The best way to learn how to use Office 365

Education and training can somehow get lost in the excitement of moving to a new, more efficient environment that provides benefits beyond what a business is used to.

Although many of the components of Office 365, such as the Microsoft Office apps, are familiar to many, there is still a lot of training and education required for IT administration and management, and user usage.

When planning for the required education/training programme, first understand the components of Office 365 that are essential to your business and who will be supporting those components. If all or the majority of your configuration and support is to be outsourced, you will still need some basic training on how to use the collaboration environment and how to deploy the various components to the clients.

For example, although SharePoint and Exchange don't require downloads to the clients, Lync does. In addition, unless you have a Windows Phone, all other mobiles do not support editing of documents and you will want to know about the apps available to provide this functionality on non-Windows phones, should your users require it.

Assuming none of the support is outsourced, this is what your company will need to do to ensure everyone is fully trained on Office 365

1. Know which parts of the Office 365 offering your business will be deploying and how Office 365 will be architected (i.e. all in the cloud or hybrid). This is essential. If Lync is not part of your plan, then Lync training will not be required. If you are not planning for a hybrid environment then training on how to federate Lync, SharePoint and Exchange components will not be required.

2. Understand the different roles required to deploy, configure and support your Office 365 environment. For example it is unlikely that first level support staff will be involved in deployment and configuration issues and so won't require training in these areas.

3. Perform a needs analysis on all technical and non-technical users involved in the Office 365 deployment, administration, management, support and usage.

Unfortunately, the needs analysis tends to be the most forgotten component today, mainly due to the amount of self studying on the web and because most users tend not to rate themselves appropriately. However, the needs analysis will give your company an idea of the Office 365 knowledge gaps that need to be covered.

4. Search the Microsoft web-site and sites such as ITProPortal for free self-study guides and how to articles as well as for appropriate Office 365 training courses. These components should be part of your education and training plan.

5. Plan your training and education plan. Work in stages.

Tip Try to coincide user training and education a few days before the users get Office 365. There is nothing more demotivating than to receive training that won't be used for a year.

6. Deploy your education and training plan

Once you've configured and explored the evaluation version go on a course. As one of the first qualified Microsoft Certified Trainer's in the UK, I found that the attendees who got the most out of the courses were the people who played with the products first.

People who have played with the products before attending a course tend to ask more practical than theoretical questions and come to the courses with specific areas in mind that they haven't managed to resolve or to confirm that they are configuring, deploying, managing and using the product correctly.

Tip Some areas may require a little more training and education than meets the eye. For example, attending an administrator Lync course will not be very useful for administrators who have no knowledge of Active Directory and TCP/IP especially if your organisation will require a federated environment between Office 365 Lync and Lync On-Premise.

Training and education are important to help your business design the most efficient Office 365 environment and to help your users get the most out of Office 365. Follow the above guideline and you won't go too far wrong.