Custom business apps on Office 365 – the art of the possible

Office 365 not only offers an incredible array of tools and services such as SharePoint Online, MS Teams, and Outlook but also acts as a flexible, effective platform to develop and deploy bespoke business apps. These can help employees with specific processes and goals that are unique to your organisation.

What is a bespoke business app?

Many of the Office 365 tools can be used straight out of the box. But some features such as Power BI, PowerApps, Flow and even Azure (not Office 365, strictly speaking) are there to help you build custom capabilities and applications and digitise processes. The app may be based on a configuration, customisation, combination or integration of standard Office 365 applications and services.

Why deploy bespoke business apps?

There are multiple reasons to create bespoke business apps. You can:

  • Create apps to your exact specification
  • Improve a huge variety of processes through automation
  • Digitise processes reliant on email or paper
  • Reduce costs, for example discontinuing subscriptions for SaaS apps and point solutions
  • Help employees get things done in ways that are centred on how they actually work
  • Build apps for mobile so that processes can be done on the move
  • Build completely new capabilities and services, and drive innovation
  • Create apps within the Office 365 environment, all easily accessible via Single Sign-On, and advance your digital workplace
  • Help drive adoption of Office 365 tools and fully leverage your investment in Office 365
  • Help to improve the employee experience for all your workforce, for example by building tools specifically for frontline workers
  • And many more!

What kind of business apps can you build with Office 365?

There are many types of different business app you can build and deploy. At Content Formula weve built and launched multiple types of apps.  For example:

Automation and efficiency

Office 365 provides many opportunities to use automation and workflow, helping to improve processes, drive efficiencies, increase accuracy, minimise risk and more. If you have processes which are currently too reliant on email and file shares, or still even use paper, then there are almost certainly opportunities for automation.  For example, at Praetura, a private equity company, we automated a key process for tracking and assessing opportunities for investment, using workflow and automation to take staff through an eight-stage process.  Meanwhile at Haines Watts we helped to streamline employee onboarding with an onboarding workflow.

Reporting and dashboarding

Power BI is an exciting tool which can produce attractive dashboards and reports, bring together information form multiple sources into one place. Reporting apps can help drive insights which support real-time decision making for management, system owners and more. Weve developed numerous dashboards for clients, as well as reporting dashboards as part of other apps.

Content, knowledge and learning

Some apps are created to better manage content, knowledge or learning resources, and provide access for employees. For example, we built a powerful bespoke central policy library that was suited to the specific needs of the Institute of Cancer Research.  Chatbots can also help connect employees to content and knowledge.

Collaboration

Office 365 has a stack of collaboration tools including Yammer, Teams and Team Sites. There are  many possibilities to customise these to suit your processes and ways of working. For example, we added a unique knowledge management solution to Microsoft Teams for !What If?, allowing teams to easily share the most valuable documents containing knowledge from projects.

Mobile solutions

Sometimes business apps based on Office 365 can be designed specifically for mobile devices, particularly if the target audience are frontline or mobile employees who might not have easy access to a computer during the day. For example, Content Formula has developed a mobile news app for field workers. Thanks to Microsoft’s own mobile apps for Flow and PowerApps it’s become very easy to deploy custom mobile apps.

Core operational systems

Sometimes an app goes beyond being an app; its so central to what your organisation and employees do its really a core system. With our award-winning work for property company Moving Made Easy, we created an entire digital workplace designed around the different stages of selling a property, replacing a creaking legacy system, driving significant headcount efficiencies with integration and automation, and even creating new opportunities to innovate their service.

Customer apps

Although most business apps for Office 365 tend to be for employees, its also possible to develop apps that impact customers.  For example, in our work for Moving Made Easy, our solution output PDF reports that are automatically sent to customers. There are now plans to extend the system for direct customer access.

Enhance existing tools

Sometimes you want to use tools from the Office 365 suite, but perhaps they dont quite work in the right way for you. Sometimes a little customisation can go a long way and really add value. For example, we enhanced the use of Microsoft Teams for innovation company What If? so that spaces can be automatically archived and aligned to the companys project management methodology.

Approaches for developing your business app strategy

There are no hard and fast rules to developing your strategy, but here are a few successful approaches weve observed based on our work with clients:

Base your strategy on user and stakeholder research

A strategy for your apps should be based on thorough user and stakeholder research which reveals how people work and their pain points. At Content Formula we carry out our discovery process involving user and stakeholder interviews and workshops, so we get a thorough understanding of the problems we are trying to solve.

Identify obvious opportunities

Usually within any organisation there are some obvious opportunities where an app can make a significant difference. A typical example might be a process which is primarily carried out by email or even manually. Perhaps there is an activity where users must enter different systems to complete tasks or get information.

Sometimes these opportunities might prove to be low hanging fruit where an app can quickly and easily resolve user frustrations or save time. Prioritising straightforward, high value apps that touch a lot of people can demonstrate the power of Office 365 to stakeholders and users and give a wider programme of transformation some momentum.

Align your business app strategy to company and digital workplace strategy

A strategy for your business apps doesnt exist in a vacuum. It needs to align with your wider company strategy but also your more specific digital workplace or Office 365 strategy in order to deliver value, drive adoption and make sure it meets any necessary standards.

Chase widespread value

Some apps are likely to deliver more value than others. Despite it being tempting to design a specific app which might be very clever, it usually makes sense prioritising solutions which have the most widespread value. For example, apps that:

  • cover core or critical activities, for example relating to customers
  • impact a wide number of people
  • deliver considerable time or cost savings
  • enable other potential digital workplace solutions or apps
  • help to eliminate or reduce critical risks.
  • drive or enforce compliance

Build more complex apps in phases

Sometimes more critical apps can evolve into more complex systems, but it can be worth delivering these in phases so you can start to gain value from them and learn about their usage. Its not always advantageous to build too much complexity when youre starting out, and you may want to wrap this into your strategy.

Work iteratively and learn as you go

Most organisations find they learn a lot about how to get the best out of Office 365 once they see it deployed and being used. Taking a more iterative approach to app development can help you to spot opportunities but also get insights into how to develop tools and incorporate more user feedback. If you want to customise Microsoft Teams for an app, learning how Teams is already being used gives you an advantage.

Dont just recreate whats gone before

The digital workplace tools within Office 365 can help you to design completely new ways of doing things. If your app strategy is just redesigning processes in a slightly more efficient way using Office 365, you may be missing out on some exciting opportunities.

Its all about the apps!

Office 365 provides an exceptional platform to build compelling bespoke business apps to help your employees and your organisation. If youd like to talk about your business apps strategy for Office 365 then get in touch with us.

 

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