Almost every Microsoft customer has started shifting to subscription-based Microsoft 365 (M365) services. These are part of the growing ‘evergreen’ Microsoft ecosystem, where individuals and organisations pay a monthly fee for use-rights to a product, rather than buying a perpetual licence.
The main advantages for end-users are a platform that’s always up-to-date, and a predictable cost per user. Microsoft and its partners benefit from stable revenues, and an opportunity to help customers right-size their licensing on a continuous basis.
A big part of that opportunity lies in looking at the bundles available through the M365 licensing program and realising the various potential sources for extra value. The bundles we typically see for businesses are:
Office 365 licensing – for example, “Office 365 Enterprise E3”
– Access to a broad range of products including (but not limited to) Exchange Online, Teams, OneDrive, SharePoint and Office 365 applications (Word, Excel etc), depending on the licence, e.g. E3, E5, F1.
– Includes product use-rights, a certain amount of data storage space and relevant traditional CAL equivalences
– Does NOT include key security features such as Conditional Access, Information Protect and Endpoint Management
Enterprise Mobility and Security suite – for example, “EMS E3”
– Enhances security, management and governance around both data stored in 365 and users’ access to the services, again depending on the licence – E3 or E5.
Microsoft 365 Enterprise – for example, “M365 Enterprise E3”
– Combination packages, typically incorporating the above bundles plus a Windows Enterprise subscription.
There’s also a slew of add-on products, individual licences and special bundles, such as Microsoft 365 Business Premium, available only to specific types or sizes of clients. Reminiscent of the Windows Small Business Server editions, this is designed for organisations with fewer than 300 users and includes what Microsoft deems the most appropriate subset of features from across the wider 365 services.
Easy features you are not using
The first and simplest place to look for additional value is at the features listed within the bundles you’re subscribed to but are simply not using. A great example is SharePoint and OneDrive. So many businesses have migrated their email to the Exchange Online as a first step, and started using Teams during the ongoing COVID situation, but have yet to move away from traditional file services for shared and personal documents.
Other examples include using Self-service Password Reset as part of the Azure AD Premium P1 or P2 licence, included in the EMS E3 bundle. This enables users to reset their own forgotten passwords safely and securely, rather than having to call a helpdesk. Another good example is using the same licensing to deploy on-premises Password Protection, eliminating weak passwords across your organisation.
Displacement of other ecosystem products
Chances are that the move to 365 bundles licensing means some services in your platform that have been provided through point-solutions are now duplicated. Taking the time to locate and migrate away from these alternatives to the native Microsoft cloud brings both commercial and administrative benefits. For example, two-factor authentication products like RSA can easily be replaced by Microsoft Authenticator; and email filtering can be handed to Defender for Office 365. Because these features are deeply integrated with the rest of the 365 services, they’re easy to configure and offer greater protection by working across the board rather than as point solutions.
Many businesses are licensed for features they haven’t implemented because of perceived complexity or time constraints. Features like Data Leakage Prevention, which stops users from accidentally sharing the wrong content, or Azure Information Protection, which allows documents to be labelled based on their contents’ sensitivity, bring a net increase in security.
Changes in practice can also bring benefits. Rather than emailing a copy of a file to an external user, using SharePoint links gives them access to it: fantastic for collaboration, but also tracks when they use the file and what they did with it – and allows you to revoke the access if needs be.
Every subscription gives some level of access to products, services and features that can improve your business processes. Collecting survey responses via Forms is much more efficient than using paper or an Excel spreadsheet; with PowerApps, you can collate approvals directly within Teams. In time, more of these services will offer direct access to the Microsoft Dataverse, interfacing directly with services like Exchange, Sharepoint and Dynamics. I am referring to these as ‘fringe benefits’ simply because making use of them may be costly in terms of enacting business process change.
In our experience, most businesses are currently using a fraction of the capabilities they’re paying for in the Microsoft Cloud – some of which they’re already paying for elsewhere! We can often reclaim any implementation cost by removing duplicated services or improving efficiency by reducing helpdesk calls and delays in returning users to productivity.
While implementing some of these features can seem costly, you need to offset this against not only the benefits but also the cost of not doing so. A lost password without MFA, or accidentally sharing the wrong document can cause both material and reputational damage. Plus, ever-increasing fines for data breaches and a more demanding security landscape means having not used available data security features is no longer an option.