Pete Saloutos - Fotolia

Get started Bring yourself up to speed with our introductory content.

Office 365 planning requires a costs and needs evaluation

Migrating to Office 365 can lift some stress off a busy IT department, but there are fiscal and technical considerations to contemplate before moving email to the cloud.

What would spur your business to move to Office 365? And, if you did switch, what would you be getting yourself...


After a relatively slow adoption rate following its launch in 2011, the Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based productivity platform reached more than 22 million subscribers. Nearly 80% of companies claim to either be using Office 365 or moving to it in the next six months, according to a Gartner survey report released in early 2016.

So, maybe you've been watching the adoption and have started Office 365 planning within your organization. There are benefits, drawbacks and tradeoffs to assess before migrating off of your current email platform.

Email still matters, but isn't everything

All along, Office 365's benefits have been around email. Offloading email management to a hosted provider can ease a lot of the IT department's daily stress -- especially considering the criticality of email. We hear a lot of talk about trendy instant messaging (IM) tools, but most businesses continue to rely on email to communicate. That's not about to change anytime soon.

Exchange Online lifts the hardware requirements of an on-premises email service and removes the stresses of upgrade preplanning, planning and release. It even provides higher availability options than most businesses can afford. Exchange Online's native data protection uses multiple passive copies of the email data split between two data centers.

Beyond email hosting, Office 365 also offers SharePoint Online, Skype for Business Online, OneDrive for Business, Delve, Sway, Yammer and, depending on the plan, subscription-based Office applications. Office 365 planning could mean striking IT services and applications off the admin and support list, with one comprehensive package of:

  • Business-class email
  • Communication for online meetings
  • IM
  • Web conferencing
  • Internal intranet-based document workflow libraries
  • Social collaboration
  • File sharing
  • Digital storytelling tools
  • A slew of other offerings

There are complaints that a few Office 365 elements are subpar, especially when compared with the applications that employees use anyway, in the form of shadow IT. OneDrive for Business, for example, is still evolving, and some prefer Box and Dropbox. Microsoft bought Yammer to provide a social-networking option, but this type of real-time collaboration is available elsewhere with Slack and other third-party tools. Another concern if you're planning Office 365 adoption is that Microsoft's strategy isn't clear with regard to making these tools work together.

There is some validity to the complaints, and Microsoft recognizes the shortcomings in Office 365. It is aggressively developing the offerings that comprise Office 365 to make them more cohesive. The company is unusually forthcoming about the facets of Office 365 it is working on, providing updates through its online roadmap.

If Microsoft can catch its competitors in these weaker areas, Office 365 will be that much more appealing. No other single offering covers this much territory.

Get answers to these questions

Before proceeding with an Office 365 migration, take the time to work through the details. In particular, be sure the organization has good answers to these questions:

  • What kind of migration makes sense? Should you do a cutover, staged, hybrid or Internet Message Access Protocol migration?
  • With a hybrid migration -- the most common in midsize and large organizations -- will you need a consultant? It might be possible to use in-house resources to make a hybrid configuration between on-premises assets and Office 365.
  • Do you need to account for a legacy archive? If so, decide if it's best to move that data to Office 365 or to a third-party product that supports Office 365.
  • What services do you have on premises that need a one-to-one replacement in the cloud?
  • From an end-user perspective, how jarring is this going to be? You'll want to work out how much training will be necessary to get users comfortable with the new tools they'll soon be using.

Evaluating the return on investment

For small and medium-sized companies engaged in Office 365 planning, the return on investment is compelling. Depending on the chosen plan and the needs of the business, ROI easily justifies the move. Don't calculate it without considering the caveat that there may be expenses around the migration if a third-party product or a consulting team helps with the transition.

It's not necessarily a cost comparison between systems you currently maintain and the per-user cost with Office 365. The discussion about staying with an on-premises environment involves an interesting evaluation of Capex vs. Opex. This type of analysis gets complicated and depends on many factors, such as whether the organization requires upgrades to aging IT infrastructure. These variables make it too difficult to say if a company will save money by moving to Office 365. What's clear is that a business that chooses Office 365 will reduce its administrative overhead.

Concern over security and other features provided in on-premises applications comes up frequently in Office 365 planning discussions. The organization may seek a third-party product to bolt on to Office 365 to provide enhanced capabilities, increasing the cost overall. An organization with thousands of mailboxes will want to ensure a higher caliber of security for its email system and will likely seek out a tool from a third-party vendor.

Think you're ready to move Exchange to the cloud? Prove it by taking this quiz

You've done your homework on migrating Exchange to the cloud, but are you really ready to move now? Take our quiz to find out.

Office 365 alternatives

What about alternatives to Office 365? Certainly, there are some worth considering.

There is the option is to remain on premises or choose another hosted service, but the price would have to make sense. Keep in mind that hosted offerings won't provide all the services -- Office application subscriptions and so forth -- that are part of the Office 365 suite.

Google Apps is a competitive offering. It had some momentum a few years ago, but there isn't as much buzz about it outside of some schools and anti-Microsoft shops. Google Apps is a simpler, easier-to-control option, but some prefer the frills and all-inclusive nature of Office 365.

If you haven't yet, your business will inevitably take up Office 365 planning, whether it's this year, next year or sometime in the near future. Start now. Address the current environment's needs. Review plans to see what makes the most sense, and work out the monthly math. Be sure to leave room for third-party tools and for training to roll out a solid end-user adoption plan.

Next Steps

Office 365 email migration considerations

Configuration concerns with on-premises Exchange with Office 365

Four third-party tools to back up Office 365

Dig Deeper on Office 365 and Microsoft SaaS setup and management