Office 365 has evolved an incredible amount since it was launched over 6 years ago (I’m talking specifically about Office 365, not BPOS before it).

Initially the online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync server products were quite limited compared to their on-premises versions, however that changed some time ago. Recently I wrote an article explaining how Office 365 delivers considerably more features than even possible on-premises – something which grows further with every day that a new feature is made available.

Historically Office 365 has been an IT-led set of tools, often replacing on-premises infrastructure in a like-for-like fashion. However, services like Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams, StaffHub, Yammer, Stream, Planner and others require almost no IT involvement at all. This begs the question: who is actually in control?

Is it the user who can create groups and use services without having to go through IT?

Or is it IT, who can disable these features at an organisational level.

This is the challenge customers of Office 365 face now: do we want to control everything, giving features and functionality to users when we want, or do we want to allow users to innovate and demonstrate how they would like to work.

Since changing roles early this year I have been able to be more involved on the customer side in the adoption and implementation of Office 365, which has allowed me to have more in-depth conversations with customers around how they want to transform their businesses and work practices, ultimately making their people and organisation more productive.

This was demonstrated to me when I was working on an Office 365 strategy with a public sector client. We came to the point of Office 365 Groups and the services that integrate with them. My jaw almost hit the floor when the CIO said that he would prefer to allow for staff to create their own groups and discover the functionality for themselves. While this approach presents a potential governance challenge, his approach was one of learning from the users in the organisation about how they want to work and what groups they believe should exist. While most organisations generally follow the pyramid style organisational chart – the reality is that we are generally involved in groups, teams and projects that span multiple areas of the organisation.

So instead of attempting to dictate to these people how they should work, this CIO instead chose to observe how staff wanted to work. This approach provided insights that were not previously available:

  • Discovery of group requirements that are not necessarily visible when talking with managers and team leaders
  • Being able to identify who in the organisation has an interest and desire to work differently using the technologies available to them in Office 365

What this allowed was the ability for the CIO to build a group of change champions by discovering a personality type that he wouldn’t have been able to do using conventional methods.

While this is a positive outcome, we can’t let our Office 365 deployments become the wild west with Groups and content sprawling everywhere. Ultimately there needs to be a governance and support model behind any deployment – however it is important to remember that what works well for one organisation may not work well for another. Culture, people, geography, history, and many other factors come into this.

The other thing organisations need to be prepared for is the investment in third-party tools and resources (ie. people) to deliver the right mixture of governance and administration, as well as end user and business enablement.

The payoff for allowing users to work the way they want will outweigh the cost to support and control it.


Also published on Medium.

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