What can you get these days for £4? A few pints of milk or a drink at the pub? Perhaps a thimble full of petrol (if you’re lucky)? Well, not much anyway.
That’s why I’m regularly faced with looks of surprise (and perhaps disbelief) when I tell people that it’s only £4 per month for the recently released Microsoft Office 365.
What is Office 365?
In a nutshell, Office 365 gives businesses email, online (or “cloud”) file storage and video conferencing but that’s just a tiny part of the story. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the email aspect.
So, any business these days has email but not all email systems are created equal. Perhaps you’re using an old-style ‘POP’ system that bounces messages when it fills the tiny mailbox and can only be accessed from your PC. Perhaps you have an email server in your office that costs a fair bit to maintain and goes down frequently along with your flaky Internet connection. Or, you may have a hosted system that works well but costs around £5 – £10 per month.
The email component of Office 365, known as Exchange Online, is built using the same technology that you’d expect to see in any of the large multi-national companies. In fact, it’s rather unfair to call it an “email” system given that it also manages your calendars, contacts and tasks. As you’d expect, it’s very powerful and, until recently, was well out of the price range of all but the most wealthy of small businesses. Better still, it works with all the familiar programs and devices such as Outlook (on Windows and Mac), iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, Android etc.
All your email, contacts, calendars and tasks are stored in a central location so you see all the same things no matter where or how you access them. You don’t even need to worry about backup as this is all taken care of!
What about storing files? You might have your files on a central server in your office or even just stored on your computer. Are they backed up? Are you sure? How do you access your files when out of the office? VPN? Yuck! Perhaps not at all?
Office 365 provides a tool, known as SharePoint Online, that can store all your files in a central location that is accessible from anywhere on any computer. Not only that, but SharePoint provides lots of powerful features such as automatic file version tracking, check-in/out and searching.
Moving on, Lync is another great weapon for your business in the Office 365 armoury. Lync allows you to communicate via instant messaging or video calling at no extra cost. Think Skype and MSN Messenger all rolled into one and re-designed for business. It integrates with Outlook to automatically show colleagues if you’re available for a call or chat based on your calendar. Even better, you can share your desktop with anyone else in the call to discuss and share something you’re working on. You can let them take control of your computer if you’d like them to demonstrate something too!
All of this is just scratching the surface of what the tools within the Office 365 suite can do and you don’t need to worry about buying expensive equipment or software to use them. With Office 365 you and your staff can work from anywhere, anytime without any fuss. Your business is officially no longer tied to your office. And with another winter on its way, £4 is a no-brainer to keep your staff working when snowed-in!
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