Office 365

Does anyone really understand Office 365?


I was recently asked to provide training for Office 365.  This innocent request is like asking for training on airplanes.  The wide variety in types along with new releases with new features is a moving target.

Just when you think you’ve finally turned the corner to understanding Office 365, Microsoft releases half a dozen new products in a flurry to get them in the marketplace.  This has been a recurring theme over the past three years, seeming with no end in sight.  Trying to keep up is a daunting task, Microsoft itself often can’t answer questions about their own products.  They certainly lack any consistency.

This puts a tremendous strain on companies like ours who recommend, implement and support Office 365 products.  If our experts have a hard time keeping up and understanding the products, imagine what is like for a business trying to determine if Office 365 is right for them.

To make my point, let’s just scratch the surface of Office 365.  There are roughly seven bundled versions of Office 365 license types for business use.  Within each of these license types are “included applications”.  This is where it really gets interesting.  The Office 365 E3 license includes the following applications and services:

  1. Outlook

  2. Word

  3. Excel

  4. PowerPoint

  5. Access

  6. Publisher

  7. Exchange

  8. OneDrive

  9. SharePoint

  10. Teams

  11. Yammer

  12. Stream

Many of these applications and services may be recognizable and some completely foreign.  Understanding and using some of the more obscure applications and services are a luxury only attainable with an internal IT staff dedicated to Office 365.

This list is not near the end of it, not even close.  There are hundreds of additional add-on products and services to Office 365 for specific purposes.  Here is a very short sample:

  1. Visio

  2. Project

  3. Phone System

  4. Audio Conferencing

  5. Advanced eDiscovery

  6. Advanced Threat Protection

  7. Kaizala

  8. Intune

  9. Cloud App Security

  10. Meeting Room

  11. Enterprise Mobility + Security

  12. Dynamics 365

  13. Power BI Pro

  14. PowerApps

  15. Azure Active Directory

  16. Flow

  17. Windows 10

  18. Microsoft 365

Each of these products has multiple options and features to choose from.  In addition, there is an entire Office 365 Marketplace with thousands (over 2500) add-on third-party applications.  You get the picture.

Here’s a link to see for yourself:

Adding frustration, many of these products change names (as with the Skype for Business change to Teams) and are released without, in my opinion, being fully vetted for any problems or bugs.  The general public ‘doesn’t know what they don’t know’ and may try deploying solutions that don’t meet the business need, don’t work reliably, or both.

It’s not all negative

Office 365 has provided a wealth of valuable productivity solutions at very affordable prices making them now attainable for the smallest of businesses.  When understood and used properly, business productivity and value can increase dramatically.  But there’s the rub.  The products must first be understood and then implemented properly with adequate training to take full advantage.

Consider again the original request: provide training for Office 365.  To train for Office 365 there must first be training on the Office 365 family of products and ecosystem to determine what is relevant for the business.  Care must be taken to understand and delineate mature and robust products from recently released ‘bleeding edge’ products.

It’s our job to understand and keep up with Office 365.  Internally, we must continually deploy and test new products to understand them, learn what works well, what doesn’t, and where they fit within business use cases.  Teams and Voice is a great example.

Skype for Business changed to Teams and added voice plans last year.  Teams is included in many Office 365 licenses and Voice is included with the E5 license or as an add-on.  We migrated from Skype for Business to Teams and from our previous voice provider to Microsoft Voice last year.  Transitioning voice services to Microsoft was not for the faint of heart.  Will our number transfer (port) correctly?  Will the voice quality be acceptable? Will the auto-attendant have the features we need?

Surprisingly, the migration of our voice services to Microsoft was easy and the quality has been excellent.  A pleasant surprise.  The migration to Teams was not as smooth.  Teams is a great application with an abundance of really great features consolidated in one place.   It has improved our collaboration and productivity while allowing us to shed products.  Answering a call within Teams and then sharing files, sharing screens and instant messaging during the call is awesome. 

The ‘gotcha’ with Teams has been SharePoint.  Transitioning our files to SharePoint was very time consuming and the change in ‘look and feel’ and how files are accessed has been difficult.  There have been painful performance and accessibility issues, including some downtime.  But we now know the details to better advise our clients through real world use.

Providing education and advice on Office 365 products prior to purchase and implementation will reduce the amount of surprises and frustration.  Ensuring every user understands the capabilities proactively will also reduce the amount of support requests related to the roll-out.  Time spent up front will pay dividends towards a smoother implementation.

Understanding Office 365

fluid-office-365I recently asked a very savvy business colleague the question “What is Office 365 to you?”  Their response was “Outlook”.  This is very surprising and telling because it comes from someone who has been using Office 365 for over a year! Ever since Microsoft launched Office 365 on June 28, 2011 (yes, it is already 5 years old!), there has been tremendous confusion in the marketplace about what really is Office 365.   Five years later and there is even more confusion and misunderstanding.  Whether you are a single consumer or a 500 employee company, I find a tremendous gap in what people think Office 365 is versus what it really is and can do.

There are over 85 Office 365 product SKU’s!

Although the person I questioned may be using Office 365 for just email and Outlook, it is something far greater; basically an entire ecosystem of solutions that can be catered for your specific needs.  Further complicating the matter, the Office 365 ecosystem continues to grow, with new offerings added all the time.  For example, Dynamics 365 was recently released this fall.

Office 365 has different product licensing and pricing for consumer, corporate, government and academic user types.  Certain Office 365 products are available if you have 300 employees or less, which are not available once you cross that threshold.

The core basic concept and offering of Office 365 is the bundling of mainstream Microsoft products with the bundles defined to meet specific user and/or company needs.

You can buy pre-bundled packages

For a small company, you can buy packages based on your specific needs.  For example –

  • Office 365 Business Essentials – for companies that need email and file sharing, but don’t need Microsoft Office, this package includes only Exchange Outlook email, OneDrive Business, Skype for Business, and Team Sites (SharePoint)
  • Office 365 Business – for companies that need the MS Office suite, but don’t need email, this package includes Outlook (no email, OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher and OneDrive
  • Office 365 Business Premium – for companies that need both email and the MS Office suite, this package includes Exchange Outlook email, OneNote, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, Skype for Business, Team Sites (SharePoint), and OneDrive

However, these packages are only available to companies with less than 300 employees.  If there are 300+ employees you must uses the ProPlus or Enterprise editions, which also have multiple bundled package offerings.

The Enterprise level also provides additional software solutions, such as –

  • Microsoft Access
  • Skype for Business voice capability
  • Power BI business analytics


You can add-on numerous individual products incrementally

Additional Microsoft solutions and products may be added incrementally to an Office 365 account based on specific business needs.  These may include services such as –

  • In-Place Hold to preserve deleted and edited emails for legal requirements
  • Hosted Voicemail
  • Data Loss Prevention to help identify, monitor and protect sensitive data, such as PII and PCI
  • Offsite backup of laptops/desktops using OneDrive
  • Microsoft Project Pro for Office 365
  • Microsoft Visio Pro for Office 365
  • Azure cloud services
  • Intune mobile device management
  • Sway (how many of you have even heard of this product?!)

Had enough yet?!

Did you know OneDrive is now robust enough that it could replace other mainstream solutions such as and Dropbox at a fraction of the cost?  Or that you can backup server data offsite using Azure with your Office 365 subscription?

This short article should make it clear that Office 365 is a very robust set of solutions, but equally as complicated to understand.  It’s no wonder, when asked, many think of Office 365 as black hole with no hope of understanding it all.  The good news is you don’t have to, but you do need to know to ask for help.  It’s amazing how many people and companies do not know where to go for help or know but don’t ask.

Fluid is one of a few Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) Partners, which means we not only have expertise in Office 365, we provide end-user support directly.  We can also help educate you on the best fit for your needs, as well as provide end-user training on the Office 365 products you already have to ensure you are maximizing the value of the solutions.

If you need help with Office 365, call Fluid today!