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Partner Helps Customers Navigate Microsoft's Evolving Collaboration Choices

Oh, for the days of simple answers to complex questions. With Microsoft's release of Teams this week, customers have yet another option to add to their confusion when it comes to choosing their best path to a collaborative workplace.

As the Office 365 collaboration toolset continues to expand -- Groups, Skype, Delve, Yammer and, now, Teams -- the challenge for partners to explain them all and how they fit together grows, as well.

Compounding the challenge of keeping customers informed and comfortable is Microsoft's recent move to continuous release cycles rather than the traditional periodic Big Bang. Since corporate decision making has yet to make the leap to agile, partners need to help customers accept and embrace the faster pace of innovation in technology.

"The IT leaders that I'm speaking with oftentimes want to try to make a decision that's really going to be the go-to solution across the entire organization. They've been hearing a lot about using a decision matrix -- when to use what tool," said Mike Oryszak, Managing Director at B&R Business Solutions LLC. "Generally, I think that's a mistake and I think you're missing some good opportunities when you take that approach."

"One of the things that we talk a lot about is reducing the size of the investment in any one decision," added Oryszak. "Secondarily, accepting the fact that things are going to continue to change, and the right decision today, for a given team, may not be the right decision 18 months from now. In order to truly take advantage of the innovation, you have to stay agile and not go all in on any one particular decision."

One example Oryszak uses to help customers "get it" is Microsoft's own evolution strategy. Until quite recently, Microsoft would release a major update to a solution, like SharePoint, and customers would adapt that platform to meet their specific needs (with their partners' help). "Certainly, the old on-premises days, that's absolutely how it was. You would define your sites and customize those," said Oryszak. "As a consultant, that was great because it provided us with a canvas to build all of those custom solutions."

In today's Microsoft, services and solutions like SharePoint, Yammer, Skype and Exchange are the pieces that stitch together to create the overall platform. Microsoft is investing in innovative solutions that evolve through continuous release to offer options that meet unique and developing business requirements. Through a less rigid platform and broader set of tools, companies can take an agile approach to meet the unique challenges of a given group.

The Strategic Role of the Partner
That changing approach also impacts the role of the partner and corresponding service opportunity. Partners recommending that clients remain agile aren't going to be able justify a huge custom SharePoint project as in days past.

"Ultimately, Microsoft is trying to lower the bar and reduce the friction for the end customer and trying to make these things easier without a whole lot of outside help," said Oryszak. "We're focusing more on things like self-service and finding ways for users to be able to initiate and provision the services and sites that they need. With that in mind, as a partner, we tend to focus more on the strategy. More about governance and how the platform should be used. Our opportunity has shifted from a lot of custom solutions to much more of a strategic role and a strategic partner for our clients."

Agile Education
To promote a more agile approach to technology decision making, partners need to apply the concept of continuous, evolving education in their own business and in customer communications. Currently, the B&R team is talking to customers about Microsoft Teams, which they have been using internally since Ignite last year.

"We jumped in and we started using Teams, really, from the week that it hit first release. We started getting traction using it for collaboration with groups that, previously, nothing ever met their needs and nobody ever was really happy," said Oryszak. "Where we would previously, maybe, concede to just a central library somewhere and it wouldn't be actively monitored, now we're storing conversations, we're collaborating on project tasks, we're doing all of this other stuff that we just weren't successful in doing before."

At the customer level, B&R bakes education into its service packages. "Our MSP customers receive platform enablement services as part of the package," explained Oryszak. "Depending on the package level, it's a different number of hours, but let's just say 24 hours of consulting per quarter. We do strategic briefings, provide demonstrations or some light training on a particular feature of interest." In addition, B&R sends out a regular newsletter and offers a range of webinars, live events and blog posts to educate customers.

For both partners and customers, the pace of change today requires a new approach to applied business technology. There are no pauses, no time to adjust. The role of partners today has to be interpretive and strategic, which means staying well out in front. Agility may have been a buzzword in the past, but it's a fundamental requirement in business today.

How are you helping customer adapt? Send me an e-mail and let's share your story.

Posted by Barb Levisay on March 16, 2017 at 8:25 AM