Microsoft is loosening its licensing terms for the business versions of Office 365, its suite of cloud-based productivity apps, making it easier for customers to upgrade from one plan to another.
The most notable change is that customers can now upgrade their Office 365 plan without calling Microsoft support, by using something Microsoft calls a "switch plans wizard."
Customers simply go to the Office 365 admin Web page and click a link, and their user licenses will be automatically moved over to the upgraded Office 365 plan, Paul Andrew, a technical product manager on the Office 365 team, said in a blog post Friday.
Before, customers who wanted to upgrade had to call Office 365 support, cancel their old subscription and manually reassign their user licenses to the new plan -- which, needless to say, was a time-consuming process.
"Previously, it was very difficult to migrate between the SKUs. Now it's a single click," Reed Wilson, founder and president of Palmetto Technology Group, a Greenville, S.C.-based Microsoft partner, said in an email to CRN. "This is something we have been wanting for quite some time."
By making Office 365 upgrades self-service, Microsoft is making it easier for customers to spend money with the company while also reducing its own overhead.
However, use of the wizard is currently limited to customers with less than 300 users who bought Office 365 directly from Microsoft's website.
"Customers who purchased a boxed copy of Office 365 Small Business or Small Business Premium (or any form of pre-paid card), purchased through a Microsoft volume license, or purchased through a telecom/ISP reseller are not able to use the Switch plans wizard at this time," Microsoft says in an FAQ on the Office 365 blog.
For now, customers can only use the wizard to upgrade within their existing Office 365 product family. So if they bought a small business version of Office 365, they can't upgrade to the midsize business or enterprise versions. Microsoft plans to allow this "later this year," Andrew said in the blog post.
Microsoft is also "working on future updates" that will let Office 365 customers use the wizard to switch between different product families, according to Andrew. For now, though, customers who want this will have to do it the manual way.
By allowing customers to change their plans without using Microsoft phone support or VAR resources, Microsoft can serve its millions of small business customers directly, Jeff Muscarella, partner at NPI, an Atlanta-based firm that helps companies manage software licensing, told CRN.
"It seems as though Microsoft is really trying to create a more robust 'self-service' offering for these small customers," Muscarella said in an email.
PUBLISHED AUGUST 6, 2013