It’s been nearly a decade since Microsoft Office 365 (O365) was first released, and even though there has been broad adoption (around 200 million users) I still find that there’s quite a bit of confusion about what O365 actually is and why it’s a good idea.  Microsoft hasn’t done us any favors in that realm, their attempt to make the product work for just about everyone has resulted in dozens of plans, prices, and options, each with their own restrictions and benefits.  To simplify this, I think it’s best to divide the various features and functions of O365 into three basic categories:  

  • Exchange Functions – email, calendars, contacts, tasks, etc 
  • Traditional Office Applications – Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, etc 
  • Cloud Tools – SharePoint Online, OneDrive, PowerBI, Teams, etc   

These three basic categories provide the foundation for all the collaboration and productivity that the O365 platform provides.   

Most businesses have leveraged the Exchange Functions and Traditional Office Applications in O365 relatively well (or at least in an equivalent manner to their legacy on premise predecessors).  However, adoption and usage of the Cloud Tools has been much slower.  While they are not necessarily a good fit for every organization, there is often a tremendous amount of business value in the Cloud Tools that goes unrealized because companies either don’t know that they are available or don’t know how to leverage them.   

There are over a dozen applications and services in the Cloud Tools category.  A couple of my personal favorites are: 

  • Teams – A rich collaboration platform and communications hub that includes chat, virtual meeting rooms, screen sharing, and whiteboarding.  This is Microsoft’s successor to Skype and Lync, and it’s improved a LOT in the last 18 months. 
  • Forms – A quick secure way to create a survey, event/class registrations, or quizzes.  This is great for gathering opinions or feedback on everything from where to go for lunch to whether your new product is ready to be released or needs further development. 
  • Sway – A storyboard tool that’s allows you to present information in a way that has a modern look and feel.  Save your presentation from the dreaded death by PowerPoint, give this tool a try. 
  • Planner – a quick easy Kanban style project management tool that can help track tasks and assignments for group projects.  Planner won’t replace Microsoft Project for most users, but it’s a good basic  

Microsoft offers some quick start guides and other training resources for all three categories of tools in Office 365 at   

Steve is one of the Virtual CIOs at Symplexity. With over 25 years of business management and information technology management, Steve is an expert at translating the language of the server room into the language of the board room. Steve provides CIO consulting services such as needs analysis, technology roadmapping, and strategic planning.

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