In 2011 Microsoft launched the first iteration of what has evolved to become the Microsoft 365 we know today. Launched initially as “Office 365”, businesses largely saw this new platform as an opportunity to migrate their on-premise Exchange email server to the cloud. At its conception this new service was relatively feature-lite (compared to today’s offering), incorporating Exchange E-mail, SharePoint online, an early version of Skype for business, as well as the Office apps we are all familiar with. From the very beginning, many of 365’s capabilities went underused, particularly SharePoint, which many organisations failed to fully capitalise on.
Since then, the 365 offering has gone through something of a metamorphosis. While the core Office apps remain, a plethora of tools and capabilities have been added; ranging from the radical evolution of SharePoint into the empowering data-sharing platform it is today, to the addition of completely new sub-platforms such as Teams and Planner.
With an increasingly crowded SaaS marketplace, Microsoft sought to keep 365 relevant by incorporating all the productivity, communication and automation tools a business might need into one single ecosystem. This made Microsoft 365 the pre-eminent productivity platform for business of all sizes, offering seamless compatibility across services and a common user interface.
The consequence of these changes is that many organisations continue to use only a fraction of the services and capabilities available to them through their 365 subscriptions, staying within the confines of email and the handful of familiar office apps.
We don’t think that makes great business sense.
With a 365 subscription you’re paying towards the development and maintenance costs of each and every service offered to you; so why not make the most of them? Let’s explore some of the latent potential in Microsoft 365 that often goes untapped.
First, consider which 365 subscription you have.
365 subscriptions are divided into 3 categories based on the needs of different users: Home, Business and Enterprise. Business and Enterprise plans are designed with the needs of corporate users in mind, however each plan is comprised of a unique set of tools and services, with Enterprise subscriptions offering a significantly broader range of capabilities than their Business counterparts.
It’s therefore important to distinguish the common services such as SharePoint and Teams from subscription-specific platforms like Planner and PowerApps.
First introduced in 2001, businesses often fail to exploit the platform’s potential. Through the creation of “team-sites,” SharePoint allows users to establish collaboration spaces where teams can work together on a common activity. These spaces act as a single repository around which goal or project-specific work would be centred; bringing all the apps, documents, workflow aids and insights needed by a team under one roof.
“Communication sites” can also be created. These acted as a sort of noticeboard through which news and insights could be shared both internally and externally, often acting as an intranet landing page.
Deeply embedded within the Office or Microsoft 365 environment, SharePoint interfaces seamlessly with other key applications, such as Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Teams. SharePoint Sites are customisable to include workflow applications, such as Planner and To Do. It’s so much more than a document depository!
Introducing Microsoft Teams
Although many users became increasingly familiar with Microsoft Teams during the pandemic, organisations often fail to explore the hidden depths of this collaboration platform.
To get started you first establish a “team.” This could be a business department or a group of employees tasked with collaborating on a project. The creation of a Team, establishes a collaboration space leveraging SharePoint, Planner and an Office 365 group; something users often don’t realise.
Any MS Teams collaboration space can then be subdivided into “channels”; ideal for more focused collaboration. Any channel added, has a corresponding SharePoint Site, to allow for seamless file sharing.
The beauty of Microsoft Teams lies in the integration of communication, scheduling and file sharing/editing into a single intuitive space. Within the one window, Teams lets you…
- Open and share Outlook calendars & create Teams meetings
- Open and edit files stored in SharePoint (in real time!)
- Call leveraging Teams or external PSTN network to host audi meetings and Teams’ video conferencing capabilities
- Have instant message conversations using the in-built Chat, with handy features such as ‘@mentions’ and a search function
- Collaborate in real time within a Teams chat by using Loop components where members of a team can contribute to a piece of work together in one session.
In addition to seamless integration within the Microsoft 365 environment, Teams also allows 3rd party apps to be integrated directly into the Teams environment, with popular workflow management platforms such as Asana and Monday.com now supported.
We’ve mentioned Planner above, but what is it you might be asking?
‘Plans’ allow you to focus your project and tasks around a body of work – such as a project or business department. These may be launched independently within Planner or within Microsoft Teams – with Planner being effortlessly integrated behind the scenes with your other favourite apps, including To Do and Power Automate; making it all the more powerful of a project & task management system.
Planner enables you to create Kanban boards using content-rich tasks with features including files, checklists and labels. Collaborate in Planner and Microsoft Teams – working from visual status charts – all in the Microsoft Cloud.
Included with most business-centric 365 subscriptions, Planner features much of the functionality that 3rd party workflow platforms provide, but without the added subscription cost, so if it’s lying dormant in your environment you may want to give it a try.
Introducing Power Automate
Available to 365 Enterprise customers, Power Automate allows users to connect data held in different platforms with the aim of eliminating repetitive manual tasks. With a catalogue of pre-constructed workflow templates and connectors, Power Automate gives your employees the ability to embrace automation and free themselves from time consuming repetitive tasks.
Power Automate enables the transfer of data within the 365 environment, and also features compatibility with hundreds of external data sources, including social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, among many other 3rd party line of business applications and tools. Workflows can be used to transfer data between these cloud-based apps, trigger reminders, and much more.
Other resources at a glance…
A flexible, intuitive information management tool with many applications. Create to-do, lists, manage inventories, track issue resolution and much more. An empowering organisational tool featuring pre-made templates for ease of use; Lists is available through Teams, SharePoint or as a standalone app.
An effortlessly simple survey generation tool. Launch polls, questionnaires, quizzes and surveys to gauge customer satisfaction, test staff knowledge and more, then export the results to excel for further analysis.
An intuitive web-based meeting scheduling tool that takes the stress out of managing appointments. Give customers a portal to your online booking page so they can choose a time that suits them, while automated reminders reduce the chance of missed appointments. Outlook integration helps sync your meetings with other calendar commitments.
Azure Active Directory
Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is a cloud-based identity and access management
service. This service helps your employees access external resources, such as Microsoft 365,
the Azure portal, and thousands of other SaaS applications. Azure Active Directory also helps
your team access internal resources such as apps on your corporate intranet network, along
with any cloud apps developed for your own organization.
Azure AD enables your IT team to control access to your apps and your app
resources, based on your business requirements. For example, you can use Azure AD
to require multi-factor authentication when accessing important organizational
resources. You can also use Azure AD to automate user provisioning between your
existing Windows Server AD and your cloud apps, including Microsoft 365. Finally,
Azure AD gives you powerful tools to automatically help protect user identities and
credentials and to meet your access governance requirements. As more and more
services move to the Public Cloud, Azure AD provides you with the management
controls you need.
Count on Centrality to be your Microsoft Expert
If you are looking to harness the complete capabilities of the Microsoft 365 suite, to empower your teams and delivery new levels of organisation productivity, we are here to help. With over 26 years of Microsoft experience, we are best placed to guide, support, and help you to leverage the full capabilities of both the Microsoft 365 suite of products, and the wider Microsoft Cloud, to provide you with the best end user experience that is seamless and secure.
Get in touch today if you need help to maximise the power and capability of Microsoft 365 in your organisation.