Is Microsoft Office 365 Right for Your Firm?

Microsoft's adoption at small firms is still low. Microsoft's adoption at small firms is still low.

Microsoft Office 365 certainly isn't a new product. It was introduced way back in 2011, which is light years ago from a technology prospective. Even after all these years, adoption from small and medium-sized businesses (less than 250 employees) is only around 7.5%, according to a survey conducted by IT firm SkyKick. There are a number of factors that have influenced the adoption rate, but one key reason is the previous investments that businesses have made.

The best place to start in your evaluation of Office 365 is to understand how your firm uses the features of your current version of Office. For example, do you and your employees primarily operate Office on one device? Do you use Microsoft Exchange? How do you collaborate, share and retain files?

(Related: Salesforce Announces AI-Driven Enhancement for CRM)

Your answers to these questions are very important because a core benefit of Office 365 is the ability to work anywhere, exchanging information relatively seamlessly and on multiple devices, and under one user or subscription license. These features of Office 365 can be particularly beneficial for firms that have employees in multiple locations or have a number of employees who work remotely.

In addition to the standard suite of Office applications, Office 365 also includes several online services. Some of these services include cloud file storage, online conferencing, email, instant messaging, calendars and online scheduling. Most advisors are already using many of these services today, either with another provider or “a la carte” with Microsoft. If you decide to use Office 365 for these online services, there could be some overall cost savings as well as potential efficiency improvements.

User Control, Security

Another key feature of Office 365 is that you are always using the latest version of the software. Microsoft manages updates, including the IT aspects of upgrades where there are potential downtimes, capability issues and potential hardware problems. This can be a significant benefit for your firm if you are focused on being an early adopter of technology solutions.

Office 365 also offers extensive security, data protection and user controls as part of the core offering. This includes automatic updates of the latest anti-spam, malware and other virus defenses as part of Office 365. User controls allow you to assign administrative rights and access credentials for all Office 365 users in your firm. You even have the ability to set up device-specific controls. For example, preventing access from a mobile device to certain information and files is a feature with Office 365. Furthermore, in the event a mobile device is stolen, Office 365 offers the ability to remotely remove the data on the device.

Perhaps one of the bigger misconceptions about cloud software is that you always have to be online while using it, perhaps using precious bandwidth or data limits. That's not the case with Office 365 because desktop versions of various applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) are included in several subscription plans. Therefore, you can work offline using a desktop version and your files will be automatically synced once you are connected to the internet. The desktop version of Office is automatically updated with Office 365.

Microsoft offers a variety of subscription plans for Office 365, depending on the applications and services you need. Clearly, Microsoft is trying to be flexible to encourage adoption by smaller businesses. One pricing area that is not flexible, however: Office 365 is a true subscription model where you pay ongoing monthly user fees versus the traditional purchase model of paying 100% up front. This is nothing new to advisory firms because many are used to this “software as a service” monthly pricing model with other solutions utilized by their firm.

There are several competitive platforms to consider versus Office 365. Google's G Suite should definitely be on the list. G Suite has many similar applications and services to Office 365. Outside the functional aspects of the comparison, your familiarity with these programs will have a significant influence on your evaluation. Most importantly, don't base purchase decisions simply on price and don't just keep purchasing the desktop version of Office because that is what you’ve always done.

It’s Still Your Data if You Leave Office 365

It is always important to understand what you will do with your data if you decide to cancel or replace a product. For Office 365, it is your data, and you need to be sure to back up the files before the subscription expires. These files can then potentially be converted to another platform solution. In addition, Microsoft will provide read-only access (no editing options) to your existing files for a limited time after the Office 365 subscription expires.

--- Read Hearsay Launches AI-Powered Compliance Platform: Tech Roundup on ThinkAdvisor. 

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