Image of Office 365 logo

The essential guide to Office 365.

Introduction

People keep saying that your business should move to Office 365. Maybe you are resistant to that idea or maybe you just want to know more before you commit to a large change and a monthly subscription. Or perhaps you really do like the idea of Office 365 but need an independent view of how you can get the greatest benefits from using it.

If this is you, read on. We promise no jargon and no acronyms.

This guide is broken down into the following sections. Jump to one right now if it grabs your attention:

What is Office 365?

Office 365 is a combination of applications and cloud services designed to get businesses working in the cloud and working better as a team.

Office 365 also ushered in a new era of monthly subscriptions for Microsoft software and services. Over a three or four-year period the costs of the Office applications work out to be similar to the old model of buying software and then paying for upgrades. But, as you will see, Office 365 is much more than a new way to purchase Office software licensing, a common misconception not helped by Microsoft’s naming of the product.

The table below shows the products and services that are included in a typical Office 365 subscription.

Product/service Details
Storage (per person)50GB mailbox
1TB of storage in OneDrive
Services■      Exchange
■      OneDrive for Business
■      SharePoint
■      OneNote
■      Flow
■      Skype for Business
■      Sway
■      Teams
■      Yammer
Office applications■      Outlook
■      Word
■      Excel
■      PowerPoint
■      OneNote
■      Access
Working on mobile devicesInstall any of these applications on Android, Apple or Windows devices:

■      Word
■      Excel
■      PowerPoint
■      OneNote
Working in the cloudUse web versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Work from the Office 365 web interface to use all the Office 365 products and services (except Access).

The licensing is also very generous. Microsoft gives you permission to use everything, office applications included, on up to 5 PCs or Macs, plus 5 tablets, plus up to 5 phones.

An important aspect in these days of GDPR is where your data is stored. Microsoft has two UK data centres, so you can be sure that you will be compliant in terms of data storage. Office 365 also comes with a 99.9% uptime guarantee, so reliability should not be a problem. But remember, that 0.1% of possible downtime could amount to almost one entire working day per annum. Nothing in life comes with 100% reliability guaranteed, so be prepared for the occasional outage or period of slowness.

There are a number of additional security options that you can add on to Office 365 at extra cost. These include backup protection and extra security for your people, devices and documents (see Riverbank SAFE).

Let’s move on to see how Office 365 can enable you to change the way you work.

Businesses born in the cloud – ‘cloud natives’

If your business is a and you have no legacy IT equipment, your adoption of Office 365 should be very straightforward. Choose the Office 365 plan that covers everything you need. Here is an example:

  • Email – Exchange
  • Office applications – Word, Excel etc
  • Individual data storage with the ability to share files with others – OneDrive for Business
  • Managing company projects – Teams
  • Shared company files and folders – SharePoint
  • Communications with co-workers – Skype for Business and Yammer

Most people have grown up with Word and Excel, so your staff will probably be most comfortable using the versions of these applications installed on their computers. For some people this will always be the case, because they need a full-featured application that takes advantage of the power of a modern PC.

Other staff members will gradually move to the Office 365 web applications. The web versions of Word and Excel and perfectly useable products and many people will find it more natural to use web applications to edit their files that are stored in the cloud.

Improving the way you work – evolutionary change

Most businesses have some legacy IT, whether it is a server in their office for data and email, or they have a specific application that needs to integrate with Word or Excel. Whatever the legacy, it makes the transition to the cloud more complicated.

The comfort is that you don’t have to change everything at once. You can take an evolutionary approach, moving one business system at a time to Office 365.

At the risk of getting a bit too technical, one important step is to link your Office 365 account to your existing network using Active Directory integration. This means that everyone can use their network user name and password for Office 365; they don’t have to remember yet another password.

Radical change in the way you work – a revolution

The real power of Office 365 is that you can completely change the way you work. You can keep your data where it is easy to get to and you can let your staff work in the way they want to.

Here are five real-life examples:

Use Teams to drive real change

Microsoft Teams is perhaps the most disruptive part of Office 365. Use it to break down silos in your organisation and help people work together more effectively.

What normally happens in an organisation is that Finance holds the finance files, the Legal department does all the legal work and technical teams control all the technical work. This then gets expressed as silos of documents on the company network and silos of behaviour.

Turn that behaviour on its head with Teams. Inside Teams you create one team per project. Store all the files for that project in the same place. This naturally brings people together across departments, enabling them to work together more efficiently.

The essence of Teams is that it provides a working environment for each project. When you create a new project, Teams sets up a few components for you:

  • Conversations – a chat facility that keeps a permanent record of conversations and enables you to avoid long chains of email.
  • Files – the project file store in SharePoint for all project files.
  • Wiki – a project knowledge base or a place for quick notes.

You can add in to this environment any component that Teams supports, including non-Microsoft applications such as Adobe Creative Cloud and SurveyMonkey. Adding the tools that you need for each project creates a powerful new way to work while still using applications you are familiar with.

You can use Teams via a PC application or from your browser. Because it is cloud-based, it works very well for people working in different locations. You can also synchronise files to your PC and work offline if you need to.

The downside to a radical change like this is that you will almost certainly have stick-in-the-mud objectors who don’t want to work in a new way. That’s not a problem either, at least not for Teams. If your Finance Director insists on seeing all the finance documents in one place, you can do that too. Because the file store behind the scenes is SharePoint, you can set up a view of Teams data that looks like the familiar files and folders. You can give your traditionalists a traditional way to work.

Enable effective flexible working

Working in the cloud really does enable flexible working. With your data stored in the cloud in OneDrive and SharePoint, your staff can work anywhere that has an Internet connection. For many employers, the main issue around flexible working (apart from lack of trust) is to maintain effective communications with a disparate workforce and how to stop employees feeling isolated. Office 365 offers a good solution to both challenges.

The first is Skype for Business. It starts with Instant Messaging (IM), which can be tremendously effective to pop information or quick questions to each other. If IM isn’t enough, move to an audio or video conversation and share computer screens with the other participant(s).

Example of of Skype for Business

Skype for Business also includes ‘presence’, a red/amber/green notification that someone is at their computer. In the screenshot, above, you can see that Anne Wallace is available and at her computer, while Molly Dempsey has been away for 10 minutes. For the manager who lacks a little trust, this can be a great comfort.

The second tool in Office 365 that helps flexible working is Yammer. Microsoft pitches this as your company’s internal social network. It fosters the broader company-wide communications that help to keep people engaged and feeling part of the team.

See what’s happening and what’s popular

One of the benefits of a centralised system of cloud-based storage is that it makes it practical for the manufacturer to deploy enterprise-grade analytical tools for everyone’s use. One of these tools in Office 365 is called Delve. It highlights the files in your organisation that are being used a lot or have been updated recently. See the example screen shot below.

Delve

This information is also integrated into OneDrive in the Microsoft web interface; you don’t need to fire up a separate application.

Data analytics is a huge field and it is changing very quickly with the advent of ‘big data’. When you want to get deeper into data analytics, take a look at Power BI. This is included in some of the Office 365 Enterprise plans.

Automate

Automation of repetitive tasks can deliver many of those small incremental gains in productivity. For example, if a ten-person team could save just two minutes per day through automation, that would save the equivalent of over two weeks’ work per annum. That’s a significant gain and, probably just as important, it’s a tedious repetitive job taken out of someone’s working life. And repetitive tasks are what computers were created for.

Here are a few examples of simple automation using Microsoft Flow, one of the components of Office 365:

  • Send an email notification to a manager when a key spreadsheet is updated. That saves them the effort of checking for changes or discovering an error, two weeks after it was made.
  • When someone registers for one of your events, take the registration form from the incoming email and put it in the event folder.
  • Notify me when someone adds a file to a Teams folder.
  • Send an alert to my phone when a favourite blog is updated.

Integrate

Another feature of cloud-based IT is the ability to use integration between applications. With large numbers of people using cloud-based data stores or applications, it makes financial sense for manufacturers to integrate their applications.

Here are some examples of integrations available in Office 365:

  • Link the online accounts software, Xero, to your Office 365 so you see relevant customer emails when you open that customer in Xero.
  • Use e-signing of documents via the link between Office 365 and Adobe.
  • Integrate your LinkedIn contacts with your Outlook contacts.

What are the risks of working in the cloud with Office 365?

Security is the risk that is top of many people’s list of worries about working in the cloud. In reality, the risks are not greater, just different. From Microsoft’s perspective, a security breach in their systems would cause immense damage to their reputation, so they invest large sums to ensure the security and integrity of their customers’ data.

Your responsibility as a business owner or manager is to ensure that no security breach happens in the areas you are responsible for. There are plenty of security management tools available to you, and Riverbank can offer advice on an individual basis, but you need to protect three categories of risk:

  • Manage your people
  • Manage your devices
  • Manage your data

For more information see the Riverbank IT Management services.

Also, remember that backup is not a thing of the past just because you don’t keep your data on-site. You might want to consider a backup of your Office 365 to a third-party cloud provider, just in case something goes badly wrong.

If your feeling is still that you don’t trust the security of your data in the cloud, take a look at the reality check box, below.

Reality check for traditional office-based IT:

■      Many single points of failure due to limited budgets: single servers, data stored on single disks or a handful of disks.
■      Single internet connection protected by a single firewall.
■      Single electricity supply with limited or no backup in the event of a power outage.
■      Little or no physical protection of equipment because most companies cannot justify the cost of a locked, air-conditioned server room.
■      All your equipment protected from theft only by a single pane of glass.

Which subscription?

Office 365 subscriptions for business are divided into ‘Business’ and ‘Enterprise. Most Riverbank clients use the Office 365 Business plans, which have a maximum limit of 300 users. If there is a chance that you could exceed this limit, we recommend you take the Enterprise licences now to avoid the risk of disruption if you need to change plan.

For specific information about the best subscription for your organisation, please contact us at Riverbank.

How do I make the transition?

The transition from traditional IT to Office 365 will be specific to your organisation. Here are some steps to guide your thoughts:

  1. Is there a showstopper? Do I do anything that would prevent me moving to the cloud,e.g. contracts dealing with highly sensitive and controlled material, or integration with a specialist application that requires integration with a particular version of an Office application?
  2. What is my biggest business pain point at the moment? Could Office 365 help here?
  3. What change would deliver the biggest long-term benefits to my business?
  4. What are the smaller ‘quick wins’ for us?
  5. When is the best time to make the transition, to minimise disruption?
  6. Which changes will deliver the biggest financial savings?

Conclusions

For most businesses there is a lot to gain from moving to Office 365. That is why millions of people have already adopted it and why Office 365 is one of the most successful Microsoft products ever.

Once you get started with Office 365 you will discover the depth and breadth that it offers, way beyond Word, Excel and Outlook. It has the potential to at least improve the way you work, and it could revolutionise your business. You do need to plan your move carefully and that’s where you may well need professional help to ensure a painless move for all your staff. is here to help, from the start to the end of the process.