Microsoft Office may have been around (in one form or another) since 1989, but that hardly means that everything that forms part of the suit has stayed the same! From incorporating cutting-edge features, to expanding the apps that aid you in your day-to-day work, to embracing the cloud, Office was improving in leaps and bounds even before it became part of the overall Microsoft 365 solution.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the 24 apps that have been added, 1400 new features that have been introduced, and the enhanced functionality that Microsoft 365 has offered since its launch in 2017.
New Tools To Help You Work Smarter, Not Harder
While the three core components of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) have been around since the early ‘80s and ‘90s, Microsoft has been taking great strides in releasing new and valuable tools for navigating the modern workplace over the past decade. These include:
1. Microsoft Teams
Launched in 2017 as “the only integrated solution where you can meet, chat, collaborate, and automate business processes”, Microsoft Teams has become a business’ one-stop-shop for sharing and enhancing company culture, particularly in a remote- or hybrid-working world. And Microsoft has taken the integration aspect of the platform very seriously.
Since its launch, Microsoft has added integrations with Shifts, Forms, SharePoint, and a number of the other tools included in this list. And because Teams has become such a dominant platform, companies outside of Microsoft have built apps that integrate seamlessly with the solution as well, including Adobe, Salesforce, and SAP. What this means, in effect, is that you can communicate, share files and documents, collaborate on them, and more, all without ever needing to leave Teams.
In an age where communication has never been more vital to every business’ success, Teams is an invaluable asset for any company to have.
There is nothing quite like putting pen to paper to take notes and organise lists of tasks. But Planner doesn’t just come close to meeting the needs of those who like to have lists and plan their days ahead of time. In many ways, it vastly improves the process.
A planner is a task management solution that does so much more than its name suggests. It doesn’t just help individuals to keep track of what they need to be doing but provides a platform for teams to come together to plan and collaborate on projects. Its timeline helps managers not just visualise their teams’ capacities, but see the progress of projects as well, which aids in time management and forecasting. Plus, its integration with SharePoint means that each task can have all of its relevant documents attached, allowing teams quick and easy access to all of the information that they need.
While SharePoint is all about businesses storing relevant files and documents safely in the cloud, OneDrive is all about individuals. It’s a great platform for storing personal files, drafts, and more.
When you are working on a document, but it’s not quite ready for sharing with your entire team, OneDrive is the perfect storage solution. It still allows for sharing and collaboration, but to a lesser extent than SharePoint. This means that if you want feedback on that file you’re working on, you can ask individuals to review it and collaborate as normal, but without storing it as part of the company’s official documentation.
Microsoft’s Whiteboard is almost exactly what it sounds like – a whiteboard that can be filled with relevant details and notes. But, because it’s digital, these details and notes don’t have to only be text. You can add images, links, videos, and anything that you like to keep track of your ideas on a project.
And, of course, it’s available for collaboration. Your entire team can have a Whiteboard to work on together, for particular projects or in general. This makes it a great tool for brainstorming, as everyone’s ideas can come together in a single, multimedia space, without anything getting lost in translation.
5. Power BI
Businesses in this digital age have endless volumes of data at their fingertips. Data about their products and services, their client base, and potential customers that they could be reached through marketing. Data about emails received and sent, and about how their teams’ time is spent. But this data is raw. It’s numbers, figures, and text that you’re inundated with on a daily basis. Making heads or tails of the data you receive can be a frustrating and fruitless process if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
This is where Power BI comes in. It’s a data visualisation tool that helps you to make sense of the information you have access to. It uses artificial intelligence to gather and analyse data, and highlight important statistics or trends that it finds within that information. It helps you to gain a better understanding not only of your customers but of your business itself – where you are succeeding and where you should be focussing your future efforts.
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Enhancements To Existing Tools
It’s not just new apps that Microsoft has been releasing. They have also been hard at work adding features to their existing offerings. These see the tools that you may already be used to using becoming ever more useful and critical to your business’ success… If you know where to look. Here are some of the features that Microsoft has added to tools that you may already be using:
6. Breakout rooms in Teams
While Teams has always been a great platform for communication, the Coronavirus pandemic saw it becoming an essential solution for businesses whose teams were suddenly forced to work from home. This saw Microsoft developing new features that would not just accommodate remote workers, but center itself around them.
For example, In 2021, Microsoft released Breakout Rooms within Teams. This may seem like a small feature, but it had a big impact. Suddenly businesses were able to conduct meetings in an entirely different way. They could have a video call with each and every employee, and allow teams to split off into groups to discuss important topics, before having everyone come together once again to discuss their results.
What this does, in essence, is bring video calls closer to the experience that one might have during an in-person meeting, while at the same time offering more convenience and functionality. It aids in connection, which in turn promotes company culture and sees every employee’s views and stances being clearly expressed and considered.
7. Real-time collaboration in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint
When you’re in the same office with others, it can be a relatively simple process to get feedback. You can turn to the person next to you and ask their opinion. You can slide a laptop across a table, or shift a screen so that someone else can read a document or an email. When you’re working from home, on the other hand, the only other person giving you feedback is often the cat (and his feedback usually comes in the form of “Feed Me”).
But in all seriousness, collaborating on documents in a remote working environment can be extremely difficult to accomplish. It can involve plenty of back and forth and a lot of wasted time spent waiting for someone to send a file back with their feedback attached, only to have to send it to the next person for approval. This is why Microsoft has introduced real-time collaboration on documents.
Whether you’re working on a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation, online or through your desktop app, it’s quick and easy to collaborate with your teammates by tagging them with an ‘@’ in the comments. You can see who else is accessing your files and can even work with them on the same file without getting in each other’s way. This is an absolute pleasure for teams that work remotely or in hybrid environments, as it reduces the delay in getting feedback, and allows for instantly constructive and productive teamwork.
8. Real-time translation, captions, and transcription
Another fantastic real-time feature for businesses that work and collaborate with teams from around the world (and for marketing teams in general) is Microsoft Teams and Word’s new transcription functionality.
As online meetings verge on becoming the norm, having the ability to instantly transcribe, translate and caption video calls is critical to improving communication and understanding between teams. This opens endless avenues for collaboration, even with those who don’t necessarily speak your language.
And for marketing teams who are constantly looking for new content to post across social media platforms, websites, and more, the transcription capabilities of Microsoft are an enormous advantage. No longer do you have to pay by the minute for an external company to transcribe audio and video files. Exceptional translation and transcription tools have become part and parcel of the app you already use!
9. Data Loss Prevention for email and documents
With every business around the world storing large quantities of data, it has never been more important to ensure its safety – both from internal threats and external ones. Most people are quick to think of ways that their data can be compromised during an attack, but fail to realise that human error is one of the largest causes of data loss. Files get deleted, either accidentally or maliciously. Information gets lost amidst versions of documents that have been saved multiple times across a variety of platforms.
Microsoft’s Data Loss Prevention (or DLP) solutions help businesses to ensure that their information is safely and securely stored, as well as providing a system for storage that reduces the likelihood of accidental deletion, and increases the chance of recovery should a document be deleted in error. It helps you to keep track of which users are accessing which files, and what they are doing with them, and with the help of Sensitivity Labels (more on these below) allows you to restrict the access to certain types of data. This can see you protecting your business from both accidental and intentional internal and external threats.
10. Sensitivity Labels
Whether it’s the GDPR in the UK or the POPI Act in South Africa, laws and regulations surrounding the protection of personal information are becoming stricter globally. And it’s not just about what data you store, it’s about how it’s stored and who it is shared with.
With these kinds of restrictions in mind, Microsoft has added the option to apply Sensitivity Labels to files. These help you to restrict access to information, ensuring that the right people have the data they need, while at the same time ensuring that private and confidential details stay that way.
One of the best things about this is that it doesn’t impact productivity. You can still ensure that permissions are granted to the people who need them. But, particularly when it comes to personal information, you are still able to protect the data and ensure that outside parties, or even well-intentioned employees, can’t place the data at risk.
11. Message Encryption
One of the biggest areas of risk for businesses is email security. Email has become such an ingrained part of our communication, and yet it is innately unsafe. When electronic communications were invented, it was never expected that they would become as popular as they are. This has meant that even in this modern age, when the email is one of our primary forms of connecting between businesses and between colleagues, keeping it secure is a constant challenge. Malware, ransomware, phishing emails, and social engineering are about, and it is incredibly difficult for even the experts to protect users against every threat that rears its ugly head. But Microsoft has gone to great lengths to ensure that, at the very least, the information that you send over email can be protected with encryption.
They have made encrypting files and text that are sent over email incredibly simple. With just the click of a button in Outlook, you can add a layer of protection to your mails that years ago would have seemed impossible. And, while this is hardly a fool-proof solution since encrypted information can be decrypted over time, and we still wouldn’t recommend sending confidential data such as passwords or login details over email, it is a huge step in the right direction. Any amount of time that delays an attacker from accessing your data is a boon since it is more time that you have to respond to an attack and protect your information as necessary.
What Do All These Changes Mean For You?
With all of these additions and enhancements being made to the 365 suite of solutions, it’s easy to see why Microsoft recently decided to slightly raise the cost of their licenses. And while no one ever looks forward to the price of a product going up, the value that Microsoft brings to the services that they provide is still worth far more than the price tag that the platform comes with. Every change that they make, every feature that they add, and every app that they release goes a long way toward their goal of enabling people to reach their full potential. And, as a Microsoft Gold partner, we are behind you every step of the way, helping you to make the most of all of the functionality and intrinsic value that Microsoft offers.