One year after the launch of Microsoft 365, James Goulding met up with Angela Evans, head of the Microsoft 365 business group in the UK, and Alex Roth, CIO of Landsec, to discuss how the platform can help organisations create a more creative, innovative workplace
According to The Modern Workplace, a new report by Ingram Micro and Microsoft, more than one third (38%) of workers in small and medium-sized businesses think their employer isn’t investing enough in technology that could make their business more efficient.
As a result, employees are taking things into their own hands and inadvertently putting network and data security at risk; 85% of under 35s admit to using cloud and workplace collaboration tools that aren’t supported by the IT department, including file shares, file hosting, video-conferencing, IM and ‘to do’ boards.
It is not just in their choice of technology that businesses are failing to meet the expectations of employees. Ingram Micro’s report shows that employers are not keeping up with demand for flexible working practices either, with 76% of SME workers expressing a desire for flexible working hours and 52% wanting the option to work from home.
None of this will come as much of a surprise to Angela Evans, who, as head of the Microsoft 365 business group in the UK, thinks deeply about the modern workplace and how Microsoft software, cloud solutions and Surface devices can help organisations work more effectively, collaboratively and creatively.
She says there are three main trends shaping collaboration in the modern workplace: greater diversity, with team members drawn from five generations of workers; greater geographic disparity, with members of the same team often located in different towns or even time-zones; and a multiplication of teams, due to flatter organisational structures, which themselves are a product of the need for faster decision-making.
“Not only do you have to work with a different set of people located in a number of places, you’ve got to work with more teams than you did before. Today, people work with twice as many teams as they did five years ago. The big question is how do you break down the boundaries in teamwork and do it in such a way that you engage employees too,” she said.
One answer, says Evans, is to migrate to Microsoft 365, which Microsoft introduced in July last year.
“Microsoft 365 takes the productivity and collaboration tools of Office 365, the security and device management features of Windows 10, the mobility aspects of our enterprise mobility and security solutions and puts them all together on one platform that enables people to work together in a better way,” she said.
Evans argues that with this new platform Microsoft enables organisations to work more creatively, to innovate more quickly, to stay ahead of the competition and to better meet the needs of customers.
“We do that in a number of ways,” she said. “AI and machine learning within the Microsoft 365 platform are all the time learning the things you do and the things the people you work with do. It surfaces up recommendations on files you may need to look at; it helps you distinguish focused emails from ones that can wait; and, on the creative side, it offers suggestions to turn an OK PowerPoint presentation into an amazing one. Put in some simple pictures, some bullet points, press a button and it comes back with creative ideas on how to make a presentation more engaging. The other aspect of creativity is inking in the Surface device for those who prefer to write with a pen.
“And we do all of that in a mobile world. It doesn’t matter which device you are on – you can move from your phone to your Surface device to a Surface Hub and carry on working as you were. The final pillar of Microsoft 365 is security; we take the approach of built-in security. We look at how we protect the individual, the data and your business’s IP.”
A better way of working
One business that’s successfully using Microsoft 365 and Surface devices to improve its operations is Landsec, one of the UK’s largest property companies, with an extensive London portfolio, mainly consisting of premium office space, and a retail portfolio that includes shopping centres, retail outlets, leisure parks and the like.
CIO Alex Roth told Business Info that Landsec has standardised on Microsoft technology, not only for technical reasons but to provide employees with a better way of working.
“Over the last two years, we have taken the decision to embrace the Microsoft stack from top to bottom – everything from Surface devices all the way through to our current project to move the last of our physical data centres to the Azure cloud. It’s more of a holistic decision than purely a technology or business decision, and it’s intrinsically linked to our aim to give employees a fantastic experience at work,” he said.
Roth added that Landsec’s roll-out of Microsoft technology coincided with its move, in January 2017, from a typical corporate office to an agile workplace with a contemporary, collaborative design.
“Part of the decision to move to our new office was to remove the barrier that technology can be to employee satisfaction, wellbeing and collaboration. The new 60,000 foot floorplate has been completely designed around agile working. Virtually no one, unless there is a pressing business reason, such as confidentiality, has a fixed desk; we have multiple seating styles, from a bench arrangement to a diner-type booth with soft seating that you can sit around as a team. There are a lot of refreshment and snack points and, most of all, there’s space to walk around the office,” he said.
To support more agile working, Landsec has updated its technology, from fairly chunky laptops (and chargers) to more portable, versatile devices that encourage staff to move around the office.
“A flexible office design is all well and good, but if you are lugging around 5 or 6 kilos of stuff, you are never going to be able to make the most of it. Which is where Microsoft Surface devices come in. They are extremely versatile in how you can use them and are the perfect component to finish off the office; they are light; they are portable; they are powerful,” explained Roth.
These are complemented by other elements from Microsoft’s hardware portfolio (including large screen Surface Hubs) and the ability to move work seamlessly between devices – a capability supported by the third piece of the jigsaw, the cloud.
Moving to the cloud
Landsec’s cloud adoption extends beyond the use of Microsoft 365 and OneDrive, as an enabler of flexible and mobile working, to include the elimination of all physical data centres, a decision that Roth says makes sense for financial and security reasons.
“As an organisation, we produce many terabytes of data. That is a cost consideration. And, with ever increasing security obligations such as GDPR, data privacy, data protection, you realise how much more exposed you are if you have physical data centres and how much more there is for our technology team to look after,” he said.
“I have got some very talented people working for me, but do I have anyone who’s as good as a Microsoft security officer? Probably not, and I’d have to pay a lot to get one. So, why aren’t we utilising the opportunity that the cloud brings to share our security, to benefit from a world class group of people, to break away from the need to plan everything two or three years in advance? Previously, we paid for storage that we might have needed in the future but weren’t using at the time. Cloud offers us a just-in-time model and almost a pay-as-you-go model, which suits us.”
Landsec has been in its new offices for almost two years and has already noticed significant benefits from its use of the Microsoft eco-system.
“We’ve got metrics around customer satisfaction and the fact that over a quarter of our staff say they are able to collaborate better, but my favourite statistic is that we’ve had well over a 60% reduction in the amount of printing we do since moving to a more open plan office and using Surfaces and Hubs. People are comfortable with soft copies and relieved they don’t have to cart paper around with them.
“Because we’ve got OneDrive, it is that much easier to access the files we want on the fly. We don’t need to circulate a paper pack in advance of a meeting; everyone can access a file; you can share it on the hub; you can write on it with the Surface pen; you can duplicate it without the faff of paper.”
For Roth, it is this easy integration and seamless operation across the workplace that sets Microsoft apart from other solutions providers.
“Had we looked at things purely from the perspective of the productivity suite, Office 365, which was the previous extent of our ‘Microsoft-ification’, there are quite a few competitors we could have gone with. However, if you have a more holistic, longer term goal to move to a fully integrated office and take into account not just the physical devices but also the applications and the fact that we had half an eye on going 100% cloud, we could only have picked Microsoft,” he said.