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Guest post: Office 365 for small businesses, by a small business

Guest post: Office 365 for small businesses, by a small business

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Cloud computing over the past few years has taken the industry by storm. Cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS) vendors have been around some time, but Microsoft’s new Office 365, a relatively recent entrant to the market, is growing sales volume rapidly.

Although initially the Microsoft product had a few issues, the suite is set to be the market leader in collaboration and on-demand document editing. With annual subscriptions to Office’s cloud, users can even stream minified versions of office applications to computers without the software installed, making the entire solution ideal for remote working.

Other leading providers have been taking their software to the cloud recently, too. Google has been pushing the boundaries in cloud collaboration for some time, but Adobe
recently caused a big stir when it released its cloud subscription for Creative Suite earlier this year. Many popular business tools were only ever designed for cloud services, such as Sales Force, HubSpot and SAP.

Office 365 vs Office 2013

There is a distinct difference between Office 365 and Office 2013. Office 2013 is the most recent version of the standard desktop software. It is the standard set of productivity applications that all users are familiar with; Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and so on. It will continue to employ its perpetual pricing model.

Office 365, the new cloud solution, is the next logical step for Microsoft to take with the suite. Whilst the interface in the desktop applications is mainly the same, the additional cloud storage and collaboration capabilities match those of Google Drive. Office 365 is a subscription service, and this gives users’ access to Microsoft’s SkyDrive for document storage. Also with Office 365 comes Office on Demand and a hosted Exchange solution. If you already have Office installed on you business' machines, then you can bolt Office 365 on to the installation at a reduced fee

What the team has to say

Some of our team have been using Office 365 for some time now, so I asked them and a few of our customers here at Akita IT Support to tell me why they think it’s so great. Here are their top five reasons;

1. Lower upfront costs

Many of our business clients are businesses with around 25 staff, but we are increasingly helping local start-ups with their IT too. In many cases, cloud service vendors
represent a lower total cost of ownership when compared with their on premises counterparts. The cloud Office solution also frees up IT staffs time from performing mundane update operations to focus on their core complex roles. Most businesses prefer the reduced road blocks and lack of upfront fees of purchasing the cloud solution in favour of the on premises counterpart. With the flexible and entirely scalable subscription service, plus complete online management, the subscription service suits small and agile businesses better meaning they never pay for the software that they don’t need.

We’ve found some calculations on the total cost of ownership between office versions on IT PRO, which is also worth a read.

2. Reduced need for servers

With SkyDrive storage and collaboration, and the additional option extra of hosting Exchange servers with Microsoft, there is a significantly reduced server requirement. Clearly companies may still wish to host their documents either in-house in addition to SkyDrive, or with another cloud service provider, but the investment required for a smaller business can be reduced significantly. Also, as there is the subscription model in place, there are no upfront costs associated with document or email storage.

Hosted Exchange has significantly fallen in costs since its first commercial availability. It’s down to two reasons; that competition is out there in the forms of Google, offering an Exchange equivalent for a similar price, and that the associated costs of running data centres have reduced significantly in recent years due to their increased demand and associated economies of scale. Now, small businesses can access “enterprise class email” from as little as £3.30 per month.

Finally, with less servers, there will always also be less maintenance and licensing requirement, which also represents a further cost saving. Within the saved maintenance costs there is also the fact that Office 365 comes bundled with free spam and malware protection, which, when compared like-for-like with third party service providers can also offer a large cost saving too.

3. Multiple licences and mobile apps

With Office 365, the licences can be moved between devices, and each license can include up to five devices. This is a huge leap for a company like Microsoft to make, but it’s a great one as it really joins up remote working and collaboration. With device licenses, BYOD is a lot easier to control from an organisational perspective (via the organisation dashboard), which studies have already shown increases employee motivation. 

Mobile apps for Office are available across all modern mobile devices, including tablets. The apps feature a familiar interface for those who have grown used to the on-premises productivity suite, so the jump to mobile working is not a large one at all.

4. Cloud storage through SkyDrive

SkyDrive is the online platform that users of Office 365 engage with. Subscribers get a storage quota of 25GB, whereas standard SkyDrive users get 7GB. For users, SkyDrive can be synced to the desktop of client machines so that there is always a copy of important documents in both places at the same time. This is great for mobile workers as it allows them the benefits of both cloud and non-cloud working. The copy that is sent to the cloud will always be available, backed up on time, and secure. And the copy that the use holds on their machine can be accessed when they are away from their steady internet connection.

The easy to use company dashboard allows administrators to assign roles, purchase additional services and manage the subscription to Microsoft. For IT managers, cloud document storage is another element to the company’s backup and business continuity plans that they need not worry about.

5. Office on Demand

A key USP for the new cloud Office suite is the ‘Office on Demand’ feature. It enters Microsoft in to competition with, and arguably surpasses competition of similar service providers, such as Google Drive by allowing streaming of their software to any computer when you are logged in with your licensed account. The computer does not need Microsoft Office installed, which again improves the connectivity and productivity of remote workers.

To use Office on Demand, users need only sign in to their SkyDrive account and select the Office on Demand option within the SkyDrive menu. There’s no complex setup
involved, meaning there are reduced technical barriers for staff that may not be quite as computer literate as others.

Within Office on Demand, users can gain instant access to the basic productivity suite; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Publisher.

Summary

Office 365 is clearly a great step for Microsoft to take with Office 2013. It’s entered them in to a marketplace of fierce competition, but it’s a market where their consumer familiarity will surely mean they conquer. The suite itself has a similar look and feel to the Office counterpart, and the online experience is easy to get the hang of, even for non tech-literate users.

Whilst Office 365 may not be suitable for all companies, it is a great productivity tool especially suited for companies willing to adopt BYOD policies, those that are flexible with working locations and those that want to increase their collaboration. For smaller companies and start-ups currently without servers or organised central storage, Office 365 is an accessible solution for all users to store and collaborate on documents in the cloud where backups and business continuity is also taken care of.

Author info;

Christophe Boudet+ is the Managing Director of IT Services firm Akita Systems. He co-founded Akita in 1996 and has been providing IT support for a hundreds of small and medium-sized of businesses since. When not at work, Christophe is kept occupied by his wife and two young sons, competitive go-karting, and chairing his local Round Table.
 

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