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Customer Expectations in the Microsoft Cloud and the Future of the Digital Workplace

This month’s Top 25 influencer interview comes from Sharegate’s resident SharePoint Specialist, Benjamin Niaulin. Ben added his take to the conversation we started with Patrick Hosch last month, sharing his perspective on new customer expectations, opportunities for growth and challenges to overcome in the Microsoft cloud. Read on for the full Q&A, and visit the Sharegate website to learn more about the company’s SharePoint Migration and Management solutions.


Q: How has Microsoft’s move to the cloud affected customer expectations for software vendors in its ecosystem? How has it affected your service and/or product portfolio?

One benefit that leads customers to the cloud is the reduction in server and management costs, and they expect software vendors to pass these cost savings on to them. In addition to costs, user expectations in the cloud are often influenced by their experience with simple-to-use products like OneDrive and Dropbox, and they expect to get the same easy experience when moving their other services to the cloud.

I think vendors in the Microsoft ecosystem now have to not only acknowledge that many organizations are moving to the cloud or leveraging it in a hybrid model, but that vendors need to pay particular attention to the user experience they are offering as well.


Q: What product-related opportunities and challenges do you see with the move to the cloud for SharePoint Migration/Management specialists and other Microsoft partners?

I think this is the perfect time to be in the Microsoft partner ecosystem, especially with Office 365 growing so quickly. It’s a time where everything is shifting and where Microsoft is trying out new products to facilitate new ways of working. New products keep getting introduced at a faster pace than the previous three-year cycles, providing us with opportunities like new addressable markets on the one hand, and challenging us to keep up on the other hand.

A good example of an opportunity and a challenge is the introduction of Groups for Office 365, which combines capabilities from multiple technologies (instead of only SharePoint) to help people work together. This opens up new opportunities for our products, but it’s also imperative to be able to adjust and make the new solution “just work.” Users will expect to migrate to new cloud solutions like Groups, even when there is no previous equivalent to map to.


Q: As a global software provider, have you seen any differences in cloud adoption between the U.S. and Europe?

Sharegate has over 10,000 customers worldwide in various industries, and many of them are moving to Office 365. There are definitely some adoption-related differences between continents, and more specifically, between countries. For example, German laws still make customers uneasy to move to Office 365. Other countries with strict laws also face cloud adoption challenges.

However, in all honesty, it’s likely that more businesses are moving to Office 365 than you might expect. Historically, there has always been a fear of moving to the cloud, but today companies aren’t finding good enough reasons to keep them on-premises.

Now, with SharePoint 2016 and the updates to SharePoint 2013 to make it work as a hybrid solution with Office 365, I predict we’ll see even more companies moving to the cloud.


Q: Have you seen substantial growth in any of your Office 365-related offerings?

Sharegate has seen a very large increase in customer demand for our Office 365 Migration and Management offerings. And that number continues to grow month after month – so much so that some of our product benefits are now being targeted specifically at these cloud customers. A good example is our security reports, which give Office 365 customers a quick overview on external users across one or multiple environments.


Q: How has your relationship with Microsoft changed since Satya’s mobile-first, cloud-first shift? Do you rely on them more or less now?

We’re very excited with the new direction Microsoft has been taking, especially as a partner. When building a new product, it’s important for us to feel confident that there is growth and a market on the horizon. Seeing this new Microsoft push for mobile-first and cloud-first has us excited to build solutions and innovate during this transformation of our industry.

We benefit from Microsoft’s marketing push as they are getting more and more customers to the cloud that will need to migrate their existing content at insane speeds. And after they move there, they can manage what they have and stay in control without buying other products. That has definitely been a big part of our Office 365 growth in my opinion.

Our relationship with Microsoft does mean we rely on them quite a bit though, and now that they are in charge of the service through Office 365, everything they do has a direct impact. Microsoft controls new or removed features, as well as APIs to connect and work with what’s available. Before, we would just look at the on-premises release and have three years before anything would change.


How has Office 365 transformed the Digital Workplace? And how will on-premises and cloud-based solutions interact in the new Digital Workplace?

The Digital Workplace is a big topic this year because people need to work from anywhere and expect the same easy user experience that they get from subscription-based products swarming the internet these days. With Office 365, Microsoft is offering a secure, enterprise-grade alternative to our end users to keep them within a trusted ecosystem that is manageable. Microsoft is offering a way out from the Digital Workplace alternative of allowing business users to turn to Dropbox or other consumer-grade cloud services.

By providing these new alternatives with Office 365, and allowing them to work seamlessly with on-premises SharePoint 2016 or 2013, I think Microsoft is going to do very well in getting people to the cloud in the coming months and years.



About Benjamin Niaulin

Benjamin Niaulin (@bniaulin) is an Office 365 MVP and, in 2014 and 2015, he was recognized as a Top 25 Office 365 influencer. Being a Microsoft Certified Trainer since 2008 allowed him to become proficient in simplifying complex technologies. He has even gone as far as co-authoring a book on Responsive Design for SharePoint. Thanks to his expertise and passion, Benjamin has spoken at over 200 conferences around the world. 

Benjamin works at Sharegate, a SharePoint & Office 365 Migration & Management solution provider. Based in Montreal, he is bringing in the new trends with his team of SharePoint Geeks in order to craft the best tools possible for Sharegate's customers.


David Lavenda
Chief Product Officer