The Latest

19 August 2021: Microsoft has announced pricing increases for its Office 365 and Microsoft 365 offerings, which has resulted in a great deal of media coverage.Microsoft is at pains to point out that it has not increased its prices on 365 for a decade, and during that time has added a great deal of functionality (20+ applications) to the portfolio.

The Specifics

Microsoft is still working through how the new pricing will be applied in the Australian market and an announcement is expected soon. IBRS will perform a detailed cost analysis at this time. However, Microsoft has confirmed that any changes to local pricing will mimic the North American price changes. 

Based on the US data, enterprise and business plans will see increases in March 2021. Based on US$, the dollar amounts range from US$1 to US$4 per user per month, or US$12 to US$48 per user per year, with the percentage increases running from a low of 9% to a high of 25%. Microsoft F-series licences for frontline workers and Microsoft 365 E5 are not subject to price increases. Consumer and education-specific plans (the A-series) are also unaffected by the price increases.

The new pricing structures will disproportionately impact small businesses and those with the lower levels of the Microsoft suite, while enterprises with E5 licences will be left unscathed. That in itself reveals Microsoft’s clear intent to nudge the market towards its E5 offerings. It is estimated that only 8% of Microsoft customers globally opt for E5 licensing, though IBRS has seen strong interest among Australian organisations to at least explore the more expansive capabilities found in E5.

At this time, we believe the majority of IBRS clients will see price increases in the lower range. However, given that Australia has been one of the fastest adopters of Office 365, and has for decades suffered from ‘the Australia tax’ of software vendors, the increases will still be felt deeply across the industry.

Why it’s Important.

For many IBRS clients, the immediate impact is the need to set aside extra budget for its existing 365 environment. 

Something that is not gaining attention is that the new pricing also increases the cost of Microsoft’s Unified support, since it is calculated as a percentage (10-12%) of the overall Microsoft spend. IBRS recommends that organisations set aside a budget for this increase as well.

However, the price increase is not the full story. A closer look at how the new pricing is structured, plus other less publicised changes, suggests it is geared towards making E5 licences more attractive to mid-sized organisations. 

The increases came shortly after Microsoft announced that its perpetual-licence Office would see a 10% increase and that its service for Office would drop from 7 years (it was previously 10) to just 5. Even more telling is that Microsoft has effectively engineered a one year ‘gap’ in N-2 support for Office (with the persistent licensing model), which forces organisations with older Office Pro licences to either purchase an upgrade sometime before 2023, or migrate to Office 365. 

In summary, Microsoft’s recent changes to Office licensing are a strategy that makes the price difference from E3 to E5 licensing less imposing and makes sweating perpetual Office licences far less attractive, if not unworkable. The savings from sweating Office licences over a five-year period are still there, but they are significantly lower than with seven-year cycles.

IBRS has long stated that Microsoft’s goal is not necessarily to drive up ICT budgets. A closer look at the additional capabilities found in E5 licensing reveals that most are aimed at moving Microsoft into adjacent product sets. For example, the additional security capabilities that become available with E5 licensing are clearly aimed at security incumbents, such as Symantec. Microsoft’s E5 strategy is to pull ICT budget away from competitors and into its own coffers. It is about carving out competition.

Who’s impacted

  • CIO
  • CFO & procurement
  • Digital workspace teams

What’s Next?

In the Australian market, IBRS sees few enterprises still on persistent licensing for Office. Globally, Australia has been an early adopter of E3 licensing, though until the mass push to work from home in 2020, many organisations did not take full advantage of the additional features and collaboration capabilities of the 365 platform. Furthermore, Google Workspaces is only making marginal increases in the local market, meaning Microsoft has little real local competitive forces working to temper it in the office productivity space (though this is not the case in other markets in the Asian region).

Therefore, the question for organisations is, is this strategy to push customers from existing E3 licences to E5 licences a trigger to start re-evaluate ways to leverage more value from the Microsoft ecosystem (that is, double-down on Microsoft).  

Organisations may respond to this price increase and Microsoft’s strategy to push customers from existing E3 licences to E5 licences as a trigger to:

  1. Re-evaluate ways to leverage more value from the Microsoft ecosystem (that is, double-down on Microsoft).  Just prior to this announcement, IBRS had drafted a paper on how to decide between E3 and E5 licensing. It is due for publishing in the coming month. However, if you wish an advance (draft) copy, please request it from nbowman@ibrs.com.au. It is focused on how to evaluate the additional benefits of E5 in the context of your existing software ecosystem.
  2. Set up a ‘plan b’ for enterprise collaboration. In a practical sense, this would likely be a shift to Google Workspace for part of the organisation, coupled with a percentage (generally 20-30%) of the organisation also having Office software, though not necessarily Office 365.  
  3. Set aside 12-15% extra budget for the existing E3 environment, plus a similar increase for support of the Office environment, and re-evaluate the situation in 2-3 years

IBRS also recommends considering what will happen in another 10 years, when many organisations have migrated to E5 (which is likely). What new business risks will emerge from this? Migrating from Office 365 E3 to a competitive product (e.g. Google or Zoho) is hard enough. When E5 features are fully leveraged, the lock-in is significant, but so too is the value. At the end of the day, the ultimate risk factor is trust in Microsoft not to engage in rent-seeking behaviour.

Related IBRS Advisory

  1. Pros and Cons of Going All-In With Microsoft
  2. Special report: Options for Microsoft support - Key findings from the peer roundtable: August 2020
  3. The journey to Office 365 Part 6: Mixing up Microsoft’s 365 licensing and future compliance risks
  4. DXC Technology and Microsoft collaborate on workplace experience
  5. AIP Should be Essential to Any O365 and Workforce Transformation Strategy
  6. AIS and Power BI Initiatives
  7. Microsoft Pivots to Target Verticals