One of the most important technology decisions businesses make is to select a system for emails. And right now, growth in Microsoft’s Office 365 service seems unstoppable. If you are a small or medium size business, that is likely to affect you even if you do nothing. The time is right to review your email system.

Whether you are using email connected to your website, have an ageing in-house email server or rent business class email you should take a serious look at Office 365. For a small business Office 365 provides a business class service that syncs mail, calendars and contacts. Moreover, it bundles the latest versions of Office (i.e. Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook) for your PCs as well. Five copies in fact.

Historically, Microsoft has dominated enterprise IT and consequently email accounts on Microsoft’s Exchange servers were regarded as the standard business email service. However only large businesses could justify the costs of hosting it themselves. Small and mid-sized organisations, very sensibly, tended to rent mailboxes on a pay as you go basis from companies running exchange servers for many organisations. However with the growth of Office 365, it’s hard to see how these independent hosts of Exchange servers can really compete with Office 365. We expect they will see a decline in revenue in the next few years, with a corresponding drop in investment and that will inevitably lead to poorer service for some users.

Office 365 isn’t the only product out there and competitors like Google Apps offer a range of powerful features too. But where Microsoft has the edge is that small and medium sized businesses are used to having Word, Excel and PowerPoint software on their desktop and even with Google’s cost advantage, it’s a big culture shift to move your working environment completely into the cloud. So what appears to be a cost saving very quickly can become more expensive through higher training and support costs, at least in the short term.

In the interests of balance, Office 365 biggest weakness remains it’s file sharing. OneDrive still doesn’t cut it against services like Dropbox or Google Drive. OneDrive does have the capability to allow documents to be edited by more than one person at the same time, potentially a big advantage in some situations, and possibly a source of confusion in others. But compared to Dropbox, OneDrive remains cumbersome and confusing. However businesses tend to work around that by combining Office 365 with products like Dropbox.

Shortlands Computing is an independent consultancy and will consider carefully our customers current business processes, plans for the future, technology skill and willingness to change when suggesting any new systems. But right now we are seeing fewer and fewer situations for a small business where Office 365 doesn’t come out on top.