My recent experience of working through a problem with Office 365 support confirmed once again just how fundamental the paradigm shift is for IT professionals tasked with resolving problems after workload moves to the cloud.
Overall, the support experience was good. The problem was solved. The people I dealt with were professional and polite and seemed to be more competent than earlier encounters. Microsoft provided the necessary systems to track progress of the problem and I was informed of how things were going at every stage. Microsoft even assigned me an “Advocacy Manager” to keep track of the case. So I felt pampered.
However, the same issues with cloud support persist. Progress towards resolution was too slow. Too many questions were reiterated for no apparent reason. Escalation was slow and the amount of value added by first-level support was not as high as I had hoped. But we got there in the end.
Supporting issues with cloud systems is difficult. Can you imagine working as a front-line support professional who has to deal with customer problems? Gathering the necessary information to form a mental picture of the problem is the first challenge. Understanding its impact on customer operations is another. Figuring out how to proceed to a timely resolution is a third.
Of course, Microsoft has databases that record details of support incidents, their symptoms, and eventual resolutions. Sometimes a quick search will reveal an answer and an incident can be closed quickly. In other cases, like mine, the symptoms are not so clear or a match cannot be found by searching, so the investigation process requires substantially more effort.
Events unfold at a very measured and controlled pace as Office 365 support personnel are obviously guided by some very clear instructions about how to gather information, interpret the data, and move towards resolution. Like many other aspects of Office 365, a structured playbook dictates how support unfolds and escalation from first-level to second-level staff happens. This is how it should be as you can’t afford to have different support personnel take radically different approaches to problem resolution in an environment that supports millions of end users. Such a scenario is a recipe for poor customer satisfaction and erratic problem resolution. It would also likely lead to higher support costs and dissatisfied customers.
It’s also important to understand that none of the frontline people working in Office 365 support have no access to datacenters. These people are responsible for collecting and refining information so that problems are well understood, resolved if possible, and then passed on to engineering if a solution cannot be found. Complex problems will probably involve a number of interactions between support personnel and engineering. In these cases, the support personnel retain responsibility for communication with the customer and engineering works in the background.
The highly structured approach to problem resolution means that cases often take longer to resolve than you might anticipate. The slowness in steps unfolding is often the most frustrating aspect for IT professionals. In the on-premises world everything is available and all components can be interrogated and tested in a drive towards a fix. With the cloud, you’re dealing with an amorphous blob where any control that you have terminates as packets leave your network en route across the uncontrollable Internet to a cloud datacenter. You can change client or device settings, but that’s it. Everything associated with server processing is in the cloud and hidden from you.
All of this means that IT professionals have a very different role to play during cloud support incidents. Instead of taking responsibility for pursuing a problem from client to server to resolution, your role is to gather information and provide it to cloud support. The better and more accurate the information you provide, the sooner the problem will be resolved. It is all too easy to lead cloud support down a dead end and even easier to spend days waiting for them to figure out that they are in a dead end. Responding to support with accurate and timely information is the only real way you have of controlling how quickly resolution will happen.
User communication needs increased attention from IT professionals too. You might understand that control over problem resolution has been ceded to cloud support but an end user is unlikely to understand the complexities and nuances involved in moving work to the cloud. All they know is that their email doesn’t work or they can’t get to a document in a SharePoint library. It seems pretty clear therefore that IT professionals have to do more work to reassure end users that their issues really are being worked.
Some might decry the transition of responsibility to the cloud. But similar changes have occurred before in both IT and elsewhere. We don’t have to load programs from paper tape now and cars are less maintainable than before because they use so many computers. You don’t see people worrying that they can’t use paper tape programs and few really mind the passing of fallible carburettors that tended to fail on damp mornings. We adapt and get on with the new situation.
Follow Tony @12Knocksinna