Office 365: Microsoft Groups and Teams Explained….

One of the frequently asked questions in Office 365 is “When do I use Teams vs Groups vs Yammer”. This is a valid question considering that a lot of the capabilities that these services offer are similar in nature. There may be no single correct answer as regulatory and compliance requirements, working culture, and the organizational needs will vary between organizations. However, to make the right decision on how these services need to be leveraged I feel it is important to first understand how Microsoft envision’s the services and their road-map for introducing new capabilities for these services in the future.

Earlier this year, Microsoft introduced the concept of Microsoft 365 Teamwork encompassing the Office 365 services – Groups, Teams and Yammer. SharePoint is used in the back end by these services to store and manage files/content for these services while Outlook is primarily used for targeted communication.

Illustrated above is the graphical representation of how Microsoft views the different services fit together within the Office 365 platform. For purposes of this blog my primary focus is going to be Microsoft Groups and Teams.

Office 365 Groups:

Groups can be defined as a Single team membership across apps and services. At a basic level it can be imagined of as a group in Azure AD and Office 365 provides its members access to different services (Outlook, Teams, Staffhub, Planner, Power BI etc.). Hence, it essentially provides administrators the ability to assign members of a group for collaborating by providing them access to a set of Office 365 services. Potential examples of Office 365 Groups can be the different departments within an organization such as Finance, HR, Research etc.

Some of the new features highlighted/announced recently during Ignite 2017 were

Group Naming Policy: (Currently in Private Preview): Provides the capability to specify policies

  1. Ensuring group names follow your organization schema
  2. Use fixed strings or Active Directory attributes as prefixes and/or suffixes
  3. Define custom blocked words

The policies are applied to all apps.

Office 365 groups expiration: (Currently in Public preview): Some of the capabilities provided by this feature are the ability to

  1. archive groups older than a specific period
  2. notify Group owners to take renewal action on the group
  3. set expiration policy to specific groups
  4. expired groups can be restored within 30 days

Group policies & information protection :

  1. Data retention policy can be set on Groups
  2. Retention Policy can be set for each of the individual applications
  3. External users can be either whitelisted or blacklisted for specific groups
  4. Access privileges of user can be can be set to be re-attested.
  5. Dynamically manage access to a Office 365 groups through Dynamic Groups
  6. Automatically classify data across the organization using Labels

Office 365 groups Reporting :

  1. Track total groups and inactive/active groups
  2. Track both Exchange and SharePoint storage used
  3. View group activity across group mailbox conversations, group site/files activity, etc.

Some of the other features being planned part of the Office 365 groups Roadmap are

  1. SharePoint:
    1. Connecting an existing site to a new group;
    2. Managing group sites via SharePoint admin center
    3. Ability to use Site Designs to customize the UI
  2. Yammer:
    1. Use SharePoint as default file store
    2. Support Groups naming policy
    3. Guest access
  3. Multi-geo Capabilities

Note: The following features Dynamic group membership, Groups expiration, Naming Policy and Default classification require an Azure P1 license

Microsoft Teams:

People within an organization looking to collaborate on a project with clear deliverables. Teams can be imagined as a subset of Office 365 groups. It is designed to be a repository of all content related to a project and foster collaboration between team members.

Microsoft announced at the Microsoft Ignite conference a new vision of integrating the communication capabilities of the different Office 365 services – link . As part of the new vision Microsoft also announced was that Skype Online will be phased out over the next few months (Refer here for additional details). The features and capabilities offered by Skype Online will be integrated in Microsoft Teams.

Note: Microsoft still plans to support the on- premises version of Skype for Business and have announced the scheduled release of the next version in 2018.

Today, Microsoft Teams already supports VOIP calls and team conferencing. It does not yet have PSTN capability, but is expected to be supported sometime early 2018.

 The guidance from Microsoft at this time appears to be that organizations need to explore “Teams” for their conferencing and Instant messaging needs. Organizations using Skype Online need to start making plans for transitioning to Microsoft Teams

The change appears to be primarily for two reasons

  1. It aligns with Microsoft’s vision of having a single consolidated client application (in this case Microsoft Teams) that handles every productivity need (IM, Files, Conferencing, Calls etc.) of the end user.
  2. The Skype for Business client leverages legacy code – holdover from the Lync era. The move is designed allows Microsoft to leverage the latest technologies available and provides better scalability and performance.