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We work with organisations from all walks of life, with different ambitions and requirements. Explore how we’ve helped them reimagine everyday, and align technology with their culture and business goals.

How to choose the right Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan for your organisation

With so many features, options and add-ons to choose from, how can you choose the right Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan for your organisation? Find out here.
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Microsoft 365 pricing, what we know about next year’s price rise

Microsoft 365 pricing is increasing in 2022. What impact will this have on your IT budget? Here we share what we know so far.
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Microsoft licensing optimisation – are you paying too much?

With Microsoft's news that prices for M365 and O365 are set to increase in 2022, Microsoft licensing optimisation has never been more important. Here 5 steps to reduce costs.
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5 reasons to use a CSP for your Microsoft 365 licensing

Here we explain why procuring your Microsoft 365 licensing via a CSP brings numerous benefits including no up front costs, pay-as-you-go billing and lots of added value from partner expertise.
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Hybrid working: How the get the most out of Microsoft 365

With a return to the office in sight, the future of the workplace for many businesses will be a hybrid working model. Moving to a hybrid workplace can deliver the best of both worlds and has many benefits to productivity, employee wellbeing, and work-life balance.  To facilitate this transition, it will be important to get the most out of your current Microsoft 365 subscription. Microsoft has all the collaboration, communication and productivity tools necessary for a successful move to hybrid working. However, the breadth of Microsoft’s product offering can make it difficult to know how to best use each app to support the move.  Here, we have compiled a few tips on how to get the most out of Microsoft Apps as you move to a hybrid workplace. Your Microsoft 365 hybrid workplace SharePoint In a hybrid workplace, one of the most important considerations will be how to have a seamless work experience, no matter where you are working. SharePoint is a tool that allows access to all organisational files that can be edited and collaborated on no matter where you are located or what device is being used. This means that whether an employee is at home, in the office or on the train, they will be able to collaborate with their colleagues on shared documents. SharePoint is also a perfect tool as a repository of organisation wide data that can be accessed from anywhere. This may include templates, forms, procedures and business data. Having it all in a single place makes it easy for employees to find the documents they need, regardless of whether they are in the office or at home. Planner When working both remotely and in the office, it can be difficult to manage all tasks that need to be completed in a team. This is even more tricky if email is the primary tool of communication and planning, as it is easy to lose a request in a sea of emails. In Microsoft Planner you can create a plan, add individual tasks to the plan and assign these tasks to members of your team. Tasks can also be synced from emails so your team spends less time searching and more time doing. To help the move to hybrid working these plans can be accessed and completed on any device, anywhere. Microsoft Planner can also be integrated with Teams and all other Microsoft 365 applications to keep all communication, collaboration, and productivity in one place. Whiteboard One of the best methods for brainstorming and collaborating in meetings is a good old-fashioned whiteboard. With both hybrid and remote working this was more difficult, however with Microsoft Whiteboard, multiple users can collaborate on a virtual whiteboard from a variety of devices. The whiteboard can also be added to a Teams meeting to collaborate in real time with colleagues for brainstorming, project planning or to explain a concept. Yammer Yammer is an organisation-wide social platform built for enterprise communication. Yammer is easy to set up and fosters a culture of transparency, connection and open communication. With a move to a hybrid workplace model Yammer is a fantastic tool to stay up to date with what is happening within a company, both from a strategy and personal viewpoint. Yammer also offers employees the opportunity to ask questions to a wider company audience, increasing productivity and communication. Yammer also allows members of an organisation that would not normally interact a chance to meet those in other teams to make a business feel more connected. To make the move to a hybrid workplace seamless experience a business should make the most of their existing Microsoft 365 subscription. Hybrid working may not be possible for all businesses or industries, but for those that can work in the office and remotely there will be a myriad of benefits.  If you want to find out more on how to make the most out of your Microsoft 365 subscription, get in touch today.
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Choosing the right Microsoft 365 subscription for your non-profit

Microsoft 365 has six subscriptions offerings for non-profits, presenting affordable options to improve productivity. With that many options, how do you decide which plan is right for you? Our latest blog breaks down each of them to help you find your golden plan >
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3 ways Microsoft 365 Education can change remote learning for the better

Here’s how Microsoft 365 Education can provide huge benefits to students without compromising your budget or security.
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3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy in 2021

Covid-19 has forced many organisations to create flexible working strategies on the fly. As we begin 2021, it’s time to focus on these three areas to achieve long-term success.
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Small business IT priorities 2021

Looking to 2021, SMBs need to set their IT priorities and leverage technologies to regain efficiency. We’ve listed those priorities here >
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microsoft 365 shortcuts

5 simple Microsoft 365 shortcuts

Here are 5 simple Microsoft 365 shortcuts that will boost your productivity and help you get more from your 365 apps.
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microsoft cloud assessment

Why book a Microsoft Cloud Assessment?

Learn more about our Microsoft Cloud Assessment service and how it can help you become the business you want to be.
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What’s the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365?

In this post Chad Stigant explains the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365, what they do and whether you need both.
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How to choose the right Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan for your organisation

Microsoft 365 Enterprise plans are licensed per user and, depending on which licence package you choose, provides your organisation and your people with Microsoft software and services products such as Office 365, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.  

Designed to provide end users with productivity, collaboration, mobility and business insights in a secure environment, Microsoft 365 delivers modern workplace technology for the way we work today. 

With the recent announcement from Microsoft that the cost of most M365 and O365 plans will increase from March 2022, choosing the right Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan that delivers the services you need without becoming over-provisioned, is vital. While Microsoft has made this decision as easy as possible, with so many different features, options and add-ons, identifying the right plan can be complex. 

In fact, you may even find that a Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan is not the most cost effective plan for your organisation. In some cases, even for companies with over 300 employees, a Microsoft 365 Business plan may be a better fit if not all users require access to the same software and services. 

Are you on the right Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan? Book a free 365 Licence Health Check to find out > 

5 tips for choosing a Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan 

Here are our tips for identifying the right Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan. If you would like an informal chat about your options, we’d be happy to share our advice. 

1: Assess your current IT environment 

What do you currently have that needs to integrate seamlessly in the Microsoft 365 cloud, or needs to be migrated? Identify all the devices your organisation has, the operating systems they run, the software, systems and data your users need and what’s business critical. 

2: What are the business drivers for Microsoft 365? 

A clear objective for moving to Microsoft 365 is the key to a successful migration. What do you want to achieve? Has does M365 support strategic objectives and business plans? What can’t you do now that M365 will facilitate? 

In the video below our CEO, James Butler, explains why having a purpose is so important for a successful 365 migration.

3: What do your people need? 

Not everyone in an organisation needs the full M365 stack. Over-provisioning is a common issue and reason why some enterprise organisations pay more than necessary. Identify what different departments and end users need to work effectively, and what technology will help them achieve their objectives. Mixing and matching different plans can often be more cost efficient and still ensures people have the right technology for their roles. 

4: Consider the pros and cons of different licensing programs 

Microsoft 365 Enterprise plans can be purchased through Microsoft licensing program channels. They are: 

  1. Microsoft Volume Licensing (VL), 
  1. Cloud Solution Provider program (CSP), and/or  
  1. Web Direct (MOSP) programs.  

More details on ways to buy can be found here. You may also find this blog post about purchasing your Microsoft 365 licensing via a CSP useful > 

5: Compare plans and review against your requirements 

For an overview of all the different Microsoft 365 and Office 365 plans and ‘service families’ visit the Microsoft website. Here you can compare what services are available in each plan and explore them in more detail by clicking on the relevant links. 

For some organisations combining different plans is the most effective way to ensure sufficient licencing and optimise costs. Also, some services are available as a standalone plan, which can also be combined with a M365 or O365 family plan. For example, if your organisation has 600 employees but under 300 users require access to the Office 365 platform whilst the remaining just need an email account, you could combine a 365 Business plan with a standalone Exchange Online plan to provide sufficient licensing. 

Get ROI from your Microsoft 365 Enterprise plan 

Once you’ve identified the right plan for your organisation and migrated to Microsoft 365, you’ll want to maximise your technology investment and ensure it is living up to expectations.  

Running regular usage reports can help you see whether your organisation is leveraging the usage rights you have and identify opportunities to increase technology adoption. If you are already on a Microsoft 365 plan and would like to explore this further, take advantage of our free Microsoft 365 licence health check here

Microsoft 365 pricing, what we know about next year’s price rise

Microsoft 365 pricing is going up for many licence SKUs from March 2022. Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, shared this announcement in a blog post on 19 August highlighting the innovations the company has delivered over the last decade.

While there is much to shout about in terms of the services and features available through these commercial products, what everyone really wants to know is how much IT budget Microsoft licensing will now consume.

At the time of writing, Microsoft has only announced figures for its US market, however the changes are global with some local market adjustments. We will update this blog post when we have confirmation on costs for UK customers, but here is what we currently know:

365 pricing plans affected by the price rise

Customers on education and frontline worker plans can breathe a sigh of relief, these plans are not affected. Nor are consumer products at this time. The 365 pricing changes that will go into effect in six months on 1st March 2022 are:

  • Microsoft 365: Business Basic, Business Premium and E3
  • Office 365: E1, E3 and E5

The big question – how much?

We estimate that 365 pricing will rise by between 10% and 20% in 2022 across these core SKUs.

Our understanding is that Nonprofits will continue to benefit from 365 Business Basic for free and receive discounts on other products, albeit at the new price point.

What else is changing?

If you purchase your Microsoft licensing via a Cloud Service Provider (CSP) there are a few additional changes that you need to know about. They are:

Fixed terms and less flexibility

Microsoft is also removing some of the flexibility you may currently enjoy. From March 2022 subscription terms will be rigorously enforced, so you won’t be able to scale your licences down until your subscription renewal date.

If you have a monthly subscription term you will be largely unaffected as you can adjust your licensing month by month. However, you can expect to see the largest increase in price for consuming 365 in this way.

Customers who have an annual subscription term, even when paying on a monthly basis, will benefit from a lower cost per user but won’t be able to reduce the quantity of licences during the term. Of course, you will be allowed to increase the number of licences, but you will have to remain at that level for the duration of your subscription term.

This puts the onus on you and your CSP to ensure you are on the right plan for your needs and factor in any future changes to the business that might impact your licensing. If your CSP is not proactively managing your licence optimisation we recommend that you review your current licensing now, make sure you’re not over-provisioned and explore more cost effective plans if possible. This will go some way to reduce the impact of the price rise in 2022.

We offer a free Microsoft Licence Health Check to review your current usage and make recommendations. Further details can be found here >

Monthly, annual & 3 year terms

Microsoft is introducing a 3 year term, alongside its current monthly and annual subscription terms. This could be beneficial if you are confident that your business won’t need to dramatically reduce licences in the next 12 – 36 months. The longer the subscription term, the lower the cost per user.

We expect that you will be able to pay monthly, annually or upfront, depending on how you want to spread the cost of your Microsoft licensing. Customers currently on an annual subscription plan will continue to be able to pay monthly or annually.

CSPs can offer discounts on the RRP

One of the advantages of purchasing your 365 licensing via a CSP is that we can often offer discounts on the RRP. This won’t change with the price rise, we will still offer discounts depending on your licence requirements and any other services you have from us.

Beat the price rise

Renewing your 365 subscriptions now rather than waiting for next year could be a good way of saving money and beating the price rise for some organisations. Those companies that want to get reduce licensing costs with an annual or 3 year term can renew in the next few weeks or months (from mid-October 2021) with their CSP and lock their 365 pricing in at the current rates for the duration of their term.

We would recommend that you start with a licensing review to ensure you’re on the right plan/s before renewing your current subscriptions, and align your licensing with any strategic plans taking effect in the period covered by your chosen subscription term.

What can you do now about 365 pricing?

Here’s our advice for preparing for the price rise:

  1. Don’t panic, yet! At the time of writing you’ve got 6 months before 365 pricing increases,
  2. Review your current Microsoft plans and usage. Our free 365 Licence Health Check is a good starting point >
  3. Speak to your CSP about how they can help you optimise costs further,
  4. Move plans or scale down licences in October, if you can, to reduce costs before the price rise,
  5. If you currently purchase your 365 plans directly from Microsoft, explore whether a CSP can offer discounts on the RRP with a 364 licensing management and optimisation service.

As more information and confirmation on 365 pricing for UK and EU customers becomes available, we will be updating our blog and social media. Keep checking in for further news or get in touch to discuss your organisation’s licensing in more detail.

Microsoft licensing optimisation – are you paying too much?

This week’s Microsoft licensing announcement is the first time Microsoft has increased licence costs for M365 and O365 plans in 10 years.

Effectively this will mean that, from 1st March 2022, M365 and O365 plans will increase between 10% and 20% per user per year. Microsoft 365 E5 will remain at the current price. Azure licensing is also untouched.

These price hikes add up significantly when you have high volumes of users. Enterprise organisations with 10,000 users could be faced with finding over £260,000 per year to maintain the same level of Microsoft services.

Already IT teams are under pressure to save money and make their IT budgets go further. This news from Microsoft will not be welcome.

Microsoft licensing – are you over-provisioned?

With demand for cloud services rocketing because of the pandemic, spending on Microsoft 365, O365 and Azure AD has seen substantial growth. But Microsoft licensing is complex and often it’s not clear exactly what you’re buying.

Our free Microsoft licence health check helps you identify cost optimisation opportunities and ensures you’re on the right plan. Book here >

In the scramble to deploy remote and hybrid work strategies, some organisations are now finding they’re over-provisioned or under-utilising the services they have available. As Microsoft licensing is already consumes a huge chunk of annual IT budget in many organisations, ensuring you’re on the right plan and not over licensed is a top priority.

How to optimise your Microsoft 365 and Azure AD licensing

If you suspect that you’re wasting money on licences you don’t need, the following steps will help:

Step 1: Remove or reassign licences assigned to users that have left your organisation

When we perform a Microsoft licence health check it often surprises our customers how many users still have licences assigned to them, even though they’ve left the company. Many organisations don’t have robust software asset management (SAM) processes in place, or simply a process where HR informs IT when someone is due to leave.

Ask your HR department for a report on all employees who have left your organisation since you last reviewed your licence pool, then export a report from the Admin Portal for all licensed users. Cross reference the two reports to identify licensed users that have left the organisation and either remove those licences completely or reassign to new recruits. 

While you’re at it, set up a process with HR to ensure you’re notified of leavers and new starters so you can better manage your licence pool.

Step 2: Review your Microsoft licence pool

Best practice is to keep a licence pool to manage the ebb and flow of leavers and new starters, or spikes in demand such as when contractors need licences for specific projects. However, a high percentage of licences in your pool can mean a lot of unnecessary cost. 

By understanding your organisation’s licence usage by department, location or business function, over a period of time, you will get a better idea of how big your licence pool needs to be. 

Step 3: Identify unused licenses assigned to current users

We often find users within an organisation that have been assigned a licence for a specific project and 12 months after the project has closed, they still have the licence. A licence usage report will help you analyse what has been assigned but is not in use. 

Similarly, there may be users who have been assigned a full E5 or E3 licence who have no need for all the services included. We see this particularly in manufacturing and retail where many users ‘on the shop floor’ only need email. An Office F1 license bundled with an Exchange Online Plan, could be much more cost effective.

Having identified unused licences, you can now work with different areas of your organisation to understand their usage requirements and potentially remove or reassign licences to users in other areas of the business.

Step 4: Increase technology adoption to get better ROI

Effective Microsoft licence management is not just about slashing costs. It’s also about ensuring you’re getting a positive return on your technology investment. Licence usage reports can help you identify users or areas of the business where cloud services are not being fully adopted and who is not getting the productivity and collaboration benefits of the 365 stack.

Having identified those users or groups you can then target them with a user adoption campaign or training programme. A Day in a Life workshop that highlights the products and services they have available, and how they can transform their working day, is a great way to increase adoption. Another key area to consider is the End User Support services you provide. High quality service desk support has a positive impact on technology adoption.  

Step 5: Review your different Microsoft plans

If your organisation has multiple Microsoft licensing plans you may be paying more than once for the same licences. As well as enterprise plans, Microsoft also allows end users to purchase different plans, which again can mean your organisation pays twice for Microsoft licensing. For example, end users can now purchase the Microsoft Power Platform: Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate.

Even if you’re not over-provisioned when business users purchase plans directly, it is still problematic. There may be compliance issues, after all it’s effectively shadow IT, and you lose control over costs and licence management.

Another way to reduce your Microsoft licensing costs is to purchase your licensing via a Cloud Service Provider (CSP). They can often offer discounts on the RRP, and they will provide you with licensing management services to drive further cost savings.

More on the benefits of working with a CSP can be found in this blog post >

Beat the price rise

Depending on your current subscription term/s, it may be advantageous to renew sooner rather than later and beat the 2022 price rise. Microsoft offer monthly and annual subscription terms, and has also announced a new 3 year term. While longer terms are not as flexible as a monthly subscription where you can adjust your licence pool month by month, if you’ve optimised your current licensing and don’t expect to need to scale down in the next 12 months, an annual term will be more cost effective. If you would like to discuss these options, please get in touch.

With six months to go before Microsoft effects its price hike, now’s the time to optimise your Microsoft licensing and ensure you’re only paying for what you need. To help you get started, take advantage of our free Microsoft Licence Health Check to find out what you’re currently using. We’ll also make recommendations to save money, and hopefully lessen the impact of this unwelcome news.

5 reasons to use a CSP for your Microsoft 365 licensing

Updated: On 19th August 2021 Microsoft announced some changes to its Microsoft 365 licensing plans. As well as a price rise of between 10% and 20% per user per year, the ability to scale down your licence pool via your CSP will no longer be available. Instead your subscription term (monthly, annual or, soon, 3 year terms) will be enforced.

Why purchase your Microsoft 365 licensing, or Azure plans, via a Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP) when you can buy direct from Microsoft? 

There are many benefits of using a CSP, here are our top 5: 

1: Licensing optimisation 

Choosing the right Microsoft 365 licensing plans for your organisation is not as straight forward as you might think. With Microsoft now rigorously enforcing its subscription terms, with only a 72 hour cooling off period after buying, it’s even more important to ensure you’re on the right plan/s.

A CSP / Microsoft Partner knows 365 licensing inside out, and has the experience of working with many other organisations who may have similar requirements to yours. We help you can identify the most cost licensing SKU, which may often be a combination of different plans to give you the right licensing levels. We also advise you on the most advantageous subscription term for your plans. For example, if your organisation has seasonal spikes or needs additional licences just a few months at a time, a monthly subscription term for some licenses will give you the flexibility you require. Whereas an annual term may be appropriate for your core team, with the associated cost savings of a longer fixed term.

2: Flexible billing 

No credit cards needed! A CSP will bill you for your cloud consumption – 365 licences and Azure consumption – on a monthly or annual basis, depending on your requirements. CSP agreements are also more flexible than a Microsoft EA or Open Licence, with shorter contract terms, lower (or no) penalties for adjustments, and no upfront licensing costs. 

3: Cost savings 

Going the CSP route unlocks opportunities to gain discounts on the RRP. A big win against paying direct. Potential discounts from RRP are dependent on your licensing requirements and may be greater if you are also procuring wraparound services from the CSP.  

A Microsoft 365 Licensing Health Check can also uncover further cost savings. You might find that you’re not using all the services covered by your plan and could potential switch to a different plan or initiate a user adoption programme so you do get the benefits of your cloud services. We often see organisations with an EA who can get all the services they need and use from a Microsoft 365 Business plan, at a much lower cost to the business. 

4: Licensing expertise 

With one partner looking after all your Microsoft 365 licences, you can draw on our expertise and skills to maximise the benefits of your technology investment. Tell us what your IT strategy is, and we will ensure your licensing is aligned to your goals. Our Microsoft licensing management service continuously monitors your licensing usage, managing your licence pool and making sure you’re not over-provisioned or under-utilising your resources.

5. IT support 

If you have an EA, your organisation has to provide 1st line IT support and then purchase support directly from Microsoft for escalation. With a CSP we become your 1st and 2nd line point of contact for the service, and already have a built-in escalation agreement to Microsoft for additional support, at no cost to your organisation. With a marketing-leading IT service desk, the support your users receive is best in class. 

Your CSP partner is also the point of contact for billing and subscription support and may also offer other services like Service Integration & Management, which will help you get the most from all the services you’re paying for. 

Find out if your organisation is on the right plan, book a Microsoft 365 Licence Health Check here >

Common questions about Microsoft Cloud Solutions Providers 

Will I still maintain Admin Control? 

Yes. You can still have full admin control over your Office 365 tenancy and Azure subscriptions. 

Can I migrate existing Azure Services to CSP Azure? 

Yes. We will first need to undertake a review of your environment to understand if there are areas that will not easily move e.g. Backup Vaults and Express Route. We then schedule some engineering time to move you to the new subscription. We aim to achieve this without loss of service. We would obviously discuss options for items that are not so easily moved between Azure subscriptions. 

Who will invoice me? 

Yes. We will invoice you monthly (unless you require annual billing). We get invoiced indirectly from Microsoft on a monthly basis for all the CSP spend attributable to our customers. We just take this data and generate an invoice for your specific spend. 

Do I need to sign any agreements? 

Yes. You will need to agree to the Microsoft Cloud Agreement. 

Can I license my on premises licenses via CSP? 

Yes. SQL Server, Windows Enterprise and User CALs are available through CSP. This gives the customer the ability to utilise Hybrid Use Benefit to run services on premises or in the cloud 

Can I change CSP provider? 

Yes. You are free to transfer to any other provider of your choice, but we hope our people-centric approach and focus on your user experience, alongside other services we deliver, are good reasons to stay. 

Can I leave CSP? 

Yes. If you have a monthly subscription term you can enter in any month of the calendar year and stop at any time. Remember, a CSP gives you the flexibility to alter your subscription, in numbers and services, per month. 

Will access to my tenancy or subscription be terminated if I do not pay my bill? 

Ultimately yes. But clearly we all want to avoid this situation. We follow normal processes to retrieve the money for services provided, but we are within our rights to terminate if your invoices are not being paid in a timely manner. 


As a Microsoft Gold Partner we can provide licensing and management for Microsoft 365 and Azure services. We also have specialist expertise in planning, migrating, monitoring, and managing on-premises, private, and multiple cloud provider environments. Speak to our team if you would like to learn more, or book a Microsoft 365 Licensing Health Check to find out whether we can save you money on your current licensing.

Hybrid working: How the get the most out of Microsoft 365

With a return to the office in sight, the future of the workplace for many businesses will be a hybrid working model. Moving to a hybrid workplace can deliver the best of both worlds and has many benefits to productivity, employee wellbeing, and work-life balance. 

To facilitate this transition, it will be important to get the most out of your current Microsoft 365 subscription. Microsoft has all the collaboration, communication and productivity tools necessary for a successful move to hybrid working. However, the breadth of Microsoft’s product offering can make it difficult to know how to best use each app to support the move. 

Here, we have compiled a few tips on how to get the most out of Microsoft Apps as you move to a hybrid workplace.

Your Microsoft 365 hybrid workplace

SharePoint

In a hybrid workplace, one of the most important considerations will be how to have a seamless work experience, no matter where you are working. SharePoint is a tool that allows access to all organisational files that can be edited and collaborated on no matter where you are located or what device is being used. This means that whether an employee is at home, in the office or on the train, they will be able to collaborate with their colleagues on shared documents.

SharePoint is also a perfect tool as a repository of organisation wide data that can be accessed from anywhere. This may include templates, forms, procedures and business data. Having it all in a single place makes it easy for employees to find the documents they need, regardless of whether they are in the office or at home.

Planner

When working both remotely and in the office, it can be difficult to manage all tasks that need to be completed in a team. This is even more tricky if email is the primary tool of communication and planning, as it is easy to lose a request in a sea of emails. In Microsoft Planner you can create a plan, add individual tasks to the plan and assign these tasks to members of your team. Tasks can also be synced from emails so your team spends less time searching and more time doing. To help the move to hybrid working these plans can be accessed and completed on any device, anywhere. Microsoft Planner can also be integrated with Teams and all other Microsoft 365 applications to keep all communication, collaboration, and productivity in one place.

Whiteboard

One of the best methods for brainstorming and collaborating in meetings is a good old-fashioned whiteboard. With both hybrid and remote working this was more difficult, however with Microsoft Whiteboard, multiple users can collaborate on a virtual whiteboard from a variety of devices. The whiteboard can also be added to a Teams meeting to collaborate in real time with colleagues for brainstorming, project planning or to explain a concept.

Yammer

Yammer is an organisation-wide social platform built for enterprise communication. Yammer is easy to set up and fosters a culture of transparency, connection and open communication. With a move to a hybrid workplace model Yammer is a fantastic tool to stay up to date with what is happening within a company, both from a strategy and personal viewpoint. Yammer also offers employees the opportunity to ask questions to a wider company audience, increasing productivity and communication. Yammer also allows members of an organisation that would not normally interact a chance to meet those in other teams to make a business feel more connected.

To make the move to a hybrid workplace seamless experience a business should make the most of their existing Microsoft 365 subscription. Hybrid working may not be possible for all businesses or industries, but for those that can work in the office and remotely there will be a myriad of benefits. 

If you want to find out more on how to make the most out of your Microsoft 365 subscription, get in touch today.

Choosing the right Microsoft 365 subscription for your non-profit

As software companies look to penetrate new markets, the breadth of solutions targeted at non-profits has increased substantially. Aware that charities face a high degree of budgetary scrutiny, software providers offer generous pricing models and customisations to suit non-profit organisations. When combined with government funding that is increasingly available, now is a great time to adopt technologies to enhance productivity.

Microsoft 365 is a key solution that non-profits are embracing. With the shift to remote work, organisations are seeing large communication improvements thanks to Microsoft’s suite. With tools like Microsoft Teams offering real-time, remote collaboration, non-profit employees are able to easily plan fundraising efforts, hold virtual meetings, and host live informational events.

Microsoft makes this possible through numerous charity-specific SKUs designed to improve operations and IT. However, in this lies a conundrum: how do you choose the right 365 subscription plan for your organisation when there are so many available?

Book a discovery call with one of our 365 experts, and we’ll take you through the options available >

365 subscriptions explained

First and foremost, choosing the right Microsoft 365 subscription requires an understanding of the benefits they provide. Only then, and with a deep understanding of your organisation’s needs, can you ensure your budget is spent in the best way.

Microsoft Business Basic, Standard, E3, and E5

The first thing to know is that Microsoft’s non-profit subscriptions, like its enterprise offerings, are tiered. As you’d expect, each jump in price offers access to more apps and features, with some key differences to be aware of.

For many small non-profits, the free Microsoft 365 Business Basic offering will be attractive. Charities who meet the requirements will gain access to Exchange email services, 1 TB of OneDrive storage, and video and chat services via Microsoft Teams.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Business Basic plan does not provide access to Microsoft’s suite of productivity apps, Office 365. Non-profits won’t be able to take full advantage of the real-time collaboration SharePoint offers, nor will they gain access to the powerful productivity features of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. This is primarily for organisations with workers who are primarily frontline, or those who have an existing productivity solution in place.

For those who do need the apps within Office 365, a paid subscription is the only option. All paid non-profit subscriptions include the suite, with the cheapest being Business Standard, which additionally provides the services of Exchange, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams from the basic tier. At £2.30 per user/month, it’s a no-brainer for most non-profits with under 300 employees.

Larger non-profits will need to consider an Office 365 enterprise plan to get past that 300-user limit. Office 365 E1 is the free tier, providing the same services as the Business Basic Plan, but for unlimited users and with additional compliance and auditing tools. E1 users can run virtual meetings for up to 10,000 participants and access 50GB per user of business-class email, calendar, and contacts storage.

Microsoft 365 E3 comprises the same apps and services as the Business Standard plan but comes with some notable additions. As well as removing the 300-person limit, it bundles in 100GB per user of email storage, additional OneNote features, and unlimited personal cloud storage. It also provides IT departments with apps to manage software and information while providing data loss and rights management tools for email. Finally, organisations can make use of self-service business intelligence to visualise and analyse data with Excel. This all comes in at a respectable £4 per user/month rather than the £17.60 a commercial business pays.

Finally, there’s Microsoft 365 E5. It’s more than double the price of E3, and that’s because it ties in a ton of extra functionality. As well as everything from the previous tiers, it throws in various analytics tools to power data-driven decision making. eDiscovery enables predictive text and coding analytics, while Power BI and Microsoft MyAnalytics provide personal and organisational insights.

This alone makes E5 a wise choice for large non-profits, but it also brings significant upgrades to a company’s communications and security infrastructure. For £12.30 per employee/month, organisations can:

  • Join audio conferences in Microsoft Teams via landline or mobile phone
  • Make use of a cloud-based call management system to make, transfer, and receive calls from a wide range of devices.
  • Be better protected via Microsoft’s advanced security offering, which automatically protects against zero-day malware and virus threats while better safeguarding messaging systems.

Microsoft 365 has a plan for any type of non-profit, and we’ve covered the basics of them in this blog to help you understand what’s available. If you’re still not sure what subscription plan is right for your business, give us a call. We’ll give you a detailed rundown of which is best suited to your non-profit and how you can get the most for your budget.

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3 ways Microsoft 365 Education can change remote learning for the better

The past year has seen a transition to remote learning on a scale never seen before. According to a YouGov survey, 43% of teachers surveyed in 2020 believe their institution is now properly prioritising digital education, versus 4% five years prior.

The pandemic-induced uptake in remote learning might be more than just a fleeting trend though. While higher education institutions have been offering virtual education for some time, they are now able to test it at scale, while primary and secondary schools get to grips with it for the first time. 51% of teachers now believe that remote education is a sustainable way of offering high quality learning in the future.

Find out how we support Little Heath School with their IT needs >

As a result, even after the pandemic subsides many education leaders are planning to retain some or all of their institutions remote learning infrastructure. Schools are considering the use of video lessons to provide teacher cover or education during holidays and snow days. Many are considering a hybrid infrastructure – teaching some students from home and some in the classroom simultaneously to match their preference.

To whatever degree schools look to continue offering remote education, tools like Microsoft 365 Education can offer them a serious step up. Educators are able to save up to 200 hours a year through Microsoft’s suite, which combines virtual collaboration tools with classroom-style aids, offering huge gains in productivity and efficiency.

Getting remote learning right

A strong remote learning set-up is hard to achieve without the right investment and mind-set. Educational institutions have been rooted in their physical infrastructure since their inception. 86% of teachers say their workload has increased since remote education was implemented, while 34% aren’t confident in their ability to teach online. There are also valid concerns from parents about their children’s engagement and lack of contact with classmates.

As a result, many educational institutions want to know how they can provide an experience that matches or even exceeds physical teaching without compromising student development, budget, or learning goals. This is particularly true in creative subjects such as art, resistant materials, and ceramics.

IT departments, meanwhile, are in the difficult position of needing to get to grips with remote-enabling technologies, maintain good levels of cybersecurity, and manage devices. They must also figure out how to provide students with a level playing field whilst they are using a wide range of devices.

Microsoft 365 Education combines Office 365 with security tools, cloud infrastructure and creative apps to provide three core benefits that address these challenges:

1. Enhanced creativity

Apps such as Paint 3D and Minecraft keep students engaged and creative despite the home learning environment. Students can create artwork digitally and bring their designs to life in 3D with ease.

2. Powerful collaboration

Thanks to Microsoft Teams, teamwork and remote collaboration can be achieved with ease. Students can connect with each other and collaborate in real-time through chat, voice, and video for communication. Tools like Microsoft Whiteboard can be added to video calls for more visual brainstorming and collaboration.

3. A safe learning environment

Microsoft 365 Education, coupled with device management tool Intune, allows schools to manage students’ identities, enforce conditional access policies, and protect apps and devices with modern security solutions based on machine learning.

Microsoft offers a ‘student use benefit’ for educational institutions, which means that implementing Microsoft Education 365 is very budget friendly. At the core of this deal, Microsoft offers forty free student licenses for each staff license purchased. Licensing is simple and easy, and establishments with over 1,000 users gain access to Microsoft’s FastTrack services for expert advice.

When you consider the incredible licensing savings, expert support, and ability to solve most remote education pitfalls, Microsoft 365 becomes a no-brainer for educational institutions. With its value stretching far beyond remote learning environments, it becomes a safe investment regardless of whether or not schools transition back to physical teaching.

To get the best value out of the offering, however, schools, colleges and universities alike may want to consider partnering with a Managed Service Provider (MSP). An MSP can provide full, expansive support, managing the entire adoption process and providing ongoing guidance. With many IT departments currently overworked, this allows them to better focus on supporting students and staff in this difficult period.

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3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy in 2021

2020 marked a rapid shift for organisations as they were forced to undergo complex digital transformations in a matter of weeks and months. For many companies, that meant getting workers up and running remotely in the quickest way possible – with short-term fixes rather than long-term strategies.

As we enter a new year, it’s becoming clear that make-shift remote set-ups need to be replaced with more permanent and definite options. Organisations are looking to regain lost productivity, and that means building a long-term remote and flexible working strategy that aligns with their business values. For many, developing a strong strategy means investment in two key areas: cloud infrastructure and cyber security services. More importantly, though, businesses should be focusing on 3 key actions:

Flexible working strategy: key actions

1. Cultivate company culture

All strategic decisions should be made with employee happiness in mind. Creating an environment in which workers feel valued and content is key to long-term effectiveness and success. Using Microsoft Teams integrations or more bespoke AI solutions, enterprises can keep track of employee engagement and ask for feedback when problems are noted.

They can also dive into Azure Application Insights or Microsoft 365 usage analytics to determine whether employees are overworking. This analytics-based approach should be combined with empathetic and open-minded action to ensure employees feel supported, rather than spied on.

2. Accelerate with automation

Repetitive administrative tasks are dull in any workplace, but they can create more conflict when employees are working from home without a support network. Fortunately, in many cases, these tasks can be fully or partially automated.

Microsoft Power Automate is one solution that can be used to automate processes and tasks. A business can design a process from start to finish using intuitive flow diagrams and deep integrations. With if-this-then-that thinking, they’re able to receive notifications, sync files and collect data when a certain action occurs. A library of templates lets an employee easily and automatically save Outlook email attachments to OneDrive or post in Teams when a new Planner task is created.

3. Create virtual collaboration opportunities

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, organisations should enable their employees to collaborate and communicate seamlessly regardless of location. Whether they’re in the office or at home, provisions should be made so that inclusivity is felt by all employees.

Microsoft Teams is has taken the remote working world by storm, with daily active users jumping from 20 million in November 2019 to 115 million in October 2020. For the first time, many companies are realising its power to unlock company-wide collaboration using a single, communicative hub.

In addition to Teams’ popularity, the features of Microsoft 365 as a whole offer huge value for flexible working. Users worldwide are clocking up to 30 billion minutes using the software in a single day. A SharePoint deployment is one area where companies can really provide value to their employees, enabling real-time collaboration, sharing, and editing across all documents in the Office suite.

Covid-19 regulations have helped businesses realise that flexible working can provide value even in industries where it has previously been thought impossible. To truly capitalise on the productivity improvements flexible working offers, however, you need more than just a remote desktop; companies should be focusing on developing a strong company culture and leveraging automation wherever possible. It’s also imperative that employees are offered the right virtual collaboration methods to enable them to connect quickly and easily; as they would in the office.

Infographic: 3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy

Here’s a visual summary of the key actions that will support your organisation’s flexible working strategy:

(opens in a new tab)” rel=”noreferrer noopener” class=”rank-math-link”>Click here for a PDF of this infographic >

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Small business IT priorities 2021

Small businesses are poised to enter a new year that, for the first time, is focusing on creating fewer in-person connections with customers, rather than more. The rapid digitalisation of the past year has created an environment where SMBs must adapt to remain competitive.

The priorities of small businesses are shifting as a result, towards the creation of secure remote work environments and the necessary adoption of cloud technology. As part of this digital transformation, small businesses must consider several more priorities as they move into a new year.

1. Low-cost artificial intelligence (AI) technology

After the sudden technology adjustments forced upon companies in 2020, many small businesses will need to make up for lost productivity. With additional resources unlikely to materialise, low-cost AI will become even more of a requirement.

A solution like Microsoft Azure offers affordable computer vision, face recognition, and conversational AI services – many of which are built-in to the business offerings. As the digital era progresses, SMBs should start to take greater advantage of these AI opportunities in order to remain resilient; subsidising customer support departments with chatbots, for example.

Another business area AI can have the biggest impact on is logistics. Small retailers could utilise the technology to gain AI-driven insights from their data. Warehouses could predict stock shortages and delivery drivers could benefit from AI-driven knowledge regarding delivery routes.

2. Increased use of data virtualisation technology

Businesses will also look to regain efficiency via data-driven insights. Tools like Microsoft Power BI can make data more useful and actionable. Simple dashboards of customer and sales data enable analyses which ultimately help SMBs focus on the aspects that will have the most impact.

3. Mainstream adoption of cloud collaboration and calling solutions

Microsoft Teams usage increased by 70% to 75 million active users in April, mainly due to the mass shift to home working. Even as workers return to the office, however, that usage has remained steady. As of October 2020, its daily active users had reached 115 million.

Much of this continued growth may be attributed to a shift in mindset, predominantly by smaller businesses. As IT managers realise the efficiency of cloud-based communication and collaboration tools, they become open to investing in those solutions long-term. In addition to efficiency, cloud solutions like Microsoft Teams and Teams Calling solutions, offer flexibility in both in costs and global calling requirements – perfect for SMBs who want to start small and scale.

4. Streamlining the remote onboarding process

Even with the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines underway, SMBs will continue to work remotely until government guidance suggests otherwise. Though organisations have been onboarding remotely for many years, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the volume of workers than need to be brought online in a short period.

As a result, it’s now time for SMBs to prioritise the creation of a remote onboarding strategy that’s efficient, engaging and focused around the benefits that cloud technology can offer.

5. Support remote workers with the right cloud IT support

Cloud productivity apps like Office 365 and Teams come with excellent Level 0 IT support. Knowledge banks and chatbots provide self-service cloud IT support so that users can troubleshoot common problems and access ‘how to’ style content.

However, remote workers also need human IT support in the form of a 1st and 2nd line service desk to keep productivity levels high. Responsive cloud IT support can also boost user adoption of new technologies and new ways of working, ensuring you get good ROI from digital transformation.

Remote workers often feel isolated so it’s really important to have open lines of communication between them and your service desk. As well as ensuring they can contact IT support using their preferred channels (email, phone, support portal etc.), consider introducing engagement feedback tools too. Personalised surveys can help you better understand what support users need to improve the remote working experience.

If you would like to discuss any of the subjects or technology covered in this post, please get in touch. Our Digital Productivity team and Microsoft experts are happy to share their knowledge and experience. Likewise, our Operations team are available to share best practice for supporting your remote workers and providing effective cloud IT support.

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5 simple Microsoft 365 shortcuts

In this post Technical Architect, Ben Owens, shares some simple Microsoft 365 shortcuts to help you increase productivity and get more from Microsoft 365. In the videos below, he provides a walk-through demonstrating each hack:

1. Quickly start multiple app instances

Sometimes you need more than one instance of an application. Instead of navigating back to the start menu to find the icon each time, you can quickly start another instance by pressing and holding the Shift Key and then Left Click on the app’s icon in the taskbar, or middle click the mouse to open another app instance.

2. Rename an Office 365 file directly in your desktop app

Here’s the modern way of renaming an Office file without creating a duplicate or exiting and then renaming the file in Explorer:

3. Get your clipboard history

Have you overridden saved items on your clipboard by using Ctrl V? It’s frustrating when you need to retrieve that item and paste it again. Instead switch to Win + V instead of Ctrl V and save a history of items on your clipboard:

4. Move bullets points up and down in Microsoft Word

Do you need to reorder a list? You can easily move bullet points up and down by using Shift-Alt Up/Down:

5. How to use Snip and Sketch to take screenshots in Windows 10

Use the Snipping Tool to take screenshots and make changes or notes, then save, and share. Simply press Win + Shift + S.

5a. Enable print screen key to launch screen snipping in Windows 10

Don’t want to remember the key combination? Make this even easier by assigning the PrtScn key to carry out the action. Here’s how:

We hope you find the above shortcuts useful. If your teams need support getting the most out of Microsoft 365, get in touch with our digital productivity experts here at Cloud Business to see how we can help.

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Why book a Microsoft Cloud Assessment?

Discovery workshops are an important part of any cloud migration or digital transformation project at Cloud Business. Workshops like our Microsoft Cloud Assessment are designed to lay the foundations of a migration project and set organisations up for success. Investing time at this stage of a project is rewarded time and time again throughout the process, and continues to deliver value as your users get the benefits of the Microsoft modern workplace. 

What is a Microsoft Cloud Assessment? 

We’ve developed a 2 day service that gives you and your team access to our Office 365 experts*. They will tailor the service to your needs and what you want to achieve from digital transformation, deliver the workshop and then provide a migration roadmap for getting there. 

To start with, our approach is to take a step back from the technology. You may have decided that Office 365 is for you but our first question won’t be “when do you want it?” Instead we’re interested in what’s driving this decision, so we can really understand what you want to achieve. We’ll also encourage you and your colleagues to look at your requirement with fresh eyes – inviting you to Reimagine everyday. By taking a holistic view we can ensure the technology is aligned with your business strategy, infrastructure, users and culture. 

The Microsoft Cloud Assessment explores your cloud readiness, where you are today, critical business considerations, what products you have and what you don’t, and what’s required for a painless implementation. We identify challenges and determine next steps.  

The output from the assessment is a report fully illustrating how your Office 365 tenant will be produced for you. This report includes recommendations for increasing security, optimising licensing, user adoption, governance, cost management, and detailed costs for implementation. 

Whether or not you decide to go ahead and engage our team, the report effectively provides you with a roadmap for a successful Office 365 migration.  

What is the structure of a Cloud Assessment workshop? 

We’ve refined our service over the years to deliver maximum value to our customers, whatever their challenges and business objectives. Cloud Assessments are tailored to your specific needs, but normally look like this: 

Briefing call: a 60 minute Microsoft Teams call with introductions, background to the organisation and understanding priorities and knowledge across the service. We can then ensure the workshop day is aligned with your requirements. 

Day 1 – Onsite or Virtual Workshop: a deep dive into Office 365, your technology environment and what you want to achieve. A typical agenda includes: 

  • An introduction to Digital Productivity in Office 365 
  • A ‘Day in the life’ demonstration illustrating modern ways of working based on some common scenarios. 
  • An overview of popular productivity apps in Office 365 and use cases 
  • Infrastructure review and current challenges 
  • Demonstration of the capabilities of Azure 
  • Licensing 
  • Security and governance 
  • User Experience and Adoption strategies 
  • Discuss options and priorities 
  • What is needed to get started 
  • High Level Plan and example Architecture 
  • Summary and next steps 

Day 2 – Decision Support: we document notes and research from Day 1. You will receive a detailed overview of the session including: 

  • Analysis of existing infrastructure 
  • Recommendations and steps for moving your business to Office 365 and Azure* 
  • Current challenges affecting your business and how these may be offset by cloud migration 
  • A roadmap for a successful Microsoft cloud migration 
  • Our experts are also available to provide support on key decisions 

For a more detailed overview of the Microsoft Cloud Assessment structure and output, please download the information sheet here > 

Are you ready for the Microsoft Cloud? 

It is not uncommon for an organisation to embark on a cloud migration and discover that they’re not actually ready. As a result they might struggle to get the ROI from the technology deployed, the user benefits, or achieve their digital transformation goals.  

A successful cloud migration involves detailed discovery and planning, and cloud readiness is a vital factor in this. A Microsoft Cloud Assessment can help you decide if you’re ready, and if you’re not it will provide you with the next steps to get there.  

To see whether the time is right, our Cloud Readiness Worksheet will give you an idea. Download it here to see > 

If you would like to discuss booking a Microsoft Cloud Assessment workshop please get in touch. You can email hello@cloudbusiness.com or  book an initial online meeting here > 

*we can also deliver an Azure Cloud Assessment workshop with a similar structure to the one above. 

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What’s the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365?

For many businesses, Microsoft products and services are integral to the smooth running of IT systems. Microsoft has been a reliable provider of software and solutions for decades, with many sectors still picking them over Apple or new competitors.

Microsoft, along with the rest of the technology sector over the last couple of decades has been moving core services into the cloud. Office, for example, used to come on a disk, with businesses able to purchase as many licenses as a company needed, depending on staffing levels. Now you can access those same suite of services – such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel – through Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), a cloud platform for business.

Is your organisation ready to migrate to Azure? Get support here >

Microsoft Azure is another enterprise cloud platform, with a much wider range of capabilities. Unlike Office 365, which is a software as a service (SaaS) product, Azure has IaaS and PaaS components. To understand the difference between Microsoft Azure and Office 365 we need to understand what each of these cloud platform terms mean.

Cloud Platforms: SaaS, IaaS and PaaS explained

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Even if your company doesn’t use Office 365, you will almost certainly have several SaaS subscriptions. From finance software to customer relationship management (CRM) systems, SaaS solutions are everywhere.

Instead of downloading software (applications), or uploading it from a disk, you can pay a monthly subscription – often depending on the number of users that need access – to use a piece of software. The majority of SaaS products are cloud-based, which means users can login anywhere in the world, on any device.

Office 365 is designed to be as convenient and powerful as possible, with the full suite of services that includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher, and Access. Businesses can either pay monthly or annually, and part of the convenience of SaaS products is they’re not tied to a particular device. You can use Office365 on Apple Macs or other devices; you don’t need to have PCs to run the software.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) 

IaaS is a little more complex. With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), companies can scale-up and down computing powers without needing to invest in hardware and servers. IaaS gives companies an almost instant computing infrastructure, such as data centres, security applications and servers, managed over the Internet.

Instead of managing all of this themselves, companies can pay Microsoft a monthly subscription for Azure, creating and deploying as much or as little cloud computing power as needed. From web hosting to solving big data challenges to providing storage, backup and security solutions, IaaS is an integral part of many companies IT infrastructure.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Platform as a Service (PaaS) environments makes it possible to run SaaS solutions, such as Office 365. Developers can manage the infrastructure, with the advantage that this secure environment gives companies more control over operating systems, software and the way you can configure software for the unique needs of your business. Everything is managed in the cloud, giving you the flexibility to scale solutions up and down as required. 

Depending on what your business needs, Microsoft Azure is PaaS and IaaS. Azure includes Compute, Data Services, App Services, Networking and Store services. Companies can create and configure everything they would need in a secure cloud environment, which is something a dedicated IT partner can help with. Designing flexible, scalable, cloud solutions within a cloud platform gives businesses a great deal more control and computing power than many could access when these systems and platforms were on-site. 

As you can see it’s not a question of either using Azure or 365, they both do very different things. But combined these cloud platforms can provide most businesses with the IT infrastructure, development framework and software they need for business operations. 

Migrating your IT infrastructure and applications to the cloud makes good business sense. Instead of being tied to legacy hardware and systems that are often inflexible and costly to maintain, cloud platforms give businesses scalable solutions that flex with their business’ requirements.

What would your workloads look like in the cloud?

In the video below, Gary Duke explains how a Cloud Economics Assessment can help you understand what your assets will look like in the cloud and how much it would cost.

If you are thinking about migrating to Microsoft 365, our Microsoft Cloud Assessment service will help. This 2 day service explores your cloud readiness, aligns digital transformation with business outcomes, and provides you with a roadmap for transitioning to Microsoft (Office) 365. Sessions are tailored to your organisation, IT infrastructure and objectives. We also run this service for organisations interested in Microsoft Azure. Further details can be found here >

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