Are Office 365 Groups Finally Ready for Prime Time?

Microsoft's objective with Groups is to help facilitate communication within the enterprise by providing a single place to collaborate with conversations, events and files. This is a powerful concept when one considers just how much time is spent each work week searching for information and collaborating with colleagues on projects.

A few months ago I wrote about a great new feature called Office 365 Groups that has been introduced into the Microsoft cloud platform; I even had the opportunity to talk about Groups at the Connections conference this fall and with Paul Cunningham on the ExchangeServerPro podcast. There has been a lot of interest generated in Groups within the IT Pro community during the last several months as administrators start to educate end users on how they can be leveraged to solve business problems.

Microsoft's objective with Groups is to help facilitate communication within the enterprise by providing a single place to collaborate with conversations, events and files. This is a powerful concept when one considers just how much time is spent each work week searching for information and collaborating with colleagues on projects.

One of the main reasons that I am most excited about the Groups feature is that it provides the ability to assemble a team of employees and associate them with an Azure AD object. This object is then used to facilitate access to multiple applications--like Exchange Online, OneDrive for Business, PowerBI, Dynamics CRM and Skype for Business--within Office 365. This means that the administrative burden of separately keeping the same membership within a project-based distribution group, SharePoint team site and numerous other line-of-business applications in sync is now a thing of the past. Maintaining Azure AD as the single definition for identities across an organization removes the typical administrative burden because multiple applications can now leverage a single federated identity.

Once end users widely adopt Office 365 Groups and fill them full of company documents and intellectual property, the ability to tap into that data and convert it into meaningful information--like learning how employees interact--becomes possible. The Office Graph leverages machine learning to score and rate documents that you have created or modified, who you are meeting with, and conversations that you are having within applications like Yammer. Using Delve, this shared intellectual property can then be surfaced to other employees that you may not even know that are working on similar projects and would find your documents beneficial. The ability to leverage the Office Graph has endless opportunities within the organizational productivity market. To me it seems like Fitbit for the enterprise is coming soon, and the Groups experience will help drive adoption of organizational productivity features.

The reality is that even though I am extremely excited about the possibilities of Groups within the enterprise (much like when DAGs were introduced in Exchange 2010), serious roadblocks for adoption exist. In my view, the lack of compliance options like e-discovery, legal hold and auditing provide a tough barrier for most enterprises to hurdle.

Further user adoption issues remain, including the inability to add users that exist outside your organization (Azure AD) to a Group--such as vendors, partners and customers. Administration gaps also exist, like the inability to nest Groups and soft-delete functions, and the lack of controls to automatically expire inactive Groups. My concerns around missing Groups features were echoed by most that I spoke with, and has prevented the wide-scale adoption of Groups within organizations.

Thankfully, Microsoft is working hard to ensure that Office 365 is an ever-evolving service for its customers. At the Microsoft Ignite Australia event last week, the key investment areas for Groups over the short term was communicated.

After listening to Christophe's session, the list of features that will be delivered look to close most of the remaining gaps that prevent widespread adoption of Groups in the enterprise. The ability to add external users to a Group, Outlook for Mac access, Delve integration, e-discovery, legal hold, soft-delete and automatic expiration of inactive Groups is coming soon!

Microsoft will have made a strong case to drop or at least greatly limit the use of basic distribution groups, public folders, Yammer groups and some instances of SharePoint team sites once these items roll into the Groups experience for Exchange Online users.

Once these new features are lit up within Office 365 tenants, the Groups experience is ready for enterprise adoption. This, of course, begs the question: How will you migrate all your existing public folder and SharePoint team site data into Office 365 Groups?

Justin Harris is a Microsoft Certified Master on Exchange Server and a Microsoft MVP for Exchange Server. Justin is a Senior Solution Architect with Binary Tree, where his primary responsibility is engaging with customers around their migration needs. Justin can be found on Twitter at @ntexcellence or on the web at http://www.ntexcellence.com

 

 

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