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Office 365 roadmap signs point to collaboration

Office 365's new features encourage workplace collaboration with upgrades to file sharing in email and telephony services.

With plans to expand beyond email into Web collaboration, Office 365 will feature file sharing and Office document editing, among other big changes that center on collaboration.

The new Office 365 features will gradually roll out through the third quarter of 2016. Members of Office 365's First Release program will have first access to the updates.

Shared attachments will replace traditional attachments in Outlook, and all files are stored in an online repository as a single copy.

Traditional attachments were a bad way to collaborate. With a single copy for users to modify, "the end product is assembled on the go," said Rob Helm, managing vice president of Directions on Microsoft, a consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash.

Rather than storing attachments inside Exchange, users can put an attachment on an email but store it on the Web with SharePoint, said Steve Goodman, head of unified communications at the U.K.'s leading Office 365 partner and Microsoft MVP.

"This means the version of the attachment doesn't change each time someone uses it, and it's a smaller size to send via email," he said.

Two new features, Delve and Office Graph, help users find valuable documents and other resources in large organizations. From a database amassing an organization's Office 365 data, Office Graph provides data based on a user's identity and activity. Delve provides tailored search results and content based on user activity accrued by Office Graph.

The Office 365 roadmap also includes improvements to SharePoint, with services for team collaboration, search and portals. These and other new features were highlighted in the September 2015 edition of the Directions on Microsoft Office 365 roadmap.

"Companies should evaluate Office 365 services, because they are becoming more ubiquitous and harder to ignore," Helm said.

With Office 365 Groups, a series of services in Outlook that promotes a shared workspace for email, scheduled events, exchanges and documents, Microsoft is expanding its SharePoint Team Sites.

Eliminating SharePoint is a long-term prospect, Helm said. In the short term, Microsoft will evaluate its competitors, such as Alfresco, Huddle and Google Drive, and see what makes sense for its customers to get better buy-in. Organizations have invested a lot in SharePoint, putting a lot of pressure on Microsoft's transition away from SharePoint Online, he added.

Microsoft is also investing in tying its services together. Instead of a separate set of cloud services, such as Azure Active Directory Premium, Microsoft needs to manage Office 365 on a larger scale, Helm said.

Telephony in Office 365

Microsoft will also deliver more on telephony and conferencing in its cloud apps with Skype for Business.

Telephony is the most successful and popular aspect of Skype, so Microsoft aims to deliver a business-class telephone service without being regulated as a telephone provider, Helm said.

The additional telephony services will not affect network traffic at enterprises, Helm said. Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute connects to Office 365 and allows companies to connect their wide area network to Microsoft's infrastructure, bypassing the Internet. Therefore, performance and reliability are stable and unaffected by high-volume traffic.

Office 365 adoption and compliance

These new features will be available automatically in the cloud-based Office 365 service. For Exchange on premises, IT admins will need to run cloud services for these extra bits, or run it side-by-side with the existing deployment, Goodman said.

In addition, the new Exchange Online features could improve collaboration for those who resisted services such as SharePoint Online and Yammer.

Office 365 also aims to alleviate the concerns of compliant-conscious admins when employees use third-party services.

"The big case [for Office 365] is for younger employees who use services like Dropbox and OneDrive that aren't compliant with company regulations," Helm said. "It's easier to build compliance on Office 365 services."

Office 365 pricing stands to rise

The telephony addition to the Office 365 roadmap is bundled with other services, such as Exchange Online, so IT shops will have already paid for some of the services whether they use them or not.

Essentially, you can add the Skype for Business telephone for less money than if you were to purchase a separate system, but "you need to run the numbers carefully, because you need to consider the cost of migrating to a new infrastructure and training staff," among other undetected costs, Helm said.

Office 365 Business Essentials, which provides online versions of Office with email and video conferencing, costs $5.00 per month. Office 365 Business charges $8.25 per month for complete Office on PC/Mac with applications for tablets and phones. Office 365 Business Premium, with all of the above features, costs $12.50 per month. Each business plan comes with an annual commitment. However, should you choose a one month commitment instead of annual, Microsoft charges $6, $10 and $15.00 per month, respectively.

Overall, additional features on the Office 365 roadmap could lead to higher prices, Helm said. Since Microsoft uses a subscription model, users have less walkaway power.

"Microsoft can change its prices whenever your subscription renews," Helm said. It can increase cost for the latest capabilities or for older capabilities, Helm added. Expect, as has happened in the past, new capabilities will require upgrades that cost more money.

Microsoft may experience pushback, as admins need better security and management capabilities, he said.

About the author:
Sharon Zaharoff is an associate site editor for Contact her at
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