Office 365 – Everything you need to know!

A little while I wrote a piece about choosing which edition of Office 2013 to get. Judging on the number of questions I get about Office 365 there seems to be some misunderstanding as to what it actually is.

O365 Logo

Many people see it as just a different way of getting the Office desktop software on their computer and paying monthly rather than buying a copy outright.

It’s not. It’s much more than that.

In a nutshell, Office 365 is Microsoft’s collective brand for their SaaS (Software as a Service) or Cloud portfolio. It comprises of a number of different elements, of which the key ones we will explore here.

Exchange Online

This is Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange service – rather than having your Exchange Server on a server in your office this is where your email is provided as a service. Key benefits are no server, no need to worry about backup and very high uptime or availability.

SharePoint with Office WebApps

SharePoint is an interesting one. In some respects it can be considered as a document management system, but really it fits in to the Intranet/Extranet space and allows you to publish documents, shared content etc to both internal and external parties. Additionally, it also comes with Office Web Apps which is essentially a cut down version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint which will allow you to edit documents within the Browser without having to have the applications installed locally, or needing to download the document before editing (which you still can if you want).

Lync

Lync is an internal communication system a bit like Skype except it’s a bit more private. It will link into your Outlook calendar so other people in your directory can see if you’re in based on your diary (it will also change to away if you’re away from your desk for a while) and there is a mobile app that you can have on your iPhone.

Office Professional Plus

The desktop software is the normal Office 2013 we already know. However this is the subscription version and (if you have it) will link in to your SharePoint site so you can access documents on your SharePoint site.

Additionally you can add things like Dynamics CRM online and other applications such as Project Professional and they will integrate in to your overall Office 365 package.

Do I need it?

It often depends on what you want and how you operate as a business. Personally, if you want a nice wrapped up solution that can provide a significant amount of your business technology in one place then I think it’s ideal. If you like running the very latest version of Office and other applications then it’s also ideal from a software lifecycle perspective and allows your entire organisation to be on the same version.

The big catch is that support from Microsoft directly is very limited and rely on Cloud Partners, such as us, to provide the skills in developing, implementing and supporting businesses using 365 as a platform.

If you’re giving it some thought and ready to start moving services in to the cloud then please get in touch to talk about this or any other Cloud services you might be considering.

What is VoIP? How does it fit in to my business? And will it save me money?

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So we’ve all heard of VoIP right? Do we really know what it is and what it looks like? Is it better? Isn’t Skype VoIP?

Lots of questions!

Let’s start at the beginning.

Way back some traditional office phone system manufacturers recognised that life would be easier if they could attached their phones to the computer CAT5 network. This would mean that the phones wouldn’t need their own dedicated cabling back to the phone switch and moving extensions around would become a whole lot simpler by simply moving cables around in the server room.

Then a few enterprising companies thought…why don’t the phones become part of the data network and use the same technology as the computers to talk back to the phone switch. This was the birth of LAN telephony. In the server room the same traditional phone switch connected to an ISDN2 or ISDN30 as before, but instead now used a data connection for the phones and switch to talk to each other.

The next step was for these same manufacturers (and some new ones by now) to enable the use of the same method to now route branch phone calls over their office internet connection rather than breaking out in to POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). For multi branch business suddenly calling different offices became free! Basic VoIP was here.

A few consumer services popped up, notably Skype (now owned by Microsoft), which took advantage of people’s internet connections at home to allow them to use the internet to call other Skype users around the world for free, or for a low-ish cost, regular landline or mobile numbers. Skype works by using something called Peer-Networking, where the call is routed through a number of Skype users eventually to the recipient. Whilst very secure, this caused some concerns for business users and the potential for calls to be eavesdropped so take up in the commercial space was tiny to be virtually non-existent so ISDN was still very much in use.

Now that branch-to-branch calling within a business was possible with VoIP, the next stage was to move the phone system out of the office and in to the Cloud. Using some clever technology, the office now only needed some intelligent telephones that would “reach out” into the internet and connected to a phone system hosted by a telecoms company. These phone systems could then be partitioned so each customer is isolated from each other but take advantage of the scale a larger system can provide (very much in the same vein as hosted Exchange works). All calls are then connected to POTS via the telecoms companies connection into the BT network. This is known as Hosted or Managed Telephony and uses VoIP as the mechanism to make it all work.

So it is better? Cheaper?

The main reasons for switching to a hosted solution is not really around cost or should be a cost based decision. The key difference is this type of service is delivered via a subscription model (so per user per month) rather than a combination of Cap-Ex, Line Rental, Maintenance etc from a traditional system. So over a lifetime you will probably spend a similar amount of money, but distributed more evenly over (say) a 5 year period.

The key benefit is that you end up with a better solution with much higher levels of features that exist only in a much “bigger” system without having all the optional extra costs such as auto-attendant, voicemail etc. Being a subscription based service you can scale up and down (although admittedly scaling down can be a challenge) depending on need, and as a non location specific service you can have your “work” phone on your desk, on your mobile or at home without needing to muck about with diverting etc. It makes working from home a lot more invisible to your customers! And one of the best bit’s is that you can transfer your existing BT number across (which are tied to the local exchange) which means any future office moves won’t affect your phone number.

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So should you consider it? Here at the Engine Room we switched to VoIP (with Voicenet now 8×8) a few years ago as a low cost entry into a more clever phone system when the size of the team started to grow. Having had a number of office moves since then, not having to deal with BT, new phone numbers etc is a massive saving in time and hassle.

If you’re thinking about moving office, you should definitely think about it, and if you have an obsolete or at capacity traditional system it’s worth exploring. Come talk to us and we can guide you though the best options to suit your business.

 

 

 

How to have the perfect Office Move

office_moveMoving office is something that comes along in most businesses life. Having done a few of them now there are number of key things that can make the whole process run as smoothly as possible.

1. Telecoms

This is just about the most important bit to get right. This comprises of both telephone and internet connectivity. BT Openreach can have a long lead time on some of their services so you need to be ordering your services as soon as you possibly can. Obviously this can be dependent on when the new lease starts, what flexibility your landlord can offer you and other similar factors. Typically a single analogue line with some form of broadband is a 10-15 day lead time. If you need ISDN (for your phone network) this can be as much as 30 working days. If you are on a tight timeline then considering a different form of Telephony (such as VoIP) can help reduce the time needed, as well as upfront costs. Getting the right level of internet connectivity is also important, so it’s well worth checking beforehand what is available before you commit to a new space. Online tools such as SamKnows (http://www.samknows.com/broadband/broadband_availability) can tell you who and what is available at your nearest BT Exchange. Not all locations can have Fibre Internet (although it is coming) so factor that in if that is a requirement for your business. If it turns out only standard ADSL is available where you want to go, and your heart is set on it, then other services such as EFM may be available. We can help you identify what is available so you can make the right choice in terms of both connectivity and telephony solutions.

2. Cabling and infrastructure

Cat6-cableMoving into a new office gives an opportunity to take a “clean sheet” approach to your office layout. With this in mind, factor in enough data and telephone points around the office so that and desk moves or layout changes you have data points nearby. As the cost of provisioning more data points at the outset is significantly cheaper and less disruptive it makes sense to (what may seem) to go overboard and put loads in. It will save grief later. There are two choices on cabling standards in common use now – CAT 5e and CAT 6. As CAT6 is only about 10% more expensive than CAT5e it tends to make sense to go with the newer standard to give a degree of future-proofing.

3. WiFiWIFI

WiFi is not a substitute for data cabling. In our experience it does not provide as robust or as reliable a connection as a physical cabled connection and should be viewed as a “extra” mostly to facilitate guests and mobile devices. In any case, most telephone systems will require a cabled-in connection so it’s hard to avoid the need for cabling. With that all said, it is worth investing in as robust a WiFi solution as you can (rather than the built in WiFi on your internet router) such as mid-range solutions from Rukus which can offer solid 2.4G and 5G WiFi connectivity to a large number of devices.

4. Teamwork

If the new office space is being fitted out prior to occupancy get everyone working together. Power and data cabling can be run at the same time (saving time and money) before partitions are put up, and cables run before the flooring is completed. This will give a neater end result and get’s everyone sharing responsibility to get the job completed on time.

5. Consider moving some or all of your IT in to the cloud

Moving office is a good time to consider how you use IT in your business. Moving some or all of your technology to a cloud based service can make the office move smoother as you become less reliant on on-premise services (such as email) but also gives an opportunity to move to a more robust and hardware independent system. See my other post about Cloud solutions to get a better idea on what’s out there (http://www.theengineroom.co.uk/so-this-cloud-computing-thing-whats-it-all-about/)

6. Time and contingency planning

You have to give yourself enough time to get everything done before D day. Moving office is an expensive exercise as it is, but can be costly if your timelines don’t allow for anything to go wrong. This (often) is Telecoms related with problems getting things provisioned, but can include other factors such as delayed electrics. The cost to your business in moving to a not ready space can easily exceed the cost of paying double rent for a few weeks or temporarily allowing staff to work from home or using short term office space from the likes of Regus (Regus.co.uk).

So if you have an office move on the horizon, come and talk to us. We can help guide you through the things to think about, work closely with the fit out contractors and make the whole process run as smoothly as possible.

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What is my IT costing me? And how much should I be spending?

Today I want to explore how much you should be investing/budgeting on your businesses IT, and what the costs can be when you don’t.pounds-cash-mooney_142217

Typically, based on a 3 year lifetime, the cost of providing IT for a single member of staff is around £2100, or roughly £700 per year. This is the cost of the computer itself, a copy of Microsoft Office and the support associated with the machine, and a fraction of the costs providing infrastructure, such as internet, email and file and print services. These costs don’t factor in training on the basis that most people these days have enough knowledge to use Windows and Office.

Let’s assume that a member of typical London office staff commands an average salary of around £25K annually – the cost of the technology is less that 5% of their annual cost.

Now, for a small business £700 per year for supporting a single member of staff feels expensive. If you have 10 members of staff, you’re looking at £7000 per year. With this in mind, we see a lot of smaller companies scrimping on their IT spend as it is considered an intangible benefit and simply a cost.

In our experience, businesses that fail to invest appropriately generally lose efficiency through poor reliability, performance and a disproportionate amount of support. This means in years 4 and 5, the overall cost of the IT becomes significantly higher – this is mostly in productivity lost though maintenance, slowness and in some cases using outdated or aging software.

Another thing to consider is that by failing to improve and upgrade can lead to a crises situation where a complete system failure can lead to a member of staff being out of action for 1 or more days – the salary cost of this is roughly £100 per day, let alone the cost of lost business. If this turns out to be your server rather than a PC, this will hit £1000 per day salary costs (assuming 10 user business), plus the loss of any potential business (we’ll assume that your existing customers will forgive a day or two of being without your services), and the resultant increased workload which can hinder morale and add further cost if you find yourself having to pay overtime to make up a backlog of work. Added to this, last minute or panic IT purchases tend to be more expensive (typically increasing install cost by 50% and hardware by 25%) and the costs start to add up quite dramatically.

So, save yourself some heartache and grief. Plan and budget and appropriately. Failing to do this can lead to problems later that can cost you greatly. If you need some help with this, please come and talk to us. We can help.

Office 2013 or Office 365 – Which one should I get?

So this year saw the launch of Office 2013 and at the same time, Microsoft went all out with their SaaS (Software as a Service) offering – Office 365.

Office 2013Now on the face of it, both appear to be the same thing – one is a boxed copy of Office that you buy outright (roughly £180) and the other is a copy you pay £10 per month per user for.

O365 LogoSo you think…hey – this monthly thing sounds good. But wait, after 18 months it’ll cost me more than if I’d bought the product outright. So why would I want to subscribe?

They are not the same.

For some unknown reason Microsoft saw fit to change the licensing model of Office with the 2013 editions. Previously there was the ability to install (using the same license) a copy of the software on a laptop as long as it was in use by the same individual. Now the license is for one machine and one user. Microsoft originally even decided that once installed on a computer it was tied to that machine too, but backtracked after enough people complained that they’d need to buy another copy if they ever changed their PC.

The second massive change is the method of licensing the software. Instead of supplying a DVD and a key (for install and subsequent activation), with the boxed software you have to go through this convoluted process of setting up a Microsoft ID, entering the key from the box to register, then go to the download page and get a different key to then use to install the software. This is ok if there is just one of you, but if you have (say) 20 copies and want to be able to manage them, then you’re stuck. If you thought you could set up one Microsoft account to manage all of these licenses you’d be mistaken. There is no way to identify individual copies of the software and you’ll find yourself screaming when you can’t tell which key was used on which computer. Microsoft know this and admit it’s a problem but are not forthcoming with a solution. Arrrggghhhhh!

Not OK

In reality Office 365 is a bit more than just a subscription to Office 2013. We’ll explore that when we look at cloud computing but in this instance we’ll just look at the Office Suite itself.

Office 365 is licensed per user; currently each subscriber can install/use the software on 5 devices. So you can install it on your work desktop, work laptop, work tablet and home PC, as well as access it on your mobile device via Office Web Apps. Now if you are, like a great many, a user of several machines, then this makes financial sense, as ordinarily you’d now need to buy a copy of the software for each machine that you use. That could get quite expensive.

The other great thing about Office 365 is that as long as you continue to subscribe you are able to use the most current versions of the software. Availability of the latest version via 365 is not as rapid as via the retail or licensing channels but then you don’t have to pay extra for the privilege. And in any case, you possibly don’t want to be installing the latest version until a few months have passed or when you’re in a position to upgrade all your machines at the same time.

Lastly it is an easy way to standardize the software in your business and fix your software spend on a monthly basis. It also removes software from the PC upgrade cycle cost.

There is one big BUT of course. To use the software you have to continue to pay. If you decide at some point you don’t want to continue with it the software on your computers will stop working and you’ll need to either go out and buy the software, re-subscribe or license via other means.

It won’t surprise me that in the next edition or two, this will be the only way to use the Office suite of applications – the world is moving towards more subscription based models – the mobile phone companies have been doing this for years quite successfully and is now a proven model and indeed tends to tie in customers for the longer term.