The take up of Office 365 is huge, and it is growing by the day. But, what is driving this growth?
Read the reports being published, search the web, listen to the newly emerging ‘experts’ and the main attraction is that O365 offers very much lower cost per user than conventional local area network. The savings are derived from –
- Large amounts of free cloud storage per user license.
- Bundled Office applications (Word, Excel, Power Point etc.).
- The O365 suite is web based and may be accessed by almost any machine that runs an Internet browser, so many users don’t even need a full blown PC to use it.
Sound enough reasons for any business to start planning a move to Office 365. However, a good IT service provider or consultant will advise customers of the many issues to be taken into account at the start of any such planning.
The first of these is that Office 365 is SharePoint on-line. That means, apart from Exchange (email), there is NO part of Office 365 that is not SharePoint. All files migrated into or stored in Office 365 are written to a SharePoint workspace. SharePoint appends substantial metadata to imported files and this In turn this means that storage limits, gigabytes, terabytes or numbers of files have very little relationship with storage limits on conventional file stores, or even with storage limits on other cloud storage.
Office 365 is not just another cloud storage, it is completely different.
Organisations advised that they can simply migrate file stores and users personal folders to Office 365 One Drive for Business invariably encounter major issues. A good IT service provider or consultant will identify these issues at the planning stage, before migration starts. This will result in additional preparation and training costs. There are many file storage practices that will not translate to Office 365, deeply nested sub-folder structures and long path names, being just two. If incompatibilities are not addressed before migration starts business can be severely disrupted, or even stop entirely, while issues are sorted out.
So, is Microsoft mis-selling Office 365 with offers of huge amounts of storage?
No. The advertising simply states what you get,. If the buyer fails to do sufficient research, or is badly advised on specific issues, it does not detract from the fantastic value of Office 365.
Once users get used to the concept of file storage in sites, libraries and lists instead of hopelessly complicated nested folder structures they discover a vastly more efficient way of working and collaborating with colleagues.
The caveat is – Don’t underestimate the scope of the change.
So, what about the organisation which needs to benefit from the advantages of cloud storage , but where there is no resource available for the major changes required for SharePoint deployment?
The answer here is ‘small steps’.
If cloud storage is all that is immediately required use Microsoft Onedrive (formerly Skydrive) or one of the other cloud storage solutions. Please note that Microsoft Onedrive should not be confused with Microsoft Onedrive for Business (formerly Onedrive Pro) as the latter is also SharePoint on-line and thus is subject to the filename and path limitation described for Office 365. Cloud storage such as Onedrive is simply an extension of resource for any browser equipped computer. If you can log on to the Internet with the PC or device, you can access a cloud resource for storage and retrieval of data. With Microsoft Onedrive you can even edit or create Word, Excel and other Office files online with no extra cost via the browser based Office applications. It should be noted though that these are not as powerful as the paid-for locally installed versions of Office.
Use of basic cloud storage may give rise to security issues.
This depends on how sensitive the corporate data is and the legal requirements for the organisation to protect customer information from misuse. Buyers must make their own judgement as to what cloud storage vendors offer by way of data security, but suffice to say they are largely pretty good. A more serious issue is local device security. In a scenario where cloud stored data can be downloaded to any local device it becomes necessary for the organisation to ensure that sufficient device security and user training is in place to prevent data loss as a result of a lost or stolen laptop computer, tablet or other mobile devices. There is also a need to consider what data can be downloaded to, and left on, third party computers and devices, such as those belonging to friends and relatives of authorised users, or even Internet Café machines which may be used to access corporate data.
Having taken advantage of the cost and collaboration benefits of cloud storage without deployment of SharePoint on-line a business may turn to examination other Office 365 elements for business improvement and cost reduction.
Obviously, first amongst these is email. Office 365 delivers business class email with central control over administration. Add a new user to an O365 plan and they automatically become part of the corporate email group.
Other important factors in the choice of Office 365 over basic cloud storage is the functionality and security that SharePoint on-line delivers over the alternatives.
Once an Office 365 plan is in place for the business all of the SharePoint functionality is available at no additional cost. Rolling out business functions, such as asset management, maintenance planning, CRM, sales and order processing, business system interfacing and data transformation become exercises in planning and management, rather than IT system deployment. There are many complete Office 365 applications for sale, but once the basics of SharePoint online have been learned these functions can be designed and deployed in-house. The design interface for the creation of a file systems is no more complicated than that for Microsoft Excel.
Comparison of a data interface and transformation process illustrates some of the Office 365 benefits.
Take an interface requirement which calls for the collection of data from two external cash collection agencies, quality check of the data and transformation of the data for upload to the corporate business systems. Conventionally this would involve server scheduled tasks, sever scripting and applications for data transformation. Development of the server scripts and the data transformation applications requires either in-house or external developer skills. The system must be fully documented for Internal staff to be capable of running and auditing the process. The process is dependent on a range elements including server stability and network reliability. Support must be available against the eventuality of occasional failure.
A bespoke SharePoint process, to include workflows that alert users to poor data quality in the source files, prompt designated individuals or groups to take action in the process and return verbose reports for clear audit trail, can be developed with less than two days work. But, most importantly the only really technical aspects are the data transformation algorithms. These are entered in the form of MS Excel style Expressions, which can be updated and/or modified by any Excel Superuser. No server scripts or compiled applications are used at all, which means that support and maintenance are minimal. User training is equivalent to that for the conventional interface which still requires operational checks and audits.
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