By Mike Herrington
There are a lot of reasons that most businesses should consider moving to Office 365 — and a few things to think about when making the jump.
Office 365 can be a huge productivity boost for businesses, and has a lot of great features that can streamline their workflows. It offers advantages in server maintenance, scalability, productivity gains, cost savings, security and more.
For years, many small and medium businesses have been maintaining an exchange server onsite. There is a continual stream of security updates and service packs — all of which need a qualified IT professional to administer them. With the move to Office 365, this maintenance is significantly cut down. You still need to have someone that can administer accounts, but it eliminates the need for patches and updates on an exchange server.
Many small businesses used to use Microsoft’s Small Business Server for email. It has been discontinued for several years in an effort to push small businesses to their cloud offerings, but when it was still around, it had a maximum of 75 users. If you grew your business past that, it represented a significant reinvestment to keep an exchange email solution. With Office 365 there really are no limits on how many users or mailboxes you have. Simply log into the admin panel and make a new one when you need it.
One of the nice features of Office 365 is that it is cross-platform. That means that it runs just as happily on Apple or Android as it does on Windows. This is important because more organizations are allowing their employees to bring their own devices. The next productivity gain is that Office 365 is available anywhere you have Internet. This allows your staff to have a little work-life balance and access needed documents from home or elsewhere. There are also some nice collaboration features that allow users to track changes to documents across the organization without generating multiple versions of the same document. This helps keep everyone on the same page.
Cost savings are especially significant to small and medium businesses. In-house exchange servers typically carry significant procurement costs for hardware, software licensing and labor to configure it all. There are ongoing server maintenance costs as mentioned. With Office 365, businesses have the capability to scale their users up and down at any time. This eliminates waste. They also have a predictable monthly cost that is straightforward and easy to budget for. From a cost perspective, any business that has 100 employees or fewer will typically recognize significant savings. Many larger businesses can also save by a move.
There has been a lot of talk about security in the cloud. Microsoft’s online services have been designed with security in mind. Office 365 applications are accessed through 128-bit SSL/TSL encryption. If data were somehow intercepted, the bad guys would be unable to read it. Antivirus signatures are kept up to date and security measures are applied in accordance with the Microsoft security guidelines. Exchange Online has built-in malware protection and it uses anti-spam filtering and antivirus with multiple virus engines.
One of the great features of Office 365 is that it is guaranteed to be up all of the time. It has a 99.9 percent uptime commitment to its customers. That means that the total downtime in a year will not exceed 8.76 hours.
Many businesses have to meet compliance regulations for the industries they work in. Office 365 services have been certified as compliant with ISO 27001 standards. They have also passed SAS70 audits for security compliance and even have added controls for clients who need to comply with HIPAA or other industry regulations.
Always Up to Date
There is a regular life cycle to most software products. Most businesses end up purchasing new copies of Office about every three years as they come out. An Office 365 subscription entitles you to the latest version of Microsoft produces as soon as they are released at no extra cost.
If your network is running a Windows server 2008 or newer, you can configure active directory federation services to achieve single sign-on. This allows users to log on to the domain and be automatically authenticated to Office 365.
Office Web Apps
This is another neat feature of Office 365. It basically offers web-based versions of all of your favorite Microsoft products in a browser. This allows you to make quick edits on the go from any Internet-connected machine. You can even get a mobile version of Office so that you can access it on a phone or tablet.
With all of the good reasons to move to Office 365, there are a few factors that business owners should consider. Timing of the move can be important. If your business has just invested significantly in an on-premise exchange solution, it may make more sense to wait for that product to be end-of-life before making the jump. Some businesses are also strictly regulated about the data that they are allowed to store offsite. This is an important consideration when evaluating a move to Office 365.
Other things to consider include the Internet connection available at your office and whether that payment model is a fit for your business. Not all office locations may have access to a high-speed Internet connection, and the use of Office 365 will definitely increase the load on your existing bandwidth. Some businesses also operate much better with a capital expense than with ongoing monthly payments.
All of these factors should be considered before making a jump to Office 365. There are considerable benefits that businesses can gain from making the switch, but it’s important to consider all factors to ensure that it’s the right move for your business.
Mike Herrington is vice president of sales for i.t.NOW, where he consults with business owners on IT solutions and strategy