The power of Office 365 – a key part of a business’ digital transformation journey

  • Office 365 energises the traditional office suite with AI and Modern Workstream Collaboration
  • New, powerful applications are available to users, elevating the nature of work
  • A more dynamic, fluid, and virtual workplace becomes a reality

The shift from on-device installations of Microsoft software – the likes of Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and other familiar tools – into Cloud-hosted applications is far more than just a change in the way software is delivered to users.

This is the view of Intervate’s Shaun Dicker, Manager of Microsoft 365 Teamwork, who says that these native Cloud applications, wrapped under the umbrella of Office 365, unleash modern collaboration, creativity, and productivity within users.

“For decades, Microsoft’s tools have been at the very centre of almost all businesses,” he says, “but with the shift to Cloud-based, Office 365 applications, users now gain access to an array of modern tools, opening up new employee engagement opportunities”

“Software is lit up by the real-time data feeds that the Cloud enables, drawing in useful, relevant content from across the organisation – files, conversations, documents, images, and video.”

Compelling advantages

Tiaan Rossouw, Practice Lead for Office 365 at Intervate, says that with traditional installations of Microsoft software, users would have to buy the latest software on CDs, or (in the corporate setting) wait for their IT division to upgrade software in what was typically lengthy refresh cycles. “Ultimately, software didn’t get upgraded for years.”

“But with Office 365, users get the very latest updates from one of the world’s most pioneering technology giants. As fields like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Big Data develop in leaps and bounds, the latest from these new frontiers are automatically updated into the software stack,” adds Rossouw.

With Office 365, all your documents and data are moved from one’s physical device or local server, into distributed Cloud-based servers, locked-down with the latest advances in cyber-security defences. “By automatically receiving the latest updates you always stay on top of emerging cyber-threats,” he explains.

But he says that the biggest advantage to Office 365 is seen in the new ways that colleagues are now able to work. With Microsoft Teams, far more dynamic and fluid ways of interacting are unleashed, which is a boon to employee collaboration and creativity.

“For South African teams collaborating with global colleagues, suddenly it doesn’t feel like we’re so far away. Sharing that latest signed-off specification, collaborating on a costing spreadsheet, or just having our daily stand-up meetings becomes a breeze. And all the history is available at the click of a button.”

The fact that all content and applications is now available on PCs, tablets and smartphones encourages the rise of modern virtual teams and the kind of mobile-first workforce that defines today’s most successful digital companies.

New, powerful platforms

Pundits like to talk about the so-called ‘consumerisation of IT’ (complex technology being made so easily available and intuitive that non-technical people can use it). But in Microsoft’s case, Dicker says this has truly become a reality, with tools like Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Flow – which allow people to build forms and workflows for organisations without deep technical or coding knowledge.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 is another fitting example of sophisticated enterprise software that is now reaching a far broader audience and enabling increased productivity. By uniting CRM and ERP solutions, staff can break down data silos and integrate seamlessly with third party ERP solutions.

“As teams engage with each other on platforms that are far more powerful than merely the stock-standard Excel and PowerPoint, they’re able to tackle more complex work and achieve ever-greater results,” he notes. The likes of Microsoft’s Power BI help to surface and visualise key information to leadership and teams, giving new insights into business performance; while all these Microsoft tools work in harmony to effectively modernise legacy systems and architectures, with sleek and intuitive front-end interfaces.

Benefits to IT teams

While the advantages of Office 365 to the end-user are compelling, the value proposition to IT managers and administrators are just as clear, explains Dicker.

“These are the kind of dynamic, always-on personal tools that users have been asking for. Adopting Office 365 helps to curtail the problem of Shadow IT, and of sensitive data being hosted in unauthorised Cloud platforms.”

In this way, organisations are better able to follow the raft of new data privacy legislation that’s arriving on the scene – from the Protection of Personal Information Act locally, to the far-reaching General Data Protection Regulations now in-force in Europe.

“With usage-based licensing models, the total cost of ownership is also generally lower than it would have been in the traditional client-server era, especially when one considers all the internal resources that were previously needed to upgrade, maintain and support the organisation’s Microsoft environment.”

“With Office 365, configuration and deployment is abstracted away from the IT department and managed centrally in the Cloud. Companies are able to re-deploy their IT support resources to more strategic and profitable areas of the technology estate.”

For emerging companies looking to scale and optimise their offerings, Office 365 is the obvious choice – as they have no legacy infrastructure in place and do not need to justify the big capex expenses of building their own server rooms.

#1 Priority

Ultimately, Dicker says that Office 365 is still ‘just technology’, and that it can never be an organisation’s most vital asset. “However, it does enable organisations to create a better experience for their most vital asset: their people.”

“Gallup research shows that highly engaged employees are 21% more productive than others,” he notes. “With Office 365, work becomes easier and more enjoyable, powered by the latest tools, and employees become far more engaged, as they work together in new ways.”

“Teams are able to create amazing content (with the likes of PowerPoint Morph, Zoom and 3D), and complete their work more quickly and smartly (via a Modern Workstream Collaboration tool like Microsoft Teams, Outlook’s Focused Inbox, Researcher, Search, and Smart Lookup)”.

He adds that Office 365 encourages the sharing of insights throughout the organisation and Microsoft Delve and Workplace Analytics help individuals to find their way to subject matter experts within specific fields. “All this assists the organisation to better capture and codify the IP that flows through its veins.” 0 List

Did the app kill email?

Although email is not as productive as some other tools available, it does seem it may be here to stay, in conjunction with new solutions.

Email used to be the productivity tool that no one could live without, but it’s increasingly becoming a productivity killer as we spend more time than we should aiming for inbox zero.

However, there are alternatives that the enterprise can use to cut down on clutter and improve productivity.

As a result, businesses are increasingly using collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Slack, says Brian Timperley, joint MD of Turrito Networks and Dial a Nerd.

Image credit: Steven Collier [MVP]

While these tools started out for internal discussions, they are now being used for more, such as project management, collaboration with customers invited, and other parts of the business like service delivery and support, he says.

An advantage Timperley cites is that these tools are far more responsive and offer an active communication platform, instead of being passive, like email. “Many thought leaders believe these new collaboration tools have the power to eventually replace email, although this has been heavily debated.”

InTouch CEO Karl Nimmo argues, however, that while email may be the preferred form of communication, with some 125 billion business emails being sent and received each day, collaboration tools and other messaging apps are gaining traction among organisations across the board. This, he says, is partially because email based cyber attacks are rocketing.

In fact, Symantec’s ‘Internet Security Threat Report 2017’ revealed that one in 131 emails was malicious, the highest rate we’ve seen in years, proving that email is a favoured vehicle for online fraud.

As a result, says Nimmo, the adoption of alternative tools to replace email is a trend that is here to stay, and will save companies time. McKinsey’s ‘Global Economic Report’ claims that email takes up 25% of a working day for most individuals – that’s two hours for those of us who work an eight-hour day.

Yet, Timperley believes that although email may well start to look old-fashioned in the age of instant gratification, it is far from dying, and will remain the backbone of many businesses’ communications for many years to come. “It simply isn’t possible to have live chats and collaboration groups open for every issue in a business.”

The biggest trick, says Timperley, is to make email more effective by training people on how to properly use it.

However, says Paul McIntyre, chief sales officer at Elingo, while conceding that there will always be a place for email, communication in the workplace has moved well beyond email. “Today, it is all about realtime messaging and getting instantaneous responses. Email is very much a push system, whereas instant messaging platforms provide direct contact with a business and show customers when messages are read. It really is about identifying and using the best platform for the task at hand.” 

People are able to ‘work out loud’ and collaborate far more effectively. Email was not designed to cope with complex projects involving multiple parties.

Karl Nimmo, InTouch

More productive

But do tools that seek to replace email improve productivity? Timperley says these tools quickly overcome the people factor– that resistance to change – because they are seen as fun and more interactive. When used properly, he adds, they can assist in solving problems faster, and help in fostering more collaborative ideas.

They also offer the ability to share and live-edit documents, instantly video and voice chat from the platform, and a far higher level of customisation for users.

Collaborative tools save time, says Nimmo, because they centralise and organise communications, helping to find what you need, when you need it, and to prioritise. This provides a true workflow, and allows interaction on projects.

In addition, he says, many of these platforms keep track of time and estimate delivery dates. They also make all relevant files and communication available to everyone who needs to see them, and allow for sharing with third parties.

“People are able to ‘work out loud’ and collaborate far more effectively. Email was not designed to cope with complex projects involving multiple parties.”

Work gets done in teams and not on email. Email is great for covering all bases and ensuring that there is a traceable history of communication, but there are better tools to do the same with more ease and productivity

Shaun Dicker, Manager: Microsoft 365 Teamwork

And, Timperley says, these tools fit into the Bring-your-own-Device (BYOD) world because they are cloud-based, making them instantly available, on any device.

When it comes to BYOD, McIntyre says companies must adapt or die and embrace the likes of instant messaging and the reality of employees using their own devices for business communication if they are to evolve. “New communication methods and solutions must be integrated into this digital, always connected world.”

Pervasive access

McIntyre adds that communication today is all about doing more, more quickly than in the past. People are online virtually all the time. The concept of office hours no longer exists. Yes, productivity improves because of this pervasive access, but it also needs to be managed to minimise the impact it has on people when they are busy with personal commitments. It is about managing accessibility and user expectations.

Yet, says McIntyre, mobile devices have access to a significant amount of sensitive data, which opens the door to many security concerns, especially when devices are lost or stolen, and security policies need to take this into account.

More concerning is the amount of confidential information being sent over consumer communication solutions like WhatsApp and others. Companies need to educate their employees around best practices to mitigate the risk of information falling into the wrong hands,” he says.

As Timperley notes, these collaboration tools are not immune to abuse and risk – and a common downside of very robust collaboration platforms is that employees can begin to hide behind the technology (much like email) and neglect the need for person-to-person interaction. This is a potential risk of most communication technologies, and all must be used in moderation. No communication tool in the world is as effective as a conversation or face-toface meeting.

Shaun Dicker, manager of Microsoft 365 Teamwork for Intervate, a T-Systems South Africa company, cites one risk that comes in when organisations that don’t embrace productivity and collaboration tools, either in support of or to replace email, resort to public chat tools like Skype and WhatsApp.

The risk with such tools, although convenient, is that organisations have little to no control over where their business data is going, and on which devices it ultimately resides, he says. Apart from being a security risk, it could also cause non-compliance with laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the Protection of Personal Information Act,” he says.

Dicker adds that another security benefit is that public tools like Skype don’t have audit trails for document-sharing, chats or information transfer. For these reasons, businesses that adopt productivity tools need to ensure they use tools designed for enterprise, with the built-in security mechanisms and auditable tracking.

Enterprise tools also allow for easier enforcement of compliance and help to limit access of data to those that are permitted to, keeping data in the right hands at all times, he says.

“Work gets done in teams and not on email. Email is great for covering all bases and ensuring that there is a traceable history of communication, but there are better tools to do the same with more ease and productivity,” says Dicker.

This article first appeared in ITWeb Brainstorm, see 

Core Foundation 1 – Physical Wellbeing

Core Foundation: It's your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you but no one can walk it for you. - Anonymous. #foundations #parkrun

Physical wellbeing is a core foundation! This goes hand in hand with sleep and eating a healthy lifestyle. I’m so proud to have completed my second Parkrun after 4.5 years of no physical training at all. The first of many more!

When life happens, physical welling is a core foundation that is one of the first to suffer. From there it is a like a house of cards – pull out a core foundation and it all comes tumbling down.

Going for a 10 minute walk will have positive benefits on our wellbeing! Walk in one direction for 5 minutes, turn around and walk back. 10 mins of walking done!

I’m creating a small series of wellbeing articles. This is the first post, the idea is to keep these short and simple. Future posts will be here: Foundations.

Core Foundation

If you want to know more, here is a great article from the UK Mental Health Foundation: See Lets Get Physical that provides an overview of the many ways in which physical activity can enhance our wellbeing.

Even small amounts of physical activity are sufficient to begin gaining the wellbeing benefits of physical activity. For example, for someone who has not exercised for long time a brisk 10-minute walk […] would be one way to begin. Many people feel that lack of time is a barrier to being physically active. Incorporating physical activity into daily routines […] may be more practical for some […].

UK Mental health foundation

Thanks to the team of supporters around me that made this possible!

Smart process apps improve customer engagement

Smart process apps (SPAs) are becoming essential for businesses to meet growing customer expectations.

This is according to Shaun Dicker, head of operations at Intervate, a T-Systems company, who notes competitive pressure is driving organisations to look at process improvements.

Forrester Research coined the term Smart Process Applications, calling them a “new category of application software designed to support business activities that are people-intensive, highly variable, loosely structured, and subject to frequent change”.

SPAs give customers the ability to communicate with an organisation in any way, from any device in an efficient manner, says Intervate’s Shaun Dicker.

They use computer intelligence and artificial intelligence to extract context-relevant information from the content associated with a business process, and use it to select, modify or re-direct the next steps in the workflow.

According to the research firm, leading vendors involved in the SPA space include Appian, Cordys, EMC, IBM, JDA Software, Kana Software, Kofax, Lexmark, OpenText, Pegasystems, and SAP.

Dicker says SPAs improve every aspect of customer engagements – drastically improving an organisation’s customer experience and greatly reducing operating costs. As a result, it drives increased competitiveness, growth and profitability.

Customers expect not only fast response times, but also quality engagements that actually get problems solved with limited hassles – they look for personalised and intuitive experiences, he points out, adding SPAs mean organisations can respond to the demands of the modern customer who expects to be able to engage with companies anytime, anywhere, and from any device.

Organisations that open up many doors to their digital businesses – using social and mobile channels in particular – will be rewarded by seeing more incoming traffic through those doors, he adds.

“SPAs give customers the ability to communicate with an organisation in any way, from any device in an efficient manner. They empower customers with self-service capture, status checking and collaboration.”

According to a Research and Markets report, growing advancements in ICT, connectivity, business agility and limitations with traditional process applications are trends driving the SPA market.

The smart process application market is expected to grow from $24.35 billion in 2015 to $43.28 billion in 2020 – penetrating the market to a huge extent of covering all geographical territories, says Research and Markets.

According to Dicker, the analytics engine of the smart process application links up with the organisation’s broader business intelligence – providing real-time monitoring and optimising of business processes, and providing rich customer data.

“With strong technology underpinning the organisation’s digital transformation, it is possible to make the customer experience a delightful one that stimulates positive emotions from the word go.”

Riaaz Jeena, sales director at Software AG, says companies can no longer afford to underestimate the crucial importance of customer satisfaction – customers are the most important assets to any organisation.

“Adopting and implementing effective business intelligence or customer engagement processes and solutions has become a core differentiator for just about every customer-centric business, regardless of their market or offering,” she adds.

Article originally appeared on ITWeb here:

Smart Process Apps – the key to unlocking operational efficiencies and enhancing the customer experience

Smart Process Applications

In an increasingly competitive and globalised marketplace, attracting new customers and retaining existing ones has become one of businesses’ biggest challenges. Since the majority of products have become highly commoditised, the only real point of differentiation available for organisations to leverage is the service and customer experience they deliver. Delivering excellent customer service and an outstanding customer experience requires that operations be streamlined and business processes to be optimised, ensuring every customer engagement leverages technology to its best advantage. Smart Process Apps (SPAs), which improve information-intensive processes, are one aspect of addressing this challenge. Smart Process Apps (SPAs) enable organisations to improve real-time customer interaction, enhance business management and gain an important competitive advantage.

Attracting and retaining customers has always been a cornerstone of any successful business. However, in today’s market this is increasingly difficult to achieve. Not only are customers faced with a multitude of choice when it comes to service providers and products, they are more knowledgeable on competing offerings than ever before. Customer service is therefore often cited as one of the major reasons customers stay with an organisation or take their business elsewhere. Ensuring optimal customer service, therefore, is of the utmost importance, and this in turn requires that operations and business processes be streamlined and optimised to ultimately improve customer service.

Improving customer service requires organisations to firstly ensure their internal and external processes are in line. The demand for Smart Process Apps (SPAs) arose out of a growing chasm between the internal enterprise software applications organisations use to manage their business, or their systems of record (ERP, CRM, ECM systems), and the ways organisations interact with customers today, or their systems of engagement (email, SMS, fax, snail mail, call centres), which increasingly require support for mobile devices. Smart Process Apps (SPAs) provide the essential link between an organisation’s systems of engagement and systems of record, enabling businesses to be more agile and responsive to customers, without the need to modify their ERP, CRM, ECM, line of business and other enterprise software applications.

Smart Process Apps (SPAs), according to global research and advisory firm Forrester Research, are ‘a new category of software that supports business activities that are people intensive, often unpredictable, loosely structured, collaborative and subject to frequent change’. Smart Process Apps (SPAs), in effect, provide the flexibility and adaptability organisations today need to deal with an increasing number of unpredictable processes and collaborative activities. In addition, Smart Process Apps (SPAs) support the mobility that has become critical to doing business.

Within many organisations, one of the most significant customer-facing business processes is the capturing of information. This can be a tedious, time-consuming process that is prone to human error. As a result, it is also a prime candidate for transformation through Smart Process App (SPA) technology. Examples include new customer onboarding applications such as account openings, loan applications, healthcare patient admissions and insurance claim submissions. These information-intensive processes are typically slow and are an endless source of frustration for customers and employees alike. Improving this particular customer engagement will enable businesses to leverage improved real-time interactions to increase responsiveness and provide a higher level of service.

Smart Process Apps (SPAs) have the potential to greatly enhance the way organisations interact with employees, suppliers and customers. By putting an Smart Process App (SPA) strategy and platform into place, businesses are positioned to effectively deal with large volumes of information and data originating from different sources, ranging from online applications to walk-in customers. Smart Process Apps (SPAs) help organisations to meet capture, process management and mobile goals without having to make changes to existing systems, which will help keep cost of ownership down.

Organisations can leverage the latest technological innovations with regard to data capture, business process management (BPM), dynamic case management (DCM), data integration, analytics and mobile capabilities on a single, unified platform. From capturing content and images on mobile devices to the management of the related structured and unstructured business processes, from document process analytics insights to collecting the “wet ink” signature from a customer using their smartphone device, a single, fully unified platform for the development and deployment of Smart Process Apps (SPAs) has the potential to revolutionise business. In addition, customers can easily be kept informed, engaged and up to date on the process at every stage, which vastly improves the customer experience.

Smart Process Apps in summary

In an increasingly commoditised global market, customer service is the cornerstone of competitive advantage. Improving business processes is therefore essential. In order to achieve this, organisations should look toward leveraging the power of Smart Process Apps (SPAs) through a unified, integrated platform. This radically transforms and simplifies the processing of real-time, information intensive communications from customers and dramatically improves an organisation’s customer experience, while greatly reducing operating costs, thus driving increased competitiveness, growth and profitability.

Elevating the Finance Function with Automated Accounts Payable solutions

With automated Accounts Payable solutions, organisations can expect to see a return on their investment within the first six to twelve months. From that point onwards, the solution starts generating increasing returns for the business.

In fact, there are many benefits when automating the processes of receiving invoices, automated reconciliation of invoices against associated statements, and making timely payments to suppliers, business partners, tax agencies and other creditors.

In essence, it allows the finance function to become more proactive and strategic in their approach and ultimately transform the role from a cost centre into an area rich in innovation and new efficiencies.

Surprisingly, not all mid-size and large companies have recognised the value of automating this function. Consequently, they are not deriving the most possible value from their Finance operations.

In traditional thinking, the finance function was regarded simply as a cost centre to the business, an admin-intensive area that was fated to growing in scale, in proportion with a growing organisation. Even worse, it seemed to add more layers of manual processes as it grew.

Now, with automated Accounts Payable solutions, the finance division is re-framed as a strategic team that drives process efficiencies, ensures the optimal use of financial resources, improves balance sheet effectiveness, and focuses on relationships and engagement with key business partners.

The direct, tangible advantages of an automated Accounts Payable solution start with the benefits of early-payment discounts, and avoiding any late-payment penalties. In cases of more complex conglomerates and federated organisations, automation enables the finance teams to see where the same suppliers are being paid by different business units, and consolidate the invoices into one – often benefitting from bulk discounts.

Other direct advantages are found in areas like tax penalty avoidance, reduced chances for erroneous payments, and savings on smaller administrative costs like couriering, paper, ink, and physical document storage for example. Over time, it all adds up to a huge saving for the organisation.

And, as automation takes over much of the ‘low value, high volume’ activities in invoicing, there is less need to grow the headcount in the finance team. In fact, many of the team members are redeployed to higher-value, more strategic activities.

Finally, by handing over much of the day-to-day processing to an automated solution, the finance team is better able to plan, forecast and budget. In this way, for example, they can select the suppliers who are offering the most attractive early-payment discounts and structure the accounts payable function around generating the most value.

In general, it is the visibility and control which makes automated Accounts Payable so attractive. Being able to track the status of an invoice, from receipt all the way through its lifecycle, to the eventual payment, is a huge boost to the organisation.

Some of the other key features of automated solutions include full compliancy with the relevant legislation – this is primarily the South African Revenue Services (SARS) Act, and the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) Act – as well as conformance with governance recommendations such as King III.

Added to this, quality Accounts Payable solutions also cater for automated statement reconciliations, and effectively deal with any exceptions, queries, errors, inconsistencies and duplications through a flexible case management system.

Ultimately, all of these benefits help the Finance team to elevate its role within the organisation – and focus on the higher-value aspects of supplier relationships, enhanced engagement and communication with suppliers, and financial forecasting. Top-class Finance skills are retained in the organisation, as it adopts a leaner and more strategic guise. The benefits to the organisation are quick to realise, and very sustainable in the months and years that follow.

See more at:

It’s a Text, Text, Text, Text World

So much emotion is lost in text. Tone of voice, gestures, facial expressions, body language, that quiver of excitement.

This poem called Indirect by BABYRUTHBEER caught my attention today:

To sigh after a long story,
or to gasp when you hear something silly;
Two of the wonders you can’t do
if online chat is what you’re into.

Looking at the person in the eye
is a cute act you can’t deny,
But that would lose its magic
even with Skype as your sidekick.

How about his expressions, real time?
And to hold his hands as a pastime?
Things that are stripped away from us;
That’s what online communication does.

Not to mention the words genuine and sincere.
Now, it will be hard to know if something’s real.

*Slightly adapted by me J

I think it’s fantastic that we can be connected by WhatsApp, Facebook and Skype. But text is flat, dead, and emotionless (unless you’re a great writer). We spit out instant messages in seconds, forgetting our commas, forgetting about how the tone of your message will come across.

Let's eat grandpa

This got me thinking – there are 100’s of “emoticons” in our chat tools, but which are the core universal emoticons for everyday usage? I found Psychologist Paul Ekman on Wikipedia, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. He states that there are six basic emotions: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise. These emotions are expressed by certain facial expressions that are universal in all cultures! That’s powerful. Six basic emotions universal in all cultures.

Of the 100’s of emoticons, or emoji, I was surprised to discover that some were easy to find, but others like disgust and surprise had me stumped for a while. Disgust was the hardest to find – the closest synonym match was “nauseate or sicken”.

So according to Paul Ekman and the Emojipedia, the following are our six basic emotions expressed in text:

emoji anger




You agree?

Whenever it’s possible, nothing beats picking up the phone and talking to somebody, or getting up and walking across the passage to quickly assist a colleague with a question. Go give somebody a hug!