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Office 365 admins can evolve as platform expands

A move to Office 365 lets IT concentrate less on technology idiosyncrasies and more on business needs. Here are some new tasks to take on, but watch out for a few challenges, too.

A move to Office 365 can leave administrators feeling nonessential in the cloud productivity platform. But it's not all bad news: The switch can spur IT teams to develop skills and empower end users to take full advantage of cloud services.

Microsoft has added a number of new services to the Office 365 suite over the years, creating an integrated enterprise collaboration platform. The company recently delivered SaaS offerings for business analytics with Power BI, a phone system through the Cloud PBX service, Skype for Business and the Yammer enterprise social network. With each new service rollout, end users must understand the capabilities of the applications.

This means that, as Microsoft pours development resources into its cloud products, Office 365 admins see their duties shift from system troubleshooters to internal marketers. Rather than wait for employees to file tickets, Office 365 admins must be internal marketers who sell users on the benefits of each app.

Administrators also can take on system integration functions. Microsoft developed a series of APIs to link its services to other products. Office 365 admins can use these tools to improve key areas, such as system security, or to work with business managers to develop procedures, such as an automated document workflow.

Translate high uptime into me time

Microsoft promises 99.9% uptime to Office 365 customers. What's the perk of this high availability? It frees the support staff to focus on improving company processes, said Tim Clark, president of consulting firm C3 Solutions. IT staff learns about the latest features in the rapidly growing Office 365 collaboration platform and then shares those findings with users to maximize application use.

In-house app stores can ease the IT workload

Microsoft created an application store with its partners to offer a variety of tools and apps, which have a few benefits for admins. An in-house app store gives Office 365 admins a way to deploy and maintain corporate apps more easily. It simplifies the choices for users with a list of approved apps that the IT staff supports. Additionally, administrators can track downloads and employee usage trends.

The app store not only solves issues that have plagued users, but it also enables companies to keep up with trends in social media and remote workforces. Employees often get frustrated when scheduling meetings; the third-party add-in FreeBusy Scheduling Assistant uses automation to make the process less of a chore.

Also, social media has blurred the lines between personal and business offerings. For example, Starbucks developed an Office 365 application for users to schedule meetings at the local store. The Zomato Restaurant Finder helps executives determine where to go for a business lunch.

But enterprise app stores have downsides. They must work with a wide assortment of technologies and vendors. And supporting such heterogeneous environments -- without breaking the budget -- is difficult. For instance, allowing end users to bring any type of phone into the organization could strain Office 365. Therefore, a company can limit the number of phones it supports. Additionally, companies might need to add applications that Microsoft does not directly endorse.

What is Microsoft's Office 365 strategy anyway?

Since the emergence of Office 365, there has been some question about what Microsoft's plan for these services is all about. In this podcast, Scott Robinson, a SharePoint and BI expert, notes, "Microsoft has done a lot of repackaging, and sometimes, that is just to cover the fact that they haven't finished a product."

Since the emergence of Office 365, there has been some question about what Microsoft's plan for these services is all about. In this podcast, Scott Robinson, a SharePoint and BI expert, notes, "Microsoft has done a lot of repackaging, and sometimes, that is just to cover the fact that they haven't finished a product."

"Enterprises may want to integrate Slack into their collaboration platform," said Joshua Trupin, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft.

Other integration needs can arise. Typically, consumer mobile device apps act independently of one another, but businesses must integrate them with Office 365. For example, if a company wants to tie its order management app to the logistics product, the customer often has to build and maintain these links.

Regimented approach can tame costs

Most organizations have a mix of apps -- some run on premises and others in the cloud. Develop a standardized approach to provision and manage these apps, and keep a close eye on the licensing agreements to avoid any unexpected bills from cloud app vendors.

To track and ensure license compliance, Office 365 admins can use financial management tools from suppliers -- such as Cloudability, Cloudyn and VMware with vRealize Business for Cloud -- to keep cloud costs in line.

The notion that public cloud is less expensive than other alternatives also has been challenged recently. Some businesses that operated without a strict cloud pricing arrangement discover these offerings cost more than anticipated.

Next Steps

Skills needed to manage Office 365

Office 365 admin roles share IT responsibilities

Considerations before an Office 365 migration

This was last published in August 2017

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