Tony, you are well-known in our industry, and in the community, as “Godfather of Exchange”. But, lot of people are not aware that you are very active in other Office 365 areas, and generally in the collaboration arena. Can you tell us a bit more about your work?
I’ve been working with email since 1982, so I have a natural interest in collaboration. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to collaboration over the last 36 years… In that time, I have worked on products like ALL-IN-1, the first unified collaboration platform from DEC, gained patents on mail rules, built consulting practices, helped Microsoft launch Exchange in 1996, and defend Microsoft against Google in the High Court in London, so I have taken a varied path. Right now, I write a column twice weekly for Petri.com, lead the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook, chair a software company, and do other bits and pieces on the side. I am a grumpy old person who does not suffer fools gladly, which is good for some who know me and bad for others.
We are witnessing the rise of Microsoft Teams in the collaboration space: Gartner just reported that Teams took over the pole position in the large enterprises. We know that Teams is a clever shell for lot of other underlying Office 365 services. What is your prediction for the collaboration space generally, and especially for Microsoft, Office 365 and Teams? In which direction is this all going to develop?
There’s lots to like about Teams, but there are also big gaps that I think it needs to fill before Teams meets all the collaboration needs for large organizations. For example, its integration with email is weak and its compliance features need improvement. However, that being said, on a positive note, Teams is easy to deploy and maintain, and it has made SharePoint and OneDrive storage far more accessible than before to many Office 365 users, which is a good thing. This trend started with Office 365 Groups, but Teams makes file access and storage even easier. I think Microsoft is clever to replace Skype for Business Online with Teams as well as it made no sense to have two voice platforms.
Office 365 flexes and changes all the time, so if admins are not there to monitor what Microsoft does, how can a company make sure that they get the maximum advantage from their investment in Office 365?
Going forward, I don’t see much change in the next few years. You’ll have Teams and Office 365 Groups to serve different communities inside Office 365, basically those who like and don’t like Outlook – and Office 365 is large enough to support both. And Yammer will persist too because Microsoft needs an answer for large-scale collaboration way beyond the capabilities of Teams or Groups today. In the long term, it would not surprise me if Microsoft replaced the innards of Yammer with the Exchange database engine (ESE) to achieve rationalization of their platforms and improve search and compliance for Yammer. After all, a database engine is just an engine, and Yammer’s strengths are in its UX, not its inner parts.
Are companies going to fire their admins once they adopt Office 365?
No. Administrators have more work to do than ever before. Just consider all the ramifications of GDPR and the extra workload that admins must to do prepare their tenants for the new regulations. Ask yourself this, if admins are fired, who will address the issues like those explored in https://www.quadrotech-it.com/ten-things-office-365-tenants-can-do-to-prepare-for-gdpr/? And GDPR is only one new piece of work, albeit a large one. Office 365 flexes and changes all the time, so if admins are not there to monitor what Microsoft does, how can a company make sure that they get the maximum advantage from their investment in Office 365?
Admins do have to change though. Anyone who behaves in the cloud like they used to do when managing on-premises systems is foolish and a candidate to be fired. Office 365 is different. Very different. And because it is different, people must manage Office 365 as a unified service. I hear too many people comparing how the cloud versions of SharePoint and Exchange differ from the on-premises versions. The point is that you cannot compare radically different software products, so the focus must be on how to extract business value from the whole of Office 365 rather than one small part. Admins who do that have jobs for life.
How important is PowerShell for Office 365 and Azure admins? I’ve seen lot of them still being reluctant in using it.
See https://www.petri.com/powershell-important-office365-admins. PowerShell is an essential skill. People who don’t want to learn or use PowerShell are restricting their ability to be successful with Office 365.
One last question: Is GDPR the Y2K bug of 2018?
No. Y2K taught the IT industry about the need to prepare programs and data for the future. GDPR is all about respecting the privacy of individuals and how the industry needs to protect personal data to ensure that it is not misused, abused, or leaked. In saying this, a lot of rubbish is spoken about GDPR. For example, not all personal data comes within the scope of GDPR as elements like your name and email address might already be exposed publicly in forums like LinkedIn. So, it’s important for companies to understand what personal data they hold, whether it comes under the scope of GDPR, and if so, how they use and protect that data. The good news is that Office 365 includes many features that can help companies handle the challenge of managing data safely and efficiently, including tools like Teams and Planner that can help to organize the work (see https://www.petri.com/teams-planner-compliance-manager-gdpr). The sad thing is that so many companies seem to be slow in preparing themselves for GDPR. I guess a couple of high-profile court cases and big fines might be needed to emphasize the message.
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