There’s been a lot of talk regarding cloud computing and how it’s so easy to gain access to your information from anywhere in the world. I travel quite a lot, and even as I write this, I’m in Istanbul with my wife Grace (she’s on assignment to take photos of a bride and groom while I am… “assisting”)!
Though I am traveling, life must go on, and so must the business that I run back home. Enter a suite of products that Microsoft offers to help keep you connected. Despite the uber-long name for the suite, it’s actually pretty good for SMEs and available at a low cost-per-user (starts from USD5.40 per month).
There are four main benefits from Microsoft via this BPOS service – email, CRM, communications and collaboration. If you’re a seasoned user of Microsoft products such as Exchange, Sharepoint and Live Meeting, you will love the seamless ability to use the cloud for intra-company communications.
After signing up for a trial account, the first thing I had to do, was to change my temporary credentials. I had a few problems due to the mandatory secure password requirements (mix of capital and small letters, a number and more than 8 characters!). With that out of the way, I was able to proceed and set up my account for a few colleagues and myself.
Microsoft Exchange / Outlook
Email is presented in a fairly standard webmail interface, but with the ability to jump very quickly to the Calendar and Contacts section, much like the desktop version of Microsoft Outlook. The user interface is pretty similar, but subject to web limitations. The faster your Internet connection, the more you’ll love it.
Composing emails is also straightforward, except that I realised I couldn’t use rich text to make text bold or italicise certain parts of my message. Aside from that, the integration with the company-wide contacts is excellent, as we can centralise all our vendors and clients and allow access to all staff.
Jumping over to the Calendar, there isn’t much to say about it as it just works. I scheduled appointments and set alarms, made them recur, etc. I am used to the month view, and couldn’t seem to activate it, though.
Contacts is one area where BPOS excels. I like the ability to share the company-wide address book and maintain my own list of contacts. There are sufficient fields to keep a data hog like me happy. Yes, yes, I do like to save as much extraneous information about people (I even save friend’s children’s names so that I can impress by seemingly “remembering” them).
SharePoint is exactly as its name is – a central point for people to share information! It allows users to manage files of all sorts, schedules and tasks all under one “collection”. For me, I’d label it as a tool that project managers can use for making sure the team are working as per scheduled.
Many organisations fail to monitor and assign tasks well, and I feel with a tool that has calendaring and centralisation of data, it could potentially help a business to deploy and complete projects in a better way. Discipline definitely does play a HUGE part in the process too, of course.
I did not get to try the Microsoft Office Live Meeting as I was greeted with an error that stated my browser wasn’t supported. Oh well, it’s a Mac thing, I guess. Anyhow, it’s supposedly an excellent tool for hosting web conferences and allowing employees the ability to collaborate remotely via video conferencing. The multi-party functionality sounds exciting, and tools like these definitely save a lot of time and cost.
I definitely hate traveling to client meetings halfway across town, spending 2 hours on the road to realise the person I’m meeting has a last minute engagement and cannot attend to me. I wish every office was equipped with web conferencing capabilities and that the PEOPLE are comfortable using VOIP technologies.
In my ideal world, technology would be harnessed to the full so that people can communicate without hindrances. It should be invisible and seamless, so that we would feel connected and not disjointed. Technology should be mobile, so that we can have remote workers based anywhere on the planet (yes, I am dreaming of pina coladas beneath coconut trees in Mauritius). After all, a happy employee should be a productive one.