How to get more out of your Microsoft products and services
Working in IT, I have always found it interesting to look back at past predictions about technology to see if they’ve come true.
For example, back in 1975, Bloomberg’s Businessweek magazine ran an article that predicted the future of the workplace. It drew on the views of George E Pake, who led research at Xerox, and included his description of the 1995workplace: “I’ll be able to call up documents from my files on the screen, or by pressing a button.”
Mr Pake was clearly on the money. And since that time, with the widespread adoption of computing – and then the internet – the world seems to have become obsessed with making predictions about IT and technology. Perhaps never more so than over the past year, with the number one topic being the enormous changes to workplaces brought about by the pandemic.
But there is a drawback to this kind of discussion. By virtue of being office based, IT experts often fall into the trap of focusing all their thinking on offices, offering recommendations for people sitting at desks, in front of computers.
If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that those who aren’t at desks in front of screens – those working in schools, in healthcare, in public services – that they are all critical to our lives and our economy.
Consequently, while discussion about remote and hybrid working is important – and we ourselves have shared a lot of guidance where this is concerned – it’s just as important that we in IT keep in mind that not all organisations are able to simply adopt ‘new ways of working’.
And so, we should also help those who have bought new technology as a result of the pandemic to make the most of those investments, irrespective of where their staff may be based. This is especially true with those areas of the public sector mentioned above – or indeed smaller businesses with limited IT resources. If this sounds like your organisation, then read on.
Microsoft Teams: a springboard to much more
One thing we can say with certainty about IT in the age of the pandemic is that there has been widespread adoption of video conferencing, across all industries. For example, between February and June 2020, usage of Microsoft Teams grew by 894 per cent.
I am drawn to this statistic because I am AdEPT’s Microsoft Product Manager– and one of my responsibilities is to ensure we have a comprehensive, up-to-date understanding of Microsoft products and services – and how they might benefit your organisation.
Through this work, I have seen a distinct pattern emerge over the past year and I believe it’s something that will resonate with many organisations, perhaps even your own.
Lots of organisations have either adopted the free version of Microsoft Teams, or have added Teams to their existing Microsoft 365 plan. In either case – and with the more pressing demands of the pandemic – a lot of those organisations are yet to realise the full potential of their new setup.
In other words, many organisations aren’t getting their money’s worth out of their new, or newly-enhanced, Microsoft products and services.
The good news is there are lots of emerging ways you can get more out of Microsoft, or build on what you already have. Here are a few of them.
1. Microsoft Power Platform
Just like Microsoft 365, Power Platform is a collection of applications. Among them are tools for analysing data, building low-code apps and even launching and running your own chatbots. The applications include…
• Power Automate and Power Apps
Have you ever wished you could automate a task in your work? Or had a great idea that could improve your organisation but have fallen at the first hurdle because you need a software developer? If the answer’s yes, then you might like Microsoft Power Automate and Power Apps.
As their names imply, these products allow you to automate repetitive tasks – or use low-code tools to build your own app. You can find examples of Power Automate ‘flows’ here, and apps built with Power Apps here.
A good example of this comes from one of our clients, publicly-owned Barnsley Premier Leisure (BPL), which wanted to improve how it handles gym equipment faults and eliminate the paperwork involved in the process.
Working with us, and by using Power Apps, BPL’s IT team built a simple app for staff. With it, an employee scans the barcode on the equipment, which in turn brings up a choice of faults to report, and once submitted, automatically emails a support ticket to the equipment manufacturer. The app has saved BPL a lot of time and paperwork, making the process much easier to track and manage.
• Power BI
Once upon a time, data analysis was a dark art. To do anything meaningful with your organisation’s data, you likely had to have specialist skills and spend many hours in Microsoft Excel, Access or similar software. Even then, the spreadsheets and graphs you produced were often only snapshot in time and didn’t integrate easily with other software. Those were the days when the idea of having a live dashboard of business data was just a pipe dream.
(Interestingly, a Google Trends graph suggests the whole world has become more interested in ‘dashboards’ over the last 15 years – and I suspect that has nothing to do with the things in the front of our cars!)
Then in 2011, Microsoft launched Power BI – the ‘BI’ standing for ‘Business Intelligence’. It’s an application that allows you to take your business data and turn it into graphs and charts, including your own live dashboards. Notably, it’s designed to be extremely easy to use – and not restricted to data specialists. One fantastic example of it in action is these live Transport for London graphs, which represent the demand for public transport in the city.
Another example comes again from our client, BPL. With our help, it now has an extensive set of live dashboards which it regularly uses to make decisions based on various data sets, like staff levels and customer demand. For example, staff noticed a rise in bookings for yoga classes, but with a finite amount of yoga instructors in the area, they were able to quickly ‘switch on’ more classes in pilates – a similar activity – rather than turn customers away and, in turn, miss out on revenue.
• Other Power Platform applications
I mentioned that there are other applications within Power Platform – some of these represent differences in deployments, such as being based in the cloud or on your desktop. But one other that might be of interest is Power Virtual Agents, which is an application for building your own chatbots. Many organisations are looking to support their customer service teams with such bots – but as a big topic in its own right, that’s one for another blog!
2. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central
If you’re already using Microsoft 365 in any capacity,it might interest you to know that Microsoft offers a suite of applications for various business functions, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).
This collection is called ‘Dynamics 365’ and, as the name suggests, it has the same foundation as Microsoft 365 software, such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint. At my last count, there were 22 applications within Microsoft Dynamics 365, spanning everything from customer records to supply chain, finance to project management.
So, what do our customers make of it?
Interestingly, we’ve found that some of them have been under the impression that Dynamics 365 is only suitable for large businesses. Although it now uses it, BPL was one of those customers – in fact, when we mentioned it to the IT manager, he joked that he’d only heard of it being used by Formula 1 teams with lots of money.
If your organisation is in a similar place – you can see the appeal of Dynamics 365 but have concerns about costs – then you might be interested in one of its variants, Business Central Cloud.
Built with smaller organisations in mind, Business Central Cloud offers key Dynamics 365 applications with an emphasis on finance – covering accounting, sales and supply chain. Crucially, it’s cloud-based, meaning it can be used on any device with an internet connection, which is obviously good for flexible working.
Many organisations start with Business Central Cloud with the view to using it for accounting purposes, but it offers much more than this – and as it integrates with Microsoft 365, many choose the platform to avoid the time and hassle of learning entirely new systems.
We’ve recently joined forces with Bam Boom Cloud, a Business Central Cloud specialist. One of the many reasons we’ve decided to do this is because organisations are often, understandably, intimidated by the prospect of adopting major new systems – they can see the benefits, but worry about being without crucial systems during the transition, how staff will take to the new system and that the process could negatively affect their customers.
Bam Boom Cloud has a solution for this – its fast-track process promises to help your organisation make the switch in as little as seven days, including staff training. Bam Boom Cloud also only focuses on the products and services that you want – and will not pressure you into unnecessary and expensive extras. We take the same view with our own customers.
A good example of how this works is with Bam Boom Cloud client, ilke Homes. A modular housing developer, ilke Homes was relying on paper and spreadsheet records, but was quickly outgrowing this setup. It needed a new system, but couldn’t afford lengthy downtime, and wanted something that would work across multiple sites, growing with ilke Homes’ own continued growth.
Choosing Bam Boom Cloud’s KickStart offering, ilke Homes quickly started realising the benefits of the switch to Business Central Cloud. It found cashflow was improved, processes worked more efficiently, and the business was liberated from a system that was holding it back.
What a case study like this doesn’t necessarily show is the people behind the work. We’re as choosy about our partners as you are about your own IT partners – we vet our partners just as you would. Similarly, Bam Boom Cloud has gone through extensive assessment by Microsoft, winning Microsoft 2021 Partner of the Year for Dynamics 365 for Business Central, having been a finalist in 2020, and the winner of the 2019 awards.
Beyond these examples
The examples above give just a small taster of how you could make more of Microsoft products and services, especially in the wake of the pandemic when organisations are looking for ways to move forward with minimum disruption.
You may be wondering why I’ve not mentioned prices – often the most pressing question. The reason I haven’t is it really depends on certain criteria – for example, some of the tools I’ve mentioned may be already available to you through your organisation’s Microsoft plan. Your organisation size, or the number of users, may also be factors – as could being in the private or public sector.
There are fixed costs involved, however, so it’s relatively straightforward to determine an approach and a price that is tailored to your requirements. So the next step is to assess your own organisation and answer any questions you may have through a no-obligation chat. You can get in touch via the contact details below. But before that, here are a few more articles that may be of interest, with my interpretations.
• 73 per cent of workers want flexible working to continue – but note that 67 per cent are craving more in-person time with their teams. As I alluded to above, the debate about home versus office working needs to be more nuanced than fixating on those two extremes.
• Through the same survey, it found time spent in Microsoft Teams has more than doubled – no surprises there – but this likely explains why we’re now craving face-to-face contact with colleagues.
• Looking at how the pandemic affected SMEs, Forrester found that Microsoft 365 for business was especially beneficial when organisations needed to shift to remote work, highlighting security features and the ease-of-use for IT managers to set up.
• Spending on cloud systems increased 11.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, suggesting that more and more organisations and industries are starting to realise the benefits of cloud.
• Gartner predicts that in the next three years, more than 65 per cent of all applications will be built on low-code.
• This five-year campaign aims to help 1.5 million people build tech careers, including people who want to upskill their existing work, as well as IT leaders who want to improve their career prospects.
• Surveyed in October and November 2020, these professionals said that while they had prioritised short-term solutions to address immediate needs, they now recognise that further digitalisation must be driven strategically.
Want to see how you could get much more out your Microsoft setup? Get in touch today
I hope you’ve found this blog useful and interesting. If you’d like to find out more, you can connect with me on LinkedIn, or call me and my colleagues on