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Microsoft Rolling Out New Features to Office 365 Groups

Users of Microsoft's Office 365 Groups service will see some new feature updates this month, including administrative controls for IT pros.

These new Groups compliance and management features began showing up as early as this Wednesday for some organizations. However, Microsoft expects a general rollout will be completed by February 2016, according to its announcement.

Groups is a new feature available in some Office 365 subscription plans. It surfaces information about people, documents and meetings in a "card-like" form. End users are free to create and join groups based on their Azure Active Directory permissions. The Groups feature currently works with Office 365 applications such as Dynamics CRM, OneDrive for Business, OneNote, Outlook, Power BI and Skype for Business.

New Groups Features
One of the new Groups features rolling out by February is the ability to perform e-discovery and litigation holds on mailboxes used by a group via the Exchange Admin Center. Microsoft's update also will allow group activities to be tracked in an audit report. This audit information eventually will show up in the Office 365 Compliance Center, Microsoft is promising.

Microsoft's update to Groups also will be easing the naming conventions used for groups, making them more consistent. In addition, IT pros can now "create groups with rule-based memberships using the Azure Management Portal." However, this so-called "dynamic membership for groups" feature will require having Azure Active Directory Premium licensing in place.

Future Enhancements
Microsoft also announced a few enhancements to Groups that are expected to arrive in Q1 2016.

The company plans to enable the Groups naming conventions used with Exchange to work across "any Office 365 app." Right now, those naming conventions just apply to "Exchange, Outlook or the Outlook Groups app."

Microsoft also expects to add the ability for IT pros to set expiration policies for groups. They could specify when the content for inactive groups should expire, for instance.

On the compliance side, IT pros will be able to hide the membership of groups, if that's wanted. Microsoft is working on adding the ability to set classifications for group content, such as "corporate confidential." The Groups feature in Outlook will become manageable via Microsoft Intune in a future update. Intune is Microsoft's mobile device management product.

IT pros will soon get the ability to associate groups with the e-mail domains of their choice. They won't have to just use the domain of the Office 365 tenant. This capability will benefit organizations that typically use multiple e-mail domains.

Microsoft also plans to add the ability for IT pros to set quotas on Office 365 file storage used by groups. They'll be able to track Groups stats using the Office 365 Admin Center, too. A group "deletion recovery" feature also is under development.

The Groups feature works with some Office 365 apps, as described above. However, Microsoft plans to extend it. For instance, it will extend Groups to Delve, Office Planner and Yammer in future updates, the company indicated.

Microsoft also explained late last week that its Sway Web content creation tool, which is also part of some Office 365 subscriptions, now has additional IT controls. For instance IT pros can now specify content sources, such as YouTube or Flickr, among others. The Sway service also now appears in Microsoft's Service Health Dashboard so service uptime can be tracked. Licensing for Sway is now based on a per-user model.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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