Foley on Microsoft

Glut of Office 365 Choice Is Giving Users 'Analysis Paralysis'

Those looking to join Office 365 could get lost at the door.

Sometimes, choice is good. But too much choice can be overwhelming. Just ask a number of Office 365 users who are struggling to figure out which Microsoft services they should use to handle certain basic tasks.

"Should I share a message via Skype for Business instead of Yammer, Office 365 Groups or Exchange? Should I share a file in Outlook, in a meeting, from OneDrive for Business, on Yammer, in a Group or in a SharePoint site?"

That's from a page touting a 60-plus-page (!) white paper Microsoft made available last year to help combat "analysis paralysis."

Has the situation improved since then? No.

I watched a recent Microsoft presentation on how to deliver knowledge management via Office 365 that made plain that there are still way too many ways to accomplish the same tasks using Microsoft's current set of services and software. Yammer, Office 365 Groups, Exchange and SharePoint all offer different paths to basically get to the same place.

In the case of knowledge management, the situation is even more convoluted because Microsoft seems to have put on (possibly indefinite) hold plans announced last year to introduce a dedicated knowledge-management (KM) portal for Office 365, which was code-named "Infopedia." Recent Microsoft mentions of Infopedia have disappeared. Microsoft is now advising those who want to create a dedicated KM offering inside their companies to cobble together the Office 365 Video portal, SharePoint Online Wiki, SharePoint Team sites, Skype for Business, Office Mix interactive presen­tation application, Yammer topical discussions framework and more.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft's message isn't that its own products are com­peting with one another. It's all about using the right tool for the right job and, in many cases, many tools in tandem for the right job, execs maintain. Instead of quibbling over whether to use SharePoint or Yammer, users should be thinking about using SharePoint and Yammer and Outlook and Video and OneDrive and...

Given Microsoft wants users to license or subscribe to as many of its products and services as possible, of course no one in Redmond is using the R word (redundancy). But this stance does little to alleviate complexity or help users easily grok which Microsoft products deliver which capabilities.

Those trying to make sense of this Microsoft madness shouldn't think all hope is lost, however. There are a few encouraging signs that Microsoft won't indefinitely continue with its "more is better" campaign. For one, Microsoft does seem to be trying to rein things in a bit by making the Office Graph the centerpiece of its teamwork/collaboration services. The existence of a single, unified Office 365 application programming interface is good news for developers.

Another encouraging sign: Instead of buying yet even more productivity vendors and technologies that provide many (if not most) of the same services that Microsoft already offers with its own products, the ‘Softies lately seem more intent on building on what's already in the company's stable.

Exhibit A is Slack. Skype already provides a lot of what Slack does, though few industry watchers, especially those in Silicon Valley, seem to believe (or want to believe) that. Rather than spending a reported $8 billion to acquire Slack -- a bunch of redundant capabilities plus a hip brand -- Microsoft announced an integration arrangement between Slack and Skype, as well the capability to integrate its own bots with Slack.

Back when Microsoft acquired Yammer and Skype when they were red hot, it already offered products with the bulk of those companies' capabilities. Microsoft management these days appears more focused on getting its money's worth out of the messaging, calling, authentication, federation, analytics, video and team-collaboration technologies it already owns.

I'd like to think it's not just money driving Redmond's emerging "build on our existing assets" bent. Hopefully actually listening to customers is playing into this strategy, as well. The struggle is real for users trying to figure out which Microsoft software and services are best for achieving specific tasks.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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