Microsoft Upgrades Office 365 'Kiosk Plans' With Advanced Features

Microsoft rolled out upgrades Monday for the Office 365 version made for enterprise workers who aren't bound to desks.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has added collaboration and productivity tools to Office 365 Enterprise K1 plans – often called "kiosk plans" – that are used by frontline employees in many industries, from retail to health care and hospitality.

"Giving those [services] to kiosk workers is the right move for Microsoft at this point, given some of the pressures they're getting from Salesforce and Google and some other competitors," said Tony Pagnusat, senior alliance director at Perficient, a Microsoft partner based in St. Louis, Mo.

[Related: Microsoft's New Dynamics 365 Combines CRM, ERP In The Cloud, Enticing Channel Partners To Expand Practices]

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The kiosk plan is especially popular with Perficient's health care and manufacturing customers, Pagnusat told CRN, adding the upgrades keep Office 365 competitive with other products targeting that market.

While K1 once delivered only a very basic user interface, "with this new set of tools, you get more of a full-fledged information-worker type interface," he said.

The product additions to the K1 plans include Skype for Business messaging; Teams, a popular collaboration tool; the Office 365 video content service; and PowerApps and Flow, which automate workflows.

"Microsoft is recognizing that a lot of employees in a company don’t have access today to the technology they could be using," said Matt Scherocman, president of Interlink Cloud Advisors, a partner based in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Because those employees are carrying smartphones, they have "the power in their pockets to collaborate like never before," Scherocman told CRN.

In January, Microsoft introduced StaffHub to Office 365 K1, an application meant to automate the management of worker shift schedules. It also recently added 2 GB of OneDrive cloud storage to those plans.

Interlink has seen customers adopt kiosk licensing to give workers portals to human resource and employment information, Office Web Apps for filling out forms like incident reports, and email addresses with company domains, which makes those users feel more connected to their firm.

"This new offering will only accelerate the deployment of technology to frontline employees who are typically underserved by technology today," Scherocman told CRN.

K1, at $4 per user per month, is half the cost of the lightest version of E1, for office employees, and the features gap has been shrinking between the two products. That's driving adoption of kiosk plans, which leads to new opportunities for partners to add services.

"I'm sure IT departments aren't just going to flip these features on to everybody," Pagnusat said. "They'll need more deployment, planning, and training for the kiosk worker to understand the features available to them."

Microsoft partners will be tapped to create processes governing how those new capabilities are deployed to frontline workers, Pagnusat said, especially with the addition of products like Skype and Teams that combine multiple technologies and allow users to interact more intuitively.