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Microsoft's Office 365 migration services concern IT pros

Microsoft's free Office 365 migration services could cause companies to reconsider where they go for migration help.

When Microsoft announced it would offer free migration services to eligible customers, a lot of partners -- many of whom build parts of their business on Office 365 migration tools -- expressed concern about where this leaves them.

It's too soon to determine whether Microsoft's services will significantly impact partners. After all, it's only been three months since the first customers migrated to Office 365 using Microsoft's free migration services. For now, it looks like those partners might be in the clear for a few reasons.

First off, not all customers are eligible for Microsoft's free migration services. After all, you must be a new customer with at least 150 ends users and have not partially deployed Office 365. But that means a large number of organizations can still benefit from the offer.

Complexity of the migration also plays a role. A few customers said Microsoft's "Onboarding Center" only remotely offers its services, which means there's no on-site presence during the move. And while that doesn't necessarily have to be a showstopper, many organizations like to interact with a consultant in person; some customer environments just might be too complex to migrate without specialized knowledge of the systems involved. Being able to interact in person is often easier than having to deal with a bunch of people who may be across the world. Communication is the key.

Microsoft understands this. I wouldn't be too surprised if Microsoft never intended these services to work for all customers. In fact, Microsoft encourages the partner ecosystem to provide valued-added services for more complex migration scenarios using incentives and special programs. One program, Microsoft's Adoption Offer, is similar to the previous deployment offer. Customers can get up to $60,000 to reimburse a partner of choice -- either a Cloud Productivity Competency partner or an approved Cloud Deployment partner -- for helping them migrate to Office 365.

Partners react to Office 365 migration services

I reached out to some colleagues to get their take on the Microsoft migration services. When I asked if they came in contact with Microsoft's free migration service in some deals, most haven't. Often, partners are leading the sale, and they might not always mention the free migration services.

Other colleagues, however, mentioned they would have no problem recommending Microsoft's free migration service if customers were looking for more bang for their buck. But it would only be an option in straightforward migration scenarios -- most migrations that require a partner's help are not.

I can relate. There is little to no glory to be gained in running a wizard to move mailboxes to Office 365. I would rather spend the time and effort helping customers figure out how to make better use of other Office 365 services, or how to deal with new features such as Clutter or Groups.

None of the partners I spoke with feel threatened by Microsoft's decision. Perhaps word about Microsoft's free Office 365 migration services hasn't spread yet. Maybe customers and partners have come to rely on the funds from Microsoft's Adoption Offer for Office 365. Whatever the reason, the latter could soon be a moot point.

Funds for a similar program, Microsoft's Partner Investment Engine (PIE), have already been fully allocated for this fiscal year, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Microsoft's Deployment Center site says the adoption offer will remain valid until March 31, 2015. But what happens if it decides not to continue with the program or creates a new, but similar, program?

These developments might become the tipping point for the small to medium-sized business market, where a lot of the simpler migrations take place. And specialized or personalized consulting services could cost customers more out of pocket. In turn, this could drive them toward Microsoft's alternative free consulting services, possibly leaving partners out in the cold -- at least where Office 365 migrations are concerned.

About the author: 
Michael Van Horenbeeck is a technology consultant, Microsoft Certified Trainer and Exchange MVP from Belgium, mainly working with Exchange Server, Office 365, Active Directory and a bit of Lync. He has been active in the industry for 12 years and is a frequent blogger, a member of the Belgian Unified Communications User Group Pro-Exchange and a regular contributor to The UC Architects podcast.

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How has Microsoft's offer for free Office 365 migration services impacted you?
Since Microsoft's offer for free Office 365 migration I have seen my business's expenditures on Office 365 decrease. The financial savings with having the ubiquitous Office suite, for free, has been a great boon. Also, the migration itself has been a well thought out and well planned launch. We have encountered no issues with the deployment within our company system. This has been one of Microsoft's smarter moves over the last several years.