The shift from on-device installations of Microsoft software – the likes of Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and other familiar tools – into Cloud-hosted applications is far more than just a change in the way software is delivered to users.
This is the view of Intervate’s Shaun Dicker, Manager of Microsoft 365 Teamwork, who says that these native Cloud applications, wrapped under the umbrella of Office 365, unleash modern collaboration, creativity, and productivity within users.
“For decades, Microsoft’s tools have been at the very centre of almost all businesses,” he says, “but with the shift to Cloud-based, Office 365 applications, users now gain access to an array of modern tools, opening up new employee engagement opportunities”
“Software is lit up by the real-time data feeds that the Cloud enables, drawing in useful, relevant content from across the organisation – files, conversations, documents, images, and video.”
Tiaan Rossouw, Practice Lead for Office 365 at Intervate, says that with traditional installations of Microsoft software, users would have to buy the latest software on CDs, or (in the corporate setting) wait for their IT division to upgrade software in what was typically lengthy refresh cycles. “Ultimately, software didn’t get upgraded for years.”
“But with Office 365, users get the very latest updates from one of the world’s most pioneering technology giants. As fields like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and Big Data develop in leaps and bounds, the latest from these new frontiers are automatically updated into the software stack,” adds Rossouw.
With Office 365, all your documents and data are moved from one’s physical device or local server, into distributed Cloud-based servers, locked-down with the latest advances in cyber-security defences. “By automatically receiving the latest updates you always stay on top of emerging cyber-threats,” he explains.
But he says that the biggest advantage to Office 365 is seen in the new ways that colleagues are now able to work. With Microsoft Teams, far more dynamic and fluid ways of interacting are unleashed, which is a boon to employee collaboration and creativity.
“For South African teams collaborating with global colleagues, suddenly it doesn’t feel like we’re so far away. Sharing that latest signed-off specification, collaborating on a costing spreadsheet, or just having our daily stand-up meetings becomes a breeze. And all the history is available at the click of a button.”
The fact that all content and applications is now available on PCs, tablets and smartphones encourages the rise of modern virtual teams and the kind of mobile-first workforce that defines today’s most successful digital companies.
New, powerful platforms
Pundits like to talk about the so-called ‘consumerisation of IT’ (complex technology being made so easily available and intuitive that non-technical people can use it). But in Microsoft’s case, Dicker says this has truly become a reality, with tools like Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Flow – which allow people to build forms and workflows for organisations without deep technical or coding knowledge.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 is another fitting example of sophisticated enterprise software that is now reaching a far broader audience and enabling increased productivity. By uniting CRM and ERP solutions, staff can break down data silos and integrate seamlessly with third-party ERP solutions.
“As teams engage with each other on platforms that are far more powerful than merely the stock-standard Excel and PowerPoint, they’re able to tackle more complex work and achieve ever-greater results,” he notes.
The likes of Microsoft’s Power BI help to surface and visualise key information to leadership and teams, giving new insights into business performance; while all these Microsoft tools work in harmony to effectively modernise legacy systems and architectures, with sleek and intuitive front-end interfaces.
Benefits to IT teams
While the advantages of Office 365 to the end-user are compelling, the value proposition to IT managers and administrators are just as clear, explains Dicker.
“These are the kind of dynamic, always-on personal tools that users have been asking for. Adopting Office 365 helps to curtail the problem of Shadow IT, and of sensitive data being hosted in unauthorised Cloud platforms.”
In this way, organisations are better able to follow the raft of new data privacy legislation that’s arriving on the scene – from the Protection of Personal Information Act locally, to the far-reaching General Data Protection Regulations now in-force in Europe.
“With usage-based licensing models, the total cost of ownership is also generally lower than it would have been in the traditional client-server era, especially when one considers all the internal resources that were previously needed to upgrade, maintain and support the organisation’s Microsoft environment.”
“With Office 365, configuration and deployment is abstracted away from the IT department and managed centrally in the Cloud. Companies are able to re-deploy their IT support resources to more strategic and profitable areas of the technology estate.”
For emerging companies looking to scale and optimise their offerings, Office 365 is the obvious choice – as they have no legacy infrastructure in place and do not need to justify the big capex expenses of building their own server rooms.
Ultimately, Dicker says that Office 365 is still ‘just technology’, and that it can never be an organisation’s most vital asset. “However, it does enable organisations to create a better experience for their most vital asset: their people.”
“Gallup research shows that highly engaged employees are 21% more productive than others,” he notes. “With Office 365, work becomes easier and more enjoyable, powered by the latest tools, and employees become far more engaged, as they work together in new ways.”
“Teams are able to create amazing content (with the likes of PowerPoint Morph, Zoom and 3D), and complete their work more quickly and smartly (via a Modern Workstream Collaboration tool like Microsoft Teams, Outlook’s Focused Inbox, Researcher, Search, and Smart Lookup)”.
He adds that Office 365 encourages the sharing of insights throughout the organisation and Microsoft Delve and Workplace Analytics help individuals to find their way to subject matter experts within specific fields. “All this assists the organisation to better capture and codify the IP that flows through its veins.”