Usually when we talk about corporate email, we talk about Exchange or Google Apps for Business. Recently we’re talking more about cloud solutions like Google or a Hosted Exchange solution but nowadays a new-comer has started gaining ground and it’s another solution through Microsoft called Office 365. Office 365 is a form of hosted exchange made to go head to head with Google Apps for Business. Plans start at $4/user/month and go all the way up to $20. Hosted exchange by itself can’t contend with Google Apps due it the added features that Google has like cloud storage and online document production, that’s why Microsoft created Office 365, it offers the same functionality and more than Google in some cases.
Office 365 gives you an email solution with a 25GB mailbox plus a spam filter. In some plans, a place to store firm documents as well as online versions of Microsoft Office such as Word, Excel & PowerPoint. You also get a a communication option called Lync, it’s like an inter-office chat program, just like Google’s, Google Talk. You get all of this plus support for a few dollars a month. The idea is that they offer you a solid email solution while at the same time web based versions of the software you know, Microsoft Office. If you stick with the web based version of these pieces of software then you can save about $200 on buying Office 2013 licenses. Most people like the desktop client software so with the lowest tier you’ll still have to purchase this software. It should be said that there is a tier of pricing that offers desktop applications as well with full upgrades to newer versions, but it’s around $12/user/month. We did the math and it’s actually cheaper to buy the software and go with a $5/user/month package. Most people stick with Office software for 4 or 5 years before they upgrade anyway. Below is a screenshot of Office 365’s Word, notice how it’s within the Internet Explorer browser showing you that it is in fact a cloud based Word solution. Apparently not all the functionality was transferred to Word’s cloud counterpart, but it does do a lot.
There’s also an online document storage option but don’t go thinking you can throw away your data server just yet. It’s only for documents, not for databases or saving your Quickbooks file, PCLaw data, SQL server, Timeslips data or anything like that. You will still need a server and you will still need a backup option. They share documents through Sharepoint, an online document sharing app through Microsoft. It’s great for documents, and it gives you a nice interface for sharing and collaboration. There is an outlook add-on features for storing documents, but your still unable to see any of your files in the standard way you see them now, within a drive map. Think of it this way, you type up a document, you log onto a web portal, and then you drag the saved document into a folder in the web portal. It’s a few steps. Many more than just hitting save or navigating to a network location. And that’s why people only use the email portion of this product, they are not willing to save documents differently, and I don’t blame them.
Most people will never use the added functionality of Office 365. Most people will focus on the secure email portion and forget about the rest which is what I am seeing in law firms. When it comes to email, the issue I have is the sub-par spam filter provided by Microsoft. They may be a leader in the industry but when it compares to many other spam filter programs that we use, it falls short. I have heard not so great things from law firms who have adopted this email solution and are having issues integrating within Amicus Cloud and other firm management applications. Keep in mind that a lot of IT companies will try and sell you 365 so that they can make money on each mailbox every month. It’s easier to sell Office 365 at $4/mailbox than Hosted Exchange at $8/mailbox. Make sure you know what your getting and ask questions like who are they buying the mailboxes from, and where does the support come from. If you get rid of your IT person, you’ll need to know who to call in case of an issue. It’s important to have the information just in case. Keep in mind that Office 365 is getting better every day as far as features. By the time you read this article Office 365 may be the best solution out there. Law firms are adopting Office 365 more and more these days, it may just work for your firm. There are many options when it comes to Office 365, make sure you make these decisions with an IT company to get exactly what you want. Below is their small business tier, 25 mailboxes max, you can wither have 25, 300 or unlimited mailboxes, but the functionality differs between the tiers. For questions, give us a call, we’ve worked with law firms helping them choose the tier that works for them and performing their email migrations.
Here’s Microsoft’s pricing info…