Working with an IT support company and looking further than Microsoft may help with problems around data sharing, flexibility and control
While Office 365 has solved many of the difficulties caused by the old physical-server-under-a-desk set-up, such as the need to maintain and (eventually) replace the server, it has created several new ones. Chief amongst these difficulties is the fact that, in order to deliver the service on a global scale, Microsoft has created a single product with a single set of corporate ‘rules’ that don’t necessarily suit every client. In addition, it constantly updates and ‘improves’ the service, without considering the millions of individual users who are not technologically confident and who need training to deal with changes to the system.
Having said that, the email system works very well and probably better than having a server in the office. The issues are more about managing and sharing data, flexibility, and control.
So what alternatives are there for small businesses, and especially those without in-house IT expertise?
People often buy Office 365 thinking that they can wave goodbye to their IT support company at the same time. Unfortunately they are in for a disappointment: the Office 365 small business package does come with web and phone support in business-critical situations, but no day-to-day user support. Of course this could be covered by a techie member of staff, but it rather depends on what their ‘day job’ is. So the alternative for most small businesses is to reconnect with their previous IT support company, or find a new one.
They key issue is almost always one of price. Most of the IT support industry is still based on a ‘maintenance’ model, in which you pay a fixed price each month for support (and maintenance of the server you no longer have). At First Line IT we’re finding that the best and most flexible solution is an hours-based system, in which client pays simply for the hours used each month. Alternatively, some clients prefer to pay a small monthly fee per user in a way that mimics the Microsoft subscription.
As long as you have some flexibility and feel in control of the costs, it is worth working with an IT support company to ensure that you get the best out of Office 365.
An IT support company could help you set up and maintain a team site within Office 365 that will allow you to share documents and data. But for many small businesses a better option is to combine Office 365 with another data-sharing solution that is more flexible and user-friendly.
Dropbox is a popular option for this, as it does not need a site administrator and is Mac-friendly, allowing designers and other Mac fans to communicate with the rest of the business.
Microsoft’s ubiquity and power is such that most people think of Office 365 as the only cloud service for small businesses. However, working with an IT support company to set up your own private cloud solution results in something that is much more flexible, can be designed to fit your business exactly, and is properly supported – all for a comparable price.
At First Line IT our set-up cost for a private cloud solution is usually only a few hundred pounds, and this is followed by a monthly subscription of just under £10 a month per user. For this you get whatever functionality your business needs, proper support, and complete freedom from corporate rules and the sort of one-size-fits-all ‘improvements’ regularly imposed on users by Microsoft.