Remote working? The good the bad and the ugly

In the olden days you’d dial in with your modem to the office network, log in and (very slowly) be able to download and work with files. However, this was unreliable and so slow to be something only used in desperate situations.

USR_Modem

Once ADSL became normal the use of VPN (Virtual Private Networking) became the preferred method of accessing the office network. However, at the same time the size of the files we were using had also grown considerably and before long VPN became slow and tedious to use as well.

With the advent of Cloud based services, such as Office365 and VoIp, the ability to access your data without needing to use VPN’s or other dial-in systems suddenly opened up the ability to detach yourself from the office without huge levels of complexity.

From a business continuity perspective this is amazing – the need for a Disaster recovery centre was removed and as long as your staff had an internet connection they could work. And better still, the outside world wouldn’t even know!

In any case, since the advent of VPN, more businesses permitted staff to work from home. Some companies, such as MoneyPenny and even the AA used this to have a large proportion of their workforce based permanently from home, giving great flexibility to their staff and create significant reductions on staff costs, as well as environmental benefits from reducing the number of vehicles on the road etc.

This however creates it’s own set’s of issues!

Firstly, the member of staff is no longer visible to the rest of the business in the same manner as an office based staff. This means that you have to have high levels of trust that productivity will be maintained. If the staff is more results or task based then this might not matter.

Next, it can get a bit lonely for home workers – factor in how to keep in touch and maintain motivation. Regular team meetings will help as well as social gatherings to help engage your staff.

There are others factors as well, but the last one I’ll mention here is that staff can also misuse this ability and use “working from home” as a way of getting paid for a day when they don’t feel like coming to the office. You will need to consider how you manage this in terms of your company policies.

Now, there are other options too. If you consider that there will be occasions where it is simply not time efficient to get to the office or other practicalities that prevent getting to the office and working from a Starbucks or Costa coffee doesn’t give you the right environment to work in. With this in mind, a number of businesses are creating places where you can work outside of the office.

If you are a Regus customer, or utilise their BusinessWorld service, you can have access to their meeting rooms and workspaces. However, this can be expensive if your needs are a little variable or infrequent.

NearDesk

My friend Tom Ball recently set up a service called NearDesk which (as Tom himself describes) is much like an Oyster for desk space on a PAYG basis. What’s great about this type of space is that it creates nice hubs to go and work and be amongst and around other people, thus preventing the loneliness you may get if working from home.

So some food for thought when considering having a more flexible work force and working environment. As always, if you want to know more, get in touch and we can help you find the best solution for your business.

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.

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.