Simon Hudson's avatar

Author: Simon Hudson
Simon is one of the founding directors at Cloud2

Office 365 collaboration - somewhere between easy and hard

The Microsoft story around collaboration has never been a straightforward one, with different styles of collaboration from Email, through Skype and into SharePoint.

Each being supported by their own Microsoft technical team; at times it’s definitely felt like the different teams compete rather than collaborate (and the irony is not lost on us).

With the emergence and massive growth of Office 365 the tale now has some additional subplots in the form of OneDrive for Business, Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams and the still relevant SharePoint Online. It’s not easy to unpick these different offerings and decide which to use where, especially as they share a lot of the underlying technology as each other.

Here are my summarised thoughts:

OneDrive For Business

Think of this as effectively a file server in the cloud, but note that the assumption is that each person has their own area. With most Office 365 plans you get 1 TB of storage per person, which is a serious amount traditional storage for your organisation. However it’s not the same as using a file server; best practice is to create a set of high-level folders within each person’s OneDrive: Personal, Team, Everyone In The Organisation, and External content. Share access of the last three appropriately. It is possible to have an admin or super user who can set their account up to provide something equivalent to departmental shares. It probably only takes a couple of days effort to implement this for a small organisation and that includes training and structuring the folders.

Microsoft Teams

This is both a browser-based and desktop application, which uses the Office 365 services on the backend. It’s described as conversation-centric collaboration (https://products.office.com/en-GB/Microsoft Teams/group-chat-software ); the front-end uses the chat capabilities of Skype for Business to provide the conversation element, though does have the ability to share files etc. and includes OneNote (you can also add other apps). The ability to configure it according to different needs is limited and there is no concept of an organisational hierarchy. It’s great for near real-time collaboration, discussion with team documents, but not so great for creating an organisational file store. Set up effort is also just a few days.

Office 365 Groups

These are recently updated and provide email-centric collaboration, though with both simple file sharing and a full SharePoint site on the backend for each team or group (the language is starting to get difficult now, I’ll use uppercase when I’m in the product and lowercase when I don’t). ThUser experiences a bit of a mess in that the interface varies according to where you try to access Groups from – Outlook, Yammer, OneDrive for Business and SharePoint all provide access but the UI is different in each case). As with Microsoft Teams, there is no organisational hierarchy. Office 365 Groups are good for team collaboration and ongoing projects; also because the file store is actually in SharePoint, it does allow customisation so that libraries can have additional metadata and the full power of SharePoint; you can also create additional libraries within each Group; however these are only visible when you step into the SharePoint view of the Group, not in this simplified view in Outlook etc. Our suggestion to make this really work for bigger organisations is to combine it with Cloud2’s Connect product, which will provide the hierarchy and a powerful entry portal. Individual Groups are very easy to set up, but there is always some effort required to train users, determine best practice and extend some of the Group sites to meet organisational needs.

SharePoint intranet

SharePoint is a huge application, highly suited for enterprise needs and with a massive range of capability to support collaboration, content management, communication, business processes and people. However this comes with complexity and the need to configure everything before it is effective (which is why Microsoft have introduced the previous three items). It will pretty much do everything that an organisation needs but a typical SharePoint Project in the corporate world takes upwards of 100 days of services. Even with digital workspace accelerators, such as Hadron, the effort is still around 30 days, though these tend to incorporate other parts of the O365 stack such as Yammer and Skype for business. Where SharePoint really shines is for organisations with complex process needs , a requirement to govern some types of content and where the organisation itself is sophisticated with a large amount of structure and enterprise level business needs.

Clearly this isn’t a one size fits all situation and is unlikely at any one of the above will answer all the collaboration and content needs of an organisation. The right thing to do is to mix and match the technologies in the Office 365 suite in a way that suits your organisation, your strategy and budget. Whatever you do, research the tools and think hard before jumping in.

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