The Jefferson County Library Cooperative, based in Birmingham, Alabama, encompasses 41 public libraries across 23 municipalities in Jefferson County. The cooperative wanted to support a single Microsoft Office 365 tenant for all members while enabling library customizations on the platform and delegating management of certain tasks to local IT administrators, explained Tobin M. Cataldo, Executive Director of the Cooperative.
After looking at a range of solutions, Cataldo chose CoreView to promote a “sense of ownership by the local libraries in the cooperative through delegation, empowerment and local autonomy,” Cataldo said, explaining that the combination of Microsoft Office 365 and delegated administration through virtual tenants created by CoreView offers impressive productivity, collaboration and local control and IT autonomy.
Cataldo spoke with CoreView about the cooperative’s O365 and IT autonomy journey.
Moving to Office 365
CoreView: Why did you move to O365?
Cataldo: We were not pleased with our email platform and chose Microsoft O365 because of the rich toolset. Plus, some of us are partial to the offline Office productivity suite; you can bundle ProPlus with Office 365. It offered features like litigation hold and terabyte scale archiving at a much more cost effective price point for our needs than some of the O365 competitors. We were able to add custom domains to groups of users while leveraging a single Microsoft tenant to expand on a rich and varied history of resource sharing and collaboration within the cooperative.
One of our initial criteria we communicated to Microsoft was that we needed to delegate administration, so our members can control their own users and data. We found this feature lacking in the native O365 admin.
Providing Local Admin Control
CoreView: Why is local control so important?
Cataldo: We wanted it so members were not just passively consuming the cooperative library services. They needed to be engaged in it, invested in it, to see their own value in it. A common refrain for public libraries across the country is declining or stagnant budget appropriations; it’s no different here. The question becomes, with limited spending power, how are we going to create value for our partners?
Part of the solution is local autonomy — empower local folks to see that O365 is a good umbrella platform; they are collaborating, networking, and making a positive difference in the community.
Empowerment in O365 requires delegation to the individual libraries who want and have the capacity to administer their own data and users. We needed to grant them that administration as much as possible.
CoreView: The benefits of granting them local administration has to do with flexibility, control and them being invested in the platform?
Cataldo: It some regards it’s purely emotional. This cooperative has been around since 1978, and there has always been a top-down approach. The central library, which is the biggest library in the biggest municipality in the state, was the head of the cooperative, and decisions were made that trickled down to members.
That made sense when the library cooperative received dedicated operational funding from government, and technology was not very mature nor accessible. The technological decisions made at the central library were more than any individual library could probably take on themselves.
Things are more accessible now. In terms of technological adoption, our libraries want empowerment, to control their own destiny. When we offer that, libraries see the cooperative is responsive to their needs, requests, and desires. And this responsiveness engenders a deep collaborative culture.
CoreView: Do all the libraries want local O365 control?
Cataldo: Some are happy to go along with the recommendations passed down from the central IT office. Others are invested quite heavily in local IT infrastructure. One thing that is critical to understand about the cooperative is that membership is entirely voluntary. Each library reports to its own board and its own city government. Each library has local policies and procedures in place to handle personnel actions. What a lot of folks wanted was a workflow change that allowed them to more seamlessly merge local requirements with the group technology.
CoreView: How are the administrative rights set up?
Cataldo: Within O365, we have very few global admins. We wanted to let some of the primary administrators from other libraries help with the user base. O365 has a user admin role, but this role is not scoped. It allowed access to the entire user base in the single tenant O365 environment. We didn’t feel that this was a future solution.
With the CoreView platform, the tenants can be scoped by various parameters and delegated to a member library IT administrator — a full virtual tenant administrator limited to that scope.
CoreView Versus Native Microsoft O365 Admin Center
CoreView: How does using CoreAdmin compare to using the native Office 365 admin center?
Cataldo: It (CoreView) should be native, in our opinion.
We understand the complexity of the O365 environment, because you had, say, six different siloed products merged into one. Of course, the admin screens are going to all be different. The complexity of trying to pull all that together, while it is in production, is daunting.
The CoreView platform is really slick, and we like that it is based off reporting. Then you drill down into information discovery and find that these reports are all actionable. You are seeing the data reported through a time series graph or through a distribution graph. What might’ve brought you here was some specific management action, but you’re presented with the tools for the visual identification of potential issues right away.
CoreView: Tell us more about the interface.
Cataldo: We are very pleased with the speed of the interface, responsiveness, the ability to really get to the details that matter.
CoreView: Has CoreView helped with licenses?
Cataldo: When we first got access to CoreView reporting, we spent some time looking at the user reports and creating views of the information that made sense to how we were organizationally structured and provisioned in O365. It didn’t take long for us to see some areas for concern: we over-purchased by 285 licenses.
We could see we were not allocating licenses correctly, not provisioning accounts correctly, and then we found ourselves asking ‘what are all these other accounts doing here?’ It was hard to get to that data from within the native O365 Admin Center. It was much easier to get to that data view in CoreView.
CoreView: Were licenses in some cases oversized and did not match up with the actual usage?
Cataldo: Absolutely. We have just two license types. We have the A3, which is the academic equivalent to E3 with ProPlus, and the email-only with the online productivity. We were able to get to that data view that helped us comprehend provisioning as it related to organizational structure, we found that a number of accounts were assigned withthe A3 license, when they can operate quite fine with the simpler license.
Mastering Virtual Tenants
CoreView: What was it that the native Microsoft O365 Admin Center was not able to do with virtual tenants that CoreView can? How does CoreView create those virtual tenants?
Cataldo: For many years, we all operated under the same email domain. This had much to do with the accessibility of technological adoption when the decisions were made many years ago. These arguments lost weight in the intervening years, but we maintained this course despite the fact that 23 municipalities, all independent libraries, locally funded, had voluntarily joined a library cooperative to extend library services to each other and to the community; and they had concerns about the lack of local branding and self-identification through such a simple thing as an email address.
When we migrated, we made it a priority to make sure that if any of our libraries wanted their own email domain, they got it. Right now, we have 24 domains in the tenant.
Since many of these domains are associated with a library, it was a simple thing to cut a virtual tenant based off that domain, and then assign administrative access for that domain and all the users under it to an IT administrator at the local library level.
Value of Local Administration
CoreView: The advantages of having local administrators include security, since you are limiting admin’s access to the overall environment. These local admins are also closer to the environment and can respond to issues quickly. If they are doing help desk types of things, they are more connected, so their response times are better. Are those some of the benefits you are seeing?
Cataldo: The local administrators are local to their organizations – they are helping, communicating with their users, answering problems, and facilitating solutions. If it is something more complex, we can roll it up to an admin with direct access to the O365 admin.
Our goal is not just resetting passwords, but enabling libraries to be engaged and in control through the whole lifecycle: from provisioning new users, assigning different licenses from available pools, and de-provisioning users when the time comes. These libraries have local policies and procedures and it’s our goal to make the technology work for them.
CoreView: We found local administrators are not always IT veterans, and do not have the skills of a long time Office 365 administrator. The CoreView interface makes it easier for them to provide those functions versus trying to use the native O365 Admin Center, which is more complicated. Office 365 is a bunch of products rolled into one. All the management systems from all those different products are blended into the native Admin Centers.
Cataldo: We have nobody that is an experienced O365 admin. We are learning as we go. CoreAdmin is a single pane of glass. Instead of having to dig through several Microsoft Admin screens to find the most pertinent information and then try to piece together knowledge, CoreView puts it all right there.
Migration Done Right
CoreView: How long has the cooperative been using Office 365?
Cataldo: November 2019.
CoreView: CoreView is not a migration tool per se, but once you migrate to Office 365, you have to use the applications, manage the tenant, and handle governance. If you migrate with the help of the CoreView solution, you have a better experience than going it alone and working through the native Admin Center.
Cataldo: When we went to O365 in November 2019, the only product we rolled out was email. We contracted to have help to set up the new domains, get all the users set up within Azure, and Office 365. But really, that was it. Making sure we could send and receive mail, have the old email addresses forwarded to the new one, that type of deal. But in terms of how to administer it, communicate what is going on, see if there’s a problem, manage licenses etc., it couldn’t have been done without CoreView. Quite frankly, now we probably wouldn’t want to do it without CoreView.
CoreView: If you migrate from the beginning with CoreView, you have an easier time of doing the administration. You can do the virtual tenants, understand the usages and the licenses right away. It is a more comfortable and productive way to bring Office 365 on board.
Cataldo: We were fortunate enough to bring on CoreView before we got too far in the migration and adoption of O365.
The Search for O365 SaaS Management
CoreView: Were there any other solutions that you looked at aside from CoreView?
Cataldo: We looked at one called Delegate365. It was functional; it did what it was designed to do, but it did not have some of the other stuff. It did not have the interface, for one, or the wealth of actionable reports. It did not have CoreLearning, CoreAdoption, or the rest of CoreSuite.
The other one was ManageEngine. It was not cloud-based and required onsite infrastructure. The cooperative is progressing towards a flatter administrative structure and cloud offers more flexibility to accomplish that.
CoreView as Trusted Advisor
CoreView: Is there anything that you want to add about the experience with CoreView?
Cataldo: CoreView will help us understand what’s possible and with adoption of the rich toolset of O365. When we look at things like SharePoint and Teams’ reports, we start seeing where we’re missing out, and where we could invest a little bit of time learning how to do things a bit better.
O365 is quite new to us. What CoreView shows is ‘These are the most pertinent parts of Office 365 from our vast experience. And we’ve created a management suite for you.’ We view CoreView as experts in the field that can guide us to the most pertinent parts of the O365 ecosystem and integrate best practices into workflows. We are asking how we can adopt these services and make them our own. We are excited; it is going to be a new day for us.
CoreView: It sounds like CoreView is a trusted advisor with years of expertise in Office 365, and a partner with you from your very rollout of this solution. That is a cool story.
Cataldo: A systems migration like the one we have done is daunting. Things could go wrong. We have chosen the right software package for administration, learning, and governance. And we are empowering our local users to take some of that responsibility and invest in the success of the cooperative.
The Need for O365 Governance
CoreView: How are you defining governance, and how does CoreView help with Office 365 governance?
Cataldo: A lot is centered around users, user permissions, licenses, and resource allocations. We have finite resource availability and licensing pools provide a means for transparent accounting and equitable distribution as well as chargebacks if that becomes a necessity. We also need to accommodate local policies in regards data access after a personnel action or requirements to instantiate litigation hold immediately if necessary.
There are mixed needs within the cooperative and a one-size-fits-all approach is not the responsive action we need. Some libraries want a full archive of all messages sent and received; others do not. We can enable certain features, like archiving, see who it is utilizing these features, what are the rates of consumptions, and whether course corrections are needed. We can see it a lot easier with CoreView.
O365 Training and Adoption
CoreView: Are you thinking about CoreAdoption and CoreLearning?
Cataldo: We are excited for CoreLearning. O365 is new, not only new from an administrative perspective but also how to introduce this new set of tools to our users. CoreAdoption will help us maximize our investment in O365. We are working through the learning tracks now for both of those products, and looking forward to the time we are ready to put them to work.
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