Moving to the Cloud: The Benefits of Microsoft O365 in the Federal Government

Within the last few years, more Federal IT organizations have faced requests from their leadership to improve cybersecurity, modernize legacy infrastructure, consolidate data centers, utilize shared services, and reduce costs. While there is not a government-wide directive to move to the Cloud, many organizations within the federal government are moving to the Cloud to support their mission and goals.  Moving data and services to the Cloud is one approach. Many organizations are choosing Microsoft O365 as their Cloud software solution for its benefits for end users through simplification and enhanced collaboration, and for service providers in security and costs.  Microsoft O365 offers users Exchange Online email, OneDrive, SharePoint Online, and Skype for Business.

After the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act was signed, federal agencies have been looking more closely at ways to reduce technological barriers facing employees desiring to work offsite. Microsoft O365 applications address many of the issues (i.e. document access or meeting attendance) that prevent staff from working remotely by offering a centralized platform for enhanced communication and collaboration.  By combining email, shared calendars, instant messaging, online conferencing, and access to documents in the cloud, users can find information and collaborate more efficiently than with traditional standalone systems.

Whether in the office or at an alternate work site, as long as users are on an approved device, Microsoft O365 can provide workers using files and tools what they need to complete their work duties. Once organizations have moved to the Cloud, changes in the end-user experience are minimal and only limited training is needed to prepare users for the new capabilities in the Microsoft O365 product suite.

One of the most significant benefits of Microsoft O365 is the ability to co-author documents in real time, which can promote collaboration and increase efficiency regardless of where team members are located. Co-authoring is available for Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote documents shared on OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online and allows multiple people to edit the same document simultaneously. Federated services also allow collaboration among multiple organizations and departments within the Microsoft O365 tenant and external to other organization via OneDrive for Business and SharePoint (provided the policy for the agencies allows cross agencies data sharing).

Federal clients have also found that Microsoft O365 can improve collaboration within their organizations in other ways. For example, with Skype for Business staff can quickly see if a colleague is available to connect via instant message; they can also easily set up a Skype meeting with up to 250 participants and add voice, video, screen sharing, and notes. Skype users can view and track attendee participation or poll participants for feedback on meeting content. Used efficiently these virtual collaboration tools can save time over traditional methods of waiting for an available conference room for connecting and collaborating with people across an organization.

Microsoft O365 provides a major benefit of significant online storage space (1TB) for each user, which not only reduces the complexity of storing and sharing files, it can also provide cost savings by eliminating the financial and resource needs of having to support multiple storage systems.

Since the product license is provided per user, and each user can install Microsoft O365 products on up to five approved computer or mobile devices, there is significant cost savings on procuring licenses. If a user has fully-installed versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote, they can create and edit documents with or without an Internet connection, while in the past a user would have to log into a virtual private network to access their Microsoft Office applications and the IT organization would have to pay for and support multiple licenses for a single individual. Depending on the specific setup the agency has selected, users can connect to email and other Office products via the web through a browser also reducing the need for additional licensing.

Because Microsoft O365 provides an evergreen environment, (the latest software is provided in the background) users always have up-to-date and supported Microsoft applications and their organizations no longer have to wait  years for a new version of Office to be procured. Contacts, shared calendars, and spam and malware protection are also included in O365 and are always up-to-date.  An added benefit for federal clients is that Microsoft’s Government Computing Cloud (GCC) is rated at FedRAMP moderate and was specifically designed to support the federal government.

Services that federal IT organizations have traditionally been responsible for are provided by Microsoft in the Cloud. With fixed infrastructure, outdated applications, software licensing, and upgrades eliminated, IT organizations can save time and money by implementing a Cloud First strategy, and Microsoft O365 is positioned to enable this strategy to become reality.

Has your organization considered moving to the Cloud?   Have you assessed your current IT infrastructure?  What are the costs of operating your current system?  If you have not asked these questions, perhaps now is the time to do so.  With technology changing so quickly, the Cloud offers a way to keep pace with technology and take advantage of the latest it has to offer.

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