Office 365 Offers a Critical Path to Enterprise Digital Transformation
By Shawn Shell, VP of Consulting, Hitachi Consulting
The nature of information technologies’ role in the enterprise has fundamentally changed. IT has evolved into a critical investment for any successful enterprise– almost regardless of size. Unfortunately, in few cases do basic technology investments-like collaboration, e-mail, communications, and/or security-represent a competitive advantage. These investments are simply the cost of doing business. However, many organizations struggle to implement the appropriate systems, controls, and user experiences that make a complete digital transformation possible.
Businesses must transform core “analog” services to their digital equivalents. All adopted technologies must serve a range of firm needs. These services include content lifecycle, communications, collaboration, and related security controls. Getting these services and/or technologies to work well together can be a challenge, though Office 365 is a concrete step in that direction.
In 2008, Microsoft created the basic Software as a Service offering called Business Productivity Online (BPOS). This service included a content management component, messaging (e-mail), file sharing, and instant messaging. Nearly a decade later, that offering is now called Office 365. The latest version of Office 365 is a cloud-based product suite that provides a unified, critical path toward a firm’s digital transformation.
Content and Collaboration
Content has always been a crucial dimension of any enterprise. Whether it’s agreements with partners, patents for key products, or engineering drawings for a factory, this content represents the quantifiable organizational definition. As firms move to digital systems, content capture, organization, preservation, and lifecycle management are critical functions that must be addressed.
The Office 365 suite provides multiple features to support digital content. For personal content, OneDrive serves individual and small group content storage and sharing. This personal storage can be managed through a PC or through a mobile application. Regardless of how or where an employee needs to access this personal content, it’s available and easily accessible. In addition, Microsoft has made all the Office products (e.g. Word, Excel, PowerPoint) available on every major desktop and mobile platform. This means that real productivity is also possible, through the combination of cloud-based storage and mobile-based productivity applications like Office.
For small team collaboration, Office 365 offers Groups. Groups is based on a combination of Microsoft’s e-mail platform, Exchange, and their venerable content management platform, SharePoint. Groups combine a distribution list with a cloud-based document collaboration space. Each group acts like a distribution list from Exchange that also provides file storage and management. Groups have the added benefit of preserving e-mails sent to the group.
Finally, SharePoint provides customers with enterprise content management capabilities.
Businesses must transform core “analog” services to their digital equivalents
SharePoint has evolved dramatically over the decade and a half since its introduction. The product supports enterprise-class document management, team collaboration, enterprise search (owing to Microsoft’s FAST search acquisition in 2009/2010), and basic workflow. Further, features like auditing, content disposition rules, enterprise term sets, and mobile access provide support for a wide array of content use cases.
Communication technology ubiquity often hides some enduring challenges businesses have in organizing actual communication among employees. E-mail is a standard feature. So is instant messaging. How about traditional telephony? Absolutely. However, when you add these typical enterprise systems to the mix of other services that employees use like mobile phones, instant messaging, status messaging through portals, and app-based messaging, communication becomes unnecessarily burdensome and distracting.. Organizations undertaking a truly digital transformation need a set of unified, easy-to use communication mechanisms to allow employees, partners, and other constituents to address a range of business activities. Microsoft, through the Office 365 suite, offers an integrated collection of communication capabilities, including instant messaging, desktop sharing, IP telephony, and collaborative task messaging.
Advanced instant messaging, combined with IP telephony, screen & application sharing, as well as mobile app integration is provided by Skype for Business (formerly Lync). The current version can also integrate with more traditional and modern phone systems. This allows a global employee population to be connected without introducing complexity into their interactions. Want to know if someone is available? Look at their Skype for Business status. Need to quickly ask a question, send your colleague an IM? Is there too much to say through IM, immediately? Then initiate a call and speak to them through your mobile device, PC, or desktop phone. These capabilities are all available through Office 365 in one integrated package.
As enterprise systems become more complex and threat sophistication increases, creating a secure IT infrastructure becomes more challenging. Unfortunately, most security breaches aren’t the explicit work of hackers, they’re often the result of poor user practices or malicious employees. This means that more traditional network security is simply insufficient. To that end, it’s critical that organizations take additional measures to protect content and devices against threats that arise through attacks like social engineering or malicious employees.
Office 365 offers security services tuned for the new digital enterprise. These include, but aren’t limited to: mobile device management, information rights management, malware protection, data loss protection, two-factor authentication, and data governance. Each of these services is worth a more lengthy exploration. However, in short, Office 365 allows organizations to prevent data/ information theft by applying specific permissions on top of the content. The suite can actively manage mobile devices and offers features like remote wipe to prevent data breaches as the result of lost devices. Importantly, Office 365 can prevent policy violations or inappropriate content from being leaked in e-mails by proactively identifying harmful content within e-mail and preventing those e-mails from leaving the mail server. All of these features combined, give organizations the necessary tools to secure content and devices, without imposing the infrastructure burden associated with a private data center.
The individual services offered by Microsoft’s Office 365 are not truly unique. There are independent solutions to nearly everything in the suite. However, Microsoft currently offers something virtually no other vendor can provide – a complete end-to-end suite. Importantly, the suite integrates with other cloud offerings. The same authentication mechanism used for Microsoft’s own services can be used to connect to Box, DropBox, SalesForce, and WorkDay. Further, this service can “plug” into infrastructure that most firms already possess. Once running, it dramatically reduces the organizational burden related to running these kinds of features within a private data center.
The need to transform to a digital enterprise is real. It’s the cost of doing business today. Office 365 removes many barriers for firms. It allows them to focus on what they do best and provide the necessary tools to ensure employees can securely and easily participate in the digital world.