Microsoft Office 365 Free To Qualifying Nonprofits

Microsoft now offers the entry-level, E1 plan of its Cloud-based, Office 365 service free to qualifying nonprofits. 

The Office 365 E1 plan includes Exchange Online (email, contacts, calendar, tasks), SharePoint Online (collaboration) and Lync Online (text and video conferencing).  To see our overview of Microsoft’s Office 365, visit Bryley Office 365 Presentation 4-24-2013.pdf.

The process to determine if your organization qualifies for this free service:

  • Sign-up for a free, 25-user trial of the Microsoft Office 365 E3 plan*
  • Fill-out the account information (name, organization, address)
  • Create a user ID (and agree to the Terms and Conditions)

Once the application is completed and the free-trial accepted, Microsoft will notify your organization if it qualifies as a non-profit.

*Note:  The E3 plan includes all of the features of the E1 plan plus the latest version of Microsoft Office desktop suite and other items.  It is not free, but is deeply discounted to qualifying non-profits.  Upon qualification, you may convert some or all of your users to the free, E1 plan.

Here is the site for Office 365 Enterprise E3 Nonprofits Trial.

Deploying software systems to manage a growing organization

Most organizations use software to manage at least these items:

  • Accounting – Perform vital bookkeeping and accounting functions
  • Contacts – Organize and manage clients, prospects, vendors, etc.
  • Operations – Match assets to organization’s need on a daily basis

In organizations with funding limitations, deployment of a software-based system to manage specific functions often starts as a cost-based decision, which can lead to several miscues along the way since cost is only one of the factors that should guide the decision.

I’d categorize deployment options in this manner:

  • Build your own using all-purpose, brand-name, productivity software
  • Purchase stand-alone applications and manually integrate them
  • Deploy an integrated, all-inclusive system
  • Outsource this mess to someone else

I’ll address the first three options now and provide some feedback on deployment.   Outsource is a large topic that will be covered separately.

Build your own

Organizations with a do-it-yourself perspective often turn to the build your own approach; you basically use the functionality of productivity software (like Microsoft Office) to create a custom-built solution.  Generally, this works OK to start, but can be difficult to manage and maintain with growth.

Popular productivity-software options include:

  • Microsoft’s Office suite (currently Microsoft Office 2013), which includes:
    • Outlook to manage contacts, calendar, email, and tasks
    • Excel to create proposals and track financial information
    • Access to build and manage contact and production databases
  • Microsoft Office 365, a Cloud-based alternative to the Microsoft Office suite
  • Google Apps for Business, which is a direct competitor to Microsoft Office 365

When Bryley Systems first started in the mid-1980s, we used Lotus 123 (a then-popular spreadsheet application) as our primary tool for everything financial; it quickly became unwieldy, so we purchased an accounting-software package.

Stand-alone applications

Stand-alone applications target a specific function and provide work-flows and best-practices to address this function through use of the software application.

Stand-alone applications are often categorized by function (as described above):

  • Accounting
  • Contacts
  • Operations

Below is a brief summary of these categories.

Accounting

The accounting system is very important; it automates the various accounting and bookkeeping functions (Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Inventory Control, Payroll, etc.) and provides a shared foundation for other capabilities.

Intuit’s Quicken is easy to use as a checkbook replacement, but QuickBooks is a full-function accounting system that leads this market.  Peachtree is another popular accounting package, but with only a fraction of the market share.  Intaact is making headway in mid-sized businesses.

FindAccountingSoftware.com provides an easy-to-use, online guide at http://findaccountingsoftware.com/software-search/.

Contacts

Contact-management applications permit the input and retrieval of contact information with tracking and communications activities, including scheduling.  (You can manage your contacts within your accounting system, but this becomes less practical as your account base grows.)

ACT was one of the original contact managers and claims to be the market leader.  It is now owned by Sage Software (which also owns Peachtree and other accounting packages) and can be purchased or leased online.

Other popular options include:

  • Salesforce
  • OnContact
  • Prophet

We started with ACT in the early years, but shifted to Prophet in the early 2000s since it integrated with some of our other systems.

For a recent ranking and review, please visit http://contact-management-software-review.toptenreviews.com/.

Operations (both manufacturing and service-delivery)

 

In a manufacturing environment, a production-management system enhances control over materials flow (from raw materials coming into the organization to finished goods flowing out), production resources (tooling, equipment, and employees), and scheduling.  It is the glue that binds these items together, permitting the company to manage its flow of work.

We often see these packages at our manufacturing clients:

  • Exact Macola
  • Exact JobBOSS
  • GlobalShop Solutions
  • IQMS  Enterprise IQ

Capterra lists many of these options at http://www.capterra.com/production-scheduling-software.

Service-delivery management is a bit more diverse; what works for one type of service operation might not be appropriate for another type.  Typically, these are industry-specific solutions.

For example, we started with BridgeTrak, which is a service-ticketing application with scheduling and limited contact management.  It served well for a number of years, but we found it difficult to integrate with our accounting package (Peachtree at the time) and with other applications.

Stand-alone applications can be deployed internally, but many companies exist to assist with this process. Multi-user versions should have a dedicated, Windows-based server or be Cloud-based.

The lines are blurring between stand-alone applications and integrated, all-inclusive systems, but the primary issues with stand-alone systems:

  • They can become separate islands of information
  • They do not readily integrate with one another

Integrated, all-inclusive system

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and PSA (Professional Services Automation) systems integrate all company functions and departments; it provides one repository for all organization data, which is available to all employees.  A related option, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), software is similar, but has less functionality and is often a component of an ERP or a PSA system.

High-end, all-inclusive systems from SAP, Oracle, Epicor, etc. cost hundreds of thousands or even millions to procure and deploy, but integrate every aspect of the organization.  Most large organizations work with one of these vendors and use their software nearly exclusively for all functions.

For mid-sized and smaller companies, there are many accounting-based systems that can be expanded through modules and customization to provide ERP and PSA-class alternatives.  Three of the more-popular options:

  • Microsoft Dynamics/GP (formerly Great Plains)
  • Sage 100 (formerly MAS 90)
  • NetSuite

There are also many software-development firms that focus on a specific, vertical market and provide a complete, market-specific solution.  In the mid-2000s, we chose this direction and purchased a PSA system from ConnectWise which is custom-tailored to our industry.

ConnectWise handles all facets of our business and integrates with our accounting system and with our sales-quoting tool.  All employees are required to enter every scrap of data into ConnectWise; our adopted slogan is “If it is not in ConnectWise, it did not happen”.

We also use QuickBooks, but primarily because it integrates with ConnectWise in a downstream direction.  We create our proposals through QuoteWerks, which integrates with both QuickBooks and with ConnectWise.

The initial investment is significant, but the time spent deploying an integrated, all-inclusive system solution within the organization and training employees can far surpass the cost of the software licensing. It is a demanding process, but it pays big dividends in uniting all functions and groups.

The primary benefits:

  • All functions integrate together
  • The system can usually integrate with other applications
  • All employees use the same interface and share the exact-same information

Deployment

To deploy these packages on-premise (rather than in the Cloud), you would need:

  • Infrastructure hardware – Physical server with reliability items (UPS, RAID, redundant power supplies, backup solution, etc.).  We recommend HP servers, but also support Dell.
  • Infrastructure software – Most business software are compatible with Microsoft Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server.  Microsoft Exchange Server may be needed for email integration.
  • Infrastructure deployment – Setup the Infrastructure hardware and software (listed above), configure the end-user devices (PCs and mobile), etc.
  • Business software – Usually sold in a series of modules with add-ons and licensed to match your user count.
  • Business-software deployment – Usually sold as a project, which includes all of the setup stages needed to get the business software operational and assist in the transition.  A fair amount of process customization is needed; report customization is also part of this stage.  (Most folk select an internal “champion” or a “deployment team” to evangelize, build enthusiasm, watch-over the process, and keep things on-track.)
  • Training – We recommend several, time-spaced sessions followed by occasional tune-ups to allow acclimation and to provide hand-holding for those that will have the most challenges.

Cloud-based deployments eliminate the Infrastructure stages (except setup of client devices) and price the business software in per-user increments; however, customization and training are still needed.  The major incentives to Cloud-based deployments include:

  • Reduce capital expenditures (Infrastructure equipment and software)
  • Shift to operating expenses on a per-user basis
  • Speed-up time to deploy

Cloud-based deployments requires great trust in the business partner providing these services, but they can free-up cash (by eliminating the need to purchase Infrastructure) and get you setup quicker.

Summary

Many cash-strapped organizations start with build-your-own and later morph to one or a combination of the other three options as they grow.  However, deploying an integrated, all-inclusive system provides significant benefits and is now easier to budget and deploy with Cloud-based alternatives that spread costs over time.

Microsoft Office 365 versus Microsoft Office 2013

Microsoft has been promoting its Cloud-based Office 365, which was introduced in mid-2012.  It recently released Office 2013; a familiar collection of Cloud-enabled, desktop-computer-based applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, etc.

Microsoft Office 2013

Microsoft Office was first introduced in 1985 on the Macintosh; it moved to the PC in 1990 as Office 1.0, which combined Word 1.1, Excel 2.0, and PowerPoint 2.0 in a “suite” that launched Microsoft’s subsequent success.  (At the time, Lotus 123 was the dominant spreadsheet and WordPerfect the dominant word-processor; both companies are no longer independent and are mere shells of their former selves.)

Office 2013 is the latest version of the traditional Microsoft Office suite.  It comes in several, perpetual-license formats:

  • OEM – Least-expensive, non-transferrable and sold only with a new computer
  • Retail – Boxed product that can be transferred from one PC to another
  • Open License – License-only version that can be transferred

The primary applications of Office 2013 that are included in all versions:

  • Word – Create documents
  • Excel – Build and analyze spreadsheet data
  • PowerPoint – Design and deliver presentations
  • Outlook – Manage emails, schedules, contacts

Advanced-level versions of Office 2013 also have:

  • OneNote – Take notes in your digital notebook
  • Publisher – Create professional publications
  • InfoPath – Design electronic forms
  • Access – Manage data

Two other applications associated with Office 2013, but purchased separately:

  • Visio – Develop professional diagrams (flow-charts, org charts, etc.)
  • Project – Manage a portfolio of projects

Microsoft Office 365

Office 365 is a collection of three primary, online, Microsoft-hosted services:

  • Exchange Online – Email, contacts, calendar
  • SharePoint Online – Document sharing, storage, and collaboration
  • Lync Online – Messaging with multi-party video conferencing

These online services integrate with Office 2013, but are not part of Office 2013.

Office 365 can be licensed in several formats for organizations:

  • Office 365 Small Business – $6 to $12.50/user per month based on options
  • Office 365 Medium Business – $180/user per year ($15/month)
  • Office 365 Enterprise – $8 to $22/user per month based on options

The more-expensive versions of Office 365 include a non-perpetual subscription to Office 2013.  Charitable and government organizations receive special pricing.

Overlap and differences between Office 2013 and Office 365

Office 2013 and Office 365 overlap in that some Office 365 versions include a subscription to Office 2013. Also, Office 2013 was designed to work with Office 365.

Differences include:

  • Only Office 365 includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online; Office 2013 includes only the desktop applications mentioned above.
  • Office 365 is rented under a subscription-based offering; you pay per user.
  • Office 2013 can be rented, but is also available as a perpetual license; you purchase it one-time and own it under the terms of the license agreement.

Special note:  You can purchase Office 2013 outright (through one of the perpetual-licensing models) and then use it with your Office 365 subscription.

References

Please visit http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/ for details on Microsoft Office 365 and Office 2013.

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Microsoft Streamlines Windows Server Options, Kills Versions for Home and Small Business

Microsoft has revealed that the Windows Server 2012 options will be drastically streamlined from the myriad choices of its predecessor. In the paring down, though, Microsoft is killing off Windows Small Business Server, and Windows Home Server–the two most popular versions for small and medium businesses (SMBs).

On the one hand, the news is quite welcome. Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to choosing which version of Microsoft’s server operating system is right for you business it’s just confusing. Choice is one thing, but too many choices makes the decision much more complicated than it needs to be.

With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft will only offer four versions: Datacenter, Standard, Essentials, and Foundation. Even better, the versions are all equipped with essentially the same features and capabilities, and the only real difference is the number of virtual machines each can handle. That means that Windows Server 12 Standard Edition will include features like Windows Server failover clustering, and BranchCache hosted cache server that were previously reserved only for the Datacenter and Enterprise versions.

For the most part, though, SMBs aren’t really interested in those enterprise-class capabilities, and they’ve been satisfied working with Windows Home Server, or Windows Small Business Server–which includes core functionality of Exchange Server and SharePoint Server. These organizations are going to have to make a switch, though, when it comes time to upgrade.

According to a PDF from Microsoft titledWindows Server 2012 Essentials: Frequently Asked Questions, both of these versions are superseded by Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Microsoft explains that it has focused on making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal operating system platform for both small businesses and home users.

The decision is driven–at least in part–by current tech trends, and Microsoft’s own focus on cloud-based tools and services. Microsoft explains, “With Windows Server 2012 Essentials, customers can take advantage of the same type of integrated management experience whether they choose to run an on-premises copy of Exchange Server, subscribe to a hosted Exchange service, or subscribe to Office 365.”

The bottom line is that SMBs don’t need to have Exchange or SharePoint bundled with Windows Server. Windows Server 2012 Essentials will meet the server platform needs of most organizatons–even better than its predecessor thanks to the across the board feature parity–and an Office 365 subscription can deliver Exchange, SharePoint, and Office as a hosted service.

References: PC World: Business Center