While they have always been important as a (often underused) tool for finding staff and searching for people with certain skills, the changes in work practice wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic now mean that staff spend less time together physically, so have less opportunity to know their colleagues and create the social and personal links that team-building and socialisation rely on. The need to understand, use and maintain useful staff profiles has never been greater.
Since profiles are complex, and the spread of technologies in Microsoft 365 are wide and constantly evolving, there is inevitable complexity. Knowing what profile elements exist where and how both staff and admin should access them is important.
This blog runs through the profile scatter at a high level, so that we at least know where we should look.
Azure provides the core user identity and essential profile service for Microsoft 365 and beyond, via AAD (Azure Active Directory).
When creating a new user in AAD, you must add their Name and User Name (email address) as well as any Groups or Roles they should be in.
AAD also allows other ‘organisational information’ about the user to be added, specifically:
This is all useful stuff, but user profiles can, and should, go a lot further than the basics that AAD provides.
Microsoft 365 provides an extend set of profile attributes, with the focus being on staff being able to add and extend their own information.
Staff can update many of their own personal information (but not most of the things controlled in AAD) in the profile using the Delve profile page and selecting Me and Update profile. The pencil edit icon appears next to anything they are allowed to change in the main profile, generally contact information and broader profile information such as About me (personal biography), Projects, Skills and expertise, Schools and education, Interests and hobbies.
There is also a deeper level (also based on the pre-Modern UI) which you can get to from this URL: https://emicoltd-my.sharepoint.com//_layouts/15/editprofile.aspx?UserSettingsProvider. Custom Properties, if any, can be edited from the ellipsis (Custom Properties)
They can also set who can see the information via a small Globe icon.
There are multiple ‘ports of entry’ to the profile update page:
Microsoft 365 admins can manage core profile attributes from the Users | Active Users page in the Microsoft 365 admin center; specifically:
SharePoint Server has its own user profile service, there are a few traces of that still to be found in SharePoint Online.
The SharePoint User Profile Service stores information about SharePoint users in a central location in SharePoint Server. It enables My Sites, social computing features such as social tagging and newsfeeds, and creating and distributing profiles across multiple sites and farms in on-premises and hybrid scenarios. It is largely deprecated in SharePoint Online, with Azure and the Microsoft 365 profile service (exposed via Delve and Profile Cards in SharePoint) taking on most of the functions it provided and exposing them to the Microsoft 365 Graph (‘The Graph’). Legacy support still exist and it can be used for things like custom profile properties.
If your organization uses the cloud Identity approach then your user accounts are stored in Azure AD and admins manage user profile info in the Microsoft 365 admin center. You can also manage user profiles (including adding user pictures and defining user managers) in the Azure AD admin center.
If you need to create custom user profile properties, such as languages spoken, emergency contact info, or sales account, you can use User Properties in SharePoint.
Use the More features page of the new SharePoint admin center, which uses the pre-modern SharePoint UI and profile service:
Note: Custom properties from Active Directory or Azure AD are not synchronized with SharePoint.
Many enterprises need to replicate custom attributes to the SharePoint user profile service, or do bulk set up for multiple members of staff. Microsoft provide a user profile bulk API, the UserProfile.BatchUpdate.API. PowerShell is the usual way of driving this, with a JSON import file holding the attributes to be set.
Microsoft SharePoint uses the Active Directory synchronization job to import user and group attribute information into the User Profile Application (UPA). When a new user is added to Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), the user account information is sent to the SharePoint directory store and the UPA sync process creates a profile in the User Profile Application based on a predetermined set of attributes. Once the profile has been created, any modifications to these attributes will be synced as part of regularly scheduled sync process.
The following Azure AD user attributes are synced to the UPA.
|Azure AD attribute||User profile property display names||Notes||Sync to sites|
|UserPrincipalName||Account Name User Name User Principal Name||Example: i:0#.f <|> membership <|> firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com||Yes|
|telephoneNumber||Work phone||Example: (123) 456-7890||Yes|
|proxyAddresses||Work Email SIP Address||Work Email is set to the value prefixed with SMTP. (SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org) Example: email@example.com||Yes|
|Title||Title Job Title||Job Title contains the same value as Title and is connected to a term set.||Yes|
|Department||Department||Department is connected to a term set.||Yes|
|WWWHomePage||Public site redirect||No|
|PreferredLanguage||Language Preferences||Used by SharePoint to determine language for the user when the multilingual user interface (MUI) feature is enabled.||Yes|
|Manager||Manager||User Manager for organization hierarchy||Yes|
UPA synchronization is limited to a preconfigured set of properties to guarantee consistent performance across the service.
Microsoft is rapidly developing its Employee Experience platform, Microsoft Viva.
Topics will, almost certainly, be added to personal profiles, to better link people with content and colleagues and aid findability of skills by topic, while Viva Insights provides analytics on individual and team activity and productivity. It seems reasonable that profile information may be incorporated into the UI of Viva and that the Delve experience will be deprecated.
Much of the Microsoft 365 user profile information is exposed through the Graph API and the Office 365 Users Connection provider. These let you get the current users profile or another user’s profile as well as related users (notably their manager and reports). There is good support for this in Power Automate, Power Apps, Logic Apps.
Then there is LinkedIn, which is being gradually embedded into the M365 stack and adds yet another profile source.
Profile pictures are really important – they not only help reinforce that you are working with a real person and let you recognise someone if you actually meet them in an office (remember those days), but having a picture of the person you are talking to actually improves engagement and empathy. Sadly, maintaining profile pictures is a bit more complex than you might expect. Different products (Experiences as Microsoft would have you call them) source the image from different places; the last time I checked it was:
Updating a profile in one place will, usually, update it everywhere, but it can take up to 72 hours.
I strongly recommend that everyone is encouraged to do this though.
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