Microsoft woos SMBs with Office 365 cloud service

Despite new high-profile clients like Lowe's Companies, 90 percent of the cloud service's users are small businesses.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Microsoft is touting high-profile enterprise accounts for Microsoft Office 365 on the occasion of the cloud service's one-year anniversary, including home improvements retailer Lowe's, Burger King and Hallmark Cards. But small and midsize companies represent more than 90 percent of the cloud service's users, said Arpan Shah, director of Office 365.

Office 365 offers small businesses email, collaboration and messaging capabilities along with Web-based versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint at a price $6 per user, per month. The company positions the service squarely against similar features and applications from Google. It is available in 46 new markets (bring the total to 88), although Microsoft dodges the question of exactly how many users it has. "When you look at things like collaboration, Office 365 really fills a need in the small business space," Shah said.

You can run some scenarios to figure out how Office 365 might work for your company here.

One satisfied Office 365 customer is Imagination Yoga, a small business from Portland, Ore., that brings certified yoga instruction to children as part of after-school and extracurricular programs. The business, which is signing up franchises across the United States, is inherently mobile and Office 365 has been integral to helping its team stayed well-connected, said Jessica McClintic, business director for Imagination Yoga. McClintic founded and runs the business with her two siblings, Jamie Hopkins and Jon Hopkins.

Imagination Yoga, which previously used Google to run its business, adopted Office 365 in July 2011, after winning a Microsoft contest that covered the cost of the service for one year. In combination with Microsoft SharePoint Online, the service is useful for sharing and updating Excel documents and schedules, allowing McClintic to see who has updated information, and when. Excel is used to track all of the students touched by Imagination Yoga.

All the teachers who support Imagination Yoga have private inboxes as part of Office 365, plus they can share schedules. Eventually, Imagination Yoga plans to use the videoconferencing capabilities offered as part of Microsoft Lync Online to support its plans to franchise by training instructors in other states.

The advantages of Microsoft Office 365 come mostly in the form of productivity gains to the tune of about 10 hours every month compared with its previous approach, McClintic said. What's more, she said the service takes about 20 minutes to set up new users (important and the company begins to franchise) and it integrates easily across many different mobile devices and computing platforms including Windows phones, Macintosh computers, Apple iPhones and PC.

"It is a seamless conversation," McClintic said.


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