Group Policy Alternative for Office 365 ProPlus Deployments

Microsoft recently released an exciting new service that is aimed to help IT management set policies for Office installations based on their Office 365 ProPlus license. For any organization that has a sizable mobile workforce, managing settings within Office has always been very challenging. Group Policy was (and is) our go-to tool to make and enforce settings both on computers and applications. With the increase in the ability to work from anywhere (from home or remote sales), Group Policy application of settings became harder and harder to achieve, if not downright impossible/impractical.

The new service is called Office Cloud Policy Service. It gives admins, like me, the ability to control and enforce Group Policy-like settings without the use of actual Group Policy settings. Keep in mind that this is brand new and not the full range of Office settings are currently available. Expect that to change with time.

Some of the key points about the new service (for Office ProPlus):

  • Only user-based policy settings are currently available. Computer-based policy settings are not yet available.
  • Not all user-based policy settings are available (in comparison to Group Policy). Only user-based policy settings that can be configured in a single setting (ie. Enabled/Disabled) are available currently.
  • As new user-based policy settings are made available for Office, the Office Cloud Policy Service will automatically add them into the selection list.
  • You can also create policy configurations to apply settings for Office 365 versions of Project and Visio.
  • Only Office 365 ProPlus is currently supported. A policy configuration cannot be applied to other commercial versions of Office (ie. Office 365 Business, Office Professional Plus 2019, or Office Standard 2016).

It is important to note that the Office Cloud Policy Service is just applicable to the Office suite. It does not handle policy settings for the Windows operating system. For that we have the Intune service (that is a subject for another blog!).

We simply cannot talk about policy enforcement without at least mentioning deployment headaches. They work together, first deploy then manage. One of the biggest issues we face during deployments of the Office suite (either by using the web-downloader or the Office Customization Tool) is that we are only able to make preference-based setting changes. This means that some tech savvy users can change settings within Office after deployment (for better or for worse). In using the Cloud Policy Service, it does not matter how Office was provisioned, our settings are applied and enforced just like Group Policy.

For organizations that have strict security policies (by design or due to compliance reasons), being able to enforce security settings within Office to a mobile workforce is a huge benefit. If you don’t have access to this new area yet, expect this to role out to tenants over the coming couple of months.

Need an Office 365 partner to help maximize your technology investments? Let’s talk.

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