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Insync Tech Talk | Sep 9, 2019 1:36:58 PM

What to use when: OneDrive, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint (hint: it’s none of them and all of them)

Loryan Strant

For the past few years there have been a number of blog articles, conference sessions, videos, debates, infographics, whitepapers, and all other kinds of content around “what to use when” (let’s call it WTUW for now) in the context of Office 365. This has only gotten more complex since the inception of Microsoft Teams.

In the early days of Office 365 we only had Exchange, SharePoint, and Office Communicator (which then became Lync, then Skype for Business, and now, well….). So, the WTUW was quite simple: Outlook for the bulk of communications, SharePoint for intranet & files, and Communicator/Lync/Skype for instant messaging and some voice/video/meetings.

In 2012 we saw Yammer join the Office 365 suite, and WTUW started to emerge, as Yammer was a place for conversations, social, communities of interest, and so on. We finally had a solution to the All Staff and Reply All emails, however that didn’t take of as much as Microsoft (and people like me) had hoped.

In 2013 we saw SkyDrive Pro emerge (which later became OneDrive for Business). This largely replaced the “MySite” functionality within SharePoint, as that didn’t really work so well in the cloud. Under the hood it is by and large still the same but simplified for our benefit.

Moving along in the timeline to 2017 we are now in a world of OneDrive, SharePoint, Outlook (Exchange), Skype for Business, and Yammer. The integration isn’t that fantastic between them all, there’s a number of feature gaps, but we have them. The WTUW is somewhat simple enough to get your head around: OneDrive for individual files, SharePoint for group files, Outlook for long form communications, Skype for Business for short communications as well as voice/video/meetings, and Yammer for enterprise social. There’s a bit of overlap between OneDrive and SharePoint, as well as Outlook/Skype/Yammer in terms of purpose and functionality, but it’s somewhat simple enough.

Then all of a sudden in March 2017 Microsoft Teams shows up, boasting a new interface, a new way for teamwork, yet a lot of similarities to Skype for Business and Yammer. It also offers a window into OneDrive and SharePoint, which then adds to the confusion.

This is not a piece about WTUW between Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams – that is obvious.

This is not a piece about WTUW between Yammer and Microsoft Teams – that is not at all obvious and is quite subjective to the organisational needs.

This is a piece about WTUW between OneDrive, Microsoft Teams, and SharePoint.

Let’s start with the first thing that is important to understand: Microsoft Teams sits over the top of OneDrive and SharePoint. If you upload a file into a chat – that’s OneDrive. If you upload a file into a channel conversation – that’s SharePoint. So in reality, the concept of WTUW between OneDrive, Microsoft Teams and SharePoint is effectively a moot point; it comes down to context.

In theory, the logic between the three tools is this:

OneDrive is a place where you store your own files, but also might share them with specific individuals. Generally, files that live here would be orphaned; in that they don’t have a central/shared place to be. Sometimes files begin life here and then a shared location is created based upon them, so then they are no longer orphaned. For example: a proposal for a project might live in your OneDrive, but then the project is given the green light and a SharePoint site or Team is created for it. The file should then be moved from the OneDrive location into the SharePoint document library.

SharePoint…. SharePoint is many things. It can be just a place providing shared document storage, it can be a collaboration portal for internal and external participants, it can be an intranet, it can be a records management system, and so on. What SharePoint can do is extensive. The product has been around for almost 20 years and unfortunately for the majority of its lift has required considerable IT skills to use, design, manage, and support. The modern SharePoint is a lot simpler and anyone who knows how to use a mouse can customise a SharePoint site.

Microsoft Teams, like SharePoint can be many things. However, for many users, it may be the first time they’ve used OneDrive or SharePoint, and that is where it gets confusing. Especially when there are things that can be done in OneDrive and SharePoint that can’t be done in Microsoft Teams – even when the file lives there. For this reason, in the Microsoft Teams interface we see the option to “Open in SharePoint” – because there’s more to do there. In theory someone could exist completely in the world of Microsoft Teams and never have to browse OneDrive or SharePoint. They can use the “Files” tab to access content from both locations.

This is what makes the WTUW in this scenario irrelevant. It’s not about which tool to use, it’s about the context of the content; whether it’s a file or a conversation (or a conversation about a file, or a file relating to a conversation).

Users fundamentally need to understand principles of both OneDrive and then SharePoint. They need to be comfortable with what sharing means, how to manage permissions, version history, integration with Office, synchronising content locally and so forth. Microsoft Teams is merely the wrapper on top of both of these services, and one that gives context around the content – not just a difference in location.

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