Custom Software Apps & SharePoint Consulting

Three Office 365 Trends to Pay Attention To

If you are already using Office 365, or if you are considering switching from an on-premises environment, you should pay attention to how the platform is evolving. Microsoft regularly pushes out changes (take a look at their robust Microsoft 365 product roadmap if you don’t believe me) and unless you are scanning the horizon and letting your users know about upcoming tweaks, they may be taken by surprise.

Like the famed Ship of Theseus, which had its parts replaced one by one until it was a wholly new vessel, Office 365 has set sail, bound for three major ports.

Teams is Replacing SharePoint as the O365 Collaboration Hub

Microsoft has been investing heavily in getting Teams to feature parity with rival Slack and improving integration with sundry third-party tools. If you click on the add new tab within Teams, you will see the long list of integrated services you can use.

SharePoint alone is not as effective as Teams plus SharePoint, and when you create a Team you get a SharePoint collaboration site as well as better integration and the chat client. Teams is designed to directly compete with and answer to Slack. It integrates with a wide variety of apps, including Trello and SurveyMonkey.

Teams Integrates Well With Office 365

The advantage of Teams over Slack is the full integration with Office 365. For those already heavily using Office 365 and with a business subscription, it can be useful to have built-in Skype calling integrated with Cortana. There is also a free option which is suitable for most small businesses and offers more features than Slack does to free subscribers. If you use Google Drive, however, Slack integrates much better with them. Slack also has a much stronger developer community.

Teams is limited to Microsoft’s in-house developers, while Slack’s more open approach is attracting third-party developers. This may make it hard for Microsoft to keep up. Still, it makes little sense for Office 365 subscribers to pay extra for Slack.

Given the “arms race” of features between the two, it is unlikely Slack will stay ahead for long. Although, it may do so for periods. Microsoft Teams also has stronger admin tools that allow for better control over, for example, whether memes can be sent through the chat. Choosing between the two is, in many ways, down to whether you are using Office Online or Google Drive for collaboration and cloud storage.

Teams is Also Replacing Skype For Business

Close-up Of A Businesswoman Having Video Conference In Office

Microsoft is quietly deprecating Skype for Business and pushing customers over to Teams instead. This is not a big deal as Teams is fully integrated with Skype. Microsoft themselves is touting it as an “upgrade,” although some businesses might disagree. IT managers should be aware that it is very likely they will eventually be forced to switch over. Microsoft has provided a roadmap to help you decide when to make the change. It makes sense that Microsoft would not want to run two redundant systems. Given what was mentioned above, about competing with Slack, fully integrating Skype makes sense.

Integrated video calling is one of the ways in which Teams stands above Slack, which instead has an approach of trying to help users use their third-party video calling system of choice. While some might prefer this, the integration should come over as an improvement, especially to people already using SFB. However, it will also make it hard for those currently using SFB as a standalone app.

Teams is a Better Way to Communicate

Thus, you should switch to Teams. Start preparing by setting Teams up and communicating with your employees, some of whom may need training. You also need to make sure that your hardware properly supports the Teams Skype integration. Timelines may change, and Microsoft is currently, as of January 2019, recommending that you run both systems side-by-side until all of the features are added to Teams. Overall, existing Office 365 subscribers should definitely be setting up Teams. It seems that Microsoft intends to essentially integrate everything needed for collaboration into the Teams app. This follows a general trend of integrating everything as closely together as possible. Another recent integration, for example, is that Yammer group files are now stored in SharePoint rather than separately.

SharePoint is Being Modernized

Microsoft is also putting a lot of effort into improving and modernizing SharePoint. New pages for lists and libraries have already been rolled out, as has a new look and UI for collaboration sites and page editing. This is overlaid on an improved web-part creation framework. They are also promising reorganized menus and a hub-and-spoke model for navigation and theme inheritance. Changes as of January 2019 include a selection of new web parts including a countdown timer, YouTube and code snippet (for those not familiar with SharePoint Online, a “web part” is what most CMS systems call a “widget” or “plug-in”).

Microsoft’s December announcement gives some advanced warning about future developments. Page templates have been delayed, but they are in the process of rolling out customized title regions, section background support, pinning of news articles to sort them, and personalized web parts that detect specific users and give them the right information.

SharePoint Migration Tool

In other words, using SharePoint is changing. To help employees understand the changes, training may be necessary. Microsoft is also improving the SharePoint Migration Tool to help new users move stuff over to SharePoint Online and OneDrive. This includes UI changes to make it more consistent with other Office 365 apps, the ability to start new migrations without having to restart the tool and a more streamlined settings system.

If you have been using SharePoint for a while, then you may have some decisions to make. For most businesses, the best choice is probably to upgrade your site to use modern tools, but some may find a completely new site is easier. If your site is heavily customized, then you might be better off leaving them be. Finally, in December, an improved SharePoint admin center was rolled out. It gives much better-sharing controls and a more attractive user interface, amongst other things.

For collaboration and communication, Office 365 has a great set of tools. However, IT managers who use it need to stay on top of what Microsoft’s changes. This helps make an informed decision about migrating to Office 365. further, it denotes what kind of training and internal communication you need with employees to ensure they are using the system to its full potential.

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