Much is made of the productivity benefits of Office 365, in terms of giving mobile workers access to the tools they need to do their jobs with the maximum efficiency. But there are various other advantages to the software package - as you would expect from a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution.
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in particular can benefit from enhanced security measures when they embrace Office 365. In moving to the cloud, they have the opportunity to outsource elements of the IT function that used to be managed in-house.
As John Howie, senior director of technical security services in Microsoft's global foundation services department, explains, SMBs which run on-premise IT are responsible for everything. "In addition to managing identities, maintaining active directory, installing server software and installing applications, you are responsible for securing them appropriately to your business needs as well as everything else, such as running antivirus and applying security patches," he told Computer Weekly.
Mr Howie said this puts additional pressure on SMBs, which often have limited budgets as well as small workforces. Tying up talented operational staff with mundane tasks means the firm fails to reach its potential, he suggested.
SMBs benefit from moving to the cloud
In his view, moving to cloud computing with a service like Office 365 is always going to be a more cost-effective way of doing things. As well as reducing the costs associated with sourcing IT software, many of the security processes can be outsourced to the experts, he told the news provider.
"For a small and medium enterprise, it is a very easy discussion between on-premise and cloud, with the exception only of a few select industries with very specific statutory and regulatory compliance obligations," Mr Howie said.
He noted that Office 365 allows businesses to set up hybrid cloud infrastructures - with interoperability between on and off-premise IT - and this means that most SMBs can outsource at least some functions to the cloud.
And Microsoft allows this while maintaining end-to-end security and privacy, he claimed. "If you look at other cloud-based offerings, there is no on-premise equivalent, nor is there the flexibility of being able to pull back the data and the applications to on-premise under the same licensing model and without additional charge."
Office 365 security case study: iLuka
Back in 2012, events and hospitality firm iLuka revealed how moving to Office 365 had enabled it to improve IT security and meet the needs of clients more effectively. Speaking to Computer Weekly, the company's IT director Tim Chapman explained that the opportunity to take advantage of Microsoft's high-level security was one it could not turn down.
iLuka - which manages advertising campaigns for the summer and winter Olympic Games - recognised that its clients were seeking a higher level of security than that offered by its on-premise legacy IT. "Our clients were not comfortable about our data centre security and wanted enterprise-level protection," Mr Chapman noted. "We are an SMB but our clients are global giants, so to match their expectations we had to find ground where everybody [was] comfortable."
Deploying Office 365 helped reassure the firm's customers about the integrity of their data and other sensitive information - helping to safeguard iLuka's commercial interests. But the decision to embrace the SaaS suite also had other benefits for the events provider.
Reducing costs by embracing SaaS software
Previously, the firm had required seven different servers to run Microsoft Exchange, but following the deployment of Office 365, this was reduced to just one. And also - since Exchange could be sourced as a hosted service, rather than purchased outright - iLuka was able to reduce the capital expenditure associated with software investment.
Historically, the firm was required to buy 12-month licences for Exchange, despite the fact many of them were unused for much of the year. The reason for this is that the company swells from 50 staff to around 600 for each Olympic Games, due to the acquisition of temporary employees.
But with Office 365, iLuka can now purchase month-by-month access to the programme, paying only for the licences it needs at any one time. Computer Weekly said this helped reduce the cost of equipping users with Exchange from £70,000 to just £1,575. As such, iLuka has been able to decrease its expenditure and increase profitability - all while boosting the security of its IT infrastructure to better meet the needs and expectations of clients.
Posted by Alex Boardman