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Microsoft 365: How to quickly create an IT modernization strategy for your remote team

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With the global shift to distributed work in 2020, many companies migrated to Microsoft 365 without a formal modernization plan. Get caught up with this quick-start IT modernization strategy guide!

In a survey conducted for our new benchmark report, State of Microsoft 365: Migration, Modernization, and Security in 2021, we found that 92.8% of IT professionals pushed prior modernization plans ahead of schedule in 2020 by a matter of days, weeks, or months due to COVID-19.

The survey also revealed that as of February 2021, 43.2% of organizations who didn’t have a plan to “modernize” pre-COVID now have a plan to become more modern.

For the report, we interviewed Microsoft MVP and consultant Jasper Oosterveld about IT modernization trends in the last year. Before COVID, he said, “a lot of companies were in transition or planning to move to the modern workplace, but there was less urgency behind it. It was more like a nice-to-have. The pandemic definitely put more urgency behind it.”

So, what’s the fastest way to “become modern” and leverage all of the features and capabilities of Microsoft 365 for your remote team? In this post, we’ll highlight the key elements of an IT modernization strategy for fast and efficient implementation.

How to create an IT modernization strategy for your remote team:

  1. In Microsoft 365, IT modernization means taking your site structure from top-down to flat

    New Microsoft experiences like Teams and Microsoft 365 Groups can only be attached to top-level sites. To fully leverage the capabilities of Microsoft 365, your site structure needs to go from top-down to flat.

  2. In Microsoft 365, IT modernization involves empowering users with self-service functionality

    In a distributed workplace, an IT-led provisioning model is virtually impossible to manage at scale. A successful IT modernization strategy should incorporate self-service to minimize friction.

  3. In Microsoft 365, IT modernization requires a transition from technology-driven to intent-driven

    To properly manage and secure your integrated Microsoft 365 environment, you need to shift from a technology-driven to an intent-driven approach when adopting Microsoft’s modern workplace.

  4. In Microsoft 365, IT modernization incorporates cross-product governance

    Microsoft 365 is intended for cross-product governance. As the cross-application membership service, Microsoft 365 Groups plays a crucial role when it comes to governing collaboration.


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In Microsoft 365, IT modernization means taking your site structure from top-down to flat

The powerful features that come with Microsoft’s modern workplace are made to work with one site at the top level. In fact, new Microsoft experiences like Teams and Microsoft 365 Groups can only be attached to top-level sites.

When we asked members of the IT industry what pushed them to make the move to “modern”, the top motivator by far (44.2%) was the ability to deploy Teams/connect to existing SharePoint team sites.

Illustrated graph showing that 44.2% of survey respondents named the ability to deployTeams/connect to existing SharePoint teams sites as their top motivator to make the move to "modern".

Image source: State of Microsoft 365: Migration, Modernization, and Security in 2021

So if you want to fully leverage the capabilities of Microsoft 365 by deploying Teams and integrating it with your existing SharePoint content, your site structure needs to go from a top-down environment (sites and subsites) to one that is flat (no subsites).

With a top-down structure, known as nested architecture, you create a site beneath a site. This results in a hierarchical system of site collections and subsites with inherited navigation, permissions, and site designs. For example, you may have a site called Marketing and below that a Content team subsite, and below that is Design. But what happens if the Content team gets joined with Product Marketing? Because it inherited everything from the top-level Marketing site, you can’t just pick up Content and move it somewhere else.

A flat topology, in comparison, is far more fluid and flexible. With Microsoft’s modern infrastructure, every site you create is essentially its own site collection. All sites sit next to one another as top-level sites—no more subsites—so that your physical structure is flat.

For IT teams, there are several benefits to creating a flat structure:

  • Increased flexibility to adapt to organizational change
  • Simplified site management
  • Simplified permissions management

For users, there are important benefits as well:

  • Flat environments enable users to better access the full suite of Microsoft 365 apps and services (not just SharePoint), so they can collaborate, create, and innovate across integrated products and tools.

Transitioning to flat topology should be a key part of your IT modernization strategy. Not only does it enhance the way users work, it also creates a flexible infrastructure that can adapt to the future—whatever it may bring.


In Microsoft 365, IT modernization involves empowering users with self-service functionality

A successful IT modernization strategy should also incorporate self-service. In a sense, self-service is Microsoft’s modern workplace because self-service functionality is exactly what makes cloud-based collaboration in Microsoft 365 so flexible, efficient, and powerful.

In a distributed workplace, an IT-led provisioning model—where users depend on IT to approve the creation of each new group or team—is virtually impossible to manage at scale. Instead, IT teams should keep self-service features enabled to minimize friction while providing flexibility to users whenever possible.

When it comes to Microsoft Teams, it can be tempting to hold onto the controls. But you need to shift your thinking for a successful IT modernization strategy. Instead, keep self-service features enabled in Teams (and Microsoft 365 at large) to ensure security and drive productivity—not just for the end-users that IT services, but for your IT team as well.

With Microsoft Teams, self-service means letting end-users:

  • Provision their own teams
  • Use external sharing features
  • Authorize guest access as needed

Our State of Microsoft 365 report survey on IT modernization captured insights into how IT teams are increasingly empowering end users. One question asked whether the current-self service functionality that IT teams have enabled in their Microsoft 365 environment ultimately saves time and costs on the part of IT. Significantly, the vast majority (84.1%) said yes.

Illustrated graph showing that 84.1% of survey respondents think enabling self-service functionality functionality in Microsoft 365 has ultimately saved IT time and money.

Image source: State of Microsoft 365: Migration, Modernization, and Security in 2021


In Microsoft 365, IT modernization requires a transition from technology-driven to intent-driven

To successfully adopt Microsoft’s modern workplace, you also need to shift from a technology-driven to an intent-driven approach. The shift is necessary to understand how to properly manage and secure your Microsoft 365 environment when everything is seamlessly integrated.

In terms of your IT modernization strategy, “intent-driven” means focusing less on individual products like SharePoint and OneDrive, and more on the collaboration goals of your distributed employees.

To fully leverage Microsoft 365, as Benjamin Niaulin explained in a ShareGate webinar, “we’re trying to figure out the intent of that team: What are they trying to achieve? What is their goal? What are the products they can use to try to achieve that goal?”

People are looking to automate or reinvent their processes now that they’re no longer working in person together.

Benjamin Niaulin (@bniaulin), Microsoft MVP, State of Microsoft 365 report Tweet this

There are three types of collaboration in Microsoft 365. By classifying everything in Microsoft 365 under these three categories, you can focus more on intent and moving more seamlessly between products.

  • Me: Everything meant for you as an individual (OneDrive for Business, your mailbox in Outlook, your to-do tasks)
  • We: What you need as a project-based team (SharePoint team sites, Planner task management, Microsoft Teams for chat, Yammer in some situations, PowerBI)
  • Us: Grouped by an organization, a division, or a department (typically more Yammer and communication sites)

In Microsoft 365, IT modernization incorporates cross-product governance

Here at ShareGate, we believe that IT modernization also requires collaborative, cross-product governance. Governing through Microsoft 365 Groups is a great strategy because it enables you to protect all the work a remote team is doing—not just the work done in SharePoint.

Microsoft 365 is intended for cross-product governance, which is why you see fewer policies, configurations, and settings for individual products and more cross-product management across the platform.

In Microsoft 365, says Benjamin Niaulin, “we’re no longer protecting, managing, or configuring individual products—now we have to think about setting rules that apply to multiple products at once.”

Governance in Microsoft 365 Groups

Think of it this way: Microsoft 365 Groups are really just a new security group.

Microsoft 365 Groups is the cross-application membership service in Microsoft 365. Adding members to a group automatically grants the needed permissions to all assets provided by the group. Microsoft Teams, for example, uses Microsoft 365 Groups to manage membership.

Microsoft 365 Groups is your portal to manage your modern environment for the long-haul—it includes a variety of governance controls such as an expiration policy, naming conventions, and a blocked words policy to help you manage groups in your organization. Because groups control membership and access to this suite of resources, managing groups is a key part of governing collaboration across products in Microsoft 365.


Read our full report and start creating your IT modernization strategy

The widespread adoption of remote, distributed, and hybrid ways of work has made the transformation to Microsoft’s “modern workplace” imperative for IT teams. An efficient IT modernization strategy will get you there.

Sign up to read the full report, State of Microsoft 365: Migration, Modernization, and Security in 2021, to get data-backed insights and expert recommendations to better leverage Microsoft for your business. The report also outlines what makes for a successful, scalable, and secure distributed workplace—now and for the future.

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