Microsoft launched Microsoft 365 Business, an all-in-one productivity suite built for businesses with 300 or fewer employees, in 2017. 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 everything included in Office 365, as well as additional services unique to Microsoft 365. Businesses that are most likely to find Microsoft 365 Business compelling are those that want to eliminate the need for multiple third-party products and unify everything from email marketing to collaboration under one ecosystem.
Microsoft says Office 365 Business Premium isn't going away anytime soon, so users who currently have that subscription won't be forced to migrate. What Office 365 Business Premium lacks, however, may inspire some small businesses to jump ship for the newer product bundle. Unlike Office 365 Business, Microsoft 365 Business includes mobile device management (MDM), Windows 10 enhancements, and security management for both information and employees. Microsoft StaffHub is also included with all subscriptions to Microsoft 365 Business, which is likely to be a draw for SMB owners with hourly staff.
The primary defining features of Microsoft 365 Business are the Office 365 access, admin dashboard with full MDM capabilities, and Business Center apps.
Office 365 Features Included in Microsoft 365 Business
According to Microsoft, Microsoft 365 Business was created for companies with little or no in-house IT resources, so many of the tools included in the subscription are built for quick deployment and easy management. Since Office 365 is included in the cost of Microsoft 365 Business, users get access to well-known business services such as Outlook Mail and Word, as well as some other Office 365 tools (like Flow) that you may not be familiar with. Here's what Office 365 brings to the Microsoft 365 Business package:
- Outlook Mail: Outlook is the standard for work emailing thanks to its widespread use and built-in calendars, which make it easy to schedule meetings with co-workers who are also using Outlook.
- OneDrive: OneDrive is a document storage repository that makes it easy to access the files you need (even if you're offline) and create shared documents to collaborate with your team.
- Word, Excel and PowerPoint: The classic office trio of Word, Excel and PowerPoint is included in Office 365.
- OneNote: OneNote operates similarly to Evernote, but with a strictly business focus. Users can create notebooks, clip things directly from the web, add media, create tasks and assign them to team members, store notes, and share some notebooks while keeping others private.
- StaffHub: 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.
- SharePoint: There's some overlap between SharePoint and OneDrive. SharePoint is a document storage repository, but it's also intended for internal collaboration, like a company intranet. SharePoint has dashboards, calendars, lists and workflows, and offers a higher level of customization, however that also means it requires more time to implement.
- Teams: Another collaboration tool, Microsoft Teams, is great for businesses that need to collaborate with remote team members on a regular basis. Through Teams you can share files, make calls (when paired with a phone system), and connect across mobile devices (Android and Apple).
- Flow: Flow is a time saving cloud tool that allows users to build complex automated workflows that connect with third-party applications, like social media and marketing apps. SMB that desperately need to simplify their marketing and communications should check this feature out ASAP.
- Yammer: Yammer is an odd hybrid that's part chat app and part collaboration app, but since it's in the Microsoft ecosystem it works with other Office 365 tools. You can invite people to Outlook meetings directly from Yammer, access OneDrive and chat with teammates.
- Stream: Stream is a platform for storing and sharing video content within your organization. While it may not be useful for all SMB, those with extensive media needs will appreciate the capacity (500MB per user), customizable corporate video portal and video permission management.
The Microsoft 365 Admin Dashboard
The admin dashboard, where MDM happens, is uncluttered, user friendly and boon for SMB that want to encourage BYOD. Additionally, 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. So, for businesses that don't want to bother with MDM, there's no downside.
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.
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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.
Newest Business Center Apps
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 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. The template-based designer allows users to choose among themes, customize them and send them, all in one place. Thanks to integration with Bing, 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.
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.