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Moving To The Cloud? Here Are 3 Simple Steps To Make Sure You’re Getting The Most Out Of Microsoft Office 365

Nooshin Yazhari

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There has been a surge of adoption in companies using Microsoft Office 365.

For context, of the 81% of total organizations that have shifted to cloud services, Office 365 is used by more than 50% of those businesses (compared to 34% in 2016). According to Gartner, 1 in 5 corporate employees now uses Office 365, primarily because it is marketed as being one-size-fits-all for businesses, easy to use, and easily customizable—which it is.

Unfortunately, because Microsoft 365 has a fairly low barrier to entry, the vast majority of businesses begin moving their internal files and processes to the cloud, only to end up using a small percentage of the cloud’s capabilities. Most companies will migrate their email addresses from, let’s say, the traditional Exchange or Google Suite over to the Microsoft 365 environment, and then wonder, “Now what?” You can use SharePoint, you can use Teams, you can use Planner, you can use OneDrive. Couple that with the company’s internal systems and apps and all of the sudden employees start avoiding the new Office 365 platform because it could be intimidating, as the company continues to invest more and more resources in this underutilized digital environment.

Some of the tell-tale signs or symptoms of a company that has Microsoft 365 but isn’t using it correctly are when people are still emailing each other documents and company news and announcements are still being communicated via mass emails—and business workflows are still done manually and via paper forms.

However, if the Office 365 platform is fully utilized and adopted within a company, then tools such as SharePoint can be used for document management and sharing, Teams and Planner can be used for internal team collaborations and work management, an Intranet built in SharePoint can be used for company-wide collaboration and knowledge management, and manual business processes and paper forms can be replaced by Flow and PowerApps digitization capabilities.

This might sound like a lot of effort or feel out of reach for smaller companies, however, getting the most out of Microsoft Office 365 doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are 3 simple steps for getting the most out of your new cloud system.

Step 1: Create a roadmap and governance for your organization’s Cloud and Office 365.

The first stage a company goes through when shifting to the cloud is, to put it simply, a state of overwhelm.

Users enter this new environment, and because it is most likely disorganized or has yet to be configured and optimized, they feel lost. They don’t know how to navigate it, they don’t know when to use Microsoft Planner instead of Team or SharePoint—and a sort of “decision paralysis” settles in. There are too many options, too many things to click on, and immediately employees feel afraid to use the platform.

The correct way of integrating Microsoft 365 into your company is to create a roadmap detailing your company’s Cloud readiness, electronic content management and collaboration goals and needs, and the desired maturity and adoption that you wish to achieve with this new cloud. Because the reality is that every company will have a different set of needs and goals for the Office 365 rollout and adoption. Some may just want to use it for project team collaboration, others may want to use it for company-wide communications or electronic content and document management. So pinpointing the right goals and vision and identifying the desired use case is an important step in effectively integrating it into the different departments of the organization.

For example, when my firm works with mid-sized businesses to help them get the most out of Microsoft 365, the first thing we do is create a roadmap detailing both short-term and long-term goals—and we begin developing what’s called an “Office 365 and SharePoint Governance Model” for the organization. Governance is essentially the agreed-upon rules, policies, and processes that internal IT as well as employees should use when utilizing the Office 365 environment: how files are tagged, managed, and shared; whether external sharing is allowed; who has access to view or edit document libraries and content; and so on. The governance model would also define the company’s cloud security policies as well as information architecture, content taxonomy, and Intranet/Extranet architecture and hierarchies.   

This correct Office Governance Model essentially sets the stage for everything else to come.

Step 2: Migrate your files and content to the cloud, the right way, the first time.

After you set up your governance, your next step would be classifying and defining your content and documents—deciding what stays and what goes to the cloud.

This primarily involves what’s known as “Content and Document Taxonomy and Information Architecture.” Before moving everything over to the cloud at once, it’s much more effective to do an internal audit of which documents are most relevant to your goals for the cloud (which is why Step 1 is so important), and then clean up, tag, and move files for each department over either one by one (starting with a pilot migration for 1-2 departments) or all at once. 

The second reason it’s so important to do this properly (opposed to dumping everything into the cloud) is that it gives you the opportunity to tag files with the correct metadata, and create the  levels of information and access hierarchy between user groups. 

For example, we were recently working with a government agency that was transitioning to Microsoft 365 and they had just dumped hundreds of documents across dozens and dozens of folders into their SharePoint Online without proper metadata and defined security/user-access levels. Result: Nobody could find anything or had the right access levels to view and edit documents and content. 

Our job was to essentially help them classify their content, identify the right metadata, and define the security requirements and access levels to ensure compliance, proper searchability and accessibility of documents and information, proper security and access of confidential information, and proper document and content management. And again, while this might seem like a small convenience, multiply the time an employee spends looking for one single file by the number of employees in the company, or the risk of sharing confidential documents with users who are not supposed to have access, and you realize that disorganization in the cloud can become a torrential compliance and time-waster for the company.

Step 3: Increase user adoption and company information and knowledge engagement.

Once you have your governance in place, and once your content has been brought to the cloud correctly, it’s time to start increasing user engagement.

You can do this by building an Intranet in your Office 365 environment and properly utilizing the available apps and capabilities that meet your company’s unique needs and goals. Companies I have seen be most successful here have taken the time to do some custom tweaking, giving their intranet a modern look and feel, and making sure it is as easy to use and learn—similar to a social media platform. Reason being, if hundreds of employees are going to be spending the majority of their work hours interacting with this intranet, it’s important they feel comfortable spending time here, can navigate the interface quickly, find the content they are looking for easily, and get their job done effectively.

For example, in any company, employees should very easily be able to find a copy of the employee handbook, or open an IT ticket if their laptop is broken, collaborate with their team members on the projects that they are involved with, get the company’s latest news and updates, and easily find the documents and files that they need. It is the company’s responsibility to create an intelligent digital workplace for its employees that is customized to their collaboration goals and culture and digital needs—and not leave their employees lost in the ocean of apps and capabilities available in an unstructured and unorganized cloud and Office 365 environment.  

Also, utilizing the power of process automation in Office 365, companies can integrate their Intranet with their other business applications and systems, such as HR, CRM, etc., and bring consolidated tasks and action items from other systems to their users via the first page of the Intranet, resulting in centralization of tasks and content and more efficiency in getting the job done. 

I am the president and managing principal of Optimum, a modern software solutions consulting firm that helps clients increase efficiency, reduce operational costs, and increase productivity by 25% or more. We achieve this through a combination of business consulting services and fit-for-purpose software solutions that drive true results.

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