The Ultimate Guide to Office 365 Digital Workplaces

Office 365 Digital Workplaces Intro

The combination of Office 365 (including key services like SharePoint and mobile and desktop clients like Microsoft Teams) and Microsoft Azure create the basis for Office 365 Digital Workplaces.

It’s where people work and the lifeblood of any organization.

The Office 365 Digital Workplace is where businesses can provide core services such as email, unified communications, content management, and collaboration sites, file storage, search, etc., and combine them with cloud or on-premises virtualized resources and custom applications.

An Office 365 Digital Workplace enables businesses to leverage commodity-based IT Services and allow customizations to enhance business value. Office 365 Digital Workplaces will be the collaboration platform of choice for many companies – from small businesses to large enterprises.  The extensibility of Office 365 will enable individuals not just get work done, but collaborate with others and work together better.

In this guide, we will review the challenges, offer insights, and describe the benefits of Office 365 Digital Workplaces.

If you’re ready to apply what you’ve learned and take the next step, learn more about our services offering called the Digital Workplace Workshop. The purpose of the Digital Workplace Workshop is to allow you and ThreeWill to review the business and technical requirements for your digital workplace on Office 365, explore different approaches and options, and establish a budget to implement your digital workplace.


The audience for this guide is CIOs, CTOs, IT Pros, and Solution Architects. The information in this whitepaper is technical and designed to inform technical buyers, decision makers, IT service managers, and solution architects.

  • CIOs and CTOs: Learn how to support your business strategy and maximize return on investment with the combination of Office 365 and Azure.
  • IT Pros: Learn how Office 365 and Azure can enable and run business solutions in a cost-effective, supportable and customizable way with a single control surface.
  • Solution Architects: Learn how Office 365 and Azure can enable the design and delivery of custom solutions that provide maximum business value.

Office 365 Digital Workplaces History

To understand where we stand today, let’s have a brief history lesson.   We’ll break this into four major phases.

Phase 1: Intranets, Department Sites and Team Sites

Our story begins with SharePoint – the critical product from Microsoft for enabling collaboration.  The original vision of SharePoint mostly relieved the overworked IT staff from the burden of provisioning inward-facing intranet sites. As internal departments clamored to have their own website, IT staff had to be intimately involved in the building of content. Ultimately, the technical team was often unable to keep up with the demand. SharePoint shifted the value of provisioning sites and creating content to the business user. It also provided list management, document management, and search capabilities that are the cornerstone of the product to the current day.

Phase 2: Customization is King

With the release of the second version of SharePoint in 2003, a third-party developer community began to form. These products often took the form of software components (known as Web Parts) that empowered end users to create lightweight applications. Additionally, the concept of mashing up data from sources inside and outside of SharePoint started to take shape.

The 2007 release of SharePoint was a significant step forward. The advances in branding, customization, and ability to use SharePoint as a development platform were reasons we (ThreeWill) focused our business on SharePoint. However, many tasks were still more cumbersome than necessary.

The SharePoint 2010 release was another significant release in the product’s evolution. SharePoint 2010 provided viable options for customization and branding. Ultimately, SharePoint 2010 represented the most critical point in SharePoint’s history. SharePoint could be used not only as a productivity tool for information workers but as a platform upon which companies could build business process integrations.

The market penetration and enterprise implementations continued to rise, but there was still a significant gap between SharePoint 2010 and Software as a Service (SaaS) based applications, web frameworks, and solutions.

Phase 3: To the Cloud!

By 2012, consumers and enterprises had grown accustomed to cloud-based applications, with shortened software feature release cycles, subscription-based software, and cloud-based virtual environments. Microsoft’s release of SharePoint 2013 made a bold declaration of their intentions to drive SharePoint as a subscription-based service via Office 365. SharePoint 2013 represents a cloud-first model where updates and innovations come to the cloud first, fast, and sometimes exclusively.

“Apps for Office and SharePoint are based on a new application model which shares a common approach for extending Office and SharePoint. It brings the value of apps we know on devices to the productivity applications you use on a daily basis.

This new apps model utilizes web technologies like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, REST, OData, and OAuth. If you’re a web developer, you can use your existing skills to build apps and take advantage of familiar tools, languages, and hosting services. You can deploy, update and maintain your apps faster in the cloud and finally publish and sell your apps on the Office Store, or distribute IT-approved apps within your organizations by using a corporate App catalog.” (Torre, 2012)

This cloud first, subscription-based model has two significant implications. First, the cloud-based model introduces an entirely new programming model for SharePoint 2013: the “App model” (Microsoft, 2014). Interestingly, the App model applies to Microsoft Office applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) as well.

Simply put, the App model enables custom code to execute outside of Microsoft managed processes. The App model enables a user’s web browser or external servers (including non-Microsoft technologies) to enhance and extend Office and SharePoint applications. This ’out-of-process‘ model was a requirement to enable Microsoft’s cloud strategy and to increase the stability of the platform for on-premises enterprise customers.

In the end, the App model provides the capability to deliver a consistent application experience inside Office Apps (Office and SharePoint apps) in the cloud, and on-premises across multiple device formats.

Office 365 is the heart of the Digital Workplace and Azure is the brain. The new App Model is the lifeblood for providing business value on top of the Office 365 Digital Workplace.

Phase 4: The Future of Office Development

What’s the future of Office and SharePoint solutions development based on SharePoint’s collaboration roots, evolution into a platform for custom solutions, and the radical shift to a new application model? Short term, the changes represent significant learning and adoption challenges for the Office and SharePoint IT pro and development communities.

Some very visible thought leaders in the SharePoint industry – including Andrew Connell (Connell, 2014), Chris O’Brien (O’Brien, 2014), Jeremy Thake (Thake, 2014), Doug Ware (Ware, 2014), Mark Rackley (Rackley, 2014), Joel Oleson (Oleson, 2014) – have openly opined that this new model requires exploration and discovery to reach new best practices. IT managers and business professionals that depend on SharePoint customizations should expect there to be a measurable learning curve for SharePoint developers and architects in the immediate future.

In our opinion, however, this new app model represents a very bright future. The new App model is architecturally sound and preserves or enables stability, performance, and scalability both in the cloud and on-premises, allowing Office solutions to break out of an “evolutionary backwater” (Hester, 2014), and embrace industry-wide best practices for application development.

One significant benefit is that the pool of potential operations resources and solution developers just grew exponentially. Becoming an “Office Developer” no longer requires joining a secret society with arcane rules, in-depth knowledge of product-specific API’s (application programming interface), and product-specific best practices.

The Office 365 Digital Workplace represents a subscription-based set of ubiquitous services, built on a composable, scalable, elastic, location transparent infrastructure that enables standard, cross-platform integration opportunities to benefit the enterprise.

The Business Impact of Office 365 Digital Workplaces

Enterprises may choose to consume multiple “best of breed” cloud solutions, but competing, or even complimentary, vendors don’t focus on making these solutions work together. For example, many organizations may use Salesforce for CRM needs and for file storage, but still need email, calendaring, and other “line of business” applications.

Knowledge workers still need all of their tools to be integrated to collaborate and provide business value in their daily jobs. A line of business solution still needs to unite and connect to cloud services, or even on-premises systems. These integrations are critical to solutions that work together to add value to the business. Unfortunately, most SaaS services provide value for their specific problem domains, but these solutions don’t address all of the possible scenarios, especially custom line of business integrations.

Cloud computing is a very overloaded term, so let’s define some terms. For our purposes, the following definitions describe the three categories of services delivered over a network, either private, public or hybrid.

Software as a Service (SaaS) – applications provided as software completely delivered on the internet, consumed by users accessing the software from cloud clients or native clients which access a cloud-based product (e.g., Office 365)

Platform as a Service (PaaS) – provides a computing platform and a solution stack as a service, typically built on top of a provider’s IaaS infrastructure (private or public); enables focus on delivery of the application, not the maintenance of the foundation on which the application runs

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – provides raw infrastructure services (virtual machines, virtualized disks or storage, networking, and management, may include pre-installed / configured bundles with software, e.g., Azure Virtual Machines); requires maintenance, updates, and patches.



Although more specific details of these terms are beyond the scope of our discussion, we will make one assumption about cloud computing in general: The cost benefits of the cloud are proven and well documented. (CFO Research, 2012).

For over ten years, Microsoft Office applications, including SharePoint, have dominated the business user landscape. There have certainly been challenges to this dominance, but the dominance of the Microsoft tools will remain for quite some time. The value of Microsoft’s applications and platforms have served enterprises and small businesses well, and Microsoft is poised to provide even more value to customers going forward.

The advent of collaboration capabilities that leveraged the consistency of the Office Suite and enabled creating, curating and centralizing content is one of the primary reasons Office 365 enjoys such incredible growth and market share. By most accounts, the total number of SharePoint users exceeds 100 million.

The Business Impact of Continuous Delivery

For most enterprises, the historical context of SharePoint consisted of on-premises delivery with software releases based on 3-year cycles. Enterprises have become so entrenched in this release cycle that planning periods parallel these timeframes. However, Office 365 and Microsoft Azure changed much more than just these planning and release cycles. (Nadella, 2014)

Microsoft’s introduction of Office 365 disrupted the enterprise. Yes, many CIOs, IT Pros, and architects knew about BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) and were using cloud services like Salesforce and Box, but the development of “line of business” applications “inside of SharePoint” was still sacred ground as recently as 2013. Entire teams and considerable expertise focused on the on-premises, in-process model of SharePoint customization.

Microsoft’s introduction of Office365 and Microsoft Azure represent a fundamental shift to continuous delivery for their products and services that impacts feature prioritization, development, delivery, licensing, support, maintenance, and availability among many other facets.

Microsoft’s legacy licensing model will continue to decrease over time. CIO’s/CTO’s, IT organizations, and solution architects must determine how their use of Microsoft products, including Office 365 and SharePoint, fits in a cloud-based world. The “Mobile First, Cloud First” strategy and introduction of the new App model were necessary, and Microsoft has been executing this strategy quickly.

How could there be uncertainty or anxiety regarding the relevance of SharePoint and Office in the NBOS? Shouldn’t everyone be jumping for joy over this decision and direction? One would think so, but a review of recent blogs, whitepapers, and social media surrounding Microsoft’s strategy is less than glowing.  Microsoft’s strategy has disrupted enterprise IT at all levels, causing anxiety and inaction across the enterprise. From decision makers to developers, many are asking questions like the following:

  • How do Office 365 and the App model impact our technology strategy?
  • Does this new platform support our strategic objectives?
  • Is our strategy too shortsighted?
  • How must our governance change to operate on this new platform?
  • What new skills are required for me to stay relevant?
  • Is my job safe?

Although these questions are related to the above statement, the underlying theme to these questions is a corollary to the above statement.

Microsoft’s shift to a continuous delivery cycle of products and services fundamentally changes the way CTO’s/CIO’s, IT Pros and Architects will deliver value to the business.

Microsoft’s change to a continuous release cycle is indeed a monumental shift, with far-reaching impact in the enterprise. Strategic decisions are no longer concerned with a simple purchase of a suite of product licenses, an Enterprise Agreement (EA) or Software Assurance (SA) agreement, support hours and other typical services which have an ROI time horizon of the past.

The Compound Effects of Moore’s Law and Cloud Computing

In general, continuous delivery (updates) to SaaS, PaaS or IaaS offerings is not new, but the impacts as applied to Microsoft’s core business productivity suite are still emerging. The cloud has overturned the enterprise strategic planning apple cart.

As Ben Hammersley has stated, “our ability to plan has been compromised.” (Hammersley, 2013)

Strategic technical decisions must now account for Moore’s Law in ways that extend far past a PC refresh program, capitalizing server hardware or planning for new software licensing agreements.

Moore’s Law postulates that every 18 to 24 months processors will cost half as much to produce and will be able to perform twice as many operations. (Mirani, 2014) Businesses could plan on, and take financial advantage, of the innovation cycles Moore’s Law predicts. Indeed, organizations have incorporated Moore’s Law into their technology strategies for years. The typical business strategy accounted for infrastructure and software updates according to a 2-3 year maximum timeframe. But Microsoft now delivers new features to the cloud (both Office 365 and Azure) in increments as short as weeks. CFO’s and CTO’s can no longer rely on strategies with ROI in the 3-5 year time.

Simply put, the cloud moves even faster than Moore’s Law.

Moving to the Cloud On Your Terms

Some industry analysts view the decision to utilize cloud-computing as an “all or nothing” proposition. These analysts have indicated that the question is not if you’re going to the cloud, but when. This view ignores some real-world business challenges and over-simplifies reality. In our opinion, two strategic questions must be asked to determine a path to the cloud:

DevOps is a combination of “development” and “operations.” The term refers to the communication, collaboration, and integration of software developers, and IT operations personnel to improve product delivery, quality testing, feature development, and maintenance releases to improve reliability, increase security, and provide faster development and deployment cycles. DevOps concepts and practices derive from a combination of the Enterprise Systems Management and Agile software development movements.

What is DevOps?

  1. How can your business move to the cloud on your terms?
  2. Which cloud provider(s) enable moving to the cloud on your terms?

ThreeWill also believes the strategic considerations should be broader than simple cost-shifting scenarios.

The decision to move to the cloud is about much more than computing power or the cost of storage. The decision is about new opportunities – productivity, security, devices, notifications, big data, machine learning, on-premises, hybrid, and public cloud integration.

To state this differently, the cloud vendor choice of an enterprise may reduce the ability to pursue new business models. With the advent of business domain API’s, interchangeable services, the Internet of Things (IoT), RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), NFC (Near Field Communications), and much more, even small to medium size businesses can derive real value from emerging cloud advances quickly.

However, businesses must have a service-centric IT strategy and the ability to process millions, perhaps even billions, of inputs. Using Office 365 Digital Workplaces to move to the cloud incrementally can provide you with the infrastructure necessary to take advantage of new processes, devices, sensors, and the accompanying large data sets much more rapidly. The ability to quickly provide elastic scale to leverage the proliferation of devices, signals and data specific to your business domain means gaining business insight quickly. Gaining business insight more quickly enables innovation and growth.

It is not enough to have an infrastructure (IaaS) strategy that re-hosts applications in virtual machines in the cloud (public or private) or to choose multiple best of breed SaaS solutions without an integration strategy. Business cloud strategy must anticipate a work streams future value, and DevOps must enable flexible architectures to deliver, manage and enhance that value over time. In short, the business strategy now has to treat the business value proposition of the Office 365 Digital Workplace like an operating system – which has a base operating system (Azure/Azure Pack), standard applications (Office 365) and input and output options to offer added value immediately, on demand.

The combination of Office 365 and Microsoft Azure is the reason Microsoft is poised to continue providing increasing value to their customers.

We believe this combination will give you the option to move to the cloud on your own terms.

Three Perceived Barriers to Office 365 Digital Workplaces

Many enterprises are moving to the cloud cautiously, or not all, continuing to invest in on-premises SharePoint upgrades. These ‘lift and shift’ upgrades do not embrace the value proposition of Office 365 or the new App model.

There are a wide variety of reasons for this cautious approach, especially regarding SharePoint. Unfortunately, these concerns often preclude open dialog about the benefits of making the move, regardless of private, public or hybrid implementations.

There are three common characteristics to cautious investments in Office 365 Digital Workplaces:

  1. Compliance
  2. Control
  3. Customization

The first two characteristics are more organizational than technical. There are significant MoC challenges when moving to the cloud. Indeed, it is not merely a technical challenge. Training, migration, and adoption of these new technologies are real concerns.


Compliance typically refers to adherence to governmental, regulatory, business security, and data handling requirements. With all of the recent events regarding government-based surveillance, on-premises security breaches (Target and JP Morgan), the “HeartBleed“ virus, and many others, enterprises are hyper-sensitive to compliance and security requirements. Even a perceived loss of governance, increased risk, or misaligned strategic direction can impact planning, brand recognition, innovation, and most importantly, revenue. While many CIO’s and IT Pro’s may still believe that a dedicated server (i.e., on-premises) is more secure than one in the cloud, the NBOS provides multiple options to aid in compliance.

While CIO’s and IT Pro’s may choose to keep on-premises resources and not to relinquish the responsibility in areas of security and regulatory compliance, the NBOS does offer options to take advantage of the operational and process improvements that cloud implementations provide. Considering full public cloud options using Office 365 and Azure or hybrid cloud solutions, combining more features cloud solutions can address the concerns once only possible with purely on-premises solutions. For example, consider the fact that Microsoft is the only cloud provider currently holding certification of EU privacy compliance. In addition to the privacy compliance available, Microsoft also meets FedRAMP, HIPPA, PCI DSS, FERPA, and many more standards. (Microsoft, 2014)

Enterprises can address most compliance challenges by trusting Microsoft’s security and compliance features in the public cloud and augmenting these compliance and data security services with on-premises or hybrid implementations as needed.


As a perceived barrier, control refers to a perceived loss of control from an operations and governance perspective. While the CIO is most concerned about risk exposure, business value, and cost, the operations teams add the following concerns:

  • IT governance, including provisioning, and de-provisioning
  • Physical access and management of resources
  • User management, including provisioning and termination
  • Patch management
  • Data security
  • Disaster recovery
  • Risk management

While virtualization and abstraction of on-premises services have increased over the past 5-10 years, many operations team prefer to keep infrastructure ‘in-house.’ The responsibility to ensure constant business value from infrastructure and applications seems to rule out even IaaS options for many operations teams, and PaaS solutions are often not considered.

However, the responsibility to ensure a controlled and governed infrastructure does not preclude the use of the Office 365 Digital Workplace.  It is highly likely that your users are already using cloud resources, regardless of your ability to govern and control them. The control benefit lies in the platforms integration options and control surface. Location transparent control of your infrastructure can be provided by hybrid cloud implementations. The consistent control surface benefits operations teams by providing a consistent interface for managing development, deployment, identity, virtualization, and storage across on-premises, hybrid, and Azure-based resources.


The final perceived barrier, customization, is least likely to impede providing business value with the Office 365 Digital Workplace. However, there is anxiety and fear in the development community regarding the complexity, integration, and skills required to add value using the new App model.

When creating custom cloud-based solutions, critical architectural patterns that must be understood and applied in specific situations. Microsoft’s free e-Book “Building Cloud Apps with Microsoft Azure” (Guthrie, Simms, Dykstra, Anderson, & Wasson, 2014) describes many of these patterns. Specifically, patterns that can enable your DevOps teams to focus on adding business value include continuous integration, data storage, and partitioning, fault handling, caching, queued processing. These patterns are integral and therefore critical to providing you with the most benefit from your Office 365 Digital Workplace

Cloud App Patterns

The new App model is a significant departure from prior SharePoint and Office development models, which requires retaining SharePoint skills, acquiring new skills, and applying new patterns to derive business value in on-premises, hybrid, and full public cloud solutions.

The new App model also adds new design patterns, architectures, and delivery models for development staff. These new patterns and models enable solutions to be designed and built using technologies best suited to support the business objectives. Too frequently, pre-2013 SharePoint solutions commonly utilized SharePoint services exclusively, even when they were suboptimal for the solution, for the sake of keeping the solution 100% SharePoint. As some examples:

  • Solutions best served by relational databases were shoe-horned into SharePoint rather than using alternatives which would have accelerated development and added value faster.
  • Mobile solutions and views were frequently not even developed due to increased effort and cost of doing so in SharePoint.
  • Integration efforts were often hampered, complex, or canceled completely due to the complexity of security, lack of audit controls, and the risk of ‘elevated privilege’ code.

The App model enables customizations to benefit from languages, frameworks, and processes that may be new to SharePoint developers. The bad news is that many of these skills may be new, or are skills that may have atrophied over the last several years. The good news is that the knowledge SharePoint developers have of the Office and SharePoint application landscape is still extremely valuable. Even better, the new languages, frameworks, and processes are standard web tools and methods and are no longer unique to SharePoint and Office.

Focusing on Business Value

Office 365 Digital Workplaces enable enterprises to take advantage of the cloud on your terms by using commodity SaaS services (e.g. email, storage, unified communications) when feasible, hybrid approaches when compliance and control need augmenting, and on-premises approaches when your business requires them. Since “statistics regularly show that up to 80% of IT budgets are tied up in routine maintenance” (McKendrick, 2013), this represents a significant value proposition to your business. As strategy and risk tolerance allows, enterprises should move closer to PaaS solutions and reduce low-value routine maintenance costs.

“Statistics regularly show that up to 80% of IT budgets are tied up in routine maintenance.” (McKendrick, 2013)

To state the obvious, ‘business solutions’ must provide value to the business, and a digital workplace must enable your ‘programs’ to work together seamlessly to achieve your business objectives. However, the more your operations teams focus on routine maintenance, the less time they spend adding value to your business. Shifting your enterprise to “commodity” SaaS services and utilizing IaaS services where possible enables investment in higher value hybrid and PaaS-based solutions. The higher your ratio of PaaS solutions, the more your operations and development staff can focus on innovation and increase productivity.

The bottom line is that Office 365 Digital Workplaces can add significant value to the enterprise. They enable the transformation of your data center, an can transform the relationship between your business and IT. They have the capability to turn IT into an organization whose objective is to “Innovate Together” (Hanselman, 2014) with the business.

Office 365 Digital Workplaces adds “commodity” value to your business immediately, reduces long-term control costs gradually, and enables productivity and innovation as your business objectives dictate.

Defining Your Business Cloud Profile

In order to derive the full benefits of the Office 365 Digital Workplace, an enterprise must identify compliance, control, and customization profile attributes. One typical approach to identifying a business cloud profile involves simply mapping attributes of compliance, control, and customization and assigning an on-premises, hybrid or public cloud designation.



However, developing a cloud profile in a facile manner does not produce a viable strategy. As the preceding image depicts, an attempt to simplify the decision to use the cloud may fail to consider the subtleties and complexities of a viable cloud strategy. This approach assumes only “three knobs” can be used to dial in your cloud profile. However, a viable strategy must begin to think in terms of moving to a PaaS-centric strategy. Determining compliance, control and customization criteria is still essential to any cloud strategy, but businesses need to analyze and model their strategy at a greater level of detail and complexity in order to gain the most value.

Risk, regulatory, business, and data needs are typically well known. For example, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data, financial records, and legal documents all require high-risk designations. Where you map them is dependent on your business risk and whether there are options that support your compliance and risk concerns. If you have identified a high-risk compliance requirement, you are not necessarily constrained to an on-premises implementation, and may not preclude using a SaaS solution, as many compliance requirements are already addressed in Office 365 and Azure (Microsoft, 2014).

Compliance, security, and governance (control) may be less well known and may require some investigation, analysis, and documentation in order to properly inform your strategy. The assumption that the more specific the need for control, the more likely you are to be on-premises is also false. You have many options for configuration and management in SaaS, PaaS and IaaS solutions including the option of using on-premises capabilities of Systems Center and the Azure Pack to gain the flexibility of the cloud without the loss of control.

The customization profile requires the business processes to be analyzed for cohesion and coupling. The concepts of “strong cohesion” and “weak coupling” have been applied to software design for years, but here is our definition:

  • Cohesion is a measure of how well-defined a sub-process is within a larger business process.
  • Coupling is a measure of how interconnected a sub-process is in a larger business process.

These concepts can be applied to the process engineering space. The concept that your business processes should be orthogonal to the cloud resources consumed is critical to increasing your PaaS solution ratio over time. As your business processes become more cohesive and less coupled, your ability to implement PaaS solutions increases. The less cohesive your processes, the less likely you will be able to move that process to the cloud and consume SaaS solutions or create custom PaaS solutions. In addition, the more tightly coupled your business processes, the more likely that those processes will require remediation or complete redesign to benefit from SaaS or PaaS solutions.

Are you likely to go “all in” on the cloud to start? For most CIOs today, the answer is “No!” Mission critical systems, high bandwidth business-critical processes, transport security, and other requirements are likely to stay on-premises or use a private hybrid environment. But can you leverage the cloud today in ways that create an advantage for your business?

Absolutely, and working on your Office 365 Digital Workplace Profile is the place to start.

If your cloud profile will not allow a complete cloud migration, you can move to the cloud incrementally. Connecting on-premises implementations to cloud services, creating hybrid solutions, and enabling migration over time is a highly viable option. Just as the architects and developers in the enterprise should be designing and building cohesive, and decoupled systems, your cloud profile should be built with these same principles in mind: your processes, infrastructure, and solutions should be built to be highly cohesive and loosely coupled. The business and IT must “innovate together” to define the appropriate solutions that use the appropriate mix of features solutions for your business strategy.

Cohesion and coupling may sound like esoteric software design terms, and to some degree they are, but huge benefits can be realized by applying these concepts to business strategy as well. Systematically reviewing business processes increases process cohesion over time. Well-defined processes lead to more integration opportunities, increasing your ability to capitalize on, and innovate in, the cloud. The inclusion of business process coupling and cohesion review as part of long term strategic planning is a recognition that “our ability to plan has been compromised.” (Hammersley, 2013) This inclusion is also a recognition that an enterprise business cloud profile will change over time. Enterprises that integrate the continuous review of business process cohesion and coupling as part of strategic planning processes will be best positioned to address changes in their business cloud profiles quickly and maximize the use of the cloud on their terms.

Top 5 Benefits of the Office 365 Digital Workplaces

Once you have identified your Cloud Profile and reviewed your processes, what are the benefits of the Office 365 Digital Workplaces? Let’s review 5 benefits:

  1. “Innovate Together”
  2. Promotes business process cohesion
  3. Reduces infrastructure maintenance
  4. Enables “on-your-terms” architectures
  5. Technology stack agnostic

Innovate Together – By enabling the move to the cloud on your terms, enterprises gradually reduce the number of resources required for infrastructure maintenance and routine management. This also increases the ability to focus these resources on adding business value by creating solutions that increase productivity, efficiency or innovative solutions.

Promotes business process cohesion – Office 365 Digital Workplaces increase your ratio of PaaS solutions by promoting the design and delivery of processes that are cohesive and loosely coupled. However, cloud enabling your processes doesn’t necessarily mean moving your data to the cloud. Cohesive and decoupled business processes enable contextual applications that can integrate data from Office 365 applications, third-party solutions, devices, and platforms.

Reduces infrastructure maintenance – Office 365 Digital Workplaces can reduce or eliminate infrastructure requirements, even if a cloud profile dictates some on-premises services. The often-cited benefit of continuous delivery is the reduction of overall maintenance of core, commodity IT services. But the often-overlooked benefits of continuous delivery of IaaS and PaaS services can significantly reduce your maintenance burden. App model solutions can range from 0% -100% in the cloud (public, private, or hybrid), and are built cloud-ready.

Enables “On-Your-Terms” architectures – Office 365 Digital Workplaces provide a wide range of options and architectures to ensure you can meet your business cloud profile requirements. Combining on-premises, dedicated tenant, or hosted models provide a wide array of compliance, control, and customization options. The entire ecosystem enables moving to the cloud as your business objectives allow or dictate for commodity services, storage, identify management, search, and business-specific processes.

Technology stack agnostic – Office 365 Digital Workplaces enable using the right tool for the right job. If business objectives require solutions better managed by alternative development stacks like MEAN (MongoDB, EmberJS, AngularJS, NodeJS), LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL , PHP) or others, use them. With today’s trends of mobile first design, burgeoning web standards advances, and cross-platform compiling, a cloud provider choice has to be flexible and adaptive.


Over the next 3-5 years, the major business drivers for Microsoft’s enterprise customers will focus on two pillars: Azure and Office 365. The Office and SharePoint App models align perfectly with those pillars. Is SharePoint going away? Is SharePoint “dead” as some have proclaimed? Hardly! But as Spencer Johnson stated in Who Moved My Cheese? “noticing the small changes early helps you adapt to the bigger changes to come.” (Johnson, 1988) Recognizing the general trend of businesses creating and exposing discrete services, and specifically, Microsoft’s delivery of Office, SharePoint, Yammer, Office Graph, and other API’s, will enable you to develop long term strategies that derive value in this environment.

In the end, the Office 365 Digital Workplaces are a highly cohesive and loosely coupled set of services providing value to your business. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s new CEO, recently commented, “hybrid cloud is more than just the connections. The main part of a hybrid cloud is the management control plane.” (Dignan, 2014) Using the NBOS today can benefit your business by increasing operating margins and reducing capital expenditures. The use of NBOS can also provide enterprise IT a common control plane for the infrastructure and services provided to the business. The value created when integrating well-defined business processes into a unified control plane is a true differentiator that enables innovation.

If current business circumstances do not enable an “all in” public cloud strategy today, an Office 365 Digital Workplace can still provide significant value. Enterprises will develop a strategy that enables incremental capital and operating benefits of the cloud. However, enterprises can gain an advantage by developing an “Office 365 Digital Workplace Profile” earlier than their competitors. Identifying applications and business processes that can migrate to NBOS today can begin to gain productivity and innovation benefits of the cloud more quickly. The following are some attributes of processes or applications that are excellent candidates for productivity or innovation gains from the NBOS and the App model:

  • New applications or processes (build cloud-ready)
  • Legacy applications due for upgrade or replacement
  • Processes/applications with highly variable compute requirements (seasonal or elastic)
  • Processes or applications that integrate internal and external user interactions
  • Processes with batch or long running processes (notifications, workflow)
  • Applications that required large scale push notifications (mobile)
  • Search dependent processes (search and incorporate data into documents/email)
  • Processes requiring custom document viewing, authoring, or generation experiences
  • Processes requiring business analysis and business intelligence reporting
  • Collaborative processes requiring multi-user input (real-time multi-user access applications)
  • New processes or opportunities requiring proof of concepts application validation

These are just a few of the candidate processes and application types the Office 365 Digital Workplaces enables today. The move to the cloud should be strategic and calculated, not a response to a competitive edge lost, or shrinking profit margins. In the end, the decision to move to the cloud should come down to one of analysis of business objectives. The cloud should help you meet your business objectives. In the near term, this will likely mean hybrid and incremental adoption. Is your Office 365 Digital Workplace the only platform your business will consume for SaaS, IaaS and PaaS? Not likely. However, it is certainly the most capable platform for delivering value today, providing business continuity, and enabling future expansion. It provides access to your business processes, data, and insights, managed through a common control plane, all with location and device transparency. Your Office 365 Digital Workplace is the cloud on your terms

Next Steps

ThreeWill’s passion, excitement, and successes with Office 365 Digital Workplaces demonstrate the value and promise of Office 365 and Microsoft Azure. We want to help CIOs, business units, IT Pros, and Architects wade through the murky waters of deriving business value from the cloud “on your terms.”

The benefit is the flexibility, incremental path, and common control surface they provide to allow you to be successful in the cloud. Reach out to ThreeWill today to schedule a Digital Workplace Workshop so we can help you accelerate your move to the cloud on your terms.


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