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Are Your Choices Already Costing You Money?

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Megan Strant
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The Microsoft 365 platform is a complex beast, and managing it sets many challenges for the IT team or department in an organization.

The role of IT has changed a lot over time. Gone are the days of managing servers and being the guy pulling apart the printer to fix it. These days so much of it is about making decisions over and delivering services to the organization for the Microsoft Platform. In this there must be at times an incongruence between what the business, or even end-users, think is Microsoft 365 and what it means for IT. There are the things they see and use, and the vast amount they would not understand or even be aware of. 

I am referring to the identity or account created for a user, the apps they use, how their device is managed, how data and files are protected, and the hidden services the organization relies on to keep things running, compliance, secure and maintained. The role of an IT manager has evolved with all of this which puts pressure on those people, and the staff in IT departments, to keep up. It's a fast-paced game of keeping up, or constant catch-up. You only have to go into the Microsoft 365 roadmap site or message center and do a quick search on updates or changes for the last month, or even 3 months to have potentially hundreds of results.

A while ago I did a 12 month export on all changes to just Outlook, Microsoft Teams and the Office suite, and it resulted in about 750 entries! And my focus was merely a small portion of the platform! The purpose of the review at the time was around change fatigue and how many things users have dealt with in that 12 month window. I haven't even considered what IT would have needed to be across in the same period - to keep ahead of what is coming to keep their organization on top of things and users up to date.

The challenges with managing the platform are complex. You need to understand what is coming, how it impacts things like your governance or configuration, and then the user side, preparing for ways to work differently or changes in apps. No single person could possibly manage this. It is even too much for an IT team to track and communicate. It is really important to consider external advice and guidance.

But what is possible?

A key area that I think isn't giving the focus, time and effort to explore is licensing.

When it comes to the licenses for users, at the outset the business needs to make decisions, and often enter an agreement, on what apps and services users require to do their job. It starts with understanding what apps they need, or will expand use of in the future. And then expands to other core areas such as security, device management, telephony, compliance, and risk management.

To be honest its exhausting just thinking about it. What will people use, is potentially the easier part. But what will they be wanting to use and learn in 6 or 12 months, more vague. How much of the security features will be assessed as a business need and implemented? What will be enhanced or implemented in 12 months? It takes a really specialized consultant to assess the needs of an organization and build the roadmap to help know what to setup and pay for now, and how it may change over time.

Part of the challenge is obviously budget. I am constantly surprised with the number of organizations I engage with who provide all staff an E5 and enable every app, yet so much is unused. I know there has been debate in the past about what you should provide - do you disable apps and have tight control over what people use, or provide everything and let them explore and adopt all over the place.

It may seem obvious to some - and there will be strong reasons why so many staff need an E5. Potentially its not about apps, but services you require that only come at the E5 level. So many people work daily living in Outlook, Microsoft Teams and the Office Suite. In this way of working they barely expand into modern collaboration or enhance and innovate business process. In these situations its such a shame that the value can be lost and low ROI across the licensing and platform. You are paying a lot of money for things you don't use and often it is a lack of understanding or even just time to stop and review. That reduced use of apps could be delivered with an E3, yet no one has stopped to assess and think about possible cost savings.

I find it interesting in life to think about how we can bleed money to be more loose with financial decisions.

Many of us may have made an online impulse buy, which we later realize we don't use and wasn't really needed. It's no big deal, and may not be a huge cost. Then there are bigger things we think more about, like having a 4WD sitting in your driveway that hasn't been driven much over a couple of years due to lockdowns, for which the value is dropping while you are ongoing paying insurance and other fees. You are losing value and also that money spent you'll never get back.

When a company bleeds things like licensing budget and has lack of ROI the scale and loss is much higher. Think about 12 months of entire organization on E5, you cannot get this back. It's just something that wasn't really explored and understood and is such a high cost. Yet we don't often pay for the time or money to really assess and monitor. That's where I feel choices made are costing you money. And it is in multiple ways.

What do I mean? Well, one choice is the licensing structure and the agreement with Microsoft, which at times is multiple years. In consumer world we can scale up and down licensing easily. Yet in commercial world this may be a 3 years agreement. Over time the choice here is simply money lost for apps and services not used. Other costs are for money not spent. Many organizations are pulling back on budget for formal training. I think reduces adoption and creates a cost of the impact on value gained across the platform. Or a transformation program doesn't hit the mark and user adoption doesn't extend across the platform. Also, by not allocating time, resources and budget internally to analyze and make changes to the licensing, or budget for external advice, you are perhaps losing much more in the long run over the course of your agreement.

Moving beyond apps used, the knowledge and expertise across services available is crucial to help the organization enhance and expand. I haven't ever been involved with an organization who have implemented use of document sensitivity labels and it's used in the organization. Such valuable technology, being paid for, and not yet really understood generally. There is so much work to be done in this area alone. And this is part of E1. As you move into E3 and E5 it gets more detailed. It blows my mind that so many companies brush over protecting their data. 

Another example is telephony - many organizations rolled from desk phones to soft phones and so many don't use their phone numbers. Most perform their work through Microsoft Teams meetings and rarely or at all receive telephone calls. Again, another area that could use smarter analysis and investing in time to review.

When you review licenses and what you are using, you can see what are you paying for and not using, and where the attention should be focused. Meeting rooms can also be over-looked. Some organizations don't invest in good hardware. They install a screen and webcam thinking it’s the solution. There is a difference between working and working well. This is a challenge across many organizations I have engaged with. It can be that the meeting room has lower quality equipment, or the user experience across meeting rooms is inconsistent and confuses everyone, which leads to bad habits and less effective meetings. A sub-par meeting experience reduces the effectiveness of what is trying to be achieved. When the call quality sucks you're not going to head towards innovative online collaboration.

My point is that there are many decisions made which at times feel like a cost saving, which actually might be leading to a bigger cost in the future, or an ongoing loss of money that no one is aware of.

When it comes to Microsoft 365 licenses, your setup and any agreement, you need to know what is in the toolkit and services with all the deep detail. You don't always know the different features that are available, or what is coming or depreciating, or just possible. At times it's a small team, and for some organizations it is one single person running things. How could they possible have time to know Office macro functionality is being depreciated, how to control downloads of documents by external recipients, or keep across depreciation of features and apps.

IT teams are too busy managing the platform and security and cannot know more about 365, especially with all the other apps and services they have to support. Help, guidance, and data from monitoring can help you see a deeper story of what is going on.

I need help, you need help, and we all do. Does asking for budget to get advice or monitoring mean you cannot do your job? No. Because it's not possible. There is just too much to track and be across. You need to understand what people are using, how they are working, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg but already areas the Microsoft insights cannot help you understand. There is a new insights dashboard coming, but still not there and helping really drive deep analysis.

If you're considering monitoring and paying for an external provider or service, go to that provider and go deep into what they offer to ensure you really understand the gap it will fill and what you receive. Ask for their case studies and examples. Question how much some customers have spent on 12 months of monitoring, the information gained, the decisions made and cost savings elsewhere. This alone will really help you see what is possible and assess the value and cost savings and gains for your own environment.



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