specialworkshop

Little Black Rain Clouds

With many vendors offering cloud delivery of applications and services, the issue of changing what is delivered becomes critically important. In the old model of on-premises software, the IT department had a more controlled way of rolling out new capabilities – major changes every few years, along with some interim fixes and updates. With cloud delivery, one of the value propositions in the eyes of providers is the ability to get new features and capabilities out to market much faster, and indeed while it can be delivered much faster, the change can cause multiple problems.

Consider for example some recent and rumoured upcoming changes in SharePoint Online:

Recently, Microsoft eliminated the Tags & Notes feature in SharePoint Online. It also removed the Tasks menu option from SharePoint Online and the “Sync to Outlook” button, as noted back in September on the Absolute SharePoint blog (which is not run by a Microsoft employee, but instead by Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Vlad Catrinescu).

Catrinescu noted that these cuts were mentioned in Microsoft support notices that he unearthed, but as comments on his blog post note, many users seemed unhappily unaware they were happening or had happened.

Now, it looks like Microsoft may drop the public sites feature in SharePoint Online. Again, that’s not according to any Microsoft official site, but instead to the “Office 365 Answers” blog.

There’s a discussion 76 comments deep on the blog post, with many of the comments critical of what Microsoft is doing.

Abstracting away from the specific changes in SharePoint Online, here’s the problem we face: re-grooving the way we work based on unexpected changes in our systems. Take this pathway, for example:

1. The IT group at your organization makes a case for shifting to a cloud service, for a variety of reasons, and based on the current state provision of various features and capabilities that can be used effectively for getting business done. The organization shifts.

2. Individuals start to experiment with the new features and capabilities, and begin to see how they could make use of those in their work. Over time – some quick, some slow – individuals accept and embrace the new way of working.

3. Individuals introduce the changes they have mastered into the groups and teams they are part of, with early movers becoming a champion of sorts for using the new tools. The groups and teams start to shift to the new ways of working too, finding the benefit, overcoming the annoyances, but slowly refactoring the way they coordinate, communicate, and collaborate.

4. The ground shifts and the way of working breaks. The cloud provider makes a change in the system – advised or otherwise – so that (a) something relied on for getting work done is now removed, or (b) a new and better way of working together is released. The early moving individual now faces a broken system, and the groups and teams that have embraced the new way of working can no longer work together in that way.

5. What’s the reaction among the end user population? Some will naturally say “let’s find a new way,” but I contend that most will err towards “I told you this was a bad idea, I’m going back to the old system.” Thus a technology change by the cloud provider breaks the new social order in organizational groups.

What’s your experience in helping end users overcome the social challenges driven by frequent technology change?

4 thoughts on “Little Black Rain Clouds

  1. Spot-on Michael!
    Add to this the mix of using not only one cloud service to do your work but several, some that do interoperate others that do not. Services that do overlap in capabilities, leaving the users to make their own preferred choices in group work with peers, clients or whatever need they surface.

    What is most remarkable is the poor communications to all the tenants in the rented office space. I a similar real world case, tearing down walls, shifting services in the building you rent would become a riot when things don’t match up to the expected outcome of the use.

    Most of my client moving to the cloud, are hesitant to use all capabilities that would make their collaborative work smoother, due to this simple notion that it might just break the other day. Without notice!

  2. Starting with Office 10 Microsoft started removing features, buttons and menu options. The first I noticed was Paste Special disappearing from the right-click menu. It was a small but fundamental change. Up until the ribbon, they had generally added new ways to work but allowed people to continue using old ways as well. From then on they started removing and paring; pruning interfaces and it spread beyond the office suite to SharePoint and with 8.0 to Windows itself. Trust was broken.
    I have focused on the Atlassian suite who seem to be more sensitive in this area since Confluence went to v4.0, however I do wonder if it is simply because they are younger and a similar pruning is in their future as well.
    Personally I don’t think it is needed. Having run many user adoption projects, people tend to learn and experiment in different ways. Leaving legacy option in allows people to find A way faster and encourages a skills marketplace to develop in the workforce where people share different ways of doing things and assess if these ways work better in their situation; a sort of bottom driven agile business engagement, if you will.
    Most importantly trust is preserved for the older users and advocates meaning adoption efforts aren’t undermined.
    Thanks for talking about this important topic Michael.

  3. Like any technical approach to solving a problem, there are upsides and downsides. No approach is perfect and multi-tenant Cloud platforms are no exceptions. The solution needs to be evaluated on the big picture; not focused narrowly on a subset of users who will be impacted by changes to the system. My firm supports nearly 10,000 seats in SharePoint Online and you know how many complaints we’ve heard about the changes to tasks and the others you mention? Exactly zero. Does that mean that no one was impacted? Of course not. What it does mean that the magnitude of the impact was minimal. The user base we support is not shy about raising their hand when they are impacted.

    Again, focusing on the big picture is how IT leadership needs to evaluate whether the trade off in change management control is worth the cost savings, improved security and BCDR, and availability of the latest features. The fact of the matter is that Office 365 and other multi-tenant SaaS solutions are not right for everyone; However, I would argue that when you look at the big picture, they are right for many today and will be for most in the not so distant future. Off the shelf on premises systems will fall by the wayside slowly but steadily over the next several years. Unfortunately, you won’t have the option of “going back to the old system” for long. Enjoy it while you can I suppose.

  4. Great commentary Mike. It is generally assumed that being cloud based means being having the latest bells and whistles. As you clearly point out and has been seen with the likes of Facebook, change is not always appreciated. And of course sometimes the bells and whistles that you rely on disappear!

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