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5 key considerations for AEC organisations considering Office 365

The continuing emergence of cloud services and technologies is providing interesting opportunities for AEC (Architects, Engineering and Construction) organisations. The sector is digitally maturing at a rapid pace and how these technologies can be deployed usefully poses unique challenges.

The Microsoft Office 365 suite is key to Microsoft’s future strategy and is a hugely powerful productivity suite. Chances are, if you’re using a Microsoft product, whether that’s Exchange for email, SharePoint or just plain Office for creating documents, you’ll end up looking very seriously at switching from a traditional on premise license model to Office 365’s subscription model (if you haven’t already).

I believe any appraisal of Office 365 should be benefits led; you should only deploy it if it’s going to add value to your business. With this in mind any appraisal should include more than just a more affordable licence model. Change management, integration and migration are huge factors which may make the case for switching less compelling.

For AEC organisations there are 5 key things to consider when appraising how Office 365 fits into your technology strategy.

1. Compliance, retention and archiving

Any project related information typically has to be retained for a period – the length often varies depending on the country. This information includes emails sent to clients and project documentation. When held on premises, it’s usually not a problem as Exchange backups can be sufficient to ensure emails can be accessed – even if they were sent over a decade ago.

Office 365 doesn’t provide easy access to backups – so thought needs to be put into this. It may be that something like Exchange Online Archiving is sufficient for your needs but it’s a change which will require some thought and may require additional costs. Understanding how Office 365 tools such as data loss prevention, rights management and eDiscovery can help out is also vital to ensure information that’s held in Office 365 is being properly retained and that you're making the most of your Office 365 subscription.

2. Project information management

Most AEC organisations have existing solutions to hold and manage project information. Information may be stored in project information management tools, asset information management tools, ERP solutions and CRM.

It’s important that you understand how Office 365 fits in with these tools, where there is overlap and where there are opportunities for integration. Some tools, like NewForma for example, are highly specialized and Office 365 will never realistically replace them, however, integration may be an option.

3. Client and partner communication and collaboration

Tools such as SharePoint Online and Skype for Business offer new opportunities to collaborate much more closely with external parties, whether these are clients or partners working together to deliver a project. SharePoint Online sites can be easily shared with external users – this means documents can be stored and collaborated upon with all the benefits of SharePoint rather than emailed back and forth.

Having Skype for Business conversations with clients can foster a much closer working relationship than previously possible.

Being able to communicate better always leads to improved customer service however it’s important that everyone understands the implications of sensitive information being incorrectly disclosed.

4. Office locations and Internet links

Many AEC organisations have offices all over the world and the quality of their internet links can vary a huge amount. You can try before you buy and sign up for an Office 365 trial. This is useful in testing the user experience across all geographical locations.

Also, moving to Office 365 can increase bandwidth requirements so this is a key consideration – particularly if offices currently host their own infrastructure for email and file storage.

WAN optimisation products such as those provided by Riverbed can help out here but also come at an additional cost.

5. A new social intranet?

Office 365 may not be appropriate for your project information but it provides a powerful platform on which to build an intranet and it has some great social tools.

Using Office 365’s social tools like Yammer can enable your teams to share knowledge more effectively. Employees can use profiles to find people with relevant skills and experience elsewhere in the organisation too, overcoming a common resourcing challenge within professional service organisations.

Conclusion

There are a lot of advantages and opportunities for using Office 365. It should be acknowledged that there are also some key challenges and considerations which need to be taken into account when planning an Office 365 roll-out. These challenges are in no way insurmountable, but to leverage the benefits properly, an investment of time and money will need to be made beyond the initial cost of licenses.

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30 June 2017 , Durham Office