MJFChat: The Role of the IT Pro in a Microsoft 365 Cloud World

We’re doing a twice-monthly interview show on Petri.com that is dedicated to covering topics of interest to our tech-professional audience. We have branded this show “MJFChat.”

In my role as Petri’s Community Magnate, I will be interviewing a variety of IT-savvy technology folks. Some of these will be Petri contributors; some will be tech-company employees; some will be IT pros. We will be tackling various subject areas in the form of 30-minute audio interviews. I will be asking the questions, the bulk of which we’re hoping will come from you, our Petri.com community of readers.

Readers can submit questions via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and/or LinkedIn using the #AskMJF hashtag. Once the interviews are completed, we will post the audio and associated transcript in the forums for readers to digest at their leisure. (By the way, did you know MJFChats are now available in podcast form? Go here for MJF Chat on Spotify; here for Apple Podcasts on iTunes; and here for Google Play.)

Our latest MJFChat, recorded on October 26, is focused on the role of the IT Pro in an increasingly Microsoft 365-cloud-centric world. My special guest is Tom Arbuthnot, Principal Solutions Architect with Modality Systems.

Tom has lots to say about the new and evolving role of the IT pro based on the work he does in his consultancy. He also answers a couple of reader/listener questions in this chat, as well.

If you know someone you’d like to see interviewed on the MJFChat show, including yourself, just Tweet to me or drop me a line. (Let me know why you think this person would be an awesome guest and what topics you’d like to see covered.) We’ll take things from there….


Mary Jo Foley (00:00):
Hi, you’re listening to Petri.Com’s MJF Chat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnate. And I am here to interview tech industry experts about various topics that you, our readers and listeners want to know about. Today’s MJF Chat is going to be all about the changing role of the IT Pro and Microsoft 365 cloud world. And my special guest today is Tom Arbuthnot, Principal Solutions Architect with Modality Systems. Hi Tom and thank you so much for doing this chat with me today.

Tom Arbuthnot (00:41):
Yeah, hey Mary Jo, thanks for having me.

Mary Jo Foley (00:44):
Great. Well, we went a little bit back and forth, when we talked about having you on MJF Chat. We talked about doing a Teams chat, but I feel like we’ve had a lot of chats everywhere about Teams lately. And I feel like a bigger topic, a broader topic that people want to know a lot about is when you’re an IT Pro and the world is increasingly a cloud world, specifically, we’re going to talk MS 365 here. Things are changing really fast. And so I wanted to talk with you today about what that means for IT Pros and how they can keep up, or at least try to keep up with the new pace of things.

Tom Arbuthnot (01:25):
Yeah, it is. It’s a really hot topic because it happens all the time, and our customers and with, you know, we’re a consultancy and a managed service provider and it’s a constant fire hose of information and changes of what you need to do as an IT Pro as well.

Mary Jo Foley (01:40):
Yeah, totally. So let’s dig in. I get this question a lot still, which kind of surprises me, but with the increasing pervasiveness of the cloud, is there really even still a need for a traditional IT department at all?

Tom Arbuthnot (01:56):
Yeah. So if you say traditional that they should be doing all the things they were doing 10 years ago, a lot of those tasks are going away, but you still need a group of people who are looking after this stuff. Although looking after, as we’ll talk is probably changing in terms of what those requirements are. But yes, every customer needs to have an internal group of people responsible for this stuff, they just might not be doing what they were doing 10 years ago.

Mary Jo Foley (02:28):
Exactly. So I agree with you and I feel like to your point, the requirements are what are changing more than the actual like job definition. So what do you see as the new set of requirements for IT Pros, let’s define specifically Microsoft 365.

Tom Arbuthnot (02:47):
Yeah. So Microsoft 365, that’s the area I focus on. If you think about in the olden days, quote unquote, you know, you’d be doing server patching. So you might look after the Exchange servers or the SharePoint servers, and you’d be doing major version upgrades and backup and restore and monitoring, and maybe even swapping hard disks, stuff like that. All that stuff is largely out of the window with the cloud. You’re now buying it as a service. But, lots of things have come along that were not really as taxing before that now are. So now it’s the fire hose of, of Microsoft changes and new features and features going away and this changing and that changing, and it’s really impacting your business or your organization. So new abilities are coming. You want to make the most of them, you’re paying for them. Things are going away and changing. Those could impact business process. So, the number one thing is you’re moving from a server patcher and maintainer to more of a, kind of more sliding towards the business side of how does the business drive value out of this cloud investment?

Mary Jo Foley (03:54):
Speaking of business side, I hate to bring this up, but billing and pricing always comes up when you talk to people about the move from on-prem to cloud, and I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds here, because I know like opening the Pandora’s box of billing pricing and licensing is like, ahh, but, if somebody is a traditional IT Pro moving into the Microsoft 365 world, do you have any kind of top level advice or guidance for them about ways to think about billing and pricing now in the new world?

Tom Arbuthnot (04:27):
Yeah. Yeah. Like I don’t get in the weeds of it either, fortunately, which probably tells you that it’s something that most people avoid, but the very fact that it is avoided means as an area to add value there. I mean, it’s constantly moving. It’s very hard to understand there’s the E5 and the M365 E5 and this add on and that add on and this feature and that feature. So there’s definitely a role for someone within your organization to be understanding what’s being used, what’s being spent and why, what the business requirements were. I mean, if you just take the Microsoft sales reps, so you’re going to buy the top level of everything, but you’re not really doing the job for your company, making sure they’re getting the things they need and the value out of it they want. So there is a role there, it’s a very unloved role of keeping the business honest about their requirements, or keeping Microsoft honest about which license you need and keeping up with that. I mean, there’s no easy silver bullet there. There are some good partners who dig into that stuff. So lean on those partners, I think. But other than that, yeah, it’s just lots of Excel and keeping up with Microsoft.

Mary Jo Foley (05:35):
On the topic of keeping up, I’m curious how you do this because we were talking before we started the chat about how every week, if you’re an admin, you get this long laundry list from Microsoft of things that are changing in Microsoft 365, you know, some longer term, some nearer term. How do you keep up in your own job with all of these things? I mean like today I got an email and, I’m not kidding, there were like 30 things in there that are changing. And I’m like, how does anybody keep up with this? Including reporters and customers, IT Pros, partners. How do people do it?

Tom Arbuthnot (06:09):
Yeah, it’s really tough. I don’t think many people are. I think it’s definitely recognized in the Microsoft world as getting a bit crazy. Now, the amount of change I think there’s a general keeping on top of the Office 365 message center and the news, but actually I’m finding customers are getting more value out of kind of summary information, like summary blog posts and using things like that for picking out the key things. But again, it’s one of those areas where if you’re getting into a cloud world as an IT Pro in an IT department for an organization, you need the organization to recognize that you’re not just outsourcing all IT here. There are things changing that will impact the business and you need time to comprehend them, understand them, understand the roadmap. But yeah, there’s no easy answer. Other than the Microsoft blogs on tech community, generally lots of information comes out there, the Message Center, the Roadmap. I’m fortunate, I’m really focused on Microsoft Teams. So I spend a disproportionate amount of time in the area. But I’m not sure an end customer can have a specialist in every technology to keep up. So it’s taking a more general overview about what you think is going to impact your organization.

Mary Jo Foley (07:22):
Yeah. Okay. So I don’t feel so bad now hearing your answer cause I’m like, there must be a secret way that people are doing this, but it sounds like no, there isn’t.

Tom Arbuthnot (07:31):
Like end customers often think partners have some secret route in where like we get fed the exact information and the exact dates. It’s so funny, right? Like, particularly when you work with yeah, like big orgs tend to get it. Cause they work directly with Microsoft a lot, but it’s kind of a mid tier org, they’re like, well, you’re partners with Microsoft. They just, you just contact the PM and ask them what’s going on. And I’m like, yeah, not so much. Like it’s a fire hose for everybody, I’m afraid.

Mary Jo Foley (07:56):
Indeed. So, you know, the other thing that I feel like complicates this a bit is now that we’re talking about Microsoft 365, instead of just Office 365, meaning we’re talking about Windows, we’re talking about Office and we’re talking about Mobility and Security. So things like Config Manager and Intune. What if you’re an IT Pro, do you try to keep up with all of these things now because Microsoft bundles them in a single package? Or how do you advise customers to think about Microsoft 365 versus Office 365?

Tom Arbuthnot (08:30):
Yeah. That’s a great question. It’s coming up a lot. So my background, I started off in OCS, Lync, Skype. So I was really a UC or voice person and Teams very much pulled me into data, which meant ethical walls, compliance, information barriers, like all the M365 governance story. So yeah, I’ve started to widen out because that necessity, I think how deep or wide you go depends on your role. So if you’re a customer and your,, you know, you have to be more generalist, then you have to go wider. If you’re a specialist, you can go slightly deeper. But even as a specialist, you’ve got to have an appreciation of all the other workloads and what’s going on because as you say, they’re so interdependent now that you need to know that the M365 features will tend to be security, governance, identity stuff, then increasingly affecting all applications. If you call them that, all the different abilities in M365. So I say all things being even, you definitely have to be wider than you used to be, or things are going to happen to your specialist workload that you don’t understand because they’re affecting the whole of Office 365 or the whole of M365.

Mary Jo Foley (09:44):
Yep. And you bring up an interesting topic, which could be a podcast all on its own, which is security. So a lot of times when a vendor, especially Microsoft, is trying to get somebody to go to the cloud. You hear people say, well, you know what? One thing we can do better than you can in your own org is manage security because we’ve got all these resources, we do it for ourselves. We have a lot of expertise and depth. But if you’re an IT Pro working in this space, what do you do? Do you just give in and say, okay, yeah, you can do this better than me. Or do you try to somehow kind of keep a hand in it? What do you suggest people do around security specifically?

Tom Arbuthnot (10:24):
Yeah, it’s coming up more and more. I think Microsoft had that pitch for a few years, but it’s really coming to reality and fruition now, as in the features are just pretty untouchable, partly because you can only do certain things in the cloud at cloud scale. But there’s still plenty of stuff to be done for the Security Pros. So actually all these features Microsoft talk about, they don’t just flick on because you’ve got the license. So we see a lot of customers thinking they’re buying security, you’re buying the abilities and the functions, but you still need to configure them, make sure they’re aligned to your orgs policies, check their working reports on them, stuff like that. So actually I think there’s a great gap in IT at the moment for real M365 security specialists. There’s plenty of old school firewall security, perimeters, lockdown my SharePoint server, but there’s not tons of people who are keeping up. Again, massive pace of change of there’s the Compliance Portal and the Security School and the Compliance Center and the Message Center. And there’s a hundred things going on that all affect security, compliance and governance that you need to be on top of.

Mary Jo Foley (11:33):
Yep. That’s those are good points. Another topic I’m curious of your take on is outages. So you know, when you’re an IT Pro just dealing with on-prem and there’s a problem in your data center, you have your own ways that you’ve communicated with your users in the past about this. But when Microsoft has an outage in Azure or in Microsoft 365, or just in one specific service like Teams or Exchange, they are kind of changing how they are trying to communicate with users and admins about this. So what do you think as an IT Pro you should be thinking about when it comes to outages and communication?

Tom Arbuthnot (12:15):
Yeah. So the first thing is your organization, your business, I’ll use interchangeably are choosing to sign up to Office 365, Microsoft 365. So at that point, as an IT department, you need to make the business aware they slash, we are choosing to go down this route for all the benefits. Here’s the SLA, here’s how To Do’s work. The worst thing I see is when people go to the cloud and then they get an outage and then the business shouts at them to fix it now. And it’s like, really? We can’t, like we don’t own it. We don’t control it. We can phone up Microsoft, but to be honest, and no one customer is big enough and they’re already on top of it, you know, they’re not gonna move any faster because I phone them up.

Tom Arbuthnot (12:57):
So that’s the first thing is setting expectation with your organization that this is how it works. It’s out of our hands, but that we think is the better approach. In terms of communicating to users. It’s an interesting one. We talk to customers about having a way to communicate to them that is out of band of Office 365. So some customers, for example, will have a website domain that only users can know about or a list of users that they can text, SMS message. So you should consider it a way to communicate to your users if you were to have a proper stayed outage, because it is a reality sometimes, but generally it feels like with the cloud, people are getting more okay with that part of the cloud story. I’m getting all this benefit and all this productivity and all of these new features, and sometimes it will wobble.

Tom Arbuthnot (13:48):
And so far there’s been no like real proper sustained outages. There’s lots of impact in the short term, but it’s kind of like, okay, well I’ll go and get a coffee for a few hours and it will be back. And then so far it’s proven to be so. It’s surprising to me having worked with big enterprises for a long time, how relativity relaxed they are about that compared to how they were, when we were installing things like Skype servers. They, you know, when we were on the hook for keeping up Skype, like minutes of outage were real problems. But in the cloud, it just seems to be part of the deal you’re paying for is that’s the reality of the cloud scale.

Mary Jo Foley (14:27):
I guess I know more unreasonable users than you do. You know what I feel like on Twitter, Twitter has like made it so that if there’s even a blip in Microsoft 365, any service or Azure, like immediately people take to Twitter and they start tweeting to us as reporters, you know, or they start tweeting to Microsoft, like with outrage and like screaming, like all caps, you know, on Twitter. And I’m like, wow.

Tom Arbuthnot (14:55):
Yeah, Twitter brings out out the extremes in people. There’s lots of people hanging on to the, you know, it was better when we had servers and we can control it. All the stats overwhelmingly suggests that’s not true. Like if you look at the average uptime of these services and the level of security and productivity you’re getting, even if you roll that out on the total cost of ownership and stuff, everything points that this is the direction. But there’s always going to be someone saying, well, you know, when I had a, well in my backyard, I could always get water whenever I wanted. And it never didn’t have water. Tides have turned, but yeah, talking to the organization, having an honest question, the worst thing is a CTO that hasn’t had that conversation with the organization. And somehow they don’t understand, like, that’s what we agreed to sign up for. That’s the reality of it.

Mary Jo Foley (15:45):
Yep. All right, now we got a couple reader/listener questions, and I’m going to use this one first, Dominic Kent asked on Twitter. And I don’t know if he’s asking this specifically to you as an individual or just in general, but his question is how do you juggle work within your original role with demand for influencer/SME marketing?

Tom Arbuthnot (16:10):
Yeah, it sounds, probably relates to what I do now. So I definitely, I’ve moved from kind of hardcore hands on techie to more and more blog and events and speaking and that kind of thing. And I think that’s another thing I would recommend for a certain subset of IT Pros, is our job is becoming more and more about understanding and communicating. And that’s something that can definitely add value. I’m lucky because I work for a partner. So there’s kind of a halo effect or a benefit to us for me being in that space, doing the speaking, doing the blogging. So I get to kind of balance my time appropriately. If you’re an IT Pro and you’re thinking about career stuff, I would definitely recommend finding a place that respects and values that. And if you want to grow in your career, that’s one of the things where an end-user organization, probably won’t get much value out of that, but a partner or a consultancy, or you can contracting or whatever you want to do. You could definitely spread your wings and blog and speak and get more involved in the community.

Mary Jo Foley (17:19):
Yeah. I talked to a number of IT Pros who asked me, do you think I should start a blog? And I think they have a lot of really excellent lessons learned kinds of things to share, but I agree with you that your company has to be on board with it. Right. And has to give you the time and the space.

Tom Arbuthnot (17:35):
You can actually get in trouble as well. Like some companies are very strict on that stuff. Like particularly if you work for a big, big org, they’ll just have a global policy where you can’t talk to anybody about what you’re doing. It’s just, no, everything goes through the press office. But yeah, if that’s something you’re aspiring to do, there are partners that will actively encourage and appreciate that. And then that might be a route for you, potentially.

Mary Jo Foley (18:00):
Good, good point. Another question from Twitter, from the Unified Comms Influencers account. This is a good, like what if question, what if you’re in mid cloud rollout as an IT Pro and you find users have already adopted their own cloud apps? And they used as the hashtag #ShadowIT.

Tom Arbuthnot (18:22):
Yeah. I’m not sure if that’s an if or just the reality. It’s more like whether you discover it or not, is the question.

Mary Jo Foley (18:27):
I know, that’s always happening, right? Like it’s inevitable.

Tom Arbuthnot (18:29):

Mary Jo Foley (18:31):
Any thoughts or guidance for people who, you know, you’re an IT Pro and suddenly you’re like, oh wait, I’m trying to do this cloud thing over here. And I just found out all my users are already doing this over here, you know?

Tom Arbuthnot (18:43):
Yeah. It’s an interesting one. There’s a few different answers there. So the first thing is like historically shadow IT was largely ignored. It’s like a kind of, if I can’t see it, if I don’t know about it, it’s not happening. Things like GDPR and ISO have largely changed that attitude because now you can’t really turn up for a GDPR issue and say, I didn’t know. And it’s less credible, like for example, WhatsApp is the classic one that we see lots of people using WhatsApp in our space, moving to Teams. I think the key thing is, is getting the business on board with why you’re doing what you’re doing and trying to get business level sponsorship. So the big thing is security compliance, GDPR. If they’re using a third party product, they’re probably breaching, and users aren’t trying to breach those rules.

Tom Arbuthnot (19:34):
They’re just trying to get their job done. So don’t blame the users. Like they’re just trying to get their job done in the most efficient way. But if you can help them understand like, particularly with M365 now, like there’s so many tools in the box that are similar in functionality and ability to the kind of consumer prosumer equivalence, you know, we didn’t, five years ago, you couldn’t really say don’t use Dropbox. OneDrive is better because it wasn’t. But like they’re there, or there abouts now, but with all the security and compliance benefits. So, but you need sponsorship from someone influential on the organization side, because people are slow to change if they’re already using a tool and they love it, they don’t see the immediate benefit to them. But if you can say, well, look, we need to be compliant because of risks and security. Can you meet me halfway, easy to say, hard to sell, but that is a big part of a migration project is persuading the users to use your platform for the benefits.

Mary Jo Foley (20:31):
Okay. We touched on this briefly earlier, but the idea of skills and career topics, but any kind of high level thoughts about career, I guess I’d say options for people. You mentioned, some people may want to go to a consultancy if they have the desire to be more public facing, you know, but any other career guidance for people who are traditional, IT Pros as the cloud kind of just takes over.

Tom Arbuthnot (21:01):
Yeah, it’s definitely a hot topic. As I said, I think there’s different ways you can go. So certainly if I look at our technical teams, there started to be an interesting division where the people who are more Modern Workplace tend to, leaning towards, they understand the fire hose of features. They’re looking at business value conversations and adoption conversations and transformation conversations. And they like all that value engagement stuff. And then there’s another group of people who really liked the IP protocols and packets and fees and speed. And they’re starting to navigate more towards use your stuff where it’s more building solutions and architecture and that kind of thing. So I think there’s a general split there between if you’re going down the Modern Workplace, M365 routes, you definitely want to be aware you’re moving into a world where the options are laid out for you and you’re picking the right one for an organization. If you want to go down the technical architecture route, you’re probably looking more at the, Azure, cloudy world, that cloud of world, rather than the Modern Workplace cloud.

Mary Jo Foley (22:07):
That’s good. I hadn’t ever really thought of the division that way, but yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Okay. And then to close out any guidance around resources for people who are struggling to stay current, you know, we talked about the emails that go out to admins on Mondays with all the myriad features coming to Microsoft 365, but anything else you would say if you’re an IT Pro you should definitely be thinking about or looking at this?

Tom Arbuthnot (22:36):
Yeah, I think the Microsoft tech community has a whole range of blogs for different technologies. And by and large, Microsoft are trying to do a better and better job of communicating that stuff. The Office 365 Roadmap it’s far from perfect, but it’s a great source of information coming up. But, more generally, if you want to be like expert in your area, I think, look at what’s going on online. There’s so many online, we talked about this at the start, events, webinars, communities, and try and find peers to talk about this stuff. We’re all in it together as this fire hose of change and new features and new information. So don’t feel like you’re on your own. If you want to learn, you want to do more blogs, webinars, community groups. There’s lots out there.

Mary Jo Foley (23:24):
I agree. Even though we all joke about Twitter, I feel like Twitter is a really good place to just sometimes throw a question out there. Has anybody done, blah, you’ll find people will answer you.

Tom Arbuthnot (23:35):
Definitely. Twitter is great and it’s good because it’s got that hashtag system of connecting random people. I’ve met so many people on Twitter who I now talk to on a regular basis. And LinkedIn actually, interestingly, is starting to pop even moreso for that, I guess maybe more the business end of that conversation, but I found I’ve got more and more great engagement on LinkedIn around Office 365, M365 topics too.

Mary Jo Foley (24:02):
That’s great. All right, Tom. Well, thank you so much for all the great guidance and thoughts and inspirations. I appreciate you taking the time today to do this.

Tom Arbuthnot (24:11):
No, likewise. Appreciate being on and love all the stuff you’re doing as well and all your content. It keeps me up to date. So thanks back.

Mary Jo Foley (24:18):
Oh, thanks. For everyone else listening to this right now, or reading this transcript, I’ll be putting up more information soon on Petri.com about who my next guest is going to be. And once you see that you can submit questions directly on Twitter for our guests using #MJFChat. In the meantime, if you know of anyone else or even yourself who might make a good guest for one of these MJF Chats, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note. Thank you very much.