Online Business Communication Tools

online-business-toolsimage courtesy of Phoenix One Sales

One major advantage Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) have today over their predecessors are the communication tools which are available. Often these come at little or no cost, and can be purchased and delivered over the internet. Theses cloud based platforms enable SMB to run more efficiently and compete better with their rivals in large organizations. Several years ago, if a company wanted an enterprise class email platform the choices were very limited. By far, the most popular choice would be to implement a Microsoft Exchange email server. Exchange email has major advantages over the typical business email account or personal email services that small businesses relied on. Some of these include: shared calendars with meeting invitations, virtually unlimited email archiving and storage, customizable folders for organization purposes and the ability to have the email address with the business name or domain (me@mycompany.com). However, these valuable features came at a very high cost. The business first had to purchase the Exchange server licenses and the client access licenses (CALS) and then the server hardware, with plenty of RAM and storage to satisfy Exchanges resource requirements. Finally, and most costly of all, is the person who will implement and administer the Exchange server. The administrator of an exchange server is a highly paid resource that the enterprise will come to depend on 24 hours a day,7 days a week, 365 days a year. These costs previously prohibited smaller businesses from purchasing Exchange, or any other enterprise email solutions.

When Microsoft introduced Office 365, the pricing model changed dramatically, the cloud based Software as a Service platform provided email in addition to their popular business applications.  No server hardware was required, and licensing was much simpler and less expensive. An administrator was still required to add and delete email accounts, but it didn’t require the expertise to manage the hardware or the Exchange server software. Additionally, if selected, it may include up to date licenses for Office products, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. This solved another problem for the IT manager: different licenses and versions among users for Office applications. With an Office 365 license, a user can download the current version at any time. All of this has allowed smaller companies to have the advantage access to the same level of technology of their larger rivals. Office 365 was priced in a way that made it a “no-brainer” to business with either 5 users or 50,000 users.

In this part 1 of this article, I will describe the different components of Office 365 and pricing of some of their more popular bundles for SMB. In the following post I will list and describe Office 365’s competitors as well as packages that can complement your communications strategy.

Office 365 includes bundled services as well as additional packages that can be added in a’ la carte fashion. Below in figure 1 are a couple of the most popular bundles for SMB and their cost as of the time of this post.

o   Outlook/Exchange email account- Microsoft Exchange has become the standard for email service with all the features mentioned above. Each Office 365 license offers access for up to 5 devices including tablets, phones PCs and MACs.

o   Office Applications- Bundles include the most recent versions of Microsoft’s most popular applications including Word, Outlook, Excel, PowerPoint, One Note and Access. All of these can be updated by each user as Microsoft releases new versions.

o   Web Apps- These web versions of the above applications can be used in tandem with, and stored on, One Drive. This allows users to view and edit documents without a bundle that includes the Office applications.

o   One Drive- A secure cloud storage platform where files can be stored and shared. Bundles including One Drive include at least One Terabyte of data. Business accounts supporting multiple users, a common One Drive account is provided to support SharePoint.

o   SharePoint- A common file sharing platform for documents used by employees as well as customers. Some organizations use it so their customers are able to download brochures or other documents.

o   Yammer- An internal communication and social media platform.

o   Skype for Business- A video and voice conferencing platform. It can be used for specific applications such as webinars or a voice and video conferencing bridge which can connect up to 250 people.

o   Voice over IP (VOIP) phone services- These phone services used in the Skype platform and provided through the Enterprise E5 bundle. E5 will provide everything their enterprise would expect from a VOIP PBX including direct dial numbers, call plans and voicemail with unified messaging. Unified messaging organizes all messaging types, voicemail, email and fax, in one Outlook inbox.

o   Power BI Pro- Advanced personal and organizational analytics with MyAnalytics and Power BI Pro.

Just as it was difficult to compete with Microsoft on their operating system server platforms and Office applications, Office 365 is the leader in these technologies. In my follow-up post, I will describe platforms that compete with Office 365 as well as other applications that look to complement Office 365.

figure 1- the most popular Office 365 bundles for SMB

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