One thing I’ve found over the years in working with entrepreneurs and small businesses is that their core IT needs aren’t that much different than the needs of large businesses. These needs range from email usage to document sharing to protecting their data from disasters. Over the last few years, my guess is that everyone has heard the term “The Cloud” thrown around as the latest buzz word. Quite often this term is misunderstood. To demystify things, I’ll summarize “The Cloud” by saying that for practical purposes, “The Cloud” is another word for the Internet. For us IT professionals, we realize there are some smoke and mirrors going on behind the scenes that allow us to leverage private and public platforms, but the typical business owner should think of it as simply as the Internet.
Understanding this is critical to today’s small business owner. We all know that entrepreneurs do not start up their business to build and maintain an IT infrastructure. While business owners are passionate about their business, they may not be passionate about day to day IT functions, operations and accounting functions. This is where “The Cloud” comes into play. “The Cloud” has essentially leveled the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger competitors. Some vendors have failed to grasp how to market and provision their cloud services. I can tell you that Microsoft has got it right. Microsoft’s cloud platforms such as Office 365 and CRM online deliver enterprise level solutions to small businesses in a way that is cost effective – by allowing businesses to pay as they grow, as opposed to incurring larger capital expenses in hardware and software licensing.
Let’s focus on Office 365 for a moment. This subscription package provides a highly collaborative environment which boasts the following features:
- Email Management, Contact Sharing and Calendar Sharing via Microsoft Exchange
- Secure and Private Instant Messaging via Microsoft Lync
- Web and Video Conferencing also via Microsoft Lync
- Document Management with Customer Portals and Collaboration via Microsoft SharePoint
- Customizable Workflow Solutions via Microsoft SharePoint
Did I mention that you also get access to both web and local versions of the latest Microsoft Office suite? If you were to purchase the software and hardware for these applications in addition to installation labor, your costs would easily add up to over $25,000. The costs to subscribe to the same services and pay for the Office 365 subscription would be only $20 per month, per user. This pricing model allows businesses to start small and add as needed. The return on investment (ROI) makes this decision one of the easiest for any entrepreneur looking to start their business or upgrade their IT environment and allow their employees to work as effectively as possible. In fact, we are seeing more small businesses looking to leverage such a cloud model to manage their data, and work dynamically across the Internet in an anywhere and anytime model.
Let’s look at a small case study to see how Office 365 has impacted our customers. I recently had a small business owner come to me explaining he had purchased a second business and needed to get his workers up and running in order to continue to process orders and manage their day-to-day process. The new company was in a new niche for him, and he was looking to minimize his capital investment by not purchasing an expensive server, software or incurring excess costs for a relatively small business model.
In order to effectively process orders for the new company, they needed to have access to the orders as they were received and communicate with employees in multiple locations. There were also a number of documents that needed to be shared as well as access to their financial services. A number of years ago, this would have been a Microsoft Small Business Server setup with a server, licenses for the network, a few copies of Microsoft Office, some backup software, anti-virus software plus labor to install it all. Total cost for a solution like that could have easily added up in excess of $10,000.
By leveraging cloud technologies, we were able to setup their email via Office 365 and provide document sharing and a license for Microsoft Office Professional Plus for their users for under $700 per year. Considering the typical lifecycle of equipment of 4 years, the company estimated approximately 50% savings in upfront project fees and greater savings per lifecycle. For their investment, they were able to get a redundant solution, eliminating the need for an elaborate backup system while accommodating users being able to leverage their existing computers for email and document sharing via the latest software versions. Labor fees were minimized due to not having to install local systems and provide maintenance to those systems on an ongoing basis. Additionally, their accounting software was hosted via a secure and private cloud platform providing backups of their financial data. The end result was allowing a small, yet growing business the ability to pay as they grow by avoiding up front expenses. In addition, the ability to have anytime and anywhere access allows them to service their customers in a real time manner and promptly get orders out the door, leading to higher customer satisfaction.
New cloud solutions such as Office 365 let small business owners sleep at night knowing that their data is secure in “The Cloud” and will be available with peace of mind. Why? Because cloud vendors such as Microsoft are providing a redundant environment that has built-in measures to protect against a disaster. Bottom line is that Microsoft got this one right!