So what is Office 365?
Office 365 is a bundled product from Microsoft, or a suite of products. It has both Home/Student/Home & Business plans (that you can purchase off the shelf) as well as various Business plans (that you can purchase via a subscription service). But the bottom line is that Office 365 is an ‘umbrella term’ that covers a whole suite of products that you can customise to your situation or your business.
Office 365 offers the Microsoft Office suite in the subscription cost (monthly or yearly) and removes the up-front burden of the large capital outlay usually associated with a software purchase. Subscription based services, also known as ‘Software as a Service’ or SaaS (pronounced Sass) ensures that the end-user always has the latest updated version of Microsoft Office. And for many of our clients, this has made software licensing much easier as it a subscription per-user, per month or year, which adds up to a predictable cash-flow.
For others, Office 365 offers a convenient Microsoft Exchange or hosted email service. It is worth noting that there are many free and cheap emails services around (like Gmail, Atmail or other providers that use protocols such as POP or IMAP). However when it comes to business grade email solutions, nothing can match Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol which far outstrips POP or IMAP mailboxes in functionality and ability to sync easily across multiple devices.
Office 365 offers a very affordable hosted Microsoft Exchange mailbox without the headache of managing a physical Exchange server on-premise. In the past, an on-premise Microsoft Exchange server(s) was the only way companies provided employees with an Exchange mailbox. Usually, this was not simple and required a fair bit of on-site infrastructure along with ongoing management and maintenance costs. More recently there have been hosting companies offering Microsoft Exchange services ‘in the cloud’ – removing the need for companies to have all that headache of maintaining on-premise infrastructure. But now, there is a more complete solution in the Office 365 suite – a very reliable hosted solution, with so many other features and advantages added in (see below).
Most people are unaware of what else is available in the Office 365 Suite, so this is the reason I am writing the Blog series. It is my goal to show you that Office 365 is more than just Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, and some Email thrown in! As this is a Blog series, we will start with Email to get the foundation in place. However, I want to discuss the many other great features included in the Office 365 Suite that can benefit your business. So let’s start at the beginning, with Email, and then discuss the other added benefits of switching to Office 365.
1. Power up your email (Exchange replacement)
Office 365 offers you great control and flexibility over your email systems. Not only does Office 365 offer your business affordable mailboxes (50 GB in size), but it also offers much, much more. For example:
- Shared Mailboxes: Shared mailboxes are full mailboxes without using up a license. Their advantages are that they can be shared across multiple users (as a secondary mailbox) or used as an archive mailbox – and all for no extra cost. Your business can have as many shared mailboxes as you want! The idea is that you delegate shared mailboxes to a user (or users), and a shared mailbox does not have an independent login (i.e. through webmail).
- Distribution lists – At a basic level, Distribution Lists (or DL’s) look like an email address (e.g. email@example.com). The difference is that a DL isn’t a mailbox (i.e. it doesn’t store emails). DL’s allow an email to be ‘distributed’ to multiple mailboxes. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org may send an incoming email to multiple mailboxes (usually internal users, although you can also have external ‘contacts’ within Exchange). The advantage of DL’s are that you can have as many as you want (at no cost) distributing email to the appropriate people. You may do this because you don’t want to publish people’s individual email addresses to the outside world; or you may want the ability to distribute common information to the appropriate people.
- Plus much, much more that we won’t cover in this intro blog. However, we will write further blog articles dedicated to this topic alone.
2. Get control of your inbox (Yammer and Lync – now called ‘Skype for Business’)
With the advent of email has come the ever-present strain of Inbox-Stress! Emails greatest feature, its instantaneous delivery method, is also its greatest danger, overuse! Internally within any company of 5 users of more, there can be the tendency to send emails to multiple recipients on everything and anything. The outcome – Inbox-Stress and stressed employees! The 21st-century solution provided by Microsoft is Skype for Business and Yammer.
- Instant Chat (Skype for Business): Remove those unnecessary questions from your Inbox, and get faster answers! Skype for Business provides real-time chat/instant messaging with your colleagues, with real-time presence. The picture below shows presence, which is another word for availability – Green means that they are available, Yellow in a meeting, Red = Busy, White = Offline, and there are more availaility statuses than shown below. Furthermore, conversation history is kept in a folder in your Outlook client just like an email, that gives you all the advantages of history without the burden on your Inbox.
- So when should we use Skype for Business?
- Geographically dispersed – chat to colleagues wherever they are, instantly. See who is on-line to answer questions and organise Skype for Business meetings without travelling beyond your screen.
- Get fast answers – Talk to colleagues in your office quickly without booking a meeting room or leaving your seat. There is still a place for face-to-face meetings, so this is not anti-social. Rather than walking to a colleague’s desk to see if they are free to chat – send them a Skype for Business message to see when they can talk! The great advantage of these types of meetings is that they are all kept as history and are searchable, meaning any questions you asked (with the answers) are easily accessible at a later stage!
- Get answers without others unnecessarily knowing – want to have a private chat with a colleague or need to say something short without others hearing, have Skype for Business conversation.
- Skype for Business is not just for internal conversations. It can also be a great way to talk to clients and vendors (who also have Skype for Business) – to stay in touch, build better relationships and get fast answers!
- Internal Noticeboard (Yammer): There are so many emails sent in bulk to the entire company that is not always appropriate or relevant to all who receive them. A good example is a stereotypical email that is sent to ‘all employees’ as a way of notifying them or keeping them updated, etc. The effect of the stereotypical email is that interrupts focus when staff are working through more important matters. The solution is Yammer! Yammer is a place where we can publish company-wide notices. Think of it like an internal noticeboard. Yammer is a place where all company notices are in logical and chronological order, and more importantly, are accessed when the employee has time to read and digest such information.
- Collaborate and Discuss (Yammer): Yammer is a place where colleagues can also collaborate and discuss various topics, projects, ideas, random thoughts, all without sending loads and loads of emails back and forth! In Yammer, any employee can set up all kinds discussions (called ‘Groups’) where colleagues can discuss and post ideas relevant to that group! More than just a socially engaging forum, Yammer empowers the generation of ideas from the grassroots upward.
There is so much the Office 365 suite can offer your business in terms of ease of use and productivity. The suite of products and features in Office 365 is ever expanding and is re-visioning communication and collaboration within the workplace. In Part 2, 3, 4 of this blog and beyond, we will further dig into Email and Yammer, exposing advanced user scenarios. We will also look further into SharePoint and the other features of the Office 365 Suite like Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), Power BI, and Mobile Device Management (MDM).
We look forward to sharing our experiences with you and look forward to having you along for the journey.
- Note: Not all Office 365 plans offer the Microsoft Office suite.
- Note: Not all Office 365 plans offer Microsoft Exchange services
- Such as create mail flow rules, email filtering, resource management, calendar and contact management, compliance management, etc.