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Partner: Tool Targets 3 Problems with Large Migrations to Office 365

A year after launching an Office 365 migration project automation tool for Microsoft partners, SkyKick this week released an enterprise version to help the channel move larger customers to Microsoft's cloud productivity suite.

The two-time Microsoft Partner of the Year Award-winning startup, launched by former Microsoft employees, released its SkyKick Application Suite in April 2013 with the idea of automating most of the tasks involved in migrating smaller customers from on-premises or other cloud e-mail systems onto Office 365. The original product design focused on the SMB customers that represent the sweet spot of Office 365 adoption, with SkyKick's business case scenarios centering on deployments with about 25 users.

During a year of use, however, co-CEOs Evan Richman and Todd Schwartz say SkyKick partners who move larger organizations to Microsoft's cloud provided feedback about some of the specialized requirements for those larger projects.

On Tuesday, SkyKick unveiled an Enterprise Migration Suite to meet some of those needs. In spite of the enterprise name, Richman and Schwartz say SkyKick remains committed to 100 percent channel sales of its suite. The name strictly refers to the user counts the suite is designed to support, which is in the range of 250 to 10,000 users.

We spoke with one partner who was an early adopter of the SkyKick Application Suite and beta tested the Enterprise Migration Suite. Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature in Washington, D.C., used SkyKick for SMB customers but wasn't able to make the suite work for larger customers.

In an interview, Hertz detailed three things New Signature is now able to do with the SkyKick Enterprise Migration Suite:

1. Skip some hybrid infrastructures. To move an enterprise organization to Exchange Online, New Signature and many other partners commonly set up temporary hybrid Exchange environments. In those cases, the hybrid server is built as a bridge that helps maintain user information like free/busy calendar data and acts as a staging area for the three months to a year that larger organizations typically take to move completely from the old environment to the new.

"SkyKick is really a tool that allows you to do a cutover migration or a staged migration without doing a hybrid server," Hertz said. The SkyKick tool won't be able to replace the need for a hybrid environment in every case, but it will eliminate many of them, Hertz said. He contended that's the new tool's biggest value.

"If you thought about the complexity of an Exchange Online migration, the hybrid is one of the more complex pieces," he said, and added that it will reduce one of the biggest obstacles to Office 365 sales in midsize to enterprise organizations. "There are some instances where we walk into a customer and they say, 'I can't go through the hybrid environment that you're describing.'"

2. Improve migration planning. The original SkyKick toolset involved migration planning, but the new enterprise version offers much more detailed information gathering and more options, as befits larger environments. "For midmarket customers, it's super important to do planning," Hertz said. "The SkyKick tools can provide some intelligence around that."

Planning tools in the new SkyKick Enterprise Migration Suite include support for pilot deployments, mailbox and source information discovery, and e-mail architecture planning. A fair amount of planning information also emerges earlier in the "Sell" phase of SkyKick's end-to-end migration process for partners.

New elements of the enterprise tool include the ability to log in to a Microsoft Licensing account to assign Open or Enterprise Agreement licenses to Office 365 users, the ability to pull data from multiple Exchange servers in the case of an acquisition, and the ability to normalize e-mail addresses (for example, change all e-mail addresses in a company to first initial, last name during the migration).

3. Training is baked in. The white-labeled SkyKick e-mails at various stages of the process provide instructions for users on setting up accounts and using their new Office 365 functionality. "A lot of midmarket customers don't necessarily have a large training function," Hertz said. The canned e-mail messages from SkyKick do a good job of helping users along, he said. For a partner, Hertz noted, showing 30 users in one office how to use a new system is possible, but trying to teach the system to 1,000 users in five offices and two countries is very difficult.

Posted by Scott Bekker on May 20, 2014 at 3:46 PM