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More than just Surface appeal

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 Land Securities, to discuss how the platform can help organisations create a more creative, innovative workplace

Alex Roth
Alex Roth

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 told Technology Reseller that there are three main trends that are shaping collaboration in the modern workplace:

1 The diversity of teams – “There are now five generations working together in teams, and each comes with a different attitude towards technology and different preferences around collaboration, so how do you help them come together and perform as a team?”

Working together in different time zones
Working together in different time zones

2 The location of teams – “Teams don’t always sit next to each other; they might not be in the same town or even in the same time-zone and that, too, brings challenges in how you make connections”; and

3 Flatter organisations – “Because of the need for faster decision-making, structures are getting much flatter and, with that, come more teams.”

Evans added: “Not only do you have to work with a different set of people located in a number of places, you’ve also got to work with more teams than you did before. Today, people work with twice as many teams as they did five years ago. How do you break down the boundaries in teamwork and do it in such a way that you engage employees too?”

The answer, suggests Evans, is to migrate to Microsoft 365, which Microsoft introduced 12 months ago.

“In July 2017, we launched Microsoft 365, which is our intelligent integrated solution to empower employees to be creative in the business. With that, we have taken the productivity and collaboration tools of Office 365, the security and device management of Windows 10, the mobility aspects of our enterprise mobility and security solutions and put them all together on one platform that enables people to work together,” she said.

Teams do not always sit together
Teams do not always sit together

“We think Microsoft 365 serves four key areas: creativity – how we remove some of the mundane tasks from people and allow them to get their employees to work creatively for the business. When I think of creativity, it’s not just drawing great stuff and artistry; it’s about innovation – How do you innovate quickly?; How do you stay ahead of the competition?; How do you turn the bright ideas that come from your employees into business reality that benefits your customers?.

“We do that in a number of ways, in our devices and with artificial intelligence. The Microsoft 365 platform has AI and machine learning that all the time is learning the things that you do and the things that the people you work with do. It surfaces up recommendations on files you may need to look at; it helps you distinguish focused emails you need to review in your Outlook 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 some creative ideas to produce an engaging presentation. 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, over 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.”

Standardising on Microsoft
One business that’s successfully using Microsoft 365 and Surface devices to improve its operations is Land Securities, one of the UK’s largest property companies, with an extensive London portfolio, mainly consisting of premium office space, and a retail portfolio, which includes shopping centres, retail outlets, leisure parks and the like.

CIO Alex Roth told Technology Reseller that over the last two years, Land Securities has standardised on Microsoft technology, not just for technical reasons but also to provide employees with a better way of working.

“Over the last two years, we have take 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.

Different generations working together
Different generations working together

The roll-out of Microsoft technology coincided with the move, in January 2017, of 450 employees 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 has a fixed desk, unless there is a pressing business reason to have one; 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,” Roth said.

To support more agile working, Land Securities also needed to update its technology, from fairly chunky laptops (and chargers) to something more flexible and versatile that encourages staff to move around the office and engage with colleagues.

“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
Land Securities’ 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 punch far above our weight when it comes to the sheer number of terabytes of data we produce. That is a cost consideration. Also, with ever increasing security obligations – GDPR, data privacy, data protection – you realise how much more exposed you are with physical data centres and how much more there is for our technology team to look after. 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 but weren’t using at the time. Cloud offers us that just-in-time model and almost a pay-as-you-go model, which suits us.”

Paper reduction
Land Securities has only been in its new offices for a little over 18 months, but it 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 one is that we’ve had well over a 60% reduction in the amount of printing we do since the move to a more open plan office and the advent of the Surfaces and the Hubs. People are comfortable with soft copies and relieved they don’t have to cart paper around with them.

“Because we have got OneDrive it is that much easier to access the files you 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 duplicates it without the faff of paper.”

For Roth, it is this easy integration and seamless operation across the workplace that separates Microsoft 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-ifcation’, 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 solution and take into account not only 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.

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