With the advent of Cloud IT models, small to medium businesses have more opportunity than ever to save money, while at the same time enjoy productivity gains. The Office 365 platform is a next generation cloud service offering that goes beyond simply offering email, file and document management in the cloud, rather it is a platform for transforming the way you do business. Office 365 can go beyond the “office automation” to provide better ways for your team and partners to collaborate, and even to automate the core business processes (like time-off, expense reimbursement, service requests, etc.) that may be done manually now.
Unfortunately, many Office 365 customers never go beyond basic office automation (email and office applications) to get the transformational productivity possible with enhanced team collaboration and business applications. Most clients are happy to get rid of their exchange server, and perhaps use MS Office in the cloud rather than maintaining it on every employees client machine. Unfortunately that is where many Office 365 implementations stop. This provides only office automation benefits. A subset implement Lync and SharePoint Online in their base form, creating a team site to share documents, calendars, tasks and maybe discussions. This next step provides some collaboration benefits. This is where it stops for over 90% of Office 365 customers. Unfortunately, the step that provides the highest value, business process automation, is the step that most organizations miss. Deploying a full Intranet, and department portals can be expensive. Core business processes like Expense Reporting, Time-off Requests, HR functions like performance reviews, hiring, and internal service requests for IT, Facilities and Marketing departments continue to be done manually or with standalone applications (with maintenance costs and fees). Some Office 365 customers try to build their own (but do not have the time or resources) or hire third-party consultants to build the business process applications (at great expense).
Getting more productivity from Office 365 leveraging SharePoint Online can be cost effectively achieved with pragmatic planning, and leveraging off the shelf application solutions where possible. Intranet portal application templates are available which provide at least 80% of the functionality most organizations need. Employee Self-Service and HR applications are also coming on the market as well. Even CRM applications are now available for SharePoint and SharePoint Online. Companies like SP Marketplace (www.spmarketplace.com) and EasyShare offer alternatives which can take your Office 365 deployment to the next level of productivity with a cost-effective approach. Several Office 365 service providers are adding these type of solution suites to their offerings and building a phased approach deployment methodology for taking Office 365 to its full potential.