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Grow Your Business Technology

Microsoft Thinks Small with a Big Cloud Software Offering

NEW YORK — When he kicked off the global launch of Microsoft's Office 365 today in more than 40 markets, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that 70 percent of the users who tried the subscription-based cloud service during its beta testing period were small and medium businesses.

"With a few clicks, Microsoft levels the playing field, giving small and midsize businesses powerful collaboration tools that have given big businesses an edge for years," he said at a launch event here that was seen at 20 locations around the world.

Office 365 wraps familiar Microsoft tools such as the Office productivity applications in a cloud service package that includes SharePoint’s document management functions, Exchange Online’s email, calendar and contact features, and Lync Online, a communications service that integrates enterprise voice, instant messaging and web-, audio- and videoconferencing.

When Ballmer refers to small businesses, how small is small?

One of the poster children for the service is Bea's Insurance, an independent insurance agency operated by the husband-and-wife team of Jeffrey and Kerri Stewart.  They run their two-person company on Office 365, originally as part of the beta program and now as a dues-paying customer. The company, which has 1,500 customers, is located in East Palestine, Ohio. It was founded in 1999 by the eponymic   Bea, Kerri's mother, who retired in 2007.

"This gives me a big business tool at a small business price," Jeffrey Stewart told BusinessNewsDaily. "We're going to be able to on location with our customers and share information, even if customers don't have the right software. It's a big competitive edge for a small company like ours."

The applications they rely on most are Exchange's email and calendaring.

"We're not wasting time," Kerri Stewart said. "We're not overbooking ourselves. I see it streamlining us."

Office 365 is designed to be easily administered without requiring heavy-duty IT services , which fits into the Stewarts' growth plans for Bea's Insurance. The couple hopes to bring on employee No. 3 within the next year.

"It's going to make it easy and seamless to bring on employees," Kerri said.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.