(This is the second part of a two-part series reviewing Office 365 premium for small businesses and the need for IT Support. Part 1: Is Office 365 The Only Way?)

Working with an IT support company and looking further than Microsoft Office 365 may help with the problems around data sharing, flexibility, and control that Office 365 is known to plague small businesses.

Office 365 Business Known Issues

While Office 365 has solved many of the difficulties caused by the old physical-server-under-a-desk set-up, such as the need to maintain and (eventually) replace the server, it has created several new problems. Known issues include the fact that, in order to deliver the service on a global scale, Microsoft has created a single product with a single set of corporate ‘rules’ that don’t necessarily suit every client, not least small businesses.

In addition, it constantly updates and ‘improves’ the service, without considering the millions of individual users who are not technologically confident and who need the training to deal with changes to the Office 365 system.

This review isn’t all bad though, there are advantages to using Office 365. For example, the Outlook email system works very well and probably better than having a server in the office. The problems are more about managing and sharing data, flexibility, and control.

So what alternatives are there for small businesses struggling with Office 365 issues who don’t have in-house IT support?

Work With An IT Support Company

People often buy a subscription to Office 365 Premium for their small business thinking that they can wave goodbye to their IT support company at the same time.

Unfortunately, they are in for a disappointment: the Office 365 Premium small business package does come with web and phone support in business-critical situations, but no day-to-day user support. Of course, this could be covered by a member of staff who is knowledgeable in IT, but it rather depends on what their ‘day job’ is. They may be too busy to deal with Office 365 issues.

So the alternative for most small businesses is to reconnect with their previous IT support company or find a new one. The key issue for small businesses needing IT support is almost always related to price. Most of the IT support industry is still based on a ‘maintenance’ model, in which you pay a fixed price each month for support (and maintenance of the server you no longer have).

At Firstline IT we’re finding that the best and most flexible solution for our clients is an hours-based system, in which the client pays simply for the hours used each month. Alternatively, some clients prefer to pay a small monthly fee per user in a way that mimics the Microsoft subscription.

As long as you have some flexibility and feel in control of the costs, it is worth working with an IT support company to ensure that you get the best out of Office 365.

Benefits Of An Office Support Company For Office 365

An IT support company could help you set up and maintain a team site within Office 365 that will allow you to share documents and data. But for many small businesses, a better option is to combine Office 365 with another data-sharing solution that is more flexible and user-friendly.

Dropbox is a popular option for this, as it does not need a site administrator and is Mac-friendly, allowing designers and other Mac fans to communicate with the rest of the business.

Solution To Office 365 Issues

Microsoft’s ubiquity and power are such that most people think of Office 365 Premium as the only cloud service for small businesses. However, working with an IT support company to set up your own private cloud solution results in a solution that is much more flexible and can be designed to fit your small business exactly, while being properly supported – all for a comparable price.

At Firstline IT our set-up cost for a private cloud solution is usually only a few hundred pounds, and this is followed by a monthly subscription of just under £10 a month per user. For this, you get whatever functionality your business needs, proper support, and complete freedom from corporate rules and the sort of one-size-fits-all ‘improvements’ regularly imposed on users by Microsoft Office 365 Premium.