Developing a content strategy for Office 365

screenshot-Office365-contentstrategyThe decisions and choices to make when planning your content strategy will be different when moving to online services compared to traditional on-premise content management options

By Sharon Richardson, published 16th October 2014

In recent months, Microsoft has made a number of announcements and introduced new features to the Office 365 service. Some of the features are differences to the way content is managed compared to the traditional on-premise server range of Windows, Exchange, Lync and SharePoint. Some of the changes include easier integration with other online services such as

The following presentation is a very high-level overview of the differences we are beginning to see between Microsoft on-premise servers and the Microsoft Office 365 online subscription when developing a content strategy, looking at the four most common scenarios:

  • Web-based content management
  • Team-based/Project-based collaboration
  • Topic-based communications
  • Simple file storage

Developing an Office 365 Content Strategy

There have been some key changes to Microsoft’s roadmap for content management over the past 2 years, mostly in response to market trends:

  • The acquisition of Yammer shifting the focus on enterprise social features away from SharePoint
  • The dramatic rise in demand for file ‘sync-n-share’ tools, shifting the focus for document-centric solutions away from web sites and back to folder hierarchies
  • The growing demand for mobile working that benefits simpler solutions over traditional enterprise content management features
  • The growing demand for integration between platforms and enterprise applications to deliver ‘end-to-end’ solutions

Over the past decade, the emphasis for all enterprise content management and collaborative working has been focused on utilising SharePoint. With the ‘web site’ as the common base template for building solutions, moving away from email and file shares where documents go to duplicate and disappear.

For centralised services and departmental solutions – intranets, portals, formal document management, forms-based business processes and data-driven web applications – SharePoint, and using a web site as the base template, still remains the dominant choice for solutions built on Microsoft technologies. All the more so with new features being introduced into its sidekick Office such as Office web apps and self-service business intelligence.

For team-based collaborative working, the perspective is changing. And with good reason. Over the past 10 years, I have seen some great intranets, portals and departmental solutions built on SharePoint. I have seen very few successful ‘team site’ deployments. i.e. where a standard template is made available for all teams to create their own sites for local collaborative work, with a view to replacing file shares. The web site features are often woefully under-utilised other than the document library template. For many team-based scenarios, all that is required is a convenient method for sharing and co-authoring documents. SharePoint offers significant improvement over the file share by providing version history, check-in/out, classification, workflow and lifecycle retention. But those features are all part of the document library. The rest of the web site becomes an overhead to maintain.

The new perspective for team-based collaborative working is an old perspective refreshed. The return of the ‘folder’. But it has now been enhanced with the capabilities SharePoint introduced. For Office 365, Microsoft is rolling out a new ‘Groups’ feature that integrates Outlook and OneDrive for Business. (It also integrates with Yammer but it is not essential to have begun using Yammer to utilise Groups.) You can create a Group in Outlook (like the old Exchange public folders) and associate it with a library in OneDrive for Business. That library is a SharePoint Document Library. In essence, you have the Document Library without the team site. The manual overhead of maintaining a web site interface when all you want to do is manage documents has gone. Individuals can now more easily access content for the groups they are a member of because all the document libraries are visible under their personal OneDrive view. (The OneDrive link in the Office 365 suite bar at the top of the page)

Side note: The irony is this shift returns SharePoint to it’s origins. ‘Tahoe’ was originally developed to provide document authoring and versioning (WebDAV) extensions to Exchange public folders. The web site functionality arose from the market shift in 2000 towards portals and ‘e-rooms’

For ‘enterprise social’ features, that includes topic-based communications, Microsoft has been very clear. The future is Yammer. All the social features within SharePoint will be removed over time. For on-premise deployments, what’s included in the version you have deployed will be available for as long as you choose to run and maintain the servers. And Microsoft has committed to at least one more release of SharePoint Server that will include the current social feature set. But there will be no enhancements. But online, those features are being deprecated. Do NOT rely on any social features still available within SharePoint Online. If you want to control availability of features, you have to run your own servers.

The information above is a very brief look at some of the aspects to consider when developing a content strategy using Microsoft technologies for those with an Office 365 subscription. The specifics vary depending on industry needs (such as compliance regulations) and the full environment. i.e. comparing on-premise, online and hybrid deployments. For example, within the UK, public sector agencies must also consider Impact-Level compliance that mandates certain requirements that cannot be met by an Office 365 subscription alone.

Aetio runs workshops and consulting projects to help clients develop their content strategy and align it with technology investments. If you would be interested to find out more, please contact us at or fill out our Contact Form. We are also planning to run some public workshops and online sessions in the near future.