How to Use the Free Microsoft 365 Compliance Trial

Achieving Compliance can be Expensive

If you follow the announcements made by Microsoft about new functionality available to Microsoft 365 tenants, you might have noticed that many new of the features described in the announcements require high-end licenses like Office 365 E5 or Microsoft 365 E5 Compliance. Both licenses come with a hefty monthly fee (like the $12 list price for the Microsoft 365 E5 compliance add-on). More information on the licensing requirements for different features is available online, including a useful comparison table (Figure 1).

Comparing compliance features available to the different Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans
Figure 1: Comparing compliance features available to the different Office 365 and Microsoft 365 plans

In fact, even with the new prices for Office 365 and Microsoft 365 due to come into effect on March 1, 2022, if your organization needs some of the information protection, governance, and compliance features not available in Office 365 E3, upgrading to Office 365 E5 rather than buying add-ons looks like a relative bargain. In addition to the information governance features, you’ll also get access to other features like the Teams Phone system and audio conferencing.

Higher ARPU

Of course, moving to higher-priced plans is exactly what Microsoft wants customers to do. Every time Microsoft briefs market analysts after releasing its quarterly results, it emphasizes the growth in annual revenue per user (ARPU), meaning that over time Microsoft becomes more successful at convincing customers to upgrade to higher-price plans. Continuing to make higher-priced plans more attractive is why Microsoft usually adds new functionality to those plans rather than making features available to Office 365 E3, the baseline plan for enterprises. For instance, using an auto-label policy for Teams meeting recordings or use adaptive scopes for retention and other policies (due next month) both require E5 or a compliance add-on.

Free Compliance Trial

Which brings me to the free trial for compliance licenses Microsoft is rolling out to tenants which don’t already have these licenses. Claimed by a tenant administrator through the Trials section of the Microsoft 365 compliance center, the validity of the Microsoft 365 E5 compliance trial licenses is 90 days, which should be enough for you to decide whether the functionality does what Microsoft claims and is useful to your organization (you can extend the trial within 15 days of its expiration).

If you decide not to proceed, Microsoft 365 retains the data accumulated by the compliance features for 180 days, after which it is removed.

Microsoft gives some details of the functionality licensed in the trial in their post. More detail is available in the Microsoft 365 E5 compliance column in the comparison table referenced above. There we find features like:

  • Automatic application of sensitivity labels to Exchange and SharePoint workloads.
  • Use of trainable qualifiers to find and label data.
  • Microsoft Cloud App Security.
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP) for Teams messaging.
  • Endpoint DLP.
  • Communications compliance.
  • Advanced eDiscovery.
  • Advanced auditing.

In short, there’s lots of functionality to explore, which means that you should do some up-front preparation before signing up for the trial. Aim to spend every day of the 90 doing something useful to explore and measure the effectiveness of a compliance feature for your organization so that you can make a fact-backed decision at the end of the trial.

The trial is a marketing exercise to hook new customers. That’s OK because there is real value to be gained by using features against live data (with preparation) rather than in a test tenant. You can sign up for an E5 test tenant and access all the compliance functionality there, but it’s not quite the same as seeing how things work with your data.

On the other hand, if you already have a trial tenant (as many enterprise Office 365 tenants do), you’ve likely spent some time replicating the production setup in the trial tenant and can get the same value from testing the compliance features in the trial tenant. All of which goes to prove once again that there’s usually more ways than one to solve a problem.

So much change, all the time. It’s a challenge to stay abreast of all the updates Microsoft makes across Office 365. Subscribe to the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook to receive monthly insights into what’s happening.

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