It’s All About Feature Differentiation and Control
In February, Microsoft confused the Office 365 community by issuing message center notification MC238782 to announce a Teams Pro license. People didn’t know what Teams Pro is, what it would do, and if it would cost any extra.
Despite having every opportunity to clarify matters at the Ignite 2021 conference in March, Microsoft stayed quiet. Finally, on April 6, they updated MC238782 to clarify what’s happening. My interpretation of the text in the update as follows:
- Microsoft is adding Teams Pro to Microsoft 365 and Office 365 E3/E5/A3/A5 and Microsoft 365 Business standard and Business premium licenses. In other words, users with these licenses don’t pay anything extra to get Teams Pro. MC238782 says that tenants should see Teams Pro added to the licenses in user accounts in mid-March, but I see no sign of it in any account yet.
- Teams Pro is a service plan rather than a license. You can’t buy a service plan because Microsoft bundles them together to form products. A product like Office 365 E5 has a SKU to make it available to customers and is composed of multiple service plans, like SharePoint Online or Planner. Each service plan controls access to capabilities.
- Microsoft will use the Teams Pro service plan to control access to “forthcoming Teams capabilities.” They have not specified what those new features are.
What I think is happening is that Microsoft wants to create some flexibility in how it controls different features within Teams. For example, the Office 365 E3 and Office 365 SKUs both include a Microsoft Teams service plan. The same service plan is used for both SKUs, and apart from Live Events (which are probably not all that interesting for small companies), no differentiation exists in the Teams features available to enterprise users than to those with the Microsoft 365 Business Basic license, which also includes Teams.
By introducing the Teams Pro service plan, Microsoft can restrict access to new features to people with enterprise and Microsoft 365 Business standard and premium licenses. Some of the folks with the lower-cost license might then decide to upgrade to gain access to the new features. Going from Microsoft 365 Business basic to Microsoft 365 Business standard is an extra $7.50/month (U.S.), so that’s a nice opportunity to grow highly profitable revenue.
Teams Pro and Teams Advanced Communications
The introduction of the Teams Pro service plan creates the question about what’s happening to the Teams Advanced Communications add-on and whether Teams Pro replaces the Teams Advanced Communications add-on. The answer is no. Teams Pro is part of a license whereas Teams Advanced Communications is a SKU which controls some additional functionality.
The problem for Microsoft is that the Teams Advanced Communications SKU has been a disaster since its introduction in August 2020. When originally launched, Microsoft wanted $12/month per user to license features like:
- Scaling Live Events to deal with 20,000 participants. During the year, Microsoft allowed all tenants to run Live Events for up to 20,000 attendees.
- Integration of Compliance Recording for Call Centers: Companies which needed to record conversations over Teams needed the add-on to use the API to capture voice data. Advanced Communications also allowed access to ISV-sold call center solutions. ISVs protested long and hard about Microsoft’s plan to require the add-on for access to APIs and Microsoft dropped the plan.
- An increase in meeting size to 1,000 interactive attendees. This limit is now available to all tenants as part of the standard Teams offering along with automatic overflow for up to a further 20,000 view-only participants.
- Custom branding to allow organizations to apply their own graphics to the Teams lobby instead of using the standard Microsoft branding.
It’s likely that customer demands for better meeting functionality because of the pandemic forced Microsoft to make features like large meetings available generally. As a result, custom branding is the only feature on the original list which Advanced Communications still controls. Microsoft has added two further features since, neither of which seem to justify the price tag:
- Manage organization communications: Monitor, track, and analyze data on users and devices to ensure a smooth experience.
- Tailored experiences with custom policy packages.
MC249777 (posted April 9) also says that the distribution of organization-wide background images will require a Teams Advanced Communications license once the preview period expires in July. This doesn’t add much to justify the license cost, especially as there’s no way to force people to use a specific background.
It’s obvious that Microsoft needs to go back to the drawing board to decide what functionality Teams Advanced Communications covers in terms of both existing and future features and then relaunch a better offering.