For years now, large enterprises have been conducting their business on a global scale using devices ranging from servers to personal computers to mobile phones. Entire departments of engineers and support personnel were created just to facilitate and maintain those devices. But what if your business is too small or lacks the expertise for a full IT department?

This is the niche Microsoft hopes to cover with its Microsoft 365 program, announced at the company’s partner conference, Inspire 2017, in July. By combining Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility and Security, Microsoft will offer a turnkey solution for smaller businesses that want to create a secure collaborative working environment, complete with mobile device support, but that don’t have the wherewithal to make it happen by themselves.

SEE: Microsoft Office 365: The smart person’s guide

Microsoft 365

According to the announcement, there will be two versions of Microsoft 365: Business and Enterprise. Both versions will feature all three products and will be installed, administered, and supported by a member of the Microsoft Partner Program or a consultant familiar with the solution’s workings. At least, that’s how the plan was laid out at the conference.

Without a doubt, there is a real and urgent need for some help in this area. SMBs are developing and nurturing creative, collaborative, and secure working environments, but they can no longer afford to do so haphazardly. Piecing together a few products from Office 365, running the apps on a mix of Windows 10, 8, 7, and perhaps even XP, and then adding in various mobile devices with dubious security safeguards is just not acceptable behavior in a business world reeling from malware, stolen customer data, and other security breaches.

Microsoft 365 Enterprise will be available for sale on August 2, 2017. However, Microsoft 365 Business will be available only for preview on that date. The cost of the Enterprise version will depend on many factors, so it will vary, but the Business version is preliminarily priced at $20 per person per month. The tools used to administer the 365 system are located on a cloud-based dashboard that can be accessed from anywhere at any time, reducing many overhead costs.

As an example of where this product could do some good, I offer this anecdotal story.

Not long after Microsoft 365 was announced, I visited a doctor’s office for a routine checkup and I noticed that the system they were using for medical records keeping was operating on Windows 7. The record-keeping system itself used older icons and buttons that suggested an origin deeply rooted in the era of Windows XP. The doctor was checking email on his personal Android phone, and some of the staff were using iPads for tracking appointments. A typical mess of devices for a doctor’s office.

The office lost network connectivity briefly while I was there and no one knew what to do about it. Consequently, there was near chaos for several minutes while staff tried to find someone who could help turn the network back on. All the while, patients like me were stacking up in the waiting room. Who knows what was going on behind the scenes. Was it just a technical glitch or was something more nefarious happening?

This is the kind of small business Microsoft 365 could help. By consolidating all those disparate devices and operating systems into a cohesive, easily managed system, the office could run more efficiently–and my medical records could be more secure. The difficult part of the Microsoft 365 concept is selling it to the people running small businesses. Inertia and resistance toward change, especially in business, is not easily overcome.

SEE: Microsoft Universal Windows Platform Expert Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

Bottom line

Microsoft 365 is an ambitious idea designed to help SMBs develop creative, collaborative, and secure working environments, which are so vital to success in a mobile-centric world. Selling such a product to SMBs that may not know they need it will rest with third-party partners and not with Microsoft. Therefore, the overall success of the program is suspect. But kudos to Microsoft for making the effort. And if my anecdote is any indication, it is obvious SMBs really need the help.

Also read…

Your thoughts

How diverse are the devices in your organization? Are you having trouble managing your network? Share your thoughts and opinions with your peers at TechRepublic in the discussion thread below.