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TechnologyJan 28, 2013

Got Your Head in the Clouds? Office 365 is Here to Help!

Michael Badaracca

What Microsoft Office 365 Teaches Us About the First Generation of Business (and Presentations) in the Cloud

Cloud services are quickly becoming the trend for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and with good reason. The flexibility and cost effectiveness of Cloud services is very alluring. By putting applications and services online, users (and businesses) are no longer shackled to specific hardware. This enables users to utilize the applications they need from home, at a coffee shop, or even on their smartphone or tablet. It also provides great benefits to businesses.

In the past, IT departments had to spend a great deal of time and money buying expensive software licenses, installing and maintaining software, and finding hardware powerful enough to run it all. Cloud services eliminate the lion’s share of these challenges, along with the associated costs. Installation, updates, and maintenance is all taken care of off-site. IT departments no longer need to worry about hardware becoming obsolete since the application’s computing is done on an off-site server. All that is needed to run the application is a browser and a decent Internet connection.

A High Five for Office 365

Naturally, Microsoft is striving to be a player in the emerging Cloud market. Their Cloud service is called Office 365, but don’t let the name deceive you, it delivers much more than just Microsoft’s core Office applications. Unlike Skydrive, Microsoft’s consumer Cloud counterpart, Office 365, is geared towards businesses. On top of the constantly updated online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, this subscription-based service also includes email, calendars, Lync, and SharePoint functionality.

What’s New in Office 365?

Over the past year, Microsoft has continually rolled out new changes to Office 365. Several improvements have been made to the general interface. Below are some of the highlights. To stay current with all Office 365 updates, visit http://community.office365.com/en-us/wikis/office_365_service_updates/974.aspx.

Office Web Apps

Microsoft has created better co-authoring tools that allow users to simultaneously edit documents and view others working on them. Similarly, improvements have been made to Word’s commenting feature, which allows users to collaboratively suggest changes and leave comments.

Exchange

On top of providing many of the features we would expect out of Outlook, some powerful business improvements have been made. Shared mailboxes are now supported, which allow multiple users to read and send emails from a common mailbox. An enhanced mailbox search allows multiple mailboxes (up to 5,000) to be searched at once. Also, in response to customer feedback, Microsoft has increased the number of email recipients from 1,500 to 10,000 per day to help larger business accommodate their email needs.

Lync

Several improvements have been made to Lync Online to help businesses stay connected. Lync-to-phone is a calling service that allows users to connect to any phone from Lync, as well as, consolidate mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices to a single, convenient work number. Lync now includes client-side recording, which allows all the various forms of Lync communication to be captured and reviewed.

SharePoint

New SharePoint features have been added to streamline collaboration. External users can now access SharePoint collections with their business email, allowing easier collaboration with clients and contractors. Large MP4 videos can now be streamed through SharePoint allowing tutorials or training videos to be easily accessed through Office 365. Also, it is no longer necessary to download PDFs to view them since they can now be viewed right in your browser.

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Will Office 365 Work for My Business?

Whether Office 365 is a good choice for your business depends on several factors. Here are a few considerations:

Mobility – The amount of travel and types of devices that your employees use will play a big role in deciding if Office 365 is right for you. The table below shows the mobile devices that support Office 365. If your employees are tethered to specific hardware because of other applications that are not Cloud ready, then it will be hard to take advantage of the flexibility offered by Office 365. If your employees travel often and use a variety of devices, then Office 365 can keep everything at their fingertips and wonderfully in sync.

Plans and Pricing – While Microsoft’s eight pricing options provide flexibility, it can be a bit confusing to determine which plan is right for you. The plans are broken into five different categories: (1) Small Business, (2) Midsize Business and Enterprises, (3) Kiosk Workers and Retail, (4) Education, and (5) Government. Each subscription is billed on the basis of per user per month, which provides some flexibility on how many people use the service, as well as, for how long. It should be noted that while all plans can be cancelled at any time, the enterprise plans may come with a cancellation fee. Plans range from $4 per user/ month, providing only email and calendar services to large enterprise plans from $22 per user/month, which provide the whole Office 365 suite, as well as, subscriptions to desktop versions of Office Professional Plus 2010. Your company’s budget and specific needs will dictate which plan may be the best fit. The following link provides more information about Office 365 plans and pricing: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/all-plans.aspx#plans.

Security and Reliability – Security is one area where Office 365 shines brighter than other Cloud services. Microsoft has spent a great deal of effort getting the seal of approval from various industry standards such as ISO 27001, HIPAA-Business Associate Agreement, and the Federal Information Security Management Act among others. Office 365 also touts a 99.9% server uptime guarantee. For many businesses, this will be more than sufficient, resulting in no more than 8.77 hours of downtime each year. Of course, the speed and reliability of any of these services is ultimately limited to the speed and reliability of your business’s Internet connection. In our experience, leadership at client sites is often hesitant to move company data into any Cloud environment. With the compliance and standards offered by Office 365, clients can more easily see the safety of storing data in the Cloud. In addition to the standards followed, physical security at the Microsoft data centers is top of its class.

Drifting into the Cloud

Only you can ultimately decide if Office 365 is right for your business, but one thing is for sure, the savings, convenience, and flexibility that Cloud services provide will keep business interested in this emerging field.

Need help in deciding if Office 365 is right for your business or identifying which plan is the best fit? Credera is available to guide you through initiating a proof of concept implementation where you can choose to utilize one or all of the suite’s service offerings.

Credera can also walk you through a Cloud computing assessment in order to determine which products would be the best fit given your current environment, and help you anticipate which solutions can be implemented to meet future needs.

To contact a Cloud expert, email info@credera.com or call 972.759.1836. For more information on Office 365, please visit our blog or follow us at @CrederaMSFT.