Last weekend it was confirmed that our contracts have been extended for another six months, which is great news. To secure this extension, Michael and i had to write a brief plan saying what we would be doing in those extra 6 months, so I though I would put it in the blog.
There are many areas of Microsoft Office 365 that are still yet to be fully evaluated for use within the university. With the work that we have done in Office 365, only a handful of features are being used in our showcase environment, there are many more features that could be used to improve the SharePoint working environment using Office 365 Enterprise edition.
Over the next 6 months we aim to be involved in heavy research and testing, looking into how the features of Office 365 can be tailored to benefit the different departments within the University.
We will be researching in depth and working with the following features:
- Complex Workflows – To simplify common business processes
- Single Sign On – To keep in step with the current university single sign on
- Flexible branding and customization – To apply University branding to the site
- Audience Targeting
- Development with Info Path, Designer and Workspaces
- My Sites (User Profiles/Personal Online Storage)
- Mobile Phone integration
- Cross platform compatibility
- SharePoint Online site structure
To test Office365 we are considering developing a full working environment for the Online Services team or any other team that might be interested, this would allow us to test the system in real world work environment.
We will also be looking heavily into many different migration methods to find out which method would be best suited. To do this we will be in contact with Microsoft, 3rd party agents and their clients to ensure we choose the best method.
These are just some of the things we will be working on in the next few months, as we continue we will most likely think of more tasks and come across new features that need to be researched/implemented.
Microsoft have so far been very quiet regarding their Education offering of the Office 365 environment. However it has been recently announced that they will be starting to migrate their existing Live@EDU customers in the Spring or Summer 2012. This indicates that Microsoft will, at some point, later this year or early next year release a bit more information on the Education version of the service and it’s pricing. The pricing has yet to be officially unveiled.
RSS Feeds is a feature within SharePoint that we have not been able to quite understand how it works. RSS Feeds can be enabled on lists for example and then can be used in RSS Readers such as Microsoft Outlook. We have tried adding the RSS Feed created to Outlook with some success. However it did raise questions about whether you would continue to receive updates should you not be logged in to the Office 365 website. In theory we knew that you shouldn’t as the data is not public. We did test this by logging out and entering a new post using a different user account on another PC, this seemed to work and I did not receive the update in the RSS Feed. I expected at this point, when I logged back in to the Office 365 website that the RSS Feed would begin updating again with any new posts, but this did not seem to be the case. After waiting a while the new post did not appear in the RSS Feed and didn’t understand why. Later (probably half an hour to an hour) the new post then appeared in the RSS Feed. It’s behaviour was therefore difficult to understand. It light of this we decided to post a question to the Office 365 Community and await a response. We had previously read that RSS Feeds were not supported in the Small Business edition, however after looking more in to the feature directly on the website, managed to set up what appears to be a working Feed. At this stage we are however still a little unsure as to how they work.
Audience Targeting allows you to easily manage what users can see in terms of lists, list items and web parts etc. Currently within the University Audiences are used to direct content to either staff or students. This means that students only see what is relevant to them and staff only see what’s relevant to them. Within Office 365, it is not only possible to to apply this model to web parts and lists, but also individual items within a list. It is very easy to target a specific list item. When the item is added to the list, there is an additional field to add the target group, once added only this group will be able to view that particular item.
Audience Targeting is not a functioning feature within the Small Business edition of Microsoft Office 365, and therefore we have not been able to test this feature. It is only included as part of the Enterprise edition and above.
I have been working with Microsoft Office 365 Small Business version for 2 months now and I believe we have pretty much reached its limits.
As we are currently leaving migration until we are both back from our holiday we have been looking into more features of Microsoft office 365 that we might have previously missed, features such as RSS feeds, target audiences, info path lists, complex workflows and more. None of these appear to work in the small business edition, there appear to be a huge amount of restrictions that only allow us to do the simplest of task (no IT pro required). For us to continue with Microsoft Office 365 I believe we need to upgrade to the Enterprise edition, this will allow us to test features that may actually be useful to the University, it will also allow us to use features that even SharePoint 2003 currently use, such as target audience. To me, I believe that even Office 365 Small Business should be an improvement on SharePoint 2003 and not hold features back that would put 2003 ahead of small business.
So after we have looking into migration more closely and tested some of this, I believe we have no choice but to move up to Microsoft Office 365 Enterprise edition, so we can test these useful features.