For most organizations, the pandemic has been their biggest digital transformation change agent. In terms of impact on ways of working, behavioral change, and of course evolving demands on their IT departments. All this within a relatively short space of time, and affecting everyone from the CEO down.
However, for those actually working in IT, some things stayed the same. The freedom to connect, communicate and collaborate – anytime and anywhere. A culture of hybrid working, spanning the office, home, even the journey between the two. Cloud-based technologies and platforms such as Microsoft Teams and SharePoint were already making it possible.
In this SysKit Virtual Talk, IT leaders examine how this technology enabled more businesses to rapidly transform to the “new normal”.
Alongside SysKit Co-Founder and CEO Toni Frankola, you can hear from Sympraxis Consulting’s Marc D. Anderson, Todd Klindt, and Derek Cash-Peterson. All four share high-level insights that will particularly resonate with IT Heads, Managers, Security Officers, and Admins. Plus anyone else who’s worked, delivered and consulted in IT over the pandemic-influenced past 18 months.
Table of contents from the recording
1:03 Introduction to speakers
5:28 Experiences of the past 18 months
11:15 What’s going to be the new way of working
16:22 How consumerization of IT reset expectations
34:28 Advice for on-premises organizations
43:50 Useful applications and workloads for Microsoft 365
Helping clients navigate the pandemic-fueled transformation
Sympraxis Consulting already had a long-established culture of working from home. So the pandemic didn’t have a major impact on internal company culture or communication methods, with Microsoft Teams already embedded. The “stuff it actually changed a lot was how we work with clients”, explains Marc D. Anderson, President of Sympraxis Consulting.
Of course, clients were used to having consultants visiting their offices and conference rooms. And then, lockdown and travel restrictions happened. Pretty much overnight, meetings started to take place virtually.
Naturally, this had a knock-on effect on group discussions. Workers were used to bouncing around ideas in person. The challenge was how to replicate this energy online, and find a way to understand and pick up on subtle signals and nuances in body language and tone of voice. “We’ve had to help some of them along the way, just to understand how to do this,” says Marc.
Rapid updates to Teams for users and organizations
To support users and organizations, Microsoft “doubled down on Teams performance with improvements.”
Many updates were made specifically for the change in working practices, such as May’s announcement that, “During this time of increased remote work, you can take advantage of view-only broadcasts for up to 20,000 attendees through the end of this year”.
Another notable update was the introduction of Together Mode and Large gallery view.
At its September 2020 launch, Microsoft described this as using “AI segmentation technology to digitally place participants in a shared background, making it feel like you’re sitting in the same room with everyone else in the meeting or class like various characters of MGR sitting in the above picture during the 70s.”
In March 2021, PowerPoint Live made its Teams debut.
Microsoft noted “As the world shifted to working remotely, we all faced new challenges presenting without a live audience.” With presentations a staple part of working life, Microsoft described the update as offering “the rich presenting capabilities of PowerPoint and the collaboration of Microsoft Teams.”
This rapid roll-out of features led to a similarly rapid adoption among users, and resulted in an “innovation point”. Derek Cash-Peterson, Sympraxis Consulting’s Principal Architect describes this as being “really market-driven by people actively using the platform.”
Digital transformation with Teams: Outcomes ahead of the activity
Organizations may have seen Teams quickly optimized for their remote working demands. However, many are now examining if the future is still remote-working.
Microsoft had intended to welcome staff back in the office on October 4. However, this was postponed following the emergence of the Delta Variant of Covid-19. Apple and Google have also postponed moves to bring workers back to offices.
“Folks got a year-and-a-half of working from home and having flexible schedules,” says Todd Klingt, SharePoint consultant at Sympraxis Consulting. “They’re having a really tough time giving that up.”
The likes of Gartner see this change as permanent, stating “A hybrid workforce is the future of work.” This statement is joined by a forecast that “51% of all knowledge workers worldwide” will be working remotely by the end of 2021.
Marc expects a split in company directions. Some will say, “We’re going back to the way we always did things.” While others will adapt to “a different way of working.” While this has been possible in the IT industry for “probably 20 years now”, it’s only now that there’s been a “general acceptance” of this attitude.
Derek adds that this is part of an overall shift in how productivity is measured. “It’s not the hours that you’re physically present – it’s the work that you get done in that time.”
Todd observes a further shift with increased file sharing through SharePoint, made easy when workers are already inside Microsoft 365. Of course, the advantages of this availability also require balancing with the necessary levels of security and control for SharePoint environments and architectures.
Cloud technology & the pandemic: A storm – at the right time
If a pandemic had to hit the world, at least it hit at a time when organizations had access to Microsoft Teams and cloud-based solutions. Marc notes the removal of dependency to the “physical space of the office” has been crucial in ensuring business continuity. “If this has happened 10–15 years ago, we would not have been able to cope as well.”
Todd agrees, citing the consumerization of IT helping to “reset people’s expectations” of what was needed for day-to-day tasks. People were already using Netflix to watch movies, or Dropbox to share files with friends, so adopting similar practices in the workplace suddenly became less of a jump.
Todd points out the rise in web services also reduced the importance of having the latest and greatest hardware. This meant new opportunities for those from industries traditionally seen as technology laggards rather than early adopters. For example, financial services or education, where large institutions often have legacy systems.
Of course, this is partly due to performing highly regulated processes and procedures. Yet most were able to pivot successfully, due to having the necessary control mechanisms in place.
That’s because within the Microsoft 365 admin center, these control mechanisms don’t just measure user access. Depending on your subscription, this can also include monitoring Microsoft Teams and SharePoint user activity and device usage. When combined with a tool such as SysKit Point, it becomes possible to track high-risk activities and ensure compliance with regulatory policies.
What’s more, this can be deployed in multiple regions. So let’s say you have to meet regulations such as GDPR. “It’s simply a case of making sure your Microsoft service is located within your legal jurisdiction”, explains Toni Frankola, SysKit Co-Founder and CEO. This localized approach also has the added benefit of solving data latency issues.
It’s not just in security where SharePoint capabilities have been transformed. Functionality, user experience, and appearance have all improved too.
Using SharePoint to rapidly build sites
Older, on-premises versions of SharePoint required plenty of customization, such as adding custom libraries for conditional formatting.
Now, out-of-the-box SharePoint sites are enough of a starting point for many organizations. Marc likens SharePoint’s modern “UI sophistication and good looks” to that of Twitter and Facebook. “I think it’s great that we’re able to do more without developing,” and freeing up dev resources for business-critical tasks.
Todd echoes the sentiment, commenting how he can use SharePoint to build sites without having technical or design knowledge. “I can go in and make things look a little better without having any skills in that area”.
Further gains in speed come from the SharePoint Framework. It’s the recommended customization and extensibility model for developers building solutions for SharePoint Online. That’s because it comes tightly integrated with SharePoint Online, Microsoft Teams, and Microsoft Viva connections. Derek highlights how users can “get examples to do things that they can’t figure out how to do on their own”, such as “entire PHP samples library of list formatting.”
The consensus is that now is the best time, if you haven’t yet migrated. You might have made customizations to address SharePoint shortcomings from 5–10+ years ago. The pace of change means those shortcomings simply don’t exist anymore.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s a simple case of lift and shift. “Every time you do a migration it ought to be a rethinking or reimagining”, explains Marc. That’s because once you’ve migrated to Microsoft 365, that’s it. You’re on SharePoint Online. An ecosystem where you can connect to solutions rapidly. For example, previously with Power BI “you had to set up all these data gateways” says Toni. Whereas “now, if your data is in the cloud you can easily connect.”
This ease-of-use is reflected in Marc’s observation regarding the past 30+ years in IT. The focus should be on “how to enable people to get their jobs done better and then how should we control that so that the organization’s risk is managed.” In that order. Tools and tracking are important, but so is giving workers the freedom to do what they need to do. Otherwise, there’s the risk of Shadow IT.
Enabling speed for Office 365 – without compromising security
Of course, cloud-based freedom requires cloud-based security.
Microsoft Defender for Office 365 is one form of defense, filtering emails to protect against malware and ransomware. Microsoft also has active processes for potential malicious activity, MFA, and auditing logs. “In Office 365 it’s a check box”, says Todd, comparing this to 20 years ago and “thousands of dollars in hardware subscriptions and Capex and Opex.”
However, those in highly regulated industries need something more specialized.
That’s where SysKit Point comes in. You get automated Office 365 governance and security, with in-built tracking for compliance. There are options for unified, simplified, and automated reporting and auditing. You can also monitor access, activity, and usage – from a single pane. Plus Office 365 Admins can control tenant inventories and ensure compliance for the most regulated industries. Explore SysKit Point to see its capabilities.