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How Office 365 Changes the Focus of Technology Service Delivery

For technology providers, the cloud is changing the nature of service delivery. Office 365 removes the application and infrastructure limitations, allowing customers and partners to focus on business outcomes instead of technology features.

To deliver services in the cloud era, partners are taking a user-centered approach to business analysis supported by a commitment to continuous learning. 

"A fundamental change that I have seen with Office 365 is that the user moves to the center of the conversation," said Erica Toelle, West Coast strategic account developer for Protiviti. "Instead of talking about a feature of SharePoint, for example, you focus on how all of the parts of Office 365, from Dynamics CRM to Power BI, can come together to improve the user's daily work experience."

Since the real impact of productivity improvement comes at the user level, the design and solution development process should start with making each worker's experience easier. Technology features move to the background and conversations focus on specific business outcomes.

"We're moving away from the era where the products were competing with each other. In the Satya [Nadella] era, it's more about having solutions that complement one other," added Toelle, a regular presenter at SharePoint and Office 365 events around the world. "The boundaries of the solutions are not important, it's how they work together to make the best user experience for each unique situation."

"As a foundation, you want to make the user experience as seamless as possible," Toelle said. "Once a client's Office 365 system is stabilized, with Azure Active Directory set up, single sign-on working and information being exchanged with other systems, you can have the process conversations."

The common projects that Office 365 clients want to start with include automation of manual processes, simple document storage, enabling project management or setting up a lightweight extranet. "The first step is helping the company create an overall strategy and roadmap for the solutions that they want to build," Toelle said. "Those are conversations that technology providers are used to having, like the roadmap and project prioritization."

Workflows are a place to quickly build and ROI for clients. It's easy for the customer to make a business case for replacing manual processes with automation. "I think that's why companies tend to go with workflows first," Toelle said.

As most IT service providers are finding, business analysts have become an essential part of the delivery team. "You need a strong business analyst or business process engineer to support workflow design," Toelle said. "It's not difficult to build the logic behind the process, like the approvals. It's the exceptions that are important. Things like, 'What happens when this person is on vacation or doesn't respond?' Asking the right questions to uncover all those little exceptions is what makes the business analyst role so important."

As customers look to cloud service providers for process improvement, partners need to be building depth in business consulting skills just as much as technology skills. Traditional technology consultants and project managers generally don't have the skill sets to define user-based experience activities. That means hiring people that have business skill sets, which is new territory for most partners.

Another fundamental change that Office 365 partners face is a learning curve that never ends. "The continuous release model of cloud solutions, requires continuous learning," explained Toelle. "Quarterly meetings just don't hack it any more. Partners need to have a way to disseminate information across the consulting team quickly, so consultants can share lessons learned as they happen."  

Fortunately, the continuous learning model matches up well with the preferences of the gen-Xers and millennials who make up a growing percentage of consulting teams. Partners will find willing participants to use the social sharing tools that older consultants were reticent to adopt. "Using Yammer or something similar is key to setting your workforce up for success today," Toelle said.

Helping customers overcome the silos of information and cumbersome processes caused by separate applications provided years of revenue generation for technology service providers. With Office 365, the barriers are coming down but opening a new set of opportunities for partners. To support that unified platform, partner service models are changing to deliver user-centered business analysis and a commitment to continuous learning.

How are your services changing to meet cloud customer expectations? Add a comment below or send me a note and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on August 27, 2015