Understanding Office 365 

By Josh Farlow, Director of Cloud Services

You’ve likely heard of Microsoft 365* in some form. However, what it is and what people think it is, are often two different things. Many people still think of it in limited terms. Without understanding the full value and extent of productivity benefits this tool can offer, it’s easy to miss out on what it can really mean for a business.   

*There are a lot of terms thrown around with this tool (M365, Microsoft 365, Office 365, etc.). Depending on the product licensing, the naming may be different. Office 365 is the most ubiquitous, so for the purpose of this article, that’s how we will refer to it.  


How people think of it: Email 

Often when people refer to Office 365, what they really mean is “email”. Many people think of O365 as just another way to host their business email. When this is the case, a business may consider it solely as an email option that offers additional security features and high availability (which Microsoft offers with multi-regional data centers and locations.)  

While email is the thing that interests businesses in the O365 ecosystem in the first place, this alone is not the primary value adder of O365. Using it as simply another option for hosting email will provide significant additions to security and availability (which shouldn’t be ignored), but it isn’t going to change much as far as experience or functionality. 

Migrating email to O365 is the first piece that enables a whole new range of productivity opportunities.  

What it really is: a suite of applications  

If we stop thinking of O365 as synonymous with “email”, we can start to see the tool for what it really is. A way for a business to consolidate, access, manage and connect many of the Microsoft tools that are important to their productivity.  

At its core, Microsoft 365 is “a subscription service that ensures you always have the most modern, up-to-date productivity tools from Microsoft”.   

In other words, it is a subscription service that offers subscribers access to a suite of cloud-based Microsoft applications. Instead of licensing all these applications separately, they’re bundled under different licensing tiers.  

Your business likely uses one or a few of these applications already for some of your key business functions: 

  • Meetings & Voice (Ex: Teams)  
  • Office apps (Ex: Word, Excel) 
  • Files & Content (Ex: Teams) 
  • Email & Calendar (Ex: OneDrive, Stream 
  • Work Management (Ex: Forms, Planner) 

Each subscription level includes different combinations of applications. Businesses can choose the subscription tier that offers the tools that best fit their unique needs. Ultimately, bringing all these tools together in one place under one license.  

Business benefits beyond just email hosting 

When thinking of O365 in this broader sense, we can start to understand the benefits of the platform as a whole. Having all these applications under one umbrella not only simplifies everything but brings with it a ton of other business benefits as well.  

1) Ease of management (licensing)  

From a licensing standpoint, everything becomes easier. Businesses don’t have to license applications separately. They just need to manage one license in order to get access to all these productivity apps.  

Bundling and consolidating your tools like this makes procuring licensing, managing them, and budgeting for them so much easier. 

2) Ease of management (security)  

When you centralize applications, you bring an inherent level of security with that. You get a clearer understanding of what you have that needs to be secured.   

Now, instead of thinking about multiple different points, everything is in one place so you’re only concerned with a single identity for everything. When you have that one identity, now you can protect it much more simply with multi-factor authentication. 

3) Cost for value 

Office 365 is very cost-effective versus traditional Office licensing and email hosting. Even if it works out to be comparable in cost, you get a ton more value built in for the price.  

With a subscription-based licensing model, you get access to more features, control, and ease just due to the nature of the platform. 

4) Consistent updates 

Because it is a cloud-based platform, your applications are always up to date (which lends to added security as well). You don’t have to worry about managing updates, encountering issues if someone is running old versions, or patching any security updates. It’s all built-in.  

5) Upgrades included 

In addition to regular maintenance, you’re also at the forefront of any advancements. With the ongoing subscription model, you automatically get access to any upgrades that are released. You no longer need to purchase or implement any major software upgrades.  

Productivity Tools for the Future  

With this approach to licensing for productivity tools, your business is always able to tap into the evergreen innovation that Microsoft offers. You’re automatically at the cutting edge of new tools and enhanced ways of working instead of having to pick and choose, budget additional upgrade fees, and create an implementation plan.  

Some businesses may be skeptical of a subscription-based licensing model for their Microsoft apps. It’s a different approach to what many are used to, so there may be a fear of relinquishing control, or concern about data and backups (to learn more about this, read more in our “what to plan for when moving to M365”). But there are many options for tailoring the subscription levels and tiers to meet your needs. At this point, the benefits far outweigh most reasons for not transitioning to this model. 

Now you know a bit more about O365, what it is, and potentially what it can mean for your business. It’s important to understand that it’s not an either-or situation; it’s not just email, and it’s not just office applications. 

It’s a flexible suite of business applications that can truly help your organization consolidate your Microsoft licensing, open doors to more efficient tool management, and unlock more opportunities for collaboration, productivity, and effective work. 

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