How to choose your Office 365 plan

Friday 22 March 2013

So you've decided to upgrade to Office 365 - conscious of the benefits that hosted communications and productivity solutions can offer your business. But what is the next step? Deciding on the most appropriate tariff for your business is important, as there are a range of different options for companies depending on their individual characteristics.

The smallest of companies may simply want to take advantage of hosted email, while others require a comprehensive package featuring all the top Microsoft software solutions. As well as size, other factors determining which package is most appropriate include budget, industry sector and growth ambitions.

Small and medium-sized businesses

Small companies have three options - Hosted email (Exchange Online), Office 365 Small Business and Office 365 Small Business Premium; each of which are available on a subscription basis in the cloud.

The entry-level solution Hosted email (Exchange Online) gives start-ups and other micro-busineses the opportunity to step up to enterprise-grade email that is easy to manage and affordable. It can be provided to an unlimited number of end-users, who can reap the benefits of business-class email, shared calendars, 25 GB of storage space and individual domain names. Spam and malware protection, and customer support are also included as part of the deal.

Better established companies may find the additional features provided by Office 365 Small Business useful. The productivity suite - which can be made available to 25 users - also allows users to create and edit Office files via a browser, create public websites and conduct web conferences. It is designed to equip workers with improved communication and productivity solutions, enabling them to work more effectively online.

But in the majority of cases, ambitious small businesses are opting for Office 365 Small Business Premium, which is designed to facilitate working anywhere for company employees. In addition to hosted email and communications features, the package offers desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, Publisher, and Lync. This means users can replicate the office experience wherever they are, allowing them to get more done.

Business leaders need to consider their needs when choosing an appropriate package. Do they have a growing workforce of mobile employees, who require constant connectivity to the office? Would their organisation benefit from facilitating home and remote working? Or do they still only have relatively basic technology requirements? Assessing IT needs should help small firms decide upon the most appropriate Office 365 tariff.

Office 365 for midsize and larger businesses

Midmarket and larger businesses should go through the same decision making process - reviewing their in-house systems and processes, setting future goals and identifying potential opportunities before choosing an Office 365 plan. They are able to choose between Office 365 Enterprise (Plan E1), Office 365 Midsize Business and Office 365 Enterprise (Plan E3).

Entry-level package Office 365 Enterprise (Plan E1) allows users to create and edit Office files via a web browser, conduct meetings over the web with HD video conferencing, screen sharing, instant messaging, establish websites and intranets, integrate the Active Directory, and establish site mailboxes. The solution - which can be used by an unlimited number of employees - is designed for firms seeking business-class email, file-sharing, conferencing, and other productivity services in the cloud.

Office 365 Midsize Business offers all the same features, along with desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access, alongside other Microsoft solutions. Subscribers can use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on select mobile phones and tablets, giving employees greater ability to be productive on the move. Up to 300 users can take advantage of these productivity solutions at any one time.

The premium offering for midmarket and large businesses is Office 365 Enterprise (Plan E3), which offers all the same features as the lower tariffs, plus advanced enterprise services. An unlimited number of users can take advantage of hosted versions of Microsoft solutions, with other features including advanced email - archiving and legal hold capabilities, plus unlimited storage - access to the eDiscovery Centre, hosted voicemail support, auto-attendant capabilities and advanced business intelligence features. These include the ability to create and manage interactive dashboards with multiple data sources.       

Planning for the future

Business leaders need to consider both existing IT needs, and also those of their future workforce when deploying hosted productivity solutions. With mobile working becoming increasingly popular, employees want to be able to take advantage of sophisticated IT tools and applications on their laptops and handheld devices. Having realised that they can work productively away from the office, more workers are keen to explore the opportunities afforded by flexible and remote working.

But companies need to be wary about paying extra for services they do not require. For instance, there may be little merit in a three-person start-up signing up for the Office 365 Enterprise (Plan E3), since many of the functions may simply go unused. Business leaders should recognise that as a hosted service, Office 365 is entirely scalable - meaning that as in-house technology demands increase, it is possible to simply upgrade your account. This enables businesses to maximise their IT budgets, accessing as many features and functions as they can afford, or desire, at any one time without breaking the bank.

Posted by Jenny Arthur