This is the first in a series of blogs on how to enable the different modules of Microsoft Viva. So, this article I want to do a bit more of a deep dive into Viva Topics and how you can actually enable or switch on Viva Topics. Let’s look into the background of what Viva Topics is, how to enable it from a tech perspective, the people you need to make the most out of it, the governance and security required around it and then a brief summary.
Some people may have been aware of “Project Cortex” for a while but since February 2021 Microsoft rebranded some elements of this this to Viva Topics so the technology behind this has actually been around a little longer than you may think.
Viva Topics applies AI to identify knowledge and experts from across your organization and categorize them into shared topics, automatically creating a topic page for each. These topic pages are edited and approved by experts, then kept up to date by AI.
Viva Topics enables knowledge to come to you in the flow of your work, avoiding information overload and presenting the topics as Topic Cards right within Teams, SharePoint and Office; if you hover over an acronym or a project name, you get an immersive topic card that you can click on to get more details.
When you come across an unfamiliar topic or acronym, just hover over the word, and a topic card pops up providing additional context. If you want to know more, just click on the topic card and it takes you to a topic page which includes lots of useful info such as definitions, relevant people, resources from across Microsoft 365, Q&A powered by Viva Engage and a handy map of other related topics.
Now we understand a bit more about what Viva Topics is let’s look at how we can actually view these topics, its easiest of we split them into 4 areas.
- SharePoint – Whilst on a SharePoint news article or page topics become highlighted, your people can then hover over these highlighted topics and see the Topic summary card with the ability to click through for even more info.
- Search – Another very useful way to view topics is to search for them. You can search for a topic on the SharePoint start page, Office.com, or from a SharePoint page. The topic results will appear at the top of the page with relevant information.
- Office Applications – Hopefully you are aware of this but every office application gives you the ability to use search. You can use the search box or selecting search in the context menu. This then displays Topics in the search results box.
- Topics Centre – Users can see topics that they are connected to within their org in the topics centre homepage.
- Teams – Perhaps most exciting though is the relatively new ability to surface topics right within the Teams client which fits in perfectly with that theme we’ve discussed in the previous Viva blog of keeping everything within the flow of work.
There are a huge number of use cases for Viva Topics and it’s one of the most interesting areas of Microsoft Viva in my opinion.
OK, let’s get the most asked but also probably boring question out of the way. The ever-exciting subject, Microsoft licensing. From a licensing point of view, you will need to buy this separately or as part of the Viva Suite license. Unlike some of the other Viva Modules which include some of the basic functionality within the standard M365 licensing Viva Topics is very much an all or nothing affair. With that exciting subject out of the way lets actually look at how you can enable Viva Topics.
That’s not to say you need to go ahead and license your entire organization right away you can certainly get Topics switched on with just a single license and have it start trawling your SharePoint libraries and begin creating the AI driven generation of Topics. In fact, this is very much a good idea as it can take a little while to get this process working. I would also perhaps then look at expanding your licensing into say a pilot group where you can actually ask the right questions to find out what is actually important to your organization and target a pilot group of people to prove that Topics is a useful feature for you.
Viva Topics is heavily reliant on your organization having a good chunk of your data stored within SharePoint online, Microsoft advise having at least 20,000 documents held in SharePoint Online and preferably 100,000 documents however this is not strictly true as I know a few organisations that are successfully using Viva Topics with far, far less so don’t be put off by these numbers but do remember the more you have in SharePoint Online the better.
Next up let’s look at the actual set up steps, you’ve assigned your licenses (or at least 1) and note it can take up to an hour from the license being applied until users actually get access to Viva Topics.
- Now it’s time to jump into the Microsoft 365 admin centre, select Setup, and then view the Files and content section.
- In the Files and content section, click Connect people to knowledge.
- On the Connect people to knowledge page, click Get started to walk you through the setup process.
- On the Choose how Viva Topics can find topics page, you will configure topic discovery. In the Select SharePoint topic sources section, select which SharePoint sites will be crawled as sources for your topics during discovery.
- Now you’ve got a choice to make and make the choice wisely
- All sites: All SharePoint sites in your organization. This includes current and future sites.
- All, except selected sites: Type the names of the sites you want to exclude. You can also upload a list of sites that you want to opt out from discovery. Sites created in future will be included as sources for topic discovery.
- Only selected sites: Type the names of the sites you want to include. You can also upload a list of sites. Sites created in the future will not be included as sources for topic discovery.
- No sites: Do not include any SharePoint sites.
The reason I say chose carefully here is in a perfect world your organisation will have a perfectly managed and securer SharePoint Online environment whereby nobody has access to something they shouldn’t in this theory it’s fine to enable All Sites for discovery as Viva Topics doesn’t change any permissions and people will still only see the information that they have access to. In reality some organisations may be concerned with choosing All Sites so the option to exclude certain areas is there if needed. I would always recommend opening the discovery as wide as possible though to really make the most of the capabilities but not only that it will also be much easier to manage in the future rather than maintaining a separate list of which sites are included or excluded.
- In the Exclude topics by name section, you can add names of topics you want to exclude from topic discovery. Use this setting to prevent sensitive information from being included as topics.
The same thing applies here really chose carefully but the options are here to help ensure good governance and a note Knowledge managers can also exclude topics in the topic centre after discovery. If you do need to exclude certain topics by name it’s done via a CSV upload and you can choose to exclude based on “Exact Name Matching” You can include the exact name or acronym (for example, Contoso or ATL). or “Partial Name Matching” You can exclude all topics that have a specific word in it. For example, arc will exclude all topics with the word arc in it, such as Arc circle, Plasma arc welding, or Training arc. Note that it will not exclude topics in which the text is included as part of a word, such as Architecture.
- On the Who can see topics and where can they see them page, you will configure topic visibility. In the Who can see topics setting, you choose who will have access to topic details, such as highlighted topics, topic cards, topic answers in search, and topic pages.
- In the Permissions for topic management page, you choose who will be able to create, edit, or manage topics. In the Who can create and edit topics section.
- In the Who can manage topics section
- On the Create topic centre page, you can create your topic centre site in which topic pages can be viewed and topics can be managed. In the Site name box, type a name for your topic centre. You can click the pencil icon if you want to change the URL. Optionally, type a short description in the Description box
Be careful here as yes, you can change the site name later on, but you can’t change the URL once you’ve finished this setup wizard so that old refrain, you’re hearing here a few times choose wisely. It’s then a matter of reviewing your selections and making any changes now before hitting the finish button. You’ll get a satisfying page confirming that the system will now start analysing your selected sites for topics and creating the topic centre site, you hit that magic done button.
Now, sit back relax, get yourself a cup of tea, in fact maybe take a week or 2 holiday, you’ve earnt it after all and most importantly you are not going to start seeing topics in the topic centre instantly. I would always say give it at least a couple of weeks for the AI to work it’s magic in the background and start surfacing usefully information
It’s important to identify the different people within your organization and how they will be using and interacting with Viva Topics and again let’s split this into 4.
Topic viewer – Topic viewers are users in your organization who can view topics highlighted in their SharePoint modern site, Microsoft Search through SharePoint and Office.com and the topic centre. They can view more details about a topic on the topic page. I have now seen this ability to view highlighted topics in OWA and soon it’s coming to Teams which will be a really big win.
Just to note for topic highlights and their topic pages to be visible to a topic viewer, the user must:
- Be assigned a Viva Topics license by their Microsoft 365 admin.
- Be allowed to have visibility to topics. This task is done by the knowledge admin in the Viva Topics settings page in the Microsoft 365 admin centre.
This is something you’d want assigned to the majority/all of your workforce so they can all gain the value of Viva Topics within your organization.
Knowledge admin – This, essentially is your global admin or SharePoint admin they become a Knowledge admin due to the fact all the setup is done within the M365 admin centre.
Topic contributor – This is your people who not only need to be able to view topics as above, but also need to have the ability to edit existing topic or even create a new topic. They are granted this ability by the Knowledge Admin and it can be done via an Azure AD security group which is always the best way of managing it. A topic contributor can also create and publish a new topic through their topic centre.
The topic contributor will see an Edit button displayed on Topic pages which is what allows them to make updated and publish a topic.
Knowledge manager – Knowledge managers are users who manage topics in your organization. Topic management is done through the Manage topics page in the topic centre, and it’s only visible to knowledge managers. These knowledge managers are like a crack team of people who really get the value behind knowledge management they should have a good overall knowledge of your business and also know who within your different business areas are subject matter experts for chosen topics. These people need really good communication skills a good example of this is; if a new project has sensitive information, the knowledge manager needs to be informed so that they can make sure that the SharePoint site is not crawled for topics, or specific topic names need to be excluded.
The knowledge manager will be able to perform the below
- View AI-suggested topics.
- Review topics to confirm that they’re valid.
- Remove topics that you don’t want visible to your users.
Security and Governance
Right, when it comes to Viva Topics some of the fundamental security points are covered in the people section above and what each role enables them to do.
First up though is the setup of it all which I went into detail for in the enablement section and for this it requires either the Microsoft 365 global admin or SharePoint admin role, with this the admin will be able to perform the below setup tasks.
- Select which SharePoint sites will be crawled for topics.
- Select which licensed users who can view topics (topic viewers).
- Select which topics will be excluded from being identified.
- Select which licensed users who can create and edit topics (topic contributors).
- Select which licensed users who can manage topics.
- Name the topic centre.
The vast majority of Viva Topics is based on the security and compliance boundaries of content enforced across Microsoft 365. For example, access, retention labels, data sovereignty, and information barriers are all maintained consistently before and after the activation of Viva Topics. In addition, organizations can apply restrictions on the scope and availability of topic information shared by Viva Topics. So as I mentioned previously the real key for securing and governing Viva Topics is to already have a robust approach to this within SharePoint Online.
This technology is all about efficiency which is somehting that’s really valuable. The time savings and efficiency a well-thought-out implementation of Viva Topics in an organization is massive and it’s a very exciting element of the employee experience.