Who Will Lead Your Office 365 Deployment?

A screenshot of a Teams meeting with video of four participants.
Dux leads the debate in a Teams meeting

Office 365, Technologists, and Careers

On February 7, AvePoint’s Hunter Willis posted an article on Petri.com to lay out the case why people with Exchange expertise are best suited to lead Office 365 deployments. As you’d expect, this perspective didn’t go over too well with people who came to Office 365 from other technologies, notably the SharePoint community, and a flurry of tweets ensued.

In fact, anyone can lead an Office 365 deployment if they have the right mixture of technology, people, and political skills. One thing we know about the IT industry is that change is inevitable and ongoing all the time. If people can’t master change and learn how to move with the times, their career will suffer.

Picking the Right Person to Lead Office 365 Deployments

When I’m asked by CIOs and other executives about good candidates to lead an Office 365 deployment, my response is to look for someone who has the proven ability to master an ecosystem because they’ll need to do this for Office 365. One reason why Exchange and SharePoint were so successful as on-premises products is that they had a broad and deep supporting ecosystem of third-party and Microsoft technology. Some technologists working with these products stayed very focused on the core product, others mastered much more – and they’re the kind of people you need to lead projects.

Apart from knowledge of technology (practical and architecture) and being smart, the kind of attributes seen in these people are curiosity, a willingness to learn, the ability to assess the true worth of Microsoft and ISV technology and come to their own conclusion about its real value, and some project management skills. In short, the best leaders are all-rounders rather than brilliant technologists who understand the last iota about SharePoint, Exchange, or anything else.

Office 365 is Very Different in 2019

It’s undeniable that the role of the on-premises servers is now very different inside Office 365. When Microsoft launched Office 365 in June 2011, the cloud services were thinly disguised versions of the on-premises servers and operated in much the same way. Now, the advent of new apps like Teams, Stream, and Planner and new dependencies, like the Graph and Azure Active Directory (very different to its on-premises cousin) mean that a new approach to Office 365 is needed to drive real business value from cloud services. In the new world, Exchange delivers email and mailbox services to other apps; SharePoint delivers document management services. Instead of being at the core of their ecosystems, the cloud servers are contributors to the Office 365 ecosystem. People who specialized in Exchange or SharePoint on-premises must take a radically different attitude to how they work with cloud technologies to succeed with Office 365. It’s not the server anymore – it’s how a server delivers value to the rest of the ecosystem.

Over my career, I’ve been privileged to work with many very gifted technologists. I’ve been able to help quite a number develop and enhance their careers. All of those who succeeded shared the attributes mentioned above. In my mind, it’s the way to make sure that waves of technology change don’t leave people behind, beached and alone working with an old-style attitude to technology that was valid in 2011 and is not today.

Debating Office 365 and Careers

If you’re interested in hearing a 30-minute debate on the topic organized by the redoubtable Dux Raymond Sy (CMO of AvePoint), you can listen to a YouTube recording. A selection of the tweets is included in an AvePoint blog post.

The debate was recorded using a Teams meeting using anonymous join to allow people from around the world to contribute (I joined as a guest user connected to Teams in the Microsoft tenant). The recording was captured in Stream. As you listen, reflect on the fact that the technologies used to record the conversation didn’t exist inside Office 365 a few short years ago and have nothing to do with the on-premises servers people get so worked up about. Change happens. Embrace it and be happy to change. Your career will improve as a result.


Change is what we’re all about with the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. That’s why we publish a completely new and updated book every month to our subscribers. Which is one way to embrace change!

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