The Microsoft Office 365 suite is a cloud-based version of traditional Microsoft Office software, and offers organisations a number of benefits. Office 365 is particularly suited to the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) market, as the agility of these organisations makes the migration a fairly simple and straightforward task, says Hilton Bloomberg, technical director at Green Apple IT.

Despite these benefits and the suitability of the solution, some SMEs remain reluctant to ‘take the plunge’ and migrate into the cloud, for a number of reasons. However, SMEs should be aware that moving to Microsoft Office 365 is not as complex as many would believe, and partnering with an established and credible IT outsource company can ensure they can take advantage of all of the benefits, with none of the worry.

The benefits the SME will gain after moving to Office 365 are countless. These include the typical advantages associated with the cloud, such as enhanced mobility and dramatically reduced investment in software and infrastructure.
Migrating into the cloud also gives growing SMEs the ability to scale the number of licenses needed based on the number of people being employed at any given time. There is therefore no need to purchase an expensive annual license for a person who may only be with the organisation for a few months.

The ability to leverage greater flexibility through a ‘pay as you use’ subscription-based model is a big draw card for many smaller businesses, and can save substantial sums of money.

In addition, Office 365 also offers SMEs access to the latest and greatest Microsoft Office tools and versions, without the cost of constantly upgrading. Furthermore, access to advanced features and functionality like Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Microsoft Office Web Apps are also included.

With Microsoft Office 365, SME users can now easily access sophisticated e-mail archiving solutions as well as rich collaboration tools without massive additional investment into infrastructure that previously made these systems prohibitively expensive to implement.

These benefits are all easily achievable and well documented, but some SMEs remain reluctant to make the move into the cloud. One of the major concerns for the SME is downtime associated with the migration, as any time spent unproductively can cost the company precious income. However, the reality is that from the moment the decision is made to move to the cloud right through to the final cutover can all happen within a day.

The migration itself takes around half an hour per user, barring any issues, and so the disruption caused is minimal. The process can even be conducted over the weekend, so that any issues can be ironed out and any necessary “fine tuning” can take place outside of business hours.

Another concern for SME users is that their experience with the Office suite will be different in some way, or performance will be negatively impacted by the migration. For users on the latest version of the Office suite, the experience will be a seamless transition, with nothing but the way licenses are billed on the back end changing.

However, if SMEs are still making use of older versions of Office such as 2007 or 2010, then a difference in the experience will be noticeable, much the same as if the organisation had upgraded their traditional Office licenses. In terms of performance, migrating to the cloud does not affect the speed of applications in a negative way.

Users may even find that their experience is faster and smoother, since the applications are not reliant on a computer’s on-board memory but rather on the cloud-based servers.

Before embarking on a migration, however, it pays to research all of your options to make certain this is the right solution for your business. Once a decision to move to Office 365 is taken, it is advisable to backup any and all important e-mails and documents as an extra measure of protection during the migration.

It is also helpful to consult with a specialist SME IT outsource provider, who will be able to assist with the entire back end of the migration to ensure the experience is seamless for the users.

For the SME market, there are very few cases where a migration to Office 365 will not offer substantial benefits. Apart from additional features and functionality, and access to the latest solutions and support, the cost per user on an annual basis is less than an annual subscription fee, and for that reason alone the move is a compelling one. This license is also valid for up to five devices for a single user.

When features such as web applications, which make Office applications available on smartphones and tablets, are added into the equation to enable flexibility and mobility, the argument for Office 365 is even stronger. By partnering with an experienced specialist SME IT outsource provider with a proven track record, SMEs will be assured of a smooth migration so that they can leverage the benefits seamlessly.