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Using Office 365 for EDRMS


Since Microsoft launched Office 365 in June 2011, the service – which provides cloud-based versions of Exchange, Lync and SharePoint 2013 – has grown to around 6 million subscribers, with revenue doubling year-on-year. Part of the reason for this phenomenal growth is the ease of use of the Office 365 services, and the significant cost savings that it can yield for most businesses if used as a corporate Document Store.

As a result, one of the questions that customers often ask us is: What are the Benefits and Considerations for using Office 365 as our Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS)? To answer this question, we need to consider a variety of areas.

Cross Platform Support: Microsoft Office documents stored on Office 365 can be viewed – and edited – from within supported browsers using Office Online - without the need to install Office on the local client machine. This lightweight version of Office runs inside your Web Browser, meaning that content can be both viewed and edited across a wide (and indeed surprising!) range of browser platforms. For example the screenshot below shows a Word Document held on Office 365 being edited from within a Safari browser running on a Mac!

Mobile Device Support: Microsoft launched its Tablet device, the Surface, in 2012. Naturally, this integrates tightly with Office 365, allowing documents held in Office 365 to be viewed and edited in native Microsoft applications. However, Microsoft surprised many in March 2014 when they released Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Lync) as Apps for the Apple iPad. These Apps are available to users on a number of Office 365 subscriptions, allowing the direct creation, viewing and editing of Office 365 content directly from the most commonly used Tablet device on the market today. This incredibly simple move by Microsoft was also incredibly powerful – cross platform barriers are now at last being smashed, and users who love using their iPad for work are truly able to do so using Office 365 as an EDRMS - as can be seen in the iPad screenshot below!

Functionality: Office 365 provides many – although not all - of the features you would expect from an EDRMS; indeed if you are familiar with the 'on-premise' version of SharePoint 2013, the features are largely identical. Some of the EDRMS features provided by Office 365 include:

  • Team Sites – logical areas that users can use to share and consume information related to particular business areas.

  • Document Libraries – specific areas within Team Sites that can be used to hold documents and previous version of those documents.

  • Version Control – allows document versions to be automatically created as users make changes to documents in the course of business. Previous versions of documents can be viewed, and indeed restored if necessary.

  • Permissions Management – allows varying levels of Access Control to be specified and applied to documents, ensuring that only appropriately authorized users within your organization are able to view and edit content held on Office 365, regardless of the route that they choose to access that content.

  • Records Management – Office 365 supports the fundamentals of Records Management, and indeed provides two flavours of Records Management. Organisations can choose to use either In-Place Records Management (where records are created ‘in-situ’ in the Document Libraries), or Records Centre-based Records Management (where documents are sent to a dedicated Records Centre which allows centralised management of Records by the Records Managers). Which of these two approaches is most suitable will depend on the requirements of the organization in question.

Simplified Infrastructure: one of the most attractive features of Office 365 is that SharePoint 2013 – and all the content stored in it - is entirely hosted in Microsoft Data Centres. This means that customers no longer need to worry about sizing, building and maintaining server hardware, or indeed worrying about upgrade or backup strategy – this is all taken care of by Microsoft! This is appealing for all businesses, but particularly so for small businesses who often don't have the resources to manage server applications 'on-premise'.

Licensing Costs: rather than the traditional model of licensing SharePoint, Exchange and Microsoft Office as separate products, Office 365 allows you to choose from a range of subscription models, which - depending on the subscription model you choose – will include the license costs for both the server-side software (e.g., SharePoint & Exchange) and the client side software (e.g., Word & Outlook). Client-side software can be installed on up to 5 devices per user. A variety of subscription models are available, suitable for small businesses right up to large-scale enterprises. Details of all of the Office 365 subscription models can be found here -> http://office.microsoft.com/en-GB/business/compare-all-office-365-for-business-plans-FX104051403.aspx; depending on your usage profile, these subscription models can lead to significant annual savings when using Office 365 as your EDRMS.

Limitations of Office 365: Although Office 365 is a particularly powerful platform, it is important to be aware that it does not natively provide support for some EDRMS functions that might ordinarily be expected. These include:

  • Two-way Outlook Integration – Office 365 does not allow users to 'drag and drop' emails and other attachments from their Outlook Inbox into Office 365 libraries.

  • Classification Support – Office 365 does not support formal Records Classification as mandated by International standards such as MoReq2010, DoD5015.2 and VERS.

  • Content Export – Office 365 does not support formal export of Content – e.g., in response to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

  • Physical Record Support – Office 365 does not support management of Physical Records (e.g., Boxes, Files etc). It also does not support the generation of barcodes for those Physical Records.

  • Library and Folder Level Disposal / Sentencing – Office 365 supports disposal of Records at the Site Level, and at the Record level; however, it is not possible to natively dispose of Libraries and / or Folders as part of normal Disposal / Sentencing processes.

Due to these limitations, a number of 3rd Party Software Vendors have developed applications which allow these functions to be effectively enabled on Office 365, including – among others - Colligo, Repstor, harmon.ie, GimmalSoft, Automated Intelligence and RecordPoint.

To summarise: Office 365 is an excellent, cost-effective Document Management repository for small organisations with basic EDRMS requirements. Office 365 does fall short in some of the more complex EDRMS requirements required by larger organisations; however, there is an ecosystem of Third Party Products in the market which extend Office 365 so that it can meet the needs of even the most demanding Records Manager!

If you would like to know more about Office 365, or how it can be used within your organisation, Otagem would be delighted to help. Feel free to get in contact via our Contact Us page!

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