Office 365 Functional Overlap with Collaboration Tools

In a previous post, When It Comes to Office 365, Look Before You Leap, I shared my surprise at the growing number of Doculabs consulting clients that have committed to an enterprise migration to Microsoft Office 365 in a very short time span. The issue of speed is important because Office 365 is both sophisticated and complex.

Office 365 complexity makes fast migration tricky.

And that complexity makes migration tough, especially when some clients say  they expect to finish their migrations in just a quarter or two. Indeed, the growing complexity of Office 365, and the issue of the speed of migration, is causing angst with some of our clients.

That's because of the collaboration functionality of Office 365. Indeed, the platform can be used in at least six different ways to collaborate on a project, using the same number of Office 365 applications.

If you view Office 365 too simplistically, migration will be difficult.

I was not impressed with early versions of Office 365. It left me with an impression of being unsophisticated, providing little more than online versions of the standard Office suite. I can tell you that perception is no longer accurate.

Unfortunately, however, many of my clients continue to have that early perception that I did. The assumptions of simplicity tend to remain until implementation scoping begins. They then  realize that implementing Office 365 can be as risk- and resource-intensive as any of the traditional ECM programs they’ve implemented in the past.

The truth is that Office 365 is very complex, and its levels of capability are expanding. Even if you ignore the essential Office applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.) for a moment, you still have a dizzying array of content management and collaboration application options.

Each Office 365 application can create new, unique content for a specific purpose.

Users can choose from a waffle menu of business applications, many of which offer overlapping capabilities. Each application can create new content, within a unique context and for a specific purpose. That content then may be stored in several places, and almost always in a silo that is created and dedicated to that application.

Here’s an example of a very common collaboration scenario, one which highlights the inherent weaknesses of the existing tools and how they tend to be used in organizations today.

The Sales Department is starting a new campaign. Marco in Sales asks Susan in Marketing to develop a presentation, using PowerPoint. She starts by using a PowerPoint template to make a draft version.

Three collaboration scenarios that are not efficient.

Going forward from this draft version, Susan’s and Marco’s two teams will need to collaborate on the presentation. In the past, this was usually achieved in one of several ways:

  • Method 1: Both teams exchange emails with attached files, comps, drafts, and images. These volleys of emails contain markups, review comments, and change requests for multiple circulating documents. Chaos ensues.
  • Method 2: Create a shared folder on the network drive. Both teams use email to communicate to all members of both teams. Files are shared through attachments to emails, with massive duplication. Files are copied from emails to the shared drive (usually). Version control issues are prevalent.
  • Method 3: Ask IT to create a new SharePoint team site, or use an existing team site. Upload the relevant documents to the site, use email to communicate. When sending via email, remember to attach links instead of files. Remember who you need to invite to work on documents. Manage access permissions to the site. Note that this method is the most troublesome. Users invariably default to one of the other methods.

Some report a drop in email activity, use of large attachments and "cc:'s" with Office 365.

Office 365 offers better, easier collaboration options for end users. In our scenario, Office 365 makes it effortless for Marketing and Sales to share and collaborate. Indeed, I have spoken with several Microsoft Exchange administrators that are already seeing a drop in overall business email activity, large file attachments, and emails with high “cc:” counts.

In Office 365, there are no less than 10 ways to share information from a single integrated interface—between multiple teams—without compromising convenience or speed, and without asking people to use separate or third-party applications.

Six ways business users can collaborate with Office 365.

Here are a just six examples of how business users can collaborate within Office 365. All are software applications that are available to users of Office 365:

  1. Use Planner to create a campaign as a project.
  2. Use Groups to create ad-hoc collaboration spaces with a shared email.
  3. Use Teams to make a more traditional team site, with chat, calendar, shared files and email.
  4. Create a SharePoint site, quickly self-provisioning that site from a list of common templates.
  5. Use the advanced sharing and access management capabilities of OneDrive to create an ad-hoc place to share documents.
  6. Create a Group in Yammer, sharing messages, emails, and files within a single interface.

Is there too much functional overlap with the six ways to collaborate in Office 365?

Any IT professional knows that too many choices is a governance and management nightmare. Microsoft is providing innovative solutions, yes; but it’s also offering significant overlap of functionality, and it’s not always clear to the average user just which functionality best meets his or her needs in a given scenario.

The collaboration example above illustrates this: With a minimum of six choices, tools are plentiful, but the requirements for governance, administration, training and support to cover all that functionality multiply quickly.

And this is just collaboration! The sophistication (complexity) of Office 365 collaboration solutions is echoed in other areas of functionality. (See graphic below.) For example, out of the 15 most-used applications in a user’s menu, fully 10 provide document management functionality.

In my next blog post, I’ll provide more examples of functional overlap, and suggest some ways to prepare for the complexity, and if we can’t control it, how to embrace it.

How Doculabs helps with Office 365 migrations.

Doculabs helps many organizations with data migration. Click here to learn more.

Interested in the latest news from Doculabs? Sign up for the Doculabs’ newsletter here.

For a recent blog post on the tools that help with content migration, see Joe Shepley’s Cleaning Up Content Repositories as Part of InfoSec. For another aspect of Office 365 collaboration capabilities, see my related post, Office 365 or EFSS: That is the Question.

Rich Medina
Jeff Phillips
I’m a Principal Consultant, specializing in strategies for using ECM tools such as Microsoft Office 365 for information management.