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This year's snowmaegeddon wasn't nearly as bad as ones we have seen in the past - but it was still plenty disruptive to schedules (especially if you have kids). Unfortunately, in our business, we can't stop just because the ice and snow come to town. The same can be said of our almost all of our customers, as well!
Luckily, we were able to stay productive and in constant communication, even though our physical office wasn't technically open. Here's how:
Our email is on Exchange Online in Office 365.
As you may know we are big fans of Office 365. A few years back our email would have been hosted on an internal server and we would have prayed that the power at the office didn't go out; otherwise our email would go down. Now we experience 99% uptime (or more) with Exchange Online in Office 365.
We publish key apps to the web.
This is one of those features that most people don't realize is even available. Using a feature in Windows Server, we have 'published' a few key applications to the web, making them fully accessible from any device. As a business owner, this is especially helpful for line of business applications. I was able to run a full copy of QuickBooks on an iPad while at home with my kids.
All of our critical on-premises systems are replicated to the Cloud.
We only have one system left running on our on-premises server (and it happens to be the one that controls all of our tickets, proactive and reactive). In the off chance that the power did go out at the office, we could have started an exact replica of this key server in the Cloud so we could continue working normally.
Our phone system is Skype for Business (formerly called Lync).
If you called the office on the Friday of the ice storm, it actually rang to our dispatcher's PC at her house. If an engineer called you, they actually used their PC (or their tablet/cell). Skype for Business allows us to take our phone system with us wherever we go (regardless of the device).
This has probably been the #1 game changer for us as a business. Most of our customers communicate with us by phone, so having our phone systems work without interruption even when we're working from home is critical.
Skype for Business shows 'real time availability' and faster collaboration with instant messaging.
We use Skype for Business as part of an Office 365 subscription, so it integrates with other systems, like our calendars. Since we also use it as our phone, Skype for Business will keep track of our availability and update our instant messaging status accordingly.
While I am not always huge fan of IM while in the office (I prefer face to face communication), being able to see which of my team were available to answer a question at a glance is very valuable. Being able to pop them a quick IM gets me a response faster than email (and keeps both of our inboxes just a little bit cleaner - which is always nice).
All of this technology is great - but ultimately, we had a plan. We knew that bad weather was coming and we prepared our staff to work remotely. As an organization, we're going to put a renewed focus on making sure our customers are aware of these options in their business. Too often we wait until the moment is upon us to prepare and, by then, it's too late! If you have any questions about how you could leverage similar solutions for your business, please let us know!
This month I was asked to write about Office 365 as many people don’t truly understand what it is. I’m not criticizing, I admit that if you asked me a few years ago I wouldn’t be able to define exactly what Office 365 is either.
I love Microsoft products, but some of their product names, to be blunt, are confusing. A lot of that confusion is caused by programs for personal use and business use being called very, very similar names (Like OneDrive and Onedrive for Business and Skype and Skype for Business).
Typically, the ‘Business’ version of anything is the consumer version of the same product with added features, but in some cases they’re actually two completely separate products. The worst culprit of this is the title “Office 365”- especially Office 365 Home and Office 365 for Business.
One of my main jobs at PTG is to migrate companies’ email and documents to Office 365. In an average week I speak with at least 3 Owners/CEOs who tell me “I have Office 365 already”. When I ask what kind, a majority of them can’t tell me. About 75% tell me that they didn’t even know that there was anything other than the version of Office 365 that they bought! This isn't really through any fault of theirs - the names are just confusing!
But back to the subject matter at hand – explaining what “Office 365” is. I’ll make it easy: “Office 365” is Microsoft’s set of cloud hosted services. There are multiple services you can subscribe to, depending on your Office 365 plan: Exchange (email), SharePoint (company intranet), OneDrive (cloud storage), Skype (instant messaging), and Office Pro Plus (downloading the Office suite to your desktop) just to name a few. All of these services use the ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) model of small monthly payments, rather than one-time, lump sum payment.
Users have the ability to pick and choose exactly which services they wish to subscribe to, and pay monthly or yearly based on their subscription. What most people don’t realize, though, is Office 365 has two main categories: Home/Personal and Business.
Office 365 Home/Personal
I’ll start with the easier of the two: home/personal use. Office 365 for home/personal use is intended to be subscribed to by the typical user or family. With this category, users are only allowed to subscribe to a few services: Skype, OneDrive, and Office Pro Plus.
Here's where most people get hung up: Exchange (email) and Sharepoint are NOT included, meaning with Office 365 Home/Personal you cannot host your email through Office 365. This is the biggest differentiator between the two services and what keeps businesses from using Office 365 Home/Personal for their business.
Typically, Office 365 is purchased at Best Buy or some other retailer or included as a free year subscription when someone buys a new computer.
Office 365 for Business
The business side of Office 365 includes many more features. The main two are SharePoint (internal company website) and Exchange (email @YourDomain.com). Office 365 for business use has a few plan options to choose from based on your company's needs. You can mix and match plans based on specific employee needs, too.
Office 365 for business includes features and programs designed to make you more productive at work. Depending on which plan you get, some of the programs you can get include (this isn't everything!):
The Business platform also has a variety of enhanced features that are available to help you conform to or apply your own standards – advanced archiving, litigation hold, as well as email and document encryption.
Office 365 for Business is typically purchased through a Microsoft Partner (like us!), but can also be purchased through some websites.
Even if you don't need a lot of these programs, it's still best to use the Office 365 plans intended for your business. The cheapest Office 365 Enterprise E1 is actually slightly less expensive than Office 365 Home, so using the Home plan isn't necessarily going to save you money.
And once you factor in the other services you'll need to add (like email) to Office 365 Home, it's really not worth trying to make it work. Even though the programs have the same name, it's like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
If you're using Office 365 Home/Personal and want to try out the business version, you can sign up for a free 30 day trial here.
Chris serves as the Service Manager, leading the PTG services team. He works in partnership with clients, advising them how to use information technology in order to meet their business objectives and overcome problems.
Chris graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in Management Information Systems. Before joining PTG, he worked at Datastream/Infor for 13 years – including a role in Paris – in positions ranging from remote access support specialist to WAN manager to senior systems administrator and director of computer and network operations.
Most recently, Vanzant has serviced small and medium-sized business owners in infrastructure management, security management, remote connectivity, and disaster recovery. Prior to that, he installed and managed worldwide VPN and the global help desk between >10 international offices and corporate headquarters.
MCSE – Microsoft Certified System Engineer
CCNA – Cisco Certified Network Associate
CCSA – CheckPoint Certified Systems Administrator
CCSE – CheckPoint Certified Systems Engineer
MCP – Microsoft Certified Professional
Favorite Piece of Technology
“My XBox One - It's nice to relax at the end of the day and watch Netflix or play a game or two.”
Chris is an Eagle Scout.