Levick, a leading strategic communications firm, employs about sixty people in its offices in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
The entire staff used versions of Microsoft's Office suite ranging from Office 2003 to Office 2010. The company stored documents on a central file server with no versioning capability, and when employees needed to collaborate on a document, they emailed it back and forth. The process was cumbersome and inefficient; something had to change.
The Small Business IT Challenge: Introduce efficient document sharing and manage Office more easily.
When a new IT director, Kate Tikoian, arrived at the company, she recognized the need for a more effective method for document collaboration. Employees also used a combination of Office 2003, 2007, and 2010 beta software, and these licenses needed rationalizing to make training and support more straightforward.
The Small Business IT Solution: Move to Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 suite.
"I believe in forward thinking, so I made the decision to move to Microsoft Office 365," said Tikoian. "We also started testing Microsoft's SharePoint online to provide a better way of sharing documents."
Before moving to Office 365, Tikoian considered Google Apps, but decided to stick with the Microsoft Office product that her colleagues were familiar with. "If we had moved to Google Apps, then our staff, who are used to the look and functionality of Microsoft products, would have faced a significant learning curve, and the feature set would have been less robust," she said.
She added that Office 365's administration capabilities are far better than those available for Google Docs. "You still have fully featured management consoles and can customize just about everything in the 365 cloud that you could if you deployed the software on-premises," she said. "Most other services offer dumbed-down admin features," she added.
Implementing Office 365
Before starting to switch employees from the traditional desktop Office suite to Office 365, Tikoian spent several weeks talking to staff members to understand how they worked and to allay any misgivings they had about moving to the new system. Microsoft IT solutions partner New Signature assisted in the planning, implementation, and migration.
The change happened gradually, with most employees migrated to Office 365, and the commonly used templates and documents moved from Levick's file server to SharePoint online. "SharePoint replaced the old file server and added document management—as well as collaboration capabilities, an intranet and client portals. Those were the things that people were slower to adopt," remarked Tikoian.
After a few weeks, everyone had moved over to Office 365's office productivity applications, SharePoint Online was up and running, and the employees who needed it also had access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM. A few staff members were also using Microsoft's Lync instant messaging, voice over IP, and video conferencing client, which, along with Lync Online, is also included as part of Office 365 Enterprise E3.
Initially, the company did not opt for Office 365's Exchange Online capabilities, but Tikoian said plans to move over to that at some point in the future. "My senior executives were skeptical about migrating email to the cloud, because they had so many issues with email migrations under my predecessors," she explained. "I migrate to Office 365 slowly so that I had time to show them how seamlessly we could migrate and how reliably and easily we could access our information stored there."
Benefits of Migrating to Microsoft Office 365
One of the main benefits to using Office 365 is the ability to access Office 365 applications and documents from anywhere, Tikoian said. "We don't have an official BYOD program, but employees want to use any device they choose. And nearly 10 percent of our staff use Macs as well," she added. Since the interface is relatively consistent regardless of the device used to access Office 365 applications, Levick employees didn't need additional training for different devices or operating systems.
As another benefit, SharePoint provides a central repository for documents and a way of sharing them with version and access controls. The previous method of emailing documents to colleagues made it very hard to keep track of which document was the most up-to-date, and resulted in a very large amount of data being stored on the company's email server, Tikoian said.
Moving to Office 365 has resulted in considerable financial savings, Tikoian said. Purchasing conventional Office licenses for Levick's staff would have cost the equivalent of six years' subscription to Office 365. "That would have been an up-front cost, rather than a cost spread over time. And with Office 365, we always have the most up-to-date software."
The company has also saved more than $30,000 by using SharePoint as a document repository instead of paying for a new file server (as the old one needed replacing), operating system and client access license fees, and the cost of running a backup system, disaster recovery and business continuity solutions.
"All in all, we were paying something like $1.75 per GB per month for our offsite backup file storage before," said Tikoian. "Now that we store our documents in the 365 cloud, we don't paying for backups or anything else. It costs about one eighth as much as before to keep our data in the cloud."
For other companies considering a move to Office 365, Tikoian recommends working with a Microsoft solutions partner to ensure that the migration goes smoothly. But in her experience, the change can be made fairly easily and without disruption.
Problems Moving to Microsoft Office 365
Her only reservation is with the quality of the free support that Microsoft provides for Office 365, specifically for Dynamics CRM Online. "It’s improving, but it can be a little frustrating. It takes them a pretty long chunk of time to resolve an issue, and I am not inclined to solely rely on it. That could potentially be a drawback for a smaller company that doesn't have its own IT staff.”
- Take the time to understand how your employees work, both individually and collaboratively, before you make the move
- For small and mid-sized companies, work with a Microsoft solutions partner, if possible, to get assistance with the design, implementation, and migration
- Be aware of potential support issues when moving to the cloud
Office 365 Pricing Details
- Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus and Office 365 Enterprise E3: $12 and $20 per user, per month (plus $.20/GB for SharePoint Storage)
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online: $44 per user per month
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to Enterprise Networking Planet, ServerWatch and Enterprise Mobile Today. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines, including The Economist and the Financial Times, since 1991.
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