Microsoft 365 vs Google Workspace

Microsoft 365 vs Google Workspace

Microsoft and Google for long have been competing on the productivity suite and collaboration space ever since Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace were launched in 2010 and 2011 respectively. What started as business email, cloud storage, productivity apps and communication and messaging tool are now enterprise grade digital workspace solutions that tick all the top-level boxes on your company’s communications and productivity checklist. Considering both these companies are leader in cloud platform, it is imperative that the underlying infrastructure is highly reliable, resilient and globally available.

While the two companies have strived hard to dominate the market, they have taken distinctly different approach towards building their platform.

Microsoft has positioned its flagship desktop and server products with their cloud equivalent thus retaining the user experience and the functionality intact to a greater intent when the users move to the cloud. The back-end services, including Exchange Online, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, and Microsoft Teams, offer an easy migration path for organizations ready to move their on-premises servers to the cloud. Employees can access those services using familiar desktop apps like Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, or they can use web-based alternatives. This also includes Microsoft Visio, Microsoft Project and many other SKU that were available as desktop version and are now available on cloud as service.

Google on other hand has always been cloud native and positioned themselves as “Born in the Cloud”. The entire platform can be run using a browser as there are no desktop components available (other than file stream). This includes Gmail, Google Drive, Google Docs, and Google Sheets. When used with Google’s Chrome browser, those apps support offline storage of email and documents. Google has also introduced Google Meet and Google Chat (redesigned from its predecessor Hangout Meet and Hangout Chat) to complete with Microsoft Teams.

Both services, in addition to the above functionality, offer services like Mobile Device Management, Conditional Access Management, Data Loss Prevention and Multi Factor Authentication (the service availability may differ based on plans purchased). They also offer Single Sign On functionality to use their identity to login into other SAAS applications.

The two platforms offer intuitive and admin friendly web console with Microsoft also providing shell access to Microsoft 365 using PowerShell that allows administrators to do maintenance activity both via web or PowerShell.

Lets look at the product variants in detail for both Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace.

Microsoft, just like its desktop variants and its licensing strategy has various permutations and combinations when it comes to Microsoft 365 Licensing plan.

Home Segment

  • Microsoft 365 Family – One convenient subscription for up to 6 people. Includes premium Office apps, up to 6TB of cloud storage – 1 TB per person – and advanced security for all your devices
  • Microsoft 365 Personal – One convenient subscription that includes AI-powered apps, 1 TB of cloud storage and advanced security for all your devices.

Small Business Segment

  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic – Best for businesses that need easy remote solutions, with Microsoft Teams, secure cloud storage, and Office Online (desktop versions not included). This includes hosting an email with a 50 GB mailbox, Store and share files with 1 TB of OneDrive cloud storage and Host online meetings and video calls for up to 300 users with Microsoft Teams.
  • Microsoft 365 Business Standard – Everything in Microsoft 365 Business Basic plus Best for businesses that need full remote work and collaboration tools including Microsoft Teams, secure cloud storage, business email, and premium Office applications across devices. Get fully installed and always up-to-date versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote for Windows or Mac (plus Access and Publisher for PC only) along with Install the Office apps on up to 5 PCs or Macs per user1
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium – Best for businesses that require secure, remote work solutions with everything included in Business Standard, plus advanced cyberthreat protection and device management. Configure security features and settings on Windows 10 PCs and mobile devices running iOS or Android® with an easy-to-use setup wizard as well as Help protect against sophisticated threats hidden in email attachments and links, and get cutting-edge defenses against zero-day threats, ransomware, and other advanced malware attempts with Microsoft Defender for Office 365
  • Microsoft 365 Apps – Best for businesses that need Office apps across devices and cloud file storage. Business email and Microsoft Teams not included.

Enterprise Segment

  • Microsoft 365 E3 – Get best-in-class productivity apps combined with core security and compliance capabilities for your enterprise.
  • Microsoft 365 E5 – Get best-in-class productivity apps and advanced security, compliance, voice and analytical capabilities for your enterprise.
  • Microsoft 365 F3Formerly Microsoft 365 F1 Empower your Firstline workforce with productivity apps and cloud services that allow them to do their best work.

The above SKUs were designed keeping in mind differentiating between small business and enterprises to provide better pricing and flexibility. In addition to the above, there are separate SKUs that can be clubbed with lower SKUs like Enterprise Mobility + Security, Azure AD P1, Azure AD P2, Advance Threat Management, Intune License, etc. along with independent SKUs like Exchange Online Plan 1+,  SharePoint Online Plan 1+, etc. to provide bare minimum functionality to users.  

Google Workspace, on other hand has kept their SKU offerings simple as the offerings are much targeted towards small business and emerging enterprises.

Business Starter – Custom and secure business email, with 30 GB cloud storage per user and 100 participant video meetings.

Business Standard – Everything in Business Starter plus 2TB of Cloud Storage Space and 150 participant video meetings + recording.

Business Plus – Everything in Business Standard plan plus eDiscovery, retention, 250 participant video meetings + recording, attendance tracking, 5 TB cloud storage per user, and Enhanced security and management controls, including Vault and advanced endpoint management

Enterprise – Custom and secure business email + eDiscovery, retention, S/MIME encryption with 250 participant video meetings + recording, attendance tracking, noise cancellation, in-domain live streaming and As much storage as you need. Also includes, Advanced security, management, and compliance controls, including Vault, DLP, data regions, and enterprise endpoint management

Google has similar additional SKUs like Chrome Enterprise, Google Drive Plan, Cloud Identity Premium, Enterprise Voice, etc. to club with lower SKUs. At the outset, there is a vast difference in offerings between the two organizations but it is notable that there is only cloud edition available for G Suite offerings except Google Drive Sync which allows files to be available on your device

The pricing of Google Workspace Plan starts from USD 6 – USD 25 while the pricing of Microsoft 365 Plan starts from USD 5 – USD 57 simply because Microsoft allows you to combine different plans on a single subscription while Google has limited options available to combine multiple plans on a single subscription. The details of the Google Workspace Subscription is available here. And the details of Microsoft 365 Subscription is available here.

Depending upon the plan you choose, Microsoft 365 subscription at the minimum includes:

  • Exchange Online email hosting with a maximum inbox size of 50 or 100GB
  • Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook
  • A minimum of 1TB of OneDrive for Business file storage per user
  • SharePoint Online team sites
  • HD video conferencing
  • Online meetings (Skype Meeting Broadcast or Microsoft Teams live events)
  • Secure messaging and collaboration (Microsoft Teams)
  • Security and administrative controls

And for G Suite, All plans at the minimum include: 

  • Gmail for Business
  • Meet (video and voice conferencing)
  • Chat (secure messaging)
  • Shared calendars
  • Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
  • Keep (shared notes)
  • Forms (survey builder)
  • Sites (website builder)
  • Currents (the replacement for Google+ for Google Workspace)
  • At least 30GB of cloud file storage (Google Drive)
  • Security and administrative controls

Microsoft and Google both provide comprehensive roadmaps for their platforms that can be access on Microsoft 365 Roadmap and Google Workspace Roadmap.

The following image depicts key comparison of workloads on Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace. If you need a detailed comparison on workloads across different SKUs, I would be happy to provide those as well.

If your organization uses mixed array of desktop and laptop devices like Windows 10 and Mac that are company owned or BYOD(“Bring Your Own Device”), Microsoft 365 gives you tools to leverage your existing devices and even manage them remotely for security and compliance. On the other hand, if you are looking for a cloud only version of productivity suite, Google Workspace will be an ideal fit.

It may be overwhelming to decide which plan suits your business and your IT vision.

As a Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace Specialist I help several small business and enterprises choose the right product and the right plan for their business. If you are in process of evaluating or migrating to the above platform, please use the contact form and I would be happy to help you with the evaluation process.

Google Workspace Replacement

Google Workspace Replacement

Google Workspace for long has been the de-facto collaboration and communication tool for small and medium businesses as well as emerging enterprises. Being an intuitive tool to both configure and use, it did not require too much of information technology support oversight. But as the world started moving towards remote working, their need to add security and governance to their data increased multifold and so did convenient to use single sign on and multi factor authentication. as well as managing BYOD and Company owned devices.

While these organizations were looking for such functionalities within Google Workspace, they realized significant that they would need to either to the highest version of Google Workspace, or purchase addition SKU, or move to a different operating systems to address these concerns.

During a recent survey I conducted with several enterprises, and small businesses, I found the following were the reasons to look for an alternative to Google Workspace Replacement (G Suite Replacement)

Price Change

Jan 2019, Google announced a price change for Google Workspace SKU, which, while it was not very significant, it did impact the overall Total Cost of Ownership for Google Workspace. G Suite Basic was increased to USD 6 from USD 5, G Suite Business was increased to USD 12 from USD 10, while keeping the G Suite Enterprise licensing rates same.

Product Offering

And then in October 2020, Google announced another significant change to Google Workspace by adding new subscription family similar to Microsoft 365 to address different segments of customers.

  • Business family—For smaller businesses, Google introduced tailored offerings that make it easy and cost-effective to get started with Google Workspace—including best-in-class collaboration and productivity tools, security protections, and administrative controls.
  • Enterprise family—For larger businesses, Google introduced a set of offerings with additional productivity features, enterprise-grade administrative controls, and their most advanced security and compliance capabilities, available at both the team and organization level.

However, this impacted functionality on few product editions

  1. Vault – Vault is an information governance and eDiscovery tool for Google Workspace. With Vault, you can retain, hold, search, and export users’ Google Workspace data. Vault was initially available in G Suite Business Edition for 12 USD but now has been moved to Google Workspace Business Plus Edition which is now a 18 USD plan.
  2. No More Unlimited Plans – As the following table depicts, several unlimited functionality with respect to storage or number of objects has been capped.

3. No Slack or Teams Equivalent – While Google Workspace introduced Rooms, The main difference between both apps is that Rooms works in threads, which means anyone in the team can start a thread about a specific matter. Everybody else will answer on it, centralizing the communication. However, Channels are more persisitent and is continuous, and threads can be created on specific messages that people sent.

Lack of Enterprise Scale

Both Emerging Enterprises and Large Enterprises have different needs when it comes to security and end point management. And while Microsoft 365 has different SKU options around device management using Microsoft Intune and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility & Security, as well as CASB solutions like Microsoft Cloud App Security and Microsoft Defender, Google’s Chrome Enterprise and BeyondCorp significantly lacks these functionality that’s meets to these demands.

Lack of Multi Product Edition Functionality on Single Tenant

There are situations where small and medium businesses, as well as enterprises would need to cross match different SKU to cater different persona of people, Google Workspace hasn’t made that functionality available to consumers. Unless you are working directly with Google or a Google Partner on a significant number of licenses, you cannot, at will, choose to use Google Workspace Business Starter, Business Standard, Business Plus and Enterprise on a single tenant even across different organizational units.

Given these parameters, while Small & Medium Businesses are still coping up with these changes, emerging enterprises are evaluating Google Workspace Replacement to address their ever growing business needs. And to address these GAPs, it is imperative that both Small & Medium Business as well as Emerging Enterprises identify strategies to mitigate or replace Google Workspace gaps with scalable product stack. The following strategies are available when planning to migrate away from Google Workspace

  1. Migrate to Microsoft 365
  2. Hybrid Deployment with Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace
  3. Hybrid Deployment with Google Workspace and third party product stack in categories like Security, Device Management, Identity & Access Management, SIEM & CASB.

I work with several small businesses and enterprises to help them build a clear strategy for identifying Google Workspace replacement. You can engage my services by purchasing the product below.

Cyber Security for children during study from home

Cyber Security for children during study from home

Hoping all my readers are healthy and safe from Covid-19 situation. With the current lock down in many countries, we have seen that not only commercial establishments have established work from home for their employees and other staff members, but also schools have enabled study from home where students are asked to have classes from home via telepresence tools like Microsoft TeamsZoom & Google Hangout.

This year, while many of us are confined to our homes, protecting our communities from COVID-19, and relying on our home networks more than ever it seemed especially important to write this blog post during these troubled times it will help provide a bit of peace of mind for households everywhere.

While this opens up different arenas for students to continue their learning from home during this lock down, it exposes children to cyber predators— people who search online for other people in order to use, control, or harm them in some way, cyber bullies — the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person, often anonymously and dangerous online games like Blue Whale and similar games that promote self harm. Also, most teenagers are baited to work with illegal click farms to earn money since it needs a phone or computer with decent internet connection only.

This blog post discusses about how parents and children should work together to understand and address the cyber security issues and ensure that children are safe and away from harms way when spending their studying or leisure time online.

Parents

  1. Start with establishing screen time for your kids. Establish clear boundary between study/learning screen time vs entertainment.
  2. Keep a check on all email accounts used by your kids, especially the ones that include online communication functionality. Like gmail/hangouts, outlook/skype, etc
  3. Keep a check on how many social media accounts are created by your kids. Most kids have multiple Facebook accounts separated for friends and family. Ensure that you are passive part of these networks to monitor activity.
  4. DMs or Direct Messages should be audited periodically. This functionality is available on major social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok for starters.
  5. Ensure that their phones and computers are always updated with latest system updates.
  6. Software downloads — Have them avoid unnecessary software downloads, and only download software from reputable sources. Although free games for kids may be fun, they could contain malware or viruses that can steal information off the device.
  7. Use webcam covers to cover the laptop cameras and ensure that they flip open only when they need to do video calls or conferencing.
  8. Use parental control apps for Computers and Mobile Phones/Tablets. AppleAndroid & Microsoft have some amazing tools to enforce parental control on their devices.
  9. Enable activity logging on your wifi routers. For devices like Netgear, there is enough documentation available or if your wifi router is provided by your ISP, ask them to activate it for you.
  10. If you are families with DNS configuration, use Cloudflare DNS Resolverto secure your internet access from malware and adult content.
  11. Don’t share Wi-fi Password with your kids. Or if your Wifi Router has ability to create multiple profiles, create a separate limited profile for your kids. Get Wifi routers like Amazon Netgear Nighthawk for enhanced security.

Children

  1. Develop Awareness – Talk to your parents or elder siblings with considerable knowledge in tech. Gain basic understanding of cyber bullying, netiquette, virus protection to identify wrong doings over the internet.
  2. Use Strong Passwords. Change your passwords when you receive an account from school. Gamefy your password creation process. Never use your personal information like date/year of birth, etc as passwords. Don’t use your best friends name as your password. Try keeping easy to remember passwords like !Like3Doughnuts (I Like 3 Doughnuts) or D0ntP00Phere (Don’t Poop Here) or something funny that you can remember. Share passwords with your parents or legal guardian or your elder siblings. Never share passwords with outsiders, friends or even relatives without first checking with your parents.
  3. Don’t open emails from strangers or from email address with names of your parents but email address not belonging to your parents. E.g. if you see an unusual request from your mom or dad via email with their name, validate the email it has come from. If the email is not recognized, call them and verify. Also don’t click any unfamiliar links or download files as attachments.
  4. Never accept invites from unknown people on Social Networking sites like Facebook or Instagram. Engage with Direct Messages only from friends you know. If you feel someone is trolling you or cyber bullying you in school, inform immediately to your parents and school teacher. Online Trolls and Cyberbullies are harmless once they are exposed to many people.
  5. Device Safety — Never leave your device unattended, log off or shut down when not using the device. Never allow others to connect to your device via Bluetooth or AirDrop nor share your device password with anyone other than your parent or guardian.
  6. Contests, Clubs or Challenges — Don’t enter any contest, challenges or clubs that are not associated to your school or community and even then, check with your parents or guardian when doing so. Most of these contests or clubs retrieve your personal information in pretext to malicious activities.

These are simple and easy steps to follow to ensure that your children are protected online. Encourage your kids to be cyber security champions and ask them to share these best practices to their immediate friends and classmates to gain confidence. You have an important role in protecting the internet. Play your part !!!

7 signs your digital transformation strategy is shortsighted and will be short-lived

7 signs your digital transformation strategy is shortsighted and will be short-lived

There are memes going around various social networking sites on who led digital transformation in your company. But what is the essence of this meme?

Digital Transformation is not the sudden digitization of your business, butrather as a holistic strategy to reform your company’s traditional processes and to streamline existing experiences for both your employees and your customers, with a focus on reinventing, rather than refining your existing services. It is a long term strategy that can be likened to a marathon, and not a sprint. The goal of digital transformation is to increase revenue, provide better customer experience, and to minimize wastage through any procedural inefficiencies that may exist within the organization while ensuring security and governance. However, due to Covid-19 situation, many organizations have rushed into business continuity management to keep their business running. Companies that never offered work from home or remote working, are now taking pride in offering work from home for all their employees. Companies that thought cloud was a security nightmare are now rushing to adopt cloud platforms. And companies who thought that client interaction can only happen in person are now finding innovative ways to connect with their customers remotely to comply with social distancing.

But have these organizations done thorough planning before adopting these digital workplace platforms? And do they align with their long term IT Strategy in helping their business go digital during and post Covid19?

A short-sighted digital transformation strategy is like a pain killer that can address your immediate problem but will not resolve the core underlying problem. This reminds me of a situation where I used to pop a painkiller every-time I had a migraine which in turn made caused more acidity which actually was a trigger to my migraine. The moment I started working towards fixing my acidity problem which actually took time as well as changing some of my habits, my migraine problem fixed eventually.

In the case of many organizations, shortsighted digital transformation strategy can cause major issues that can have a significant impact on your organization culture, decreased adoption programs, the increased total cost of ownership.

The following are the 7 signs that you need to pay attention to ensure that your Digital Transformation strategy is not shortsighted

  1. You are using time-bound platforms without post Covid19 conversion strategy — Email and Collaboration Tools like Microsoft Teams and Google Hangout Meet have offered six-month free usage of their remote working and collaboration platform. While these platforms are robust and enterprise-grade, what is their roadmap after the trial period completes? Has your organization budgeted the total cost of ownership once the trial period expires? Or what is the impact of downgrading the functionality to their most basic version? Are you prepared for functionality loss? Data Loss?
  2. You have offered BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) without having a Device Management Tool in place — Many organizations have offered employees, contractors, and partners to use their own device to access enterprise data. This is a great decision given the challenges in providing corporate devices to your users. But is there a device management mechanism in place to ensure that the devices are compliant and follow guidelines to ensure that your data is safe during transit or at rest? Do you have a mechanism in place which prevents any malicious attempt for data loss by the user knowingly or unknowingly by copying data in a flash drive or personal cloud storage devices?
  3. Shadow IT is prevalent in your organization — Shadow IT refers to the usage of applications and infrastructure without the knowledge of your enterprise IT department. IT can include hardware, software, cloud applications, or web services / API that employees turn to without IT authorization to accomplish their tasks or projects. Your employees may choose to use a variety of cloud platforms like Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, Google Drive for data storage, or your sales team my try or buy CRM applications without the knowledge of corporate IT, or build an application on various Low-Code/No-Code application building platforms like Power Apps or App Sheet that may be part of your Office 365 or G Suite tenant. Or buy one of the many Low-Code/No-Code applications in the market using their personal or corporate credit card against a reimbursement.
  4. You have a tech and talent mismatch and end up engaging OEM vendor for help all the time — Many tech vendors provide you with a complimentary trial during Covid19 that lasts for months, but does your organization have skills to support it? Is there an SOP made available for your IT Helpdesk to resolve basic queries about the platform? Do you have a specialist available in case of critical issues? In the absence of skilled resources or a managed services provider with predefined SLA, tech support from OEMs can do as much around their product but cannot help you fix your processes or adoption. It is imperative that your organization understands the skill gap across all levels and establishes a clear strategy to migrate this risk by employing the right resources or engaging with a cost-effective managed services provider to provide both proactive and reactive support.
  5. You have many initiatives going on in your IT Portfolio and most of them are at evaluation or experimentation stage by the same team— Your organization may be in the middle of migrating critical workloads on cloud or making available collaboration tools to your users, while at the same time the same team or leadership is busy with other initiatives like Bot, Blockchain, Machine Learning, IoT without a clear strategy or charter. Covid19 has triggered many initiatives to align enterprise strategy with remote working and IT departments are overwhelmed with several initiatives around cost savings, security, compliance, and collaboration. While running these initiatives in parallel may not be an issue, having the same team running these in parallel may be alarming.
  6. You don’t have a PMO (Program Management Office) — There is a misconception that a PMO is required for large enterprises. A PMO is beneficial to any business that would like to measure the effectiveness of their projects and gain insight on critical metrics that impact their organization directly. A PMO is a lense to an executive body to summarize performance on the projects, establish policies, processes & guidelines and bring down silos that may result in duplicate initiatives or lack of communication. Depending upon your organization size, a PMO with a small team can bring order to chaos and improve visibility to all stakeholders involved. PMOs can ensure seamless connection and communication between operational teams like Finance, Procurement, Human Resources with Delivery & Leadership teams.
  7. You don’t have an Enterprise Architecture Office — As the organizations grow and business processes evolve, their IT landscape tends to become more complex. There are always buy vs build decisions and cost may not be the only metric in picking the right approach. A suboptimal application or platform can result in an architectural debt, a situation where a system or group of systems don’t perform the way they were intended due to a root cause that can be expensive to resolve and thus causes many inexpensive short terms fixes that may involve adopting processes and workarounds for the systems to work as intended. An Enterprise Architecture team can range from a governance body to an active team in defining IT strategy, building to-be landscapes, ensuring business alignment and taking part in demand management, this all depends on the organization needs, what issues it is facing and what the Enterprise Architecture Office role is defined to be.

Organizations often term some digital transformation initiatives as failures, while others are put on indefinite hold. But in any case, they end up being ghosts from the digital past that may haunt many new initiatives going forward. If your organization sees any of the 7 signs above, it is imperative to analyze the risk and impact of your current situation and design a risk management plan. As a Digital Transformation Consultant, I can help you with your Digital Maturity Assessment, calculate Total Cost of Ownership, and provide a roadmap and a plan.

Stay Safe !!!

What to expect when you are expecting (Office 365 Migration) ?

If you are an enterprise or public sector or a university with recent acquisition of an Office 365 tenant, it is highly possible that you are in the same state as expecting couples with both excitement and fear. Office 365 is the fastest-growing product in Microsoft’s history. Core productivity in the cloud offers tempting visions of enhanced business agility, real-time communications, functionality that can be turned on and off at will – and, of course, cost savings. Have executed several migrations to the cloud, here are my tips to plan your Office 365 migration journey.

  1. Establish your goal for Office 365 – What are your collaboration goals ? Is it employee only portal  ? Or would you allow contractors and external partners ? If yes, how will you manage their access ? Do you plan to have the same level of customization on the cloud ? If yes, are you aware of restrictions and limitations that Microsoft has built in for Office 365   ?
  2. Identify your need for Hybrid Infrastructure – Is it temporary hybrid until you move to cloud? Or permanent ? What workloads would function under hybrid configuration? SharePoint? Exchange ?
  3. Plan workloads on Office 365 – There is a very high possibility that any customization that you may have done on your on premises would be available out of the box on SharePoint Online. For E.g one of my customer had built web parts for work management buckets that they were using for their scrum based projects. When they moved to Office 365, they choose Planner as their core work management tool.  I would encourage you to look at available workloads on Office 365 like Yammer, Planner, Teams, Groups, etc with their advantages and limitations.
  4. Determine appropriate licensing – Understanding available licensing helps identify financial implications upfront and may help reduce costs.  There may be licensing impact based on your enterprise agreement with Microsoft where you may end up paying differential costs or buy full subscription license.  Then there is impact on the cost if you wish to use Office desktop as it may not be available with all subscription types.
  5. Plan & Configure Identity & Access Management  – Depending upon your business needs and goals, you can identify if you want to use pure cloud identity and access management, or use directory synchronization using Azure AD connect and password sync, or use federated identity to your on premise active directory environment. In addition to that, you also need to plan how your external users would connect to your Office 365 tenant. Would you provide them identity + license or use the external sharing functionality. Each has its own significant advantages and drawbacks.
  6. Infrastructure Readiness – This is a very critical stage where you need to determine what additional infrastructure you would need to roll out Office 365. At a minimum, Office 365 requires Azure Active Directory, Azure AD Directory Synchronization appliance (DirSync) and Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) to be deployed if you intend to synchronize your active directory and configure single sign on. If you are using single sign-on tools like Okta, OneLogin or Ping Identify you may need to tweak your architecture accordingly. If you plan to use hybrid, plan web application proxy servers and site to site vpn configuration.
  7. Clean your environment – Just like expecting mothers have nesting instincts, IT leaders managing this initiative also experience the same. They prefer to clean up unwanted content and applications to perform clean migration.  Plan your environment clean up by making an inventory of your content and having the content owner review the last accessed date, criticality, and retention needs.
  8. Plan for data protection – Your users may be happy to use Office 365 on their personal tablets, laptops or mobile devices but your legal team may be throwing fits around data protection and discovery. Consider taking an inventory of user profiles and map them to roles, then categorize the role each user has, the sensitivity of the information and applications they have access to, and whether that user is able to access that information from outside the firewall.
  9. Migration Planning –  Now that you have planned for other things, it is important to plan the migration path now. Exchange migration can be done through one of the three out of the box migration options depending on your mail server or using mailbox migration tools. Assess carefully around what can provide flexibility vs cost effectiveness.
  10. Communicate early & frequently – Let your users know what’s coming? What are the benefits? What is it that they should care about during transition? How will things function differently, if any?
  11. Engage experts – Finally, you wouldn’t want your baby to be delivered by an unqualified professional. Evaluate the background of your vendors and consultants on the lines of their migration experience. Map out the critical paths and look for holes you may not be able to fill with current resources. Engage with experts around different technology area for your migration. E.g AD, AD FS, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Exchange, Web Application Proxy, etc

Addressing these planning elements prior to your migration to Office 365 would help you smoothen your move and reduce your teething issues. If you need any assistance with your migration planning or execution, feel free to touch base with me using the contact me page.

Running MOSS 2007 or SP 2010? Why consider upgrade to SharePoint 2016!

As an organization running MOSS 2007 or SharePoint 2010, I am sure by now you must be on cross roads whether to move to SharePoint 2013 or jump to SharePoint 2016. And going by CIO’s pattern of early adoption of Microsoft’s products, they generally prefer to adopt one version behind the latest and greatest.  But SharePoint 2016 has challenged the conventional thinking and emerged as far more stable version of the product.

Why consider SharePoint 2016 ?

  1. Cloud Readiness – Microsoft did provide cloud integration features in SharePoint 2016 in the form of a CU. But that has its own set of limitations when configuring search or authentication. SharePoint 2016 has been designed from ground up to support hybrid configuration. Which means, Microsoft has laid the groundwork for admins to move much of their dedicated environment out of the server closet. Use this as an opportunity to start exploring the cloud, because it’s coming. Fortunately, SharePoint 2016 makes it a little easier.
  2. Identity Management – With SAML support for SharePoint 2016, Identity Managaement (other than Active Directory) has been easier than ever. And with popular tools like Azure Active Directory, Okta & PingIdentity,  SharePoint 2016 provides easier integration.  The most imporant win here has been easy roll out of SharePoint to external users in extranet scenarios.
  3. Clean Migration – Governance is no longer a luxary for SharePoint 2016. It is necessity. The only option to move to SharePoint 2016 from legacy SharePoint version is database attach method where content is upgraded to every intermediate version until it is upgraded to SharePoint 2016. E.g. WSS 3.0/MOSS 2007 –> SharePoint 2010 –> SharePoint 2013 –> SharePoint 2016 .  While it is good to move everything from legacy SharePoint to SharePoint 2016, use this opportunity to evalute what needs to move to SharePoint 2016. This can be solutions you installed you don’t use anymore or those Word documents from 1996. Prepare an inventory of what not to migrate before you move to SharePoint 2016.
  4. Mobile Interface – Use the SharePoint Mobile App to access your content on SharePoint 2016. Get your intranet in your pocket with the SharePoint mobile app. With easy on-the-go access, the SharePoint mobile app helps keep your work moving forward by providing quick access to your team sites, organization portals and resources, and the people you work with – across online in Office 365 and on-premises. You can see site activities, get quick access to recent and popular files, and view and arrange lists on your team sites. It will not only make you look cool in front of your executives but would increase the end user adoption for SharePoint and leverage this opportunity to get that BYOD strategy approved.
  5. Office Add-Ins – Yes, the erstwhile SharePoint Apps that are now called Office add-ins.  Considering the level of customization you may have done on your existing MOSS 2007 or SharePoint 2010 envirionment, this is the right time to consider converting these custom solutions to SharePoint Apps.  Supporting customizations on legacy versions of SharePoint has always been painful for Admins and developers.
  6. No SharePoint Foundation – Not all bad news is bad news. You can safely retire that one small foundation farm created for proof of concept but ended up as content management system having data more critical than your mainframe processing 2.5 million transactions per hour.

As a influencer or decision maker, it is imperative to consider migration to the latest version of SharePoint if you are running MOSS 2007 or SharePoint 2010. You have the following deployment choices while considering to move to SharePoint 2016

  1. SharePoint 2016 On Premise
  2. SharePoint 2016 on Azure
  3. SharePoint 2016 On Premise hybrid with Office 365 

Each deployment model has benefits and limitations and each is driven by the business need, available budgets and your IT strategy. If you are interested in knowing your SharePoint 2016 readiness, please touch base with me using the contact me form.

 

 

The Future is SharePoint Hybrid (and the future of SharePoint Hybrid)

The Future is SharePoint Hybrid (and the future of SharePoint Hybrid)

The year 2016 is coming to an end. And for everyone who predicted SharePoint hybrid as future in past 3 years, the future is here (almost). And enterprises have also learned that the barriers to the hybrid cloud are more numerous than originally anticipated. However, it’s important to do some reflection and introspection on where the hybrid SharePoint implementation is today.

Adoption: Interest and consumption are beginning to ramp up quickly. Enterprises who, earlier had goals to move all in a cloud are now considering a hybrid approach towards using SharePoint.  Several migrations to Office 365 initiatives have failed drastically and made their way as the staple diet for discussions at various competition conferences and whitepapers.  As a result, IT leaders are making a rapid shift in the direction of public cloud by adopting hybrid cloud for their SharePoint implementation. The combination of private and public cloud gives IT the tools required to help the business innovate and iterate faster at a lower cost.

Governance: The most common policy discussion that required consensus from governance board was data protection vs extending SharePoint over the internet. Just like vim vs emacs, there were always two sides to this discussion whether SharePoint should be served over VPN or should the infrastructure be made available on DMZ for easy access or publish SharePoint over web application proxy. Each side has a stronger business case; right from a sales director citing the pathetic performance of applications over VPN vs a finance controller worried about his excel sheets leaving the very secure boundaries of their internal data center. With SharePoint 2016 hybrid, a third option as emerged as a solution and it is now easy for organizations to determine which content can be made available over cloud vs what remains on premise. The boundaries for content and their availability over search are clearly articulated.

Optimized use of Infrastructure – With 1 TB available with each OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online Site Collections storing TB of content and Videos for storing rich media content, IT managers are now able to establish an optimized storage and compute utilization plan to store low function high storage content on cloud while retaining content that has legal, compliance or business critical applications with security and performance demands can be hosted on an on-premise environment. In addition to this, with the zero downtime patching for SharePoint 2016 and managed releases for Office 365 SharePoint Online, it is easier than before the meet the Service Level Agreements for SharePoint based solutions.

Search – Content findability has always been a challenge for most of the SharePoint Implementations. Even though in SharePoint 2013, enterprises could configure hybrid search, the results weren’t encouraging with multiple search result sets that were not commingled. The relevance was different and so was user experience. With SharePoint 2016, the search has been re-architected and these issues have been addressed.

The hybrid infrastructure does provide best of both the worlds. Combining these two cloud models leverages cost efficiencies and also builds resilience into a solution.

To achieve the Hybrid model and gain some of the benefits listed above, the core architecture for Office 365 and SharePoint On-Premises needs to be understood.

SharePoint 2016 Hybrid Cloud

SharePoint 2016 Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure

 

The core logical design is about connecting your On-Premises Active Directory with the Azure Active Directory that is available. This ensures that accounts are synchronized and licenses from the cloud services can be assigned. Once done then the On-Premises environment needs to be connected through standard network connectivity. Once SharePoint 2016 on-premise is configured with SharePoint Online, the users would be able to manage the following hybrid workloads.

Hybrid Workloads

Hybrid Workloads

 

So based on where we are, the future (Hybrid) has already arrived. But where do we go from here? What is the future of Hybrid ? With enterprises moving to Azure to host their SharePoint 2016 farm, will they continue to be true hybrid ? Or the hybrid would no longer differentiate between on-premise data center, public cloud & private cloud, but it would just be a combination of IAAS, PAAS & SAAS based solutions hosted across infrastructures.

And if you are interested in defining your SharePoint Hybrid Strategy, please reach out to me using the contact me page.

Power Trio – PowerApps, Flow & Power BI

After long and encouraging previews, Microsoft announced general availability of Microsoft PowerApps & Microsoft Flow for general availability today. Both PowerApps and Flow will be included with Dynamics 365 and in the subscriptions of millions of Office 365 Enterprise and Business Premium and Essentials users.

Combined with Power BI, the company is calling the three services the “power trio“, as they allow non-developers to do things that previously required programming skills. Each app plays a specific role in this strategy.

Microsoft Power BI – Power BI transforms your company’s data into rich visuals for you to collect and organize so you can focus on what matters to you. Available for web, desktop and mobile, Power BI puts visual analytics at your fingertips with intuitive report authoring. Drag-and-drop to place content exactly where you want it on the flexible and fluid canvas. Quickly discover patterns as you explore a single unified view of linked, interactive visualizations.

Power Apps – In PowerApps, you can generate an app automatically, customize it, create an app from scratch, and share and run apps that you create or that others create and share with you.

Microsoft Flow – Microsoft Flow is a service that allows you to create automated workflows between your favorite applications and services to synchronize files, get notifications, collect data, and more. For example, you could log your favorite Twitter user’s tweets to an Excel file, or get an email notification every time a new item is posted to a Sharepoint list. Or maybe you could add popular Twitter followers talking about your company as leads in Dynamics CRM and then send a follow-up email.

The company says that the power trio follows its strategy of “five seconds to sign up, five minutes to wow!” This means that it should be easy to get started and then users should be able to quickly understand the service. Despite being easy to use though, Microsoft says that these are very powerful tools.

Power BI & Power Apps provide a gateway component that provides on-premise integration by accessing data within your data center. With the on-premises gateways, you can keep your data fresh by connecting to your on-premises data sources without the need to move the data. Query large datasets and benefit from your existing investments. The gateways provide the flexibility you need to meet individual needs, and the needs of your organization.  Multiple users can share and reuse a gateway in this mode. This gateway can be used by Power BI, PowerApps, Flow or Logic Apps. For Power BI, this includes support for both schedule refresh and DirectQuery.

It is very encouraging to see these components in general availability as enterprises will have more options to build solutions to complex and challenging business problems. I would be happy to help you build a proof of concept as well as business case for using these workloads. Please use the contact me form to share your queries.

Is collaboration part of your IT Strategy ?

IT strategy is all about deriving value from your IT Investments. And to derive value  from collaboration investments, you must view collaboration as more than a technology deployment. Many companies lose a lot of potential value because they think of “collaboration” primarily as a category of technology. They wrongly assume that to support collaboration, they just have to buy the “right” IT tools. This, more often than not, leads to impulsive buying of disparate tools to support multiple requests with slight variations across different departments.

“Collaboration” is defined as “people working together on nonroutine cognitive work.” This activity is about behavior, work habits, culture, management, and business goals and value. Although there are commonly used tools, the concept of supporting collaboration doesn’t point in one technology direction or another. To devise a collaboration strategy that will advance your business goals, consider a wide range of interlocking issues. The most important function of the right collaboration strategy is to avoid tribalism. A “tribe” is any part of the organization that has turned inward, functions as a unique, separate identity and is loyal to its own department, division or section rather than to the organization as a whole.  How do you go about addressing tribalism? What are the challenges that an organization sees while building an effective collaboration strategy ?

Why including collaboration strategy as part of IT Strategy important ? 

  1. Collaboration in Silos – Many organizations start building their collaboration strategy away from their IT Strategy in a vacuum. Their efforts are at the most supported by middle managers trying to build a collaboration bridge between team A & team B without assessing the overall impact on the organization.
  2. Collaboration Governance – Collaboration Governance is mostly seen as a  thing of the future. The attitude “let’s build a strategy first then build governance around it” seldom works.
  3. Accountability & Ownership – IT department ends up to be the ultimate owner only for support & compliance violations. Everything else is driven on autopilot mode.
  4. Value Proposition – Organizations often fail to associate a value to the collaboration strategy thereby making it difficult to identify success or failure. The result is generally in the direct proposition to tool adoption of the leadership team.
  5. Collaboration as By Product – Often, organizations try to leverage tools available with their core systems and build their collaboration strategy around these tools. For E.g When implementing exchange online, try to see how SharePoint/OneDrive would fit their collaboration needs.

How should they mitigate these challenges that can haunt the leadership team and prevent effective collaboration?

  1. IT Strategy defines both strategic and tactical goals which are further aligned to initiatives and projects. Aligning collaboration goals with strategic and tactical goals would result into proactive planning as well as defined projects rather than reactive implementation which either remains unfunded or is implemented with available funds in piece mill basis. For E.g If your critical business goal is to become premier service provider in healthcare services, the how collaboration would contribute to achieve that goal.
  2. Benchmark your collaboration effectiveness – Doing an inward as well as outward benchmark articulating how successful is collaboration internally as well as how is competition and organizations of same sizes achieving effective collaboration. This will help you right-size your collaboration efforts without overdoing it.
  3. Take stock of your existing tool stack and identify which tools can be leveraged for collaboration.  Map these tools with collaboration touchpoints and build competency around those. But at the same time, eliminate those options that don’t serve any organization purpose or immediate need. E.g Yammer.
  4. Establish metrics around the effectiveness of these tools. Identify tangible and nontangible metrics like productivity, efficiency as well as reduction on emails and redundant storage in network drives.
  5. Establish Governance – Last but not the least, establish governance from day one. It may not be perfect or complete but the initial guidelines can set foundation for right policies and processes for using the tools.

Collaboration is all about people and never about tools. Its about empowering your users to connect with the right people at the right time and deliver results as a team. I would be happy to help you establish your collaboration roadmap. Reach out to me using the contact us page.

 

 

Why is TopTal a futuristic platform for developers!

Why is TopTal a futuristic platform for developers!

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When I think of disruption, I think about Uber or Airbnb. And what’s so interesting about their business model is they provide both scale and value which conventional cab companies or hotels couldn’t provide. Applying the same theory to recruiting of software developers and designers, I think it is now imperative to move away from conventional hiring model to the one which supports both scale and quality. But humans are way different than cabs and hotel rooms because there are various quotients associated. Starting from their intellect to communication skills to their ability to work with teams to thinking out of the box, it is very difficult to get a right fit based on an algorithm that recruiting portal use these days. And then there are sites like UpWork and freelancer.com that work on different models which generally zero down to getting a cheap resource in minimal time. But these fail when you try to scale or recruit high-quality talent that works in harmony across the globe.

Then I came across TopTal. A site which claims to recruit top 3% talent. A developer or a designer has to go through rigorous interview process followed by background checks and concluded by documentation to protect the interests of customer, developer, and TopTal. I was fascinated by this idea because having worked on both side of the fences i.e. hiring developers as well as getting hired, I understand how much pain it causes to mis-hire and then search for replacements. I did a basic Google search on what like-minded professionals think about it. And as expected, I found both positive and negative reviews either on the blogs or on Glassdoor. But apparently, most of the negative reviews were from developers who weren’t hired. I filtered my research to find geeks who have worked with them and mostly if not all, I found some great feedback from the community. And based on my research, I extrapolated my life as  a TopTal developer vs working as a generic freelancer using Upwork and freelance.com, and I found TopTal to be hands down winner as my next employer.

I haven’t started working with them, but I look forward joining  their team as full-stack developer working on challenging assignments from the comfort of my home, sitting at the beach or working from shared workspaces. What interests me more is I get to work with a global community that has excelled in the technologies and platforms they chose as their skill set and I am hoping to learn and contribute based on my expertise as well. The community is very active and conducts some fantastic events as well as publishes great write-ups on both tech and soft skills.

Based on how things go with TopTal, I would consider writing a follow-up blog post on sharing my life as TopTal (as long as it’s not covered under NDA :)) . Till then, keep watching this space and shoot me any questions you have using the contact me form.