Everyone has an opinion when it comes to Office 365. When the traditional software suite transitioned to a platform of subscription services, users were hesitant to buy into Microsoft’s “your go-to office—anywhere” mantra.
Now, 8 years after the initial release of Office 365, adoption has picked up significantly. In 2018, 56% of global organizations had adopted Office 365 (up from 34% in 2016).
But if you’re not part of that 56%, you’re probably wondering if cloud-based Office 365 services are right for your business.
For many small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), Office 365 seems like a large investment for “just an email service.” But it’s not just an email service. With Office 365 in the cloud, you get many benefits that help grow your business and cut costs.
Then, you’re left with one question—if Office 365 is so great, why isn’t everyone using it? While there are many attractive benefits, Office 365 isn’t without its challenges. However, the right approach to an Office 365 migration can give you all the “oohs and aahs” without the “uh ohs” of a rough transition.
5 Oohs and Aahs of Office 365 for Small to Mid-Sized Businesses
When you first start evaluating the Office 365 suite of applications and services, it can be a bit overwhelming. There are dozens of tools included in the platform, including Word, Excel, SharePoint, Flow, Teams, PowerApps, and so many more.
As an SMB, it’s fair to wonder which aspects will bring value to your business.
When you cut through all of the product information, the following 5 advantages make an Office 365 migration valuable to any SMB.
1. Yes, We’ll Start with Email
Office 365 is so much more than email. But because email is the most-used employee productivity tool, this list would be incomplete if we didn’t mention it.
The average employee spends over 6 hours per day checking emails. Even minor downtime with a traditional, on-premises Exchange server can derail productivity and cost you thousands of dollars. You could install a backup system to reduce disruption, but that’s not a cheap option.
An Office 365 migration can minimize these issues by bringing your email to the cloud. And even if you experience minor delays from time to time, the odds of a total service outage are extremely low. Office 365 has built-in redundancies to guarantee four-nines availability (a high-availability standard for less than an hour of downtime annually).
It’s important to note that this shift to cloud-based service doesn’t leave your employees with a watered-down version of desktop applications. Office 365 lets you download applications directly to the desktop, providing a balance of cloud benefits and on-premises functionality.
2. Collaboration 3.0
Unlike traditional Office where you had to pay for pieces of software outside of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, Office 365 includes access to powerful collaboration tools.
Depending on your package, migrating to Office 365 can give you access to tools like Skype for Business, Yammer, Groups, Teams, OneDrive, and more. No more massive email chains, no more frustrating experiences for employees who are working remotely.
Using these tools together can help your employees create workflows for seamless collaboration, sharing information easily and keeping teams on the same page.
3. Enterprise-Grade Security
Building out your own security stack can be a challenge—both technically and financially. But with Microsoft’s data centers, you get the benefit of enterprise-grade security and high availability at a price fit for SMBs.
There are many different security features built into Office 365, but the following are a few of our favorites for the SMB market:
- Encrypted Email: Don’t let attackers intercept valuable email communications. Encryption ensures only the intended recipient can read the email.
- Data Loss Prevention: An added layer of security policies that prevent sensitive information like social security numbers and credit card data from being shared outside the organization via email.
- Mobile Device Management: If left unchecked, mobile devices can become a security risk. Office 365 helps you keep track of mobile usage and gives you the tools to protect your organization in case of lost or stolen devices.
- Advanced Threat Analytics (ATA): By scanning emails as they come through your network with machine learning and analytics, Office 365 can eliminate malicious links and attachments before they reach your employees. When you take human error out of the equation, you reduce the likelihood that attackers will compromise your network.
The key to meeting your security needs is to pay close attention to what features come with your subscription. Don’t just look at pricing—make sure your plan comes with the security features most important to your business. Check out Blue Fox Group's Security Defender, which monitors and defends all security risks at one low monthly fee.
4. Storage on Steroids
Managing on-premises storage can be a real challenge for SMBs. Hiring technical experts is costly and any missteps can hurt productivity.
Office 365 gives each user 50 GB of storage via Exchange Online, giving employees enough space for email, calendar entries, tasks, notes, contacts, attachments, and more. And in the event that inbox space isn’t enough, OneDrive cloud storage gives you an additional pool of resources to take advantage of. All without having to manage the storage servers themselves.
5. Reduce Capital Spend
One of the greatest advantages of Office 365 is the subscription-based service that lets you take advantage of flexible cloud pricing. You pay an annual or monthly fee per user, eliminating upfront costs and letting you shift from CapEx to OpEx.
If cash flow is a concern, you can opt for a month-to-month pricing structure, which gives you the freedom to turn services on and off according to what you really need to grow your business.
5 Uh-Ohs that Make an Office 365 Migration Go Wrong
Too many articles, resellers, and consultants paint a turn-key picture of Office 365 migrations. But when you talk to early adopters, it becomes clear that migration isn’t always so easy.
We’ve talked to many early adopters who have come back from an Office 365 path beat up and worn down by many unexpected challenges that no one prepared them for.
We know that your business can benefit from an Office 365 migration—we just don’t want you to go into it thinking the process will be wrinkle-free. Whether you’re looking for a hybrid approach or going all-in on Office 365, these 5 “uh-ohs” can bring any migration path to a halt. If you take steps to avoid them, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of Office 365.
1. Migration Confusion
All the high-level discussions about Office 365 benefits and advice for migration make the process sound simple. But when you dig a little deeper into the details of deployment, things can get complicated. What starts as enthusiasm for migration can quickly turn to confusion about execution.
You need a full deployment and migration plan if you want to succeed. And the best approach is to get an outside expert with a solid track record to put you on an Office 365 path to success. Finding the right IT partner will ensure your migration fits with existing infrastructure and accounts for both performance needs and security risks.
2. Impractical Migration Decisions
Unless you’re simply moving Exchange Online to Office 365, you’re looking at a full migration with some kind of hybrid environment. You’ll still want certain mailboxes to stay on premises to maximize control—but the average user can benefit from cloud-based Office 365.
However, many migrations fail when leaders make impractical decisions about what to keep on-prem and what to move to the cloud. For example, if you have sites that experience latency when connected to cloud-based mailboxes, migrating anyway can hurt productivity and lead to disruption. For all the benefits of cloud migration, you’re better off keeping those sites on-prem.
3. Deploying Before Migration Prerequisites are Met
Many SMBs make Office 365 mistakes in the planning phase. But just because you’ve done your due diligence and come up with a strong migration plan doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods.
When you’re blending existing on-premises Exchange instances with Office 365, your on-premises Exchange environment must meet certain requirements. Any misconfigurations or failure to meet prerequisites will prevent Office 365 deployment and disrupt your business.
If you want to make sure you’re meeting prerequisites, download the Office 365 one-pager for a complete list of what you need. But satisfying all of these prerequisites can be complicated, which is why working with a professional IT shop is so valuable. Creating an Office 365 path that navigates these prerequisites with ease will help streamline your migration.
4. Choosing the Wrong Office 365 Plan
Plans and pricing are often the biggest concerns for SMBs that come to us for Office 365 help. One look at the variety of subscription packages can be enough to frustrate any SMB leader. But as frustrating as it can be to sift through the plans, it’s essential to choose the package that supports Azure Active Directory synchronization if you’re creating a hybrid environment.
Home and Small Business versions of Office 365 may look attractive from a pricing perspective. However, they don’t offer Azure AD sync and, therefore, can’t support hybrid deployments.
There are third-party tools available to help you work around this problem, but they could be more trouble than they’re worth. Working with an IT partner can help you find the right balance between pricing package and features and evaluate third-party tools if necessary.
5. Forgetting About Cloud Performance
There’s one question that often gets left out of Office 365 migration discussions (and cloud migration discussions in general)—can your internet bandwidth support the shift?
Depending on the data volumes you’re set to support, heavy bandwidth usage can grind your Office 365 performance to a near halt. Moving your archive data from an on-premises solution to a cloud-based solution outside of Office 365 can help.
But the real key to balancing performance, security, and price is to work with an IT solutions provider that can help you deploy SD-WAN, SIP trunking, and other services that ensure Office 365 is working the way you expect—without ripping and replacing your whole IT environment.
Get the Help You Need for Office 365 Success
Over the years, Blue Fox Group has helped hundreds of Arizona-based SMBs successfully migrate to Office 365. One of our specialties is monitoring and securing data flow between your devices and Office 365, so you can rest assured that even after deployment, your investment is kept safe.