Take caution: Office 365 now has an expiration feature!

Office 365 Groups is a service developed by Microsoft with the idea of collaboration at the forefront. It works with the Office 365 tools you use already so you can work together with your teammates. You can write documents, create spreadsheets, work on project plans, schedule meetings, or send email. You can choose a set of people that you wish to collaborate with and set up resources for those people to share. Adding members to the group automatically gives them the permissions they need as well.

On 9th August, Microsoft announced the public preview (pre-release but post-beta stage) of Office 365 Groups expiration for Azure Active Directory (AD) Premium customers. This allows you to manage the life cycle of Office 365 Groups. You can set an expiration duration for any group you choose. Currently only Azure AD Premium customers will be potentially affected by this feature.

What are Microsoft thinking?

The way it is intended to work is that the Admin (with no interaction with the Groups) sets an expiry threshold for the group. The Owner(s) of the group then have to deal with the process. The Owner will be informed that the site will be deleted at 30 days, 7 days and then 1 day.

BUT! you will need to consider if the Owner is:

  1. a) busy on another project
  2. b) on extended leave (no doubt due to thestress of having to manage the deletion of too many group sites!)
  3. c) has left the company – but no new owner was assigned or…
  4. d) (and this is the big one) Actually, no clear Owner was designated to the group but it is business critical.

What happens if the site gets automatically deleted and no-one is told about it?

Don’t worry, Microsoft have said it’s only a “soft-delete” and it can be restored… but only for the first 30 days, then it’s lost forever!  Take extra caution, if it is a mission critical site, it can take up to 24 hours for the site to be fully restored. So, you’d better hope you find it before COB Friday or it will significantly disrupt business!

The expiration function for Group sites is currently only available to Azure AD Premium customers.The big companies (who are most likely to have Premium memberships to the service) are going to be affected the most if their Group sites get removed.

Converting old style team sites into modern Group sites

Here is the other disconnect,  Microsoft’s roadmap shows they have plans to allow users to convert old style team sites into modern Group sites.

This feature will be provided as a site notification to the site owner. So, the scenario goes like this: The site owner (and there may be hundreds of sites in a large company) clicks the pop up message asking if they want to convert their tired old SharePoint site into a swish new Group site. The Admin, to keep things tidy, decides it will be most efficient if he sets all Groups to expire after 180 days. Then hey presto, after 180 days, sites start disappearing. Sites like the Corporate Policies and Procedures site, or the company’s Remuneration site, or the CEO’s personal “How I’m going to make this company great” site; all of which were converted into group sites because the owner was invited to push a button.

Microsoft Group Expiration
Group expiry in the Azure Active Directory dashboard

John Votaw, Principal Consultant at Business Agility has some strong advice for those who may be considering using this new feature or are curious about it. He says:

Expiration on Group sites is actually Microsoft trying to introduce a form of governance, but they’re introducing it in a bad way. It’s an accident waiting to happen because the implications of clicking a new button aren’t made clear.

 The ramifications of this new feature need to be addressed and communicated to the Admins of your Group sites. At Business Agility we advise our customers not to use this feature. Instead, we advise you have a hands-on approach to Group governance. We offer architecture as a service as part of our monthly consultations. We’re able to advise where you need to develop your governance from day one. We’ll review your policies, current workings and help you achieve what you need.

If you need further advice or would like to find out more about what we can offer your business, contact info@business-agility.com.