Why This ECM Guy is Excited About the New Office 365 SharePoint
My background is in "traditional" enterprise content management, by which I mean scanning or importing documents into a system which stores and manages them securely on an on-premises server. For some time now I've felt the best, most flexible platform for this has been Microsoft SharePoint Server. Just under two years ago Microsoft released Office 365 including a cloud-based version of SharePoint. In theory, the decision to switch to software as a service like Office 365 should be a no-brainer – no hardware or software to maintain, no upgrades, etc…
If the Cloud is So Great…
So why has there been no rush to adopt Office 365-based SharePoint for content management? I think there have been a couple primary reasons for this:
A Disjointed User Experience
To get to the first reason we have to ask: What is Office 365? Is it a way to purchase the Office suite of applications via a subscription rather than as shrink-wrapped software? Is it hosted Exchange for e-mail? Hosted SharePoint for collaboration and document management? The answer, of course is that it is all of these things though the whole hasn't really seemed greater than the sum of its parts. The user experience in SharePoint and Outlook Web Access has not felt like a single, unified product and there has really been no integration of Exchange with SharePoint. Basically, up until now, Office 365 has not felt so much like one product as a collection of products which just happen to have the same administration start page. Partly for this reason, many customers have looked to Office 365 to provide only a fraction of its possible value – and the lowest hanging fruit has been Exchange for hosted e-mail.
The second reason for reluctance to embrace Office 365 for SharePoint content management has been the relative lack of functionality versus the on-premises version - specifically related to content management and business productivity features. Absent in Office 365 SharePoint was the Content Organizer and the Records Center, two features essential for records management. Also lacking was the ability to deploy non-sandboxed custom features or powerful workflows. For most customers contemplating a move to the cloud for content management, these missing feature were deal-breakers.
The last primary reason for slow SharePoint online adoption is reluctance by customers to have important content stored "N
alls." This is not an issue particular to Office 365 SharePoint online, but rather is an attitude. Some organizations are adapting more quickly than others. Interestingly, many organizations with the NOMFW mindset are already sending payroll, banking, e-mail, and other critical business data to the cloud. At some point – and I feel we're at the tipping point - the value offered becomes great enough to overcome this reluctance.
So for these reasons, Office 365 SharePoint has been adopted much more slowly than expected.
This All Changes Today
The new Office 365, released to businesses today, offers features to address each of these barriers to adoption.
A New Unified Interface
The new Office 365 is presented using a much more coherent user interface. The snippet above shows the new Office 365 bar offering easy access to all features – Outlook e-mail, calendars and contacts, as well as the SharePoint newsfeed (new social data aggregation, see below for more info), SharePoint sites, and the new SkyDrive Pro.
Filling in the Gaps
SharePoint online is now based on SharePoint Server 2013 which includes a ton of great usability enhancements (see this previous blog post
for details). In addition to better ease of use, improvements include formerly "on-premises exclusive" features such as Records Management, the Content Organizer, and Legal Holds. An exhaustive list comparing what SharePoint features are available in which edition/plan of SharePoint on-premises or online is available at Microsoft Technet
Attitudes toward information security in the cloud are often more an issue of the heart than the head – emotional connections to content may prevent us from objectively evaluating the true risks of a cloud-based content management system. Microsoft operates the most secure and compliant online services in the world. As evidence of this, since initial launch Office 365 has attained a number of key certifications in this area. Recently, Office 365 was granted the Authority to Operate (ATO) under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). IT solutions with FISMA certification and accreditation have federal agency approval for their use in line with the level of security established by that agency. In the U.S., Office 365 also signs the Business Associate Agreement (BAA) to meet security requirements of the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) – with all customers regardless of size
. Along with FISMA and HIPAA, Office 365 is ISO 27001 certified. These certifications along with Microsoft's long history in online services (Hotmail goes back to 1996) should be convincing proof of Microsoft's commitment to customer data security and compliant operations.
Exciting New Features
Along with the features formerly available only on on-premises, Microsoft has added entirely new features to Office 365 SharePoint. These include the following:
: New in Office 365 is the Site Mailbox. These special mailboxes allow teams to share a common inbox and document storage space which is available in SharePoint as well as Outlook Web Access or Outlook on the desktop. The mailboxes live in Exchange and are thus also available to any connected mobile devices.
: The Newsfeed in Office 365 is a place to go to get all of your enterprise social information in one place. As part of the new features available in SharePoint 2013, users can now follow documents, items, people, sites… nearly anything in SharePoint. Also coming soon are native mobile apps for all major platforms for viewing or updating items on the go.
: Deployment of on-premises Project Server in your environment can be… challenging. Microsoft has added Project Online as a brand new Office 365 service offering. Not only is this a great way to tap into the power of Project Server for enterprise project portfolio management, project tasks assigned to users also appear in the new Task Service.
: SharePoint online can now aggregate all of your assigned tasks from SharePoint task lists, Project Online, as well as Exchange in one unified view including a powerful timeline. Also, users can easily create a "follow-up" task from any Newsfeed item.
: eDiscovery refers to the process of finding and freezing content en-mass, usually for legal reasons. SharePoint 2010 on-premises supported this to some extent: you could perform a search and hold SharePoint content, but there wasn't a central location from which to perform this function and e-mail was not included. The new release of Office 365 not only now includes this basic eDiscovery functionality – it has been enhanced to allow for centralized and "case" based management. Another key improvement is that eDiscovery will now cover not only SharePoint content, but also all content in Exchange such as e-mail, tasks, events, etc… Discovered content can be placed on hold and/or exported to the file system for turn-over if needed.
: SharePoint items formerly known as Lists and Libraries are now Apps
. Aside from built-in apps such as task lists and document libraries, Microsoft has created an online marketplace where users can go to add or purchase apps to complement SharePoint:
The big question now is, "When can I have it?" The answer is today
– if you are a new subscriber
. Current Office 365 subscriptions will be upgraded over time. For service upgrade info, you can check out this Microsoft site
So today is an exciting day - Office 365 and SharePoint online are set to really take off!