21apps is a Microsoft BizSpark Partner and a SharePoint business value, solutions and platform consultancy from the United Kingdom.  In this guest blog, Ant Clay, Chief Strategy Officer of 21apps, shares his excitement around the launch of Office 365, specifically on how SharePoint Online and Office 365 should be at the heart of your company's business value agenda.

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"Microsoft Office 365 will be the Poster-Child platform for a new world of Hybrid Organisations."

 

So what is this Hybrid Organisation that I speak of and why does Microsoft Office 365 have such great synergies with it?

Like an ever increasing mix of start-ups, 21apps doesn't own any physical server infrastructure; actually we don't have a physical office either! Yet our success as a business, like many others, is built upon being fully engaged across our internal employees and externally with our clients, partners and alliances across the globe. We collaborate, undertake business development, market ourselves, manage our business affairs, communicate with our partners and delight our customers without the overhead of traditional physical constraints and financial investments.

We're using a pragmatic investment in technology that delivers 21apps and our client's business value and organisational efficiencies. We have made a significant shift in our mindset in order to compete in this world of increasing competition and economic pressures, and feel we are very much a Hybrid Organisation, as described in detail by Microsoft www.microsoft.com/uk/about/hybrid-organisation.mspx. Go on, have a read and then come back here and read on!

Based on this thinking, we are working closely with our clients in adapting their business models, technology investments and cultural shifts to accommodate the future. This future, for us, is based upon the poster-child platform, Microsoft Office 365.

Up until now, working effectively (Hybrid Organisation) by unleashing your employees from the constraints and costs of a physical office day after day took considerable cultural change, financial investment, infrastructure, time and for the most part required a heap of disjointed technologies. But with Microsoft's investment in the cloud and the release of Microsoft Office 365, the vision seems poised to be delivered, setting free organisational and physical constraints both inside and outside the enterprise, enabling business advantage for those willing to make the move, for a very palatable financial investment.

 

Organisational Shift

So what has changed, where did the shift come from? We are in agreement with the "wisdom of the crowds" that work has switched from a physical place (the office) to an activity we personally are responsible for.

        Work is no longer somewhere we go to Monday through to Friday!

There are a plethora of reasons for this cultural change, just a few key contributing factors that we think have truly enabled us to be standing here today on the brink of an office work revolution:

* Economic Pressure - Forcing all organisations, large and small across all sectors to re-evaluate their investments in technology and strive to deliver clearer business value and a return on investment for their stakeholders

* Cultural Shift - The "on-line world" has now very much blurred its boundaries with both the personal and working activities, "Generation Z" has significantly forced the pace of cultural and technological change in the workplace.

* Physical Constraints - Resources are limited, office space is at a premium and more and more employees are questioning the value of a long commute to a physical place of work; so a new vision of a working life has emerged to the fore that offers flexibility, trust, loyalty, respect and where value is measured on outcomes bereft of physical constraints.

With this emerging desire to deliver more value for less, adopt changing business models and embracing fundamental changes in our outlook of the working environment, Microsoft Office 365 rocks-up fully enabling the rich, integrated information worker functionality of Microsoft Office, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync through its cloud-based infrastructure and subscription models, and man are were ready to embrace this stuff!

 

The Office 365 Value Proposition

Microsoft Office 365 is surely a game changer! Let's first dissect the fundamentals a little bit:

* It's in the Cloud - You get to have the core information worker functionality you need to do business, access anywhere, with your phone, desktop, laptop, browser and web connectivity

* It's subscription based - You can invest in an appropriate level of technology for the employees you have and the roles they perform, scaling up as your business grows

* You get familiar Office productivity tools- Microsoft Office on subscription, but only if you need it! And you have the power of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync all integrated into one platform

* Always On 365 * 24 * 7 - All of this rich business functionality available and supported 365 days a year, across the globe, across your employees and your partners, clients and external stakeholders.

I don't see any competitive offerings that provide such a compelling level of choice from a deployment, functional and investment perspective.  We are definitely all in!

How are we using it and what business value is it delivering? We're on the beta program and not all functionality and integration has been rolled out just yet. But our experience to date tells us that what we have in Office 365 gives us the tools we need at a price we can afford. With what's coming down the line early next year Office 365 will simply be awesome for us.

 

Reduce your Bottom Line

Most organisations have Microsoft Office client licenses, actually most organisations probably have too many! One of the greatest innovations that Microsoft has brought out with Office 365 is the ability to have a subscription license for their desktop products. For a small consulting organisation like ourselves, with a fluid workforce, the potential for us to scale our licensing for growth or long term projects is fantastic , for larger organisations the ability to license employees with the relevant level of technology i.e. full package or kiosk worker will make a real tangible difference to the financial bottom-line.

 

Focus on your business, not your infrastructure:

We've been using versions of hosted Exchange as the email solution of choice for 21apps since we were founded, why would we waste money on servers and all that hassle to manage it, when we've got work to do?

Having presence information baked into the email client via Lync and the ability to move from email message to IM conversation to On-line Meeting will be fantastic for collaborating, engaging and consulting with all our clients, stakeholders and associates. The new administration interface makes it a great deal easier for us to loosely manage Exchange and easy create the distribution groups which we use for sales activities and support email aliases. 

The full features of Office 365 Exchange exceed the needs of our small organisation, but are perfect for most Enterprises, although we will definitely be looking to exploit the unified messaging features when they integrate with our mobile provider.

 

Don't go to work, do your work:

Across all the products within Office 365, access anywhere really drives end-user productivity. Microsoft SharePoint Online is most definitely our sweet spot, both for internal use and for delivering business value to our clients. Office 365's predecessor, BPOS-S, provided basic SharePoint capabilities, but wasn't quite on par with the on-premise version.

With Office 365 and the new version of SharePoint Online the game has changed significantly. Full MySite capabilities, Enterprise Search, the rich Managed Meta Data across site collections within a tenancy and more means that along with Sandboxed Solutions, this will enable us to both manage our important knowledge and processes effectively within the platform, but also give us significant functional capability to enable us to develop rich applications to support our consulting engagements.

A fantastic new feature that we are really excited about is the ability to easily create a site collection level extranet environment!  This ability to quickly reach out to our clients and associates to share and collaborate with them in an ad-hoc manner will be of significant value to us, and is a key tenet of the Hybrid Organisation.

 

Engage with your business world, not just your head office world:

For us, instant messaging has always been via a mix of tools from MSN, Skype and the internal implementation of OCS (part of BPOS).  For most organisations supporting that level of tools and managing the appropriate interactions between employees, clients, associates and personal connections is not tenable.

The introduction of instant messaging federation capabilities of Microsoft Lync Online means that all of these communication channels can be consolidated into a single application enabling seamless presence information and communication channels with ourselves, our partners, people we work with and also a range of other instant messaging clients. Add to this the great Live Meeting capabilities being integrated to Lync Online, which will allow us to collaborate and deliver work in a joined up way across the globe.

 

Conclusion

It's clear that the functionality and integration offered across Office, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Exchange Online within the Microsoft Office 365 platform can fundamentally change the way you work within your organisation and the way that you do business with your clients.

With the economic challenges we all face, global competition, increases in regulation and governance, gaining a business advantage, delivering value and differentiation over your competitors is becoming an ever increasing challenge for us all. Making this shift in working practices towards a Hybrid Organisational model, approaching work as an activity and not a place and the adoption of integrated cloud based productivity tools, such as those within Microsoft Office 365, is the only way forward for organisations to be successful.

If you'd like to learn more about the value 21apps can provide to your organisation, visit our site (www.21apps.com), read our blog (www.21apps.com/blog) or follow us on Twitter @21apps.

 

Cheers,

Ant Clay

Chief Strategy Officer @21apps

 

Other Great Resources for SharePoint Online