How to Turn Your Microsoft Underutilization into Leverage


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In nearly all of the Microsoft engagements where we have advised over the years, there has been some level of underutilization.  It comes in many different forms, but we’ve noticed some trends.  We often see the same features and products that make up the Microsoft 365 E3 cloud bundle not fully utilized (or even not used at all), such as Advanced O365 data protection, Mobile Device Management (MDM) for O365, etc.

As you can imagine, customers with larger Microsoft portfolios and more robust product editions (such as Microsoft 365 E5) have an even greater propensity for underutilization since there are more features that can potentially be neglected.  For Microsoft 365 E5, it is certainly not always the case, but we do see common themes of limited use of the additional security, audio-conferencing features and products, and Power BI Pro, which all come with Microsoft 365 E5.

Many companies have already made the leap to more robust editions like Microsoft 365 E3 or E5 or even F5 because of the value they were promised (ROI, efficiencies, removal of spend from other already used alternative products, etc.).  Sometimes they were enticed by the “special discount” Microsoft gave them – that possibly wasn’t that special after all.

Regardless of which or how many Microsoft products you have “adopted”, having a clear understanding of the value actually received will help ensure you get more from your investment moving forward and set proper go-forward expectations with Microsoft when they position the next best thing you need to adopt.

What Can Microsoft Customers Do About Underutilization?

1. Create a Comprehensive and Detailed Usage Report

To truly understand the level of value received to date (utilization), you’ll need to start thinking of use in a more granular and organized way.  Take the time to fully assess your entire Microsoft portfolio to identify which products, and features within bundled products like Microsoft 365, you are not using or could be using more of.  The more granular you can get, the better.

When assessing use, it is not enough to simply run software that tells you your utilization percentage or survey users to see how they like certain products.  You must look at and ascertain (to the degree you can) the actual or perceived value being received at a feature-level.

We recommend planning to start the process of assessing your utilization a year in advance of your renewal, so you have enough time to get your house in order.  Remember that this will require the participation of multiple business units, all of which will have other things on their plate.

2. Establish an Ongoing Process to Track Use

If you don’t currently track usage at the product-feature level, it may take time and effort to initially pull together, but it is critical that you start doing this as a practice moving forward.  You need to look beyond and deeper than your current licensing statement.  Assessing your usage and the value received at a granular level should also be a part of an overarching effort to optimize and improve your relationship with Microsoft.  This is also a great place to have your reseller step in to deliver the appropriate level of insights and value.

Understanding areas where you are not getting the value you paid for can empower you to unlock more value moving forward.

3. Use Your Findings to Influence Microsoft’s Commitments and Behavior

Once you have a comprehensive report that identifies your utilization and underutilization at a granular level, take your understanding directly to Microsoft.  You can certainly work with your reseller, but it is best to present it to Microsoft for their input.  It is always better to take out the “middleman” in circumstances like this.  Ideally, you can put the results of your due-diligence and usage in front of your Microsoft sales representatives before they try to cross-sell (i.e., push more products like Power Apps, Power BI, etc.) or upsell (i.e., move to E5 or F5).

Microsoft will always have something to cross-sell and upsell.  They have recently been pushing their industry-specific solutions which require the adoption of many different pieces to unlock the full potential value.  If you have not been getting the full value to date on pieces of the industry solution, Microsoft needs to be put on notice of that as the pitch tied to the overall value from the full “Industry solution” obviously diminishes.  That makes their job much harder and hopefully focuses their attention back to solving how they will ensure the expected value is received on the pieces you have already paid significant money for.

If Microsoft pitches one of these new or more robust products, you can raise your concerns about the number of products and features that you have already adopted and paid for but have not yet used or received value from.  Hold them accountable to giving you what they should have given you before to unlock that missing value.  For this to be effective, you must have the information on hand and the more granular you have it, the better.

What Can Microsoft Do About Your Underutilization?

It’s important to note this isn’t all Microsoft’s fault.  Customers should also look inward as they could also be responsible for underutilization.  But you should still ask whether Microsoft (and your reseller) have been proactive in helping you unlock value.  Or did they seem to just disappear once the ink dried and not reappear until they had something else to cross-sell or upsell?

Fortunately, Microsoft also wants use.  While you want to get the value you’re paying for, Microsoft wants use because it makes things more sticky and harder to walk away from.  Your goals are aligned here but you need their help and commitment to make it happen.

To be clear, Microsoft isn’t going to give you a refund.  It is important to get that out there.  That is not the objective here.  What you really want to focus on is getting investments (people, money, and time) to help unlock value not yet received, but also to set a new standard expectation and ultimately influence what they give you moving forward.  Having a process in place to identify gaps in the value you expected and are receiving will help you hold them accountable to what you have not gotten and what you want moving forward.

Here are some examples of what Microsoft could do:

  • Dedicate investment dollars to help you increase use
  • Give you access to the right consultants to help you get more value
  • Make commitments of what they will provide to help you realize the benefits of new products and more robust editions
  • Provide commitments as to what they will do if expected value is not realized.

Simply put, if Microsoft wants you to consider new or more robust solutions, you should aim for more than just good pricing and discounting.  Challenge Microsoft to give you commitments that help ensure you will get the expected value from those solutions before going down that path.

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