By Phil Astell of Astec Computing (UK) Ltd

In the last edition, we spent some time looking at, and busting the common myths surrounding cloud technology. If you didn’t get chance to read the article, you can view it online at platinumbusinessmagazine.com (click on the ACESussex link and go to page 24).

In this edition, we are going to begin to look at how you can use Office 365 tools to improve your operational efficiency by using some of the collaborative tools within the suite. It is increasingly common for businesses to not only operate over multiple sites, but also to have team members working both on the road and remotely. Additionally, you may want to collaborate with people from outside of your organisation in a secure and simple way; for example, with customers or suppliers to work jointly on a project. Office 365 offers the opportunity to remove geographic limitations and removes the potential for your company network being a barrier to effective external collaborative working.

To help demonstrate how the technology can bring real value to almost any business, we’re going to look at our invented company; DreamBeans - a coffee distribution and sales company and how they used Office 365 to help them work smarter.

DreamBeans profile

• Description: Coffee sales and distribution

• Locations: Midlands distribution centre, South East sales and admin office

• Staff: 50 employees – 15 field based sales

• Business challenge focus: Managing and collaborating with a remote sales team

Steve, the sales director has been struggling for some time to manage a team spread around the UK. Email is the primary means of communicating, often used for sending file attachments, meaning multiple versions of files are in use across different team members. The team also use VPN connections to their fileserver at the main office from laptops but this is not always reliable when out on the road. Communicating across the whole team is difficult with group emails being the norm and face to face meetings difficult to organise and expensive.

DreamBeans made the decision to move to the cloud with Office 365 and bring the whole company together.

Steve is going to build his sales team a structure to work in using a feature known as Office Groups. Groups in Office 365 let you choose a set of people that you wish to collaborate with, internal or external, and easily and quickly set up a collection of resources for those people to share. The resources you can share include;

• Shared Inbox – For email conversations between your members. This inbox has an email address and can be set to accept messages from people outside the group and even outside your organisation

• Shared Calendar – For scheduling events related to the group

• SharePoint Document Library – A central place for the group to store and share files

• Shared OneNote Notebook – For gathering ideas, research, and information

• SharePoint Team Site – A central repository for information, links and content relating to your group

• Planner – For assigning and managing project tasks among your group members

• Microsoft Team – a real time chat and collaborative working environment

Steve sets this up with just a few clicks. None of the resources need to be manually created; creating the group automatically creates them for you so the sales team can start using them right away. Once created, the team have a fantastically simple but powerful shared working environment for everyone to use, no matter where they are or what device they are working from.

Steve’s team now have a shared Outlook inbox where messages are viewed by the whole team and can be responded to by anyone in the team. Everyone is on the same page.

Because the sales team are on the road much of the time, it’s not always convenient to use their laptops on the move. Office 365 provides seamless access on almost any device; In addition to the standard Outlook 2016 desktop client they can also connect via Outlook on the Web, Outlook mobile, or using dedicated Microsoft Groups apps on iOS, Android or Windows Phone (and not to mention Outlook for Mac). This means that Steve’s team can stay fully productive and up to speed using just a mobile phone but will access the same information and tools on their laptop, desktop or tablet devices.

The sales team now has access to all of their files through their SharePoint Team site; there’s no logging in to the network with a VPN connection. Files can be worked on together in real time by multiple team members with each being able to see what part of the document the other is working on and can see their changes as they happen; great for working together on a tricky sales proposal. To further help collaboration, each of the team members run Skype for Business alongside the document so everyone can discuss it while they work (through video, audio or instant messaging), just as though they were working in the same room together.

Skype for Business is now used widely throughout the sales team. Steve runs weekly sales meetings with his entire sales team (set in the Group calendar), wherever they happen to be, using video and audio conferencing. He can screen share with his team to show sales targets and performance and provide product training for new team members.

Using the Planner app, Steve is going to manage an upcoming sales conference. He needs to create areas of responsibility across his sales and admin team and assign them tasks. Planner offers a visual way to set tasks and deadlines to individuals and measure progress. If a team member is getting behind or appears overloaded, tasks can be reassigned quickly and easily.

Using the new Teams app, Steve has also created a really easy place for his team to ‘meet’, discuss ideas one to one or as a group and keep on top of events.

Conclusion

The sales team is now truly working as a team. Communication is efficient and effective. There is just one version of company data and everyone knows what’s going on, what they should be doing and they really feel like they are part of a team. But this is just the beginning of the journey. There is so much more to come from Office 365. Next Steve is going to start automating sales admin processes using Microsoft Flow in 365 and then introduce a fully Office 365 integrated CRM solution; Microsoft Dynamics 365. But these projects are for another day… (well another edition anyway!)

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