Microsoft 365: Your Evolving Digital Toolset
According to Deloitte, the top three drivers for cloud migration include:
- Security and data protection
- Data Modernization
- Cost and performance of IT operations
Source: Deloitte Insights
Microsoft 365, formerly known as Office 365, is at the forefront of this movement and shows no signs of abatement.
This article will focus on transformational benefits as well as a few caveats.
Since Microsoft puts most of its focus on enterprise accounts, they rely on partner VARS and MSPs to serve the small and midsize market with consulting, implementation, support, and other value-added services.
A Microsoft Certified Partner MSP has a direct relationship with Microsoft and can help you decide which path is best. (This saves time and spares you a lot of frustration.)
They can also decode anything being promoted by Microsoft that may not be quite ready for prime time. It happens.
Are you ready to dive into the five transformational benefits of Microsoft 365? Explore one or all of the following links.
- Simplify Operations
- Accelerate Productivity
- Strengthen Regulation & Compliance Readiness
- Harden Protection of Data and Intellectual Property
- Improve Financial Controls
1 - Simplify Operations
Your premise-based file server is one of the weakest links in your digital estate. Why? It’s complicated. And this legacy “box” becomes even more so over time.
Migrating your file shares to SharePoint, included in the Microsoft 365 application suite, puts the breaks on the following complexities:
- The need to replace file server equipment every four to five years
- The burden of updating and renewing complicated operating system licenses
- The ongoing cost and administrative overhead of software service and maintenance agreements
- Extra layers of technical oversight and user issues with remote access through a VPN or Remote Desktop Services
- The additional time it takes to integrate your server with most of today’s new applications predominately developed to be accessed through web browsers
- It relies upon real estate space, power, Internet access, climate control, and physical security
- The risk of fire, flood, and world-wide, health-related restrictions
According to Microsoft, more than 250,000 organizations use SharePoint, including over 85% of Fortune 500 companies that use SharePoint Online as part of Microsoft 365.
Learn More: SharePoint Usage Statistics
Is SharePoint right for you? The answer is a strong ‘yes’ if you have most of your applications in the cloud and don’t have heavy document storage needs.
ProviDyn is a perfect example. Almost everyone uses ConnectWise Professional Services Automation as our primary tool. Phones, Teams, and email are secondary.
We don’t have CAD systems or any custom applications created ten years ago that require kid gloves.
When is SharePoint not a viable file server replacement? When you have millions of files and need quick access to documents onsite.
In some scenarios, files can be archived. In other situations, they cannot. Once files are moved to SharePoint, the client has to access them through the SharePoint Online web portal since OneDrive (the storage backend) will not sync a high volume of files locally.
This factor is not ideal for all businesses because of the potential delays. Stay tuned. Things are changing fast with Microsoft, and they’re not one to be held back by limitations related to OneDrive. Or anything else.
Plus, your path will change as most software developers create apps that only work in the cloud.
2 - Accelerate Productivity
Everything in Microsoft 365 is part of a modular and expandable ecosystem that will dominate the business landscape of the future.
It’s also easy to learn and adopt. The work from home pivot triggered by COVID forced millions of people to dig deeper into Teams.
Since March of 2020, the world has been enjoying a host of workflow improvements that are now commonplace.
Pre-COVID, there was more of a focus on voice calls to qualify prospects. Nowadays, first encounter prospect meetings almost always occur via Teams using video, desktop sharing, and recording capabilities.
Face to face contact gives both parties a richer context to evaluate the potential fit. The ability to collaborate in real-time and review recordings makes the exchange dramatically more efficient.
Would you rather have a voice call then drive across town for a meeting that ends up going nowhere? Or would you rather have a video call and get a much better sense of the potential before you get in the car (and suffer traffic)?
Creating and collaborating on Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents have never been easier - in the office or on the go.
Imagine you’re standing in a movie line at 7:45 PM. Did the answer to a challenging work-related project question just pop into your head? Welcome to my life.
Instead of recording the idea on your iPhone, emailing, or texting yourself, you can simply open a Word, dictate your idea, name it, and save it to OneDrive. That’s what I call mobility superpower!
It’s secure, too, thanks to Intune mobile device management.
Learn More: Microsoft Intune
When you’re ready, you can share it on Teams, which serves as a convenient navigational front end for SharePoint, where multiple users can make changes to the document simultaneously.
It’s as easy as drag and drop.
Everything’s in one place, so you and everyone else don’t have to go on a treasure hunt across multiple platforms and devices.
You can also make a clean break from Internet File Explorer. Why would you want to do that? The exhibit below is a file management structure with a single function.
How would you like to find files quicker and also have access to a host of other applications in one place?
If that sounds appealing, you’re going to love the way the Teams portal ties everything together.
- Track activities and conversations with different functional teams
- Share documents internally without creating a giant email footprint
- Share proposals externally and maintain tighter control over who has access, and how long the links (and your offers) stay live
- Initiate private chats or groups messages
- Schedule meetings on the fly
- Make voice or video calls with colleagues based on their availability
- Click on Help to get instant Teams training with short videos and articles
In early 2020, Microsoft 365 Business Voice was introduced as an add-on to Teams. Yes, they are now competing in the phone system market.
At first glance, this sounds very compelling, but I’m not overly impressed with its scalability and cost-efficiency just yet. Each installation is limited to 300 licenses and only 3,000 monthly minutes.
Learn More: Microsoft 365 Business Voice
I am confident future versions will have fewer limitations. And I’m excited they’re breaking the ice on a service that is such a natural fit for this business class platform.
3 - Strengthen Regulation and Compliance Readiness
Identity management is the cornerstone of strong cybersecurity and data protection. Identity is the new firewall, and your employees are considered the perimeter.
This doesn’t mean hardware firewalls are vanishing. However, it does suggest the importance of lowering the risk of the human factor.
Hint: using the same passwords for multiple accounts, storing them in Excel spreadsheets, unsecured web browsers, Outlook contacts, and yellow sticky notes.
Learn More: Identity The New Firewall
With applications being accessed onsite, in the cloud, at home, and on mobile devices, the timing has never been better for Azure Activity Directory (AD) to tie everything together.
Included in your Microsoft 365 subscription, Azure AD can integrate and synchronize all devices, user accounts, and passwords, including on-premise Active Directory Domain Services.
This is where Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) can be configured for everyone in your organization.
You can also enable Single Sign On (SSO) to all of your applications.
Excuse the repetition in advance, but this point bears repeating; software is actively being developed for the cloud (Software as a Service) - not for on-premise file servers.
This “much less equipment on-site” trend means future organizations will look a lot like this simplified Infographic from Microsoft.
As of December 2020, Azure AD supports close to 3,000 third-party applications and 50 to 100 compliance offerings. Chances are they’ve got you covered.
How convenient would it be to access everything via safe and secure Single-Sign-On?
All businesses are increasingly concerned with data protection, privacy, and avoiding liability. While this is a higher priority for Fortune 500 companies, small and midsize organizations are not exempt.
Everyone is under a microscope these days. Are you prepared to provide assurance to customers and prospects?
Microsoft 365 can improve your competitive advantage right away.
4 - Harden Protection of Data and Intellectual Property
Microsoft 365 also has built-in safeguards that govern everyday user experience to protect against unintentional and intentional behaviors.
Easy to set permissions to determine who sees what you want them to see.
Machine learning threat protection knows where files go and captures mass downloads. Tracking downloads provides insights on employees who may be at risk of leaving the company with proprietary information as well as the magnitude of your Shadow IT problem.
Employees using Shadow IT or unapproved applications aren’t 100% negative. By understanding why employees are going outside for help, employers can incorporate new technologies into their official IT stacks.
Thanks to file encryption, you’re protected if a critical business plan or financial statement lands outside your organization.
Documents are saved automatically as your work on them. Deleted files can be recovered by the user from their recycle bins. You can also recover
files that other people delete.
Retention policies can be set for years on end. How’s that for a backup plan?
No matter what happens to an important file, once it’s designated as a keeper with specific time parameters, it’s here to stay in the preservation hold library.
This means it’s more permanent than an employee with elevated administrative privileges who deletes it from a second stage recycle bin. Version control is another must-have. For instance, you can quickly go back two weeks in time (or more) to fetch a document that was perfect until you jacked it up.
The word ‘you’ is essential here. By putting version control in users’ hands, internal IT resources and your MSP don’t need to be engaged. Could your team benefit from more self-service and employee autonomy?
5 - Improve Financial Controls
Microsoft 365 is billed monthly or as an annual subscription. It’s also continuously updated and can be scaled up or down depending on your headcount.
You can also trade up and down between higher and lower functionality offerings based on your changing requirements.
Learn More: Microsoft 365 Plans
Since it’s an operating expense rather than a capital expenditure, you get the flexibility you’d never attain with a premise-based alternative.
Other cost-control benefits include:
- Fewer licenses to buy since each user license covers five devices
- You can add backup, cancel your image-based solution, and save anywhere from $250 to $1,400 per month
- No more file migration fees
- Everything is standardized, giving you options to transition to a new MSP or manage in-house if you plan to hire full-time IT personnel
- Decrease the potential loss of valuable IP assets
- Get more unified and actionable insights through a modern data-sharing platform that combines business intelligence, data analytics, and machine learning
- Reduce real estate expense by expanding your remote workforce footprint
- Lower your employee onboarding and offboarding costs
- Maximize business continuity with 24/7/365 availability
- Reduce cyber liability exposure
- Consolidate duplicate services and activate/deactivate new ones based on workload demands
- Attract the fastest-growing segment of the workforce – the 35 and under crowd - by offering technology that allows them to work the way they like to work
While Microsoft 365 is a better mousetrap, it’s still a mousetrap that requires maintenance and oversight.
It’s a sophisticated system with a multitude of notifications and settings. And you need to engage the right partner to plan the transition and ask the right questions in advance.
Can all of your documents be stored in the cloud?
Will the user experience be different (in a bad way)?
Do you understand the importance of training and change management?
Which third-party applications need to be configured as add-ons?
“Even in small organizations, it's crucial to have a skilled Microsoft 365 administrator who can manage users and configure security options properly. Unless you have in-house staff with proper training, it's worth outsourcing this management task to a managed service provider.”
- Ed Bott for The Ed Bott Report
In a perfect world, you should be getting advice from an MSP who can play the dual role of a wise coach and referee.
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