This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to easing the migration to Office 365

Office 365 licensing and adoption create unique challenges

Microsoft is using new features and mobility to promote cloud migration, but Office 365 can create new licensing and adoption challenges for SharePoint on-premises users.

When Johnson & Johnson decided to ditch SharePoint 2007 and go to the cloud for document sharing and team collaboration,...

it knew what it was getting into -- sort of. It wanted a mobile-ready, cloud-based technology to enable workers to access documents regardless of location or device.

Johnson & Johnson (J&J), a company based in New Brunswick, N.J., which produces products such as baby shampoo and pain relievers, needed employees to be able to share documents without using shared public drives or email, which can pose version control issues and data security problems. J&J turned to the cloud-based Office 365, which includes SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, to enable workers to save and share documents whether they are in the office or on the road.

While many companies are skeptical about or only incrementally moving to the cloud, J&J is heading full bore there for 150,000 users by the end of 2015. Companies like J&J need the flexibility that the cloud offers by centralizing documents while ensuring safe data through two-factor identity authentication for users. Office 365 made sense for J&J not only for dispersed teams, but also to accommodate the expectations of younger workers, said Thomas Mansmann, IT lead at J&J.

"Our senior IT leadership wants us to have the ability to access content from any device and any location," Mansmann said. "The next line of people coming into the corporation expect mobility ... and this sets this up for that."

Our senior IT leadership wants us to have the ability to access content from any device and any location.
Thomas MansmannIT lead, Johnson & Johnson

But while the cloud untethers workers from their desktops, there are risks without adequate preparation. Forget security; think licensing. Companies run the risk of paying too much for enterprise licenses for Office 365, or, alternatively, shortchanging workers on capabilities to save money. While the former scenario runs up costs, the latter can prevent workers from getting their work done. Mansmann said that J&J came to recognize this tradeoff only after trying to minimize costs.

While J&J originally wanted to reduce costs by giving users an E1 license, rather than the more costly E3 license, Mansmann said his team realized that saving money would only hamstring the 150,000 users it plans to have on SharePoint Online by the end of 2015.

"There's a laundry list of features in PowerPoint, Excel and Word you cannot do -- macros don't work, certain tables do not work, rich media -- so workers can't do their jobs," he said. "There are scores of limitations that are not big at a small level, but at an enterprise level, it becomes a major problem."

The Microsoft mission

Microsoft has stated its mission to bring customers to the cloud, but Office 365 licensing and adoption can hit users with unexpected costs -- particularly for companies with existing investments in on-premises SharePoint. Microsoft licensing is hardly straightforward, and the onus is often on customers or integrators to carefully map out needs to migrate their on-premises estates -- or else.

"Microsoft ... has started to carve out pathways for migrating license spending," said Rob Helm, managing vice president at Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that focuses on Microsoft technologies in Seattle. "But the licensing side is less well-developed than the technical side."

And while Microsoft has made clear its future is in the cloud, most businesses have lots of enterprise information that they are unable or unwilling to move there. According to the 2015 Forrester Research Inc. report, SharePoint's Future: Engagement Workplaces for Customer Operations, Office 365 and SharePoint Online adoption has grown from 12% in 2012 to 23% in 2014 -- still less than one quarter of respondents. In addition, 71% still use on-premises SharePoint.

Microsoft's licensing needs to catch up with that reality. "Many Microsoft customers have already committed to spending a great deal on Microsoft software, which the cloud replaces," Helm said. "So the question is, how do they roll over their commitment to Office 365, as opposed to spending redundantly on both?"

Whether they are in a hybrid cloud SharePoint scenario or not, though, customers can easily fall prey to overspending on SharePoint features if they aren't careful to map out the right licensing tiers and feature mix. Mansmann said it was important to identify employee needs before the migration stage. While time-consuming, mapping needs to licensing tiers can save headaches or unforseen costs down the road.

"You have to look at your organization and look at roles, all the persona analysis and make sure the persona analysis matches what the job duties are, and then trying to match a license to that persona," he said. "It's a good six months to a year of figuring out who gets what."

Change is hard

Purdue Pharma, a medical products company based in Stamford, Conn., migrated most of its SharePoint 2010 and Exchange data to Office 365 earlier this year, with the goals of becoming more mobile and efficient.

Purdue's CTO, Stephen Rayda, said the results thus far have been promising, but added that the company has taken a measured approach to introducing new features -- so as to not overwhelm its 2,400 users with change. He identified training as a key challenge, which required formation of a special technology adoption group that develops training materials for Office 365 employee productivity.

"We've got a plethora of new collaboration capacities, and what we're trying to figure out is how to help users adopt them and change the way they work in a lasting way," Rayda said. "Truthfully, that's what we find to be the hardest thing."

Migration to Office 365 email was one example. Users were accustomed to logging into Exchange with a short version of their company ID, but authentication for the cloud version required the full ID. Rayda said that change resulted in a flurry of activity at the service desk.

"I'd say 90% of the calls were a result of people not reading communications that outlined the steps they would need to take," Rayda said. "It wasn't a technology issue; it was a follow-the-instructions issue."

Things become more complicated when asking employees to adopt new technology. Last year, Purdue Pharma deployed Cisco's collaboration tool Jabber to streamline voicemail and email communication. Rayda said the benefits were clear, but less than a quarter of employees used the tools, even after extensive communication and training. He said this was indicative of the new world of IT, where user adoption has replaced technology as the primary concern.

"I was at a party last weekend and somebody joked that they were majoring in anthropology, with a minor in sociology," Rayda said. "I said, 'Let me know when that person graduates, I'll hire them. That's the skill set we need.'"

So much about [a SharePoint] migration happens before the data starts to move.
Rob Helmmanaging vice president, Directions on Microsoft

Johnson & Johnson is facing similar challenges, with a significant portion of its workforce that would prefer to continue working through desktops instead of cloud-based tools. It's a shift in mind-set, explained Mansmann, and something the company is looking to manage through training and education. While it's a significant investment, Mansmann expects the company will see a net benefit.

"The immediate concern is it's difficult to change the environment, but once you get there, I think the future is much easier, because we don't have to worry about upgrade paths and servers," Mansmann said. "It's done for you."

While Office 365 licensing and migration pose new challenges for SharePoint users, Joshua Trupin, Directions on Microsoft research vice president, expects that companies will increasingly move to the cloud; the economics of server hardware, software licensing and management all argue for the cloud.

"Microsoft is making it much easier to get to the cloud than to stay on premises," Trupin said. "We're seeing more and more that you have to really work to keep things on premises."

But, added Helm, without upfront preparation, companies can shortchange themselves on the way there. It's about more than just moving the data.

"So much about the migration happens before the data starts to move," Helm said. "Figuring out what data you need to move ... and what you have to keep on premises because of regulatory constraints, and then figuring out customizations to SharePoint if you want to preserve them -- those are the things [that] are going to be the big blockers."

Next Steps

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Experts highlight issues with Office 365 roadmap  

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Dig Deeper on Enterprise SharePoint strategy