Peter King is Office Server Group Manager at Microsoft UK
Question: “We have a small office of only 12 people, but lots of local representatives and service staff scattered across the South and West of England. They already have their own laptops, and it makes sense to give them the best technology we can afford. My problem is that I don't know what the company will look like in 12 months: perhaps we’ll expand, perhaps we won't. Perhaps we’ll launch new services; perhaps the economic situation will prevent it. I don't mind investing, but I don't like wasting money! How can I minimise my risk?” - Edward
Answer: Hi Edward. Your question neatly sums up the challenges facing many companies in today’s shaky economy. Medium-sized businesses like yours certainly need to squeeze every last drop of value out of any IT investment. And with so many uncertainties ahead of you, any new technology you adopt must be flexible and adapt quickly to the changing needs of your business.
The way many of our customers have tackled these challenges is by moving their desktop infrastructure to a cloud-based model - in other words, making the software and services they use every day accessible via the Internet. This not only cuts the cost and resource needed to maintain servers and software in-house, but, with Microsoft’s cloud-based tools, also gives your employees the same rich experience they’ve come to expect from ‘out-of-the-box’ products like Microsoft Office.
“But we’re used to Office the way it is!” I hear you say. “So why would we want a cloud version?” Well, firstly, our cloud offerings let you move to subscription-based licensing at your own pace, so you can predict the monthly cost per user for each technology you acquire. Secondly, cloud-based software will keep your reps and service staff as productive on their laptops out in the field as they are back in the office.
A prime example of this is Microsoft’s latest service, Office 365, which brings secure cloud versions of our familiar communications and collaboration products together for the first time: Office Professional Plus and Office web Apps for productivity across PC, phone and browser, plus SharePoint for data management, Exchange for email, and Lync for unified communications. Office 365 effectively puts the best of Microsoft’s enterprise services together, online. Office 365 also interoperates 100% with on-premise equivalents, so you can embrace the “best of both” to fit your circumstances at any given time: edit a document online through Office 365 and it will open with guaranteed fidelity when you get back to the office.
Together, these technologies can transform your sales processes and reduce the time needed to produce urgent items like tender and application documents. It means responses which might previously have been beyond your scope, and therefore closed to your business, can now be put back on the agenda. It’s a great example of technology opening up new lines of business and opportunity.
Do it all online
We’ve designed Office 365 for a world where productivity is everything. So, in one simple service, you get reliable, anywhere access to email, online meetings, calendars, instant messaging, presence, social networking, web portals, extranets, voice/video/web conferencing, real-time collaboration, document management and sharing - all via most devices with WiFi or Internet capability. To this end, Office 365 works with popular browsers like Internet Explorer, FireFox and Safari, and with smartphones like BlackBerry, Android and iPhone.
The really exciting thing about Office 365 is that all our programs work together. For example, right there in Word you can see if a colleague is available for a co-authoring session; you can escalate a PC-to-PC voice call to an interactive online meeting; voicemails are delivered right to your Outlook inbox. Nor do you have to be tech-savvy - these capabilities are available directly in Office, so your business can really get the value of new technology. And, of course, you get the latest features without having to buy or install new software.
Far from just insulating you from today’s business risk, Office 365 gives companies like yours productivity tools – and therefore the opportunity to compete - previously affordable only by Fortune 500 organisations. It provides cloud-style licensing flexibility and a clear value chain through pricing plans that give employees in businesses like yours access to the precise services they need.
For example, Office 365 for Small Businesses (with say one to 25 users) is priced from L4 per user per month; while Office 365 for Enterprises (with upwards of 25 people) offers multiple service levels, ranging from an entry-level subscription of L6.50 per user per month right up to L17 per user per month for the Office Professional Plus option, which provides both cloud services and on-premise software within a single subscription.
So, whereas in the past you had to invest upfront in an infrastructure to accommodate future growth, with Office 365 you can now limit your risk by having predictable costs which you can scale up or down on a monthly basis. For instance, you could start by rolling the service out to the 12 people in your office, then when the future’s more certain, you can add or reduce your subscriptions and still know exactly what it’s costing you each month. It also means you can concentrate on building your business while we take care of keeping your software current.
Going live soon
Having undergone beta testing since October, Office 365 will be available in the UK later this year. Thereafter, you’ll be able to quickly tap into the equivalent of 20 football fields worth of elastic IT capacity from Microsoft’s data centres worldwide. With Office 365, we’re bringing the full strength and reliability of the Microsoft brand to enterprise-grade cloud services. But I’ll leave the final word to Tim Harmon, principal analyst at Forrester Research, who believes Office 365 leapfrogs other cloud offerings like GoogleApps and IBM's LotusLive:
“All our research shows that small to medium-sized businesses are becoming more mobile and more distributed, often with multiple, even virtual offices, and with more of their people on the road. Mobile workers and others may still want dual-deployment that includes local provisioning for when there’s no connectivity available. For SMBs with these attributes, Office365 is therefore an important direction to consider."
I hope this goes some way towards answering your question. Below is a link to more detailed information. In the meantime, good luck!
P. S. We’ll be there for you during leap years as well :)