Six things you should know before you roll out Office 365

It's all in the planning

Let’s discuss some of the reasons for embarking on an Office 365 project.

You might have found yourself at that particular point in your Microsoft upgrade cycle. Or maybe you want to allow staff to work just as efficiently away from the office as at their desks and like the collaboration tools offered by SharePoint.

Regardless of how you get to the start line, you don’t want to find yourself six months down the road with all the cool new collaboration technologies you have invested in lying fallow, with a bill for services that no one is using.

Tim Wallis, founder and CEO of Content and Code, a Microsoft consultancy in London, has a six-step plan for clients embarking on an Office 365 implementation that helps them get the most out of the technology. The key to success, he says, lies in planning well.

Take it away, Tim.

1. Strategic base. Business drivers are all important, so you need to know why you are doing it in the first place. If it is a cost-based decision that's fine, but don’t forget to cycle back around and see what else might be beneficial. If you are just interested in an Exchange upgrade, perhaps Lync would also be useful.

2. Preparation and scoping. We have worked with about five organisations so far who have started doing this themselves. They needed to replace their mailboxes so they went out and bought 6,000 licenses from Office 365, for example, to directly replace their on-premise version. But if you work with a contractor you can get advice on what licences you actually need and how the deal might be better structured. It helps to put boundaries round the project.

3. Planning. This is the technical planning phase. How many servers do you need, how many licences, how much bandwidth, should you do a risk assessment for any content that might be moving? You should also start thinking about the human impact. Active Directory, for instance, needs to be dealt with in the planning phase because it is the source of user information. The first thing is to tidy the staff directory: extract the latest human resources data, tidy it by deleting users that no longer exist and so on.

4. Migration and transition. Once a plan is agreed, you might run a pilot. This is a great way of doing it, especially if going from Lotus Notes. It is a good way to test the system on a small group of users before going all out and investing in a large volume of licences. A free 30-day trial of Office 365 is available for those who want to try before they buy.

5. Communication. A huge amount of internal communication will be needed at this stage. The IT department, especially, needs to engage with the users and have a comms plan put together for the rollout. IT people don’t necessarily fully understand the human impact. That impact can be positive, even if it is unanticipated. We have two clients who came to us for email upgrades and now say Lync is the best IT spend they have ever made. Putting it in has changed the way they work.

6. Adoption. There is no such thing as perfection, which is why you need to keep on top of user adoption and get feedback from people on how they are using the new tools. Have your consultants go round making sure people really use the new functions.

There comes a point, though, where strategy can only do so much.

“With SharePoint especially, it is possible to spend too long on the planning phase," says Wallis.

"You can't know all your requirements in advance, and people often don’t know exactly what they want until they have had a chance to play with the technology. Instead, put in a decent enough system and let people work with it.”

He uses the example of creating a taxonomy to work with. Really, this is just a structured corporate way of naming things. Wallis says many clients – especially government clients – come in with a 3,000-word taxonomy that has taken months to compile, but then find people don’t use the words they thought they were going to.

“You can think of it as gardening. You put in the basics and let people plant their own flowers”

Better, he advises, to start with a couple of hundred terms and use the folksonomy – people’s tendency to tag things – to let it build the taxonomy up through use.

“You can think of it as being like gardening. You put in the basics and let people plant their own flowers,” Wallis says.

Steve Marsh, director of product marketing at Metalogix, a content infrastructure software specialist headquartered in Washington DC, echoes Wallis’s emphasis on planning.

As a specialist in moving content in and out of SharePoint, Metalogix believes the key is asking the right questions at the start of a project.

What content are we putting up? Who will we be sharing it with? In the long term, do we need to bring it back down again? What legal or regulatory requirements are there? What will things look like in six months’ time?

“The first thing you have to do is ask yourself is why? What is it you are trying to achieve?” says Marsh.

“It comes back to the business needs. Once you work that out, you need to look at who will be involved, how they work, the flow of people as well as the information that is served up.

“Don’t forget to have a plan for the rollout, too. You can’t just switch it on and expect people to use it. You have to promote it internally to get good adoption. You have to come up with ways of measuring your project’s success. It is a false economy to just go ahead without thinking it all through.”

Turn down the volume

Marsh observes that quite often companies might be running an on-premise version of SharePoint and then want to do a single project in the cloud. In other cases, companies have moved to the cloud version of SharePoint only to realise that they need to bring some of their work back on premise.

“It is not just where someone has gone fully to the cloud. As you would expect, if someone has opted initially for a hybrid of cloud and on-premises then there is often a need to move some of their content from the cloud to their on-premises farm,” Marsh clarifies.

“It is very simple to create Office 365 accounts, fill them with content and end up with a broken user experience. Making a plan to get into the cloud and a plan to get out again go hand in hand.

“For us, SharePoint is SharePoint, and we have the tools to migrate content – in context and with all the metadata – back from the cloud when it is needed.”

However much planning is done, you also have to be able to adjust as you go. Take, for example, the case of Douglas and Gordon, estate agents in London.

In 2011, the firm was running email on an Exchange 2003 cluster, and Michael Reed, head of IT, was worried about its long-term stability. He was also concerned about the sheer volume of mail the company was having to store to meet legal obligations.

“Mailbox sizes have grown so quickly and giving everyone a massive mailbox is just not practical in-house. Backing up the mail every day for 200 users was becoming a nightmare,” he says.

Instead of rebuilding in-house, Reed opted for a hybrid deployment with data shared between Office 365 in the cloud and an upgraded in-house setup of Exchange 2010 servers.

Staying single

It was vital, he says, to maintain a single email domain and single sign-on because the solution’s calendar sharing features were essential to daily life at the firm.

The Office 365 deployment means staff now have email access on the move, on a variety of devices – no bad thing when there are 200 staff spread over 19 locations, visiting many properties.

Although Douglas and Gordon was initially just looking for an email upgrade, Reed says that since moving to Office 365 its employees have been using the Lync communications tools to resolve things in real-time chat rather than in long drawn-out email exchanges. The company now plans to roll out SharePoint for file-sharing and collaboration.

One of the major selling points of any cloud deployment is the one-size-fits-all nature of the beast and the economies of scale that this allows.

But that doesn’t mean you can just buy the licences and hope for the best. Keep your business needs in mind, determine how much of your business you want to move to the cloud and make sure you buy the one-size-that-fits-you. ®

This article was produced in association with Microsoft.

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Mega's unbreakable encryption proves to be anything but
    Boffins devise five attacks to expose private files

    Mega, the New Zealand-based file-sharing biz co-founded a decade ago by Kim Dotcom, promotes its "privacy by design" and user-controlled encryption keys to claim that data stored on Mega's servers can only be accessed by customers, even if its main system is taken over by law enforcement or others.

    The design of the service, however, falls short of that promise thanks to poorly implemented encryption. Cryptography experts at ETH Zurich in Switzerland on Tuesday published a paper describing five possible attacks that can compromise the confidentiality of users' files.

    The paper [PDF], titled "Mega: Malleable Encryption Goes Awry," by ETH cryptography researchers Matilda Backendal and Miro Haller, and computer science professor Kenneth Paterson, identifies "significant shortcomings in Mega’s cryptographic architecture" that allow Mega, or those able to mount a TLS MITM attack on Mega's client software, to access user files.

    Continue reading
  • HashiCorp tool sniffs out configuration drift
    OK, which of those engineers tweaked the settings? When infrastructure shifts away from state defined by original code

    HashiConf HashiCorp has kicked off its Amsterdam conference with a raft of product announcements, including a worthwhile look into infrastructure drift and a private beta for HCP Waypoint.

    The first, currently in public beta, is called Drift Detection for Terraform Cloud, and is designed to keep an eye on the state of an organization's infrastructure and notify when changes occur.

    Drift Detection is a useful thing, although an organization would be forgiven for thinking that buying into the infrastructure-as-code world of Terraform should mean everything should remain in the state it was when defined.

    Continue reading
  • End of the road for biz living off free G Suite legacy edition
    Firms accustomed to freebies miffed that web giant's largess doesn't last

    After offering free G Suite apps for more than a decade, Google next week plans to discontinue its legacy service – which hasn't been offered to new customers since 2012 – and force business users to transition to a paid subscription for the service's successor, Google Workspace.

    "For businesses, the G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available after June 27, 2022," Google explains in its support document. "Your account will be automatically transitioned to a paid Google Workspace subscription where we continue to deliver new capabilities to help businesses transform the way they work."

    Small business owners who have relied on the G Suite legacy free edition aren't thrilled that they will have to pay for Workspace or migrate to a rival like Microsoft, which happens to be actively encouraging defectors. As noted by The New York Times on Monday, the approaching deadline has elicited complaints from small firms that bet on Google's cloud productivity apps in the 2006-2012 period and have enjoyed the lack of billing since then.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022