Part 6 - My Thoughts on The Challenges with Customer Acceptance of Office 365

by Andrew Connell on May 20, 2014

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Date Revised:
May 16, 2014


This is just one entry in a series of articles that cover a keynote presentation I delivered in April 2014 at the SPTechCon conference in San Francisco, CA. The first article in the series below sets the stage and explains what the series is about. All articles in the series are meant to be read in order, but hey… it’s your browser and mouse… click what interests you!

  1. Navigating the New World of SharePoint Online, Office 365 and On-Premises - Introducing the Series
  2. Level Setting and Definitions
  3. Why is Microsoft Moving to Office 365?
  4. Completely Unscientific Survey - Survey on Office 365 and Where Are You?
  5. Customer and ISV Takeaways from the SharePoint Conference 2014
  6. My Thoughts on The Challenges with Customer Acceptance of Office 365
  7. My Thoughts on How to Approach Office 365 & SharePoint On-Premises Today
  8. Office 365 Call to Action - What Should You be Doing?

So far in this series I've been talking about the background of why Microsoft is motivated to move SharePoint to the cloud in Office 365 and what customer perception is. From my personal point of view, I think many customers are anywhere from frustrated and confused with the changes to simply being unclear on the current state. I get it... and I think it's totally justified. From where I sit, I think it helps to take a step back and look at why you might have these thoughts and feelings. I believe it is justified, but it is also responsible to reevaluate this point of view and consider where we are today.

Challenges in Introducing Office 365

slide15Let's first look at how Office 365 was introduced and rolled out to customers. While Microsoft announced Office 365 which included the "wave-14" version of their products also known as the 2010 versions, they didn't really start pushing it until "wave-15" or the 2013 versions were available. This is because the 2013 version had a lot of stuff that was influenced by what they learned in rolling out SharePoint 2010 as a hosted solution. At any rate... my point is that Office 365 had been out for a little while, and then the SharePoint Conference 2012 happened...

The SharePoint team at Microsoft uses the SharePoint Conference as their big announcement and coming out party. In 2012 the SharePoint Conference was the first even that covered the upcoming release of SharePoint 2013. But that's not all they covered... actually, they barely covered SharePoint 2013 at all. The SharePoint Conference 2012 was the Office 365 coming out party... they talked about SharePoint 2013 within the context of Office 365, not within the context of on-premises deployments hardly at all. It was very noticeable... and customers noticed big time.

Customers, analysts and ISVs walked away from the conference thinking on-premises SharePoint was dead. There was hardly any talk of it at the conference... the phrase "the silence is deafening" was quite apt. The conclusion everyone had was "well, the future of SharePoint on-premises is dead... this is the last version we'll see... so maybe we shouldn't buy it." I talked to numbers customer who immediately put the brakes on all their SharePoint 2013 upgrade and deployment plans. They decided to stay where they were because there was no middle ground.

Microsoft did try to temper this but the damage was done... customers didn't have a good feeling about the future and sadly this perception lasted a very long time.

Challenges in Moving to Office 365

The story out of the box for Office 365 didn't go so well with customers who'd been on-premises from the day SharePoint was born. But for those who did dip their toes in the water and try out Office 365 in the early days, things were a bit frustrating while they waited to get the new stuff.

People were waiting for their Office 365 "wave-14" tenants to get upgraded to "wave-15". Unfortunately it was like a lottery. No one had any insight into when your tenant would get updated or how long you had to wait. You just waited until that fateful day you got the email saying you would get updated in a few weeks. Another big challenge is the support side of Office 365. There are tons of horror stories out there... I've had my fair share. Things have gotten a little better from my experience, but plenty have shared their frustrations present day as well.

As of late, the challenge folks have had with Office 365 are updates coming to their tenant out of the blue that are breaking things they've done. It's broken branding solutions, scripting solutions. We had a great discussion about this topic on a podcast I co-host where we discussed a lot of these challenges and what's needed.

This has caused some customers to pull back from Office 365. The good thing is that Microsoft has been listening, planning, improving & is now executing.

Since Then... Lately Things Have Gotten Better

slide16Man I'm painting a fairly bleak picture, right? there's a reason for that. All this bad stuff you've heard puts across a certain perception and predisposes you to a certain state of mind. Recently Microsoft has done a lot of work to improve things. Like what you say?

On February 25, 2014 Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for SharePoint Server 2013. Aside from the rollup of all the past cumulative updates filled with bug fixes ands secure patches, there are a handful of things within it that enable and help with hybrid deployments like hooking up your on-premises deployment to Yammer and OneDrive.

More on this hybrid bit, you see Microsoft spending a lot more time working on hybrid solutions for customers. This backs up the statement they keep making about helping you move to the cloud at your own pace and consume the features that work best for your situation. It really helps customers who are currently on-premises but want to start exploring how Office 365 can help them.

Aside from the hybrid and Service Pack 1 stuff, Microsoft has also made some big moves from an organizational perspective. In February 2014 they created a new team in the Office 365 team that's all about the developer story. In a huge move, they brought back Chris Johnson who had been on the SharePoint team for a while and left to run another company. Microsoft also hired Jeremy Thake among a few others. This team is all about making the Office 365 development story better for customers. Trust me when I say this: these are the right people at the right time. I'm pumped to see what they go with this group... so far you can really notice a difference from the team.

Disclaimer, Chris Johnson is a good friend of mine, my co-host on our podcast Microsoft Cloud Show and also involved in a startup I'm working on, Kerrb.

In addition, at the SharePoint Conference in March 2014, you saw a very different tone. There was a good split on on-premises and Office 365 sessions. They said they had at least a equal number of on-premises to Office 365 breakout sessions and if you included hybrid with on-premises, the ratio was more like two-to-one! Furthermore talk to just about anyone who's been involved with SharePoint for many years and we will almost all tell you the tone of this conference was very different. There's a lot more listening by Microsoft to their customers and acting on this feedback. It's refreshing... and don't just take my word for it, check out Marc Anderson's SPC'14 recap opinions.

Microsoft also announced there will be another on-premises release of SharePoint Server in calendar year 2015. What will make it in this version, will this be the last on-premises release... we don't know... but that's further than they've gone to date.

All this is good news! I think it shows the most challenging days are behind us and the Office 365 team is turning a corner. So... things are getting better... what should you be doing?



4 months ago
Great post, Andrew. I agree with your assessment that O365 has turned a corner, and that messaging is improving. It'll be interesting to see how MS messages it against next year's on prem release.