Observations on Office 365 – Part 1

We recently completed another Office 365 project, and I must confess, I’m still not sure about it. The project was reasonably successful – but there were a lot of tears shed, and we still have issues that are proving alarming difficult to deal with.

Broadly, I think, these issues can be broken down in to two categories – problems with the customer, and problems with the technology.

Customer Issues

I suppose that many of these are normal for projects, but there are a few that stand out as particularly Microsoft problems…

Nobody gets that the different Plans are. Our customers don’t get it, our salesmen don’t get it, I don’t get it. You’ve Office 365 P (*), K1, K2, E1, E2 (*), E3, E4 plans, Small Business, Small Business Premium, Midsize Business, Government, and Education variants. And the SharePoint Only P1 and P2 plans, not to be confused with the Office plan. (Though those marked with * might be retired). Anyway, it’s too damn complicated, and it makes selecting the right plan a drag on the project – and customers do get it wrong, bless ’em.

Whose responsibility is out-of-the-box functionality that doesn’t work properly? In every project I’ve done in Office 365 there’s been some feature or functionality that a) doesn’t work, b) doesn’t work as expected, or c) is so damn complicated nobody can figure out what ‘working’ would be. In an ordinary SharePoint project, I might have to build some work around for it – but with SharePoint Online my options as developer are very limited. Raising tickets with Microsoft usually gets a response of “That’s how it is”, which is, at one level, fair enough. However, at another, the customer just wants a working system, is paying me a lot of money, and it’s hard for them not to blame me for some element of SharePoint that isn’t working as anybody expected. I do not feel excited about getting into this situation.

Customers get confused about wanting “Off the Shelf” – but expecting bespoke functionality. This one does baffle me, but somehow our customers are led to believe that Office 365 will do whatever curious things they want “Off the Shelf”. I’m mystified how it happens. At least if they’re developing a bespoke system they recognise this, but for some reason Office 365 does seem to exacerbate this.

It’s cloud, so you don’t have to worry about Infrastructure.” This seems to be a favourite idea and it can be true. As long as you’re not worried about your bandwidth to the Internet. And you’ve thought of having redundant connections, preferably leaving from the other side of the building, and connecting to a separate exchange, run by a separate supplier. And that you don’t want to synchronise or link your user’s AD accounts to Office 365. The advertising makes it sound like it’s like creating a Hotmail account – and it can be. But in reality, there are a lot of other aspects to it that probably mean you want to involve IT…

In part II, I’ll look at the technology issues.


Observations on Office 365 – Part 1

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