In any organisation the proliferation of applications, tools and channels has proved time-consuming and confusing for employees who must navigate to multiple systems to get things done. To combat this, many digital workplace and digital employee experience teams are busy establishing intranets and portals that give an integrated view of the digital workplace, providing employees with a convenient “one stop shop” to meet many of their needs.
One of the greatest advantages of Office 365 and all its different tools is the ability for each of the tools to integrate with each other. For example, it’s now super-easy to integrate Yammer feeds into Teams, SharePoint Online and more, or combine actions within Teams into MS Flow or PowerApps. Advances in the Microsoft Graph are also making it easier to connect and integrate different Office 365 tools via web parts. This means that digital workplace teams can use Office 365 to create excellent digital workplaces, convenient apps and strong intranets.
But most organisations don’t solely use Office 365, they also use other core applications such as Salesforce and ServiceNow, plus a range of apps and tools. Additionally, they may use social platforms such as Workplace by Facebook. One question we often get asked by clients is how easy is it to integrate these different systems and apps into Office 365, in order to create even more compelling apps and digital workplaces?
Connectors for Flow and PowerApps
The good news is that is relatively easy to integrate tools and it’s getting easier. In both Flow and PowerApps there is now a growing library of out of the box connectors that means you can create compelling workflows and apps between third party applications and Office 365 tools, straight out of the box. For example, using the right connector allows you to trigger an action in Office 365 based on an action in Salesforce; you could create a Teams space whenever a new opportunity or a new client is added to Salesforce, and also send some notification emails via Outlook to let a team know it has been created.
The libraries of connectors for both tools are very extensive – you can browse the connector library for Flow. Many of the connectors are free, but there are also “premium” connectors for larger enterprise systems such as Workday and ServiceNow, so if this is an area you are interested in it is important to check the licensing situation. At the time of writing Microsoft continue to invest in connectors, with new ones added weekly. This kind of approach is very welcome and is a departure for Microsoft – many find it an exciting development.
Apps and tabs in Teams
Teams also too comes with an extensive list of “apps” that means workflow and notifications from other applications can be integrated into Teams either as apps or bots. You can also add tabs to a Teams space to view information such as an RSS feed. Although there may be less large enterprise systems on the standard list of apps for Teams, there is a route for developers to create their owns and then add these to Microsoft’s own “appsource” marketplace.
Integrations within Teams means you can both view information but perform simple transactions. Within the Teams environment you could view a list of tasks that are assigned to you within Jira, or even interact with a bot using natural language that triggers the creation of a new task within Jira.
What if out of the box doesn’t cover my integration?
With so many connectors it means many systems are covered out of the box, but if you have a more obscure application there are still options for integration with Office 365. Within Flow and PowerApps it’s possible to query external APIs to gather data, and then process that data in different ways. There are also options around using Azure functions to create workflows. Developers have plenty of options to carry out customisations to integrate third party applications and sources into Office 365.
Integrating Office 365 into third party applications
Integration can also work the other way around and you may want to make parts of the Office 365 suite accessible from another system like Salesforce. Many systems will have connectors right out of the box. For example, it is now easy to integrate SharePoint document libraries into Workplace by Facebook, bringing decent file sharing to an area that is not one of Workplace’s strengths. Where integrating Office 365 into an external application is not available out of the box, the development of Microsoft Graph has made it much easier to query endpoints to enable relatively straightforward custom integrations involving Office 365 content and data.
New capabilities emerge
Office 365 is a rich, diverse and rapidly evolving environment and new options to integrate third party systems will also emerge. For example, in our recent joint webinar on the future of Office 365 and SharePoint intranets with Clearbox’s Sam Marshall, Sam Marshall highlighted the creation of “adaptive cards” that can present information from third party systems and allow you to interact with it, for example from within a search. Given the continued investment from Microsoft in Office 365 and the desire to drive forward the digital workplace, we can expect additional ways to integrate third party applications on the horizon.
Integrating Office 365 with third party applications can create real value for your users and help you evolve a compelling and useful digital workplace. This is perfectly possible out of the box or with some increasingly straightforward customisations. If you’d to discuss your options around Office 365 integration, then get in touch!