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21apps is a Microsoft BizSpark Partner and a SharePoint business value, solutions and platform consultancy from the United Kingdom. In this guest blog, Ant Clay, Chief Strategy Officer of 21apps, shares his excitement around the launch of Office 365, specifically on how SharePoint Online and Office 365 should be at the heart of your company's business value agenda.
"Microsoft Office 365 will be the Poster-Child platform for a new world of Hybrid Organisations."
So what is this Hybrid Organisation that I speak of and why does Microsoft Office 365 have such great synergies with it?
Like an ever increasing mix of start-ups, 21apps doesn't own any physical server infrastructure; actually we don't have a physical office either! Yet our success as a business, like many others, is built upon being fully engaged across our internal employees and externally with our clients, partners and alliances across the globe. We collaborate, undertake business development, market ourselves, manage our business affairs, communicate with our partners and delight our customers without the overhead of traditional physical constraints and financial investments.
We're using a pragmatic investment in technology that delivers 21apps and our client's business value and organisational efficiencies. We have made a significant shift in our mindset in order to compete in this world of increasing competition and economic pressures, and feel we are very much a Hybrid Organisation, as described in detail by Microsoft. Go on, have a read and then come back here and read on!
Based on this thinking, we are working closely with our clients in adapting their business models, technology investments and cultural shifts to accommodate the future. This future, for us, is based upon the poster-child platform, Microsoft Office 365.
Up until now, working effectively (Hybrid Organisation) by unleashing your employees from the constraints and costs of a physical office day after day took considerable cultural change, financial investment, infrastructure, time and for the most part required a heap of disjointed technologies. But with Microsoft's investment in the cloud and the release of Microsoft Office 365, the vision seems poised to be delivered, setting free organisational and physical constraints both inside and outside the enterprise, enabling business advantage for those willing to make the move, for a very palatable financial investment.
So what has changed, where did the shift come from? We are in agreement with the "wisdom of the crowds" that work has switched from a physical place (the office) to an activity we personally are responsible for.
Work is no longer somewhere we go to Monday through to Friday!
There are a plethora of reasons for this cultural change, just a few key contributing factors that we think have truly enabled us to be standing here today on the brink of an office work revolution:
With this emerging desire to deliver more value for less, adopt changing business models and embracing fundamental changes in our outlook of the working environment, Microsoft Office 365 rocks-up fully enabling the rich, integrated information worker functionality of Microsoft Office, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync through its cloud-based infrastructure and subscription models, and man are were ready to embrace this stuff!
The Office 365 Value Proposition
Microsoft Office 365 is surely a game changer! Let's first dissect the fundamentals a little bit:
I don't see any competitive offerings that provide such a compelling level of choice from a deployment, functional and investment perspective. We are definitely all in!
How are we using it and what business value is it delivering? We're on the beta program and not all functionality and integration has been rolled out just yet. But our experience to date tells us that what we have in Office 365 gives us the tools we need at a price we can afford. With what's coming down the line early next year Office 365 will simply be awesome for us.
Reduce your Bottom Line
Most organisations have Microsoft Office client licenses, actually most organisations probably have too many! One of the greatest innovations that Microsoft has brought out with Office 365 is the ability to have a subscription license for their desktop products. For a small consulting organisation like ourselves, with a fluid workforce, the potential for us to scale our licensing for growth or long term projects is fantastic , for larger organisations the ability to license employees with the relevant level of technology i.e. full package or kiosk worker will make a real tangible difference to the financial bottom-line.
Focus on your business, not your infrastructure:
We've been using versions of hosted Exchange as the email solution of choice for 21apps since we were founded, why would we waste money on servers and all that hassle to manage it, when we've got work to do?
Having presence information baked into the email client via Lync and the ability to move from email message to IM conversation to On-line Meeting will be fantastic for collaborating, engaging and consulting with all our clients, stakeholders and associates. The new administration interface makes it a great deal easier for us to loosely manage Exchange and easy create the distribution groups which we use for sales activities and support email aliases.
The full features of Office 365 Exchange exceed the needs of our small organisation, but are perfect for most Enterprises, although we will definitely be looking to exploit the unified messaging features when they integrate with our mobile provider.
Don't go to work, do your work:
Across all the products within Office 365, access anywhere really drives end-user productivity. Microsoft SharePoint Online is most definitely our sweet spot, both for internal use and for delivering business value to our clients. Office 365's predecessor, BPOS-S, provided basic SharePoint capabilities, but wasn't quite on par with the on-premise version.
With Office 365 and the new version of SharePoint Online the game has changed significantly. Full MySite capabilities, Enterprise Search, the rich Managed Meta Data across site collections within a tenancy and more means that along with Sandboxed Solutions, this will enable us to both manage our important knowledge and processes effectively within the platform, but also give us significant functional capability to enable us to develop rich applications to support our consulting engagements.
A fantastic new feature that we are really excited about is the ability to easily create a site collection level extranet environment! This ability to quickly reach out to our clients and associates to share and collaborate with them in an ad-hoc manner will be of significant value to us, and is a key tenet of the Hybrid Organisation.
Engage with your business world, not just your head office world:
For us, instant messaging has always been via a mix of tools from MSN, Skype and the internal implementation of OCS (part of BPOS). For most organisations supporting that level of tools and managing the appropriate interactions between employees, clients, associates and personal connections is not tenable.
The introduction of instant messaging federation capabilities of Microsoft Lync Online means that all of these communication channels can be consolidated into a single application enabling seamless presence information and communication channels with ourselves, our partners, people we work with and also a range of other instant messaging clients. Add to this the great Live Meeting capabilities being integrated to Lync Online, which will allow us to collaborate and deliver work in a joined up way across the globe.
It's clear that the functionality and integration offered across Office, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Exchange Online within the Microsoft Office 365 platform can fundamentally change the way you work within your organisation and the way that you do business with your clients.
With the economic challenges we all face, global competition, increases in regulation and governance, gaining a business advantage, delivering value and differentiation over your competitors is becoming an ever increasing challenge for us all. Making this shift in working practices towards a Hybrid Organisational model, approaching work as an activity and not a place and the adoption of integrated cloud based productivity tools, such as those within Microsoft Office 365, is the only way forward for organisations to be successful.
If you'd like to learn more about the value 21apps can provide to your organisation, visit our site (www.21apps.com), read our blog (www.21apps.com/blog) or follow us on Twitter @21apps.
Chief Strategy Officer @21apps
Other Great Resources for SharePoint Online
This is a great summary of the benefits of Office 365 for your company, and how Office 365 could benefit others. What is the flip side? If you were buying traditional licenses for these applications, what would be the pros and the cons?
It all sounds great-however 99% of small businesses don't operate in the way being described and the availability of technology won't change their practices. Rather than continuing to hype up 365 with more of the "collaboration" and "cloud" mumbo jumbo, what MS really needs to do if they want 365 to be successful, is show practical examples of how it will benefit a plumber in Akron Ohio. Otherwise it will become a nice toy for businesses like 21apps but be of little use to the vast majority of small businesses out there.
@mch I agree that technology changes won't on their own change how a business operates. However, a plumber in Akron isn't necessarily the target market. There are many small-medium businesses that are largely office based and offer services that are mostly knowledge work, such as design, legal, marketing, programming and yes, consultancy like 21apps and myself. For them, having an affordable, scalable way to collaborate both internally and with customers can make a big difference.
Moreover, if the predictions of the 'hybrid organisation' are right, then having tools to make it easier to outsource services to small providers will in turn increase the small provider market. One fo the thing sholding it back right now is that large organisations find it hard to make their firewall permeable to external collaborators, so they still rely on contractors being physically on their premises. This mounts up costs for expenses, accommodation and time wasted travelling, as well as limiting the potential recruitment geography.
I'm not sure yet if Office365 is it, but it certainly looks like a step in the right direction.
You know the tools are a lot shinier with a lot more bells and whistles, but the paradigm reminds me of the mainframe/vt100 days.
@mch: I think Sam hit many of the best points on the head. But to illustrate the versatility of Office 365, I think the plumber *could* get some benefit. For instance, he could use our services to easily create a public website to illustrate and market his site. Additionally, he can get access to professional email with a domain, so he can start to use the web and email to source leads. Again, the single, non-collaborative blue-collar worker is not exaclty our target audience though. With organizations where workers spend the majority of time in Office, the internet and translating their knowledge and information in their head into end deliverables, the real necessary need is time and personal effeciency. The anywhere access to information, coworkers and resources to get work done makes a worker more productive.
Personally for my job, it almost makes no difference where I am located. With Lync I'm always in instant contact with anyone, and not just through IM, but voice and video, and more importantly, I can lead a meeting without being physically present. It used to be you had to work face to face to get work accomplished, but you don't need to anymore. I think that is what Ant is saying.
This doesn't even begin to hit on the other core tenant of the cloud, and the is the effect on the IT infrastructure of a company. I think Ant explained it well, but this is a serious issue for many organizations these days, either increasing the access to powerful tools to get competitive or increase the bottom line by reducing costs.
@Heidi: This is a great question. I think the main thing to point out is the from an end user/feature perspective, our best cloud offering and our best on-premise offering are equivalent for a typical company. So when approaching this question, you need to first think about where a company is today...Do they have recent software? Are they running new or old hardware? The main PROs for an on-premise solution are threfold: privacy, legality and control. Many organizations have rules (such as legal firms, accountants, etc) about where and how their information is held. Some people also don't like the idea of not having complete control over their data, and additionally, when to upgrade. Putting your own staff in charge will allow you to do this. But, diving deeper from what Ant writes about is the company that is just out of date or doesn't have access to the latest tools. They are putting themselves at a disadvantage comparatively to their competitors, or conversly, could create a competitive advantage by being faster and more efficient. To get these tools if you are a Small Business company, the cloud may prove to be a much less costly option.
Hope this helps!
@Allen_MSFT: If I was a gambling man I would wager that mch is currently an Office Live Small Business customer. If so then the advantages that you outlined are not advantages, they are what is currently offered for free (except for the custom domain). This equates to a rather significant increase in cost especially if their "small business" has more than one user. If you check out the replies to Annie Akin's blog at the OLSB community forum you will see that the majority of those who commented are not happy with this conversion. Granted, it has been stated that these organizations are not your target demographic, but they are already your customers. In addition, I would also wager that the majority of OLSB users have no idea that this is coming. O365 will be a great product for those who can make use of the services provided, but lots of it will be useless to a great many. The Office Live community has been a great resource for customers to find answers to their problems, but this can greatly be attributed to the efforts of a few happy users who have gone out of their way to create websites based on questions that are asked there. The same happy users who continue to go out of their way to contribute in the forum assisting your customers because they are so satisfied with the product. I doubt that many of them will pay a monthly fee to you just to be able to continue to help your customers. To allow these websites to die will be killing off great resources that your customers (now and presumably in the future) make regular use of in the development of their websites. It would be really good if there was another alternative to the full O365 suite. It is well known that as a company grows, so do their needs. If BPOS were better known, then there would probably be a lot more customers that would have come from OL. I never knew it existed until I started researching O365, and I could not tell you how many people had questions about functionality that would have been answered by BPOS, but no one knew to tell them that so they either went with another service provider or used a clunky band-aid solution. If an already existing customer has needs that outgrow the free (or low priced) solution, then the jacked up price is far more acceptable, but if you drive your current customers away, then they will be paying someone else when their needs increase in the future.
Some great comments to the post, thank you all!
It's interesting that the majority of the commentary is around those organisations that are on the smaller side of the SME market. I agree that this may not be the sweet spot for Office 365, but it certainly has a great to offer. We are in a challenging economy at the moment globally and we must all, whatever line of business we are in be it a plumber in Akron Ohio, a consultant in the UK or an Australian corporation, strive to deliver value to our customers, become more competitive and cut costs appropriately.
So Office 365 may be overkill for some companies/people now, but as business models and business practices change to adopt to these new challenges so to must our approach to consuming technology and this is where Office 365 becomes a competitive advantage... The ability to at a basic level deliver key business functions by Office 365 subscription (email, document storage etc) without having to worry about the IT has to be a great move? As your business grows you are no longer confined to hiring people in your town, you can hire the right talent wherever they are geographically and "do work", this may be collaborating on documents, audio and video conferencing or storing company and client data centrally.
I don't see at the moment any of Microsoft's competitors having a compelling offering that enables you to forget about the technology and focus on doing business efficiently whatever size you are now or aspire to be in the future. The granularity of the many clear offerings, all on a subscription basis, means that businesses shouldn't need to purchase software and functions that they don't currently need, surely that is a compelling reason in itself to consider a move to Office 365?
@ Ant Clay: "I don't see at the moment any of Microsoft's competitors having a compelling offering that enables you to forget about the technology and focus on doing business efficiently...". Why is it that all Microsoft representatives ignore Google. They offer Google sites for free, Blogger for free, Domain hosting for free, Web apps that have been operating in the cloud for 3 years for free. The web apps are capable of working in formats including and other than Office applications, allowing their users to have a diverse variance of collaboration. If the need arises, they do have the upgraded services @ $50 per year that allows for 50 users. 50 users in O365 will cost $3600 per year. That is a significant difference that can't be ignored. A friend of mine said it best, that Microsoft produces great technology, but their ability to make that technology user friendly and therefore accessible to all is greatly lacking. Not to mention that lots of Office Live customers have witnessed the crumbling infrastructure of OL as well as the disappearance of many useful features that were guaranteed in the beginning. Back then we were promised lots of services that were "free forever". Evidently forever is far shorter in the eyes of Microsoft than it is to the rest of the world. There is little that guarantees me that the services promised by O365 will continue to be there when their maintenance becomes difficult. In accordance with the history of Microsoft's offerings (phone support, store manager, secure customer log in, workspaces, live spaces, etc.) I would assume that there is a good possibility that the services will be dropped rather than fixed. Granted, as a business model, O365 should make more money for Microsoft than both OL and BPOS, but if that success comes at the price of customer satisfaction, then it will be hard to accumulate continued/repeat business and referrals.
First myth is that Google Apps cost $50 per user per year. If you think so, then you must not know the true cost of their consumer grade service and why those who try it eventually run over to Microsoft's offerings. Here you will find that those features that MS bundles with the service such as Single-Sign-On, Identity management, mobile connectivity per device, etc are third-party tools with Google Apps and not part of the $50/year they usually deceive people with. You have to pay for those features separately; www.google.com/imgres
@Willie B. - If you look clearly at the detailed Google Apps services, GAPE is the only thing you get for $50/user/year, everything else is a third-party and separate cost that can ultimately add up to $191/user/year and for 50 users (as you indicated) that is $9600.00/yr; www.google.com/imgres
...I mean why would a business want or need to pay $30/device to sync calendar or $36/user/year for SSO or $5/user/year for "Identity Management"? These are features we've taken for granted with Microsoft's products especially now with Federation between AD and the cloud as well as LiveID and Office365 ID. Reality check, anyone?
@techieg: I was not trying to imply that Google apps is superior when considering the total package of O365, just that it is free for the entry level and the cost is customizable to the businesses needs. Those with greater needs would probably benefit from O365. My entire point is that it is acceptable for a company to undersell and over deliver, but not to oversell and under deliver. Office Live has lots of customers who found the service looking for free website hosting. Most web developers avoid using OL because it is very restrictive with domain management, ownership transfer, 3rd party design options, coding issues, server failures, etc. It has however, found a very comfortable home with the do it yourself type of business owner. It seems to me that in the interest of placating their current customers as well as continuing to attract future customers that it would be profitable to offer an entry level service. Even if it is only offered if domain renewal goes through Microsoft and the cost for domain renewal goes up a little to help cover the additional costs of the entry level service. O365 is obviously the next level of BPOS and as it is currently laid out, OL has been incorporated because Microsoft is no longer interested in small businesses even though they are once again failing to live up to their promises.
I disagree that Microsoft is no longer interested in small business, I'm not a "Microsoft Representative" and my thoughts and views are entirely based around being a small (sub 5 people) consultancy that is focussed on helping our clients deliver business value and working as a Hybrid Organisation.
The entry level offerings from Office 365 are perfectly suited to small businesses wanting to utilise professional cloud-based tools. The significant advantage that Microsoft has over platforms such as Google, is that core functionality such as Lync (presence, audio and video conferencing) is integrated across the platform i.e. through Exchange, SharePoint and the Lync client software. Coupled with this, Google's offline-story is pretty weak, whereas Microsoft has a compelling offering of utilising the desktop Office on subscription, or utilising the Office Web Application Companions for basic (similar to Google level of functionality) Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.
Being able to utilise one subscription-based offering via a single vendor that seamlessly integrates your key business tools and allows you to work and scale as your need to in your unique business scenarios, I feel is reason enough to support Office 365.
@Willie B. - I really do not think a business that is not willing to invest $10/month for web presence to essentially have a domain name, website hosting, and content is ready to be a business and is sincerely not worth pursuing. If I was MS, I will not bother catering to them either, if they need free web hosting there are tons of places to get that outside of Office Live but when they are ready to operate a business they can come to Office365 A1 PLAN to start off. Free is not what it is hyped to be, you can get free elsewhere but in consumer grade solutions, just ask those companies that have tried Google Apps and came running to BPOS.
Great stuff! I am a very small time Access Developer and was interested in offering Hybrid solution with my product building in web forms and reports with Office 2010. My customers are very small studios, small budgets, with one to three users but many also have the need to access the data from multi machines/locations and the web. The bigger benefits and marketing perks aside I see the basic account will offer Sharepoint and they do mention DB integration - is this correct and what are the parameters on the most basic account - small businesses? Would I be able to run Access 2010 web forms in that environment? I am asking here as there does not seem to be any other specific chatter online dedicated to 365 -;0)