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Combine Office 365 components to make it work for you

Combine Office 365 components to make it work for you

by: Eric Overfield

Office 365 brings a continually increasing toolset of productivity tools that, although they are supposed to work together, often have to be combined using unique strategies to truly make Office 365 shine within an organization. For Office 365 to be a success, Office 365 must be a productivity tool that can be used to add value to existing business requirements and processes while ideally not changing the way end users work. Some disruption is inevitable, but realistically an organization can only change so much with any given tool. With so many possibilities and limited time, I find it helps to investigate how Microsoft utilizes Office 365 internally to see what I can glean.

I am always on the lookout for interesting and compelling combinations and add-ins that demonstrate the value of Office 365. A solution that helps improve document management and increase inner-group and cross-silo collaboration always peaks my interest, and a technology example recently demonstrated by Microsoft hit my radar. Microsoft announced about a year ago at the International Legal Technology Association that they were working internally on Matter Center, an integrated Office 365 solution for the Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs team.

Matter Center was created for the Microsoft legal team as a way to find, organize and collaborate on files using all the Microsoft Services and Office Clients they were already using. These tools included Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive and Sites (within SharePoint Online). Since Matter Center is built with tools that professionals were already using, it made an easily adopted and scalable solution that worked across platforms. If you work within a legal services entity, I highly recommend reviewing Matter Center. But for the rest of us, there is still much to learn.

At Microsoft Ignite 2015, Joanna Elazrak and Larry Kuhn presented a session that thoroughly demoed the capabilities Matter Center currently provides, built using the Office Add-in (formerly App) model. Skip to around 10:35 for the demo; it's well worth the watch.

I walked away with a few interesting tidbits. First, this is a really great example of the extendibility of the Office Add-in model. Although many of my clients are large legal services entities, the example concepts, workflows and component utilization could work for most any organization. Those of us that are SharePoint developers can see a working example with this demo of how SharePoint Online may be combined with Word, OneDrive, workflows and more to create solutions based around our end user's existing processes. We can further customize the interface to match our needs, which is also the trend we are hoping to see with NextGen Portals (building a panda in a tree).

Second, as we are seeing with NextGen Portals, Microsoft is providing more direct and packaged solutions for us. They are using customers' wants and needs to drive innovation, which is very good for us indeed.

Third, I was reminded again of the secure nature of Office 365. Let's face it: Microsoft has created a cloud environment that is as secure or more likely much more secure than most organizations could hope to achieve. Leveraging the security services Microsoft provides in Office 365 should mean that when a new business requirement arrives, we should look first to see if Office 365 could handle it. Only after Office 365 has been removed as a candidate should we look to host in an on premise installation.

If you are in the legal industry, Microsoft's Matter Center is definitely something you will want to keep your eye on. For the rest of us, we will want to continue to watch as Microsoft comes up with other ideas and examples of how to combine Office 365 and SharePoint features to create a solution that boosts the productivity for our organizations. If we look at our Office 365 builds as an iterative process, we can continue to improve the solutions we provide to our end users as new concepts are envisioned and shared by others.

Eric Overfield is the President and co-founder of PixelMill, a digital branding consultancy specializing in Responsive Web Design, UI/UX and branding for SharePoint websites and portals.

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