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July 24, 2018 | John Gruber

Migrating to the Cloud: SharePoint Online for Better Collaboration

The IT world has changed. Long gone are the days of IT simply supporting the business. Today, we’re expected to drive digital transformation. That requires us to not only stay well-versed on the latest technologies and trends but also to always be looking for ways to transform old, outdated practices into mobile, agile processes that help the business reach its goals.

For many businesses, migrating to applications in the cloud is an important step in the digital transformation journey. Today, we’ll take a closer look at SharePoint Online and its benefits to businesses looking to migrate to cloud applications.

What is SharePoint Online?

Microsoft’s SharePoint Online Planning Guide describes SharePoint Online as:

A cloud-based service that helps organizations share and collaborate with colleagues, partners, and customers. With SharePoint Online, you can access internal sites, documents, and other information from anywhere—at the office, at home, or from a mobile device.

The key word in that very simple description is “collaborate.” Today’s businesses are spread far and wide. Here are 10 ways SharePoint is superior to email and file sharing. 

1. Low Maintenance 

If you’re only using SharePoint Online for document management, there’s little to no maintenance required. Even group permissions can be delegated to teams – a feature many SharePoint users seem to love. However, if you’re only using SharePoint Online to store and share files, you’re really missing out. SharePoint Online has a lot of capabilities that can be configured to meet complex business goals. Having an experienced admin on staff can help you get the most from SharePoint Online and accelerate your journey toward digital transformation.

2. Low Cost ­

If you’re already using Office 365 for your business, SharePoint Online is included in many subscriptions, and using it wouldn’t cost you anything. If not, SharePoint Online is still available for a monthly, user-based fee. SharePoint Online is designed to work best with the Office 365 suite of applications, so if you aren’t using Office 365, maybe now is the time to take a closer look.

3. Security 

If someone tried to gain physical access to your data center, could you prevent it? If they ran a dictionary attack against an admin account, would they be stopped? If they purchased a hack that took advantage of the latest vulnerability, would you have it patched before they got in? If you can answer yes, congratulations! You are probably worth a lot more than you’re being paid. (Or you are underestimating today’s cyber criminals.

Because it is a platform-as-a-service, SharePoint Online is always up-to-date with the latest security features. In fact, Microsoft has a team of resources dedicated to identifying the latest threats and hardening the SharePoint platform. The SharePoint Online sites you set up and the data they contain can be protected even further with multi-factor authentication. Depending on your Office 365 subscription, it may already be included.

TierPoint Cloud-Only Customers: If you currently do not have multi-factor authentication set up, let’s talk. It’s included in your package. Click here for more information.

4. Compliance

SharePoint Online has advanced features that can be configured for a long list of regulations and industry standards. This certainly makes it far more suitable for high-risk environments than simple email file sharing and more suitable than many of the file-sharing applications as well. But the most important thing to remember is that no application or platform is ever compliant out of the box. We can configure the features in your entire Office 365 suite, including SharePoint Online, to help you meet whichever regulatory or industry standards apply to your business.

5. Search and Discovery

SharePoint Online’s search capabilities promote collaboration by allowing users to search everything on their SharePoint site. But really, that simple statement doesn’t do the search feature justice.

However, there are two aspects I want to specifically point out here: First, admins can make search even more powerful with metadata. Second, SharePoint Online’s search capabilities were developed with a security-first mindset. Search results are even trimmed so that users only see results for content they are permitted to access.

6. Remote Workforce

SharePoint Online can be accessed from anywhere, without the headaches and added costs of maintaining a VPN. Users can sync their data to their local computers and work on those documents offline. For example, a manager can review and sign off on the latest sales orders while offline. Once they are online again, their approval will be automatically synced to SharePoint Online.

Also read: 8 Benefits of Office 365 with a Managed Provider

7. Simultaneous Editing 

In many file sharing applications, two people can’t open the same document at the same time. When they try to get around this limitation, by using email, for instance, simultaneous editing causes even bigger headaches as the team struggles to reconcile different versions of the document. SharePoint Online cures those headaches with a feature called co-authoring which allows multiple people to edit the same document at the same time.

8. Customer Engagement Through External Sharing

OK, so you’ve set up SharePoint Online to ensure security and compliance. Now, what happens when one of your employees needs to share a document externally? Does all that effort go to waste?

Not with SharePoint Online. That’s because SharePoint online allows you to share files externally from within SharePoint. Your users simply share a link to the document to those with whom they need to collaborate. External collaborators can then create an account (using the specified email address and link) to gain access to the documents shared. And external access can be revoked or set to timeout after a preset timeframe.

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9. Web Portals

SharePoint Online is a collaboration platform, not just an application. You can use SharePoint Online to set up multiple web portals for your users. You might have one for expense reporting, another for the key accounts sales team, one for early adopters of a specific product, and so on. Since these portals are SharePoint sites, all of the security features I’ve mentioned apply to the content on your portals as well.

10. Workflows and Automation

Finally, SharePoint Online has workflow and automation capabilities built-in. We can build workflows that pass documents around for signatures, team input, or whatever else you may need. Here’s an example of how you can use portals, workflows, and automation together. A law firm can set up unique areas for each of their customers. Paralegals put all documents for that client in the client’s section. SharePoint automatically holds those documents until the lawyer approves them. Then the documents are shared with the client via a client portal.

SharePoint Online is one of the most powerful and innovative products in the Office 365 suite. If you’re a current Office 365 customer, you may already have access. Visit the SharePoint Online Training Site to learn more about the features, and then try them out yourself by building a test site.

Cloud computing. Simplified.

TierPoint offers managed cloud services across public cloud platforms like Azure, private hosted clouds, and hybrid environments. For organizations migrating to Office 365, we offer services like initial environment assessments, performance recommendations, Office 365 consulting services, migration and deployment services, and more. Contact us today to learn about how we can help you get started on your path to digital transformation.

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