Episode 027 | Announcing ITUnity, a new Office 365 and SharePoint Resource Site

In this episode AC interviews Jackie Baillie, Dan Holme, Heather Newman and Scot Hillier about a new resource site, IT Unity, that launched at SPTechCon in April 2014.

Episode Hosts:

Episode Guests:

» Heather Newman (@heddanewman)

Episode Notes:

Episode Transcript:

[0:01] Andrew: This is the Microsoft Cloud Show Episode 27, where we're going to introduce a new resource sire for SharePoint Office 365 from IT Unity.

[0:12] (Music)

[0:19] Andrew: Welcome to the Microsoft Cloud Show, the only place to stay up-to-date on everything going on in the Microsoft Cloud world including Windows Azure, Office 365, SharePoint, Exchange, Lync and related technologies. Just the information, no marketing, no BS. I'm Andrew Connell.

[0:36] Chris: And I'm Chris Johnson.

[0:37] Andrew: And we?re just two dudes telling you how we see it.

[0:40] Andrew: Okay, so we're here at the SharePoint TechCon Conference in San Francisco in late April. We're going to do this as a different show instead of doing with CJ and I going back and forth, we're actually going to interview four people here that are responsible for a new site that is coming up, a new resource site for everybody around SharePoint, Office 365. So, let me just quickly just introduce everyone and then we'll dive right in. So first, Jackie.

[1:06] Jackie: Hi, I'm Jackie Baillie and I am the co-founder and also the managing director of IT Unity.

[1:14] Andrew: We also have with us Dan Holme.

[1:15] Dan: My name is Dan Holme and I'm also the co-founder of IT Unity.

[1:19] Andrew: And we also have Heather Newman with us.

[1:22] Heather: Hello! I'm Heather Newman, marketing manager of IT Unity.

[1:26] Andrew: And Scot Hillier's with us as well.

[1:27] Scot: Hi, Scot Hillier. I'm community lead for the application development side of IT Unity.

[1:32] Andrew: Fantastic! This is Andrew, I'm also involved with IT Unity but I'm not going to be interviewing myself on this. We're going to kind of interview the four of you, Heather, Jackie, Scot and Dan as we sat around the table and just kind of let people know what IT Unity is, what sort of special about it, why should they care. So, first I guess, what's the big news about IT Unity? Why are we doing this? Why are we talking about it this week?

[1:57] Dan: Well, IT Unity is going live tomorrow, April 23. And it's a new, as you mentioned online resource for businesses and individuals trying to solve problems with technology and we're focusing, as you mentioned, first on SharePoint and Office 365.

[2:10] Andrew: So, I guess, it's worth going through and pointing out that we're recording this today, it's April 22, we're going live at the site tomorrow, April 23 or maybe midnight, somewhere around the world for the site and this show's going to come out next week, which will be on April 29. And so, we're about a week away from when this show will go live but by the time you hear this the show will be live, the site will be live, you'll be able to jump right in right away. So, I guess the first question after?guess, the second question after talking a little bit on what IT Unity is, I guess, where did this idea come from, Dan?

[2:50] Dan: Well, the idea is something that's several of us had been talking about for a number of years because we recognize that the way people get answers and find solutions to problems these days on the web is really not very efficient or useful. People generally will go out on the way up and Google a problem, they will find blog post from expert like yourself and Scot and others who have blogged about that solution. But the user doesn't know exactly who they can trust and more importantly perhaps, they don't know how all these different pieces of information fit together. So, they don't have a context in which to say, "oh! If I read Scot's article and then Andrew's then I have a full solution, or maybe I need this tool that this third-party offers as a part of the solution as well." There's no way to sew it all together and provide a single comprehensive solution to a business problem.

[3:39] Andrew: So, would you say that that's kind of where this site's kind of?this resource is going to stand up from what all other resources that we use today, the MSDN, the TechNet, the Stack Overflow, the MSDN forums and TechNet forums? How do you see this as being something so much more special? Why should someone come here first compare to looking at all those other different places and beyond kind of which you were just saying seconds ago?

[4:03] Dan: Yeah, I think there's a couple of reasons why this will really stand out as the community of all. The first of which is the caliber of people we have involved with community. Just about everyone that your listeners have heard of in the SharePoint Office 365 space is going to be involved as an author and contributors to the community. So, it will be a comprehensive one-stop for a content from all of these amazing people.

[4:24] Dan: The second thing will be the context that we're able to put content in and how we present the content from the perspective of the business need rather than just purely focusing on this is just about Office 365, it's not. It's about doing something for your business with Office 365. So that business problem focus will be a big difference as well. We also are addressing all audiences. So, for example, TechNet is IT pro, MSDN is developer and office.microsoft.com is business user. There is a blur in those audiences these days where IT pros are having to address business needs and developers are having to run infrastructure and so having an artificial delineation of contents just based on three audiences doesn't serves the community well. So, we're really going to try to address all of those audiences, the people who cross those lines by really focusing on what they're trying to do with the technology.

[5:19] Andrew: Okay, so and you motioned MSDN, you mentioned TechNet and the other resources, you mentioned all sort of business users, how does this resource or how does IT Unity kind of tie in with Microsoft? What's the relationship with Microsoft being that the first focus is around Office 365, around SharePoint today? Now, how does that kind of tie into?

[5:39] Dan: Yeah. Well, Microsoft of course has great content properties and we're not in any way trying to compete with Microsoft's content properties. We value them highly and we hope we can integrate tightly with them over time. What our site will do though is it will provide an independent real-world perspective, which as many of us know, even if you're hearing something that maybe Microsoft says, to hear it from someone you trust suddenly gives it weight. We're also going to be able to develop contents and curate them much more rapidly than Microsoft has the resources to do and we're going to be able to include that very important perspective of where third-party searches and product come into picture and of course Microsoft just doesn't do that, that's something they try actively to avoid.

[6:19] Dan: So, we will compliment their properties a lot, I expect we're going to be able to announce some great partnerships with them in the very near future and I anticipate that we'll work together to really help their customers succeed with the technology.

[6:35] Andrew: Okay. So, what about like?Scot, what about the developer story? You're going to be their pure developer by trade as well, so how is the developer piece kind of angle with IT Unity?

[6:46] Scot: Well, I think the first thing to note is that the developer side is one of the communities that's part of IT Unity. So, if it's into the larger vision that Dan was articulating, so in many ways we're not even going to be any more special than that. We're going to do all those things that Dan was talking about. But the one thing that I do think stands out is that this is a really a pivotal time for developers in the SharePoint space because our live has changed an awful lot, right. Everybody knows we're moving from service-side code to client-side code and we really don't have the resources necessary to close what, in my opinion, is a pretty significant gap and skills that we have as we change from service-side to this client where a CTP model that developers are so aware of now. So, I think the timing is great to build a community like this where we have high quality content that's focused on modern application development and really helping the SharePoint community as whole move towards that goal.

[7:48] Andrew: Gotcha! That makes sense. So, who's involved in this whole venture like we've got the four of us, we talked?or I guess, there's five of us sitting here between Scot and Dan and Jackie and Heather and myself, but we're not the ones that are writing all the content. I mean, we're doing?we're contributing here but who?what are there?who else is involved in this from like the developers space? Who's from people like we get?that they're giving this some credibility and stuff as well?

[8:12] Scot: Yeah, sure. So, we've spoken to all the people that folks would name right off the top of their head when they think about high quality people on the space. But, we're launching with some very specific content from Dave Mann, we certainly have content from myself, I know Andrew you put some up there as well, Todd Baginski is involved. And we're expecting to bring a content on board rather quickly in the support of non-coding type development from the likes of Jennifer Mason. So, we really are lining up the good stable of people there contributing now when we launch and going forward.

[8:52] Andrew: How about the people that are like not so much on the dev side? Who can you kind of like some names?let me do some name dropping here, who's some people that are involved in this as well?

[9:00] Dan: This is dangerous exercise because I hate to miss anyone but certainly we've got Asif Rehmani, Agnes Molnar, Matthew McDermott, Christian Buckley, Jasper Oosterveld and Rob Bogue and a number of others who are in the space and all that maybe Heather drop a few additional names. Heather, would you like to drop some names?

[9:23] Heather: Sure, absolutely? Mark Rackley is on with us Christian Buckley's with us and we're woo?ing some other people into the space as well.

[9:33] Dan: And as we?as Scot alluded to, we have been focusing on getting us a core of content for the go live, which is tomorrow April 23 and then we're inviting all of our authors, the broad community at the same time. So, we expect by the time even this podcast reaches your listener's ears we should have probably have at least double the amount of content we have in the system and it will grow very, very quickly.

[9:56] Heather: I think that's the one of the differentiator is that the fact that I'm sitting here across the table with you, that's the big deal right? I think there?s the influence or community and the key community and the MVP community and what was the MCM community, all of that. So, I think that says something to the?I think for a long time I keep hearing that people wanted them together and do something like this and this just is the time, I think that the changes that we've been talking about development and also for SharePoint consultants, the days have changed,  and what you?re allowed to charge these days plus app development, mobile development and the fact that we have those of us who have a kid is that your 10-year old is learning to create mobile apps and they're coding games and they have been trying to do to get that audience together with the experts of IT Unity is really, really important. And that word, the word curate is tossed around a lot and for me museum sort of curator.

[10:59] Andrew: Right.

[10:59] Heather: However, I think the content had been curated as well and I think they can be curated with a really good hand as far as making sure it is the best to the best and that we curate as a community. It's not just it used to be deeming this is good and this is bad. That's not always going to happen. We're going to take some time to actually build up that program and Dan?s done a lot of thinking about how we treated authors, right. And how we work with them and it is not just about the content itself, it is about people, which is exciting to me. A lot of the time you're going to be asked to write an article or maybe give a report and we wouldn't get to toss out but if you don't really have that connection with people and I think those are some of the things that are coming later with IT Unity they're are very exciting. Actually, speaking? I put Dan in a fishbowl before and show the site working for different vendors and you know some of the best?the best things that ever happened were those customer conversations that happened for the vendors that I was working for right, and so access is very, very exciting on those level. Then that's definitely the differentiator.

[12:04] Andrew: Those are really good points, Heather. You just mentioned?I mean Dan mentioned it minute ago and then you mentioned also with vendors as well and how vendors are involved in this and it's not about just about individuals that are contributing content as well. But it's also?I understand something around like service providers or a product and service provider. So Jackie, can you speak a little bit to this too, what the plans are around IT Unity?

[12:24] Jackie: Sure, Andrew. I have connected with solutions and services providers for over 10 years now and I have received a lot of input throughout the years of what they're actually looking for in a community. So, I am really excited to say that IT Unity will provide all that that they have been asking for and more. And, we're going to have more solutions and service providers reach out to the target market, we can help them understand what the community is asking for. We will have tools that will actually track behavior and deliver high quality regeneration programs, brand messaging, product reviews and even directions of content. We can help with providers calls and customize their tailored demand that is just for their specific needs. So, our community will be able to recognize their pain points and match them to the right solutions.

[13:13] Andrew: Oh, man! It sounds?it's fantastic! I mean, it sounds?we're getting content from?it's all like all these old sites that we used to have, I'm not going to say exactly what these different sites are, but it seems like we had these different communities that we always used to go to for the longest time to get answers of stuff but it seems like it's all kind of coming together almost as one in everything. So, Heather, you?

[13:33] Heather: Yeah, I think that that's definitely the case there. I think there's some folk that?sites that they sort of fizzle out or have gone away. They're all player in this game. We?ve talked to them, we?ve contacted them and then we're bringing people together. We have SharePoint reviews from Inna Gordon, who's also?who have been in the space forever and so we're bringing her content into the umbrella of IT Unity, it?s SharePointReviews.com, and it will stay that way, but it will be part of our umbrella. And I think being someone who wears a few hats in the community and the CMO for a vendor which I won't name it here but an ECM fabulous vendor. I'm looking for ways to get at business solutions and use cases and how we solve problems. So, we're in two hats as a vendor, I'm hoping to say that about this community so I can use it as a resource, I can also?I can advertise on it and put the content out but I can also use this as the base writer to talk to people and get those great opinions that I need to do my job better.

[14:40] Andrew: So, it's almost like you could say that, I guess, I don't want to take a specific workload because then that kind of identifies different vendors, I mean, we don't really want to do that on the show right here just yet. But, if we're looking at doing like having a certain practice here and I've got content coming in from the business user side on how to deal with this one thing and then I want to do customization but with no codes so I could have content coming from someone like an Asif Rehmani or Jennifer Mason coming in and then maybe I want to do a little bit of customizations but just a little bit of code, so a Mark Anderson or a Mark Rackley could come and get involved in this or maybe we want to go full board and really make some really low-level changes and that's where we could have like some real developer contents server-side code running inside of some system outside of SharePoint, outside of Office 365 but that's using more like the stuff that you would contribute or like something that Todd Baginski would contribute to us as well.

[15:31] Andrew: So, yeah, and then plus at the same time, having a vendor who also plays in that same space saying, "look, maybe you don't want to do all the stuff and there is a third party that can provide something that they can kind of the same thing" that they could have a content that we contribute in that same area so that if a customer or a user of the IT Unity could come in and they can get a full breathe of really what the spectrum is of all different solutions then they could choose from the standard end-user kind of a thing or going custom development or going even third-party. So I guess, I didn't say I was going to interview myself but I guess it was kind of interviewing myself a little bit on that one question here so.

[16:07] Dan: Yeah, I know you'd be really hitting that Andrew, the point or the site as far as the way we're bringing these audiences together is that from strategic decisions and businesses alignment of the technology to planning and governing and adoption to implementation, which is the IT pro sort of space configuration through extensions from power users and to developers and the build versus buy decision, third-party solutions and services, that's the full spectrum that an organization needs in order to make intelligent decisions about how to solve a problem.

[16:37] Andrew: And a place to ask questions too and getting answers.

[16:39] Dan: That's a great point, yes. And we've been talking about content to this point in your podcast but one of the whole reasons that the community is so that people can connect with each other. So, the community is going to provide some really interesting and innovative ways for the community of, let's say, business users and visitors to connect with the experts. But more importantly, we're going to provide functionality for them to connect with each other.

[17:02] Dan: So, we got question and answer engine that is similar in approach and concept to a stock exchange. We've got professional networking groups and communities practices that are similar to, say, a LinkedIn type of group and we've the ability for users to connect with each other directly and then we're also going to have supporting Yammer networks and other social connection capabilities that we'll be announcing over the next couple of weeks that will be a way to really ensure that users are able to connect with peers as well as experts who solve their problems.

[17:34] Andrew: All right, it's really interesting to hear that.

[17:37] Scot: One other things that I'm excited about in this whole thing too is it's not just a quality of content and a quality of people but also the way that we intend to provide the content. So, yeah, there's couple of different ways to look at, we certainly are going to have the spectrum that might go from a casual blog article all the way up to even an ebook that gets published on the site. But, what makes me excited about that spectrum of content formats is that we're really going to be able to provide continuity across the topic.

[18:07] Scot: So, as Dan said, we expect people often hit us by ending up here from Google search or something. But then, what we talked about is getting oriented once you land, right. So, where am I? Am I in an advanced topic? Am I in the middle of somewhere? Is there more I should know before I proceed? And by having this idea of series of things that are linked together in the content, you're going to be able to orient yourself within that topic area, so maybe solve your immediate problem but then navigates or north and south to get either more fundamentals and more advanced and then east to west as you go, say, from different content types, maybe through a series or videos to an informal blog article. And that idea of navigating north and south and east and west within the IT Unity is?that's really one of the things that I think I'm most excited about.

[18:57] Andrew: That's cool! That's good insight Scot, because that's I know that's one of the things that we don't have in all of these existing communities today. And we got some that are?they go into the specific, very advanced scenario, some are very end-user specifics, some are all about company line documentation and verbiage about how you're suppose to use it but we really don't get that that lateral and that horizontal and vertical kind of a cross section on the content. So, where can we expect IT Unity to go forward from here? We've launched this week and we're going to?or I guess, last week when everybody's here, we'll just?we've now been lightening up for about a week, so what can we expect from IT Unity over the next few months?

[19:37] Dan: Well, I think there's a couple of phases to that. The first is the immediate phase where we will be bringing in the authors, about 200 authors that we've invited to start producing content and sharing content with us and we've got a variety of models through which we can connect with and partner with authors. We expect the social functionality to start flashing out or flashing out so obviously it go live, there are going to be a lot of questions or answers, yeah, but that will happen as people start registering for the site.

[20:03] Dan: Then we definitely expect to continue building out all the functionality we talked about now. So, you'll see richer examples of everything we've discussed, we will start moving towards that business problem focus angle on content. And then because we're so committed to that, we're going to be branching very quickly into technology spaces that aren't just SharePoint Office 365. And Scot alluded to this earlier when he was talking about developers. The developers store app requires or gives you the option of bringing in tools and platforms that go way outside of Microsoft's space. And we need to be able to include that in the story. Also, as far as hosting that kind of infrastructure that brings in Azure, which then brings in Active Directory and Identity Services and other Microsoft technologies as well as non-Microsoft technologies. So, you will see us moving as quickly as the community wants into these additional content spaces.

[20:57] Dan: And last but not least, we've got some really amazing visions for the mid and long term about how we partner with other content providers as well as how we enable richer and more personalized connection with the content that you need to solve the problems you're facing as an individual or as an organization.

[21:15] Andrew: I gotcha! Okay, and just to be clear too, I mean, when people are listening to this, it's not like the site is going live and the doors are open but there's nothing on the shelves, I think. There's content on the site today, it's that we're making the invitation to get more content into the site to a much broader audience than what we've been talking to a bunch of trusted partners right now to get content in so far. It wasn't just?so it's time going live and we're saying, we're open for business, we hope everybody is filling up of content. There's content. We have stuff there today.

[21:43] Heather: Yeah, I can?one other things that I think also is that it's important to know that?so, Dan and this is now your full time gig.

[21:51] Dan: Yeah, that's absolutely right. One of the differentiators with many other efforts is that we're lucky enough to have this be a real focus for us. It is my full time job as it is Jackie's and several others. This is not something I'm doing on the side of other work. And that's going to be true for more and more people as we move forward. There's going to be various levels of tight relationships. So this really is build to last and to grow and to be a permanent place where people can go to solve problems.

[22:19] Andrew: Yeah, on a personal note, I mean, I remember and we've talked about different communities and what stuffs need to be out there. I guess we all have been in the SharePoint and 365 space for many years but in talking to you about and this is something that you've been very passionate about, you've been?you've worked for various companies to try and get this thing, this idea off the ground and everything and when I heard?and we talked about this late last year, early this year about IT Unity and then?but, it wasn't just until a month or so or maybe two months ago when I have?I saw you and you told me that it was?now, this is your full time thing, this is what you're doing, it's the 100% of your time. Everybody who's listening to this, I took a step back and I was like, holy crap! this can actually happen then, because of your?you're in a perfect position, let say so, you're in the perfect person to really be the one to drive this whole thing and to have this vision going, you had a great vision for a while and we know that this is what you're doing and nothing else right now. This is absolutely fantastic! It's got the best chance to succeed. So, I was thrilled to see that you're involved and fully involved with this too.

[23:31] Dan: Well, thank you. I appreciate that and we've been very lucky with the response we've gotten throughout the community, every single person that I've had the opportunity to discuss this with, every single person has been, how can I get involved?

[23:42] Andrew: Yeah.

[23:43] Dan: And obviously, there's 24 hours a day so there's a lot of people I still have to reach. Many of them will be getting invitation emails tonight. And I hope that as folks are listening to this, if you're in the community already and you have something you're passionate about, an effort you're making, this effort, IT Unity is really about bringing these all together and finding common ways to?so that everyone can move. And so we really look forward to reaching out to everyone and I'm extremely grateful for the response we've been getting already.

[24:16] Heather: Yeah, I think Dan is the?I agree and you've not?I means, those are the things that I've watched Dan for [24:23 indecipherable]. And so, Dan coming out okay with this and Jackie coming out with this, the people I highly respected, you know, friends and colleagues and just their passion and excitement and I know just sitting here next to you is watching move a dream [24:54 indecipherable], it did give me thoughts.

[25:00] Andrew: Yeah, and I didn't?I wasn't just talking about Dan. I was talking about Jackie as well because I know I've worked with you too and from the different conferences that we've been involved with and the company that I used to be involved with, Critical Path Training, and being involved in?and yeah, it's a team?the team that people are going to involve in this, it's like you've got a dream team going on. This is an absolute dream team being put together with this whole thing.

[25:22] Andrew: So it's got a huge chance at succeeding at being a massive and fantastic resource, like you said, not just for SharePoint, not just for Office 365, you mentioned the dev space and going into all these different places but I know from the IT pro space, one of the reasons that I avoid being an IT pro as much as I possibly can is because of all the other stuff that SharePoint touches you have to know. The SQL side, the DNS side and the networking stuff and the Windows side and everything and it's not an Identity piece. I know that we're looking at SharePoint moving more and more to the cloud but these aren't things that people are going to be running away from at least in the near future or maybe ever for a lot of companies. So, we're looking at?it's going to be?this is really cool to see where this is actually going to grow up.

[26:05] Andrew: Well, I mean I think everybody's got a pretty good picture now or hopefully we do have a pretty good picture of what IT Unity is all about. Let me ask you guys, so how can people get involved? If someone's listening to this and they say, how can I do this? How can I contribute content to this? I don't?maybe, I am one of these people that Scot and Dan have referred to that, you know, I'm one of the people that I do speak at a conference, how do I get involved in this or I'm not speaking at a conference, I'm just in the space and I've got some cool things that I could write about and I could share and maybe some people don't know my name. How can I get involved in this? Is it open to all of these people? Heather, yeah. I'm sorry, I'm looking at Heather and?for those of you who can't see what I'm pointing to, I'm actually looking over Heather and it's like, Heather, how can people get involved with this?

[26:47] Heather: [26:47 undecipherable]. So first of all, we've done a little marketing campaign at grab your handle right, go grab your handle and [26:56 undecipherable]. So, first of all, just go to the site and that's step one and then on the site there's lot of information if people [27:07 undecipherable].

[28:09] Andrew: So, itunity.com. Jackie, what's the Twitter handle?

[28:13] Jackie: It is @ITUnity01.

[28:15] Andrew: @ITUnity01 and Facebook? Same ITUnity01?

[28:18] Jackie: Yes, ITUnity01.

[28:19] Heather: There's [28:20 undecipherable].

[28:30] Andrew: Only when you're offering that one?the other video site then we'll be above the shoulder there. Well, fantastic. So, anything that need parting words you guys, [28:40 undecipherable]?

[28:45] Jackie: You know one of them, yeah, I'd like to add something. You know, one of our first meeting, we've always wanted to make a difference and one of the things that we've had really great quote in that meeting is you know, it's easy to make a dollar but it's very hard to make a difference and we want to be able to make a difference in the community and I think we've got the right team to do that.

[29:07] Andrew: All right, that's hard to top that one into a parting word. Well, fantastic! Well, for everybody listening, in the show notes we're going to have links to the press release, to the website, to the Twitter account and all the other resources that we've talked about here as well as the people that have been interviewed here. So, you can find their Twitter handles and you can talk directly with them, the blogs or sites and everything?I guess, well I'll just say, just go check out the site, go see what's there, get involved, follow us on Facebook, follow us on?I guess, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, kind of get all the different verbs right.

[29:43] Heather: Retweet us.

[29:44] Andrew: Yeah, retweet us and everything so.

[29:46] Heather: And we'll retweet you.

[29:47] Scot: Right, show us the love.

[29:50] Andrew: And so, next week we'll be back to the standard?CJ will be back with us on the show and so we'll just tackle another topic on the next week. So, thank you very much for all of you just taking out the time to talk a little bit about what this great new resources is going to be all about.

[30:04] Dan: Thank you, Andrew. Thanks everyone for listening.

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[30:38] (Music)