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PHOTO: Sutha Kamal

Organizations are moving to Microsoft 365, and rightly so. As a platform, it offers more than any other solution in the marketplace. It’s also seen as the natural next step for the upgrading of IT infrastructure, as part of a bigger picture that encompasses cloud, desktop operating systems and mobility.

The shift to Microsoft 365 has also been timely, often just before the COVID-19 crisis hit, or even as part of a rapid response to the pandemic itself. With IT generally in the driving seat, the introduction of Microsoft 365 in many cases "just happened," with little or no discussion or debate.

This is where things become problematic. With the absence of formal decision-making around the move to Microsoft 365, it’s often become just an assumed or default step. I call this a "non-decision" and it leads to lasting impacts which may cripple the value of the platform if additional steps aren’t taken.

Signs a 'Non-Decision' Has Been Made

When your organization shifted to Microsoft 365, did it take any of these steps:

  • Gather business and user needs, and assess Microsoft 365 against them?
  • Create a business case for the shift to Microsoft 365?
  • Take options to senior leaders to consider and decide on?
  • Define the business solution, outlining how the platform will be used in practice?
  • Create a roadmap for the adoption and use of the platform?
  • Identify business owners for each element of the platform?
  • Establish business-lead governance for Microsoft 365?

If you answered "yes" to some or all of the questions: bravo! That shows business and IT teams working together — even if only to a small degree — to make decisions regarding Microsoft 365. This gives you a stronger foundation for making the most of the platform.

If you answered "no" to most or all questions: you’re not alone. It may be that IT saw the move to Microsoft 365 as the natural next step, and just got on with it. It could’ve also been considered a purely technology question, addressed within the bounds of the IT department.

Either way, the result is a non-decision was made: that is, the move to Microsoft 365 happened without involving the business or making a clear case for why the move was happening. 

Related Article: Microsoft 365 vs. Best of Breed Tools? Try Microsoft 365 Plus Best of Breed Tools

Impact of a Microsoft 365 Non-Decision

The impact of a non-decision may not be apparent at first. After launch, there’s a lot of work to do, often including providing new devices to employees and shifting from desktop to cloud-based versions of tools.

The shift to a clean, cloud-based Active Directory means a lot of past IT legacy decisions and tools are also cleared away. Early tools, such as OneDrive, are relatively easy to roll out and you can expect reasonable adoption.

Microsoft 365 is not a simple platform, however, and adoption is not assured. The organization needs to make a considerable investment in change management, and undertake strategic projects to address key business needs. A lot of time and effort is required to make the most of the platform.

The platform also introduces new risks related to collaborative behaviors, external sharing and records management. The business will need to address these, often through the use of third-party compliance tools or by shifting to a more expensive Microsoft 365 license.

At this point the business, including senior leaders, may start to hesitate. Questions arise such as: Why are we moving to Microsoft 365? What’s the case for investing more time and money? This all seems very complex, are we going in the right direction? If this move introduces new risks, have we made the right decision?

In my work, I’ve seen organizations come to a sudden halt when these questions and concerns are raised. While simple tools such as OneDrive and Teams chat have been rolled out, bigger shifts to Teams and SharePoint Online are being left in limbo.

In a normal technology scenario, these questions would’ve been raised and answered as part of the initial business case. Business buy-in would’ve been assured from the outset. Unfortunately that's not the case with a non-decision.

Related Article: The Sudden Move to Remote Work Unearthed Years of Bad Tech Decisions

How to Make Things Right

This isn’t the end of the story. Even when an organization has made a Microsoft 365 non-decision, it can take practical steps to backfill the necessary business engagement.

The starting point is to better understand business and employee needs, and to identify in concrete terms where Microsoft 365 tools can assist. This will invariably see different tools used by areas of the business, or the same tools used in quite different ways. Either way, this paints a picture of how Microsoft 365 can be useful in practical business-oriented ways.

Make the case for using Microsoft 365. While not a true business case, as the main decision (e.g. the move to Microsoft 365) has already been made, the document should clearly explain why Microsoft 365 is valuable, in business language and aligned with business priorities.

At this point you can engage senior leaders, so they too understand the importance and value of Microsoft 365. This is a good test for the re-engagement process: if senior leaders don't find the Microsoft 365 story meaningful, go back two steps: further understand business needs, and review the case for change.

Business ownership should then be established for key tools or use cases. This is no different to the approach taken by modern IT teams for every other tool, where there’s a partnership between technology and business owners. Business-lead governance must also be put in place, alongside the technical governance that’s often already established.

All of this will take time, and it may seem like things are going backwards rather than forward. The work is necessary, however, if your business is going to make full use of Microsoft 365. Commit the time now, undo the impact of the initial non-decision, and then move forward with confidence.