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Everything You've Wanted to Know About Microsoft Office 365 But Have Been Afraid to Ask

If you've used a computer any time in the last 30 years, you're familiar with Microsoft Office and its iconic tetrad of applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

You buy them and they live on your computer forever. Or, back in the day, you'd buy a computer and Office would come as part of the package.

That was a different time. Today we're living an era of cloud computing and remote work, and Microsoft adapted to that, releasing Microsoft Office 365 in 2011.

What is Office 365?

Let's start with what Office 365 isn't. It's not Microsoft Office. For one thing, it doesn't live on your personal computer.

Office 365 is a cloud-based subscription service and Microsoft 365 Enterprise (the edition for organizations) functions as a complete, intelligent solution for businesses. It marries the best features of Office 365, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.

In other words, it's more than applications. It also offers storage in the cloud, a platform for communication and shared work and tools to streamline work. These products and features are designed to help your organization work collaboratively; these are the tools your company needs to communicate with remote workers, manage team activities, design workflows and manage analytics are available under a single sign-in on all of everyone's devices.

microsoft-puzzlePhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash

There are applications of course, and far more than the four commonly associated with Office. Microsoft 365 Enterprise offers an ever-evolving array of products and features. (Depending on the package you choose, 365 currently offers 12-14 applications.)

This can seem a little daunting at first; for one thing, Microsoft is always updating its offerings and for another, the products and services often overlap. For example, Yammer, Skype and Teams are all different apps, but they all offer some similar functions.

The reason for that overlap is so businesses can choose the products that work best for their specific use cases — that's one of the reasons why it's important that you understand Office 365 main products and features.

Understanding Office 365 can also benefit your organization's budget— you may be using applications that duplicate some of Office 365's functions because you didn't know you'd already invested in one of these features.

After all, why invest in a work chat program when you've already bought Microsoft Teams, right?

Understanding Your Apps

This blog post isn't going to outline every product included in every package of Office 365 — you already know Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Microsoft is always adding apps. What it will do is take a look at some of the most useful apps included with various packages of Office 365 Enterprise; apps you might not know you had. Or if you did, you may not know how to use them.

Briefly, those apps are:

  • SharePoint
  • Office Planner
  • Yammer
  • Flow
  • Power BI
  • Teams

Let's get into it.

What is SharePoint?

SharePoint isn't an app like Excel. You don't download it onto your computer from the cloud; rather, it's a cloud-based platform you connect to with your browser that allows you to work collaboratively on various projects with your colleagues.

Think of it as one big desk that everyone can work together on — you can use that desk to work on a document at the same time, or to build a project together. You can share a file with a colleague on SharePoint or create a workflow. It's similar to other collaborative work platforms – the free example here is Google Drive — but it's backed by Microsoft and you can do a lot more with it. You can build a website, for example, create a workflow, automate tasks, store documents or build whatever solutions your organization needs. It's a very flexible solution and it's widely used — according to Microsoft research, more than 250,000 organizations and over 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies are now using SharePoint.

What is Office Planner?

Office Planner is exactly what it sounds like — it's an application that helps you plan and manage office tasks. If you've used Trello, it's a similar idea — you can create plans, buckets (those are groupings of tasks) and tasks. Groups of people are assigned to each plan and tasks are assigned to those group members. The manager can keep an eye on task progress using a dashboard called Planner Hub, which shows how everyone is doing on their assigned tasks. If someone is overloaded, the manager can easily reassign one of their tasks.

What is Yammer?

Yammer is a social network for your organization, that lives on the 365 platform. Rather than engaging in one long email chain, 2004-style, or — even worse — taking a company-related conversation public on an external social network like Twitter or Facebook, Yammer lets your employees chat internally.

Those interactions can be work-related or social and they don't need to be internal-only. Yammer can also be set up so that contractors or vendors can be involved in some interactions.

What is Microsoft Flow?

Flow is process automation software. What does that mean? It means you can create workflows that automate certain actions, without having to involve a developer to design that process for you. For example, you can set up a workflow that sends you a text when someone is tweeting about your organization. Or you can automatically copy files from OneDrive to SharePoint. Or you can approve requests from your phone.

It's an interface that allows you to connect two or more cloud services to create an automated chain of events. It's able to connect more than 200 services, including external sources like Facebook or Dropbox. You can use Flow to automate tasks you do all the time, so you and your team don't have to do them manually. If setting up a workflow sounds intimidating, Flow also comes with templates for commonly automated tasks.

What is Power BI?

Power BI is a business intelligence application. It takes data from any of a number of sources and services — like Flow, it can connect to Microsoft applications and external applications like SalesForce — and presents those numbers in a dashboard.

You can personalize those dashboards so you see the data that's most important to you, Power BI can notify you when the data changes and you can also use Power BI to create reports.

It also doesn't require a developer; the dashboards are created using a drag and drop interface. This service makes data management easy for you and everyone in your organization.

microsoft-laptopPhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash

What is Microsoft Teams?

Teams is a chat-based online work environment. It combines Yammer's chat capabilities with another Microsoft application: Skype for Business.

If you've worked with Slack, Teams is similar. You can chat with remote workers, share documents and work on projects together. And what's a chat-based workplace without GIFs and emoji, right? 😀

Teams makes it possible for you to manage multiple teams and for you jump on a quick phone or video call directly from the app.

With Office 365, collaboration is key

According to a report from FlexJobs, 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce works from home at least half of the time. That number is likely to rise. Platforms like SharePoint and applications like Yammer and Teams make it easy to collaborate with employees that aren't on-premise and provide an effective way to store conversations, data, and documents in the cloud.

At this point; however, you may be asking — why not use freeware for some of these thing? There are plenty of free applications that accomplish many of the same things as the apps in Office 365. It's true - this blog post mentioned some.

If so, why are you allowing yourself to be bound by the limitations of freeware? You've already got Microsoft-backed applications that accomplish the same tasks.

And now, you know what those apps are and how to get started.


Interested in learning more? We are one of only a few Microsoft gold partners in Wisconsin, focusing on — among other specialties — cloud and application integration. Contact us today. Our experts can show you how to make the most of your investment in Office 365.

Juan Godina

About Author Juan Godina

Juan is a former customer solutions manager with Omni. He joined the company to promote the firm’s advanced technical capabilities. His knowledge of the complexities and regulations that are involved in data privacy and security requirements, customer sensitivity, privacy laws including HIPAA & HIPAA HiTech, is what gave him valuable insight into how emerging technologies, such as blockchain can be applied. He holds a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and Finance from the University of Phoenix and volunteers in several organizations around the state.


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