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 http://www.brainstormmag.co.za/features/14390-did-the-app-kill-email 

One Experience. On every device. For everything in your life.

There are huge benefits in investing into one platform for all your devices – the same platform of your mobile phone, the same platform for your tablet, your work notebook, and your gaming console. I have chosen Microsoft as my platform and I will tell you why.

In a previous life, I had an Android smartphone, an Apple iPad, a Microsoft laptop, and playing my games on the Sony PlayStation 3. I thought life was good. I had all kinds of systems in place to synchronize content to the cloud and synchronize content back to each my devices. I would go to a customer meeting with my iPad, take notes, only to return to the office and not be able to work on those notes on my notebook. I first needed to synchronize the iPad to the cloud, and then synchronize the cloud back to my notebook. I thought I was being productive, but actually, I was not.

At the same time, I was buying the same apps for different platforms – especially apps that were needed for work between the iPad and the Windows notebook. I was paying twice for the same app, sometimes even three times for the same app on different platforms!

I sat back, looked at this craziness and asked myself – will my work platform change to Android in the next 2 years? Will my work platform change to Apple in the next 2 years? No, and no in each case. My work platform for the last… uhmmm 15+ years… has been Microsoft. I do not seeing that changing in the next 2 years.

Today, I have consolidated all my devices and apps to one platform. Microsoft!

I have a Windows Phone 8, a hybrid Windows 8 touch tablet/notebook, and Xbox 360 for gaming. In the process, I have eliminated one device – the Apple iPad – and vastly simplified my digital life.

Come to think of it, the Apple iPad is pretty frustrating to use as a business device in a world where our office runs on Microsoft.

I have even taken it further into the applications I use – switching from Dropbox to Microsoft SkyDrive, and switching from Evernote to Microsoft OneNote (the text editor in OneNote is far superior to Evernote). The Microsoft Office tools are fully integrated into the platform, and SkyDrive is fully integrated in Microsoft Office. I have *even* switched from Google Chrome back to Internet Explorer! Yip, go look at http://BrowserYouLoveToHate.com. This “Child of the 90’s” clip almost brought me to tears!

Everything works better together on the Microsoft platform. When I play games on my Windows Phone 8, those gamer points are added to my Xbox profile,  the next time I fire up the Xbox, those gamer points are shared. My Xbox avatar (and gamer points) is the same on the Xbox and Windows Phone 8, and now also the Windows 8 Xbox Games app. One profile across all platforms I choose to play a game on. This is fantastic! In the old days, games played on the Android phone where totally disconnected from the games played on the iPad to games played on the PlayStation. Just think of that!

Office documents are shared via SkyDrive across all platforms. Tasks and to-do items created in Outlook on the notebook share to the Windows Phone seamlessly. Notes from meetings taken on OneNote shares via SkyDrive seamlessly across all platforms.

And the more time I spend, the more I’m switching – I’ve switched from Google to Bing for searches. The daily wallpaper updates from Bing Desktop are just awesome. Switched from Chrome to Internet Explorer. Switched from Google Picasa to Windows Photo Gallery etc. Switched from Google Talk to Skype.

So, yes, there are risks putting your most of your digital life in Microsoft’s hands. I am willing to take that risk – Microsoft has been around long enough, I have been using their products for years, Microsoft is getting more things right these days, and so far… Microsoft remains consistently good.

It continues to amaze me how consumers make decisions on the devices they buy. Specifically the platforms – the choice between Microsoft, Apple, Google and dare I add Samsung and Sony. If you are a digital citizen, give this some thought.