Microsoft self-service policy for Office 365 raises concerns

Office 365 admins must sacrifice some degree of control as Microsoft allows end users to purchase certain capabilities themselves for Power Platform products.

Microsoft Power Platform includes Power BI, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow, which have business intelligence, low-code development and workflow capabilities, respectively. These applications are included in most Office 365 enterprise subscriptions. Previously, only administrators could purchase licensing for an organization.

On Oct. 23, Microsoft announced that it would roll out self-service purchasing to U.S. cloud customers starting Nov. 19.

Reda Chouffani, VP of development at Biz Technology SolutionsReda Chouffani

Widespread adoption of the SaaS model has already caused significant communication gaps between IT and end users, said Reda Chouffani, vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions, a consulting firm in Mooresville, N.C.

“Now introducing this and knowing that Microsoft has over 140 million business subscribers that are empowered to make purchasing decisions on certain apps within the suite … that will make it where more of these [communication issues] will occur, and IT is not going to take it lightly,” he said.

Users with non-guest user accounts in a managed Azure Active Directory tenant will be able to make purchases directly with a credit card, according to a recent Microsoft FAQ. IT administrators can turn off the self-service purchasing policy through PowerShell, however, according to an update this week from Microsoft. Microsoft also extended the rollout date to Jan. 14, 2020, to give admins more time to prepare for the change.

The decision to allow IT to disable the capability likely came about from customer pushback about security concerns, said Willem Bagchus, messaging and collaboration specialist at United Bank, based in Parkersburg, W.Va.

IT admins may still be deterred by the self-service purchasing capability, because some may not be aware they can turn it off via PowerShell, Bagchus said.

“For a small-business IT admin who does everything by themselves or depends on the web only for [PowerShell] functions, it’ll be a bit of a challenge,” he added.

Security, licensing and support concerns

Security remains a top concern for many Office 365 customers, said Doug Hemminger, director of Microsoft services at SPR, a technology consulting firm in Chicago. Midsize and large businesses will be scrambling to turn the self-service purchasing capability off, he said.

“A lot of companies are worried about the data access issues that those users may inadvertently expose their company to,” Hemminger said. “Monitoring is a key part of implementing a certain environment and making sure that governance is in place, so many companies that I work with don’t want to give their employees the ability to go out and buy their own licenses.”

In the world we live in today, employees need access to applications to get their jobs done.
Mark BowkerSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

Office 365 admins can apply data management and access policies to Microsoft self-service purchases, which may alleviate some security concerns. End users do not need administrator approval before purchasing an application with a credit card, however.

“Most users will not think twice before purchasing something if it’s going to help them, which means that security may not necessarily be top of mind,” Chouffani said. “That can make it very difficult, because now everybody can pick their product of choice without truly doing some sort of due diligence and evaluation.”

Others said Microsoft will handle security issues properly.

“Microsoft has proved to me that they’re very serious about security,” said Willem Bagchus, messaging and collaboration specialist at United Bank, based in Parkersburg, W.Va. “Anything that may happen from a security perspective, [Microsoft] will be on top of it right away.”

When it comes to licensing, organizations need to administer checks and balances, Chouffani said.

Self-service purchasers can access a limited view of the Microsoft 365 admin center and assign licenses to other end users, according to the Microsoft FAQ.

Daniel Beato, director of technology at TNTMAXDaniel Beato

“Licensing is the least of our worries,” said Daniel Beato, director of technology at TNTMAX, an IT consultancy based in Wyckoff, N.J. “The user can do their own licensing; they will pay with their own credit card or even the company credit card.”

Employees will likely be held responsible for company purchases, however, when an organization reviews its finances, Beato said.

It is also unclear who is expected to provide end-user support when an application fails, Chouffani said.

Microsoft will provide standard support for self-service purchasers, according to the company.

A ‘smart decision for Microsoft’

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy GroupMark Bowker

Microsoft’s self-service policy is a smart one for the company, said Mark Bowker, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

“In the world we live in today, employees need access to applications to get their jobs done,” he said. “Today’s application environment is very, very dynamic.”

Unlike other Office 365 products, such as Word and Excel, Power Platform applications aren’t widely used, Bowker said. Instead, they are used mainly by niche employees such as corporate developers and data analytics professionals.

“I think overall this will be a good thing,” Bagchus said. “More users and more installations will improve a product.”

Communication is key

No matter their personal feelings on the Microsoft self-service policy, Office 365 admins should be prepared for the changes and adjust accordingly.

Admins should have a good relationship with their organization’s Microsoft sales representative and keep in regular contact with a point person for updates, Bagchus said.

“That way you won’t get blindsided,” he said. “You can evolve with it.”

IT should also collaborate with end users to understand the needs of the business and to be a part of the solution, Chouffani said.

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