Cloud – Evolutionary Speed vs. Supportability

Potential Negative Long-Term Impact on Adoption

Cloud platforms aren’t tethered by the upgrade factors & cycles that have limited the evolutionary speed of traditional enterprise IT offerings. Now, small (and not so small) improvements can be made under the hood, allowing providers to increase the value of their platforms and allowing customers to see the benefits of greater capabilities without (really) having to do anything. What could be wrong with that? On face value, this particular facet of the cloud appears to be a win-win. Maybe, maybe not… at least as it relates to enabling documentation.

The fact is – as the speed of evolution within each specific product increases, the volume of organic support content decreases – and it could be a huge problem

For a couple decades now, sources like TechNet and technical blogs have played an immeasurable role in providing IT professionals with the resources necessary to get the job done. Whether by helping to perform the initial assessment as to whether or not a product’s capabilities align with their needs or the vastly more common troubleshooting efforts involved in shoehorning a product into an imperfect, potentially messy existing infrastructure, this online content has enabled an entire industry to successfully deploy and support inherently complex solutions. I don’t believe this to be a small point, rather one that has literally paved the way for empowering organizations to adopt new technology. I believe that the availability of this sort content is the life-blood of IT.

So what’s changed? Are people getting out in front of change and experimenting and prototyping?  Heck yeah.  Are they still writing blogs? You bet.  Are people still batting technical realities back & forth on support forums? Sure.  The content itself isn’t going away, but its relevance and perceived trustworthiness is taking a big hit.

With the frequency and significance of changes being made to Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, technical folks are now in a world where you can’t really trust content online unless it’s less than a few months old. Even if you limit your scope to official Microsoft sources, you end up finding dozens of support threads and articles citing something as “not possible” and a few explaining the step-by-step instructions on how to do it… the only difference being the 6 months that separated threads. This leaves a lot of individuals with confusion and frustration when trying to solve puzzles.

Obviously, as we move to more cloud-based solutions, the volume of technical puzzles decreases since IT personnel have inherently limited access to base-level configurations and the integration challenges that go along with them. So, I suppose a corollary decrease in technical web content is expected & justified. However, I’m not confident that we’re striking that balance yet. More importantly, I think that this balance is critical in order to continue the adoption trajectory that we’re on.

The usefulness of support content (and I would, argue adoption as a consequence), has always been largely tied to a product’s “time in service”.

The longer that a particular version of a software solution is in use > the more people that will be exposed to it > the more quirks that will be found > the more those quirks & interoperability challenges are documented.

When Microsoft releases something new, most IT pros hold off on deploying it to their respective enterprises. They’ll cite the idea that there’s almost certainly going to be bugs in the initial release and they’re waiting for SP1, etc. They don’t trust this or they don’t trust that. I call bullshit. While release bugs are a small factor, I think that if we’re being honest with ourselves, it comes down to a desire to wait until somebody else wanders through the woods, marking the path for the rest of us to follow. We all have the scars of troubleshooting stubborn deployments and the knowledge that if it not for that one blog or that one thread, our effort may not have been a success.

We know that it takes time for people to trip every potential booby trap and that it takes a while for those lessons to surface in knowledge bases around the world. It takes time for someone to break down and post screen shots of configuration screens that are not as intuitive as they were thought to be. It takes time for someone in a similar environment to blog about how he or she “finally got it to work”. We know that our own personal success is bolted to how successful we are at tracking down the problem and finding a speedy resolution – deep down, we want every advantage that we can get.

With platforms like Azure and 365 evolving so quickly, the “time in service” factor is all but lost. So… what can we do about it? The only answer that I can that I can think of is that Microsoft and (to a lesser extent) the industry around it will simply have to be more proactive in providing more (and more detailed) content than ever before. It may also be worthwhile to automate the retroactive updating of TechNet articles and support threads when topics are the subject matter of a change.

The “status quo” of support documentation from Microsoft is no longer sufficient. As the industry puts more faith in the “hands off” approach to enterprise IT offered by the proverbial cloud, more explicit guidance will be needed than ever before regarding the things that are still in our court.

Aside from that, we have one of the by-products of this innovation at our disposal – the Office 365 Technical Network – that is proving to be a very useful tool in navigating this more rapidly changing landscape and no… it’s not limited to Office 365 topics. It’s free and open to all. If you’re an IT professional focused on the Microsoft stack, get yourself signed up and participate. This is what we can do. This is how we leverage “work like a network” to combat the challenges of evolving faster than traditional support mechanisms can keep up with.

Read more and sign up here: http://blogs.office.com/2014/05/23/join-the-office-365-technical-network-now-with-developers/

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We can’t afford to stand by and assume that things will carry on as they always have.  Foundation-level things are changing in this industry that will ripple through and affect all sorts of things that folks may take for granted.  I think this is one of them.

Please share your thoughts and ideas below.

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