But getting there is only part of the story: too many times, customers then face a "What now?" kind of situation. Many organizations don’t fully grasp the value of the entire Office 365 ecosystem.
ECOSYSTEM: a system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment; any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts, as in a business.
Because that is what Office 365 is! It’s not just email and the Office suite of applications, although that is normally what people “start” with. Once “deployed” or migrated, customers often neglect the training aspect and don’t always take advantage of everything they have access to. I liken it to driving a Ferrari (or Porsche, or Lamborghini, take your pick) and never getting out of 2nd gear!
So let's take a look at what this ecosystem includes, based on the most common plans that we see customers going to (Business Premium for SMB and E3 for larger customers).
Office Desktop Suite
Most of the business plans we recommend to our customers include the full Office suite. Several things to note, here: an Office 365 subscription allows organizations to always have access to the latest version of Office (as of this writing, we are at Office 2016). Office 365 customers will always have access to the latest versions as they are released.
Some highlights of Office 2016:
- Every user covered by an Office 365 subscription can install Office on up to FIVE devices! They can install it on their work computer, laptop, home computer(s)…they can register up to 5 installs.
- Office 2016 applications now allow co-editing from the desktop versions, which means you can now collaborate in real-time with colleagues right from the desktop apps.
- Compliance! Microsoft has been auditing customers regularly, even small businesses. An Office 365 subscription ensures that you are compliant with all of your Office deployments.
- Mobility! All users can download and use the Office mobile apps for Android and iOS. This allows them to edit documents from anywhere.
Exchange / Outlook
Email is central to any organization – it’s how we communicate! As mentioned, most customers are aware that Office 365 includes Exchange email services. This absolutely makes sense for small businesses – why would you want to manage and maintain an on-site email infrastructure? Most small businesses cannot afford to hire a full-time IT resource.
Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, etc….there are many file storage and syncing solutions out there. With an Office 365 subscription, every user gets 1TB of personal file storage in OneDrive. They can access their files from anywhere, on any device. The advantage of making them use OneDrive is that if ever they leave the organization, the Office 365 administrator can access their OneDrive and recover any corporate files that are stored there.
The industry de facto standard for collaboration, SharePoint allows organizations and teams to store and manage information that can be accessed from anywhere. Discussions, documents, calendars, tasks, custom forms, etc., can all be part of a SharePoint site. This makes it easier for employees to work together, especially if you have employees in the field or in remote offices.
Enterprise social collaboration! Think LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter all rolled up into one, but internal to your organization only. Yammer allows all users to post updates, ask questions, communicate with staff across locations, create groups for specific topics, etc. Users can also create "External Groups" by inviting members from outside the organization simply by using their email address.
Ok, so OneNote is really part of the Office suite, so why am I listing here? Because when I show people what they can do with OneNote, I always raise eyebrows! You can use OneNote to store customer purchase orders, vendor invoices, etc. Considering going paperless? You can use OneNote to truly go paperless by scanning everything you receive and storing it in OneNote notebooks that are in SharePoint sites. All content is indexed, easy to find, and organized. I always call it “the neglected child of the Office suite”!
Office 365 Groups
A new addition to the Office 365 family, Groups allows users to create ad-hoc groups in order to facilitate simple collaboration. Groups can be Open, meaning that anyone in the organization can join the group and subscribe, or Closed, which means that the group administrator needs to invite users into the group for them to have access to it. Groups include Conversations, Files, a Calendar and a OneNote notebook. Any user in the organization can easily create a group, taking the burden off the IT department. I call it “a simple, mini-SharePoint site”.
Introduced in mid-2016, Planner lets users create "Plans", essentially lists of tasks that can then be assigned to different members of the team. Tasks can be setup in "Buckets", making it easy to separate tasks by topic, phase, or whatever classification you wish to use. Charts show the progress of the plan and the status of the tasks broken down by member. Each user can also go to the "Planner Hub" to get a list of all the plans he or she is a member of, and a "My Tasks" dashboard that shows all assigned tasks, and whether they are "Not started". "In progress", or "Completed". Just like Groups, Plans also include a One Notebook, a calendar, and a OneDrive share specific to each plan.
The latest addition to the Office 365 ecosystem is Microsoft Teams, a conversation-based collaboration space, much like Slack. As the name implies, users can create Teams to collaborate with colleagues. Teams can also have "channels", so you can have conversations around specific topics. For example, in the case of a product launch, you may have channels for "Marketing", "Product QA", "Branding", and so on. And because Teams are based on Groups, they can include Plans, Files, notes, etc.
Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration
As you can see, there are many ways that Office 365 allows collaboration. It is almost overwhelming. Every organization needs to determine what works for them: SharePoint? Yammer? Groups? A mix of all of these based on use case is most likely the best answer. How many times do we hear employees complain that there is “no communication” in a company? I’ve heard it time and time again, people complaining that they’re not aware of what’s going on in the organization. As you can see, Office 365 offers an excellent variety of ways to cure that!
But don’t kid yourself! Despite the ease of use of the Office 365 ecosystem, despite how easy it is to implement, enterprise collaboration and communication entails a cultural change! It is NOT a switch that you just flip and users immediately start working and collaborating with these tools. This change needs to be championed by upper management, and employees need to be encouraged, mentored, even threatened to use these tools and collaborate. It can be a slow, painstaking process, but definitely worth it once it is part of the organizational culture. Oddly enough, it is easier for new employees that come on board – when they start, you teach them that “this is how we do things, here”, and adoption is usually quicker.
It's about change, for sure, but we need to get used to this fast-paced online world, and so we need to challenge how we think about change.
Netmail has been implementing collaboration solutions for years in all sizes of organizations, from small businesses to large, enterprise customers. We know how to get things going, and how to help with adoption.