In 2018, you can ask most business professionals what Office 365 is, and the majority will be both familiar with the solution and able to give a basic description. This comes as no surprise, as the Microsoft platform has been around since 2011, and now boasts more than 120 million business users. To clarify, Microsoft Office 365 is a subscription service productivity and communications platform – part of a larger Microsoft commercial Cloud division, which earns around 7 billion dollars in revenue…per fiscal quarter.
In general, most business pros simply know Office 365 as email and Microsoft Office in The Cloud. This is quite true and has been a powerful tool as businesses of all sizes attempt to escape the limitations of local Exchange servers and the near-chaos of volume Office licensing. However, there is much more to leverage in the productivity stack, creating risks for those who do not explore all the platform has to offer, i.e. opportunity costs and reduced return-on-investment.
So, aside from Cloud-based email and Microsoft Office, what beneficial tools are offered within Office 365?
Office applications create documents – documents create a need for storage. Organizations have a plethora of options at their disposal for document storage, management, and collaboration, which tends to drive employees to do a little bit of everything…which then tends to create document sprawl, data loss, and security risks. Good thing Microsoft thought to address this issue natively with an easy-to-use platform: OneDrive.
For all Office 365 Business plans, users get OneDrive accounts with 1 TB Cloud storage. With this storage, business pros can store, share, edit, and sync thousands of documents across many devices. By utilizing OneDrive, businesses can access their important documents from any device via folder sync, work on group documents via folder/file shares, and streamline document security into a single, easy-to-use, terabyte-sized account.
Teams (and Skype for Business)
Communication is key, and while email and phone are foundational channels, Microsoft has refused to allow Office 365 to fall behind in newer technologies. The combined powers of Skype for Business and Teams (more on that in a second) offer businesses a robust vehicle for video conferencing, instant messaging, and live presence. For example, Office 365 includes the ability to do both one-on-one video or audio chats within Skype or Teams, as well as online meetings (including up to 250 people). For an increasingly dispersed economy and workforce, this could be a competitive differentiator. Internally, Microsoft Teams can provide an intuitive solution for quick and easy communication between employees. Most internal communication does not warrant a call, and email can be cumbersome, so Teams naturally address that niche, proving Office 365 to be even more valuable as a comms platform (though there are many additional benefits to IM).
Exploring both Skype and Teams, business pros will notice there are many similarities between the platforms. This is one of the reasons Microsoft has announced that it intends to merge the two together under the Teams brand. Having such a breadth of collaboration channels available from any internet-enabled device can be quite lucrative in the right hands.
While few organizations will find use for each of the dozens of Office 365 apps, Microsoft offers many additional solutions within business plans which are worth exploring. Perhaps the most popular app yet to be mentioned here is OneNote, the digital notebook for professionals. There is also the robust intranet platform, SharePoint, as well as simple “perk” apps like To-Do for task tracking. Office 365 small business plans provide apps to manage workflow and operations, like Flow, Planner, and StaffHub. It provides apps for surveys (Forms), reporting (Sway), and project management (Project). In isolation, perhaps none of these apps are game changers, but as a whole, can provide even the micro-sized business with enterprise-level capability.
Potential impact of O365
Like any investment, Office 365 must be measured on its value. While impact is dependent on how the platform is utilized, published research has shown some impressive results. For example, a 2015 Forrester report concluded that businesses which implement Office 365 realize 154% Return-On-Investment and increased mobile worker productivity totaling $76,000 over 3 years.
Productivity increases were highly realized via operations uptime and mobile productivity. As long as you have internet access, all of your communication platforms, documents, and productivity apps follow you on the road and in your home. To that point, Office 365 can better facilitate telecommuting, which is increasingly desired and expected from the labor force. Recent research has estimated over 4 million employees work from home at least 50% of the time. Having the proper platforms to facilitate telecommuting can not only increase productivity, but as a result, also serve as a recruiting tool.
Enterprise-level productivity and communication tools for organizations of every size
Regardless of which communications and productivity platform a business may deploy, they need to maximize its potential by knowing what it can (and what it cannot) do. Additionally, businesses should have a clear vision for how users are to apply it to their daily work. In the case of Office 365, too few organizations truly weigh all the costs and benefits of the platform during pre-purchase review or deployment. This leads to under-utilization and overlapping third-party purchases, i.e. wasted time and money.
While no single application justifies the total cost-of-ownership of the Cloud service, it has been demonstrated that strategic implementation and usage of Office 365 can reap tens-of-thousands-of-dollars for small businesses. Today’s organizations are more Cloud-based, with increasingly distributed work forces, and Microsoft (along with Google) has found a unique way to cater to such needs. Technology like this is providing small businesses with power previously reserved for the “Fortune” companies, and I’m not talking about web mail and word docs.