Microsoft 365 usage optimisation – why it matters, and how to do it

Your organisation’s investment in Microsoft 365 means a more connected, satisfying and productive experience for your employees – without worrying about the high-maintenance administration involved with legacy on-premises technology.

Even so, there are aspects of M365 you should consider in order to ensure the smoothest possible experience for your people. In this article, we’ll share some of the things to think about which will improve your tenant’s usage optimisation, and steps you can take to really make M365 sing.

Why optimising Microsoft 365 matters

A key benefit for businesses adopting Microsoft 365 (M365) services is the ability to realise cost savings in a flexible, scalable and secure solution that provides a comprehensive suite of workloads. These include productivity workloads such as Word, Excel, Visio and PowerPoint; collaborative workloads such as Microsoft Teams, SharePoint and Exchange; along with administrative and management workloads such as Defender, Intune, Lighthouse and Purview.

However, realising these benefits requires offering users a solution that allows them to achieve their work goals smoothly and efficiently. Poor M365 workload response times can create frustrations and impede progress. A successful deployment uses optimisation to maximise user engagement and satisfaction.

Microsoft 365 optimisation requires a coordinated approach to streamline workflows, manage and balance resource demands, improve workload responsiveness, and eliminate throughput bottlenecks to enhance user experience.

Benefits of optimising M365 for your organisation

Microsoft 365 optimisation offers businesses a range of tangible benefits:

Enhanced User Satisfaction – Optimisation boosts the user experience, embracing Microsoft 365 adoption and allowing maximisation of the efficiency benefits of deploying workloads. Consequently, more effective work practices improve business profitability and grow throughput through user efficiencies.

Reduced Service Complexity – Optimisation of workloads to streamline workflows can reduce overall service complexity, making managing and maintaining workloads easier and quicker with associated cost-reduction benefits.

Reduced Operating Costs – Optimisation of workloads allows more efficient use of endpoints and network resources, eliminating costs associated with operating any unnecessary resources and allowing existing resources to be better utilised to maximise value. In addition, adopting M365 services offers a flexible and scalable solution that supports proactive, dynamic resource provisioning. Hence, the business only consumes the needed resources, eliminating waste from unallocated or underutilised resources.

Improved Compliance and Governance – Optimisation of workflows offers benefits in making regulatory and legislative compliance activities and associate governance processes easier to manage. Maintaining alignment between operating practices and business requirements is more manageable, reducing the risks of inadvertent non-compliance.

Integrating and optimising M365 workloads

User adoption is critical in successful deployment and depends on aligning user needs and business workflows with the optimised M365 workloads.

Poor user satisfaction adversely affects workflow quality and performance, and for users, the M365 endpoint workloads represent their main point of interaction and dictate their usage experience. Multiple factors can affect user satisfaction; check out our page on Office 365 user adoption and change management for further information.

Endpoint Access Mechanisms – A benefit of Microsoft 365 adoption is the access-from-anywhere philosophy, where users can use apps or browsers to access workloads from any endpoint. This approach supports hybrid working practices in a technology-agnostic solution. However, the downside of this flexibility is the risk that poor endpoint performance adversely affects the user experience.

Integration of workloads onto endpoints should be cognisant of the minimum performance requirements and configured to maximise responsiveness. Where used, virtual desktop technology must be configured and optimised, ideally using compatible technology such as Azure Virtual Desktop.

A key consideration for Endpoint management is the importance of standardisation to minimise administrative overheads while maintaining a robust security posture. Security baselines allow the application of preconfigured settings across multiple device configurations that enforce the corporate security policy efficiently and effectively. Maintaining baselines under formal configuration control and change management provides an audit trail to support governance requirements and assist incident investigation and forensic analysis processes.

Where workload access is via browser technology, Microsoft 365 optimisation best practices include optimising memory cache sizes, minimising the impact of add-ons, and managing local data stores to reduce network usage.

Network Connectivity – A key consideration when deploying or expanding M365 scope within a business is network capacity. Throughput limitations between endpoints and services are the primary workload performance constraint due to additional Internet traffic.

Determining network requirements can be done using a representative user group, extrapolating results for the worst-case concurrent user base across the organisation. Best practices advise including a minimum of 20% spare capacity to prevent throughput restrictions from translating to poor user experience.

System Architecture – A key advantage for multi-national organisations maintaining distributed infrastructure is that M365 offers a globally distributed solution providing workloads as micro-services and applications using a highly dispersed network of access points for service connectivity. Affected organisations need to replace traditional centralised Internet egress points with a system architecture that gives each user access to their geographically closest Microsoft Global Network access point to achieve optimum performance.

Optimal M365 integration requires local Internet egress configuration to help minimise network latency by reducing the responsiveness impact of server delays and, ultimately, user satisfaction. However, direct peering relationships on the Internet paths from each network egress point to the relevant Microsoft Global Network access points must be available.

Implementing a system architecture to support local workload egress will potentially reduce central network loading as an added benefit. Security assurance in distributed egress architecture also comes from leveraging client endpoint security features.

Protective Monitoring – Traditional endpoint threat detection and response solutions such as antivirus scanning and user behavioural monitoring are no longer considered sufficient protection against advanced persistent threats, and excessive protective monitoring processes can also negatively affect performance, impacting user experience.

M365 deployments allow organisations to adopt a Zero Trust security model to protect against sophisticated attack chains and zero-day exploits. A Zero Trust-based policy manages endpoint access by explicitly verifying identities for authentication and authorisation, adhering to least privilege access practices and assuming all access attempts are malicious until proven valid.  

Optimising performance requires a balance with security oversight. Endpoint security controls, including network traffic inspection techniques, can impact throughput. However, tailoring Endpoint security to leverage M365 security features for trusted workload-specific traffic can balance risks with performance and resolve this.

An important consideration in optimising network traffic flow from endpoints through configuring security controls is that geographic limitations must account for business data location in the globally distributed M365 service. For example, business data may be anywhere worldwide if there are no regulatory restrictions on information storage.

Microsoft 365 usage optimisation

Customising Microsoft 365 Workloads

Customising M365 deployments is simple, thanks to Microsoft’s customisation tool. This tool allows the creation of configuration files for central management when deploying and maintaining workloads across the business’s IT environment. It makes provisioning workloads simple with the added benefit of managing the release of security updates and redeployment as part of any post-security incident recovery actions in the event of corruption or malware infection of a workload. For example, productivity workloads such as Project and Visio can be centrally managed alongside core Office applications such as Word and Excel across the organisation using role-based criteria to automate deployment and configuration.

Central configuration management also allows optimisation changes to workloads to be rolled out across the organisation using role-based, location-based or individual user criteria to deploy changes. Enabling workload optimisation tailoring to specific user groups can maximise benefits without compromising performance, prioritising critical business functions while balancing user satisfaction.

Optimising Microsoft 365 Workloads

The move to distributed systems makes handling information flow challenging for businesses. A primary tool in optimising workload performance is managing network performance between endpoints and their associated Microsoft Global Network access point. A critical element in optimising this connectivity is identifying and differentiating M365 traffic from Internet traffic generated by other applications and services. The M365 traffic flow can then be optimised using network route optimisation, system configuration including firewall rules and browser proxy settings and tailoring of endpoint network inspection devices. You can find further guidance in the Microsoft 365 network connectivity principles for Microsoft 365 Enterprise.

Configuration of trusted M365 traffic for direct routing, bypassing any proxy or tunnel routing through third-party security services may also be necessary to achieve optimised workload performance, subject to satisfactory risk assessment conclusions. Check out further guidance on how to tune Microsoft 365 performance.

The Benefits of Analytics and Performance Tuning

Achieving the best results from optimisation processes to enhance user satisfaction requires insight into actual user behaviour rather than a theoretical prediction of expected behaviour to recognise the impact of change. It is, therefore, necessary to have the capability to collect, analyse, report, and visualise usage data to fully understand user engagement and the adoption levels of each workload and their core features.

Microsoft offers M365 usage analytics within Power BI, its collection of interactive data visualisation services for business intelligence. It includes detailed usage metrics and high-level workload adoption trends to support Microsoft 365 optimisation planning. You can find further guidance about Microsoft 365 usage analytics at Microsoft.

Microsoft 365 Deployment

Integrating Azure with Microsoft 365 Workloads

M365 workloads integrate with Azure Active Directory (AD) for user identity management, offering centralised and simplified user access control and account management. However, Azure provides additional features for integration with M365 services. For example, Azure AD supports enhanced user access security with a single sign-on service to improve the user experience and multi-factor authentication to enhance security posture.

Managing Microsoft 365 Usage

User training and awareness are critical. The broad range of M365 workloads offers a comprehensive, integrated office solution, but getting up to speed can be challenging for new users. Workloads are also continuously evolving, with additional features and capabilities requiring continuous user development.

Adequate user knowledge ensures high adoption levels for workloads by maximising engagement and promoting secure working practices that drive user satisfaction and efficient performance. While training for specific workloads improves task-specific knowledge, training across workloads is vital for maximising performance in an integrated M365 environment.

For businesses operating in regulatory environments, M365 management must ensure compliance with relevant requirements for handling, processing and storing information governed by data protection regulations. The Microsoft Purview solution offers integrated data governance, risk management, and compliance services to support the management of workloads.

Making the most of M365

Optimising M365 workloads is essential for maximising user adoption, satisfaction and performance while minimising business costs. This rule applies when migrating to M365 or improving deployed workflow efficiencies and process effectiveness.

If your organisation needs support with Microsoft 365 optimisation, drop the CompanyNet team a line today.

Get in touch with our friendly team now:

The CompanyNet Team

The CompanyNet team has more than 20 years’ experience of creating Microsoft digital workplaces that really work.

We’re a tight-knit team that delivers results for customers including Scottish Water, Mencap, the Student Loans Company, Walt Disney, Tesco Bank, the Scottish Housing Regulator and many more.

We’re always keen to discuss whether we can help you get more out of Office 365.

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