This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Complete coverage from the Ignite 2016 conference

Will Office 365 services impress at Ignite 2016?

With the Ignite 2016 show on the way, Microsoft has a job ahead of it to make Office 365 services clearer to users.

As the Microsoft Ignite 2016 conference approaches, note the sea change in the cloud strategy that the conference agenda portends. Over the past five years, Microsoft has jockeyed for position with Amazon's leading Amazon Web Services and upstarts like Salesforce.

Microsoft began shifting this roadmap several years ago, putting greater focus on a cloud-first orientation and by creating the foundation to provide cloud-ready and mobile-ready services with its Azure platform. Microsoft Office 365 applications including cloud-based storage and video services have been cornerstones of the strategy. Office 365 offers business productivity apps to make work processes easier, from email to storage in OneDrive for Business to collaboration tools like Skype for Business, SharePoint and Delve.

But the question remains whether all these services are ready for prime time -- and whether users are ready for the pace of change. There has also been a good deal of development among Office 365 services that creates redundancy in the portfolio, which creates confusion for users. Part of the mandate of Ignite 2016 is to clear up confusion about Office 365 services and clearly outline how they can benefit users.

New tech under the hood

One important development in Office 365 has been the multichannel communications in Office 365, integrating Skype for Business and PSTN connectivity. Smart, because it expands front- and back-end communications, creating broader potential for integration with other systems, as well as attracting smaller-size customers with the voice over IP infrastructure savings provided by Cloud PBX.

Ignite 2016 will cover these services as well as Office 365 storage capabilities, which are increasingly sophisticated with tiered storage in OneDrive, which makes the product more palatable beyond personal use as a potential enterprise solution, and deep-dive presentations on blob storage, across all the platforms that the Azure cloud accommodates.

Best-case use

There has been concern over duplication of functionality in Microsoft's cloud products and how to choose the right tool for the right job. OneDrive for Business shares SharePoint's content repository and management capabilities, and SharePoint already offers the collaboration features that appear in the Groups functionality. To bring order to this chaos, there will be a session demonstrating a way to use OneDrive within SharePoint, and a session devoted to best-case uses of Groups, Yammer, SharePoint and OneDrive.

Attracting hesitant customers

Many users are reluctant to surrender control of enterprise systems to outside parties, which is a consequence of hosting one's enterprise systems in someone else's cloud. It's not unreasonable to feel hesitant about trusting control of mission-critical server infrastructure to a vendor, and alleviating that anxiety has been a challenge for the Redmond, Wash., company.

Ignite 2016 will offer breakout sessions on the Operations Management Suite. These will include the new change monitoring and configuration services, which make single-point visibility possible -- which, in turn, improves root-cause analysis, so that troubleshooting is far less a hands-tied exercise than it has been up to this point.

Third time's the charm

Over the past year and a half, Microsoft has stumbled in its marketing of Delve and Office Graph, two search and discovery tools in Office 365. What was supposed to be the launch of enterprise-level artificial intelligence for productivity improvement became a mish-mash of mixed signals and muddled expectations. A second attempt to launch Delve, downplaying its sophistication by associating it with familiar social media functionality, only made things worse. But Delve can search on and access a lot of content in Office 365, which can be overwhelming for users.

Ignite 2016 will attempt to correct these misperceptions with several sessions emphasizing the utility of Graph and its new API, which creates a single endpoint for exporting Office 365 content to other systems. This content can be Exchange content -- email, attachments, contact info -- or SharePoint files and objects -- anything, really, in the platform. The API is one-stop shopping for large-scale systems integration, built into the platform, without additional infrastructure or expense.

But the significant piece of this is that Graph's value-added functionality -- the collection of metadata about the content being exported, in the form of usage metrics and lifecycle patterns -- can also be shared through the API. That's important because it opens up possibilities for analytics between systems that serve to clarify the true value of Graph and perhaps change management assessment of its value to the enterprise.

Taken in total, Office 365 services are pushing a kind of culture change among user companies. Reassuring old customers and attracting new ones is the unwritten agenda, and successful retooling of key technologies could be a tremendous boost. Microsoft has struggled somewhat to reposition itself and shatter its image as the grand old-timer among faster, nimbler upstarts in recent years. September's Ignite 2016 could be a proclamation that Microsoft won't be left behind.

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