How the Cloud Can Be Good For Your Business

The CloudEfficient, reliable, cutting edge, secure – all words that you would hope your business are, let’s face it when you are in business you need to keep ahead of the competition and all of these words, and more, are what we strive for.

So what if there was a product that provided you with an efficient & reliable service, what if that product gave you that cutting edge when it came to communicating with your clients and what if everything you stored or did using that product was secure. That all seems to make good business sense, so you must be asking where I can get this product. Well the answer is that the product already exists in the cloud and it’s called Office 365.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s cloud offering for business, it is 3 products (4 really but 3 you need to know about for now, the 4th is all about identity services) all hosted on Microsoft servers in a very large data warehouse, which again you don’t need to concern yourselves with but it is also a reason why the cloud is good for your business, the fact that the products you sign up for are all hosted by Microsoft means you will never have to worry about the reliability of those servers, you will never have to worry about the security of any data on those servers and you will never have to worry about how you keep that cutting edge. All of the answers to those worries are the cloud and are all Microsoft problems once you sign up to Office 365.

Reliability – Microsoft provide SLA’s for Office 365 and as you can imagine given the size and scope of Office 365 they have redundancy covered

Secure – Any data you place in your Office 365 sites is secured not only by your login details but is physically secure as well. Take it from me that to even get entry into the physical buildings that store the servers is an arduous task so getting to your data is impossible

Cutting edge – Using Office 365 means you will be using the latest versions of the software, you will always be ahead of those competitors that decide to stay with their onPremise servers which will only normally get updated on a 3 year cycle. Office 365 updates normally happen on a 3 monthly cycle with smaller updates sometimes coming in between those scheduled updates

So we have looked at some of the reasons why the cloud is good for your business but what products do you actually get with Office 365. Let’s take a look at them;

Exchange Online
Exchange online is your email server, it’s how you send and receive email. OK you may think, what’s so special about that, well nothing really apart from when you start to factor in the fact that along with the email functionality you get the spam filtering, malware filtering, connection filtering and reports on all of this to show you what is happening with your email server. In effect what you get is your own personal Exchange server that you can control and customise to do what you want it to do.

If you already run Exchange then you will be able to migrate over all your users with no loss of email and then replicate all your settings from your current Exchange server. If you don’t use Exchange then there are plenty of 3rd party tools out there to help you migrate your data. Of course once you have moved everyone to cloud email then you will no longer need to worry about maintaining your onPremise server, so that’s a cost saving as well.

Lync Online
Lync online is an instant messaging tool, a video conferencing tool and also an internal telephony tool. Basically Lync online is the business communication tool. It allows your staff to communicate by message, audio and video wherever they are based. It makes communicated in a global business easier and cheaper.

Businesses also need to communicate outside of their internal staff, well Lync has the answer to that as well, with Lync Online you can schedule Lync meetings with clients, they receive a meeting invite with a link to the Lync meeting and they don’t even need to have Lync installed as Office 365 will provide them with a web client. If your clients run Lync then you can easily ‘federate’ with them giving them the ability to talk to their account manager or your support team directly using Lync. That’s definitely a one up on your competitor

If you already run Lync then moving to the cloud will be a cost saving and if you don’t then you will be in a great position to enhance the way in which your staff can work and communicate

SharePoint Online
SharePoint at its core is a document management and collaboration tool. SharePoint enables you to store documents to be shared among your staff whether that is across the whole business or a team that is working on a particular project, they can all collaborate on documents that are relevant to them.

That’s not all that SharePoint does, it is an infinitely customisable platform that you can build upon, using workflows to manage document approval is just an example of the ways in which SharePoint can make processes within your business more efficient.

SharePoint is based on sites, these sites can be based around team, departments or around the business as a whole. These sites are secured by login and can be shared with the relevant people within your business. You also receive a public facing site that you can use to create your company website.

As well as these private sites for internal use only you can also use SharePoint to create sites that your can share with your clients, these could be used to store documents for use by clients or even build a helpdesk based on SharePoint that uses workflows to deal with help requests.

With SharePoint the customisations are endless.

Office Pro Plus
As well as the 3 products which I have described above with Office 365 you can also subscribe to the Office Pro Plus element, this allows all your enrolled staff to download and install the latest version of Office on up to 5 devices. It also gives you the ability to manage those installs and as people leave your business revoke their access and therefore manage who is using the software you are paying for.

Anytime, Anywhere Access
One thing that is prevalent across all of the products is access and in particular access from multiple devices. No more expensive remote access system that have to be maintained by your IT Team if the device has an internet connection then it can access the Office 365 portal and in particular devices can be configured to directly connect to services such as email and SharePoint. There are also Lync clients for all the popular smartphones allowing you to be contactable from wherever you can pick up an internet connection. It takes Office on the move to all new heights.

So in summary there are a number of reasons the cloud is good for your business and in particular Office 365; the latest software, reliability and SLA’s to back it up, secure services and data but let’s not forget one overarching reason – cost.

If you are currently, like all other businesses, running multiple servers to deal with email, document management and communications you will understand the cost and man hours that go into maintaining this level of infrastructure. Using Office 365 means this infrastructure is redundant, no more updating servers, repairing servers, patching software, which all takes time and money and in some cases results in downtime and some of the most inopportune moments. Moving all these functions to the cloud will not only take away the worry of these tasks from your IT team but it will also release the money that is spent on powering and maintaining those servers and also free up your IT team to spend time on developing new ways in which IT can transform your business.

So my recommendation; take a trial, test it for yourself and see what you are missing. The cloud is good for your business, you never know, maybe your competitor is reading this same article.

If you have any questions or feedback on Alan’s article please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.


The Cloud

Alan Richards

Alan Richards has been working in the IT industry for over 17 years and during that time has been at the forefront of using IT. He has led teams that have been among the first to roll out Windows, Exchange and SharePoint, many of these successes have been showcased in Microsoft case studies. Recently Alan’s work has concentrated on SharePoint & Office 365 and the implementation of these technologies in organisations to enhance business processes and efficiency. Alan is currently working as Senior Consultant at Foundation SP, a SharePoint & Office 365 strategy and delivery company who were recently awarded Microsoft Partner of the year for portals & collaboration. Alan is also a regular speaker & blogger and has been a SharePoint MVP since July 2011.

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