Too many choices.
It is great to have choices. But having too many can become overwhelming. We’ve all been at the grocery store and had the same thought; seriously, how many different types of peanut butter does one really need? Office 365 has entered this world… not the world of peanut butter, but the world of too many options.In attempting to allow us the flexibility to do our work in the way we want to, Microsoft has left us with many different paths. At best this requires us to put in more work upfront to determine the best path. At worst, it causes paralysis.
In this post we will explore the different collaboration portal options available in Office 365. I will offer my thoughts on the strengths and weakness of each and what I think they are best suited for. Like everything else in Office 365 this is not an either/or discussion. It’s about finding the right combination of tools to fit your needs. With that in mind I’ve split the options in to three categories: 1) Fast Setup, Low Maintenance, 2) Team Work and 3) Corporate Communication. The chart below shows how I came up with the group. I compared the level of individual personalization vs the level of effort required to keep the content fresh.
Fast Setup, Low Maintenance
Delve and the SharePoint Home Page are your quick to market options. Very relevant to the end user and required almost no effort to keep the content fresh. To leverage these options, you basically just need to light up Office 365 and start using it. These are great first steps into the world of Office 365. They can also be leveraged by more mature solutions as a way to connect users to experts and relevant documentation.
Office Graph driven page. It shows content based on your activity. It is meant as a means of discovering content. Attempting to connect people with relevant documents and experts. It does this by highlighting documents that are active in your network, documents that you may not be aware of. Along with highlighting the people who may have the answer you are looking for.
The Office Graph is a machine learning platform. It gathers information on who you are, where you fit into the organization, what sites you follow, what sites you frequent, what files you work on, what is in your email and who are you sending them to. In general, who you collaborate with and what you collaborate on. Almost everything you do in Office 365 is collected and leveraged to tailor your result set. If you are a conspiracy theorist, it may be a bit scary.
Simple and straightforward. No setup work required. The goal is to break down silos by highlighting the work happening in your network. Allowing the user to discover content, rather than relying on being informed the content exists.
The user can create their own ‘Boards’ based on a keyword. The results are different than a search, which tries to determine the relevance of a document based on a keyword. The Office Graph determines the relevance by your network. Is the document within a site you frequently visit or follow? Has the document been worked on or frequently viewed by people that you work closely with? These are the connections the Office Graph makes and returns results accordingly.
No ability for centralized configuration. No ability to highlight a set of important company links or information. This is 100% personalized to the user based on their usage.
Results are based on your usage and connections in Office 365. When you first light up Office 365 for a user, the results may not all be relevant. This will improve as Office Graph gets to know you, but may create early adoption problems.
SharePoint Home Page
This page is designed to be your one stop shop for everything SharePoint in your tenant. You can quickly see the sites you visit most frequently along with the news from all the sites you follow. You can quickly view a set of suggested sites curated by the Office Graph. In the left nav you get a list of sites you are following, the most recent sites you’ve visited and a set of featured links. In addition to all this, you also can create a new SharePoint site right from this page.
Very little setup required. The suggested section will be automatically filled, via the Office Graph, based on the user’s activity. The frequent and recent will reflect the most recent sites the user has visited. The user has the ability to bookmark sites by following them. There is even a little bit of room for corporate or standardized content. The Featured Links section is centrally controlled. Ensuring everyone has a common set of resources.
Aside from following sites, there is no control over the content that is displayed. This pages leverages the office graph to pull back sites you frequently visit, along with suggested sites based on your activity. When you first light up Office 365 for a user this page may be a bit bare. There may not be many sites you’ve frequented and the suggested sites may not all be relevant to you. This will improve as Office Graph gets to know you, but may create early adoption problems.
Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint Team Sites. These options are all aimed at empowering small groups to pick and choose the right set of collaboration tools they need to get their job done. There is a lot of overlap with these products, which leads to some confusion. If you create a Microsoft Team you get an Office 365 Group and a Modern SharePoint Team site. If you create an Office 365 Group you also get a Modern SharePoint Team site, but no Microsoft Team. Although you can create a Microsoft Team and attach it to an existing Office 365 Group at a later point. If you create a SharePoint team site, you may or may not get an Office 365 Group, depending on how you create it and you won’t get a Microsoft Team. Then there are connected Yammer Groups, which are like Office 365 groups except the conversation is within Yammer. Everything perfectly clear…right?!?
At a high level, if you prefer working in outlook an Office 365 Group is probably for you. If you would prefer to stay away from Outlook a Microsoft Team is probably right for you. The bottom line here is if you have a project going on, with multiple people, you should consider using one of these options.
Office 365 Groups
At its core an Office 365 Group is simply an AD object. This object ties together a group of people to the technologies available. When a group is created, it is also provisions: Chat (shared mailbox), Calendar, a Modern SharePoint team site, OneNote Notebook and Planner.
The portal experience for the group is within either Outlook Web App or the Outlook desktop client, and focuses on the group chat. You have the links at the top to your group for conversations, calendar, files, notebook, connectors, planner and SharePoint Team Site. Allowing the team to pick and choose the appropriate collaboration tools.
Central collaboration space for a small group of people to get stuff done. Easy to provision and comes with all the Office 365 tools generally required to effectively collaborate.
The conversations are Outlook conversations and are email based, possibly not the best medium for a real-time conversation. There is also limited Skype for Business integration. You can see a list of people and their presence, but need to go directly to skype to have a call or meeting.
In the desktop client, the buttons for Calendar, Files and Notebook all open separate windows. There are no buttons for planner or the SharePoint Team site. In the Web App, only calendar and file are viewable on the same screen. Everything else is opened in a separate window. This can be off-putting for the person that wants to work in one single spot.
Although provisioning is easy. There is no ability to control what is provisioned. Every group creates a new SharePoint Site Collection to hold the provisioned Modern SharePoint Team site. Also, there is no OOTB ability to provision a common set of links or other corporate data to the group.
Microsoft Teams are a layer on top of an Office 365 Group. It relies on the underlying Office 365 Group, providing the same collaboration tools, with some differences. A Microsoft Team provides persistent chat rather than outlook conversations, audio video conferencing via Skype and a set of connectors. The connectors can be used to pull in data from other collaboration sources such as the Office Products and SharePoint. In addition to the connectors to MS products, there are a bunch of OOTB connectors to other data sources such as Hootsuite and YouTube. These have been provided leveraging a publicly available API. You can leverage this API to build your own apps and bots to meet your company or teams needs.
Like an Office 365 Group this is easy to provision and simple to configure. Unlike the Office 365 group, this is a true portal, single pain of glass experience. It offers central document repositories, just like an Office 365 Group, but also allows you pull in other existing collaboration spaces that may contain relevant data. When you click on a tab the item opens right in your workspace. For MS Office Content (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote) this leverages the Office Online experience, along with space for a team conversation around that document. For SharePoint, you can open the document library, and documents within the workspace.
Although provisioning is easy. There is no ability to control what is provisioned. Every Microsoft Team creates an Office 365 Group, which creates a new SharePoint Site Collection to hold the provisioned SharePoint Modern team site. To interact with the Modern SharePoint Team Site, you need to follow the link and work in a separate window. There is no integration with outlook. If I need to check my emails, I need to leave the Microsoft Teams App. Finally, there is no OOTB ability to provision a common set of links or other corporate data to the team.
SharePoint Team Site:
A Modern SharePoint Team site is an element of a team or a group. Or you could create a Classic SharePoint Team Site on its own. Either way this is a SharePoint site tailored for small teams or project work. Both a Classic and Modern SharePoint Team Site will come preconfigured with a document library, a Notebook and all the power of SharePoint. A Modern Team Site will be part of an Office 365 Group and it will also have a link to the group conversation, along with the other collaboration tools provided by an Office 365 Group. In both models you have ability to create additional lists, libraries, columns, content types, etc. In both models, you can also edit/update pages and add Web Parts. But only with Modern SharePoint Team sites will you be able to add new Modern Web Parts built off the SharePoint Framework. If you create the SharePoint team site on its own, you will get a Classic SharePoint Team site. You will not get the group functionality, nor will you get the modern experience.
With a SharePoint Team Site, you get all the power of SharePoint. You can add in workflow, security, taxonomy and all your other favorite SharePoint features. If created via an Office 365 Group or a Microsoft Team you will get the Modern experience. This provides everything in the classic experience plus, a fully responsive design to ensure it looks great on any device. Along with Office Graph web parts that highlight recent activity on the site.
You can also create a unique Team Site Template that is configured for your organization. It could contain links or pull content from central data repositories and potentially share a common look and feel as the rest of your SharePoint solution.
Unless it is created as part of an Office 365 Group or Microsoft Team you are not automatically connected to all the other great collaboration tools. You also do not get the Modern experience and Modern web parts. To top it off, currently there is no way to convert a classic site to a Modern Site or attach an existing team site to an existing Office 365 Group. This functionality is on the roadmap, but no firm release date.
When creating a Modern Team Site as part of an Office 365 Group, you have no ability to use a custom site template and very limited ability to manipulate the look and feel of the site.
This is generally your intranet site, your knowledge management solution. This is an opportunity to drive culture and communicate out important corporate news and announcements. But don’t forget for a portal to be sticky or well adopted it must also speak to the end users day to day work. It must speak to a particular pain point or business problem. You need to find that balance between the corporate content that needs to be there and the personalized content that will keep them coming back.
SharePoint Intranet Sites
This requires the most amount of up front planning to ensure your solution matches your vision, speaks to your business challenges and encourages adoption. It also has the most freedom as you can do just about anything you want with it. You can use this to highlight your corporate culture. Highlight important news and events. Highlight Employees and behaviors you wish to encourage. Leverage the Office Graph to pull out content, customized to the current user, that automatically updates to prevent stale page syndrome. Leverage yammer to encourage companywide conversations. The possibilities are endless
Fully customizable. You can highlight exactly what you want, where you want it. Leveraging the Office Graph and Graph API will allow you to pull in data from any of the tools within Office 365 to create an environment that allows people to get their day to day work done.
This is time, effort and budget intensive. Very difficult to create one size fits all page that is everything to everyone. Leveraging the Office Graph will allow you to pull in relevant, auto updating content. But ultimately this page will page will be focused more on content relevant to the whole company. Although a well-crafted intranet site will still make it easier for a user to find the content they are looking for. Even if it’s not right on the landing page.
I hope I’ve pointed out that although there are different options, they each have their own purpose. If you are new to Office 365 or a smaller company it may make senses to leverage Delve or the SharePoint Home Page as your main landing page. Add in the use of Office 365 Groups or MS Teams and you have a great starting point for your collaboration environment. If you are more mature with Office 365 or are a larger enterprise company, you’ll probably want to leverage a SharePoint Intranet as your landing page. But don’t forget to introduce your users and augment their experience with Delve and the SharePoint Home Page. For team work, rather than trying to create the perfect Team Site Template, consider leveraging MS Teams and/or Office 365 Groups. Remember this is not a once size fits all platform. They have given you choice, so take advantage.