This week I have the privilege of speaking at the Office 365 Symposium in Washington, D.C. The focus of my presentation is driving business innovation and transformation using Microsoft 365. I would like to share some of the key discussion items of that presentation.

The Innovation Imperative 

In the book “The Innovators Dilemma”, Clayton M. Christensen stated, “Outstanding companies can do everything right and still lose their market leadership - or worse, disappear altogether.” There are countless examples of once great companies that exemplify what Clayton M. Christensen stated. Just consider companies like Novell, myspace, Sears, Palm, and others. Each of these was the market leader in their respective industries at one point. Today these companies either no longer exist or are only a shell of their former selves. In a study looking at the Fortune 500 companies from 1975, by the year 2000, 70% of those companies no longer existed or were no longer considered a Fortune 500. Using this same list, by 2014 only 14 companies even remained on the list.

Technology innovations are empowering disruptors and enabling rapid changes throughout every industry. Consider a simple example of Uber. If we reflect on the technology foundations required to power Uber today, most of these didn’t exist or weren’t readily available only 12 years ago. We are so accustomed to the app stores on our iPhones and Android phones that we forget that the app store didn’t even exist on the first version of Apple’s iPhone. As those technologies became available and the app store arrived, the Uber business revolutionized the transportation industry. Access to current and forthcoming technologies will only expand the number of people ready to create disruptions, reduce the costs to create those disruptions, and will significantly reduce the time required to disrupt an industry.

The Fallacy of the Organizational Culture 

People are the most important asset for any company. However, when organizations engage in efforts to drive innovation and change their business strategy, they often forget people and the impact to the business. In a white paper developed by Hitachi Consulting, one of the authors noted, “The mistake companies make is assuming an organization will automatically evolve to support a strategy – it requires a purposeful proactive approach.” In other words, having the greatest technologies and business strategy can still result in failure if a focused and purposeful effort is not made to proactive make people part of the change effort.

Four of the core pillars we normally focus on related to a purposeful people change in an organization include the Organizational Structure, Skills and Capabilities, Culture and Behavioral Change, and Process and Governance. All of these must be planned and considered to be successful in changing the business strategy or driving innovation in the business organization. Just deploying Microsoft 365 won’t create change and drive the organization forward.

Understanding Microsoft 365 

Before I dig too much more into the impacts with Microsoft 365, it may be helpful to clarify what Microsoft 365 is. A few years ago, Microsoft created a licensing vehicle to help customers buy software in bundles to save money. One of the major bundles that was created was called the “Secure, Productive Enterprise” or SPE. In an initial marketing move, the SPE name was dropped and changed to Microsoft 365. However, while the initial focus was just on giving the licensing bundle a (much) better name, Microsoft’s primary goal is providing connected services that enable new solutions and business scenarios to be addressed when more of the Microsoft technologies are enabled and connected.

With that in mind, today Microsoft 365 includes Office 365, Windows 10, and the Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) suite.

How Does Microsoft 365 Power Innovation? 

The Microsoft 365 suite (and especially Office 365) are often seen as just the email system, or how the Office desktop apps are delivered, or maybe a few services like OneDrive, Skype, and SharePoint delivered in the cloud. This is generally the starting point for any organization migrating to Office 365 initially. And, most of these organizations don’t fully consider what the EMS suite or Windows 10 bring into this discussion.

The very nature of the Microsoft 365 set of cloud services, though, is what empowers significant opportunities for innovation and transformation. Microsoft can deliver new services and capabilities rapidly into the platform, on-premises employees are better able to focus on empowering the business rather than keeping email operational, and the connected nature of Microsoft 365 provides new tools and services that have not previously been available.

For the remainder of this article, I would like to touch on three areas where Microsoft 365 helps power innovation and opportunities for digital transformation in organizations. These areas are:

  • Digital Processes
  • Enhanced Collaboration
  • People Insights

Digital Processes 

While most organizations use major enterprise systems like Dynamics 365, SAP, and Oracle, every organization has a wealth of existing processes and tasks that still rely on filling out data in Microsoft Word or Excel, manually completing steps, or copying data from one system to another manually.

For organizations that still rely heavily on filling out data in Word and Excel or taking manual steps to gather data, basic tools like Microsoft Flow and Microsoft PowerApps can enable rapid changes helping save time and money.

Where Microsoft 365 becomes a tool to drive innovation, though, comes from the ability to pull and integrate data from line of business systems like Dynamics 365, SAP, or Oracle directly into the Office 365 experience. Many of these experiences can be enabled using Add-Ins to create a native Office experience. For example, an organization could provide a button in Outlook to schedule time-off. In a couple of clicks, a process that may have previously required an email to a specific distribution list or logging into a business system can now be done completely in the Outlook experience. And, if the Add-In were created correctly, that same experience could be available in Outlook on the web or mobile devices.

This same principle can be applied to Internet of Things (IoT) scenarios as well. The core goal of an IoT solution is to provide insights and help the business address an issue before it becomes a problem or improve the business performance. While most IoT solutions will integrate into some form of dashboard, IoT solutions can also be integrated into the Microsoft 365 set of services. This could be everything from real-time dashboards to Action Center alerts in Windows 10, to Microsoft 365-enabled apps that provide a quick way to take action on the real-time data.

Enhanced Collaboration 

Collaboration tools have been part of the business environment for decades now ranging from email to portals like SharePoint Server to instant messaging services. While these capabilities are not new, what is new is the way in which conversations, files, and meetings are coming together with digital processes, apps, third party cloud services, bots, and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. All these capabilities are core components of the Microsoft Teams platform. Further, combining the advanced identity controls in the EMS portion of the Microsoft 365, organizations can implement conditional access policies limiting access to these tools on unmanaged devices, specific locations in the world, locations outside of a corporate office, and more.

Currently, most organizations considering the use of Microsoft Teams are heavily focused on how the Skype for Business functionality is merging into Teams and ultimately replacing the Skype for Business Online service in Office 365. The real power in Teams, though, comes from the ability to connect apps, services, bots, and AI together. Using a simple example, a marketing department can gather specific hashtags from Twitter into Teams, develop responses, and then push those responses. The same team can collaborate with an external marketing agency with Adobe Creative Cloud and the associated assets, and then can leverage Power BI to show a sentiment analysis of the company or a specific product to enhance how they will respond. And all of this is done within Teams and doesn’t require even leaving the Teams experience to complete these tasks.

Further, these experiences are available on desktop devices, through the web browser, and on mobile devices making the experience available anywhere and anytime. Using our marketing example, someone in that organization could be riding the Metro in Washington, D.C. and respond in real-time to marketing needs while on their phone using the Teams app.

By merging the calling, audio conferencing, and video conferencing features into Teams, people can be connected anywhere moving quickly from a conversation, a document review, or an urgent response to a tweet about their organization through a single experience.

Finally, the digital processes, enterprise application integration, and IoT data discussed previously all flow into this unified Teams experience.

People Insights 

While most organizations have large quantities of data related to business processes, transactions, financial activities, and metrics, having firm data on people is often more complex. As a result, theories are established about the people and how people and group behaviors impact the business, but most of these aren’t measurable. For example, if asked the question of what makes an effective seller in an organization, the size of the pipeline and the number of customer contacts are all quickly referenced. But what about the size of the seller’s internal network and how well connected the seller is across the organization? Studies have found that the internal network plays a very important role in the overall success.

One of the more hidden, but powerful features of Microsoft 365 is the Microsoft Graph. The Microsoft Graph is a graph database that maintains all the relationships between people, emails, meetings, instant messages, identities, authentication attempts, devices, networks, global locations, and more. In 2017, Microsoft released a new service called Workplace Analytics (WpA) that allows an organization to bring additional business data from line of business and other systems and combine that data with WpA.

In the case of the high performing seller or onboarding success for a seller, WpA can help identify specific patterns in the organization and which behaviors have the greatest impact. However, WpA can also help identify communication channels within an organization that might otherwise be unknown, can help examine collaboration behaviors to optimize space planning in an office, can be used to help track the integration efforts in a merger and acquisition, or just help identify behaviors within an organization that could be improved.

WpA can be a powerful agent for change in an organization when properly deployed by providing dashboards outlining specific people performance and the correlated impact on the business. Further, behavioral changes can be recommended for individuals using the MyAnalytics service

Looking Forward 

In a recent Forrester study, the study found that only 26% of CEOs had set a clear business strategy and vision for how digital capabilities would be connected into the business. Further, Harvard Business Review found the difference between digital laggards and digital leaders was only 0.3% more IT spend by the digital leaders. Part of the Harvard Business Review study indicated that many organizations have made investments in technologies that were not fully utilized, sitting on the shelf, or not part of the organizational strategy.

Rather than look at Microsoft 365 as just email in the cloud or a few cloud services, the suite of services and tools should be seen as one of the technologies that can help drive innovation in your own organization. Embracing services like Microsoft Teams or Workplace Analytics could help you innovate and transform faster than your competition.