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Make the most of Office 365

Rolling out Microsoft Office 365 to your business is only the beginning.

Until you use Office 365, you might not understand what it can do. Some see it as an online version of Microsoft Office, others as the Microsoft Office suite that you subscribe to rather than buy, but it's actually so much more. Make the most of it, and it becomes the core platform for all your business IT needs, covering productivity, email, communications, cloud-based storage and online collaboration.

Office 365 can also transform the way you handle IT, taking away much of the expense and burden of providing servers and infrastructure by moving it to the cloud. In doing so, it also enables more flexible ways of working. More than just the online Office suite, Office 365 is a total game changer.

Office 365 Explained

As far as small businesses are concerned, Office 365 comes down to three products. The Business Essentials package gives you streamlined, online-only versions of the core Office apps, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint, plus Microsoft OneDrive with 1TB of cloud-based storage per user. On top of this it adds a cloud-based version of Microsoft Exchange, with email, calendar and contacts plus a 50GB inbox, with the ability to use your own Internet domain name. On top of all that it throws in Skype for Business instant text messaging, voice calls and video conferencing, Yammer business social networking and a SharePoint Intranet site for your team. Finally, Office Graph gives you customisable, personalised search across all this content, making it easier for teams to find the business content they need quickly, whatever that might be.

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The Office 365 Business Package drops Exchange Online, Skype for Business, SharePoint and Yammer, but includes the full desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, OneNote and Outlook on up to five PCs or Macs. It also covers the mobile versions of the Office apps, which can be installed on up to five tablets and five smartphones. As that's per user, it means you can have Office running across every PC, tablet and phone in the business. What's more, it's a rolling subscription, so when new versions of Office come out, you'll automatically upgrade to them straight away without any additional costs and you can quit anytime by simply cancelling your subscription for the next month.

Finally, the Office 365 Business Premium package gives you everything from both of the other packages; the full desktop Office experience plus the full suite of online services. It's basically a one-stop business IT solution in a box or at least in the cloud.

Transforming Business

They key thing isn't so much what Office 365 includes, but what it can do for you. For a start, it can help you cut costs. Go for the Business Essentials or Business Premium options and you don't need to replace or upgrade your email server, invest in more storage or buy more licences for new employees. You pay one subscription per user with more mailbox and cloud-based storage space than they're likely to ever need. You also lose the burden of managing all this stuff. Microsoft handles all the configuration, backup and updating of the hardware and software, while you can tackle administration tasks like adding and managing users through a simple web-based interface. For anything you can't handle, there's support on-hand from Microsoft or from third-party Office 365 providers like O2 Business. With a single point of contact, it's a lot easier than dealing with individual email, storage and software providers.

Office 365 also powers more flexible ways of working. You can have access to the same apps, services, emails and documents across the whole range of devices, including Windows and Mac OS PCs plus Windows, iOS and Android tablets and smartphones. You don't have to be at your desk to get the information you need or stay productive. Pull out your phone and you can still get the latest figures, change the bullet points on your presentation or share an important file. Whether you're at work, at home or on the move, you can get things done.

Security is another key advantage. Your data is stored on Microsoft's European servers, where it should be safe from government snooping, while its encrypted and password-protected, with two-factor authentication for more control. If someone wants to sign in, you can have further authentication via smartphone or email before the gates unlock. You can track who has viewed and edited what, and everything is backed up, with different versions of a file stored so that a catastrophic mistake can be fixed in minutes. Even were your business premises ruined by flood, fire or theft, you could keep working with Office 365 as long as you had a laptop, phone or tablet to hand.

Keeping up to date with the latest applications and features is a definite plus point; there's no need to justify an upgrade when it's part of the package. Best of all, though, Office 365 is a real enabler for collaboration, keeping teams working together even when they can't be in the same space. You can work in real-time with a colleague on a document in Word, Excel or PowerPoint while chatting about it through Skype or Yammer. You can share files with colleagues in an instant using OneDrive, or open up a meeting to discuss your work in Skype for Business. Find out who's available, schedule it in Outlook, and you're away. Now add SharePoint Intranet sites for document-storage, sharing and project management, and you have all the tools you need to collaborate on complex projects. All these features scale up easily if you add more staff, or up and down if you're bringing in temporary workers. It's a leaner, more efficient way to work.

If you're just starting a small business, using Office 365 is usually a faster, more cost-effective way to set up shop than purchasing and configuring your own IT infrastructure. And if you're an established company, it can help you trim overheads and become more agile. Either way, making the switch is good for business.

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