You’re not using Office 365 yet? I have five reasons to change your mind

I have been working with Office 365 for almost five years and have watched it transition from primarily hosting traditional workloads of email and team sites to the productivity and collaboration powerhouse that it is today.  I could have easily found tens of reasons to share but, I wanted to focus on the five that will hopefully change your mind or possibly push you over the line if you happen to be undecided at this point.  So, with that out of the way let me share my top-five reasons why you should move to Office 365.

  1. Productivity gains

I’m leading with this one, because in my experience most companies are approaching Office 365 as a technical enablement exercise rather than the productivity gain it can bring to their people.  Sure, there is plenty to like on a technical and cost optimization level, but the real potential lies in boosting the productivity of your people and especially through the ease in which they can create, share and connect across your organization and externally too.

Think about your own organization in the following scenarios.

We know longer work with just the people sitting next to us or are even in the same physical location.  Teams now stretch across the globe, and can also include customers, partners and suppliers who are outside our organizational boundary.  This common scenario introduces challenges for this team to collaborate, communicate and share effectively often forcing them to take matters in their own hands and begin using non-approved solutions to close the gaps (aka shadow IT).  Office 365 can provide the following solutions out of the box and boost the teams productivity in doing so:

  1. SharePoint sites that can accessed by internal and external participants. This ensures you can collaborate and share content with the people you need, making the entire group more productive
  2. SharePoint sites that can provide one source of truth for content including history. This ensures the team not sending around different versions of the file and worse still – spending huge amounts of time trying to find the right file. This alone can cost your team when trying to complete a piece of work that is reliant on multiple contributors
  3. Rich Office desktop clients, Office on Mobile and Office Web Apps that can provide real-time co-authoring with multiple participants – internally and externally to the organization. This ensures the team can collaborate on the same document and in real-time – from any device at any time.  Making a quick edit, approving a change or signing off the release from any device ensures work is not held up waiting for someone to return to their office.
  4. Microsoft Teams can provide a hub for the team (the people) giving them a workspace linking persistent chat, content and tasks in to a single UI. A powerful space to ensure people are connected and are up to speed always.  This ensures the team are always aligned, connected and no exactly where to find the groups assets.
  5. Skype for Business (or Teams) that can bring together the team from across the globe including those outside the organization. A virtual meeting space for sharing and collaborate with audio and video to enhance the experience.  This ensures that irrespective of the team’s location they can come together and communicate and share together.

Many organizations are defining their modern workplace and a big part of this is to provide a more flexible work environment. The demands of our business lives often overlap with our personal and so there is a need to be more flexible. This often leads to employees needing to connect from anywhere (not always from their office) and from any device (not always a known device). Office 365 can provide the following solutions out of the box and boost the teams productivity in doing so:

  1. Office 365 is an Internet facing service – there is no need to VPN or need to terminate against an edge device. They can get to work with zero friction and therefore be more productive from anywhere
  2. Office 365 provides cross-platform support ensuring users can access from PC, MacOS, iOS, Android or browser. They can stay connected when they are away from their office and therefore productive from any device

Organizations are also looking to change the way they communicate across the group.  The traditional top-down method, while important to setting the direction and sharing the vision for the organization are not the only conversations happening. Employees expect to be able to communicate across the organization, hierarchically (up and down) as well as outside the organization too. They need to be able to seek out skills and knowledge with minimal effort and with wide reach.  Office 365 can provide the following solutions out of the box and boost the teams productivity in doing so:

  1. Yammer is an Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) tool integrated in to Office 365. An open communications channel that can bring together your entire organization. As with the other Office 365 tools, Yammer integrates perfectly with everything else in the stack.  Through this integration people can instantly post content or respond to a post with contextual hooks right from where they are working – no need to switch to another tool
  2. Yammer provides an all company network that can be used to share and request assistance. This ensures that all levels of the organization have a place to connect, share and seek out assistance with the widest reach – cutting out those lengthy email chains, that often include people that are not important to the thread or worse still have left someone out
  3. Yammer provides end users with a platform to create communities and specialist groups that focus on a specific project, topic or service. This ensures that posts can be targeted to specific parts of the business when you know the audience with the skills or knowledge you seek. Getting the answers, you need in a timely manner will demonstrate further productivity gains and get your people unblocked even faster

Office 365 is packed full of productivity features that can transform the way your people work but, more importantly a productivity boost – something I feel confident in saying they are seeking in this highly competitive world.

Finally, I touched on collaboration only briefly above and it is without a doubt an important component of the productivity boost that I have described.  The technical tools however can only do so much, people also need be a part of this change.  Some people and in turn companies have a culture of openness and a willingness to succeed together, while others still need to work on this philosophy a little more.  Invest in this part of your transformation early as it will ensure you truly reap the benefits of Office 365 as you progress on your journey.

  1. Predictable and manageable costs

Do you still have one of those volume license agreements with Software Assurance (SA)?  You know, the type where you buy all this software upfront, you add SA to ensure you can move freely up and down versions as you need but, what happens when employees leave or perhaps your company downsizes? I’m afraid to say but, Microsoft will not allow you to just return it for a refund – you are stuck with it and the cost too.

Enter Office 365: moving away from a volume license approach and to a subscription service your organization gets the flexibility to scale up or down with a predictable cost structure. That’s right, you pay only for what you use.  The window for moving up and down will vary depending on whether you choose to pay by the month or by the year; paying by the month will give you the freedom to change each month but, will most likely be more expensive per unit.  If you have major seasonal swings in your organization or simply prefer the month to month control – this might be the option to explore further for your company. If on the other hand you don’t expect those major swings and you are comfortable with an annual renewal option than paying by the year is for you.

For small and medium businesses, the transition to Office 365 can be quite rapid and you can quickly forget about the on-premises days that are now behind you.  For Enterprise customers this can be a very different story.  You may be in a hybrid state for many months and possibly years and so, you need to ensure that you are compliant to your licensing program.  The Office 365 Enterprise SKUs have you covered here.  If you are an Enterprise customer, then you should look towards the Office E3 and Office E5 SKUs where you have on-premises productivity Server Rights – SharePoint, Exchange and Skype for Business. So, you do not need to license these separately, client access rights are bundled with the Office 365 subscriptions. Again, ensuring you have that same predictable cost structure to manage the roll-off from on-premises.

Move to Office 365 and get the flexibility and scalability you need with a predictable pay-as-you-go subscription model. So, what are you waiting for?

Oh, one last thing. If you are serious about Office 365 and ready to purchase, before you do – take a look at Microsoft 365 Business and Microsoft 365 Enterprise: it’s the bundling of Office 365, Windows, Security and Device Management capabilities. Depending the SKU, you select you will unlock additional functionality.  I mention it here purely to say that anyone who is seriously looking at Office 365 should consider taking a wider view and consider the Microsoft 365 bundle.  Having spent more hours than I care to admit in recent years exploring the variety of options and benefits for each of these SKUs I honestly believe it would be worth a look. This is just some advice from the work I have done in this space and not an upsell. Entirely your choice.

  1. It’s always up to date

Have you ever heard these words before (or similar) – “We have included that in our next release”?

If you have, then you probably heard this after you:

  1. logged a support case with Microsoft and the issue couldn’t be fixed in the current product
  2. investigated a new use case with Microsoft and they couldn’t support your scenario in the current product

Having heard the above response from Microsoft: Does this also sound familiar? You lean back in your chair and respond – “Great! So, I must wait for its release in a year from now and then upgrade my entire environment. Thanks!”  Well, lean in you’re going to want to hear this one – Office 365 is always up to date. That’s right – no more upgrading, the service is what is often referred to as an evergreen service.  OK so, before anyone shoots me down here – yes, a new feature or a revision to an existing one will still need engineering work but, it will be slip-streamed into the affected Office 365 service – there is no wait for the next release and the mammoth task to upgrade your on-premises environment. It will just arrive in the service.

As end users we love that we are on the latest release and as IT professionals we love that when there is a bug, it’s fixed in the service and we normally don’t have to lift a finger to realize it. This must be an interesting proposition for any company choosing to stick with the on-premises products and struggling to respond to demand for new features and capabilities from their business.

  1. No more upgrades and no more server maintenance for Microsoft Office Server Products

Firstly, don’t feel bad – you’re not alone.  There are still many companies out there still running on-premises versions of Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Skype for Business and even many more still running in a hybrid model too; hybrids another entire topic for another day.

The questions you need to be asking yourself:

  1. Are we prepared to do another on-premises upgrade? – The 2019 editions will begin shipping later this year. Or perhaps you are still running the 2013 editions and now have the dilemma of deciding whether to move now to 20126 or wait for 2019 releases. This could see you remain behind again if you choose 2016 or waiting until this time next year before you can begin your upgrades.
  2. Are our servers nearing end of life? – Whichever lifecycle you follow 3,4,5 years or perhaps longer but, at some point the hardware needs to be replaced. Do you want to continue this cycle of constant rolling server replacements?  The Office Server Products can represent a large footprint of your overall server landscape when you consider the variety of Microsoft Exchange Server roles needed not to mention any edge requirements you have established to allow remote access too.
  3. Are we on top of our patching: both Operating System and Office Server Products? – Patch Tuesday seems to come around faster and faster, and the number of updates is not slowing. There has never been a more important time to be patched then now and if your processes and resources are not keeping up with the rate of updates it might be time to consider your options.

If your answer to all of these was NO. Then I think you know what you need to do – start planning your migration to Office 365.  But, please read on as I have more to share.

If you only managed to answer NO to one or perhaps two of these questions. That’s OK, maybe you are in control of your patching and maybe your servers are not up for replacement.  But, I would be surprised to learn you answered YES to question 1.  Of course, there are scenarios where this may be necessary, they include:

  1. Regulatory requirements – your company is required to keep its content in-country. Although Microsoft is continuously expanding their presence around the globe not all countries have an Office 365 data center.  When signing-up to Office 365 and your tenant is establish it will be defaulted to a data center geography based on the country of the transaction. Check where your Office 365 data is located if you’re unsure or speak with your Microsoft Account team or software reseller to explore this in more detail if it is a concern.
  2. You are running Microsoft Exchange 2010 and Exchange Hybrid deployment requires minimum 2013 – not ideal but, if you have Software Assurance you still have extended support until 2020. You can establish hybrid with Exchange 2010 if you have a least one server running the Mailbox and Client Access roles.  Now depending how long you intend preserving the hybrid setup you may need to consider a move to 2016 or even 2019 as 2010 will move to end of extended support in 2020.
  3. You know you need hybrid – a very common scenario, particularly in larger organizations where you have a lot of custom developments in SharePoint. Or your using Skype for Business Enterprise Voice and your country is not onboarded for this feature today.  In these cases, you most certainly will need to remain current or at least stay in a supported scenario.

Perhaps there is another reason I have overlooked – feel free to share below, I would be interested to hear from you.  Whatever the case – what might be blocking for you today, may not be the case tomorrow.  Most companies move to Office 365 in phases so, it’s possible you could move one or more workloads while preserving another on-premises.  You should explore these options and workout where the breakeven point is for your organization.  While the financial benefits may exist long-term, some companies may find it cost prohibitive to have a hybrid approach especially for an extended period where you are still needing to maintain on-premises and paying for Office 365.

That said, it’s clear from my own experience and from talking with other companies too: reducing, if not completely removing, your Microsoft Office Server Products can save you significantly in upgrade and server maintenance costs.  Moving to Office 365 can save you from this continuous pattern. I also know that many of you will be running extensive server landscapes beyond the workloads of Office Server Products but, hopefully by reducing it this saving can still be realised.

A little-known fact about the origins of Office 365 is that it was a rather visionary CIO (not from my Company and I haven’t got approval to say who here – sorry!) that first planted the seed more than 10 years ago in a Microsoft Executive’s mind.  Sitting opposite one another the Microsoft Executive was trying to convince the CIO to move to the latest version of Exchange when the CIO turned around and said something along the lines of: “Why can’t Microsoft take on this role to manage the product end to end?  These upgrades are costly, disruptive and coming all to frequent for a customer to stay current. We should just pay for a service.”.  It would be a couple years after this before Microsoft could stand up the first hosted Exchange and SharePoint service: launched as a by-invitation private program known as Microsoft Managed Service (MMS) it would later launch publicly as Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). I honestly believe that Microsoft would have come to this same conclusion at some point with fierce competition in this space from its competitors but, I like the idea of customers driving change and disrupting the industry too.

  1. You can get help – before, during and after your migration

Microsoft has a service they call FastTrack and it’s there specifically to help customers onboard Microsoft Cloud solutions and furthermore drive user adoption.  Many services are often there at the beginning but, then walk away shortly after.  FastTrack is different here as customers with eligible subscriptions to Office 365 (or Microsoft 365 if you decide) “can use FastTrack at no additional cost for the life of their subscription.”.  Microsoft has compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions regarding Microsoft FastTrack including details of eligibility to the program.

Microsoft has developed a deployment methodology for its Cloud solutions that is delivered through the FastTrack program.  It includes access to best practices and as well Microsoft engineering expertise, ensuring you have the latest information and learnings from the field and from other customers.  Depending on the subscription you have chosen you may also unlock other services, which may include data migration (Exchange, SharePoint and unstructured data), enabling of advanced threat protection features and device management; these will require Enterprise SKUs.

Of course, if you prefer to work with a Microsoft Partner – FastTrack is available to them too. In this approach the Partner and FastTrack work together to ensure successful deployment and end-user adoption to Office 365.  Your organization will work with the Partner and they will interface with FastTrack team. This can be a great option if you are looking for a high-touch engagement with on-site resources to support the program end-to-end.

If you prefer to go it alone – it’s your prerogative.  But, why would you if you have access to FastTrack?

Final thought

I didn’t list this as a reason but, in closing I will leave you with one last thought. Microsoft has committed to releasing the 2019 editions of their Office Server Product range and while it’s way too soon to make any bold predictions here as to whether we will see a 2022 (following the 3-year trend) edition what I will say is this – today, there is still enough customers wholly on-premises or in a hybrid model to demand the 2019 release.  But, more and more customers are making the switch to Office 365 so, do not count on this and ensure you and your people are not left behind.

Still not convinced?

OK but, I would love to know what’s still holding you back.  Of course, there are other competing offerings out there too.  Some with some very compelling stories but, I would challenge you to find a more complete solution and with the breadth that Office 365 provides.

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