SharePoint Developers: Staffing or Consulting vs. Managed Services

Options for SharePoint Intranet, Azure, & Office 365 Support

“IT people are expensive!” said the client sitting across the desk from me. He continued “We are not an IT company and I don’t have the experience to hire an intranet specialist and even if I did I am not sure that we could find one with all of the skills we need.” It was not the first time I had heard this statement. The client was the CEO of a healthcare organization with about 70 employees, but I had heard the same statement from CEO’s and CTO’s of much larger organizations. I was there to explain the communication and collaboration options that he had with his subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365, but his frustration with managing his IT was coming to the surface.  I thought about it for a second and replied “What would you say if there is a solution that can get you the variety of technical skills and support you are looking for within your budget…”

Modern organizations rely heavily on web based systems and applications to run their business effectively and efficiently. There are countless SharePoint and Office 365 (O365) applications, both purchased and developed internally, to support your company’s internal departments (Human Resources, Accounting & Finance, Facilities, Security, etc., not to mention the collaboration (internal & external) capabilities of SharePoint & O365. This web based (whether internal or cloud) method of conducting business has become critical for ensuring maximum productivity for people that are not in the same room. While these are a boon to doing business, they have brought their own set of problems to the table. These problems mostly are around the people needed to maintain these systems and ensure that the business is getting maximum value. There is no standardized size to an intranet team, so let’s look at the common roles for a SharePoint or O365 environment:

 

Intranet Manager Manages the strategy and budget for the platform. Understands the technology used and how it can be for the needs of the specific business.
SupportTier 1 Provides basic support for end-users around the core systems of the platform. (Password Reset, URL Support, General Questions, etc.)
SupportTier 2 Provides support for end-users around the advanced issues and solutions. (How to use specific application, Troubleshooting, etc.)
SupportTier 3 Provides advanced support for end-users for issues and solutions that require modification and investigation on the platform.
System / Technical Architect  Designs the information architecture andoversees the construction of the entire intranet system
Security  Designs, maintains, and monitors the security of the intranet solution
Trainer  Teaches Administrators, power users, and end-users how to use and get the most out of the system
User Experience Designer (U/X, U/I) Designs and constructs the interface that allows user interaction with the system
Governance & Change Manager Maintains the process that allows for controlled changes to the system. Is also often responsible for monitoring and working to advance adoption of the system
Developers  If the system requires custom solutions, there may be a need for a developer to write the code to connect to external systems or develop a custom interface

 

Any individual employee can have multiple roles, but as the system expands, they will generally become more specialized. Larger more disparate organizations may even have locality teams. The more roles that one person fills, the more likely there will be a problem when they are out or transition to a new role. Maximizing the potential of the organizations intranet can be an expensive proposition and many organizations want the benefits without hiring 5+ people. In addition, paying for the training required to keep up with ever changing technologies and to manage it, can be expensive as well.

The CEO looked back at me from across his desk, grinned, and said “I would say that you are a miracle worker, a liar, or you are actually a millionaire who is going to fund this out of your pocket.” I smiled back at him and simply said “Managed Office 365 Services”

The concept behind Managed Services for Office 365, Azure, and SharePoint is simple: You don’t need to pay a full staff to get the best service and results. Let’s look at a few of the benefits:

  • You can have specialists for each of the roles above with reach back to a large pool of experts
  • No worries about vacations
  • No worries about training
  • No worries about sick days
  • No worries about hiring IT people that may or may not be a good fit
  • The cost is structured so that you get the services you need at a price that is constant and predictable (no overtime for your server administrator that has to work several weekends).

As I finished laying out the concept there was a knock at the CEO’s door, “Your next appointment is here” said the administrative assistance through the crack in the door. “Have them wait 10 more minutes” and then turned back to me “I had been told that Managed Services was expensive, but based on this, I will save money, get the expertise, and not have to hire at all. You may have just saved me hundreds of thousands in the next few years”. I smiled back, knowing it may actually have saved him much more.

When you explore the concept of managed services it is very important to ask the right questions of potential providers:

  • What is covered and what are the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) under your plan?
  • Would you be willing to tailor a plan to meet my organization’s needs?
  • Are there any hidden costs (extra for nights, weekends, too many calls in a month, etc.?
  • Are you willing to meet regularly to discuss how my system is working and how we can make it better?
  • Where your resources are located? (onshore, offshore, local, etc.)
  • Can you provide additional services outside of the service plan if I have specific projects that we need to work on?
  • Will you provide someone I can contact directly or are all transactions handled anonymously online?
  • What is your methodology to ensure proactive management of my platform?
  • How will you measure and report on our success?
  • Who else is using the service?

Also, when interviewing managed services providers, remember that you are looking for not just a provider, but a partner. Beware that there are managed services providers who are glad to take the money and wait for problems. On the other hand, there are managed services providers who will take on your business as their business and look for ways to assist you in getting the most from your systems and investment. That extra drive is what makes the difference between just another service and a true partnership.

Are you looking for help evaluating the best approach for your SharePoint, Office 365 project or any other SharePoint Consulting services?  If so, please contact us.

 

Author: Neal Cooper

Editors: Kurt Greening and Alex Finkel

OneDrive for Business – Pros, Cons, and Governance Considerations

OneDrive for Business is a place where you can store, sync, and share your work files. As part of Office 365, OneDrive for Business lets you update and share your files from anywhere and work on Office documents with others at the same time.

For organizations with strict content security, retention, and sharing policies OneDrive for Business can present unique challenges for administrators looking to balance its functionality with internal controls. This blog post discusses some of the pros and cons of using OneDrive for Business and some of the governance considerations that should be discussed prior to implementation.

Ultimately we have found that users in most organizations will seek out this kind of functionality with or without the backing of their IT department and that implementing OneDrive for Business with the proper controls is better than allowing the users to seek out their own solutions.

 

Pros: 

Cloud Accessible Storage – We have found that many users have some way of accessing in-progress files or personal files from home or on their mobile devices. Typical methods used to access these files are outside the support and control of the IT department (Shadow IT). These methods include using flash drives, emailing files to their personal accounts, or using alternate file services like DropBox or Google Docs. Implementing OneDrive for Business enables the IT department to provide the same functionality, but keep the content within the boundaries of the organization. When combined with technologies like Azure Rights Management and Windows InTune, IT can implement policies that can govern content while allowing the user to choose their own device.

Backup Storage – When developing a content storage strategy for your organization it is important to consider how users interact with content. Typically, organizations focus on backing up content at the shared file system level and content stored on local desktops and laptops is considered to be at risk. OneDrive for Business enables users to store files that would typically be saved to a “home” folder (mapped network drive) or to their personal desktop or laptop, on redundant cloud storage. Some organizations have found this to be a better approach than traditional file storage servers or backup strategies at the desktop level. In the event of losing a device, files are accessibility via cloud and a device can be rebuilt quickly including customized settings.

Synchronization – Since users are comfortable storing information locally, OneDrive for Business allows them to easily save documents to a synchronized folder and access them as they would any file. The synchronized folder is then automatically backed up with their OneDrive folder. This also allows for easy access to content when offline. We recommend IT shops implement the latest synchronization client.

Organization – OneDrive for Business supports all sorts of content including pictures, video, audio, and all supported Office document formats.

Sharing – Simple and familiar controls allow users to easily share documents and other files with co-workers in and outside of the organization. Since OneDrive for Business puts control back into the IT Departments hands, they can dictate how content is shared.

Machine Learning – Microsoft has been developing additional tools to help information workers focus on things that are important and “filter” some of the vast amounts of information that we deal with on a daily basis. Technologies like Delve, Sway, and Clutter are dependent on the user storing content in OneDrive in order to fully benefit from the features.

Integration with Office Tools – OneDrive for Business Integrates seamlessly with other Office tools such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. When driving adoption of a cloud backup and synchronization tool, it is vital that users find it easy to use. Otherwise they will rely on other tools outside of the IT Department’s control.

 

Cons: 

Document/Content Management – OneDrive for Business is intended as a personal repository for documents and files, but occasionally people will attempt to use it to share many items or to facilitate team or project collaboration. It is important to train users on the purpose of OneDrive and how to use SharePoint and/or Office 365 Groups for team and/or project collaboration.

Records Management – OneDrive for Business is not intended as a records repository and users must be trained to store important documents in the appropriate place. Since OneDrive for Business can be configured to sync and be accessed from many devices, users must be cautious about what they store and who may have access. Integration with tools like Azure Rights Management, eDiscovery, and Windows InTune can help to mitigate this risk.

Privacy Concerns – Microsoft maintains the right to scan these repositories for “objectionable” or copyrighted content. Users must be trained on what type of content is appropriate to be stored in OneDrive for Business. This is similar to other cloud storage vendor’s policies.

External Sharing – OneDrive for Business has the built-in functionality of sharing documents, folders, and other content with users in and outside of the organization. A decision must be made whether to allow sharing outside of the organization and with whom. If sharing is enabled, regular audits of the external users should be conducted.

 

 

Governance and Controls 

Xgility has worked with several customers to implement governance and controls around SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business. Since every set of customer requirements is different, we have found that it is impossible to “template” or provide default recommendations around how an organization will use OneDrive. However, there are several key areas that must be considered prior to the implementation on OneDrive for Business. These bullet points can be used to help start the discussion…

  1. External Sharing – Will it be enabled? How will it be controlled? When will it be audited?
  2. Content Guidelines – What types of content will be permitted? What is the purpose of using OneDrive in the organization?
  3. File Storage – Will OneDrive for Business replace an existing file storage and sharing mechanism for the organization? How will you transition to OneDrive?
  4. User Training – How will users be trained in using OneDrive for Business appropriately? What information must all new users understand? What is the schedule for training?
  5. Content Access – Will users be permitted to access files from home computers or mobile devices? Will tools such as Azure Rights Management, or Windows InTune be used to help control content once it has “left” the organization?

 

Update – It looks like Microsoft has released the much anticipated new OneDrive for Business Sync client. So users that were experiencing issues with sync or hitting the 20k item limit should definitely check it out.

 

Are you evaluating the cloud or considering eliminating file servers?  If you want help building your migration strategy feel free to contact us.  Interested in a free trial of Office 365?  Get your Office 365 E5 trial subscription here.

 

Author: Stephen Heister

Editor: Kurt Greening and Alex Finkel