You have probably heard of SharePoint and also used the Office suite such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc. However, you keep hearing about Office 365 (O365) and how it is helping organizations be more productive and enable users to do more than ever before effectively. So, what is Office 365 you ask…is it just Office suite that is available all year (365 days) on the cloud? Luckily, the answer to that is a NO. In fact, it is MUCH MORE than that! This article provided the fundamentals of what O365 is and the various tools/features that come as part of it.
There are soo many tools and applications as part of your Office 365 subscription that it can be a daunting task to understand just what everything is for!
In this article, we will be reviewing and providing a summary of all the current applications available when you subscribe to them in Office 365.
We will start with an office definition of Office 365 directly from Microsoft 🙂
“Office 365 is a subscription service that ensures you always have the most up-to-date tools from Microsoft. There are Office 365 plans for home and personal use, as well as for small and midsized businesses, large enterprises, schools, and non-profits.”
In this article, we are going to focus on two statements within the definition “most up-to-date tools from Microsoft” and “for small and midsized businesses, large enterprises, schools, and non-profits”.
For starters, let us look at the various ‘tools’ that come as part of Office 365.
Certain plans within Office 365, such as Business Premium or Enterprise E3, comes with fully installed desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. These applications can be installed on up to 5 PCs per user/seat.
The Word Online as the name suggests is an online version of Word which runs on your browser. It contains a subset of the features available within the full Word client application, i.e. the installed version that you are used to all these years. It comes in very handy when you want to quickly review a document or access a document from a PC in which the Word client application is not installed.
Excel Online, as with Word Online above, is an online version of Excel, i.e. runs on your browser. It contains a subset of features that is available within Excel client application and is very useful when it comes to reviewing spreadsheets or making quick updates.
PowerPoint Online once again is an online web version of PowerPoint (runs on your browser) which contains a subset of features that is available within PowerPoint client application. It is very useful when it comes to reviewing presentations or making quick updates to some slides.
Yes, you got it…OneNote Online is an online web version of OneNote, i.e. runs on your browser. It contains a subset of features that is available within OneNote client application and is very useful to take some quick notes or accessing your notes from a PC in which OneNote is not installed.
This is basically the web version of your email client, Outlook. It comes in very handy when you do not have your PC handy with Outlook installed which is connected to your Office email account. Imagine a scenario whereby you don’t have your laptop…let’s say you are at the airport and there is no Wi-Fi connection but you notice a kiosk PC with an internet connection available. All you do is login to https://portal.microsoftonline.com using your login and password. Click on the ‘Mail’ tile and voila, your email is available to you!
Note that a dedicated native app, named Outlook, is also available for your mobile device. This is a must have app!
This is basically the web version of your calendar within Outlook similar to ‘Mail’ above. Click on the ‘Calendar’ tile to see your schedule/upcoming appointments etc.
Note that the dedicated native app, Outlook, for your mobile device also makes the calendar available.
Yep, you got it…once again, a web version of your contacts from within Outlook. Clicking on the ‘People’ tile displays all your contacts, all your organization contacts including some smart filters like people you contact frequently and people on your schedule today etc.
Note that the dedicated native app, Outlook, for your mobile device also displays contacts.
The Tasks tile takes you to the Outlook web app again and displays the tasks managed within Outlook.
The Mail, Calendar, People and Tasks tiles all take the user to the corresponding feature within the Outlook web app.
Yammer is an enterprise social network. To put it crudely, think of it as a Facebook for work purposes. Yammer allows people to collaborate, share ideas etc. Users have the ability to create groups for various streams within work, e.g. groups dedicated to a specific project, say an intranet redesign or rebranding project, a social/community group, say the ‘Rock Climbing’ group etc.
The best part about Yammer is that it is part of the O365 family and all users are authenticated users within the organization. So, organizations are comfortable with users sharing files, discussing new project ideas etc. without having any fear of losing intellectual property etc.
An organization can also choose to have external groups within Yammer. This is very handy when an organization wants to create a collaboration space with its vendors or clients. E.g. an organization might create a group called ‘New Product Launch’ and invite members of an external marketing agency who are responsible for marketing the new product.
This takes you to the traditional Newsfeed. This was SharePoint’s take on a corporate social newsfeed prior to Yammer becoming the go to corporate social network recommended by Microsoft. This is a feature that is not very widely adopted in recent times. When an organization requires a corporate social environment, more often than not, Yammer tends to be the weapon of choice.
OneDrive (means OneDrive for Business in this case)
It is ironic that this tile is named OneDrive because in reality this is OneDrive for Business (OD4B). The reason this distinction is so important is because OneDrive is a standalone consumer service offered by Microsoft. To make it clear, OneDrive has absolutely NOTHING to do with OneDrive for Business. OneDrive for Business is a place where you can store your work-related documents.
The kind of documents you store within OD4B are all the documents at work that you would have traditionally either stored on your actual PC, say C Drive, or within an ‘home’ drive share offered by your organization. There are several benefits of storing your documents within OD4B such as in-built versioning, simple to use sharing abilities, ability to access your documents from anywhere (all you need is internet access), ability to work on documents offline and sync them later when you are within connectivity etc.
This is one of the big drawcards to Office 365. So much so, that quite often SharePoint Online and Office 365 are used interchangeably by some users. In some cases, SharePoint Online is referred to as SharePoint 365 too.
SharePoint is a platform that can be used for several purposes such as document management, collaboration, communication, intranet portal, search platform, Business Process Automation etc.
Quite often, an analogy I use to describe SharePoint is that it is similar to a utility vehicle. The same utility vehicle chassis can be used in different configurations, e.g. double cab for passengers and goods, flatbed to use as a hard-wearing workhorse etc.
SharePoint is much the same in the sense that it can be configured to be used as a Document and Records Management System, Collaboration platform, communication platform etc. In fact, it can even be configured to do all that together. What is important to understand is that no two SharePoint implementations are identical. Each organization uses SharePoint in a manner which suits its needs.
SharePoint Online has some significant advantages over a traditional on-premises installation as you can add storage space/ resources on demand as opposed to having to upgrade hardware. In addition, it is an evergreen platform, i.e. you get all the latest and greatest without having to upgrade servers/software. To find out additional differences between traditional SharePoint on-premises installation vs. SharePoint Online, you can refer to the article here.
This is a feature which allows users to organise task cards in various buckets. The tasks can be allocated to individuals or a set of people. It is quite similar in concept and functionality to Trello.
Users can create several ‘Plans’ each of which can contain various ‘buckets’ to categorize the various tasks. As an example, one could create a plan for each team within an organization for them to manage the various streams of work as buckets within the team.
Delve is used to manage your Office 365 profile and to discover content that is likely to be most interesting to you at a given point in time. It uses the power of the Office Graph behind the scenes to bring content based on your connections, i.e. people you work/interact with. This information is gathered across O365. Say, for example, you typically interact with your manager a lot and also the marketing coordinator, then the documents that they are working on (the ones you have access to, i.e. stored in a common repository that you have access to, say for example a collaborative SharePoint site) are likely to start appearing in Delve. For those of you who might be familiar with the profile page of the SharePoint 2013 on-premise site, think of this as the much improved version of the same page. The illustration below shows the various features available in Delve.
Sway is a web based presentation tool which allows users to create and share rich interactive reports, presentations, personal stories and much more. Users can add interactive content such as an embedded video, interactive chart etc. It is very to use as the user simply uses the web based canvas to draft content. The tool produces rich looking presentations with little user effort thanks to the built-in design engine. The sway presentation tool also allows sways to be shared with other users with simply a web link. Users can view the sway with no additional software or signing up to any service.
PowerApps is a tool that allows business users to develop apps without having to write code. It can be used to connect to various source systems and also capture new data. PowerApps can be published on web or on mobile.
There are several pre-built templates which allow you to create apps or you can start from scratch. In addition, you can connect to various data sources such as SharePoint, Excel, Dynamics 365 etc.
PowerApps also comes with a Common Data Service built-in which means several apps can use common data entities such as ‘Customer’, ‘Product’, ‘Lead’ etc.
PowerApps comes with a native mobile app and also a client desktop application. The client application has richer features when compared to the browser design canvas. In addition, PowerApps also integrates with the Flow services which allows it to automate business processes.
One of the important things to note is that PowerApps is the tool that would be used for instances where typically InfoPath would have been used. While there is not a like for like feature in PowerApps for each InfoPath feature it is quickly growing in capability to cater for most if not all scenarios that InfoPath used to cater for. There are areas where PowerApps offers richer features when compared to InfoPath such as the Common Data Service.
Flow allows users to automate processes and tasks across multiple applications and services. The ‘flows’ are designed within the browser and can be crafted by business power users without the need for a developer. It is similar to what SharePoint workflows do but is far more powerful for the reason that it can connect to several applications such as Outlook, SharePoint, Planner and even services outside O365 such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. For example, a Flow could be used to post a job vacancy automatically to LinkedIn when a new vacancy is created in a SharePoint ‘Vacancies’ list. In addition, it could also be used to tweet about the vacancy using the company handle on Twitter.
Microsoft Teams is a chat based workspace allowing teams to effectively work together. It allows teams to organise team audio/video calls and also allows for 1:1 chat. Teams also allows for collaboration of documents with version history etc. This functionality is made possible by utilising SharePoint under the hood. Similarly, each team also gets an OneNote notebook.
Creating a Team essentially creates an O365 Group behind the scenes and effectively provides a UI fabric that goes on top of O365 Groups and surfaces all the great functionality offered by various O365 applications. Teams can be used on the browser or as a dedicated client application installed on your PC.
Each team can be customised differently with various ‘tabs’ to external services such as YouTube, PowerApps etc. and also various ‘connections’ to services such as Yammer or Facebook. Yes, you read it right…it seamlessly connects with third party services. For those of you who might have worked with Microsoft products for years would know that this is new territory for Microsoft in terms of acknowledging that there are other tools/services in the world that are non-Microsoft which people love.
Teams is a relatively recent launch, i.e. General availability in Feb 2017, but in the short timespan that it has been around, it has managed to gain a lot of traction. Some pundits have recognised Teams as Microsoft’s answer to Slack. It is quite similar in functionality but where this is a much better proposition is that Teams is only the tip of the iceberg within the Office 365 ecosystem whereas Slack is a standalone paid for service with nothing else to support it.
Microsoft Bookings is an online and mobile app for small businesses who provide services to customers on an appointment basis. This app is available only on the Business Premium subscription.
Examples of businesses who provide service on an appointment basis include dental offices, spas, financial services providers etc.
The Bookings app provides the following three components:
- A booking page for customers to book appointments with staff members who provide the service.
- Web-based pages which business owners can configure to set customer preferences, manage staff lists/schedules, define services, pricing, business hours and customize how services and staff are scheduled.
- A business-facing mobile app where business owners can see all of their bookings, access customer lists and contact information and make manual bookings
The following screenshot shows some of the features of Bookings.
The Forms app can be used to create surveys, quizzes and polls. The Forms app till recently was available on the Education plan only. It is now about to make an appearance on commercial O365 plans too.
Microsoft Staff Hub is an app that allows managers and staff workers to manage time, communicate and share content. Staff workers in this instance refers to frontline staff can be very useful for staff workers, e.g. frontline staff in restaurants, retail staff etc.
It can be used to roster shifts for staff, for staff to view schedule, swap shifts etc. It can also be used to communicate with staff workers.
In short, it can be used to communicate, schedule and share information with staff workers. The following screenshot shows some of the capability of Staff Hub.
Security & Compliance
As the name suggests, the security and compliance centre is the admin centre where users can control the security of the data stored in O365. If your business has legal, regulatory or technical data compliance requirements then the Security and Compliance centre can be used to configure various data security policies. The security and compliance centre can be used to configure data retention policies, security and compliance reports, eDisovery etc.
The Admin Centre is effectively the control panel/dashboard for an O365 Administrator. It allows the administrator to control the various O365 settings and settings for the various services within O365 such as SharePoint, OneDrive for Business etc.
Business Center Apps
The Business Center is a newly announced feature (currently in preview) that contains the following three apps:
- Microsoft Connections
- Microsoft Listings
- Microsoft Invoicing
The Business Center apps are currently available only to subscribers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. It is expected that they would be generally available by late 2017.
Connections is an app to build customer loyalty, get new customers and grow your business. It helps you to create, send and track customer referral emails, offers/promotions, newsletters etc. to your customers.
Some of the features it offers are pre-designed templates, ability for your customers to subscribe/unsubscribe. In addition, it also allows you to create segments to target various groups of customers. It provides a powerful dashboard to track an email campaign’s open rate, click rate, new sign-ups/customers, offer redemptions, number of unsubscribers etc. so that you can understand what is working and isn’t working.
Connections is effectively an easy to use email marketing service. It comes with its dedicated native app on iOS and Android. An Outlook add-in is expected to be released shortly.
Microsoft Listings allows you to grow your business by making it easier for potential customers to find you online, read your business reviews and more. Listings can be used to list your business details, which you used to sign up to Office 365, online on Bing, Google, Facebook or Yelp. It also provides a dashboard for you to manage the presence of your business online. It can be used to monitor the page views and interactions such as ‘likes’ on the various platforms.
Microsoft Invoicing is an easy online and mobile app for creating and sending professional looking PDF invoices and estimates to customers quickly.
Microsoft Invoicing lets you do the following:
- Create, edit, send invoices, and accept payments while on the go
- Add or edit customers from your phone
- Mark invoices as paid or unpaid
- View yearly and monthly sales and overdue payments
Microsoft Invoicing also works with PayPal which means you will be able to accept credit and debit cards online. A connector to QuickBooks lets you sync customer and catalogue data, and transfer invoicing information to your accountant.
It comes with its dedicated native app on iOS and Android. The screenshot below shows a sample invoice and the mobile app.
If you drive a personal car for work purposes such as customer sales visits, then you can use the MileIQ app to track and report your miles for expense reimbursement form your company or it can also be used for tax deduction purposes.
Effectively, MileIQ offers a simple way to track your miles with automatic drive detection and mileage logging, easy one-swipe classification as business or personal trips, and comprehensive reporting.
MileIQ was an independent company that was acquired by Microsoft in Nov 2015. Now, the premium version of MileIQ has been added as an additional benefit to the Office 365 Business Premium subscription. The premium version allows you to log unlimited drives each month.
Note that MileIQ is currently available only to subscribers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada.
As you can see the Office 365 subscription offers many applications and tools to help an organization with many ongoing operational tasks. It can be daunting to learn all of them, but once you understand what is available, it will help you to make the first few steps to benefiting from them! I hope this article helped provide a good summary of what is currently available today from Microsoft Office 365! We at QiPoint use it ourselves!
- What’s the difference between Office 365 and Office 2016? – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/What-s-the-difference-between-Office-365-and-Office-2016-ed447ebf-6060-46f9-9e90-a239bd27eb96
- Microsoft Bookings – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Say-hello-to-Microsoft-Bookings-47403d64-a067-4754-9ae9-00157244c27d?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US
- Microsoft Forms – https://forms.office.com/
- Security and Compliance in Office 365 for Business – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Security-and-Compliance-in-Office-365-for-business-Admin-Help-7fe448f7-49bd-4d3e-919d-0a6d1cf675bb?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US
- New Business apps in Office 365 Business Premium – https://blogs.office.com/en-us/2017/07/10/new-business-apps-in-office-365-business-premium-help-you-run-and-grow-your-small-business/
- Microsoft Connections – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Grow-your-business-with-Microsoft-Connections-45ae5acd-d215-4bc1-89e7-034b421bf4c8
- Microsoft Listings – https://support.office.com/en-ie/article/Get-your-business-found-online-with-Microsoft-Listings-fce02a0f-de2c-4ca1-9d60-40a89c094076?ui=en-US&rs=en-IE&ad=IE
- Microsoft Invoicing – https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Microsoft-Invoicing-96918cb8-07b1-48d4-911d-b3fc4f34b7d2
- MileIQ – https://www.mileiq.com/
Currently working at QIPoint (http://www.qipoint.com), he has helped architect and develop SharePoint Enterprise products for customers such as the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, U.N. Security Council of Netherlands, Australian Government, U.S. Dept of Treasury, U.S. Dept of Justice, Canadian Dept of Defense, Scotiabank, JPMorgan CHASE Bank, Intel, Ford Motors, Microsoft, NASA, DARPA, SNC Lavalin, Penguin Books, and more.
He is a proud father of 2, and when he has any spare time, he loves to paint portraits of his kids.
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