Many small businesses may be tempted to choose Office 365’s cheapest plan, known as Office 365 for Professionals and Small Businesses. However, for many, the cheapest plan does not provide the best solution for their business and may in fact prove to be very limiting.
The first thing you should be aware of with the Office 365 for Professionals and Small Businesses plan (known as the P plan) is that it is aimed at businesses with 25 or less users. On the positive side it can be extended up to a maximum of 50 licences but the bad thing is that it can’t be directly upgraded to the more flexible enterprise, or E plans.
Once you reach 50 users you have no choice but to upgrade to the enterprise plans which requires an IT services company to manage the transfer of data (not a straightforward process) and set up the account.
Another important fact about the P licence is that it does not support the ability to integrate local Active Directory network security to Office 365 like the enterprise plans do.
Active Directory provides centralised management and security such as by handling log-ins to all the computers in a business. Without it you must maintain individual log-ins on each machine.
A business on the P plan can still have Active Directory running on a local server but it can’t sync with cloud management. This means two sets of log-ins and security for employees.
A major shortcoming is that assistance for those on the P plan is only available via community support. This basically means trolling through online information such as forums and blogs. It certainly makes the assumption that a small business has the technical skills to not only configure but also maintain any Office365 deployment.
So you may think that you are saving on costs upfront with cheap P plans but as any small business knows, the major cost of technology is always around support. If you haven’t already experienced the difference in cost between finding help and asking someone for help sooner or later on the P plan you will.
However, the greatest apparent drawback for a small business is the lack of flexibility when compared to the enterprise licences. In the enterprise family there are four enterprise and two kiosk (reduced functionality) licences which you can mix and match as required.
Most small businesses are generally a mix of power and basic users. Thus, power users could be allocated an E3 licence that allows them things such as advanced SharePoint and Exchange as well as the latest desktop version of Microsoft Office, Professional Plus, while more basic users could use a more limited E1 or K1 licence to view information.
Office 365 provides enterprise versions of SharePoint and Exchange however many of the most powerful features are only available on Enterprise licences. For example, one of the major benefits missing from SharePoint Online in the P plan is form services.
Microsoft InfoPath (again available in Office Professional Plus via an E3 or better plan) creates intelligent forms that can be published to SharePoint. Once published, other SharePoint users with the advanced SharePoint licence can complete these forms without needing InfoPath installed on their machines. This provides a major benefit to any business looking to reduced their dependence on paper and streamline their processes.
Advanced features of Office 365 Exchange Online in the enterprise plans include the ability to have unlimited email archiving, while the P Plans are limited to a maximum of 25GB of email. Another is the ability to place a mailbox on legal hold. This means a user can delete items from their mailbox but the items are retained for compliance.
Legal hold also protects the original version of each mailbox item from modification by the user. Given the importance many businesses now place on email and the regulations many now also face in regards to email, having such ability is going to become more necessary.
When making a decision about the right Office 365 licence for your business it is important to look beyond just the monthly cost and carefully consider the functionality and flexibility provided.
Just because a business is small doesn’t mean that it won’t require the power of enterprise features. In fact the ability to easily access enterprise features may make a small business much more competitive.
For progressive businesses that see technology as investment rather than simply an overhead, looking beyond the basic Professionals and Small Businesses Office 365 plan is a must.
What do you think an office 365 small business plan should include?