Microsoft has bet heavily on Office 365 as a way to beat back the Google Apps charge. However, the software maker has seen disappointment despite its efforts. General Motors, for example, has been seriously considering a move to the Google suite. But according to Microsoft, Office 365 sales are doing well, with the product driving sales of Lync, Exchange, and SharePoint.
One big focus for Office 365 is the SMB market. A July 2011 study from analyst firm AMI-Partners Inc. confirms that Microsoft is on target, reporting that 42 percent of SMBs express interest in moving to a cloud-hosted productivity and collaboration suite over the next 12 months. But even when a sale is made, it’s not all smooth sailing, as channel pros have discovered. Migrating clients to Office 365 from Microsoft’s own Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), on-premises services, or another hosted service is complex, with both obvious and subtle ways to trip up when moving from one to the other. So channel pros transitioning clients to the cloud must take care for the migration process to be smooth and effective.
Planning for any customer project is important, but it’s critical for Office 365, according to Scott Paul, strategic accounts manager at AppRiver LLC, a Gulf Breeze, Fla.-based managed service provider and Microsoft Office 365 reseller. “If there’s ever been a suite of hosted services that presented the channel with almost an imperative to do disciplined planning around implementation, it’s Office 365,” he says.
At the most obvious level is the complexity of available offerings, which can include the hosted versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. “They get combined in a series of five different bundle packages that have different service levels and capabilities,” Paul says. Finding the right match for customers is essential. Suggest too much and they could wind up with a collection of tools that they pay for but don’t use.
Choosing too little can be as big a problem. The P1 plan, for instance, which runs $6 per seat per person, offers no phone support, even through a channel pro, according to Ben Peterman, business solutions coordinator at Syracuse, N.Y.-based IV4 Inc., an IT consultancy. Instead, users get online support, meaning forums, wikis, and articles. In addition, Microsoft hasn’t provided a migration path from P1 to another plan such as E1, which would offer equivalent services with support. A company that wants to switch must start from scratch.