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Steer clear of trouble while following the Office 365 roadmap

There are literally hundreds of changes coming to the collaboration platform that affect email and other services. Here's what IT can do to help ease the transition for end users.

Microsoft will make several changes to the Office 365 platform this year that will affect enterprise users. Email client changes and new features in the Office suite and subscriptions can increase support calls, but administrators can help themselves through training and engagement.

Microsoft, which was once tolerant of customers on older products, is pushing customers to adopt the latest Windows 10 build and Office suite to take advantage of new Office 365 functionality and capabilities. At time of publication, the Office 365 roadmap shows nearly 250 features in development with nearly 150 rolling out. Some of the changes include:

  • After October 2020, only Office 2019 and Office Pro Plus will be allowed to connect to Office 365 services, such as email on Exchange Online and SharePoint Online;
  • Microsoft Outlook will receive several changes to its user interface throughout 2020;
  • Office Groups and Microsoft Teams will be the focus for collaboration tool development;
  • Office ProPlus is no longer supported in Windows 8.1, Windows 7 or older on the client operating system and Windows Server 2012, 2012 R2 and 2016 on the server side.

Given the number of updates in the works, many administrators realize that the wave of change will affect many of their users, especially if it requires upgrading any legacy Office suite products such as Office 2013, 2016 and even 2010. To ensure a smooth transition with many of the new Office 365 tools and expected changes, IT workers must take several steps to prepare.

Develop an Office 365 or Office 2019 adoption plan

One of the first steps for IT is to plot out a strategy that outlines the upcoming changes and what needs to be done to complete the adoption process. During this step, the IT team must detail the various software changes to implement -- upgrades to the Office suite, introduction of Microsoft Teams and other similar items. The adoption plan can define the details around training material, schedules, resources and timelines needed.

Identify platform champions to help encourage adoption

To be more effective when it comes to gaining the trust of their end users and keeping them invested with the upcoming Office 365 roadmap features, administrators must identify a few platform champions within the business to help build support within the end-user groups and outside of IT.

Build excitement around the upcoming changes

Changes are generally met with some resistance from end users, and this is especially the case when it comes to changing tools that are heavily used such as Outlook, Word, Excel and certain online services. To motivate end users to embrace some of the new applications coming out in 2020, administrators must highlight the benefits such as global smart search, a new look and feel for the email client and several enhancements coming in Microsoft Teams.

Be flexible with training materials and methods

Everyone learns differently, so any training content that administrators provide to the end users must come in several formats. Some of the popular delivery mechanisms include short videos, one-page PDF guides with tips and tricks, blog postings and even podcasts. One other option is to outsource the training process by using a third-party vendor that can deliver training material, tests and other content through an online learning system. Some of the groups that offer this service include BrainStorm, Microsoft Learning and Global Knowledge Training.

Monitor progress and highlight success stories

Once IT begins to roll out the adoption plan and the training to the end users, it is important to monitor the progress by performing frequent checks to identify the users actively participating in the training and using the different tools available to them. One way for the administrators to monitor Office activation is through the Office 365 admin portal under the reports section. Some of the Office usage and activation reports will identify who is making full use of the platform and the ones lagging behind who might require extra assistance to build their skills.

Stay on top of the upcoming changes from Microsoft

End users are not the only ones who need training. Given the fast rate that the Office 365 platform changes, IT administrators have a full-time job in continuing to review the new additions and changes to the applications and services. Online resources like Microsoft 365 Roadmap and blog posts by Microsoft and general technology sites provide valuable insights into what is being rolled out and what upcoming changes to expect.

Share stories and keep the door open for continuous conversations

Microsoft Teams and Yammer are highly recommended for administrators to interact with their end users as they are adopting new Office 365 tools. This gives end users a way to share feedback and allows others to join the conversation to help IT gauge the overall sentiment around the changes in Office 365. They also provide IT with an avenue to make some announcements related to major future changes and evaluate how their end users respond.

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