It’s easy to get caught up in the power of Office 365 in the browser and to forget what the desktop or mobile experience means in terms of IT roll out, support and user experience. I’ve been thinking about this for several clients and this blog summarises the state of play as of May 2018.
As Office 365 becomes bigger and more sophisticated, there is an increasing range of mobile apps and applications that you should consider installing.
But I thought Office 365 meant Word, PowerPoint, Excel etc?
If I had £10 for every time I had to explain this to people, I wouldn’t have to write blogs for a living! Office 365, despite Microsoft’s interesting choice of branding, is absolutely not synonymous with Microsoft Office. Confusingly, however, several of the licence options for Office 365 (Business Premium, E3 and E5 in particular) include desktop versions of Microsoft Office, which Microsoft like to call Pro Plus. Yes, you can in use Word and its friends with Office 365 and even install it as part of your subscription in some cases, but that doesn’t mean that Office 365 + Word + Excel + PowerPoint
But I thought Office 365 ran in a browser; why do I need to install anything?
This is true. However, it’s not the complete truth. Browsers have a number of limitations; for example, they need a decent Internet connection, without which browser applications are either slow or don’t work at all. They are also not always ideal to use on a small form factor device such as a smartphone. There are also some things that just can’t work in a browser, due to it being walled off from the underlying OS for security reasons.
So, what is in Office 365 and what should I install?
For clarity, Office 365 is an online (cloud) suite of business productivity tools, which provides a wide range of services to support core business activities across the five pillars of business activity: communication, collaboration, content, business process and people. I created this Office 365 elements diagram to illustrate this.
Quite a few of these Office 365 applications have dedicated apps for mobile devices. Right now, the list looks like:
- Skype for Business
- Microsoft Teams
- Power BI
- Dynamics 365
There are also some mobile only applications to consider
- Office 365 admin app
- Microsoft authenticator app
- Microsoft launcher
- Staff Hub
Then there are some notable omissions, including Project Online, Forms, Sway and the O365 video portal – Stream.
In terms of what you should install, the rule is that you should install the companion app if you use this elements or feature in Office 365.
In terms of what you should install, the rule is that you should install the companion app if you use this elements or feature in Office 365. Plus, it’s a good idea to install the Authenticator (I also have Office Lens, which is a brilliant image capture app for things like documents, white boards and presentations).
If you are an O365 Admin, then the companion app is a must too.
For frontline workers (F1 licences again), consider providing the Staff Hub.
On Android, you might consider the Microsoft Launcher app, as this pulls together much of the Microsoft technology into a user-friendly alternative to whichever flavour of the Android UI is on the phone; but that’s a different topic.
What about the desktop?
In theory, this is simple. If you have Microsoft Office clients and the full Outlook client for the desktop you should use them.
In practice, it’s a bit more complex. Firstly, any member of staff that you’ve allocated an F1 (Frontline worker) licence to cannot use a desktop client to access Office 365 content, even if they are separately licensed for the client; that’s one of the restrictions of this particular licence.
If you have an older version of Office (anything before Office 2016) then you’re missing out on some functionality designed with O365 in mind. This includes the ability to directly open or save documents in Office 365 from the file dialogues as well as the remarkable multi-user editing experience.
You should also be aware that Microsoft is changing the of authentication mechanism in all cloud services to improve security. In practice this means that any older clients will no longer be able to authenticate with Office 365 or Azure from sometime in 2020; you have 18 months to get new clients rolled out.
Finally, it’s worth considering whether all your members of staff really need a desktop client. The browser versions of Office are surprisingly good for lighter weight users and Outlook Online is better than the desktop Outlook 2010 client in most cases. There is a good case to be made for many staff, including knowledge workers to shift to the simpler, more streamlined and far easier to support browser experience instead. You can always upgrade individuals who show that they need the power of the desktop on demand.
There are many Office 365 apps from Microsoft. They mostly align directly with elements of the O365 suite and you should deploy them to staff if you use that element elsewhere, or at least allow users to install them on demand. It’s not enough to provide an email client on a phone and think you have done the job of enabling your staff; today’s Modern Workplace is rather more sophisticated than that and mobile apps open up new options for improved productivity and effectiveness.