In a rapidly evolving technological landscape, there is increasing demand for access to digital content wherever and whenever it is required. For design and building projects the need is particularly pronounced to increase efficiency, improve workflow between different teams, enhance data integrity and reducing commercial risk.
Embracing Cloud services offers the opportunity for improved scalability, flexibility, reliability and collaboration when compared to on-premise solutions to support digital transformation goals, in particular for distributed teams and organisations.
Microsoft, whose software is front and centre in many organisations’ IT systems, has itself been transformed into a “cloud-first” company. In line with this strategy Microsoft’s focus has certainly shifted away from Windows to delivering cloud versions of its products primarily through two platforms – Azure for Windows and Office 365 for its productivity suite. Office 365 includes two key online server products – Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. Because Exchange is viewed through Outlook the shift online hasn’t been obvious to the end user. SharePoint however has been transformed in its move online to become a true member of the Office productivity suite. On-premise SharePoint has traditionally had two roles: organisational level Intranets and Document Management.
Whilst a powerful solution to service both roles, the tools provided out of the box required a substantial investment in both initial configuration and programming and the ongoing support and development costs. This meant that SharePoint deployments had been usually only found at larger enterprises. Whilst SharePoint had some integrations (with Outlook task lists for example) it usually stood alone as a management information system. However, with the move to Office 365, SharePoint has been transformed. The user interface has been upgraded with what is called the ‘Modern Experience’. The interface now blends seamlessly, having the same look and feel as Outlook Web Access and the other tools in the suite. Communication Sites (essentially intranet pages) can be built from an appealing set of templates and easily customised and filled with content through easy to use web-based tools. Project sites used for document management can also be built from appealing templates and edited with web-based tools. They are also native storage locations for documents created in Word, Excel, etc. and the document libraries are accessible through OneDrive. Office documents stored here can be collaboratively edited
Through Microsoft’s Graph API, the information stored within a project site can be accessed and interrogated. Combined with other tools like OneNote and Planner, a SharePoint site becomes the logical home for all of a project’s information. And with information integration and amalgamation services like Search and Delve all of an organisation’s information can be brought together.
Finally, with SharePoint Online, files have moved to the cloud in the same way that email did with Exchange Online so files can be shared, accessed and edited wherever and whenever.
With so much to gain and powerful tools now easily accessible through SharePoint there has never been a better time for the design and construction industry to embrace the full extent of Microsoft technology to support companies digital transformation journey.