Microsoft’s Office in the cloud is really as much about unified communications as it is about cloud computing when you consider the various telecoms companies that are already signed up as partners.
In Ireland, Vodafone, UPC and O2 will be bringing the Office 365 service to their customers. It will prove pivotal to future voice and data plans as firms embrace unified communications and the ability to employ social media, voice and video in day-to-day office tasks.
Office 365 brings together Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange Online and Microsoft Lync Online in an always-up-to-date service, at a predictable monthly cost.
The service was introduced in limited beta last year with enthusiastic response, particularly among small and mid-size businesses. Over a few months, more than 200,000 organisations, 70pc of which were small and mid-size businesses, signed up and began testing Office 365, creating one of Microsoft’s largest beta programs for businesses.
Although Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, at an event this afternoon in New York, made the point that Office 365 will be relevant from the largest corporation down to the smallest company, the key focus will be on small and mid-size companies.
“This is where Microsoft office meets the cloud. Microsoft delivers technologies that connect people to what they love and care about. Friends and families, colleagues.
“Productivity in Microsoft Office forms a foundation that makes it possible to be more creative, make better decisions and accomplish more. The best tool of all for those purposes is Microsoft Office, which helps bring ideas to life and it is used by 1bn people around the world.
“Businesses today operate at levels of speed, efficiencies and scale unprecedented. Collaboration happens in addition to productivity anywhere for any business and of any size. People can stay connected with IM, and attend real-time virtual meetings with co-workers and partners.
“With Office 365, people can work together on files and documents simultaneously. Team members on all electronic devices can work together. Even the smallest businesses can design and maintain compelling websites and edit as easily as Word documents using SharePoint technologies.
“We believe effective collaboration is more effective than group dynamics, with ideas flowing freely and the right people taking the right action at the right time. That’s why best collaboration technology has to be available to all businesses, from large corporations to feisty start-ups,” Ballmer said.
He added small and mid-size businesses are responsible for two-thirds of global job growth and employ 1.5bn people around the world.
Office 365 in Ireland
Jeremy Showalter, business manager, Information Worker, Microsoft Ireland, explained Office 365 is ideal for use in the Irish market.
“These capabilities are things that small businesses have not had in the past. What they did get from systems and sources was piecemeal and a jigsaw unless they had the proper integration.”
He said it should be easy for an IM to a colleague to be turned into an online meeting and whiteboard session or for colleagues operating in different cities to be patched into the session.
I asked Showalter what he thought of Office 365 integrating with social media. “We definitely see that being integrated. When we launched Office 2010, the Outlook Social Connector was a good step in that direction which allowed you to get your social feed from LinkedIn and Facebook.
“SharePoint also has a lot of that internal social impact. Using My Site, users can create social feeds that include tag clouds, status updates – we often refer to this capability as ‘Facebook for the enterprise.’ But users can do more, such as blog and share Wikis, for example. The difference is this can be managed and controlled privately so it won’t be shared with the wider world.”
Responding to a question about how unified communications tools like Lync will manifest on different devices and platforms, Showalter said that from a browser perspective, Microsoft intends support different types of devices, as well as Windows Phone 7, including iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices.
“We’ve already stated publicly that we’re working on Lync as an endpoint across all mobile platforms,” he said, adding that new platforms will be added at different points in the coming months.