Are you using Office 365 or looking at it? I bet you probably are. Most of the organizations that we work with (I would say 9 out of 10) are either using or looking towards using it. And why is that? Microsoft has done a very good job with Office 365. They've created a subscription of bundled services that excels. It gives organizations the services they need, doesn't require deep administration and management skills, and gives predicable monthly costs. And that's just at the high level – there's certainly a lot more to it. For my purposes today, I am talking about the versions of O365 that enterprises generally use, which is the E3 or E5 subscriptions.
Now my article this month will no doubt make me look like a walking billboard for Microsoft and O365, but definitely not my intent. It just the reality that Microsoft has done a great job with O365 and let's give credit where credit is due. I credit O365's success to the vision of Satya Nadella, Microsoft's CEO. In fact, I credit him with changing Microsoft's image and actually making Microsoft "cool" again, versus just a necessity that everyone needs in some way.
Organizations today are looking for ways to simplify how they deliver IT services and O365 helps them do just that. It gives all the services and products that most users need around productivity: Office 2016 client, OneDrive, Yammer (if you use it, many do not), Skype (which works very well), SharePoint online – other solutions too – and of course the foundation of it all, Exchange Online. Customers do not want to continue to worry about delivering these services themselves and Microsoft has been happy to oblige. Also, the irony is that it's not new. Microsoft released O365 for business customers back in June of 2011. That's 6 years – a lifetime in our industry. But most feel it's truly taken off, or come into its own, over the past 2-3 years.
One of the biggest advantages of O365 is that you don't need people to administer the infrastructure nor have to maintain the IT infrastructure in house. Microsoft does this, as we all know, and it really is a big deal to organizations both large and small. In this day and age, it's rare that organizations want to maintain infrastructure in house. Let Microsoft do it up in its Cloud. And most would agree they do it well. You don't need people to manage it to the depth you would if you ran these services in house. I can't overstate how important that part truly is. Organizations just don't want to run and manage these types of IT services in house and now they don't need to.
Organizations want someone else to deliver these services for them, so they can focus upon their actual business goals and objectives – not their email or other Microsoft services. And, as I've said before, it works. Let me illustrate how well it works: Our company, Vicom, is a Microsoft Gold Partner that has helped organizations implement and maintain their on-premise email and Exchange environments for the past 15+ years. And you know what? We use Office 365 because of how well it works. We no longer maintain our own Exchange Servers in house – and we do this for a living. When a company like us can attest to something like that, I believe it really means something. With the O365 solution you get all the productivity tools that users need including: Office 2016 desktop, Exchange Online with a 50GB limit, Skype for Business, SharePoint Online, Yammer, Teams, Planner, the ability to use your AD environment through ADFS, and 1TB of OneDrive per user staring at $20 per month per user. They are also constantly adding new features, just look when you login to your account online as the different apps available in addition to the ones I mentioned above. Don't overlook how important the OneDrive solution is. Companies no longer need file servers to centralize and share data as they did in the past. Configure One Drive and just drop your files in there and they are backed up and can be shared easily. No more issues when someone's PC crashes and they lose all their local data. Plus, the solution is highly available with a 99.9% uptime SLA (which may or may not be acceptable to you, but it's part of it) with strong security and compliance options available. But with all the heaps of praise that I am laying upon O365, there are challenges that need to be addressed as well. Getting to an Office 365 environment doesn't just magically happen. It's takes a lot of planning and effort to get there. A big part is the design, planning and migration of how to get there. What we've found just about universally with our clients is that it takes a lot more effort and planning than they think it should or actually does. Organizations need to understand this. It's not a bad thing, it's just like anything else in IT. It takes meticulous planning (a lot of it) before choosing to "flip that switch" over to the new environment. That includes planning for how you are going to migrate mailboxes, users docs, and training users on the new environment. Sounds simple but a lot to it. The training part is an important piece that we see organizations de-prioritize a bit. They shouldn't. You want everyone on board with your new solution and direction and you want them happy. That's where training and lots of communication make a difference. Happy users are a good thing. So by all means, move towards Office 365, if it makes sense for you and your organization. Our experience shows us that it makes sense for most. But that is something you need to confirm for your environment and specific needs. This is where a good and trusted partner can help. Do an evaluation of O365 to make sure and evaluate how it will work in your environment. In fact, I believe it's the most important first step. And when doing your evaluation, consider things down to the smallest detail to cover everything. In one recent engagement we did for a customer, they claimed they didn't have any Outlook plugins that needed to be accounted for during their rollout and migration. When we did our evaluation, we found almost a dozen plug-ins that needed to be accounted for. That's one small example of things we see. As I said before, it's always a lot more time and effort to get an enterprise to O365 than customer initially think. But that's OK. That's why we are there to help them. So, do your due diligence on O365. Ask tough questions of Microsoft and the partners you are considering. Make sure they can give you a very solid roadmap on how to get you there in the quickest, smoothest, and least disruptive way possible. It's not a trivial thing, especially if you are an enterprise with thousands of users. But once you are there you'll probably wonder why you didn't do it sooner. Consider what I said earlier: We are a Microsoft Gold Partner and we use Office 365 ourselves. Enough said for this month. Let me know about your Office 365 experiences.