If you own an RIA and you’re thinking of upgrading to Office 365, here are some important considerations. Upgrading my advisor marketing-technology company to Office 365 has been a nightmare for me personally, despite my doing it in stages. But it will be good in the long run. Below is an in-depth discussion of the most confusing aspects of my upgrade to Office 365, offered so that you might avoid some of the mistakes in adopting the latest technology in the Microsoft’s incredibly complicated system. My comments are intended for RIA owners who are not IT professionals.
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Let There Be Surface
In February 2013, I bought a Surface Pro and switched from Windows 7 to Windows 8 and immediately started using SkyDrive Pro (renamed OneDrive for Business on January 27, 2014). In October 2013, I moved up to Office 365, as part of a plan to move my company’s staff onto Microsoft’s latest technology.
Collaboration Is Worthwhile
Using the latest Microsoft technology — being an early adopter of Microsoft systems — isn’t easy. Microsoft is often criticized for making its paying customers its beta-testers. Early-adopters of Microsoft operating systems and Office upgrades have over the years faced a steep learning curve when upgrading, and Office 365 is the most difficult Microsoft platform that small business owners have ever been asked to understand. Getting up and running can be a major pain for a company with five, 10 or 20 employees. However, collaboration capabilities for employees of an RIA will increase dramatically by using Office 365. The exchange of ideas in a small business can improve significantly by adopting Office 365. If your firm wants to foster exchange of ideas, Office 365 will be worth the hassle of upgrading and training people. But it’s far from perfect. The rest of this article is devoted to helping small-business owners determine which of the seven versions of Office 365 to choose.
When I went to sign up for Microsoft Office 365 five or six months ago, I was overwhelmed by the array of seven choices
of plans for businesses, ranging in cost from $4 to $22 a month. So I did what any good business owner should: I asked an employee. Jason Fogelson, IT Manager at Advisor Products, the marketing-technology company I own, employs a fulltime IT professional who manages web servers and the company’s internal network. He researched the issue and told me to buy Office 365 for Mid-Size Business, which costs $15 a month per user. That turned out to be the wrong version. Microsoft’s complicated ecosystem confused even an IT professional. (I am indebted to Jason Fogelson for his contribution to this article.)
This is something an unscrupulous IT consultant may not tell you: If you're considering a move to Office 365, you should probably look to move your email there as well. Outsourcing your company email system to Microsoft’s hosted Exchange email solution will probably reduce costs significantly and be more reliable. The lowest-priced Office 365 business account costs $4 a month per email account. If your hardware, software, and consultant costs total more than $48 a year per email account, hosting Exchange on Office 365 will be less costly. Microsoft’s hosted Exchange solution will eliminate your local network administrator or IT consultant from having to maintain backups, install updates, and maintain hardware locally to support Exchange. How much are you paying your IT consultant annually to maintain your email system? Once you know, divide that sum by the number of email accounts your firm needs. You’ll need a license for each person you want to provide a mailbox. All of the Office 365 plans include hosted Exchange. The $4 version is for outsourcing Exchange only, however.
Office Productivity Suite
Now you’re ready to figure out whether, in addition to Exchange, whether you should buy the other apps in the Office suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Access, and others. The plans offered by Microsoft differ in that some provide only the browser-based version of Office, while others come with the latest version of the productivity suite, Office 2013. Whether you want new desktop software depends on what version of Office each user on your team is using currently and his or her needs. For an RIA, some advisors in your office might be using Word 2007, which won’t allow all collaboration features of Office 2013 or even Office 2010. That may be intolerable to you, and you perhaps want all your advisors to have full-sharing capabilities.
For RIAs, your intellectual property — ideas for how to help clients — is crucial; using technology that makes idea-sharing easy among professionals will pay off. You may not feel so strongly about whether a support staffer needs full collaboration features or about other users on your network that might only need access to documents using the browser-based version of Office, which is like running “Windows Lite” and is good for mobile access using a touchscreen. Buying some users on your network the browser-based version can save you money. However, you may decide that the $12 a month per user difference in cost for 10 non-professional staff and consultants amounts to just $1440 a year in recurring fees. Add another $500 or $1000 a year for additional storage costs and you have the full suite with all the collaboration capabilities. You may think that’s a no-brainer. Knowing the power of the collaboration tools, professional groups will have no trouble justifying the expense to support the advanced collaboration features in Microsoft’s latest technology.
OneDrive For Business (Formerly SkyDrive Pro)
If you and your staff collaborate on documents and two or more people frequently need to access a document simultaneously and make changes to it, OneDrive for Business and the Office 365 suite will boost efficiency. With OneDrive, you and others collaborating on a spreadsheet, slide presentation, or other Office document can all save your changes and work concurrently. This is a big improvement over collaborating on a document using your network file server, where sharing is far more difficult and concurrent live sharing cannot easily be done. The other advantage of OneDrive is that sharing documents with people outside your company network is also really easy, which can come in handy for secure document sharing with clients and other professionals, including attorneys and accountants.
This is where the different versions of Office 365 start to become really confusing. You can get the file-sharing capabilities for as little as $5 a month (Office 365 Small Business) or $8 per month for the enterprise version (Office 365 Enterprise E1
). These two versions of Office 365 will give you hosted Exchange plus the file sharing capabilities to be able to collaborate concurrently and share documents easily on a network in the cloud. However, there are some big caveats to buying either of these two plans. First, the version of Office that you get in these two plans works in your browser; you do not get the desktop version of Office. The Web-based version of Office is good if you’re working on a tablet or touch device but it’s not as full-featured as the desktop version of Office, but user will probably only use that when on the road and away from their desktop apps.
If you are currently using Office 2010 or 2013 on your desktop, it is compatible with OneDrive’s file sharing capabilities and the browser-based version of Office 365, and you do not have to buy the versions Office 365 that gives you the desktop apps in Office 2013 as well as the Web apps; all you need is the $8 Office 365 E1
version or $5 Small Business
version. Be forewarned: If you are using Office 2007 or an earlier version of Office, your desktop version of Office is incompatible with some of Office 365’s advanced file sharing and collaboration features. You will probably want to upgrade to a version of Office 365 giving you the desktop suite, Office 2013. To sum it up, a key difference between the various versions of Office 365 is whether you need a new version of the Office suite.
About That $4 Version
Let’s you do not need a new version of Office at all? The $4 a month Office 365 account is for businesses whose employees will use their existing desktop version of Outlook (2010 or 2013) to check their email and it also provides a browser-based app for employees to access their email. This $4 a month version, and all the Midsize Business and Enterprise plans, of Office 365 give you Microsoft “active directory” integration.
That’s the ability to (if you have it on site) manage users from your corporate active directory environment and provide a Single Sign-On (SSO) for your company network. However, the $4 a month version does not give you Microsoft’s Office productivity suite—Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and other Office apps. It also does not give you the file-sharing capabilities of Office 365, including OneDrive. For that, you’ll need the $8 a month E1 version of Office 365. It will let your staff collaborate concurrently on documents on OneDrive for Business, but it does not include the desktop version of the Office apps. You use the browser-based version of the Office suite or your existing desktop Office suite.
Mid-Size Business Version
The least-expensive way to buy the Office productivity suite with Microsoft’s hosted Exchange solution is either $12.50 a month (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/business/redir/FX103037625.aspxOffice 365 Small Business Premium) or $15 a month (http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/business/redir/FX103037683.aspxOffice 365 Midsize Business). Those two plans will get you the desktop version of the Office suite plus the browser-based version, as well as what's called "Office On Demand," a streaming version of office apps that allows full Desktop Office functionality from any machine. But those versions have some limitations: neither give you the advanced user information rights management on email and the Small Business is limited to 25 users with no active directory integration and Medium Sized Business is limited to 300 users. Moreover, all users of the organization must be on the same tier, so with either the $12.50 Small Business or $15 a month Mid-Size Business versions of Office 365, you cannot buy any of the Enterprise licenses for your users, such as the $4 month hosted-exchange account for some of your firm’s staff and the full productivity suite for others. All users on Mid-Size Business accounts must get the $15 a month version that includes the full Office suite.
Even Finer Print On Different Versions
I mentioned earlier that my IT manager, a bright guy, had told me to buy the Mid-Size Business version of Office 365. That was before he found out we’d be unable to add email accounts for some employees for just $4 month if we stayed on the $15 a month version for Mid-Side Business. We could not use the $15 license for some users in our company and a $4 or $8 license for others, since all licenses need to be on the same tier (Small, Midsize, or Enterprise). We would not be permitted to give a consultant an email account without buying him the full Office suite. All new users would cost $15 a month. In addition, we would learn that choosing the $15 version of Office 365 (Mid-Size) does not give a company the ability to add some additional functionality, such as advanced email. To be able to add users to Exchange without being required to buy them the full Office 365 package, your organization needs to be in the enterprise tier, and you need to buy the $20 a month E3 or $22 a month E4 version of Office 365 for any users that need the full package and full version of Office 365.
The Enterprise version of Office 365 is what an RIA needs to sync Office 365 with their on-premises network, a feature Microsoft calls “Active Directory” integration. You can get that Active Directory integration in the $15 a month Mid-Size Company version of Office 365 but that one lacks a bunch of features you may probably need grouped together by Microsoft as “Advanced Email” features, including Information Rights Management, email archiving, and legal hold capabilities. Legal hold means you can prevent email from being destroyed or purged automatically based on retention policies, and also protect messages from being deleted by the user, knowingly or inadvertently, and it can be in litigation to have this set up. With the Mid-Size tier, these advanced email features are not an option, even as an add-on.
My guess is most RIAs will need the E3 Enterprise version of Office 365. For most organizations, the Enterprise tier will save you money in the long run, since it goes you flexibility to scale down the services (and cost) at any time for certain users who don't need the full package. Advisor Products, for instance, gave some users email-only ($4 monthly) or E1 access ($8 monthly), which saves $11 and $7 monthly respectively versus the Mid-Size Business plan and we will begin to make up the $5 difference for the full package when a few users need email-only or file-sharing only.
Keep in mind, the $4 plan is email only (no file-sharing capabilities) and the E1 Enterprise version -- although it provides both email and file sharing -- only allows your firm to provide users with the browser-based version of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the rest of the Office productivity suite. The E1 version means you’ll need to continue to use the desktop software that you have been using. If you’re on Office 2007— and I suspect most advisors and their staff are still on Office 2007 and have not upgraded to Office 2010—then you might as well go for the extra $12 per user to upgrade to Office 2013.
While the amount of storage available with each plan is important, you probably already decided which version of Office 365 you need based on its features and not storage. Be sure the version of Office 365 you are thinking of using gives you the storage you need on SharePoint, which provides the file sharing feature of Office 365 and has storage limits.
SharePoint is a component of Office 365 that allows a small business to collaborate with ultimate flexibility. Your company can have “team sites” in which all of their documents are shared online and can be synched to your computer for editing when you’re offline. So if you have a team that handles a particular set of files and collaborates on them constantly, SharePoint is a powerful tool. However, each of the business plans come with different SharePoint storage limits
Your Personal OneDrive— that is, your OneDrive account provisioned by your company’s Office 365 account — is limited to 25GB per user on all SharePoint plans and shared space for the organization is provisioned as follows.
• Small-Business Plan. You get 10 GB of shared space across you entire firm plus 500MB per subscribed user up to a maximum of 100GB. Currently purchasing additional storage is not possible. In addition, you can have a single “team site” of shared files up to 100GB in size.
• Midsize Business Plan. You get 10GB plus 500MB per user up to a maximum of 2TB (with purchase of additional storage), and you can have up to 20 team sites (which Microsoft calls “site collections”), and each team site can be up to 100GB in size.
• Enterprise Plans. Give you 10GB of shared space for team sites plus 500MB per user up to 25TB (with purchase of additional storage) and up to 100GB per team sites with up to 10,000 team sites.
• All plans have a 2GB file-size limit.
When you're looking at storage plans, consider not moving inactive network files to the cloud. Only move what you and your staff use all the time. Not moving inactive files can save you a lot of hassle and expense.
Microsoft's Office 365 platform is Byzantine. With all the variables imposed by Microsoft's limitations on different plans overlaying each user's personal needs as well as the company's needs, it's way too complicated for a small business owner to know what to do. No wonder why Microsoft's not seeing great adoption of its new software.
I'm a smart guy and I'm really into this stuff, and I still don't fully understand all of the ins and outs of every plan, and I have spent many hours trying to understand it and I have had the benefit of the knowledge of an IT professional who migrated my company to Office 365. It's hard to believe people who work at Microsoft's kiosk at the local mall understand it. However, in fairness, Microsoft support is excellent and was there to help with difficult aspects of the migration.
If you made it this far down into this story, you probably learned a lot about what you need to do, and the collaboration Microsoft enables with its latest technology fuel growth of your RIA's intellectual capital.