What is Shaping Cloud Spotlight?

At Shaping Cloud our technical teams are constantly working to stay on top of all of the new features and innovations that Microsoft bring to their cloud platform. We know that just keeping up with the feature list is a challenge, but then putting those features into a useful context is even harder. The Spotlight is our way to highlight some of the features that you might not have heard of that actually can deliver some tremendous value. If there is anything that you would like to see featured in a future Spotlight please get in touch or leave a comment below.


The Challenge…

We all know that businesses need to be responsive to rapidly evolving daily challenges.  Getting people to rapidly collaborate is the answer, but how can we best assemble a team and give them access to the resources that they need?  What are the best tools to achieve this?

There are lots of apps out there that address parts of this challenge – Yammer and Slack are great ways to reduce email and get people talking/sharing, SharePoint is the “go to” document management system, and Exchange has been the backbone of most organisations communication for almost as long as I’ve been in IT (I pre-date Exchange… scary thought!).

But wouldn’t it be great if you could get all the really useful bits from SharePoint, Exchange, Office and more and bundle them all together? Well… it appears someone at Microsoft thought that too.  They have given us Groups.


So what are Groups?

Groups is one of those apps that people get with an Office365 subscription that often gets overlooked (like Delve or Video).

Groups are similar to a Distribution List in Exchange, but are also like a team site in SharePoint – with a lot of additional functionality and residing in Active Directory. Here’s what you get when you set up a Group:

  • An inbox for group communication – the group also gets its own email address.
  • A calendar that links all the team members making it easier to schedule of meetings, workloads, etc.
  • A library for storing documents and, just like with SharePoint, you can create, edit and co-author documents directly in the site.
  • A OneNote notebook that is shared between the team for them to interact with – adding notes, diagrams, etc.
  • A team planner page – the newly released team task management tool for task/resource allocation and tracking.

All of this is accessed through your browser of choice and the Outlook client (this is optional – it will happily use the Outlook Web App rather than a full blown client if that’s what you prefer).

As these are all part of your Office 365 tenancy and your Active Directory, they work seamlessly with your existing SharePoint and Exchange environments as well as the other Office Apps.

There are mobile apps too for Android, Apple, and Windows Phone – ideal for today’s mobile workforces who can be hardware agnostic, or if you are working in a BYOD environment.

Integration with other platforms…

So you have your team all connected, sharing files and messages, giving each other tasks – great!  But if the team then have to go somewhere else to raise a JIRA ticket then the whole thing loses some of its appeal.

Thankfully Microsoft have added “Connectors” for a host of the most commonly used tools – quite literally from Asana to ZootRock.  There are marketing tools, social media, development and monitoring apps – take a look and you all sorts and, I suspect, many more to come!

Things to be mindful of…

Whilst Groups does do what it does really well, there are a few issues that some might find off-putting, such as…

  • By default, ANY user can create a group – in fact they can make up to 250 of them! And that’s potentially a lot of SharePoint storage getting consumed.
  • There is no recycle bin – if you delete, then it’s gone.
  • There are limited management options for the Office Admins.
  • The site collections are hidden from the SharePoint Admins but share the same …/sites/… namespace.
  • It’s only for staff inside your organisation – so doesn’t help you collaborate with suppliers/partners.

While some of you might be throwing your hands up in horror at those “highlights”, you also need to remember that – as with everything in Office 365 – Microsoft are constantly evolving and refining the product, so a lot if not all the above, will get addressed soon. Microsoft Ignite is at the end of September and rumour has it that there will be some announcements.


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