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New Features Added to Microsoft 365 Business Subscriptions

Microsoft's productivity and collaboration plan for businesses with fewer than 300 users is getting two new features: conditional access security and trouble-ticket tools for administrators.

Microsoft launched the Microsoft 365 Business subscription plan nearly two years ago for small-to-medium businesses. Priced at $20 per user per month, the plan offers access to Office apps (mobile and Web), cloud-based file storage, Microsoft Teams collaboration, online meetings, mobile device management and Windows Autopilot PC provisioning. It also features security, "information protection" policies for documents, plus some compliance support, but conditional access is new.

Conditional Access Addition
Microsoft indicated in its announcement Wednesday that "all Microsoft 365 Business subscribers" currently have access to the new conditional access capability. It lets organizations set limits on user access to network resources by setting certain policies.

For instance, IT pros can specify that multifactor authentication (a secondary identification verification scheme) is required before providing access to network resources. They can ward off network access by users located at untrusted locations. They can ensure that devices are domain joined before providing network access, among other such policy details.

In essence, Microsoft 365 Business subscribers are getting the same conditional access policies that come with the Azure Active Directory Premium P1 plan. However, Microsoft didn't go so far as to actually include the full Azure Active Directory Premium P1 plan in Microsoft 365 Business subscriptions. Instead, Microsoft added a few relevant capabilities for small-to-medium businesses from the Azure AD Premium plan into the Microsoft 365 Business plan, namely:

  • Self-service password reset for hybrid Azure
  • Azure Multi-factor Authentication
  • Conditional Access

To use the new conditional access capability, IT pros will need to turn it on "via the Azure Directory settings in the Azure portal," Microsoft explained.

Microsoft 365 Admin Center Support Additions
Microsoft also announced a few new administrative capabilities in the "new" Microsoft 365 Admin Center portal this week for IT pros managing Microsoft 365 implementations. The capabilities are mostly related to resolving technical support cases with Microsoft.

The Microsoft 365 Admin Center is now the main Web page-based console used for Office 365 management activities. It completely replaced the earlier Office 365 Admin Center portal, as Microsoft had explained last year.

Apparently, the new features in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center are all at the preview stage. For instance, IT pros are directed to opt "into the Preview experience" using a button on the right side of the portal to see them.

A new "callback scheduling" feature lets IT pros specify a time for phone calls with Microsoft support personnel. In addition, IT pros can add attachments and notes to their support tickets. They can now check where they currently are with a service request with a new "updated service request" view.

New "user-defined language and time zone" capabilities let IT pros specify those details when they first create a case with Microsoft.

Microsoft also now lets IT pros check their past Microsoft support cases, including associated e-mail communications, using the portal. The search capability has been enhanced to find cases "up to one year old." IT pros also can export case history information back to one year.

Microsoft is also promising that machine learning is at work within the portal to help IT pros get more "personalized self-service solutions." It's improved via the "service health dashboard, support articles, and diagnostic wizards," Microsoft indicated. However, a reader commenting in Microsoft's announcement wasn't thrilled by the artificial intelligence addition and suggested that improved support response times from Microsoft would be a more welcome improvement.

Not all of the Microsoft 365 Admin Center additions may be available. For instance, a new capability allowing IT pros to specify the severity of their Microsoft support cases is just for Microsoft Premier or Microsoft Unified Support customers.

This month, Microsoft is expected to completely replace the Premier technical support program with the Microsoft Unified Support program, according to plans announced nearly two years ago. Early on, analyst and consulting firm Gartner Inc. had suggested that Microsoft Unified Support would result in increased support costs for some organizations.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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