How one CIO is migrating 18,000 users to Office 365

Multinational engineering company Atkinks is in the midst of transitioning its 18,000 employees to Microsoft's cloud suite. The company’s CIO Richard Cross shares some tips he is learning along the way.

Office 365 migration path

Product migrations are often the stuff of nightmares. But for Richard Cross, CIO of U.K.-based multinational engineering company Atkins, the decision to migrate 18,000 users from their familiar desktop productivity applications to Office 365 in the cloud wasn’t a difficult one to make.

That’s because Atkins is committed to a "digital by default" strategy, which involves migrating all its IT systems to the cloud by 2020.

Cross says the decision to migrate to Microsoft's cloud suite rather than alternative offerings was also relatively easy. "We did look at Google Docs, but the appeal of Office 365 is our familiarity with Office products," he says. "Also there's the fact that it provides a digital workspace so we can have a whole range of tools in the cloud and access them globally from any device. So it's not just about the products — it's not whether Outlook in the cloud is any good — it's about having this digital workspace.

If you’re considering a move to Office 365, you’ve got plenty of company. While Microsoft doesn’t reveal the total number of Office 365 subscribers, the number of commercial Office 365 seats in operation grew 57 percent year on year, according to the company’s latest numbers, and there are now over 70 million monthly active users.

In December 2015 Microsoft launched a top-end Office 365 plan called E5, which includes all the features of its lower-cost E3 plan, such as hosted email, desktop Office applications, Mobile Office and Skype for Business web conferencing.

But E5 also includes a cloud-based PBX for telephony, extra security features, and various analytics options, including Power BI for corporate data and Microsoft Delve, which adds data visualization and discovery to Office 365's search capabilities.

Richard Cross Photo courtesy of Atkins

Richard Cross

Choosing Office 365 E5

E5 is likely to appeal primarily to "power users" who need access to analytics, or users who are not based in a single location and would benefit from a cloud-based PBX. Cross considers most Atkins employees to be power users, and so made the unusual decision to move everyone to E5.

"It's still early an stage so we need to prove to ourselves that everyone needs it, but lots of our staff are skilled engineers and consultants who use numbers and data all the time and most will get value from the tools," he says. "Lots of our data is still stored on premises but we are moving it to the cloud so we get a single version of the truth.”

"We also wanted the hosted Skype service to transition from our existing telephony solution because in the U.S. in particular our PBX was quite old," he adds. "We haven't refreshed our telephony equipment for years in some areas, so it is all well depreciated."

One thing that may deter businesses that use the traditional desktop versions of Office from moving to Office 365 is that desktop licenses will already have been acquired and paid for, and moving to a subscription model will involve a significant extra outlay. Cross says the discussions he had with Microsoft were “complicated,” but hints that he negotiated a healthy discount on Microsoft's published rate for E5, saying that Atkins has "maximized its investment in desktop licenses."

Key for negotiating with Microsoft

Negotiating with Microsoft needs to be a key part of any deal to take the Office 365 E5 plan because big discounts are there for the asking, according to Dolores Ianni, a research director at Gartner. The reason for that is simple, she explains. "E5 is not a successful product so of course you negotiate. No one in their right mind would pay the list price."

Ianni believes a key reason for E5's perceived lack of success is that it is not priced competitively compared to Microsoft's Enterprise Cloud Suite (ECS) — particularly because it may be necessary to pay for various extras that are included in ECS, such as CAL Bridge licenses, the Enterprise Mobility Suite and Windows SA per User. "In most cases if a customer was purchasing the full E5 USL (user subscription license) they would need to purchase these items in addition to E5," Ianni says. "It is a challenge for Microsoft reps to sell E5 when you put it against Enterprise Cloud Suite. But if a rep marks it down significantly then maybe you can make the numbers work."

Cross seems to allude to this when asked what he learned from his experience negotiating with Microsoft. "It may seem obvious, but you need to be crystal clear about what is included (in Office 365) and what is not," he says.

Another problem with E5 is that many enterprises feel the hosted PBX service in E5 is too immature to be useful, according to Bern Elliot, a distinguished analyst at Gartner. To mitigate this weakness Microsoft is allowing some E5 subscribers to host their own Skype for Business Server on premise — at least until the cloud-based PBX functionality is mature enough for them to use, he says.

Aside from price negotiation, Cross recommends that CIOs go to great lengths to ensure that their long term requirements are on Microsoft's roadmap for Office 365. "We tried to engage with Microsoft at the strategic level," Cross says. "We shared our strategy and we looked at theirs, and then considered what we could create in five or six years. We also sent some of our people to Redmond to talk to their product team. If you are getting in to bed together for the longer term then you want see that you are in alignment."

The rollout

Atkins is a global organization with offices throughout the UK and Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia Pacific, so one of the earliest decisions that Cross faced when it came to the Office 365 rollout was one of geography. "The challenge for any global organization is that with this Office 365 license you need to pick a single place for it to be hosted," explains Cross. "That means you have to look carefully at the network and connectivity available."

The actual rollout of Office 365 to Atkins employees has been gradual, but rather than moving employees by department or by physical location, Cross decided to let employees move to the subscription service at their own pace.

"We are creating a pull, not a push, to the new service," he says. "We are putting the business use cases out there and showing people what the tools can do, and then satisfying demand.”

"We have already rolled out Yammer and got 10,000 people on there already so the uptake can be very fast — it's like viral marketing," Cross says. "We are going fully live with the full product in three weeks and I would like to get the whole move done in the next year," he adds.

Access to Office 365 is linked to the company's Active Directory so users can start using the suite whenever they want to just by logging on, he says.

So far those employees who have moved to Office 365 have not complained about the experience or any missing features, and Cross points out that employees can still use the desktop applications if they want to, as they are included in the Office 365 E5 plan. What he is finding, he says, is that many employees are more comfortable using Office as a service through a browser and are also keen to use Office 365 on their phones or tablets.

Does he have any more advice for CIOs who may be considering a move to Office 365, or who may be about to start a rollout?

20/20 hindsight

If you’re considering a move to Office 365 or may be about to start a rollout, Cross advises taking the time to go deep. "I could have benefited from spending more time getting to understand the full suite of products," he says.

"Take the example of Delve. We had a sense of what it could do, but now we realize that it is really very powerful. So my advice is to really get under the skin of Office 365 and see what is possible."

This story, "How one CIO is migrating 18,000 users to Office 365" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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