Most businesses have made the transition to Microsoft/Office 365 licensing for things like email and the Office suite of products. This subscription model is easier to purchase and manage than traditional volume licensing and has the big advantage of keeping all staff on the same up-to-date version of software. But there are so many choices now, and it is easy to buy the wrong offering and/or not take advantage of the features that you’re paying for. We’ll explain it below and offer a free Microsoft licensing audit if you think you could use some help.
Just to get this out of the way at the beginning – the name of several product suites changed as of April 21. This has impacted the business suites (plans with 300 or fewer licenses) and the desktop applications. Here’s a summary:
|OLD NAME||NEW NAME||FEATURE SUMMARY||MONTHLY PRICE|
|Office 365 Business Essentials||Microsoft 365 Business Basic||Email, Teams, Web versions of Office, OneDrive||$5.00|
|Office 365 Business Premium||Microsoft 365 Business Standard||Above + Client version of Office||$12.50|
|Microsoft 365 Business||Microsoft 365 Business Premium||Above + Win 10, Intune, ATP, email encryption, security/compliance features||$20|
|Office 365 Business||Microsoft 365 Apps for Business||Office Client, OneDrive||$8.25|
|Office 365 ProPlus||Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise||Above + Enterprise deployment features for Office||$12.00|
What’s Included in Microsoft 365
Online services make up the bulk of Microsoft 365 services and fall into the following categories:
- Exchange Online (email & calendar)
- OneDrive and SharePoint (file storage and collaboration/intranet)
- Online Applications (web-based versions of traditional Office applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint as well as Visio and Project)
- Teams (chat and meetings, formerly known as Skype for Business, also now phone system offerings)
- Enhanced Security & Compliance (basic level is included in the above)
- Other – Microsoft offers many other services – Power BI for business analytics, Bookings, which allows customers to schedule and manage appointments, and MileIQ, a mileage-tracking service are a few.
Desktop applications are also part of Office 365, referred to as Apps. These includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. as well as desktop versions of Visio, Project, PowerBI and more. Note that these can be installed on up to 5 devices per user – for example work desktop, home desktop, laptop, iPad, etc.
Which Microsoft 365 Suite is Best for You?
Microsoft has plans for small/medium businesses, enterprises, and non-profits. There are also plans for home/family and education, but we won’t address those here. Small/medium plans have a limit of 300 licenses. “Enterprise” can be an organization that needs more than 300 licenses from any single plan, or one that just wants enterprise features. Non-profits have to qualify using a process defined by Microsoft – if you qualify it is a great deal. Microsoft also has a excellent website that includes descriptions of all the Microsoft 365 suites and the features that are included with each.
Small/Medium Business Suites
Most small/medium businesses have traditionally used Office 365 Business Premium, now Microsoft 365 Business Standard. This wraps email, desktop apps (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.), OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams, along with a host of other services. Over time, we’ve seen these businesses add other services (ATP – Advanced Threat Protection, Email Encryption and others) while others find they need Azure AD Premium. As you add up the cost of these other services, Microsoft 365 Business Premium makes more sense. And Microsoft is now rolling Azure AD Premium P1 and Intune into Microsoft 365 Business Premium, so that is making it a clear winner for these organizations.
|Microsoft 365 Business Standard||$12.50|
|Azure AD Premium Plan 1||$6.00|
|Intune (device management)||$6.00|
|Compare to the suite below with all of the same features:|
|Microsoft 365 Business Premium||$20.00|
Enterprise Plans are dominated by the Office 365 E3 suite, which includes email, desktop apps, OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams, along with email encryption, archiving/compliance, a larger mailbox and a host of other services all tailored toward larger enterprises. As clients add services such as ATP, Azure AD Premium, Windows 10 licensing and more, Microsoft 365 E3 begins to make sense. (Yes, the terminology is confusing!) And if you want to include the phone system and some of the advanced security features included in EMS E5, Microsoft 365 E5 becomes attractive.
|E3: Office 365/Microsoft 365||/User/Month||**||E5: OFFICE 365/MICROSOFT 365||/USER/MONTH|
|Office 365 E3||$20.00||Office 365 E5||$35.00|
|EMS E3||$8.74||Power BI Pro||$9.99|
|Windows 10 Pro Upgrade or Windows 10 Enterprise||$7.00||Windows 10 Pro Upgrade or Windows 10 Enterprise||$7.00|
|Compare to the suite below with all of the above features:||Compare to the suite below with all of the above features:|
|Microsoft 365 E3||$32.00||Microsoft 365 E5||$57.00|
Frontline Worker Suites
Microsoft also offers suites tailored to Firstline Workers, which are deskless workers – factory staff, retail and driver. These suites are evolving and focus on web-based versions of the various services. A full-fledged version of Teams is also now included.
Mobility & Security Suites
Microsoft packages the Enterprise Mobility + Security suites (EMS) as add-ons to the Office 365 suites. These can be added individually to almost any licensing, and are packaged with Office Suites
- Office 365 E3 + EMS E3 + (other services) = Microsoft E3
- Office 365 E5 + EMS E5 + (other services) = Microsoft E5
Microsoft 365 Products
Email is where Office 365 started, way back in 2008 with BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services), which then became Office 365 in 2011. Email is available in three basic flavors:
- Exchange Online Plan 1 (50 GB Mailbox)
- Exchange Online Plan 2 (100 GB Mailbox, unlimited storage via archiving and compliance)
- Exchange Online Web Only (generally limited to 2 GB mailbox)
Included with email are email filtering, distribution groups, shared mailboxes and calendaring.
File Storage & Collaboration – OneDrive for Business and SharePoint
OneDrive can be purchased on a standalone basis but is most often bought as part of a suite. The default storage is 1 TB but depending on the plan and the number of users this space can be expanded up to more than 5 TB. OneDrive for Business is managed by an administrator and will allow you to share files with coworkers and individuals outside your organizations, with appropriate security.
Teams has evolved from Skype for Business and is Microsoft’s hub for online meetings, chat and voice. You can’t purchase it alone, but it comes with most suites. Microsoft is investing in Teams as businesses become more geographically dispersed. There are add-ons to Teams that provide dial-in audio conferencing and a phone system offering.
Desktop Applications (Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc.)
For almost 30 years, Microsoft Office has meant Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. Until several years ago those were sold as perpetual software – you bought it and owned it forever, with no updates unless you paid for them. These applications can either be on your desktop/laptop/tablet/phone, or in the cloud – online applications. The desktop versions can be bought alone but are most often are packaged with the suites. When applications are purchased as part of Office 365 they are constantly updated, so there is never a need again to upgrade versions of Office. You will see changes in the interface, but on a more gradual basis.
- Microsoft 365 Apps for Business – desktop version of the Office Client (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access and Publisher, and 1 TB OneDrive for Business.)
- Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise – plus Enterprise deployment features for Office.
You can also purchase applications such as Visio, Project and PowerBI via Office 365.
Optimizing Microsoft 365 Licensing
So, now that you’ve lived through a fairly exhaustive explanation of the pieces and parts of Microsoft licensing, how do you make sure you are not either paying too much or using too little? The most common mistakes we see are:
- Duplicating licensing – for example assigning a Microsoft 365 Business Standard license and an Exchange Online license – the user would be double licensed for Exchange.
- Standalone services are used when a suite would be either the same price or less – for example buying Exchange Online and Office 365 ProPlus when Microsoft 365 Business Standard would provide a feature set that is sufficient for 99% of users.
- Unused licenses for legacy accounts. We see users who are long gone who are still assigned licensing, and most of these could be converted to shared mailboxes. Even the accounts that still need to receive and send email can be downgraded to Exchange Only.
- Assigning suites but not using the features. We see resource mailboxes or field staff without computers (info@CompanyABC) with Microsoft 365 Business Standard licenses – neither of these can use the desktop application license which is the most expensive part of the suite. We also see staff who could use these capabilities but are unaware that they have then.
- Paying for services such as Zoom or DropBox when Teams or OneDrive would work just as well. Of course, it may be that these services are so entrenched in your business processes that you don’t want to change, but for some it does make sense.
We hope this is helpful, and if you would like to review your Microsoft licensing in detail please fill out the form below and we’d be glad to do an evaluation and provide our recommendations.