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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
@Ant Clay: I noticed after I posted last time that your title did not have MSFT beside it so I am sorry to classify your position incorrectly, but the usefulness to a small business would have to take into consideration what type of business that it is. I have seen thousands of Office Live sites and it would really surprise me if the small restaurants, tree removal services, landscapers, carpenters, or many of the other current users of OL will be able to use the functionality of O365.
@techieg: There are hundreds of thousands of businesses currently using OL who would disagree with you. I doubt that $6 per month (which is the cost of 365 for small business) will break the bank of any business. That is not the point. The point is that Microsoft has had the service for about 4 years, and during those 4 years the service has diminished tremendously, but it still meets the needs of it's users. Forget about Google apps. I am talking about Microsoft's customers. Moving to another service provider is a far less than ideal solution. Microsoft's current system of managing domains is a joke. There is no provision for being able to transfer domain based e-mail to another service provider, and once the domain is canceled, all of the e-mail accounts are deleted and can not be recreated for 270 days. This is guaranteed to seriously hamper any businesses ability to communicate with their current customers. Everything that is created in OL is stored in a proprietary .olp format which is completely useless except in OL. Nothing that has been created there will transfer to anywhere else. Not to mention that the majority of OL customers have no idea that this is coming. The only attempt that Microsoft has made to notify their current customers is a blog post in a poorly organized forum that most users only visit when they are having problems with the service, and they are still recruiting more customers into OL with the promise of free hosting (crack dealing 101). It's like being forced to buy a huge 4x4 SUV even though you live in Miami and you never see dirt roads or snow and the economical car you currently drive is just fine. Except your current car is a kit car and the kit was given to you. Even though you have spent years of time and money building it and customizing it, if you don't trade then your car will be taken from you and you will be forced to buy a new one. When I first signed up for the service, their guarantee to me was "free forever". That's their words not mine. Don't promise what you can't deliver. So if I don't convert to 365 it will be based on principle, not bankruptcy.
@Willie B. - Okay, then this is a a very different issue, amazing how details ccan help one understand issues. I personally think this is a big problem for current Office Live users. If this is the case, they really need to start looking for how to band together in a union-type movement to get their email and data in formats that are moveable elsewhere in as little time as they want, not 270 days. None of all that makes sense, not even commercial hosts do such a thing, which I feel is clearly designed to hamper moving elsewhere once moved into Office Live.
@Willie B.- On the other hand, I'm sure Office Live users are aware of this when they accepted/agreed to the EULA to use the service except if they did not read all that. Anyway, if what you said is what it is, it is clearly designed to be painful to move elsewhere but in this case Office Live is the one shutting down so I believe they should try to help users move elsewhere with open file formats and a very short move time that is not 270 days.
Just to clarify the 270 day issue with email. That is only within the MSFT system. If the domain is moved elsewhere, to a more 'traditional' hosting environment, the email addresses can be recreated immediately.
And it is pretty much a given that the OLSB public websites will be required to be recreated in O-365 instead of being transfered since O-365 is eliminating some of the more commonly used features.
@John e Adams:
Yes, Access Services will be available to the Small Business SKU! Read Q4 on one of our FAQ posts, which includes a video as well. community.office365.com/.../more-office-365-answers.aspx
@Willie: Thank you for your comments. I have seen you here multiple times championing the OLSB case, and I really do appreciate your feedback. I know you didn't ask specific quesitons, but I wanted to note a few things. I wasn't here for the OLSB launch or ever on the team so I can't speak to their statemtns about free forever, but I can comment on some recent points:
1) We don't want to "drop" our OLSB customers by any means. Based on feedback from those same customers and other small businesses, we’ve found that there is a need for a more complete set of professional-grade tools and further, our customers are willing to make that choice to go to paid based on the added benefits and features.
2) OLSB will still continue to run for at least a year after launch at least, and on top of that, we will give customers three months of Office 365 free after we transition them. We don't want to have them be suprised, and we will be emailing each customer and working with them to understand their options and the transition.
3) We still will continue to offer free options with our Windows Live offer, which still provides email, Skydrive storage, Web Apps, Messenger and more.
4) Transition will happen on our end, with the exception of the website, since it is built on different technology.
5) We will stop signups for OLSB soon, companies will still be able to use as I specified above.
I'd like to talk to you personally if I can. My email is Office365@microsoft.com.
I apologize if my questions are outside the scope of Mr. Clay's 21Apps article (thanks, by the way), but I've found it sometimes difficult to identify answers to more in-depth questions. I'm not quite sure why the comparable $16/user Enterprise plan is $10 more than the $6/user Small Business plan, but with around 30 users, the $10/mo x 30 x 12 adds up to $3600/year difference. I'd be ready to sign on the Small Business version line if I could be assured that I'd have some pathway to use some of the excellent advanced features that I've seen in Sharepoint 2010 videos/demos/etc. Specifically, the ability to use Excel lists for dashboards, project 'sites' with integrated Gantt charts, forms (HR!), etc.
I don't think any of these are available in the "Sharepoint Plan 1" offered with the Small Biz option. Any way to 'upgrade' or 'add-on' advanced SharePoint features in the Small Business version of Office 365.
MS WebApps is comparable in abilities to Google Apps, and Gmail/calendar are strong offerings. It's Sharepoint that offers features that Google Sites can't touch. But without access to advanced Sharepoint at the comparable $6/user level, it becomes a harder value proposition to swallow the extra $4k per year if the only way to get advanced Sharepoint is at the $16/user Enterprise level...and even at that price point, the pricing doc shows this as "Plan 1" too. Only at $24/mo is Plan 2 an option in the Enterprise plan.
Thank you for your help...with the right tweaks/options, I think Office 365 could really enable companies to work smarter!
Thanks for the question Ryan. There is this content publicly available for all to see, just need to know where to find it. Check out the SharePoint Service Description here. www.microsoft.com/.../details.aspx. Page 13 has a feature comparison chart that answers what you get with every level of service. That should answer what you are paying for. To your point, no, you cannot add SharePoint features to the Small Business option.
That being said, I'd like to toss in my two cents. I know $$ is always a concern in the small business world, but I like to think about the other benefits you'll start to get when you go up in levels, especially to E3 ($24). First I'd encourage you to check out Lync. Not all IM offerings are the same, and Google can't compete here, especially in the collaboration, online meeting and presentation areas. SP Plan 2 also includes a full desktop version of Office 2010, Unified Messaging Capabilities (voicemail integration in your inbox) as well as all the full features and business features you want from SharePoint Online. I'd be interested to hear what you think of that offer. Compared to the small business offer, that would be an additional 6480 a year for your company.
I'd love to hear your feedback on what you currently offer your employees, how much you pay and how valuable you consider the Office 2010 offer to be.
The Service Descriptions were/are very helpful in answering some of the more granular questions regarding each offering. I'm attending a Office 365 event in S.F. being hosted by a MS partner (softchoice), but often times these events are more overviews and short on specific questions (particularly for products not yet released!). That said, I have a couple follow-up questions that others may be wondering as well:
1) If I have a mix of E2 and E3 users, I'm unsure how some of the E3 features will work. For example, E3 user on Sharepoint creates custom workflow for new employee onboarding. But I need E2 users (HR assistant, etc.) to be able to take part in some of the assigned tasks and see overall workflow status. Same goes for Excel services used to create dashboards and the like: can E2 users see these dashboard elements or do they not have "access" to anything E3-related? I think you can see the quandary if E2 can't view E3-type features...it would essentially require all users to be on the same plan.
2) "Full support" of xlsx files in Web Apps - Not sure if the final WebApps implementation is going to improve on the current OfficeLive setup, but it seems like a lot of files (that I've ensured were converted to Office 2010) can't open or don't work properly. A concern if I'm planning on having 50% users using WebApps. I understand that these basic WebApp users won't be able to CREATE complicated things, but I'd expect WebApps to gracefully handle things like:
* Cannot edit files with comments (only save-as a copy)
* Data Validation Cells (won't open sheets with validation!)
* Protected Sheets (won't open)
The WebApps Beta Service Descriptor (p13) indicates "Full support" for .xlsx in both view and edit so it does APPEAR that the Office365 implementation is more robust and complete. If there is a better forum to ask this question, I'm certainly open to posting again.
Thanks for the one-to-one presales support, Allen - more than likely there are others with similar questions (or at least now are curious about what I've asked). While these questions may seem detailed, from a practical standpoint, they can be a make-or-break situation in real-life.
1) We do try to limit that situation as much as possibly. The E2 and E3 mix is not one that has a lot of differences, really the only ones being Access Services, Forms Services, Excel Services and Visio Services. I'm going to have to go make sure I have my answer right before I fully answer this question. Typically we handle this by allowing the lower user to view/interact but not make edits or create new content. I'll get back to you here.
2) The full list of excel compatible features is here office.microsoft.com/.../differences-between-using-a-workbook-in-excel-and-excel-services-HA010021716.aspx. There are a few that will prevent a workbook from being opened, which could be a problem in your scenario. The Web Apps are meant for viewing, lightweight editing and mobile access, not necessarily for users to completely supplant the traditional Office software. While we are continually improving on that experience, it is really the best an only solution right now. Try uploading a xlsx doc with those features to Google Doc and see what happens :). But is your users are in need of Protected Sheets, Data Validation and other advanced features, the Web Apps are not the right choice for these users.
Hope this helps clarify a bit,
@Ryan: I just want to further clarify the 1st point above. If someone is building the experience on a page and they go in to edit, configure and/or customize by using one of the enterprise services, then they would need to have the E3 SKU or higher license. However, if other people come to the page in a read-only/consumer fashion, they do not have to have E3 to view the page within the rights of their k1-2, E1-2 license.
A few examples:
• E3 user can create an Access database in Access 2010, publish is via Access Services to SharePoint Online to create a new page populated with now converted Access forms, tables, logic, etc.. And E2 user (or lower) could not perform this activity, but could go to the now-published page in SPO and consume the Access-based business application.
• E3 user can edit a page and pull an embedded graph from a worksheet stored in a document library and have it represented as a dynamic JPEG, this done by using a REST-based URL call via Excel Services. An E2 user or below could not perform this activity, but could go to the page in view mode and see the graphic, which is really just that.
• E3 user can build a workflow diagram outline in Visio (the business logic), import it into SharePoint Designer 2010 (layering in technical logic), and then publish this as a workflow associated to a list/doc library with an associated visual component that shows where in a workflow each running workflow is. And E2 user or lower cannot perform these activities, yet could go to the list/library, initiate a workflow, view the progress of the running workflow in a dynamic Visio diagram, etc…
That being said, I think it is important to not think about E3 users as just people who you want to have with the more advanced users, but actually a level that provides all users great benefit. Especially as you get Office Pro Plus with E3, where many of the Office 365 services light up including rich presence, contact cards and co-authoring.
currently sharepoint is not accessible via windows phone 7 without changing the sharepoint site to support afb authentication, because windows phone 7 does not support NTLM authentication.
for a business person which uses shared hosting, the hosting provider is not willing make the necessary changes to the sharepoint site.
in summary, a sole propietor business without a significant number of employees using sharepoint cannot acccess sharepoint on windows phone 7.
i hope this will be solved in office 365, so that one will be able to access sharepoint from WP7 simply and quickly.
@peterpulonary: Good News! It is! All you have to do now is go to the Office Hub and enter your SharePoint URL for access. Type in your password once and Voila! Access to all your documents.
I stayed out of this because Willie was doing such a great job, but did want to add a few comments and correct what I feel from personal experience are a few erroneous assumptions about the 365 target market.
I've developed quite a few OLSB sites for a variety of different businesses encompassing not just the plumber in Akron (!), but also what was classified here as the O365 target "office" based small businesses-lawyers, doctors, consultants and so on. In my experience, to say these types of businesses are the ones that would benefit from O365's "cloud" potential is naive at best, perhaps even laughable. Certainly it's a complete misunderstanding of the level of technological sophistication these types of businesses have attained. A web consultancy or high tech business may see the value of collaborating in the cloud, but the average small time investment advisory firm that I've dealt with, doesn't even know what that means.
When I pitch 365 to them, and try to explain it's more of a total business solution than just a web site offering, the basic reaction is: "It's only $72 a year, but what the heck do I need all that for?"
They want a decent looking web site, domain based email and maybe a few Sharepoint apps to juice up the site and collect data, but that's about it. Now I have to sell them on paying more for something WITH LESS FEATURES THEY WANT AND A HOST OF ADDITIONAL FEATURES THEY DON'T PERCEIVE A NEED FOR????
And as for the comment about the value of 365 is reducing IT expense, the real small businesses don't perceive they even have any IT expense.
From a purely business point of view, I still don't get why MS would focus more attention on the potential business vs the already captive market. If it was my business, I'd take care of the already committed hundreds of thousands of OLSB users FIRST, and deal with the ones who may or may not want cloud services later. .
I'm really trying to like 365. But my only real shot at selling it is if it at least offers the same capabilities that are meaningful to small businesses as OLSB did. Sorry but currenty that's not the case, and it's a really tough sell.
One more thing:
"Transition will happen on our end, with the exception of the website, since it is built on different technology. "
The public web site looks to me like it's built on the same technology as OLSB. I've been able to copy and paste modules directly from an OLSB site so I suspect automatic transition could be enabled if the will was there.
And one more thing:
The "hybrid" organization? To the vast majority of small businesses, "hybrid" is a fuel efficient car. If you want 365 to be successful, stop talking to BPOS customers, and listen to what real small businesses have to say!!