We started Office 365 public beta in April 2011. Since then, we have seen over a hundred thousand businesses signed up for the beta version of Office 365. Over 70% are small businesses with less than 25 employees. So, why are small businesses making the move to Office 365? What does a small business want in a cloud productivity suite? Email, collaboration, professional websites and mobility are key considerations. Hear from one of your fellow small business owners, Eligeo IT, in this video. You may remember this small IT firm, formerly using Google Apps for Business, from an earlier post.

No Way to Go But Up
In watching the video it seems clear that Eligio IT’s CEO, Derek Major, could only improve his situation by moving to Microsoft BPOS, the cloud services which Office 365 evolved from. In using Google Apps he cited: “We found that the technical support that we received was quite poor. We would have to send an email to Google Apps Support to actually get a response back, maybe even a week later at some point. At some times we never even got a response back. So, it was really frustrating getting up and running.” Then, migrating to Microsoft online services, Derek stated: “We were up and running within a day. We were switched over completely. All of our mail was seamlessly migrated. It was just like we were using Outlook again. Everything was working properly.” I’m glad he was pleased with his migration to Microsoft online services. Of course, one of his motivations for moving to the Microsoft services was gaining email productivity.

Being Productive with Email
For decades now, email has been a core communication tool and a killer app that businesses rely on. Yet Derek had pains with Google Apps in messaging, too. In fact, Google Apps became a different kind of killer app for him and his clients, decreasing instead of increasing productivity. He stated: “Part of the problems that we had with Google Apps and feedback from our clients is that they felt that they’re having a lot of problems synching up their contacts and finding email kind of scattered and fractured from Gmail to their Outlook.”

They had a much better, more integrated email experience with Microsoft online services. For an Office 365 user, not only their inbox but also their calendar stays up-to-date whether they access them through Microsoft Outlook or through their PC, through a Web browser using Outlook Web App, or via their Windows Phone, iPhone, Android device, or BlackBerry. Office 365 users work when and where they want, and respond in real time.

Collaborating and Working on the Go
Derek had difficulty sharing information when using Google Apps in his small business: “Trying to use our existing suite, like Microsoft Office, was really hard because it was almost like patchwork, trying to make it work with Google Apps. So there was a lot of frustration with sharing information such as our calendar and our contacts and even emails.”

Spinning your wheels doesn’t sound like a successful way to run a business. Instead, for your business, I suggest considering what Office 365 brings for sharing information across a range of devices and the Web. With Office 365, you can create and edit Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote documents right from an Internet browser using Office Web Apps. And, you can view Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents on popular mobile devices.

Professional Websites and Collaboration
Creating and managing your business image has a lot to do with your web site presence and the quality of your externally-facing documents. Office 365 makes it simple to have a professional Web presence and to use the cloud in working together more efficiently. Small businesses, in particular, appreciate that you can do this using a familiar interface with no coding and no IT management.

An important thing to consider in collaborating in a team on a document is your need to retain formatting. We call this file fidelity. Whether you use Office or Office Web Apps, you’ll make edits with confidence that the original formatting and structure of the document remain intact. Eligeo IT had issues with file fidelity in Google Docs. According to Derek, “Google Docs would actually change a format on us. So then, when one of my colleagues would go and download that same document, the fonts would be messed up, tables all screwed up, and it got to the point where I didn’t even trust what I had on my computer. Ultimately, Google Apps wasn’t the right decision for us because, simply, it was really a product that we were fighting with quite a bit.” So, lack of file fidelity in Google Docs was a factor in making their switch to Microsoft online services. For more about the file fidelity customers experience with Office 365, see the Microsoft Word, Power Point and Excel demos.

Online Meetings and Instant Messaging
I use Office 365’s capabilities every day, and last week’s mid-day power outage in Redmond certainly made me appreciate them more. -- I couldn’t use my online productivity tools with the lights off in my building. Probably like you, I work with people who are not nearby, and I have plenty to share with them. A favorite tool is instant messaging. It is easy to stay in touch and “grab” information quickly over IM. Of course, with the Office 365 suite you also have an easy way to schedule and host your own online meetings. Not only that, you don’t need to involve complicated software or an IT staff, or punch in endless dial-in codes to deliver a PowerPoint presentation, to share your screen, to use a virtual whiteboard, or to use videoconferencing. 

Back to Work With the Best Tools
Meanwhile, back at Eligeo IT, Derek is using Microsoft online services with all of these helpful features. He says: “Our clients are seeing us and seeing how productive we’re getting, and they want to know more about it, too. Since we started reselling Microsoft BPOS we’ve now been able to bring on three new clients, onto the solution.” Do you want productivity that creates results like Eligio IT’s?  If you do, you can learn more about how small businesses use Office 365 through my colleague, Allen’s posts that tie it all together: Being Productive with Email, Collaborating and Working on the GoProfessional Websites and Collaboration, and Online Meetings and IM.

Next, go right ahead and tell me about your own experience with Google Apps or with Office 365.