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Microsoft 365 vs. Best of Breed Tools? Try Microsoft 365 Plus Best of Breed Tools

5 minute read
Dan Hawtrey avatar
Let's end the debate about monolithic digital workplace platform like Microsoft 365 vs. best of breed tools and focus instead on the employee experience.

When organizations bring a digital workplace behemoth like Microsoft 365 into their workplace, it can provoke some interesting discussions. Its introduction is often the first time a business considers taking a more coordinated view of its digital workplace. Suddenly the conversation turns to the tools and apps in use and how they all fit together from the employee's perspective.

After surveying the tools in use, often times the conclusion is reached that some tools work better because of the way they integrate and create a more cohesive digital workplace experience. But where does this leave the best of breed tools that are inevitably found in pockets throughout the company? 

I'd argue that integrating best of breed tools into the Microsoft 365 ecosystem doesn't have to come at the expense of a coherent digital workplace or a strong digital employee experience. Let me explain.

How Do Your Apps and Tools Fit Together?

IT functions traditionally took a more coordinated approach to individual parts of the digital workplace, but not overall. For example, core platforms such as ERP systems and tools that come under the remit of the IT function were more likely to work in an integrated way. But the current focus of the digital workplace suggests a wider scope, bringing in tools owned by other functions such as HR and Marketing.

It’s rare for an organization's entire portfolio of tools to work seamlessly together through a unified experience. The situation is unavoidable, particularly in organizations that grow through acquisition and merger, but also due to the decentralized governance over tools that is the default in large organizations with multiple stakeholders.

The new focus on creating coherence in what might appear to be a chaotic landscape means considering the views of more stakeholders when choosing tools. HR, marketing, communications and facilities all need to be part of the conversation. The same principle applies to different divisions and lines of business.

When an organization has a digital workplace strategy in place that influences or even dictates the tools in scope, it puts more emphasis on employee experience and user experience than IT might have done previously. IT functions don't ignore these factors, but they're sometimes more willing to make compromises and introduce workarounds which fail from an employee experience point of view but satisfy a business requirement.

Related Article: The Essential Glue for Your Digital Workplace

Microsoft 365 Tools vs. Best of Breed Tools?

The introduction of Microsoft 365 feeds into a lot of these debates. Inevitably IT wants to use Microsoft 365 tools as much as possible. On many levels this makes good sense. But such a push can create tensions with pockets of the business who want to stick with some of their “best of breed” tools already in use. One source for this tension can be the use of Zoom over Microsoft Teams, but it can extend to other systems.

Search and findability, the ability to communicate and collaborate with everyone in the company, risk and security and, yes, costs are just a few of the good reasons to use Microsoft 365 tools rather than other solutions. But if the choice between best of breed and monolith is framed around employee experience and creating an integrated experience, that's a red herring.

Best of Breed and Microsoft 365 Work Together

In practice, most organizations don’t end up following a pure-play Microsoft 365 digital workplace. This happens because some best of breed tools are indispensable or are too embedded in the business to replace or the equivalent capability isn't in the Microsoft stack. Candidates such as Salesforce, ServiceNow, Jira, Confluence, Condeco, Workday and various other HR and learning systems fall under the latter category.

Learning Opportunities

More importantly, IT teams don’t necessarily have to replace best of breed tools with Microsoft equivalents because of the increasing ease with which you can integrate non-Microsoft tools into the Microsoft ecosystem in ways that deliver value and enhance the digital employee experience.

"Integration" can come in many different guises in the digital workplace:

  • Enterprise or integrated search.
  • Workflow with all the right connectors.
  • Custom data flows and integrations.
  • Dashboards.
  • Embeds.
  • A unified digital employee experience through a front door to the wider set of applications, increasingly a role of modern intranets.
  • Single sign-on (always an essential ingredient).

For example, at my firm, Content Formula, we installed a leading intranet product based on Microsoft 365. The intranet has a powerful toolbar that provides easy access into different applications and sites, it allows for the display of data and content, and gives users the ability to complete transactions, including from non-Microsoft applications. It also follows you from application to application, providing a consistent navigation bar into the entire digital workplace.

Where it has been introduced it’s been a “wow” moment: people suddenly have access to a unified digital workplace experience. Where other products are delivering similar capabilities or where we are introducing similar customized approaches, they've had a positive impact. But the inclusion of what is on the toolbar is largely Microsoft agnostic.

Related Article: A Business Methodology for Microsoft 365

Putting the Employee in the Digital Employee Experience

There are many good reasons to exploit the tools within Microsoft 365. In our view it’s easily the best choice for an effective digital workplace. Anyone ignoring Microsoft Teams in favor of tools like Slack or Zoom is almost certainly missing a stack of opportunities, not to mention doubling up on costs.

But some non-Microsoft tools are simply too valuable, too popular or too well-used to ignore. They are used and liked by employees — so if you’re creating a digital employee experience, they are hard to exclude. The point is that plans for best of breed tools don’t need to run counter to your Microsoft 365-powered digital workplace or an integrated, cohesive experience. It is all about creating what drives value for your employees.

About the author

Dan Hawtrey

Dan Hawtrey is the Managing Director of Content Formula, a consultancy that designs and builds intranets and digital workplace tools on the SharePoint and Office 365 platforms. He has written extensively on most topics related to the digital workplace for many years on the Content Formula blog.

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