Date

Nov 10, 2020

Topic(s)

Data & Intelligence

Author(s)

Envision Technology Advisors

To up the ante on this initiative, the virtual program had to deliver meaningful reporting on the hundreds of paid interns participating for college credit. As our team worked within the M365 ecosystem of tools to develop a unique virtual economy, we ran into a variety of challenges that required us to think outside the box. One of the earliest roadblocks we faced: Figuring out how to integrate multiple video conference platforms within Microsoft Teams while also being able to accurately report on intern engagement within those platforms.

This article is part of a larger case study surrounding one of Rhode Island’s largest internship programs in history: The Empower Interns COVID-19 Innovation Challenge. Envision Technology Advisors partnered with Skills for Rhode Island’s Future to conceive, architect, and deploy the technical solutions that supported this program. To learn more, explore our media-rich case study.

The Roadblock

When Envision was originally architecting a virtual solution for this program, we intended for each student’s internal and external interactions to take place solely within the Microsoft 365 environment. Our team believed that the more unnecessary external platforms were added to the solution, the more likely we were to experience “platform whiplash” and subsequent issues regarding engagement levels and data integration. By using Teams, the interns would have one place for all their communication and collaboration. Additionally, Envision and Skills for Rhode Island’s Future (SFRI) could have the ability to monitor student engagement, organize student assignments, and track attendance during virtual meetings using Microsoft Power BI.

This ability to monitor and report on the interns engagement was critical for SFRI - not only were these interns submitting work for college credit, but they were also getting paid for their time. However, our team quickly realized that there were other factors at play here that would prevent this “all under the Microsoft umbrella” solution.

Identifying Challenges

Early on it was identified that there would be instances where Zoom, rather than Teams, would need to be leveraged to power some of the meetings that would take place. One of the reasons for this was the issue of corporate security policies at some of the companies who were sponsoring or providing mentorship for the program. In some cases, we found that organizations who were participating in the program used Teams internally, and that their deployment included proprietary information that was critical to their company’s intellectual property. For security reasons, they were not allowed to join any outside Teams deployments for fear that data leakage could occur.

There were additional reasons why secondary platforms were needed for select presentations, including the need for breakout rooms during video meetings - a feature which Teams had not yet launched, and so an alternative to Teams Meetings became an essential need for the project.

In the end, our engineers chose Zoom to support the large-scale meetings that everyone involved in the internship program (students, business leaders, and mentors alike) was required to attend. This led us to our core question: How do we integrate data from Zoom, our choice for large-scale meetings, with Microsoft 365, the platform that supported the rest of the internship program?

Leveraging Automation for External Data Collection

Having decided to leverage Zoom for select parts of the program, we began brainstorming how we could seamlessly integrate the data from that platform with Microsoft 365. We quickly realized that Zoom produces attendance reports solely based on logins and logouts. What happens to students who are late or don’t attend the majority of the meeting, or who attend for awhile but then get dropped and have to log back in? How could we determine which students actually attended the full meeting, and thus were entitled to full credit? We were also challenged with the issue of pulling reports dynamically from Zoom. How could we automatically send meeting attendance data to the data analytics platform we created using Microsoft Power BI?

To solve the first issue of attendance reports, we worked with SFRI to determine new meeting attendance parameters that would serve to more accurately track attendance. Specifically, we agreed upon two things: (1) A student would be considered late, and thus fail to earn full credit, if they logged in ten minutes after meeting started and (2) A student had to attend 75% of the running meeting to receive full credit. We also had to use the scheduled time of the meeting, rather than when the actual meeting ran, to determine attendance so that a meeting room opened early or a student leaving their Zoom client open all day would not skew the attendance data. Once we had established these attendance parameters, we turned our attention to the second issue of automatic, seamless data integration.

While Zoom does have an API that we could have connected to directly, the SFRI staff only wanted certain specific Zoom meetings to count towards attendance tracking. Thus, we wanted to ensure that the process of selecting the appropriate meetings could be done quickly and easily by the SFRI staff, rather than being hard-coded into our data pipeline. To solve the challenge of data integration between Zoom and Power BI, Envision’s engineers built out a SharePoint library and leveraged Power Automate to create workflows to guide the process of data transfer.

The Power Automate workflow was executed in the following manner: (1) An attendance data report from Zoom is uploaded to SharePoint, then (2) Power Automate detects that a new file has been added to the SharePoint library, and finally (3) Power Automate issues a command to refresh the Power BI Dataset, which loads all information from the folder into a user-friendly report.

Power Automate Workflow Sequence
Custom Workflow inside of Microsoft Power Automate

The Final Product: Seamless, Automated Data Collection

With this customized Power Automate workflow, Envision’s engineers were able take data from an external source, Zoom, and connect to the platform that supported the rest of the virtual internship program, Microsoft 365. By designing a system that would allow the collection and analysis of data in one central place – Microsoft Power BI – our team made attendance tracking a simple and unified experience for SFRI.

To learn more about the technical solutions Envision built for the Empower Interns COVID-19 Innovation Challenge, explore our media-rich case study.