What’s not to like about cloud-powered Office 365? It provides a host of benefits to small and medium-sized businesses, including collaboration capabilities; mobile solutions; email, file and document accessibility from anywhere on any device; and real-time communication from a single platform. The solution also helps reduce both capital and operational costs.
The key question about Office 365 is whether your business has the time, energy and technology resources to install and operate the solution in a way that delivers its full benefits. Do you have the time to build Office 365 in-house and make sure it’s secure? Do you have the knowledge and expertise to keep Office 365 up-to-date by knowing where and how to look on the technology horizon for the next newest edition? When Microsoft (News - Alert) comes up with a new version, do you have the tech savvy to integrate new applications into what we already have to make the solution bigger, better and more efficient? Are you able to find the best price by buying local?
For many SMBs, the answers lie with a managed outsourced provider of Office 365.
Office 365 Functionality: A Primer
In addition to the standard Office tools such as Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel and Access, Office 365 also contains SharePoint and Lync, with a tie-in to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. With these tools, any business can create true operations workflows without having people physically at the office. The managerial benefits of this all-in-one platform, tied together so nicely in the 2013 edition, are extremely powerful.
At the same time, Office 365 enables mobile solutions like never before. People who are used to working on their desktops or laptops at the office can now have the same native Microsoft applications available on an iPad. For HVAC and other in-the-field service technicians, having the entire home office enabled on a tablet is a game changer. All that’s needed is access to the Internet. Never again will mobile employees have to worry about losing anything on their computers, because everything syncs up with OneDrive.
The key to email, file and document accessibility, from anywhere on any device, is found in the ability to install Office 365 applications on five different devices: desktop at work, mobile laptop, home desktop, iPad and iPhone (News - Alert). Very rarely is a person away from every single one of those devices. That means Office 365 gives the freedom to operate where, how and when you want to operate. Each individual works in a different fashion, and Office 365 gives the flexibility to choose the work mode that makes us most effective.
Configuration is Key
Supporting real-time communication from a single platform like Office 365 often depends on how well the platform is configured. To make that happen, it’s going to take IT services. The question is, should those IT services be provided in-house or by an outsourcing provider? Let’s say you’re able to get the Office 365 platform configured and up-and-running in-house. The reality of a single platform with multiple applications is that it may be good for one, two or even three years, but eventually it’s going to need upgrading.
While this is not impossible for an SMB, it’s definitely not easy. When that time inevitably comes to upgrade, it will require an overhead expense to reconnect the platform. It’s up to the business to decide whether that overhead expense should be in-house or outsourced. If the expense is outsourced, then the business realizes the benefits of the shared cloud-based solution provided by an outsourcing partner that takes care of everything in the cloud. The company can get back to doing what it does best; it’s one less thing to worry about.
With Office 365, capital and operational expenses are reduced. On the capital side, while the business has to purchase the software licenses and then keep them upgraded, it’s no longer necessary to buy servers for Exchange or SharePoint. But, hardware costs are only the tip of the proverbial IT expense iceberg. When it comes to the cost of servers, the 20-80 rule is in effect – 20 percent is the initial cost of the server; 80 percent is the cost to keep the server running (and up-to-date).
Often, long-term operational costs related to Office 365 depend on what you want to do with your business, now and in the future. No matter what your company does, if you use an outsourced provider of Office 365, you won’t have to hire an IT person to handle the additional demands of maintaining Office 365 in its entirety. At the same time, if you already have an in-house IT person, that employee can focus on long-term goals and activities that raise the value of the company, instead of putting out day-to-day IT fires related to Office 365.
Ask the Right Questions
There is no question that having access to Office 365 within a larger cloud-based network gives an SMB more flexibility, lower cost and far fewer IT-related headaches. But, to find the right network outsourcing partner to provide the managed Office 365 solution, the right questions need to be asked. Here are 10 key business and technical questions any SMB should ask when starting the search:
1.How long have you been in business, and how long do you expect to stay in business?
2.How much experience have you had with companies like ours, and how well do you know Office 365? (Note: the network outsourcing provider should have been in the industry long enough to have a clear view of what’s been happening in the cloud.)
3.Across all of your clients, what is the average cost of your Office 365 solution per user per month? Are all application licensing fees included in the quoted price?
4.What is the term commitment with your contract (e.g., 3 years, 1 year, 30 days, etc.)?
5.Can I access the system 24 hours a day? Can I access the system through any Internet-enabled devices, including, but not limited to, PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones? Can I access the system from any location with Internet access?
6.Where is the infrastructure located? Will it be located in a secured data center? What level datacenter? (Note: Level 4 is the highest available)
7.How often is data backed up on your system? Does your desktop solution come with a redundant system at a separate geographic location, allowing for a seamless and immediate switchover if a system goes down?
8.What is your process for hiring employees who have access to clients’ data? Are background checks completed and how are decisions made based on the information uncovered?
9.Do you offer 24x7x365 support? What is the average hold time of a support call? What is the percentage of calls resolved on the first call? (Note: The provider should be able to demonstrate consistently high first-call resolution year after year).
10.What is your client retention rate for your total years in business?
If you’re an SMB owner or executive and are thinking of going the Office 365 route, my best advice is to do it through a managed outsourcing partner. Don’t try to do it yourself – not now or as you continue to grow. The larger your business gets, the less you should want your staff to have dig through Microsoft’s IT forums for a fix as opposed to going with a managed service. Or, worse yet, you don’t want your business to have to live with the pain caused by your in-house IT staff not knowing how to keep the system running with the most up-to-date applications.
In the final analysis, the risk of trying out Office 365 through a managed outsourced provider is low. Most providers will offer a demo or trial of Office 365 to see if it is a viable solution for your company.
There is no doubt that Office 365 is rapidly gaining market share. The sooner you get familiar with Office 365, the better. Otherwise, before you know it, your competition will have passed you by because they lowered their IT costs and are already taking advantage of the game-changing collaboration benefits offered by Office 365.
You don’t want to be the last company on the block without Office 365, do you?
Ted Brown is Vice President of IT Operations at Network Alliance, Inc., a leading network management solutions provider in the Greater Washington, DC region.
Edited by Maurice Nagle