Microsoft tools are so essential to everyday operations for many companies today that the business would grind to a halt if users suddenly couldn’t access them. That’s why Microsoft experts are always in high demand and challenging to find.

Competition for this talent is also expected to increase as technology managers expand their teams to meet growing business demands. According to research from Robert Half, 64% of technology managers are adding new permanent positions to their teams in the first half of 2023, and 72% said they plan to increase the number of contract employees in their departments. No doubt, candidates with Microsoft skills and Microsoft certifications are on the wish lists of many of these employers.

Businesses across industries and around the globe use an array of Microsoft products and services, from Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Teams to Microsoft Dynamics 365 business apps to Microsoft Azure cloud solutions. What do these organizations do when they have complex and time-sensitive Microsoft projects that require a team of Microsoft experts? Many look to third-party resources for help — like the Microsoft MVPs and certified experts at Protiviti, Robert Half’s global consulting firm.

We recently spoke with two of these specialists — David Drever, Microsoft MVP – Office Apps and Services, and Haniel Croitoru, Microsoft MVP – Business Applications — to get insight on how companies are using Microsoft solutions today and what Microsoft skills and knowledge are most in demand. Here’s what they had to say:

What Microsoft products and initiatives are especially critical for businesses right now?

Drever: “The pandemic created a huge push around remote collaboration — with Microsoft Teams taking off like a rocket. Many organizations are working to automate and integrate other tools with Microsoft Teams now that they’re settled into using the solution for remote and hybrid teams. Workday, Jira, Trello and Adobe Creative Cloud are some examples of popular integrations we’re seeing with Teams.”

Croitoru: “We’re also seeing companies use Microsoft tools to digitize tasks and workflows around the return-to-work process. This includes processes that were archaic even before the pandemic. For example, in many organizations, people who needed a travel request form would go to an intranet site, print the form and fill it out by hand, scan it, and email it to their boss. Then, their boss would print and sign the form and email it to somebody else. You can automate this process.”

Drever: “Digitizing processes creates efficiency and business value for the company. Users can focus on important work rather than filling out forms manually. So, we’re getting many requests for that kind of work right now — using Microsoft solutions to eliminate manual processes.”

What other types of expertise do companies want for their Microsoft initiatives?

Drever: “We’re seeing data compliance requests related to Microsoft 365. Companies want to protect their data from accidental or malicious misuse or sharing. Data retention and integrity are also priorities. For example, companies want to make sure users can’t delete data when they’re not supposed to. They also want to ensure information is deleted when needed.”

Croitoru: “Remote work has definitely created more data challenges for companies. Companies are realizing that a lot of their data isn’t behind a locked door — it’s everywhere, including in the cloud. Many businesses don’t yet have governing rules for their Microsoft 365 environment, so we help them define and implement those rules and ensure they can meet data compliance and regulatory requirements.”

Drever: “In some cases, companies do have an information governance plan, but it’s paper-based. Microsoft 365 and its suite of products for information protection and governance can help them modernize and automate key processes, such as managing records and archiving third-party data from social media platforms, mailboxes and document collaboration platforms.”

Is it difficult for organizations to manage all the data that their various Microsoft platforms are generating?

Croitoru: “Yes, but it’s getting better. Five years ago, if you asked someone in the SharePoint space what their biggest challenge was, they would’ve said, ‘Searching for data.’ But through technologies like Azure Synapse (an analytics service) and Project Cortex (a “knowledge network” within Microsoft 365 apps), Microsoft is using machine learning and artificial intelligence to predict what information users need based on their behaviors. So, we’re seeing a bit of a paradigm shift with passive information being delivered to users, so they don’t always have to search for it.”

Do Microsoft experts need to have knowledge of compliance, data security, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the cloud?

Croitoru: “Those things are all intertwined. Take the cloud. Everything is in the cloud now — security, compliance, business processes, communication and so on. To get more specific, I would say enterprise content management skills are highly valued. Understanding how to manage all the enterprise documents, and all the structured and unstructured data. That’s what SharePoint is all about.

“Information protection and data governance — which is Dave’s forte — that knowledge is in demand. All of this is strongly supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning.”

Drever: “Well, on top of that — and this is your forte, Haniel — Microsoft Power Platform and process automation expertise are highly sought-after. So, you see, it’s challenging to hire talent for Microsoft projects because they can be so broad. You need a very broad base of experience to work on them effectively. When hiring for your team, look for specialists who can also branch out.”

What foundational skill sets are vital for Microsoft professionals?

Drever: “SharePoint experience is probably a strong foundation because many new and current Microsoft 365 products are built on SharePoint. OneDrive and Microsoft Teams are actually built on SharePoint with Power Platform integrating with all of them. Information management, in turn, works with all of these products because of the strong ties into SharePoint.”

Croitoru: “I don’t disagree with that, but I think there are two major camps of skill sets. There’s the SharePoint camp, with SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and OneDrive. And you have Microsoft Dynamics 365, which is where Microsoft Power Platform started. That platform now sits on its own and connects to SharePoint, but it also connects to Dynamics and other services. It’s the glue that binds them.

“And finally, there’s another skill-set group: Microsoft Azure, the core that SharePoint and Power Platform sit on. So, if you’re hiring specialists for your Microsoft team, you’ll likely find candidates skilled in SharePoint, Dynamics or Azure. But no matter what their specialization is, they should be able to speak to the other camps, at least at a high level, and work well as part of a team.”

What roles are most challenging to hire for?

Drever: “Here’s a big one: Technical business analysts who understand the technology and can speak to the technology, but who also have the skills to determine the business’s needs and requirements. Technical business analysts help us get the information we need to architect the right solutions.”

Aside from Microsoft skills, what abilities do Microsoft experts typically need to succeed in their roles?

Croitoru: “Soft skills, like empathy, are essential, especially when you’re hiring for roles that require direct interaction with clients. In our world — the consulting world — these skills are a must. You must be able to draw information from the client while giving them the confidence that you know what you’re talking about and can guide them toward the right solution. But these skills are developed over time, and it’s often hard to gauge in the hiring process if you’ve found a real gem.”

Need to hire Microsoft experts?

Robert Half can help. Whether you need contract or permanent talent, or specialized project teams delivered through our managed solutions offering, we can work with you to find the technology talent you need to support your Microsoft projects — no matter how broad or varied. Learn more.

For more information about Protiviti’s Microsoft Consulting Solutions, and the services that their Microsoft MVPs and certified experts can provide, see this page.