Microsoft Office 365 continues to dominate the space for a small business suite of office applications. As a cloud hybrid licence it offers the scale benefits of corporate grade email & the Microsoft office suite, without the upfront capital requirements of a Small Business Server environment. According to Microsoft, Office 365 Setup, Migration & Support can be taken on by the technically literate person without the specialist knowledge required for a server implementation.
So can Office 365 Setup, Migration & Support actually be undertaken as a DIY project in a Small Business with limited IT knowledge & experience?
A typical Small Business IT Environment
As someone who is not a technical expert, but who is technically literate I embarked on testing this DIY theory for myself. My partner has a small rapidly growing business with four staff, and they were looking to avail themselves of all the benefits that Office 365 can offer.
The business is run from multiple offices (mostly home offices). Increasingly the business needs access to data and email services on the go from multiple devices such as laptops and iPhones. With a cloud hosted application database system, and Xero as their main financial and CRM system they have been on their way to the cloud for some time. They already use the basic Microsoft Office 365 products such as Outlook, PowerPoint, Excel, & Word on a continual basis and would like to share files between all the staff as they have clients who interact regularly with different staff and orders. Increasingly this has meant sending files to each other, and as the business is growing they have also found they need to cover for each other when staff are away or unavailable.
Their current IT environment has meant they often have trouble letting clients know when they are away or travelling, and often they have trouble identifying the latest version of files to use as the business has become more complicated. The existing laptops were due for upgrading being over 3 years old, and they were increasing worried that if they lost or damaged a laptop that all the information, files, setting and knowledge would also be lost. As the owners of the business they had their own phones but didn’t want to provide iPhones to the employees. Additionally every time they travelled (particularly overseas) or were on holiday they had issues sending emails.
Office 365 is the answer?
In the past (pre 2012) the solution would have been to install a Microsoft Small Business Server to the local network. These servers had exchange email, shared calendar and contacts, file sharing and remote access capabilities. Small Business servers were expensive in terms of initial hardware, licensing and implementation costs, and on an ongoing basis, IT support, maintenance and power consumption also weighed heavily. Additionally, considerations needed to be made for physical space and air conditioning, wiring/cabling etc.
Nowadays Microsoft Office 365 is the answer, with all these functions, but without the large capital expenditure expenses or the need to setup locally. Of course, now you pay a monthly subscription to Microsoft to provide the back end hardware, software and infrastructure in their Australian data centre.
Office 365 Setup
Office 365 can be setup through a number of channels in Australia and New Zealand. Options include direct with Microsoft or through authorised Cloud Service Partners like Computer Troubleshooters who are typically used to provide implement and support Microsoft hosted services.
Licences – You need to learn & understand the licencing structure to determine which plan is right for each of the users. Bear in mind that you can have different users on different plans depending on their usage. So you might have one user who users all the Office products, and some who just need email.
Subscriptions – You need to buy & provision the Office 365 licences, this is generally transacted over the web but you need to be careful if you are buying a by the month or annual plans (general the annual plans have a small discount). You may also be asked to buy an annual licence, but pay monthly.
Administration – Once your domain has been setup with Office 365 it is relatively simple to set up each user in your admin account. The admin account is the central hub of Office 365 that sits over the top of each of your user accounts & allows you to do all the configuration at a domain level. This includes password, collaboration, profile & user management that is the heart of servers.
DNS Management – You need to change your DNS settings with your domain provider. Office 365 provide you with the DNS setting changes that you need to put into your current domain providers portal to direct emails to the Office 365 host. In my case this took a couple of hours before the change was done by the provider.
Download & Profiles – Once each user is setup by the admin & the DNS change is made, the users can then setup their account of their own hardware just by downloading the software direct from the Office 365 hosting site. They can setup a new profile for Office 365 or integrate Office 365 into the existing profile, this is probably one of the most confusing areas that can take some time to resolve. This software can be downloaded by the user to a maximum of 5 of the user’s devices (PC, Macs, smartphones or tablets). Usernames and passwords associated with each user will of course be needed for the download.
Office 365 Migration
The migration of existing data, files and setting will depend on the current IT environment
- A server to Office 365 migration requires movement of all data & user profiles to Office 365, these need to match correctly with passwords and user profiles for a smooth transition. The data migration will depend on each user’s data size, but typically the migration of a large mailbox may take a few hours. The big difficulty is that in the interim, emails may be lost or not received.
- A pop email migration is fairly simple, as the data is on the user’s laptop, so that the data can be simply held on the same machine and the office 365 profile directed to the exiting email store.
- Files will depend on where they are currently stored, but can be moved to OneDrive or SharePoint once the account profiles are setup.
Overall migration is really a factor of how much data is being migrated and where it is currently stored, remembering that with Office 365 you are effectively transferring the data store to a data centre so it needs to transferred via your internet to seed your account. Just be aware that you need to understand your broadband data allowance and the effect on data speeds that you may encounter during the migration.
Office 365 Support
If something goes wrong support is a major issue – understanding the role Microsoft support plays in helping with office 365 deployments should you encounter an issue you don’t understand. SLA Critical & Urgent incidents where they are responsible is fairly prompt, calls are answered within one hour and update provided very 2 and 24 hours respectively. However, issues raised as important or advisory are updated every 72 hours or as decided by Microsoft. So experiencing an issue during migration it will be difficult to get prompt Microsoft support.
Office 365 – My DIY Experience
My experience in getting Office 365 fully functional is fairly positive I managed to get all 4 users setup over 2 days & get all the niggling issues sorted over the following days. Although I later discovered that by default Office 365 was rejecting the forms from their WordPress website for over 2 weeks. The disruption to the business was minimal although getting non-technical users setup with both laptops and mobiles was difficult to the extent they all needed to visit the office to get setup. The time did include setting 2 new laptops and setting them up. We did lose emails in cutting over for a few hours.
The end result is that I estimate I took me around 6 hours per user to get everything working 100%. When I sent this information out to the Computer Troubleshooters group they laughed. In general, they charge for about 2 hours labour and have tools that automate much of what I did manually. Some tools they use do the migration before the cutover, so that when a user sets up their profile the data and setting have been pre-provisioned, so no business interruption in encountered and they can do the migration at night over weeks so there are no data slowdowns during business hours.
Office 365 – My Recommendation
My experience suggested it takes about 6 hours per user to manually setup, migrate and then tweak Office 365 for a small group. That said I do work in IT Marketing and have used Office 365 in my business for some time so I did start with an advantage. If you are not good with IT, I would definitely get an expert to do it.
The bottom line is most business people earn more in 6 hours than they would paying an IT expert 2 hours in labour, & that is not taking into account the niggling WordPress issue that was solved by the Computer Troubleshooters guys.
So if you are thinking of setting up & migrating to Office 365, at a minimum I would get a quote from an IT expert to see if the trade-off is worthwhile. Most expert Office 365 guys will give you a quote to compare. Even if you try yourself and get stuck you have a good idea for the alternative should you need help in a hurry.
Office 365 – Office 365 Setup, Migration & Support outsourced
Computer Troubleshooters can provide professional IT services to your business to provision and administer Office 365 environments as needed. Office 365 purchased through a Cloud Service Provider like Computer Troubleshooters is at no additional cost to purchasing through Microsoft.
Let the experts at Computer Troubleshooters work with you to assess your IT needs and develop a customized plan for your business. Computer Troubleshooters can manage your IT services and you can manage your business. Give your local Computer Troubleshooters office a call and one of our computer professionals will be happy to help you.