Microsoft's Office 365 has gained considerable traction in the enterprise. And with a constant stream of updates and new features, it can be hard to keep up.

Chris Pyle, CEO of MessageOps, provider of an Office 365 adoption platform and services, expects the way Office 365 apps are being used is going to change this year.

Using Office 365 Effectively

MessageOps is a Microsoft Partner of Record — a Microsoft partner tied or connected to an account when an organization buys certain Microsoft Online services like Dynamics CRM Online or Office 365.

The company serves more than 1.7 million seats of Office 365 globally. On the basis of input from those Office 365 seats, Pyle said it is clear that many enterprises don’t realize exactly what apps they get with Office 365 or how to use them to their potential.

MessageOps gathers insights from requests for training and seminars, blog posts and manuals that are downloaded and shared and MessageOps customers that are re-evaluating Office 365 use. From this data, he predicts the way enterprises are going to use Office 365 is going to change.

Five apps will win the popularity contest, he said:

1. Skype for Business

Many businesses are paying for communication and meeting applications for functions that can be fulfilled by Skype for Business, which is included in most Office 365 plans. In addition, many small-and-medium size businesses (SMB) don’t understand what Skype for Business can do, including options for:

  • Meetings and calls: They can meet with up to 250 people—even if they're not on Skype for Business.
  • Interaction with Office:  You can see your contacts' online statuses, schedule meetings in Outlook, and start conversations from apps like Word and PowerPoint.
  • Security and control:  Conversations are protected by authentication and encryption features.

“In the SMB space, sales and marketing users are beginning to use it to bring expert opinion into the field with them," Pyle said.

“This works by enabling sales people making a pitch, for example, to call experts located in the home office during a sales call so that those experts can bring their opinion to the table during the sales pitch. It’s a very effective addition for the sales department. Larger enterprises have been doing this for years.”

2. Office 365 Groups

Groups for Office 365 is a way to organize a specific project or opportunity requiring input from several people. It provides a single location to share documents, conversations, meetings and notes.

“We are seeing a huge uptake in it for a few reasons. First of all, it’s really easy to manage and set up and administer, it’s not rocket science,” Pyle said.

“People are using Groups to collaborate and innovate using this sometimes in place of SharePoint team sites.”

A SharePoint team site is an internal web site that provides a central storage and collaboration space for documents, information and ideas.

“Groups could eventually end up replacing [SharePoint] team sites because it is easy to use, its functionally is just as good, or even a little bit better and we are seeing a huge increase in the number of people deploying it,” Pyle said.

3. OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business is a place where you can store, sync and share your work files through Office 365 or SharePoint Server 2013.

It lets users update and share files from anywhere and work on Office documents with others at the same time.

Learning Opportunities

Pyle said in many enterprises platforms like Box and Dropbox are being run in tandem with OneDrive for Business, despite the fact that OneDrive for Business offers the same syncing functionality.

Apart from the fact that this means enterprises are paying for syncing applications when they have already paid for it through OneDrive for Business, OneDrive for Business is also a lot more secure.

“So they are starting to say to themselves, if we already have this, we already own it and are already paying it, why are we paying for Box," Pyle said.

“We are seeing a lot more people saying they are going to disengage Box, and use OneDrive where you have a single sign-on from Azure Active Directory which massively more secure.”

The result, he said, is that MessageOps is migrating a lot of Box data over to OneDrive now.

4. Intranets

Intranets are gaining new lease of life as a result of SharePoint Online through Office 365.

SharePoint intranet portal will engage employees, facilitate communication, foster collaboration, streamline processes, and organizes knowledge bases for quick, lasting productivity gains.

“There is a resurgence of the SharePoint portal with all the feeds, twitter, social, where everyone can see what everyone is doing,” Pyle said.

“There is so much SharePoint in Office 365 that you don’t need to deploy a SharePoint farm, which takes the difficulty out of creating and managing these environments.”

5. Sway

Sway is a presentation program and is part of the Microsoft Office family of products. Generally released by Microsoft last August, it allows users to combine text and media to create a website.

“It’s still only early days for this yet and it’s not as widely used as it might be. We are starting to see enthusiasm for it and all its capabilities and expect to see considerable use of it over the coming year,” Pyle said.