I spent a recent weekend setting up Office 365 for a friend's new business. The experience was far from comforting. My friend, Dan, isn't a deeply technical person. By day, he's an architect. By night, he's applying his creativity toward a new business framing concert art.
Dan came to me hoping to solve what seemed like a simple problem: He needed e-mail services that were something more than your average Gmail account. He just didn't know what that "more" was.
After hours of effort -- spread across the entirety of a weekend -- I was successful in migrating Dan at Gmailonto Dan at Office 365. Yet while the migration was ultimately successful, the challenges I faced in getting him there have me concerned about the potential for failure of Office 365.
While setting up his account -- and repeatedly comforting him that "everything will soon be all right" -- I considered three reasons why Office 365 could ultimately fail. I share them with you here in the hopes that it doesn't.
Reason No. 1: A disconnect from the needs of everyday people.
Looking through office365.com, any IT professional can plainly see the services it offers. Yet even at their most simplified, those services remain impenetrable to the non-technologist. My friend frames concert art; some might say brilliantly so. His business needs are, in his words, "e-mail" and "I'm not sure what else."
Finding the meaning behind Dan's requirements is fundamentally important to the success of Office 365. Microsoft's marketing still misses that mark. Until Microsoft can crystalize how Office 365 solves actual problems of everyday people, its services may never break out of society's techno-centric minority. Suggestion: Simplify.
Reason No. 2: The perception that you still need an IT professional. Cloud computing consumer offerings purport to deliver IT services without the need for IT professionals. That egalitarianism is a good thing.
But an ever-more technological world requires technologies that "just work." My friend Dan is a framer, not an IT professional. His business succeeds when he frames, not when he's working with technology.
My hours of effort in migrating DNS MX and NS records, linking connected accounts, configuring policies with Windows PowerShell, and everything else a new P1 plan requires didn't bring Dan comfort. Office 365 must streamline these barriers to entry or find itself strangled by the reach of the world's IT professionals.
Reason No. 3: Embarrassingly poor online support. The least-expensive Office 365 plans offer online support only. That online-only support could be sufficient if its forums were easy to navigate and answers easy to find. Unfortunately, neither is the case.
Office 365 online support is insufficient to the point of being embarrassing. Finding answers to even the simplest of problems is impossible at worst and a time-intensive chore at best. Resources are spread among multiple locations, with no unified "How-To" structure readily available (or easily found).
Responses to questions appear scripted, and are generally unhelpful or non-direct. Official responses in forums are often merely repeated when clarification is requested. Surprisingly, cross-platform compatibility issues are often ignored or minimized.
Take for example the Office 365 Community's "Top Topic" (as of this writing) titled "Android Connectivity." This topic outlines a compatibility issue for mobile devices without documenting a complete solution. After two weeks, 15 comments and no official response, that's a concerning lapse for a "top" topic. It suggests even less support for less-common problems.
An online service like Office 365 is only as good as its support. It is indeed an impressive platform for business. Microsoft's next task lies in helping the world figure it out.