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PHOTO: Larry W. Lo

Office 365 has been called both powerful and complex. And with the pace of new releases now coming every week, it’s also a moving target that both IT teams and general staff have to understand.

A key part of every successful approach to Office 365 is going to be training — a lot of training, that entails more than just pointing people to the full list of Microsoft videos. Staff are going to need direct support and education on what’s available, and how to make the most of it.

The training will require a considerable investment of money and time. So the million dollar question is: how do we justify and obtain the funding needed to train staff in how to use Office 365?

What Office 365 Training Is Needed?

Training will need to happen at many levels, across the whole organization.

General staff will require training in the basics of Office 365, from how to use Word Online to making use of OneDrive for personal files. As organizations shift to more collaborative ways of working, people will need extensive training in the use of Teams (as this is quite different to anything they have used before).

Knowledge workers will then need another layer of training, to help them shape collaboration not just within their team, but across the organization. They are also highly likely to be using Office 365 on the move via their phones or tablets.

Business areas, including communications teams and content owners, will need guidance on how to use Modern publishing sites, along with Communication Sites and Hub Sites.

At the highest level of usage, site owners and local "super users" will need to understand how to manage SharePoint and other applications behind the scenes. This includes knowing what features to turn on, and how to deliver a cohesive experience across the many sites and tools.

This training won’t be a one-off, or only happen when Office 365 is initially brought into the business. New starters will constantly be coming into the business and new tools will be used as the overall level of Office 365 maturity grows.

Finally, Office 365 is constantly changing, making previous training obsolete in small ways (a button has been renamed or moved) and large ways (a whole application is retired, or a new one launched).

Related Article: Jump Into Office 365 With Both Feet — Or Walk Away

This Is Not Business as Usual

In most businesses, it’s been a long time since IT provided any significant training to the general staff population, except around the release of new line-of-business solutions. Equally, dedicated training teams are often small, and focused largely on addressing compliance issues (e.g., mandatory safety training).

It also won’t be enough to point staff to the list of Microsoft training videos and then leave them to it. Without a clear direction on which tools to use, and without any business context, users will struggle to digest all the information on offer.

From my discussions with adoption MVPs, they are hesitant to recommend creating documented training materials, either in the form of how-to guides, or as adoption mini sites on the intranet. The concern is that with the constant pace of Office 365 improvements, this content will quickly become out of date.

All of this means that a high-touch, ongoing program of training will be needed. So how does this get paid for?

Related Article: SharePoint Adoption Success Starts With Understanding Your Users 

How to Make the Business Case

Initially, a shift to the cloud may necessitate training, with the funding allocated as part of the Office 365 provisioning and rollout. The move to Windows 10 (typically combined with the provision of new laptops and tables) also offers a funded opportunity to conduct some training.

Beyond that initial push, however, it’s clearly not enough to ask for a recurrent training budget "just because we’re using Office 365." While the initial move may be seen as strategic, the new platform and tools will quickly become taken for granted.

It’s therefore necessary to make a strategic case, not just for Office 365 adoption, but for broader digital transformation. The business-first methodology for Office 365 provides one way of addressing this.

This methodology starts with articulating an overall digital employee experience vision, and then outlines a concrete digital workplace strategy. The model is then built around an ongoing series of waves that target key user groups, or rollout new features. Strong governance then ensures that management, adoption and ongoing training is well established.

There are other ways of making the case for Office 365 training, but every one of them will need to engage with senior leaders to convince them that ongoing expenditure makes good business sense. So when it comes to making the case for training, go big or go home!