How Office 365 can transform your business

Article PC Pro Apr 11, 2013

For a long time, Microsoft Office has been synonymous with computers in a business environment. Whether it’s used for editing documents in Word, spreadsheets in Excel or presentations in PowerPoint, the powerful and all-encompassing suite of applications is a staple of workplaces across the world. But what if it could extend further than that? What if employees could keep working wherever they are: not just on PCs and laptops within the confines of the office, but on their home computers, on tablets and mobile phones, even on the guest PC in a hotel lobby?

That utopian scenario already exists. With Office 365, Microsoft has taken the applications we all know so well and uploaded them to the cloud. It’s not just change for change’s sake. It gives users the freedom to work when and where is most appropriate; it provides a place to keep important files safe, backed up and always easily accessible; and it gives admins more control over rollouts, upgrades and the advanced power that Office can bring to teams within large businesses.

In short, Office 365 could revolutionise the way you think about a suite of applications you’ve been using for decades – and this all-new cloud approach could transform how your business works.

Anywhere access

Let’s start with a benefit that affects both you and your users: the ability to work anywhere.

Office 365 Small Business Premium (and plan E2 and E3 for midsize businesses) include the latest versions of the Office desktop suite, which now includes Word 2013, Excel 2013, PowerPoint 2013, Outlook 2013, Access 2013 and more.

The plethora of new features and tools built into these new programs may alone be enough to tempt you into an upgrade, but you’re missing out if all you do is treat Office 365 as a more flexible way to buy the traditional Office apps.

It’s the shift to a cloud focus that makes Office an incredibly flexible tool for employees in the workplace and on the move. Files will always be ready and waiting, as by default they’re stored and kept in sync in the user’s online SkyDrive storage locker. With SkyDrive Pro for businesses offering centrally managed storage too, the days of sharing files by FTP, email or USB stick are long gone.

And instead of an activation key locking applications to the computer on which they’re installed, each Office 365 subscription is tied only to a user account – so all a roaming employee needs to get quickly up and running in a new location is an internet connection, and wherever they choose to work, it’s their Office. Customisations and user settings follow employees from PC to PC, minimising the time taken to get into full flow.

The implications for mobile working are tremendous. By logging in and accessing the powerful new Office on Demand service, employees can stream a temporary, fully personalised instance of any of the core Office applications to their screen, then create, edit and present a document and log back out to automatically remove all personal data – and that’s all using whatever hardware happens to be available at the time. It brings a whole new level of professionalism and smoothness to the impromptu presentation pitch.

Hosting files in SkyDrive makes sharing a simple matter of inviting other users to view or edit files – and they can all do so simultaneously, with their updates appearing beside your own input. In this single move you avoid the problem of duplicate files, but it also has another benefit: it brings in those who don’t have access to Office.

Thanks to the Office Web Apps – trimmed down versions of the core applications designed to run entirely within a web browser – all invitees can open and work on files just like those directly within the team, and they will work on pretty much any PC, Mac and mobile device with a web browser.

The possibilities for effective collaboration are huge, from sharing OneNote meeting notes directly via an Outlook appointment to group-polishing that vital proposal document in real-time, wherever group members happen to be and whichever department or company they happen to work for.

Which brings us to one of the powerful tools more commonly associated with enterprise IT setups: HD video and web conferences on demand. Up to 250 people can take part at once, so you could share your screen and even give access to a document you’re working on. Plus, thanks to Lync, you can call other Lync users from your PC and instantly see their status.

Easy admin

That’s how employees benefit from the move to Office 365, and administrators will like the changes too. Not only is Office 365 incredibly simple to install and deploy across a workforce, it’s also automatically kept up to date. No more waiting to roll out the next big update from Microsoft; every Office 365 user can receive the latest features and fixes automatically as and when they’re made available online.

Office 365 includes enterprise-grade antivirus and anti-spam filtering for its powerful business email, which can include Active Directory synchronisation for easy management of user identities across different installations. Email accounts come with 25GB of storage, and if you’re currently imposing stringent limits on attachment sizes then your users may well be delighted to find they can send files up to 25MB in size.

Team features include free hosting for a brand website with your own domain, and it takes no time at all to add and maintain a large number of users. All SkyDrive files are privately and securely stored at data centres across the world, and Microsoft proactively monitors the service for malicious activity and guarantees 99.9% up-time for peace of mind. Plus, mobile devices can be remotely wiped if lost, and user accounts can be restored for a month after deleting. It’s fair to say security and maintenance have seen a great deal of attention during the development of Office 365.

Efficient running

So that’s the new Office. It includes the applications that users are already so familiar with, but extends them beyond their current limits thanks to the cloud. Whatever the size of your business, Office 365 is fully capable of transforming it for better. Whether it’s the powerful enterprise team tools and advanced email, the freedom for employees to work productively in and out of the office, or the new methods of collaboration that a cloud focus allows, everything within Office 365 is set up to be as efficient, productive and flexible as possible. With a wide range of scalable subscription options too, it could save your business money as well as time, but most important of all it will help your employees concentrate on the tasks you’re paying them for – no matter where they happen to be.