes with Office 365, Teams and the Power Platform

Microsoft 365 provides an extensive set of tools providing a method to optimize your organizations business processes.  In this post I’ll provide an example.  When building a process, I want to focus on these attributes;


  • Creator – Easy to create and maintain.
  • Consumer – intuitive and encapsulated (not having to use many systems to get their job done)


  • Foster the ability to collaborate on work items throughout the process.


  • Continually provide visibility and insights into the process for all stakeholders

For this example, I’m using a safety walk. A safety walk is when a safety inspector walks the floor of a facility and records their findings.  If the inspector finds an issue requiring action, they begin the process.  An action can be dispatching a service technician to fix something that is broken or creating a purchase requisition to obtain a product or service needed to remediate the issue.  In many organizations this would involve access to several systems making the process a bit cumbersome and storing data in silos making reporting difficult.  To simply the process we’ll use just one interface Microsoft Teams and remove the data silos for information so it can used as a feedback loop helping to continually improve the process.   

Here is a high level overview of the architecture.

The “Safety Tracker” app was built using Power Apps.  I created one from scratch with no code in a few hours.  When an issue is created several workflows are started using Power Automate.

  • A text is sent to the facilities manager. Whenever an issue occurs, we want to ensure all relevant parties are notified and we are providing visibility and transparency. 
  • A post is created in Teams.  This gives visibly to our co-workers and provides an opportunity for collaboration and knowledge sharing. 
  • Depending on the type of issue we have the ability to begin a process in another system.  In our example we need to add new safety helmets to stock so we are creating a purchase requisition.  If a repair were needed a work order would have been created and the appropriate technician dispatched.  In my example I’m showing Dynamics as the receiving system however this can be SAP, Oracle, ServiceNow etc. there are connectors for 200+ systems. The relevant data from these system is also shown within Teams so the system consumer doesn’t have to jump to another system to complete the process.
  • We then update views and list to simplify and consolidate data for reporting. Power BI reports and dashboards were created and added as a tab within the Team. 
  • Additional Tabs are added to Teams to include end to end functionality for the process.  In my example they include OneNote and File Share capabilities for sharing and reviewing documentation.

To see a demo of the system please check out this video.

I hope you found this post useful and it has inspired you to try this approach on your use case.

Ignite 2020 Guides to On Demand Content

Online conferences provide a great opportunity to learn about the latest tech though sometimes its hard to set aside focus time when you are remote. If you did miss Ignite last week I have  compiled  a list of blogs post that are guides which reference links to on demand content you can view at any time. Microsoft also publishes a summary of announcements which is  available in Ignite Book of News and if you missed the keynote  you can view it here  Satya keynote

Ignite 2020 Guides
Microsoft 365
Network Connectivity
Office deployment and servicing
Security, Compliance, and Identity
SharePoint, OneDrive, Planner, Stream, Visio and Lists
Time Management resources
Windows Deployment & Servicing
Dynamics & Power Platform
Dynamics 365 and Power Platform

Organizing My Day | Why I use Microsoft ToDo

The last few weeks seem like groundhogs day. The same long day replaying itself over and over, I seem to lose track of days and time. Before covid I would describe my task organizing as “herding cats”. Now,  I think it’s more like juggling cats  (Steve Martin reference). Staying organized during these hectic times is very important, I can increase my productivity saving time and helping me to maintain balance and my sanity 😊. Having an app to track task all my tasks is key. I have changed apps many times over the years always looking for the perfect one. Lately, I have been using Microsoft ToDo. Its not perfect and I doubt I will ever find one that is. Overall, I’m pretty happy with it and how it  helps me to stay organized and boosts my productivity. Here are some of the reasons why I like it.

Aggregate Tasks from Other Apps

I can add tasks from different applications and ToDo aggregates them for me. This is helpful because I don’t need to break my workflow by going to another app. If a task comes to mind I add it and keep my train of thought. Tasks added in OneNote, Word, Planner, Outlook and Flagged emails are all aggregated and appear in ToDo. ToDo also has a Power Automate connector so you can connect to many other programs and automate task creation. As an example a can use a Power Atomate Flow to create a task for me when an activity is created in my CRM system.

Lists to Organize My Tasks

I can create lists and add my tasks giving me flexibility in the way I organize. I can have lists by person or project, time period, priority or anything else in whatever combination of categories makes sense to me.

Share Tasks with Others

I can share my lists with anyone I want. If I am working on a project with someone we can easily share status of our tasks.

Available on All My Devices

Through out my day I regularly use multiple devices. Having a seamless experience across all of them is an absolute requirement. If I’m walking the dog and I need to create or update my plans I can do it quickly and easily on my phone.

Hashtag Refines Searching

I can use hashtags to further refine how I organize and search. This requires a bit of discipline because you need to be consistent however its extremely powerful way of further orgainzing and refining your tasks.

Organize my tasks by Identity

The app allows me to switch between identities and my tasks are associated with the corresponding identity. I keep my home tasks associated with my personal identity and my work tasks associated with my corporate identity. This gives me a way of separating work and personal life while still using the same app.

Creating a Surgical Checklist in SharePoint Online

Surgical checklists can saves lives, improve efficiencies and reduce costs. It is estimated that over 150,000 deaths a year in the US from surgery with as many as half of those avoidable. Surgery can be extremely complex often involving large teams. Checklists’ can help with memory recall and clearly set out minimum necessary steps within a process. Healthcare institutes have had varied success implementing. Some of the difficulties are cultural and some technical. In this article I would like to show how checklists can be implemented using Office 365. The article assumes a working knowledge of SharePoint Online. It is not meant to be a tutorial but an example of the possible. I’ve added links to more information throughout for those not familiar with the concepts.

We begin with an idea. The idea is adding a procedure, the checklist to surgery will reduce errors, length of hospital stays and costs. The checklist has a lifecycle, beginning with creation and ending with disposal. Additionally it needs to be categorized, managed and measured. This is true for any content we plan to add to a system. We must holistically approach the design so all aspects are considered. In this case content is a surgical checklist. Keep in mind content can be anything a web page, wiki, conversation, record in a list, multi media file. E=mail etc. Regardless of the type the planning is the same.

The Plan

Figure 1 Content Lifecycle

Figure 1 is a simplified content lifecycle model. I will use this model to plan my checklist.

Create – creation is a key component in the user experience. We want an easy to use intuitive interface interactively guiding the creator through the process. In this example I’m using an InfoPath form. Yes, I know InfoPath has been deprecated but let’s not jump the gun. The current version will be supported through 2023 so I still have plenty of time. Coming soon is forms on SharePoint List or FOSL. FOSL will provide a uniformed inline form building experience across Office 365. It will also provide for modern device experiences further enhancing creation and consumption experience.

Approve – Approval can be passive I’ve saved or upload a document or it can be active I’m asking someone to review and approve. In this case we need someone to approve so I’ll be using a workflow created in SharePoint Designer. Workflow in SharePoint online is major upgrade from 2010. It is based upon windows workflow foundation and enables the creation of declarative workflows capable of solving real business problems. Click here for more information on workflow.

Discover – Discovery is where we often fall short. We create massive amounts of content but trying to find it can be a challenge. To simply discovery we will create an additional search vertical in the discovery center and add refiners to easily filter the information. We will also provide a simple and clean view in the list providing easy navigation. We will add item level security so a surgeon can only see their data.

Consume – Consumption is another key element in the user experience. How easily the information is discovered and presented are important components. We will accomplish this using the search vertical in search center, refiners, an Infopath form and a display template.

Dispose – Content is removed according to organizational policy. This will be accomplish by creating a management information policy along with the content type.

Manage – Management of the content exists through it lifecycle. Using out box the features like content type automates the management. The content type will also provide an easy way for categorization. The surgeon simply picks the content type “PreOperative Checklist” from a menu and the content will be categorized and managed throughout it’s lifecycle.

Measure – Measurement can take many forms. It could be how often something is consumed, whether is liked or how it has been rated. In our example measurement will be comparing the results of patient’s outcomes prior to checklist being initiated to those after. We expect positive results in lower costs and less complications. If we do not receive the expected results we will investigate our process looking for flaws.

The Solution.

Figure 2 Site Hosting Checklist Solution

Figure 2 is an example of a SharePoint Online site hosting our solution. There are 4 components.

1. A menu to navigate the site. It is 3 tiles.

a. Create – Select this option to create a checklist

b. Search – Select this option to search for a checklist

c. Research – Displays a dashboard showing results of our study. Whether or not using these checklists reduce errors and if this reduction leads to shorter hospital stays which are less expensive.

2. On Call. Will show any checklist approvers who are on-call. If a question arises they can be easily contacted from this page using built in Lync integration

3. My Checklists – A list of my approved checklists in reverse chronologic order

4. Pending Checklists – Any checklist not yet approved.

The checklist I’ll use for this our example is the Preoperative Checklist from the Patient Safety Authority.

Figure 3 Preoperative Checklist from Patient Safety Authority

1. I’ll build this checklist using a SharePoint list. Figure 4 shows the fields and their type.

Figure 4 SharePoint List with fields representing checklist data

My first step is to create the site columns that will comprise the list.

2. Now, I’ll create a content type. The content type is a key building block. It will do much of the heavy lifting.

· Data is automatically categorized. This categorization can be used for discovery in our case navigation and search.

· Site columns create crawled properties. I can map these to managed properties and use as part of my discovery strategy.

· A template is assigned to the content type, the InfoPath form, controls the creation and consumption experiences.

· A workflow is used for approval. Once approved the workflow will declare the checklist a record and begin the disposal process.

· Auditing is enabled and allows us to measure and manage the content.

· A management information policy is applied. This policy is configured to delete the checklist after the required retention period is completed.

3. Apply the content type to my list and set versioning and item level permissions. Adding versioning gives me more control particularly if the form is lengthy and I don’t expect someone to finish it in one session.

Item level security ensures a surgeon will only see their data and reduces the clutter in the view making navigation easier.

Figure 5 Versioning Settings

Figure 6 Item level permission settings

4. Customize the form to provide a better creation and consumption experience. For this example I’m using InfoPath. I could also use HTML5 and JavaScript to create almost any type of experience imaginable.

Figure 7 InfoPath form used to create checklist

5. Create an approval workflow. This is done with SharePoint designer. This workflow will look up the appropriate approver and once approved create a record which begins the disposition process. The workflow has two parallel steps so if needed the creator can recall the checklist prior to approval

Figure 8 Approval Workflow

6. My content type contained site columns. These site columns automatically become crawled properties. I can map crawled properties to managed properties. This will allow me to use any of the site columns in my content as search refiners. In this example I am using doctor and procedure.

Figure 9 Mapping a managed property

7. Configure search. Search is highly flexible and easily configurable. In this example I decided to extend the default search center by adding a new search vertical “Checklists”. The search vertical is created using a result source. Result sources replace search scopes. They are essentially queries which allow you to organize content to be searched. I’ll also create a display template for the results. Display templates allow me to use html5 and java script to display the managed properties we previously created.

Figure 10 Search center with custom navigation and display template

8. Create a dashboard. The dashboard is created in Excel and displayed in SharePoint. I combine data sources to produce the charts. Dashboards can also be built with Power BI providing state of art business intelligence right within your portal.

Figure 11 Excel services dashboard

This solution provides an easy to configure checklist system which can be modified to meet various needs and requirements. It is one approach. Another would be creating an app. This would require programing skills. One great feature of the app model is the app store. It is possible someone has already created a solution that fits our needs. One example Form FrameWorX contains templates for medical checklists including;

· Basoor Heart Failure Checklist

· Basoor Heart Failure Readmission Prevention Checklist

· PQRI Diabetes Measures Form

Figure 12 App store search for forms

eDiscovery using Office 365

eDiscovery is the discovery and delivery of electronic information related to civil ligation or government investigations. It is a key component of an organizations security and compliance strategy. Enterprise Office 365 subscribers and SharePoint 2013 enterprise customers can use eDiscovery center to search, hold and export cases. The discovery can be configured to include Exchange, SharePoint, Lync or external sources like a file share. The eDiscovery center is designed to be self-service allowing legal personal to manage cases without using IT resources. Using role based access you can provide appropriate levels of access to legal and compliance teams. Key benefits of the eDiscovery center include;

  • Search across Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint
  • Reduce Amount of data sent to review
  • Near Real time results
  • In Place Hold keeps the business running
  • Export results with a few clicks
  • Reduce dependency or eliminate other services

Let’s walk you through an example using SharePoint Online. eDiscovery center is a SharePoint Online site collection. To create an eDiscovery center from the SharePoint Admin portal we’ll create a new private site collection. When selecting a template, select the “Enterprise” tab and then select “eDiscovery Center”

Figure 1 Creating an eDiscovery site collection

A new site collection is generated and you can begin creating cases.

Figure 2 SharePoint online eDiscovery center

Select “Create new case”. A case is a SharePoint Online site so we will be prompted for some basic information about the site.

Figure 3 Creating a case. A case is a SharePoint Online site.

Select create and a new site is generated.

Figure 4 A new case has been created

The first step is to identify the data to include in our case. This is done by defining eDiscovery sets.

Figure 5 Creating a eDiscovery Set

A set contains data sources. A source can be an Exchange Online mailboxes a SharePoint Online sites, Lync or external sources which have been included in SharePoint search index. To add a source select add & manage sources. I can further refine my source by adding a query in the filter section.

In this example I am searching a mailbox and a SharePoint site. Searching using an Exchange distribution group is supported so I can easily search a large group without having to enter all the names individually. I am using the company name ‘Contoso’ as a filter. This is a simple keyword but rich query syntax is supported so I can add a complex query. An example would be a proximity search: For instance, wingtip NEAR(30) marketing identifies results where “wingtip” is within 30 keywords of “marketing”.

Figure 6 Adding my sources

Results will be returned almost immediately because they are retrieved from the search index.

Figure 7 eDiscovery sets with sources and a filter

I can then preview the results ensuring I have the right information and if needed make adjustments. If I decide to place this content on hold I can do so by selecting “enable in place hold”. In place hold ensures the original content cannot be altered or deleted. If an attempt is made to delete or alter the original content it will be copied and hidden from view and the action is performed on a duplicate. Using in-place hold allows the business to functional normally irrespective of the hold there by limiting the impact on business.

Figure 8 Previewing Results of the eDiscovery set

Figure 9 In-Place Hold Status shows “processing”

Office 365 will now process the hold request. We can see this under “In-Place Hold Status”. Office 365 uses a process called “copy on writer” this means the on hold data is not automatically copied. Only content that is modified/deleted is copied. This reduces storage requirements and system stress.

Exchange Online In-Place Hold uses the Recoverable Items folder to preserve items. The Recoverable Items folder replaces the feature informally known as the dumpster in previous versions of Exchange. The Recoverable Items folder is hidden from the default view of Outlook, Outlook Web App, and other email clients.

Figure 10 – View In Place hold status from Exchange admin console

In SharePoint hold is set at the site level and will include any sub sites. SharePoint Online creates a hidden document library “Preservation Hold Library”. We can see this if we are the admin and open the site in SharePoint Designer. Once a document is modified or deleted it’s on hold state is preserved in this library.

Figure 11 Viewing hidden library in SharePoint Designer

Figure 12 Hidden library is SharePoint, looks like any other document library

Once content in a site or mailbox has been placed on hold. It cannot be deleted until the item are removed from hold.

Figure 13 Error message I tried to delete a site that had documents with legal hold

Once we have established our eDiscovery sets we are ready to export. Select new item from the Search and Export section. The eDiscovery set we just created is set as the default source. This can be modified. You are then asked to supply a name and can further refine the results. The ability to further refine results, quickly and easily ensures only needed information is sent to review. Review is costly so we do not want to send excess content. The dashboard provides detailed statistics so you can perform accurate refinements.

Figure 14 Refined export query

In my example I am adding the filter “expansion” to further refine my export.

Figure 15 Export Options

Selecting export provides additional options. Select OK to export. The first time an export is performed a client side download tool is installed and controls the download process.

Figure 16 Confirm output

Figure 17 Status provided by eDiscovery Download Manager

Figure 18 Exported results on PC

Results are exported in industry standard EDRM format

List à csv

Web pages, blogs, wikis à mht

eMail à pst

To remove an in place hold return to the case and select “Disable In Place Hold”.

Figure 19 – Disable In place hold

The eDiscovery center can also be used to identity sensitive data types in SharePoint Online and One Drive for Business. Sensitive information is a pre defined template the search engine uses to find data like social security number or credit card numbers. There are 51 templates. A list can be found here. To find sensitive information use a query in the “Search and Export” section of a case. An example would the query SensitiveType=”U.S. Social Security Number (SSN)” will find any content containing US social security numbers. The results can be previewed or exported.

I hope you found this information helpful. The example above uses out of the box features. If extended functionality is required eDiscovery can be extended using client side object model or by leveraging one of the many partners within the Office 365 ecosystem.

This paper was written in August of 2014. The Office 365 service is continually improving to find the latest features please check the Office 365 Service descriptions. To see what is coming up you can check the Office 365 Public Roadmap.