Personal Small Business Enterprise

Making the Switch to Office 365: Six Things to Consider

Microsoft’s Office 365 is the latest version of the most venerable suite of productivity tools. And it seems to be winning over users with Microsoft reporting it had more than seven million subscribers in the first quarter of its 2015 fiscal year, up rather sharply from the two million it reported a year prior.

Here are six considerations when comparing Office 365 with its shrink-wrapped version of the past that can help you determine if it’s the right choice for your organization:

1. The move to cloud storage

Perhaps the biggest change to which users need to adapt is that the primary storage location for their files will no longer be the hard drive on their desktop or laptop, or even the fileshare drive on the company server. Rather, their files will now be stored in the cloud; that is, on Microsoft servers accessible via a normal Internet connection.

The key advantage to having your files in the cloud is that they will be accessible to you no matter where you are or what device you’re working on. And if there isn’t an Internet connection available, such as when you’re on a plane, don’t worry – the most current version of any file can be stored on your local drive, and will be synchronized with the cloud when connectivity is restored.

2. Security

The biggest concern raised by remote storage of your company’s potentially confidential information is probably security. And on that front, you can rest easy – Microsoft’s data servers are housed in specialized facilities where both physical and communications security are leading priorities. Files can be encrypted and permissions can be set. Even if someone intercepted a transmission between your device and the cloud, they wouldn’t be able to read it. All told, cloud storage usually delivers a much higher level of protection than most small businesses could afford on their own.

3. The change to a subscription model

Office 365 uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model, but the concept of renting versus owning software has been around for a long time. Most of us have always rented our anti-virus software, for example, and many of us are familiar with SaaS applications such as Salesforce. Other major vendors have made the switch, such as Adobe, which fully converted to a pay-as-you-go model for its Creative Cloud suite of products last year.

Buying the shrink-wrapped version will cost more as a one-off purchase, and it won’t deliver many of the added benefits of the subscription version – while Office 365 is cheaper in the short term, but requires a monthly fee for as long as you need it.

4. Introduction of real-time collaboration

Because all your files and your co-workers’ files are stored in the cloud, and changes made to them are synchronized on the fly as you work, it’s a lot easier to share files and work collaboratively with Office 365. Using the freely available Office Online versions of the apps, collaboration can even be done in real time, with everyone able to see each others’ keystrokes as they are being made. The process works a little more slowly on the desktop versions, but it’s still a big step up from emailing files back and forth or managing version control on a fileshare system.

5. Frequency of feature updates

I know I was always reluctant to upgrade to the latest version of Office, less because of the cost of doing so and more because of all the changes in how the applications worked. With Office 365, new features, refinements and security updates are made available gradually, as soon as they are ready, rather than being gathered up and released in a major new release.

6. Device and platform compatibility

If you’re like a growing number of people these days, you’re using at least a couple of devices in addition to your desktop computer. If you want to be able to access your Office files on these new devices, then you’ll favour Office 365. Unlike boxed software products of the past that were designed to work on only one type of computer and one operating system, a single subscription to Office 365 can be used on a Mac or a PC, and on an iPad or Windows tablet. In fact, a single subscription entitles you to use it on up to five different devices.

The bottom line

Deciding which version of Office is better for your organization comes down to how much benefit you will derive from the added functionality of the SaaS version and whether you think it is worth paying an ongoing subscription fee for that functionality. Do you need to access your files any time, anywhere and on multiple devices? Do you and your coworkers often collaborate on the same files? Are higher levels of security and continuous access to new features important to you? If you answer yes to any of these questions, Office 365 might be the perfect choice.

Which version of Office are you using for your business? Let us know why in the comments below.

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