Who really owns Microsoft 365?
In many organizations, there is no clear answer for this question. And because it’s not a simple answer, I’ve had to break this up over two parts.
It is assumed that IT departments own Microsoft 365 (M365), as it is a technology platform, and that makes sense. However, in larger organizations where IT departments are made up of multiple business units or teams – who owns it amongst them?
Before that, let’s dig deeper into the assumption that IT owns M365.
Well, it’s a technology, so therefore…
Because M365 is a suite of technology products and tools, it’s fairly common for IT departments to be responsible for this. Historically M365 was predominantly made up of cloud versions of on-premises server products; Exchange, SharePoint, Lync/Skype for Business, and Office apps.
Given these were the responsibility of IT, and IT is responsible for the servers, it would therefore make sense that IT is then responsible for the cloud versions of them.
As a result, IT makes decisions about how M365 should be configured, tweaked, and tuned. In some organizations this is done with minimal input from the business and that is largely because IT already knows what the business requires – therefore it can make decisions on their behalf. And again, that makes sense.
In many of the M365 projects and programs I’ve been involved in over the years, the only people in the room for conversations about the platform have been IT.
IT people don’t know everything
In one project I was involved in for a large logistics firm, the lead from that organization had made the decision that staff in warehouses should have access to (beyond Exchange) Planner, Forms, and Sway. I almost spat out my drink upon hearing that, because I could not think of a logical reason why packers would need those tools. The same lead also made decisions that required staff to perform their own migration of files from their home drives to OneDrive, and produced a document that required application installations, PowerShell scripts to be operated, and was spread across about 15 pages. This was for end users to perform.
Another project I was involved in for a large digital agency, one of the solution architects wanted to turn off Yammer because he personally didn’t like it. And it wasn’t just a passing comment, he was genuine about it. Despite my attempts to dissuade him from this and to get business involvement in that decision (which he had not done yet, and Yammer was used heavily in that org), the statement that stopped him dead in his tracks was when I said, “this kind of decision-making is why end users hate IT departments”.
But M365 is more than just a cloud version of on-premises products. There are a bunch of small apps and services used by individuals, teams, and entire organizations which can change the way they work.
Why is it that IT teams think that MyAnalytics should be disabled, or To Do should not be pushed out to Windows 10 devices? In one organization I worked with – it was because they had never actually heard of them. All they wanted was to push out OneDrive, Teams, and Planner because their priorities were file shares and “teamwork”.
So, when IT makes decisions about how Power Automate should be used, or Stream, or Forms, or even Teams, are they making the best decisions for the organization and its individuals?
The answer is no.
Here’s where some people might get upset by this comment and say that they work in conjunction with the business, have liaisons, business partners, consultants, or anything else you want to call it. That’s great, but it still not enough to justify why IT should own M365.
Let’s think about this differently for a moment…
Is M365 just a technical solution?
Who owns the finance systems in the organization? Who owns the HR systems? Who owns the CRM, ERP, LMS, payroll, fleet management, stock management, or other business-centric systems? Here’s a hint: it’s not IT.
Sure, IT is involved in the decision-making process, implementing, deploying, and supporting those systems – but more often than not, IT does not own those systems. They are business systems, chosen by the business and owned by the business. Absolutely IT is and must continue to have a say in the selection and configuration of these platforms, but at the end of the day it is a supporting role.
And so too must be the same for M365. Where it once was a technology solution, it is these days more of a business platform and therefore must be driven by the business and its requirements – not what IT think they should be using.
When I design M365 roadmaps or governance frameworks for organizations, I make a clear point as to why I need business involvement in each and every one of the sessions. And not just stakeholders or representatives. In fact, I flip the tables so that it is mainly business in the room with IT stakeholders and representatives.
When I run M365 overview sessions for those engagements, I explain to the end users, from various roles across the organization, that it is their requirements and needs that must be addressed. And if they don’t know what is available to them or what it can do – how can they make an informed decision?
The role of personal opinions
I have seen organizations choose technology due to heavy influence from IT executives. A number of years ago, I helped an organization move from Novell GroupWise to Office 365, and several years later I happened to sit next to the current CIO of that same organization. He explained that since our engagement, a CIO had come into the organization who hated Microsoft and so moved them to Google Workspace (formerly G Suite), and now the current CIO was tasked with moving them back.
Unfortunately, this happens all too often. While IT executives and decision makers should be influenced by the organizational requirements, they are swayed by their personal opinions.
Think your users won’t understand Power Automate? Don’t enable it.
Don’t understand or like Yammer? Shut it down.
Hate Microsoft? Migrate to Google and AWS.
Don’t trust Google? Buy Apple devices.
This is a reality that we often don’t consider. I myself am swayed by my personal opinions and choices, but only when it affects me.
If you are the representative for a body of people – then you need to consider their needs and requirements above your personal experiences or views. Choose the best solution for them and allow your experiences and views to be utilized objectively, because there is most likely some merit to them. And being objective is crucial, because one person’s experience and views is not necessarily reflective of reality.
It’s time to hand over the wheel
That’s right, M365 is not your system to own. Hand it over.
Sorry IT folks, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Anyone who has read a number of my blogs about IT evolution might think that I hate IT people because of how I generalize and portray them as not being in touch with current trends, technologies, ways of working, business needs, etc. I don’t hate them; I am one and always have been – but I deal with too many IT people that haven’t changed their approaches to technology. I myself was once a Unix administrator, Windows deployment technician, VoIP system engineer and a variety of other technical roles.
If your face gets flushed reading this – then you are my target audience, and I’m sorry, but if you want to keep having a career it’s time to evolve.
If you read this and nodded along, then send it to a colleague who needs to read it.
What’s important though, is that you help the business understand that M365 is their system to own and be responsible for. Establish a steering committee, working group, governance committee, whatever you want to call it – just make sure it is largely made up of business representatives who will make decisions with IT input in order to achieve the ideal outcomes for the organization.
Don’t start with a technical decision and figure out how you’ll communicate it and train people – start with the business outcome and work backwards.
Don’t think you know how your organization works or what people need. You may have some idea, but think about if someone spoke completely on your behalf without giving you a say?
For the last 10+ years of Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365, formerly BPOS), IT has been the one to choose the direction of how the platform is used. It’s time to hand over the wheel and let someone else chart its course.
You can check out part 2 of this post here!
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