Everyone is familiar with Office 365 – in fact, most of us, either knowingly or unknowingly, use it every day in our team and workplace interactions.

It’s also a rapidly evolving platform, with new functionalities and features being rolled out continually. And it’s no surprise why – the way that teams communicate and interact is constantly changing. Depending on the size of your organisation, you need a platform that can cope with the ever-changing demands of your employees and that can flex with the type of collaboration that goes on across your company.

Take Microsoft Teams for example. This is perfect for groups of people that regularly work together on projects. With the emphasis on focused teamwork, it allows groups to iterate quickly and work on files collaboratively.

On the flip side however, you have Yammer. This is a much more open tool that can facilitate wider scale community interactions and that connects individuals either within your organisation or across organisations, bringing people together around shared topics, interests, or areas of practice.

Microsoft refer to these different collaboration styles as the Inner Loop and Outer Loop, with targeted communications through Outlook sitting alongside these loops.

Here’s a handy visual to help put it into context.

Source: Plan for governance in Office 365 Groups, retrieved from https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/admin/create-groups/plan-for-groups-governance?view=o365-worldwide

So what about scaling up?

Office 365 is designed to be flexible, powerful and easy to use, coming with a vast range of applications. Organisations and users can benefit from a whole heap of really great collaboration features.

But every Enterprise organisation knows it’s never that simple! And so before rolling out Office 365, it’s worth understanding things like context and use cases so that specific rules and guidelines can be set up accordingly. This effectively forms part of the whole configuration process – defining what we do and don’t want users to have access to.  And it’s especially critical when it comes to things like sharing, copying and moving data, both inside and outside of your organisation.

The key to success is governance!

The key to any successful Office 365 implementation is a well-defined governance plan. This plan will define your rules, roles and responsibilities for all stages of the implementation, as well as how end users will use the services and features.

It’s useful to think of governance in two main ways:

  1. Technical & Application Governance
    • This is mainly focused on things like custom solutions development, and then the sub-items relating to customisation such as policies, tools and reporting. It also covers technical support and search applications.
  2. Content & Information Governance
    • Here you’ll be focused on your information architecture, including all the metadata, taxonomy and navigation structures that sit behind this. On the front-end, it will include how you present your information, and what training and support needs to be included as part of the end-to-end content administration process.

The benefits of governance

Not only does a well-defined governance plan ensure that your organisation’s information is secure and compliant, but it also means that maintenance and operation costs are minimised. It may seem like a bit more work upfront during the configuration process, but believe me, it’s well worth it in the end. In fact, from my experience of working with a number of large Enterprise organisations, teams that treat governance as an afterthought only end up doing more work later on trying to back pedal on processes – which is nigh-on impossible when your platform is already out there and being used by your company’s teams.

From a user’s perspective, governance is nearly always welcomed as it provides clarity around how information should be stored and shared, letting especially non-technical users get on with their day jobs. The end result is also information that can be searched and retrieved easily, which saves an untold amount of time and avoids many an end user frustration!

Asking the right questions

With any governance strategy, an important initial task is asking the right questions to gather the right requirements.

We always start with some guiding principles.  Stating these helps define the rules.  Every organisation is different, but I find the following themes are a good starting point for larger Enterprises:

  • Protection – this gets further split into:
    • Protecting your environment – With the vast number of web-based, third-party apps that are now available to download as part of Office 365, are you sure that they are safe and not posing a security threat to your environment?
    • Protecting your information and data – Are you happy with your users using third-party apps for corporate data and information? Is it acceptable for your data to be shared with other storage apps such as Dropbox, Google Docs, etc.?
    • Protecting your people – If software is available to your users, then they should be able to use it with clear guidelines that are set and readily available.
  • Productivity – improving productivity through:
    • Collaboration – This is now core in most Enterprise organisations and centres around providing tools to enable users to share and work together.
    • Innovation – As new applications come to market, how do you make these available to your people?

Secondly, for the areas mentioned above under Technical & Application Governance, as well as Content & Information Governance, it’s useful to think of questions in three main phases:

Defining the rules

  • Who owns the task of making the rules, policies and processes?
  • If it’s a team rather than a sole individual, then does that team have a structure in place to discuss and sign off on these rules, policies and processes? And are they doing this on a regular basis?

Implementing the rules

  • Who is responsible for implementing the rules?
  • Have RACI documents been drawn up alongside implementation plans?
  • What implementation approach will be taken – agile or waterfall?
  • And who is accountable for ensuring that deadlines are met along the way?

Monitoring the rules

  • Who makes sure that the governance rules are followed?
  • What penalties will there be for non-compliance?
  • Are there teams where compliance needs to be built into quarterly objectives and KPI?
  • What ongoing training is required to maintain compliance and who is responsible for this?
  • How often will the rules be reviewed and updated?

Conclusion

Especially for Enterprise organisations, the key to a successful Office 365 implementation is to provide end users with tools and functionalities they will use day-in, day-out. Providing these tools in a seamless and robust way requires preparation – and the most effective way to deal with this preparation is through governance.

The substance of the governance plan itself will depend on a number of factors such as the size of your organisation, maturity levels with Office 365 and how your organisation is structured internally.  But doing the due diligence of creating a governance plan to fit your company’s needs will reap untold rewards in the long run both from an adoption and an efficiency perspective.