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PHOTO: Lubo Minar

Navigating governance in Office 365 can be a bit tricky. Creating a new method for governance was key to helping my customers navigate this new world. We previously looked at suggestions for creating the governance team, organizing meetings and creating a plan.

Now it is time to dig a little deeper and start looking at Office 365 from an administrative perspective. In the past, the administrative side of a governance plan would typically be full of things like guidelines for service packs and patching, backups, and even diagrams of server architectures. Those items are not necessary with Office 365 so what should the administrative part of the plan focus on? Over the course of this article we will look at the Admin Centers and some key settings to address.  

Keep in mind that while this article will focus mostly on SharePoint, Teams and related tools, there are also plenty of settings and considerations to be made for Exchange, Azure Active Directory etc.

'You Can Find it in the Admin Center!'

Tell someone they'll find a setting in an admin center and the typical response will be “which one?” 

In addition to the top-level Admin Center there are 12 sub-admin centers (and counting!). These centers typically include more detailed settings than what can be found at the top level. However, keep in you will see some shared settings — we all know how Microsoft likes to give you several ways to do the same thing. 

The top-level admin center focuses mainly on things like user licensing, health of your services and support. However, it also allows you to manage high level settings for a lot of Office 365 services, so it is key to review and understand what is out there and who oversees it. Focus on the “Settings” section of this top-level admin center. You'll also find useful reporting around usage that will help as your governance team looks at topics like adoption.

Related Article: The Elements of Office 365 Content Governance: Content Types

Important Governance Settings to Review

If you don’t have an expert helping you create a governance plan, my first suggestion would be to go through each admin center and familiarize yourself with the settings and what they mean. This may be time consuming, but it could help head off an issue from happening down the road. For example, one customer wanted their users to stick to a flat structure in SharePoint. They trained them to not create subsites, but it was a large organization, so people missed out on the training and created subsites anyway. It wasn’t until later they realized the SharePoint admin center included a setting that would have removed the ability to create those subsites.

What follows isn't a complete review of every single setting available, but a quick overview of those I find most important.

SharePoint Admin Center

The SharePoint Admin Center is currently in the middle of a big makeover. As things like Hub Sites begin to gain their footing, the admin center is being updated to better manage those features. Actions you currently have to take with PowerShell will thankfully be built into the user interface soon. 

One of the first settings to review and consider revolves around external users. Now, external user settings exist throughout Office 365, so it isn’t just SharePoint where you need to consider this.

In the SharePoint admin center, you can determine exactly what type of external users can access content (either authenticated users or totally anonymous) and you can even limit the ability to share with external users to specific security groups and set a default permission. Once you've configured the top-level settings, an admin can set more specific settings for each site collection. For example, a lot of organizations do not want external users to ever be in their intranet site collections. 

External users are a BIG conversation for a governance team and deserve to be a separate topic, so the conversation definitely doesn't end here.

In addition to external users, SharePoint admin center includes settings which allow you to manage whether your users will see the modern list and library experience or the ability to create modern pages. You can limit the ability for everyone in the organization to create sites (a default setting) and even send them to a custom form when requesting a new site. Finally, another key setting is the ability for users to connect their site collections to new Office 365 Groups (something to keep in mind if you want to tightly control the creation of groups).

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OneDrive

OneDrive mirrors a lot of the same settings of SharePoint, including the ability to adjust external sharing. In addition, you can control syncing OneDrive files to only allow PCs joined to specific domains the sync option and block specific file types from being synced. Also, this is where the default allotted storage for each user’s OneDrive is set.

Related Article: Digital Governance vs. Office 365 Governance: Which Do You Need?

Teams and Skype

We should start by noting that Teams will eventually take over Skype for Business, so a lot of the settings we would expect in a Skype admin center will now be here, including meeting settings, call quality monitoring, and more. 

As in most cases, there are settings related to external users and guest access. You will also find options for email integrations with Teams, as well as integrations with DropBox and Google Drive. This admin center is getting a lot of Microsoft attention these days, so definitely stay up to date on what is available as it continues to grow.

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PowerApps and Flow

An interesting thing to note about PowerApps and Flow is that while they have separate admin centers, changes made to one will affect the other. Depending on licensing you may not even have access to manipulate these settings. The "Environments" setting allows you to create different environments for development (think test vs. prod) or environments for different global locations. The second setting is a data policy option specific to these tools.

Related Article: The Elements of Office 365 Content Governance: Retention Labels

Microsoft Search

Microsoft Search is one of the new kids on the block and is really exciting for a search nerd like me. The idea behind Microsoft Search is to create one search experience shared by every Office/Office 365 service. The admin center will be the place to manage that centrally. We're still in the early stages here, but as of right now you can edit bookmarks and Q&A (think company FAQ) settings and put them to use right away.

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Hopefully this serves as good starting point for what to look for in your own tenant’s admin centers. One specific admin center I did not dig into was Security and Compliance. The next article in this series we will look closer at information governance in Office 365 and how that admin center can be used to support it.