First of all, excuse the feint reference to Extreme’s iconic ballad from the 90s, although its timing may well contextualise where we were and where we are now in terms of software.
In the pre-cloud days it was easier to talk about software. Why? Because it was a thing. Something tangible like a box, CD or even a disk. When we talked about Office products it was something that was contained within that box, which you purchased from a shop. When you needed to upgrade you went back to the shop and invested in a slightly shinier box.
We operate in a world where the internet and cloud-based services are the norm – as such, software has literally (and figuratively) moved out of the box. In this post I’m going to focus on Office 365, something we hear banded around by anybody and everybody. I want to talk about what it is, where it is and what it does. You might be thinking that it’s obvious – think again. Ask any IT professional and they’ll probably come out with a different explanation. When I’m dealing with prospects and customers I’m continually surprised at how it’s put forward by other providers. More often than not it’s positioned as an alternative to a box copy of Office, giving you hosted email (depending on the plan you choose) and the latest and greatest versions of the Office suite of products. What they often fail to mention is that it’s a feature-rich communications and collaboration tool which can easily be adopted by any business – large, small or somewhere in-between.
Let’s start with the obvious - email, contacts and calendars. For a lot of businesses, this is the main reason for moving to Office 365. Although vast improvements have been made to rival services, such as Gmail, Microsoft still paves the way for business email systems. With Office 365, you get Microsoft’s industry-standard Exchange Server software for email and calendar, accessible through the cloud. That means you receive all the benefits of Microsoft Exchange, without the hassle of maintaining the associated hardware and client licenses.
We then move onto productivity apps. Again, already an industry standard, Microsoft’s software for document creation, dazzling Pivot Tables and presentations (Word, Excel and PowerPoint, respectively) – now become as accessible as your email, on any device, wherever you are. There’s also the assurance that you get the latest and greatest versions of these apps, rather than having to wait to purchase the latest version. Further to this there is OneDrive – the cloud-based file library which ensures you have the documents you need, wherever you are.
If you managed to read this far you’re hopefully excited about the possibilities that the basics of Office 365 can give you. Why wouldn’t you be? However, what some people don’t realise (or aren’t even told) is that there’s so much more to Office 365, features that it make it ‘more than Word’. So let’s explore…
Skype for Business
Formerly known as Lync, Skype for Business is a complete online meeting solution, including HD video conferencing and instant messaging. With all the familiar features from Skype, you can now use it for business and have peace of mind when it comes to security, compliance and control. It is a complete business communication and collaboration tool available anywhere there’s Internet and 3G/4G access, and it can be used across multiple devices. You can also enjoy sophisticated conference room setups and hold meetings with up to 250 people, as well as seamless integration with every day apps like Excel, Word, and Outlook.
With easy-to-use video conferencing and instant messaging, remote workers and teams in different offices can easily work together from different locations. Minimising the need to travel, saving time and money, colleagues can easily share content by presenting their screen live in any meeting or conversation.
In simple terms Yammer is your company's very own private social network - think of it like Facebook, minus the photos of gargantuan meals and videos of skateboarding animals. It helps break down internal barriers by connecting people to each other and to the information they need. We use it internally at BCN Group to communicate company announcements and updates (where email isn’t required), share success stories about our customers and host an internal knowledge base where technical teams can discuss projects and products.
The beauty of Yammer is its flexibility – it can be many things to different organisations. Other capabilities include ‘groups’. You can create internal groups based around departments, projects and interests. You can also expand it beyond your own four walls and invite customers and partners to join groups, so they can quickly access the information they need. If you’re looking for a new way to communicate with colleagues and partners, using a friendly and familiar platform then Yammer is well worth exploring.
If you’re familiar with SharePoint, you’ll quickly feel familiar with Team Sites as it’s the technology used to provide this service. If you’re not familiar with SharePoint think of Team Sites like a box, which you can fill with things like lists, libraries and content. It’s a newer form of intranet.
The advantage here is that you can give users access to that box, which can be viewed and worked on wherever there’s a browser and a connection. You can also work together on the same file, which means no more emailing documents around and losing track of the latest version. You can easily add, respond to, and track comments and status updates on one version of the document.
Team Sites help make sense of the chaos through the focused sharing of information, ensuring it is both relevant and engaging to those involved. It also helps internal communication, especially when users or offices are spread out. For example, you may have a Sales Team, who cover different territories across the UK. Having a specific site for the Sales Team can help them communicate about weekly KPIs, which targets have been hit and which ones haven’t. This benefits communication because it allows everyone from the Sales Team to be on the same page, without cluttering the intranet with information that doesn’t pertain to them.
Planner is one of the latest additions to the 365 family and does exactly what it says on the tin. It makes it easy for teams to create new plans, organise and assign tasks, share files, chat about what they’re working on and get updates on progress.
Although I’m relatively new to Planner, what has impressed me so far is its simplicity. Each plan has its own board, where you can organise tasks into buckets. You can also categorise tasks based on their status or who they’re assigned to. To update the status or change assignments, you simply drag and drop tasks between columns. You can also attach files to tasks, work together on those files, and even have conversations around tasks without switching between apps.
It is truly team-orientated and ensures discussions and deliverables stay with the plan and don’t get locked away across disparate applications.
Whilst the above touches on the more collaborative elements of Office 365, there is still much more to it with additional applications such as Delve, Sway and Power BI, as well as its capabilities as a phone system through PTSN calling plans, which I’ll cover in a future post.
The key point I’m trying to get across is that we need to completely rethink our perception of Office. We need to move away from viewing it as a set of products that allows us to create documents and spreadsheets. It’s a holistic tool that enables your business to work smarter through creating, sharing and working together wherever you are. It delivers abilities that don’t really have a real world equivalent. It’s more than Word.
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- Written by Robert McMurdo, BCN Group Account Manager