This morning, I turned on my laptop to log on to my Outlook email via Office 365, and I noticed that the Office 365 home page had a completely different look. I wasn’t surprised, since I was informed by Microsoft’s PR firm, that the tech giant was set to announce this, and other valuable updates to the platform today.
SMB Nation’s founder Harry Brelsford watched the “launch event” online this morning and offered the following observation. “To be honest, it was a focused, succinct webinar that offered up a few feature views and a couple of success stories,” Brelsford shared. “I secretly hoped that it would be a little deeper, wider and longer. Call me old-fashioned, but I still enjoy a good old fashioned launch party!”
Introduced with much fanfare by company CEO Steve Ballmer in New York, more than 18 months ago, Office 365 is designed to provide a complete cloud offering to fit the specific needs and budgets of SMBs. Today’s announcement includes updated Microsoft Lync Online, Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft SharePoint Online services. This allows SMBs to now log in to their Office apps on up to five devices, delivered as an always up-to-date cloud service.
The updated also include enhanced enterprise social capabilities with SharePoint and Yammer today, and Lync-Skype connectivity for presence, instant messaging, and voice by June; the new version of the Office 365 platform is available today in 69 markets and 17 languages, and will be available in an additional 20 markets and 16 languages in the second quarter of this year.
Last week, prior to this announcement going live, I had the opportunity to chat with Cindy Bates, Microsoft’s VP of U.S. SMB Organization, regarding the announcement and its impact on partners and the SMBs they service. Even more, Bates, who comes from a family of small business owners, obviously has an even deeper level of understanding when it comes to meeting the needs and pain points of the SMB community.
I asked Bates about the main benefits that these new features will offer the Microsoft partner community, and she said that a lot of it goes back to how both Microsoft and the SMB community is constantly changing. “This is a transformational time for SMBs, and with these new features, we are bringing these enterprise-level capabilities such as Lync to our SMBs partners…the underlying driver is the value to the customer,” Bates said.
Bates added that the investments and mind share involving today’s announcement will not stop here, that she and her team will always be continually working to bring new innovations to the partner and SMB community, especially in light of the current migration to the cloud. “These investments are always continuing,” she said. “Fully architected for the cloud, these new offerings take advantage of that, and the ability to access information from any device, from anywhere at any time,” she said. “It’s about being able to go into a café and stream Office to any device, storing documents on SkyDrive Pro…all of these rich scenarios and the rich features that include the full Office 365 experience.”
We also discussed marketing, and how partners can take advantage of the go-to-market experience surrounding these new enhancements. “We have a ready-to-go marketing engine that enables our partners to create campaigns and download sales proposals, and web syndication and they can leverage the content we have around Office 365,” Bates said.
Bates added that awareness will also be promoted by her team making connections throughout the various Microsoft communities, business chambers and educational institutions to leverage the demand generation and to arm partners with workshop kits that will connect them to the Microsoft app store, as well as drive awareness for Office 365.
Per a press release issued today by Microsoft, the new set of Office 365 features are as follows:
• Office 365 ProPlus. Office 365 ProPlus includes the latest and most complete set of fully featured, rich Office applications — Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath and Access — delivered as a service, on up to five devices. People can now simply sign in to Office 365 from any of their devices, and their documents and personalized settings roam with them, allowing them to quickly pick up right where they left off. IT departments also get the controls they need, including the ability to run Office 365 ProPlus side-by-side with other versions of Office and tools to streamline and manage updates for their users. Office 365 ProPlus is available as a standalone offering for $144 per user for an annual subscription and is included with the updated premium Office 365 Enterprise offerings and the new Office 365 Midsize Business.
• Office 365 Midsize Business. Office 365 Midsize Business is designed for medium-sized businesses with 10 to 250 employees. This service includes Office 365 ProPlus and provides midsize businesses with enterprise-quality communication and collaboration with Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online — along with the simplified IT tools they need to maintain control while reducing complexity. Active Directory integration, a Web-based administration console and business-hours phone support are also included. Pricing is $180 per user for an annual subscription, the equivalent of $15 per user, per month.
• Office 365 Small Business Premium. Office 365 Small Business Premium is designed for small businesses with one to 10 employees. In addition to the complete set of rich Office applications, this service includes business-grade email, shared calendars, website tools and HD videoconferencing capability in an easy-to-manage service that does not require IT expertise. Pricing is $150 per user for an annual subscription, the equivalent of $12.50 per user, per month.
In addition to the business services announced today, on Jan. 29 Microsoft launched Office 365 Home Premium and updated versions of the traditional Office suite and servers.
Customers can purchase Office directly from Microsoft or through an authorized retail outlet or partner.