by OT Ramos, Laci Porter

A conversation with Point B’s Laci Porter and OT Ramos

What was your customer’s challenge, and how was it affecting people in their organization?

OT: Our customer is a large public utility that wanted to move to the cloud with Microsoft 365. They had done a proof of concept, and they asked Point B to lead their deployment to cloud-based storage and collaboration. This was an enterprise-wide change in the way about 9,000 people work across the utility, including its 3,000 contractors. It was going to change how people did their work every day. Our deployment roadmap and training needed to address a wide variety of users across the workforce, which spans what the company describes as seven generations—from young employees to officers who’ve been there 25+ years.

Laci: COVID-19 became an added challenge about the time we began deployment. We expedited the entire roadmap by two quarters and helped people adapt as quickly as possible, even as many of them were also making the change to working remotely for the first time.

Is this customer’s need for people-centered change common in their industry? If so, how would you describe what’s happening in their industry and what it means for the future?

OT: In any industry, M365 has the capabilities to fundamentally change the way people across an enterprise work and interact with each other. This kind of deployment really needs to put people at the center of the change. You can’t just flip a switch on the technology. We approached it as an adoption and change management effort, not just a software deployment project.

Laci: Like everyone else, utilities are feeling the impact of COVID-19. Our customer moved quickly to remote working, which was a big change for people who were used to working face-to-face. There wasn’t a lot of time to plan or prepare, so, like many companies, they’re still looking for ways to find a better “new normal.”

Did Point B discover any issues related to human-centered change that the customer had been unaware of—or underestimated? Were there any “aha” moments of discovery?

OT: Pretty much every day!

Laci: For many people, the concept that one solution like M365 can do so much was a big discovery. They come from an environment where they’d had one system that can do one thing, a customization that can do another thing, and some third-party tools to fill in the blanks. It was all “one task, one tool.” We helped them leverage the “Microsoft first” philosophy—that it pays to look first within the full capabilities of this integrated suite of tools that talk to each other and exchange information. Before spending money on other tools, let’s use the full capabilities of the ones they’ve already invested in.

OT: Laci’s spot on. This was a big culture shift for them. In the past, whenever a business unit needed a new capability, they’d go off and try to get it themselves. They were used to lots of customized tools, which would each meet a single, narrow need. Having a full, flexible solution like M365 was an eye-opener.

I think the cost-saving implications Laci mentioned will continue to be an eye-opener, too. Leadership is keenly aware of budget constraints as a steward of public resources. It was a big discovery to realize how extensively their people could use the license they’re already paying for. By not having to spend outside the M365 suite to get what they need, they have a sustainable way to save money and stave off cost increases.

How did your ability to empathize and understand shape your approach to solving this challenge?

Laci: We started by working closely with leadership to earn their sponsorship. Their enthusiasm and support is really what has driven the deployment to be so successful.

OT: Yes, it’s that leader sponsorship; I can’t say it enough. We focused on the leadership group first. And we never treated this like just an IT initiative. We helped them understand the business value they can get from M365 with their teams and all the things they can do. We had multiple discussions with executive leadership and sessions with leaders across the organization. Some were young and tech savvy; some were older officers who just wanted to know how to upload it onto their iPads.

Laci: A couple of leaders got so excited that it started a fire within the leadership team, and we were invited to several meetings with leaders of the company that we would not typically be invited to.

OT: The CFO was one of the leaders who really got the ball rolling. He wanted the entire finance organization on Teams and upgraded right away—before we had even opened it for the enterprise. He and other leaders got everyone else playing with the tools. 

Laci: Microsoft created a certification around how to help companies move to M365—how to help people adopt the change. It’s not just, “Here’s how you use it.” It’s a way of thinking, with lots of flexibility and opportunities for new ways of working. None of it is purely technology-related. It’s people-centered change.

OT: Having Laci’s expertise as a Microsoft Certified Adoption Specialist made a huge difference in how we approached messaging and configuration decisions about the platform. It’s invaluable to have someone who’s been there, done that, and can lay out the pros and cons of various approaches. Laci helped us make the impact we wanted to make. People felt confident they had an expert at the table.

How did your ability to empathize and understand shape your training?

Laci: We knew our audience. We did road shows before people actually made the upgrade. By the time they did, they’d seen it and understood how it would work for them. We aligned the road shows to people’s level of engagement and made them very hands-on.

OT: We put people at the center of our adoption and change management strategy, the roadmap, and all the communications and training. Our training sessions focused not only on how to use the tools, but how to use them to actually solve business problems. We did lots of different types of training sessions for every type and level of user—including demos, webinars and immersion sessions where people get to play with the tools. We’ve had installation parties where we stayed on the phone with people as they upgraded their devices. We also worked with a Microsoft partner that built out some pretty robust “help me now” support and training materials that have been really helpful. 

Having to go remote in March was a pretty drastic shift for people. Their days were getting more stressful, with long hours and lots of back-to-back virtual meetings. We made sure we were all in this together. Every day, we shared tips and tricks to explore new apps and how to use them. We made sure they had some fun moments, too, which helped people get over the humps when they were stressed.

How would you describe the results of the utility’s move to M365 and cloud solution? 

OT: It’s too early to quantify the impact. At this stage, it’s more qualitative. About a third of the workforce has made the move. According to user feedback, those folks who have are happy with the training and using the tools. For example, the leader who’s managing the utility’s entire COVID-19 response is excited about how he’s able to manage the work he’s doing and how much easier it is to maintain. People want to know when they can start using some of the capabilities that haven’t been released yet. That’s a good sign.

Once everyone’s on board, leadership expects the impact on cost-efficiency and effectiveness will be big, and even bigger if people keep working remotely long-term. They realize people can be productive without being in the building. They were bursting at the seams—running out of space. If people keep working remotely, they can reduce their physical footprint and alleviate a lot of costs. And if they start looking at how they can couple M365 with other cloud solutions to become a true “bring your own device” organization, the cost savings will be even greater. Even if they’re just able to have contractors use their own devices instead of providing them with utility-owned laptops, those savings would be huge. We’re helping leadership think about what they can do long-term to reduce operating costs.

What might this customer have missed if they had underestimated the human dimension of their challenge—and the solution?

OT:  The adoption rate would have been lower. The workforce would be disjointed and divided by those who know how to use the tools versus those who don’t. Overall, the organization would have been less proficient in using M365 to solve business problems. Their success is in more than knowing how the tools work; it’s about their proficiency in using them to run a more effective business.

Laci: Some of the apps would have been used inefficiently, or not at all. People wouldn’t know how to leverage all the cool things you can do with Teams. A lot of people may not have even looked at Planner because they wouldn’t know what it was or know how many ways you can open Word. The flexibility of the tools would be missed—the ability to do so much and to do it in the way that works best for you. Finding out how a person thinks, showing them multiple options, and helping them figure out which really works for them helps people at all levels to adapt.

If you could leave readers with just one key message about the power of human-centered change, what would it be?

OT: Understand your audience. Get to know your different types and levels of users and their needs—and then address them. You need to reach people where they are and actually show them how a new way of working will make their lives easier.

Laci:  This kind of change is not just a software deployment project; it’s an adoption and change management project. It’s a people project.