Office 365: Email in the Cloud is Easy, All Other Things are Not
Updated: Mar 31, 2018
This is a good month to continue the conversation on Office 365. You can see by my first post back in May of 2017, I discuss the merits of O365 overall. (click here for that post). This month I want to dive deeper into some of the other areas of consideration. The reason for revisiting it is simple: Though Office 365 seems straightforward—just throw everything up to the cloud, right?—the reality is there is quite a bit more to it than that. O365 can solve a lot of problems, but in order to do so it requires organizations to consider and address a lot of areas, some of which might seem routine on the surface, but are anything but, in reality. When I refer to O365, I'm mean all the solutions, as most think that O365 is just Exchange Online and email. It's not, it's the whole suite. More on that later and in further posts.
We have a lot of experience in helping organizations implement and migrate to O365. What we've found in every one of our engagements is it has taken more time and has been more complex than our customers originally thought it would. Every single one. Mind you, not in the expectations we set with the customer—we've always been realistic on time frames and effort in what we think it's going to take and we are generally right—but in what the customer initially thought it would take in terms of effort, engagement and involvement on their side, and complexity. Let's unpack that a bit this month and the next month, as this will be too much to discuss in a single month.
Our lead Enterprise Architect has a great saying about O365: "Email in the cloud is easy, all the other things are not". How true that rings and is the basis for my post this month. Sure, the perception is that for your $20 per month per user (for a general E3 subscription), you're set. Just pay and all is good. But, wait a minute. What about the migration, evaluation of costs versus on-prem, backup, archiving, security, DLP, compliance, ongoing maintenance, the rest of the O365 products versus just mail, and the "buy in" from the all areas within the organization? All of that matters. And all of this (and more) needs to be addressed to ensure success. I'll address a few of these this month and then continue next month.
The first thing I want to talk about is what I discussed in my post back in May, called "Office 365, Yes or No?" (link to it here). Will O365 be as good as an on-premise implementation? That is one of the big areas organizations ask us about. The answer: Office 365 can be just as good as an on-premise implementation. "Can" being the operative word here. It's not always the case. One of the areas to evaluate and consider is that your data and mailboxes are under your control, but located on Microsoft servers somewhere else. You have to be OK with that. Many of the law firms, and other regulated firms we work with, for example, are not. They don't trust having the data offsite, even though Microsoft has solutions catered specifically to address these concerns. No matter. Some firms don't want even the possibility of the risk. So they won't do it as of yet. However, many say it's worth it. In fact, upwards of 80% of the firms we work with are either using O365 or considering it. And not just mail, but all the services that are included O365.
As I mentioned before, these services are still being hosted on someone else's servers and environment. Just not yours. In this case, Microsoft's. What it means is that you generally have no visibility into how those services are being hosted. Which servers are your services located on? Where are they located? These servers still need the care and feeding that they would normally, just as if they were at your location. Now I know that Microsoft is more apt to keep up with patching and maintenance than perhaps other organizations—as they do need to lead by example—but it's still not at your location. You need to be OK with that. Many firms are, and as I've said before, there are those that are not. So, when I mention that upwards of 80% of the firms we work with are either using O365 or considering it, you can see that most are OK with it.
Is Office 365 cheaper than an on-premise Exchange solution? That real answer is that it depends. One of the big reasons that organizations move to O365 is that they are looking to save costs. But, will you save costs? You can, but it depends how you look at it. If you maintain your own on-prem servers well and you keep them generally for a longer period of time (greater than 3 years) then an on-prem solution can be cheaper. If you like to operate more in terms of Capex, instead of Opex, then on-prem (because it's more Capex) is more likely the way to go. The converse is true as well: If you prefer Opex (which most of our customers do), then the costs don't matter, it's Opex. And, if don't want to be in the business of managing your own servers (and today most don't), then O365 is the way to go. But all of this needs to be taken into account when considering costs. It comes down to what's most important to you and your organization.
The other thing I want to discuss is the "buy in" that is needed within organizations. In order for Office 365 implementations to be successful you need "buy in" from all areas within the organization--no matter what size you are. That includes IT, networking, security, legal, compliance and others. In many cases, the decision to go to O365 is driven by the CxO level (CEO, CIO, CFO, etc.) stating that this is what we're doing. As I mentioned before, this can be a very good decision for many reasons. But how do we get the "buy in" from the other departments within the organization? Is the networking OK with how data will be accessed outside of the organization? Is legal and compliance OK with the fact that data will reside outside of the organization? Is security OK with this? This is a big deal to come to terms with and not trivial. How does this fit within your existing corporate policies on how data and resources are accessed? Again, not trivial.
Even though organizations say they have "buy in" in moving to O365, what exactly does that mean? We've worked with many organizations that have said they've had "buy in" from all areas, but in looking at the details of what it means, it's not clear. Is legal and compliance OK with all aspects of it and what it could mean for the business and risk? Is the network department OK with how resources and data are accessing? Does the IT Department have a good handle as to what it really means to move to O365? What about IT security and all the considerations that they have? All need to be on-board before you move forward. And our experience is the "buy in" isn't as deep as originally stated. It needs to transparently be discussed.
So, as you can see there is a lot to moving towards O365. Much needs to be considered and worked through. Is it worth it? In most cases, our customers fee that it is. But you need to figure that out for yourself and your organization. Even better, if you need help, engage a trusted business partner to help you move forward in a prudent way, smart way. Lean on someone that has done it before.
Much more to come next month where I'll discuss security, backup, DLP, archiving and other areas that are critical to an O365 environment. But as I believe you can see from this post, there's a lot to it that needs to be considered to ensure success.
Until next month. Let me know your thoughts and experience with your O365 implementation.