Life after Office 365

I recently ran into a former client at a networking event who had an absolution fascinating story about her life after Office 365. For the sake of the story let’s call her Maggie.

The back story is that several years ago my former business Paradyne had moved Maggie’s organisation onto Office 365 – back then just Exchange Online, SharePoint Online & OneDrive for Business, and Skype for Business. Since her organisation had been moved across they had become quite advanced in their use of Office 365, taking up most applications and services as they were introduced into the toolkit. They had made heavy use of Yammer of communicating with each other as well as with external partners, SharePoint & OneDrive for sharing files internally and externally, using workflows within SharePoint to automate staff onboarding and other business processes, and the list went on and on. They had even used touch-based devices like Surface Pro’s and Windows 10 to give users the ultimate in device interaction flexibility.

The organisations and users were what I classify as “ascended” – meaning they have moved beyond merely “adopting” the technologies available in Office 365 and had made them a core part of how the organisation worked on a daily basis.

The problem for Maggie is that she had not long ago left the organisation and moved to work for a much larger firm. Upon receiving her laptop on the first day she almost fell off her seat when she discovered it ran Windows 7 and didn’t have a touch screen. She hadn’t worked with such “legacy” technology for nearly 5 years (before Windows 10 her organisation had used Windows 8 & 8.1 so touch had become way of life). She had even gotten herself a Surface device for home and as such her muscle memory had adapted to a point where she instinctively touched the screen to navigate. This was going to be a tough habit to break – especially when it was still perfectly normal at home.

Ok so that’s Windows 10 and touchscreens, what about Office 365 though? That’s the point of this piece, isn’t it?

Well the first thing is that her organisation didn’t use Office 365. As she discovered they owned it, but it wasn’t deployed. What do I mean by that? What I mean is:

  • Maggie could sign into the Office 365 portal with her on-premises credentials.
  • If she clicked on the Outlook tile it would report an error (her mailbox was on-premises and obviously the Exchange hybrid wasn’t configured so it didn’t redirect her back to the server).
  • Maggie could download Office 365 Pro Plus (eg. Office 2016) but not install it on her computer as she didn’t have admin rights, and was stuck using Office 2013 that was already installed.
  • She had Skype for Business 2015 installed on her computer, but they were using an on-premises Lync Server with only basic functionality such as instant messaging, presence, and online meetings (no dial-in though).
  • She could access OneDrive for Business and share links, but her peers had never seen this. Needless to say there was no governance policy established as other people were using services like Dropbox or Google Drive.
  • Browsing Delve showed a ghost town – nobody else in the organisation had any activity or files in their profiles. Most didn’t even have profile photos.
  • Setting up Outlook on her mobile phone was frustrating as she had to manually input server settings after asking for them from her peers.
  • Yammer was available and barely in use, her department and others used Slack.

One of the things I found most fascinating is that Maggie was also given an iPhone when she started, as a way to communicate with her peers. The offices were set up to support Activity Based Working (ABW) with all the bells and whistles: adjustable standing tables, meeting rooms and huddle spaces, private work areas & phone boxes, lockers, docking stations on desks, etc. Even though they had Skype for Business, Maggie was not given a headset. Skype for Business was not the phone system. In fact, for a majority of the organisation they didn’t even have extensions or phones. The only way to communicate with each other was to call each other’s mobile phones, which were an expensive iPhone (which mind you was not enrolled in any Mobile Device Management solution, so Maggie could do whatever she wanted to the phone). For meetings organised using Skype for Business, staff would use their mobile phones to dial into a PSTN conference bridge service. If anyone wanted to use Skype for Business to do an audio or video call they would need to use their own headset (often the earbuds that came with their mobile phones).

I was absolutely stunned by this story. This organisation had obviously paid for the Office 365 licenses, but hadn’t used them for anything – not even mailboxes, which is what most organisations start with!

Instead they worked as if they didn’t own any of this technology. For Maggie, this was quite challenging as she felt like she had stepped back in time about 5 years. She struggled to work the way her peers did by emailing attachments around and saving to USB sticks.

Through her conversations internally Maggie has found out that IT is completely outsourced – which makes perfect sense as the outsourcer would not have any motivation to move the organisation to Office 365 because it would reduce their managed services revenue due to the reduction in infrastructure to support.

Unfortunately, it was not Maggie’s place to guide her organisation to Office 365 however she did introduce her peers to using headsets for Skype for Business calls and meetings, using OneDrive for Business for sharing files, and a number of other basics.

A majority of staff had laptops, yet still went to meetings with both the laptop as well as a physical notepad and pens. OneNote was a no-brainer here.

In an even more recent conversation with Maggie she had created an Office 365 Group to collaborate with her direct reports, and her peers had started to take notice. She also mentioned that some of her colleagues had heard about Microsoft Teams and expressed interest in it, now that they had become more familiar with the underlying components (plus they were already familiar with the concept given they use Slack). The reason they had started to consider switching from Slack to Teams is that Slack didn’t integrate with any of their other applications other than Trello. Given that Teams integrates with Trello and the rest of what they use on a daily basis now, it made sense to look at an all-in-one experience that stays within the organisations Office 365 environment.

The moral of the story here is that Office 365 is spread far and wide, and while a lot of times in my travels I find organisations have only migrated to Exchange Online – some of their users have experience with the other components. Organisations can’t rest on the laurels of migrating mailboxes, or in cases like this simply acquiring the licenses. Users demand more advanced technology and collaboration solutions than those offered 2, 5 or 10 years ago.

This requires a mind-shift from IT from service delivery to productivity, collaboration and mobility enablement.

Also published on Medium.

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