Microsoft Office 365 have been helping businesses catch up with new technologies. Businesses can upgrade without the large hardware and licensing investment. They receive frequent improvements to their core communication and sharing services without having to install updates on servers or without engaging an IT Pro to do it for them. Recently, Office 365 have announced a number of changes to their online services, adding new features and doubling storage at a dizzying pace. The rate of updates and changes prompts some interesting questions for the organizations using either Office 365, independently hosted Microsoft service providers, or an organization using on-premises services only.
When are the new features available?
Organizations running Exchange, SharePoint and Lync on-premises have to apply updates often and regularly, to enjoy the new features. Other hosted Microsoft service providers face the same challenge, with more risk involved. They may allow more flexibility and customizations that are installed on their platforms. But this also means updates have to be tested against the customizations, before rolling them out and enjoying the new features. Hopefully in a separate UAT environment. Testing is necessary but does take time, delaying the implementation of new features.
The availability of new features also depends on what the update or feature is. Service Updates are applied regularly to Office 365 online services. But the update or change may take days, weeks or months before it is implemented across the Office 365 platform.
- Some organizations are still waiting for their Service Upgrade to the new Office 365 online services and software. This is the most significant change to the Office 365 platform, bringing to a new base level where future upgrades will be far easier to implement. As of the 6th of September, over 90% have received their upgrade or were scheduled to received their upgrade this September.
- The recently announced storage increases for Exchange Online and SharePoint Online's SkyDrive Pro will take through till November to be rolled out.
- Some features such as Lync Q&A online meeting feature are still unavailable in Lync Online.
On the other hand, how quickly can hosted Microsoft service providers apply service packs and updates after their release, to enable the features for their customer's? Can hosted service providers afford to rush out and double their storage for all their customer's mailboxes and SharePoint SkyDrive Pro sites?
Communicating the benefits of new features to users
It may become a race between Office 365 and hosted Microsoft service providers to implement a feature first. But the new features only offer benefit if you can communicate them to the end user. There is the real challenge. With a hosted environment changing so fast, priority has to be given towards effective change-communication training. Office desktop software has many under-used features and functions. Online Services could follow the same direction if training and change communication are not given the resource and importance they deserve.
What can you do?
How do you catch up with changes in Office 365 and how do you communicate changes to your users?
Keep yourself updated
As an Office 365 admin, these are some ways you can keep yourself updated.
- Subscribe to the Service Update forum in community.office365.com
- Using your Office 365 account, log into community.office365.com
- Browse to Service Updates for Office 365 for enterprises, mid-size businesses, and education (other markets and languages).
- Scroll down till you see Options on the right-hand panel.
- Choose email subscribe to this page
- Visit blogs.office.com frequently and subscribe to the RSS feed with your favourite reader.
- Follow Office365 on Twitter
- Join a LinkedIn group for Office 365. Active members are watchful for changes and alert the rest of the group. Suggested groups:
Keep your users updated
- Spotlights - Get familiar with the new functions and features, then present them internally to your users using blog or holding a demonstration at lunchtime. Try holding an online meeting using Lync to more easily reach out to your users.
- Short video walk-throughs - Use a Lync Online meeting to record a video and upload it to SharePoint Online. View this post to find out how. Or use another recording tool such as Camtasia or Microsoft Encoder Pro.
- Online training and wiki articles
Reference these resources in your company newsfeeds, internal social networks, intranet announcements.
I have created the category What's New for this blog, where I will attempt to review and talk about new features as they are released in Office 365. Follow Whats New via RSS or visit the category. Keep in touch with the changes in Office 365 and let your organization know about them, because Office 365 is always improving.