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Who Owns Office 365 Deployment? Most Organizations Don’t Know

Hunter Willis


If you read the press releases and attend the industry conferences, you might believe that every organization has moved to – and is successfully operating in – the cloud.

But having advised customers of all sizes across multiple industries, we can report that like every transition in the past, cloud adoption and the process of digital transformation has caused an industry-wide operational struggle.

Nowhere is this struggle more apparent than in the organizational chart of IT departments. If you scan the titles of your IT colleagues, you may notice the occasional “SharePoint Administrator.” In larger organizations, you may even see a “VP of User Services.” But rarely will you find anyone with Office 365 in their title, despite it frequently being the platform where the vast majority of critical business data is generated, stored and shared.

Why There is An Office 365 Admin Gap and Why It’s a Problem

Operating in the cloud is fundamentally different than how organizations have operated in the past.

IT roles like administrators of storage, databases, servers, applications and services are finding that their responsibilities begin to overlap, and the lines of their former roles become blurred as they move into a cloud-based collaboration ecosystem. This means that in nearly every industry, traditional IT professionals are forced adapt to new services and responsibilities.

In our industry, we are witnessing IT teams delegating and partitioning shifting responsibilities, often on an ad-hoc basis, with the organization leaders content to allow this adaptive strategy in the short term until problems or conflicts begin to arise.

Not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities can lead to a number of issues, like improper user, license or security management; a lack of governance; or most commonly, implementations that take too long to roll out and lack enough governance and data management planning – which ultimately costs organizations both in terms of expensive resource consumption and unmitigated risk. At AvePoint, we’ve gone through this transformation ourselves, and we had to learn the hard lessons.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that occurs when the IT team doesn’t have well-defined roles and ownership within Office 365 is integrating security and privacy teams too late in the game. We have talked to numerous CIOs who complained that their cloud rollout was delayed or shot to pieces because their CISO found “a gaping hole” in their cloud rollout strategy or policy.

Regulatory and security requirements like ISO 270001 and GDPR can place a heavy burden on IT teams for these rollouts. You need a central figure within your organization who can ensure the team has the right equipment, governance/compliance solutions and the right players on the field at the right time in order to succeed.

Exchange Admins Can Make the Best Leaders for Office 365 Administration

In these rapidly changing and adaptive situations, often a hero will emerge. When it comes to Office 365 adoption, Exchange administrators are in a unique position to step up and benefit from this digital transformation shift.

Due to the nature of the complexity and variety of Exchange service integrations, Exchange administrators have already been working in close coordination with their teams to ensure that diverse integrations have been properly managed.

More than many other roles, Exchange admins are already experienced with responsibilities spread across IT teams and having their hand in many – if not most – existing traditional IT operational processes.

Frequently, Active Directory administrators have their hand in many processes, due to their role in user management and authentication security, but Exchange Administrators are typically more deeply involved in access to services, licenses and application integration in Microsoft environments.

Additionally, in Office 365, services like SharePoint and One Drive for Business are more closely linked with Exchange than ever before. New services like Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams are to some degree controlled through Exchange and function as distribution groups for the organization.

Teams chat information is copied into Exchange and Teams relies on Exchange for compliance and other services, and Office 365 Groups require Exchange Mailboxes. Though they may not have experience with the services in Office 365, the concepts of managing the services that Office 365 brings to the table are more in their wheelhouse than any other single role.

This means that Exchange administrators are frequently in the best position to come to the forefront as knowledge leaders for their organizations. They have a massive opportunity to step up and be leaders within their organization, and on the flip side, organizations have a massive opportunity to recognize them as such.

It’s often hard to do this in the IT world. But, taking extra steps – like developing relationships with key organizational stakeholders and self-educating to overcome obstacles and make detailed, well-planned proposals that solve problems that other stakeholders simply can’t see from their perspective – Exchange administrators can make a difference within their organizations and allow its users to stop hating IT and start viewing IT as the organization’s hero department.

A Call to Action: Empower Exchange Admins

Exchange administrators that act on the opportunity to profit from their positioning in these scenarios can be the heroes that accelerate organizational adaptation and save the organization the cost of failing to adopt new technologies at the appropriate pace.

In this new world where companies are paying an innovation cost for not adopting service, they must be fully committed to this change in order to survive, and organizations need experienced, dedicated professionals who can make this happen.

We recommend looking down the hall at your Exchange administrator for this role. However, if your organization is leveraging Office 365, it’s critical that some IT professional is identified, designated with the appropriate title and empowered with the appropriate authority to oversee the big picture.

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