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Where do Microsoft 365 apps get their user profile data?

Profile information and its source across the many Microsoft 365 Apps isn’t straightforward.

In fact, depending on dataflows and infrastructure, this can even vary between organizations.

Understanding how it all fits together can help you make informed decisions about how to manage it. This blog provides answers around three of the most critical profile attributes to our customers

  1. Photos
  2. Manager
  3. Skills/Past Projects

There are many disparate applications across Microsoft 365 that display people/user information: Teams, SharePoint, Outlook, Yammer, Delve, Office apps just to name a few.

When information is missing or inaccurate, there’s a clear cost to the business in lost productivity and effective collaboration. For example, accurate user profile information can help your Corporate Communications team keep messages relevant through effective audience targeting in SharePoint. Or your IT team can have more success with Power Automate workflows dependent on accessing accurate user profile data.

Microsoft Teams profile

So, where the heck is all the profile information stored?

Let’s break it down into core attributes of critical importance.

Profile photos: Profile photos are extremely useful for employee engagement in organizations. Having profile photos across your most used applications, like Outlook and Teams isn’t just useful when walking around an office – putting a face to a name is good for business culture and humanizing interactions between colleagues and clients. Moreover, humans are drawn to faces and the positive network effect of social connection in the workplace is good for internal collaboration, which is ultimately good for clients and the business in general.

There are many places where your profile photo is displayed, and unfortunately, they do not come from the same source. Microsoft 365 has some synchronization between the sources where photos are stored. Unfortunately, if you update your profile photo in Delve, it can take up to 72 hours to update the larger photo in the Delve profile, but immediately updates the one in the top right log in area.

One of the main reasons for this confusion is because Microsoft 365 is a combination of products run by different engineering teams at Microsoft. These teams were brought together to deliver a single Microsoft 365 offering, but with an on-premises standalone product AND a multi-tenant service, some inconsistencies are inevitable. The table below explains the source for each Microsoft 365 Profile photo.

OutlookExchange Online
Delve User ProfileExchange Online or Active Directory (thumbnailPhoto)
TeamsExchange Online or Active Directory (thumbnailPhoto)
SharePointSync from Exchange Online
Office AppsExchange Online or Active Directory (thumbnailPhoto)

In order to achieve fast synchronization and consistency across your Profile Photos in all Microsoft 365 Apps, take a look at LiveTiles Directory. LiveTiles Directory uses AI to ensure that profile photos conform to defined standards.

LiveTiles Directory profile photo validation

Manager Attributes
The organizational charts available in Outlook contact cards, Delve and Microsoft Teams are extremely powerful resources for people discovery in an organization. Employees will often want to find a peer of someone that is out of office or has left the organization; likewise they may want to determine someone’s manager to escalate a task to.

As people naturally come and go from an organization, it’s essential that the Manager attribute is kept up to date. It is an expectation of employees that the organizational charts change once the attribute is updated in Active Directory (AD) and then Azure Active Directory (AAD). Delve actually uses SharePoint Online (SPO) User Profiles as their source, so you then have to wait up to 72 hours for these changes to be reflected.

Outlook Organizational Chart view

The majority of organizations that we talk to are using a hybrid set up with AD on-premises and AAD. This adds yet more time lag to updates being visible across your Microsoft applications. Microsoft has a MSDN article that lists all the attributes in the Windows Address Book. But there isn’t a definitive resource that explains where profile information comes from for all of the Office experiences such as Delve.

We worked hard at LiveTiles to supercharge the synchronization and update all the profile sources at once (AD, AAD, SPO). One thing that we have noticed is that there is an additional delay in Delve for manager attributes, due to using the Office Graph for updates to Delve. This process is documented within this MSDN article and this support page. There is a Search Index that is used for Delve, and in multiple environments we’ve consistently proven that it takes up to 72 hours to update this information in the index. This is certainly something to be aware of so you can set the right expectations within your organization.

LiveTiles Directory Interactive Organizational Chart within Microsoft Teams

Skills/Past Projects

Skills and Past Projects are not part of the most common profile attributes used and managed in a most organizations, so they’re often overlooked. Skills and Past Project search is not offered out of the box in Microsoft 365, this has been sought after by many as can be seen from these requests on Microsoft Tech Community and Microsoft 365 UserVoice forum.

An effective expertise directory showing an individual’s skills is critical to any enterprise. Beyond helping individuals connect to the right resource for a task, we have clients who use LiveTiles Directory to plan enterprise resourcing. For example, an engineering services company that builds project teams based on an advanced search of industry specific expertise, and an outpatient healthcare service that ensures the right clinician is scheduled for a patient based on the scheduled reason for visit.

For many organizations, the HRIS/HCM system may be the source of truth on expertise and LiveTiles Directory can accommodate this with connectors using the REST API services of the largest vendors including Workday and SAP Success Factors. But for most organizations without this type of integration in place, SPO User Profiles can be the Microsoft 365 based data store.

Where the out-of-the-box skills search experience it limited to a simple, flat structured list of terms with limited data validation, LiveTiles Directory offers a more advanced approach. We have an “Options Cascade From” option that allows you to create subsets of terms. These could be, for example, cascaded down from “Department” where HR managers or those with an interest in effective resource planning can create rich definitions of industry or even organizational level expertise.

In many cases it’s important to apply a level of approval around expertise and LiveTiles Directory enables strict data validations and approvals by managers or HR down to an individual field level.

LiveTiles Directory Skills and Expertise Profile property

Unlock the value of Microsoft 365

Many of the Applications that make up Microsoft 365 (and Microsoft’s on-premises products) present employee profiles, which enhances the user experience (think profile photos everywhere), as well as supporting personalization and targeting of content. These include SharePoint, Outlook, Delve, Skype for Business/ Microsoft Teams, Office client apps, Yammer, Power Platform, and many more.

LiveTiles Directory is a tool that delivers a proactive, ongoing approach to the maintenance of accurate and relevant user profile data across disparate sources – AD, Azure AD, SharePoint Online User Profiles and HRIS/HCM systems.

Beyond the fact that LiveTiles Directory delivers automation and efficiency in the maintenance of user profile data, ultimately what matters is that missing, out-of-date or incorrect employee profile data doesn’t compromise your ability to deliver valuable Microsoft 365 experiences.

So even if you just start with ensuring the basics like profile picture, department and manager are 100% up-to-date and correct, it will have a marked improvement on UX across M365 – and as we know, UX drives adoption which will ultimately determine your ROI. Many of our clients start here and progress to more advanced implementations involving custom attributes, approvals and more.

Whether it’s helping your people connect to the right expertise easily or the powering of effective content targeting and workflow automation, LiveTiles Directory is the most comprehensive solution available on the market today.

Learn more about LiveTiles Directory here.

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