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When Microsoft announced last year that they would start becoming more transparent about the release cycle for Office 365, it came as a pleasant surprise to professionals working within the IT giant’s ecosystem. Microsoft has kept its word, and on June 19th 2014 published a public roadmap for business, detailing some of its plans for the development of Office 365.

Following this, they introduced an early release program called First Release, a bold step that won the hearts of many customers. Thanks to these two new tools, IT managers and company directors can now map how Office 365 will expand across their business. Put simply, there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises.

In this post, we’ll take a look at Microsoft’s increasingly transparent strategy of communicating updates by providing a forward-looking view of the Office 365 service plan. By helping users prepare, this has created a win-win situation for both Microsoft and its customers.

Microsoft Cloud

According to CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s $8 billion cloud business is set to grow to $20 billion come 2018. In 2015, Microsoft has focused on Windows 10 and its growing cloud business services like Office 365, Azure, SharePoint and Dynamics.

This is the time to own the cloud” is how Kevin Turner put it while speaking at his WPC 2015 keynote address in Orlando, Florida. Turner placed particular emphasis on Microsoft’s commitment to become leaders in the cloud market. He went on to articulate the company’s customer focused campaign, evident in their unique portfolio of productivity, business process, business intelligence and analytics cloud service offerings.

Office 365 in numbers

According to a recent report published by Skyhigh, a cloud security vendor, Office 365 has gained tremendous traction in enterprises. Nonetheless, it still has a significant opportunity to capture a wider audience of existing On-Premise SharePoint customers. Windows 10, released on July 29th 2015, offers deeper integration with OneDrive and the new version of the Office app that supports desktop, tablet and mobile devices. The research suggests that Office 365 migrations will ramp up due to the Office 365 subscription requirement for using Windows 10 and the mobile workforce advantages it offers.

Based on the analysis of about 21 million Skyhigh users, the following figures highlight the reality of Microsoft’s success in owning the cloud:

  • 87.3% of enterprises have at least 100 Office 365 users
  • Large organizations collaborate with an average of 72 business partners through Office 365
  • On a month by month basis, the average organization uploads as much as 1.37 terabytes of data into Office 365

Customized is king

Microsoft’s success stems from its approach to customer experience and engagement strategies. The Office 365 roadmap and First Release platforms contribute to this strategy further.

During the last quarter of 2014, Microsoft announced a new functionality that would allow users to customize and personalize their Office 365 suite, enabling enterprises to modify their platform to match their corporate identities. Thanks to this approach, enterprises can deliver their corporate services based on end user behavior using the Office 365 capabilities as a foundation for designing these services. A few examples of these capabilities include:

  • Mobile Device Management (MDM). MDM offers companies the ability to manage access to Office 365 data over a diverse range of smartphones and tablets running on all major operating systems (including iOS and Android, as well as Windows Phone). This enables secure collaboration with external business partners anywhere, anytime and with any device, while keeping data safe through conditional access, device management and selective wipe.
  • Skype for Business. With Skype for Business, enterprises can now provision instant messaging, voice calling, online meetings and screen sharing with collaborators. Skype can also help improve productivity through live document conversations on Office applications and online status visibility, all with solid security and controls.

Moving Forward

According to Nadella, the key areas of focus for Microsoft moving forward will be:

  • Delivering improvements to its Office 365, SharePoint and Dynamics offerings
  • Building an intelligent cloud platform via Azure
  • Making computing more personal with Windows

If you are willing to own the cloud with Microsoft – and you should really aspire to - the Office 365 Customer Success Centre is your ‘go-to’ place. The roadmap lists regular updates relevant to subscribers to help you plan going forward.

With regards to recently updated features, there are currently 28 fully released updates already available, 20 updates currently rolling out and 56 in development and testing. So far, we’ve seen 164 releases in just over a year, so it’s definitely worth staying up to date with developments.

Key upcoming releases include improvements and updates for Office 365 Groups, mobile apps, iOS as well as Android Skype for Business and User Activity Reports. There’s a lot more of these releases in the pipeline, so make sure you check back regularly.

David Lavenda
Chief Product Officer