Office 365 Observations from a grizzled veteran of the SMB Space

As a big SharePoint fan and recently self-diagnosed Bob Ross of SharePoint, I’ve been watching and actively participating in Microsoft’s swift transition of key software and services into the Cloud. While BPOS was great, the name didn’t exactly mean much to customers. But with the words “Cloud” and “Office 365”, interest is increasing rapidly and at the same time, the platform is maturing at great speed with sprinkles of functionality added almost weekly. An app here, some more integrated value there.

I wanted to take a moment to comment on a few things that I see out there in the Small to Medium Market Space as that is where I typically live and work. I could talk about the platform for hours but my goal is to keep this brief as I have a lunch date shortly and have priorities you know…

What the platform is

  • Man there is a lot of confusion about what Office 365 is. And a paragraph in a blog post here isn’t exactly going to fix that. But I did take the time recently to provide a visual for a presentation that I thought might be helpful (a picture is worth a thousand words after all). I’m hoping this visual will help explain but I’ll break it down into the colours:
    1. Blue – these are services that you sign up for. Email (Exchange), Instant Messaging and Conferencing (Lync), Team Sites (SharePoint!) and a public facing website (also SharePoint)
    2. Orange – these are other “Microsoft Online” services that you can layer on to this already amazing platform
    3. Charcoal (mmm, charcoal) – this is software that you can download and use and integrate locally with your PC’s and Tables/Phones, all of which also have online equivalents

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  • You don’t have to use the services bit. Yep, I’m talking to you Canadian government types. “Renting” Office 2013 (the E3 user license) is a terrific way that ANYONE/any business can download and install (and use) the complete suite of Office 2013 software right away. And in fact, doing it this way gives you a few other benefits:
    1. For employers – an employee perk of being able to install the product at home (up to 5 devices per user)
    2. Compatibility. Imagine a world where everyone was using the same productivity software at the same version. You want world peace? This is a place to start. 😉
    3. Office Web Apps. If you need to keep your data on premise (a fancy word for on your own servers, again I’m talking to you Canadian Government types), if your users are licensed as E3 licenses, you can install the Office Web Apps and wire up Exchange, Lync and SharePoint to take advantage of the Office Web Apps in house – AwesomeSauce
  • Use some now, more later – Slice and Dice your solution to fit your business requirements. For some of our customers, they require SharePoint stays on prem (in house). That’s okay. But why not use SharePoint in the cloud for your “extranet” solution? Extranet licensing in house can be expensive, you need to let folks in through your firewall (security policies and worry) – but you still need and want to collaborate with partners, vendors and customers with some of your data. No worries, flash up a SharePoint Site Collection in your Office 365 Tenancy and solve that problem in minutes

How it typically plays out

In our office, we always say “All roads lead to SharePoint”. And while a few customers have come to us looking to do SharePoint on Office 365 as their first order of business, more times than not, it plays out like this instead:

  1. Get your organization on to Exchange. Why? Because with a 50GB mailbox that is available anywhere, anytime on anything and set it and forget it for backups, gateway anti-virus and anti-spam – it is a no brainer and for many clients, is already worth the monthly investment. Exchange/Email is just plumbing these days and no fun for IT and requires constant care and feeding – leave that to the Cloud. But wait, there’s more…
  2. Then they discover Lync. Some users didn’t even know what they were missing until they’ve had it … and then they are hooked. Instant Messaging with conversation history (saved into Outlook where it belongs), conferencing, white boarding, polls and screen sharing for folks that are a click away. And with more and more users joining up with Lync every day and Skype connectivity … Lync’s popularity will just keep growing. But wait, there’s more…
  3. Now that communications are sorted (never mind Yammer being an option, if you are into that), along comes the notion that as teams we can now collaborate on our SharePoint sites and see what’s on today, this week and this month through comprehensive dashboards … yep, all roads lead to SharePoint. Now, or eventually. 😉
  4. Finally, getting Office 2013 into the hands of your users for complete platform compatibility (and ongoing compatibility now that you are always on/updated) is a big win. Further to that, if you have a hunger for Sales Pipelining there is CRM for you or if you are looking to do some serious Project Management, Project Online is waiting for you as well. And I suspect Office 365 will continue introducing more and more value as time goes on

Meh. Lunch is calling, or I’d also make some noise about Office Web Apps, OneNote, SkyDrive Pro and OWA/Lync apps for your mobile devices too. Must stop. Must eat.

A note on Public Facing Websites

Ok. I couldn’t go without making one more observation. We’ve helped many customers over the years get their public websites online. Historically, SharePoint has been too expensive an option for most unless they were large, Enterprise SharePoint websites. So, we would go with Joomla, WordPress, etc. However, it seemed that no matter what solution we put in place, we (as the hosting firm/consultants) would ultimately help those customers post their new content because they would “forget” how to use those tools if they didn’t use them regularly. That’s right, a CMS is useful to separate content from code, but if you don’t use it enough, it won’t get used at all – thus not really serving the benefit it was intended to provide.

This is where we are already finding the Public Facing SharePoint site of our customers Office 365 tenancies starting to have an impact. We’ve set up a few already, by customers that formerly had WordPress or Joomla and low and behold, they are updating their content on their own. The secret? It’s the Ribbon. They were already familiar with the Ribbon in Office (and possibly their SharePoint Team Sites) and this was such a simple extension of that these formerly “technically intimidated” users are updating their own website content.

Bam! Lunch time.

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