Confirmation that Office 365 Groups occupy an important position in the overall fabric of the service came in an Ignite session that laid out a roadmap featuring new mobile clients, integrations with Delve and Dynamics CRM, and better management capabilities through PowerShell.
That doesn’t sound a lot, but when you reflect on the growing collection of components brought together under the Groups banner, it’s clear that Microsoft view these objects as a kind of unifying influence for many different parts of Office 365. In short, becoming a member of a group is a one-stop ticket to information available in a:
- SharePoint (or OneDrive for Business) document library
- OneNote notebook
- Exchange shared mailbox and calendar
- Skype for Business meetings
- Dynamic CRM
With more. Including a link to Yammer, to come and accessed through a browser, soon-to-come mobile clients for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, and Outlook 2016. My own experience with the Outlook 2016 integration is very usable and exposes the collaborative nature of groups.
Add the ability of Delve to surface information about group activities and membership and it’s quite a package for Office 365 business tenants.
On the downside for some, it’s also clear from both yesterday’s keynote and today’s roadmap session that Microsoft views the ability of users to create new groups as a critical way to break down information silos that might exist within an organization. It’s true that empowering users to set up their own groups is a nice way to facilitate better collaboration and sharing, but those of us who have been around a while reflect on a previous journey along this path with Exchange public folders and how well unplanned and unmanaged proliferation turned out with that mode of collaboration.
But Microsoft is introducing a naming policy for Office 365 groups that leverages the policy that controls user-created Exchange distribution groups. This will ensure that the names users give to groups follow a standard. In addition, the currently weak support for PowerShell is going to be enhanced with the introduction of a new set of cmdlets to manage the objects. Interestingly, the name given to the cmdlets is *–UnifiedGroup, which is another strong indication of how Microsoft views groups as a unifying influence across Office 365.
Lots of good stuff is showing up in Groups, but they are still limited to Office 365. And the reason why is becoming even more obvious as no one but Microsoft can construct and manage the complex web of connections contained in the fabric used by Groups.
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