Microsoft officially launched Microsoft 365 Business today (Nov. 1, 2017). This productivity suite was built with small to medium businesses in mind. Unlike other versions of Microsoft 365, this solution targets businesses with 300 or fewer employees, and provides them with an all-in-one solution that doesn't require any in-house IT support.
For $20 per user per month, businesses that subscribe to Microsoft 365 Business will be automatically upgraded to Windows 10 Pro and get access to Office 365, which includes Outlook Mail, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, Teams, Yammer, Dynamics 365 and Flow. But it's the extra features of 365 Business that many companies may find compelling, as they eliminate the need for many third-party software solutions for things such as email marketing services.
It's important to note that Microsoft says Office 365 Business Premium isn't going away anytime soon. What Office 365 Business Premium lacks that the newer solution includes is mobile device management (MDM), Windows 10 enhancements, and security management for both information and employees. The three primary defining features of Microsoft 365 Business are the administrative dashboard, the business center and the inclusion of Microsoft StaffHub in the subscription fee.
The 365 Admin Dashboard
The admin dashboard, where security and MDM is managed, is uncluttered and user friendly. Admins can manage as much or as little as they like, since there are default security settings in place and all updates are pushed automatically.
Activating or deactivating features in the dashboard is as simple as sliding a button from on to off, so no previous software administration experience is needed. In addition to the intuitive design, one truly standout feature of the dashboard is the ability to protect work files when devices are lost or stolen by wiping them remotely and instantly. This type of functionality is usually found in comprehensive MDM solutions but is rarely in affordable SMB products.
Admins may also do things like require users to save all their files to OneDrive for Business or restrict the ability to copy and paste (or attach items) between work and personal accounts. If these features are engaged, users will receive a pop-up message that tells them they cannot complete the task. Thus, if you plan on adopting Microsoft 365 Business and altering permissions, some communication to your staff prior to changing policies is prudent.
Security does not have to be managed across the board; users can be managed in groups, with each group having different permissions. The only downside to this aspect of Microsoft 365 Business is that groups cannot be nested, and individuals cannot be assigned unique permissions from others in their same group. If necessary, you can create a group of one individual, which isn't ideal but certainly works.
Microsoft's inclusion of approachable mobile device management, without IT oversight necessary, will likely be popular among SMBs already familiar with the Office family of products.
New Business Center Apps + Microsoft StaffHub
Microsoft is pushing hard to make the Microsoft 365 Business Center more functional for SMBs, and it may have succeeded with this latest release of three new apps: Microsoft Connections, Microsoft Invoicing and Microsoft Listings. Combined with the already released Microsoft Bookings, Outlook Customer Manager and MileIQ (for mileage tracking), it looks like Microsoft 365 Business Center is becoming a pretty powerful tool that could give SMBs access to a broad range of integrated business solutions in one place for one low price. Here's what the newest members of the Business Center do:
- Microsoft Connections: The features in Connections make it easy for SMBs to manage their own email marketing campaigns without any graphic design or technical skills necessary. The template-based designer allows users to choose from different themes, customize them and send them, all in one place. Thanks to integration with Bing (words I never thought I would write), users can search the internet for images and automatically filter out those that are not legal for public use. Within the email, referral rewards programs can be easily deployed and tracked (through the Business Center). And since everything is Microsoft, it's all integrated with everything from Invoicing to Outlook Customer Manager.
- Microsoft Invoicing: The goal of Microsoft Invoicing is to allow SMBs to generate estimates and invoices, process payments and track pending and partial payments. This app also maintains past estimates and invoices, and it syncs with QuickBooks, PayPal and Dynamics 365. The mobile friendly home screen for Microsoft Invoicing provides a clean tile layout summary of how much has been invoiced in the past year and month as well as the dollar amount for outstanding payments, overdue payments (in dollars), the number of estimates currently out and the number of invoice drafts. By selecting different tiles, you can see more in-depth information, like which accounts are overdue and by how much.
- Microsoft Listings: This practical application allows business owners to manage their online presence across Google, Facebook, Yelp and Bing. When a user changes their hours of operation or address in Microsoft Listings, it instantly populates those changes across all four outlets, which is an excellent time saver. Microsoft Listings also gives users a bird's-eye view of their standing on social media by aggregating all the views and reviews from Google, Facebook, Yelp and Bing in one place. Unfortunately, for now Listings is only built for businesses with a single-location, but that may change in future iterations.
While it's not a new product, it's also notable that Microsoft StaffHub will be included with all subscriptions to Microsoft 365 Business. StaffHub is a scheduling solution that makes it easy for managers to plan schedules for hourly employees, communicate and approve requests. It also allows employees to view dynamic schedules from anywhere, switch shifts with each other, request time off and more, and like other Microsoft products, the permissions can be altered to suit your business's processes.
Unless there are totally unexpected usability problems, Microsoft 365 Business seems likely to become the gold standard for SMBs wanting an affordable all-in-one system that's easy to manage in-house without any tech assistance.
The apps and programs included with each subscription attempt to cover everything from publishing business information, scheduling employees, booking customer appointments, CRM, invoicing, MDM, email marketing, collaboration, cloud storage, security and more.