Johannesburg-based creative agency Penquin has switched to Microsoft’s Office 365, a move that has saved it tens of thousands of rands in IT costs and also “fundamentally changed the way it works”, the company says.

Penquin decided to move from an on-premise Microsoft infrastructure to a cloud-based infrastructure using Microsoft Office 365 when it became clear that the costs of upgrading hardware and software would be prohibitive – and it’s never looked back, says group executive Greg Kockott.

“E-mail alone is a critical factor in our business,” says Kockott. “It is incredibly important for us to be able to stay in touch with our customers and suppliers all the time. Like many small businesses, we used to battle with a small, temperamental connection to stay connected – but now, our people are able to work from anywhere, on any device.”

Office 365 is a hosted, online version of the traditional installed version of Microsoft Office software. This online service is subscription-based and includes Office, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Microsoft Office Web Apps.

For Kockott, the new-found flexibility of the cloud-solution is a boon. The company’s 65 staff – from drivers to studio staff to the client service teams – have widely different technology requirements, and the system can be mixed and matched to deliver exactly what each individual needs.

By using Office 365, employees and designers can work together – and with customers – more effectively than ever before. They can easily and correctly send and open attachments, organise meetings, and manage their calendars. They can share documents and presentations instantly.

“We work across multiple platforms and devices, but it’s just so easy to communicate and share information seamlessly with whatever connection to the internet is available at the time. Everything just works so easily together. When I send an instant message asking somebody for a file, they just drag it to a window and I have it instantly.”

The migration has seen the company realise massive cost savings. It has not had to upgrade hardware to run the latest version of on-premise software, and has saved “a significant sum” on licensing fees. The firm also often uses temporary workers, and they can be accommodated instantly without having to buy more licenses. It simply goes into the membership portal and adds the number of users needed for the time period required.

“IT used to take up a huge amount of our time in board meetings,” says Kockott. “Now, it’s taking up less and less time. Everything just works, which means we have a whole lot more time to be able to focus on our core business. And that’s what technology should be all about.”

Microsoft South Africa’s Uriel Rootshtain says small and midsize businesses like Penquin are playing “a significant role” in the South African economy, and technology like Office 365 means they no longer have to settle for “good enough” productivity and collaboration technology, or struggle to maintain a professional IT infrastructure.

“The cloud makes it possible for smaller businesses to access big business technology in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago, on a scalable pay-as-you-go basis, with solutions that are easy to get and use,” he says.