Talk about Teams-work... Get Microsoft's collab-ware set up correctly, right from the start

Quadrotech highlights tips and pitfalls with Office-365-bundled software

Sponsored It seems hard to believe Microsoft Teams hasn’t been around forever. Less than three years old, Teams is finding growing ubiquity – helped, in part, by the fact Microsoft offers its collaborationware as part of various Office 365 bundles and with Office 365 integration.

Office 365 has 56.3 per cent of the SaaS productivity market compared to GSuite’s 24.8 per cent, according to BitGlass. Microsoft, in March 2019, claimed Teams ran in 500,000 organisations.

Given that integration with Office 365, you might expect that installing, migrating and running Teams is simple. Truth is, moving to Teams from an on-premises system, or migrating between Office 365 tenants, isn’t so easy. That’s largely due to the way Microsoft has built Teams.

Teams rests on a collection of Microsoft products. Accessing Teams and sharing content is done via SharePoint and OneDrive. Teams’ Meeting functionality can tap into Exchange Online for backend storage and to manage messages between users in each channel. Outlook can be used to manipulate meetings while there’s an optional extra Workplace Planner that relies on Microsoft Planner – the company’s tool to manage tasks between team members. Meetings are recorded using Microsoft’s video-streaming service Stream, and users can also share to groups on Yammer – Microsoft’s social networking tool for businesses – from the Stream service.

Managing complexity

What this means is that while you’ve got a rich and valuable collaboration environment for users, IT pros supporting Teams must overcome a number of challenges. What challenges exactly? Let’s start with migration. All these component parts make Teams migrations far more difficult than the good old days of moving collaborationware, when you might “just” port over a few mailboxes. There are more data types, and they’re more interconnected.

Another problem is that not everything moves when you migrate Teams instances. “We still don’t have chat histories and things like that,” Mike Weaver, director of enterprise migrations at Office 365 migration and management specialist Quadrotech, explained in the video below.

Youtube Video

The crux of the issue is a lack of mature APIs that IT professionals could otherwise exploit. But it’s not just IT pros in trouble here: independent software vendors (ISVs) are caught out, too. Independent Microsoft consultant Tony Redmond, lead author of Office 365 for IT Pros, told us: “Backup ISVs are totally affected by the lack of APIs. It’s not the case that you can take a backup of a complete Office 365 tenant.”

Another issue is Teams’ reliance on the rest of the Office 365 infrastructure. That means every change you make may have unexpected effects somewhere else. Teams relies on Office 365 groups, which depend upon users' Azure Active Directory accounts. This means admins must consider not just Teams when making changes or migrating accounts between Office 365 tenants; they must also think about how such migrations affect the entire AD infrastructure. Directory migration isn’t just a case of moving accounts around.

This complexity can create unexpected issues when it comes to authentication and account privilege management. Because Teams is an Office 365 product that has one foot in Microsoft’s Azure cloud, admins must include those services in their conditional access rules. When you access Teams 365 you also access SharePoint, so you must be mindful of any access policies you’ve applied to SharePoint. It’s important to make these policies consistent across the dependent services so that users don’t receive unexpected prompts when they try to access features within Teams.

If you are conducting tenant-to-tenant migration, you can’t simply move some SharePoint files into another instance, as you’ll end up with copies of messages and none of the metadata. If that doesn’t seem important, talk to your legal department; it makes compliance records incomplete because you don’t have all the information about who saw and approved a message.

Aside from these problems, there’s also the location of the data to consider. Multi-regional migrations to Teams could create data sovereignty issues.

These migration challenges are also administrative ones. Admins will have to manage ongoing changes as people inevitably join, leave, move between groups, and as roles change. Admins must therefore be prepared to manage Office 365 groups, SharePoint team sites, OneDrive for Business, and Exchange mailboxes to support their Teams infrastructure.

A big hurdle in this is knowing to which person to delegate administrative rights and privileges, and how to scale up your support. Not only is there much to administer but the very job of administration itself comes with its own set of complications, as there are a variety of places to administer the Office 365 infrastructure behind Teams (Quadrotech counts 13 separate portals).

You can create Office 365 groups either in the Office 365 admin web console, the teams Admin Center, or the Teams desktop client. When you’re managing team membership, though, it’s best to use the Teams client and not the Office 365 admin web. You can also administer teams, channels, apps, users, and groups from the command line if you prefer, via PowerShell, and take advantage of its scripting capabilities. The question is, are all the people with administrative privileges following the same procedures?

Get this wrong, and you risk the creep of shadow IT, as users seek alternative systems if, or when, they find themselves unable to join the right teams or easily access the necessary tools. It’ll be difficult to pull groups of people back into Teams once they’re off using something else instead.

Best practices

Fortunately, there are some steps you can follow that will help ease Teams migration and management. Preparation is the watch word, as – to a great extent – you’ll be against the clock. You will want to transfer your data as quickly as possible, so as to avoid source and destination data getting out of sync – something that can cost time and money to resolve.

So what do you do?

Think about how you plan to structure your teams as this can help you manage the inevitable team changes. Mirroring organisational structure is one way to do it, though that could be tricky if you’re migrating, say, one company‘s Teams installation to another as part of something like a merger or acquisition.

A team in Microsoft‘s collaboration suite is a collection of people, content, and tools surrounding different projects. They contain dedicated sections called channels to organize conversations into work streams and topics. With this in mind, you could base your Teams structure on initiatives and projects rather than departments and divisions.

When it comes to moving, document the environment you’re leaving so you know the terrain and its intricacies. Here, it’s a good idea to use reporting tools that can enumerate your Office 365 tenants or on-premises systems to obtain an inventory. This can form the basis of a robust migration plan.

Next, ensure you have properly prepared your online Office 365 environment. That means setting up a verified Office 365 domain and synchronizing your identities from your on-premises AD to Azure’s AD. Then, you must install Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, and prepare them to interact with Teams.

If you are moving to a new Teams site, it’s best to undertake the roll-out on a workload-by-workload basis, starting with a few channels and on-boarding just your early adopters. That allows you to learn from early mistakes and to calibrate your approach should problems arise.

During and after the roll-out, use reporting to understand how people are using the Teams system. Microsoft’s Teams Admin Center will give you information on things like active users and channels. You can go further, however, with third-party tools to build more in-depth reports on things such as mapping email use against Teams use. This could help you track the pace at which Teams is replacing email.

Another key requirement is administration, and here automation can help. The more you can automate tasks such as adding new users and channels, changing permissions, and even reassigning licences, the faster you can respond to users as they embrace Teams. This is where third-party tools can help. Quadrotech’s Office 365 management platform, Nova, which blends reporting and automated management tools to make tasks faster and more consistent, is one to check out.

Microsoft’s Teams is proving popular, and while it’s proving a hit for users, the job of administering and migrating Teams can be difficult for IT pros. The key to cutting through the underlying complexity that lives under the Teams’ surface is planning. Creating a foundational framework with automated agents and tools that keep things on track will enable you to manage your Teams estate as it grows and changes rather than become a hostage to the complexity.

Sponsored by Quadrotech.

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