What are the Problems with Microsoft Office 365?

Since 2011, Microsoft has been putting considerable time and effort into promoting their Office 365 package. This is presented as an all-in-one, low-cost cloud solution for businesses large or small, and it has been gaining some serious ground in the marketplace.
 
When you look at this venture from a business perspective, their motivation is clear: whereas Microsoft’s revenue has historically been dependent upon developing and releasing software upgrades, Office 365 provides them with an ongoing, steady stream of funds.
 
When it comes to Office 365, though, the real question is this: when you tear away the hype, what kind of warts can you expect to see?
 
As a technology firm who has helped implement and support Office 365 for several of our clients, we’ve gotten a first-hand taste of what sort of challenges you may encounter should you decide to move forward with this solution.  Below we’ll work through what exactly Office 365 consists of, along with the main issues we’ve identified and encountered through our own work with the platform.
 

What is Office 365? 

Office 365 encompasses a number of different services, some of which are cloud-based, some of which are not. These come in different combinations depending upon which package you sign up for. The key elements are as follows:

  • Hosted email (including calendar)
  • Full Office licensing for up to 5 workstations per person
  • Full Office experience on up to 5 mobile devices per person
  • Online, web-based versions of Office
  • OneDrive file storage and sharing with lots of space
  • SharePoint collaboration site
  • Lync instant & video messaging
  • Yammer corporate social network

The biggest variable in play is Office licensing: lower-level packages will include the “online versions” of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while the highest-level packages will include full licensed installation of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, and OneNote on multiple workstations.
 

What are the problems with Office 365?

The main challenges we’ve encountered with this platform are listed below: 
 

1. “Cloud” branding is a bit over-hyped.

Microsoft has been pushing this solution as a “cloud” offering, yet only four of the above elements are actually based in the cloud: Hosted Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Lync. Not only are these three services commoditized, but they won’t actually provide you the freedom from all hardware (namely servers) that a true full-cloud solution will.
 
For that, you’ll need to look into Microsoft Azure, their enterprise-level cloud computing solution.
 

2. Support is inconsistent.

When something goes wrong with any of these services, you might not be able to get your problem resolved for quite some time. Just last month, we were given a 30-day timeframe for resolution of a licensing issue (with weekly check-ins) for a global nonprofit client of ours. Their new hires couldn’t get an email account until the licensing issue is resolved.
 
This, of course, won’t be the case across the board, but it’s important to know that you’re probably going to have a hard time getting an immediate response to your service requests.
 

3. Training is additional.

When it comes down to it, Microsoft’s main focus is selling products. They don’t provide training on their products themselves, but instead work through third party providers. This doesn’t mean it will be very difficult for you to secure any sort of guidance for your staff, but it does mean that you’ll have to invest additional funds in paying an outside provider.
 

4. File sharing strategy is confusing.

There are two different components that store your files: OneDrive and SharePoint. Both have unique functions, but they can be difficult to differentiate in practice. Take a look at this guide and you’ll see what we mean—there’s a lot of gray area here.
 
What’s more: we know several clients who have been so unhappy with SharePoint’s functionality that they decided to use OneDrive exclusively. While they made this platform work, its security is more consumer-grade, and not what we like to see in a corporate environment.
 

5. Search functionality is limited.

Search capabilities in Office 365 are directly related to your subscription level; in order to get any advanced query functionality, you have to be signed up for one of the higher-level packages.
 
Again, this probably won’t be a deal-breaker for you, but we’ve seen users become pretty frustrated by the limited capabilities if they subscribe to one of the lower-level packages.
 
Let’s be clear: all of this is not to say that Microsoft Office 365 is, across the board, a poor solution for every company out there. As we’ve said in other articles, this platform can be a good fit for some, especially if your organization qualifies for nonprofit pricing (pricing which, let’s be honest, few can compete with).
 
The bottom line is, if you’re considering Office 365 for your organization, you need to ask yourself if these issues are enough to cause significant concern or frustration. If they’re not, this solution will likely be a good fit for your organization. If they are, you should take the time to investigate alternative options and compare the packages directly.
 
Either way, there are plenty of resources out there to help guide you through the selection, implementation, and support processes. Just ask!