Where’s the Value in Microsoft 365 Priority Accounts?

Brain Fails to Understand Microsoft

I know I must be missing something in Microsoft’s cunning plan to make priority accounts available in Microsoft 365. It must be a basic point that I have overlooked, some simple need that has remained unanswered since the introduction of Office 365 in June 2011. But I can’t make head nor tail of the value which apparently lurks in priority accounts.

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Figure 1: Monitor your most important (priority) accounts (image credit: Microsoft)

Curious Prerequisites

Some basic facts: To have access to priority accounts, a tenant needs to have at least 10,000 licenses (Office 365 E3 or E5 or Microsoft 365 E5), and at least 50 monthly active Exchange Online users. The last point is puzzling. If a tenant has over 10,000 licenses, surely 0.5% of the accounts must use email at least once a month?

The 10,000 seats requirement is also odd. Perhaps it’s true in the U.S. that it’s only large organizations that include priority people (defined as “essential to running your organization and often have access to sensitive and high priority information”), but surely many smaller organizations have people which match the definition? To me, it would seem more logical to offer help to smaller tenants who probably don’t have the luxury of full-time Office 365 administrators.

Easily Setup and Managed to a Point

I’ve no doubt that setting up and managing the feature is easily done through the Microsoft 365 admin center. The Organizational knowledge and Monitor your most important accounts options only appear if a tenant meets the prerequisites, and there’s a new Manage priority accounts filter in the Active users list in the admin center. But when you gain access, you can define up to 250 priority accounts. That’s a lot of people to input through a GUI and there doesn’t seem to be a way to import a CSV or use PowerShell to find and add priority accounts, which is surprising for an Exchange-centric feature.

Only Email – and Passive Management

Priority is only for email issues. Once an account joins the happy 250, their email traffic is monitored to detect problems which show up in the Email Issues for priority accounts report in the Mail Flow section of the new Exchange admin center. The report is pretty passive and requires an administrator to add yet another thing to check during their busy day (see the demo in this video at 37:42 for about 90 seconds). Despite the ultra-important nature of the priority accounts, there’s no proactive signaling of problems like automatic emails or alerts. It’s just a report to check.

My confusion is completed by the realization that this feature is so passive and so limited. Maybe the owners of some of the accounts nominated as priority fill their day with email (and I have known some executives to do this), but given the spectrum of activities across Microsoft 365 from Teams to Planner and beyond, the fact that all that is being checked is email is more than disappointing.

This is especially so when you reflect that email is one of the most stable elements within Office 365. Azure AD sometimes fails to authenticate, Teams has its moments, SharePoint occasionally burps, and the complex interaction between users, security, information governance, and compliance can get in the way from time to time. However, I don’t think email issues are widespread once the flow into and out of a tenant is set up correctly, which is usually the case for organizations meeting Microsoft’s prerequisites.

Still Puzzled

Priority users appears to be an overly passive solution for a problem that doesn’t exist directed at tenants which are already likely to be well run. I can’t validate this feeling because my tenant doesn’t qualify. Perhaps email is only the start of the journey for priority accounts. Given their penchant for applying Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to just about everything today, Microsoft might gather more events and cover more workloads to derive real value. This would certainly explain the need for a large data set of accounts.

If this is the case and we’re only seeing a glimmer of a bright future now, this feature might have worthwhile. But it’s sure hard to see on the evidence of what’s available currently.

 

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Tony Redmond has written thousands of articles about Microsoft technology since 1996. He covers Office 365 and associated technologies for Petri.com and is also the lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook, updated monthly to keep pace with change in the cloud.