In recent years, Microsoft has overhauled its office suite and business apps more than once. In-Office 365, the company moved virtually all users to a subscription model but added all sorts of new functionality to justify the change.
But thanks to multiple service tiers, not all business users got the same sets of functionality. This led to a decent amount of confusion among customers.
Then Microsoft went and changed the name again, from Office 365 to simply Microsoft 365. When they did so, once again they added new features and functions, and once again they shuffled around their various business plans.
This all leads us to today. Microsoft 365 is a truly impressive and powerful business suite. But too many business leaders are confused about what exactly it is— not to mention what is and isn’t offered in each package or pricing tier.
Here at Alltek Services, we have been helping small businesses of all sizes with their IT needs since 2003. It’s our mission to educate and empower businesses throughout the changing landscape of business IT. With that goal in mind, here’s our comprehensive guide to Microsoft 365 in 2021— with a focus on what makes Microsoft 365 Business Premium the compelling choice for most businesses.
What Is Microsoft 365 for Business?
Microsoft describes its Microsoft 365 offering as “your productivity cloud across work and life.” It’s a unique blend of the Office apps you know and love, plus robust and powerful cloud and security services. Depending on the level or package you choose, Microsoft 365 can also contain device management and other company-wide IT and access controls.
Microsoft 365 is the successor to Microsoft Office 365, which itself offered a great deal more than just the Office suite Microsoft is well-known for. Over the years, Microsoft continued packing more and more functionality into its Office 365 platform. Productivity and collaboration tools like Teams joined cloud tools like OneDrive and SharePoint in fleshing out the platform.
Microsoft continued to add more and more functionality, including security and deployment tools. Office 365 grew to the point that calling it an office suite no longer made a ton of sense. Yes, the office suite was (and still is) a central component, but the product contains so much more than that now—hence the name change. Now known as Microsoft 365, it’s an all-in-one solution for an incredibly wide range of business IT needs and functions.
Unfortunately, many business leaders still think of Microsoft 365 (or Office 365) as essentially a bundle of Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. There’s so much more to it now, and we want to help business leaders as you learn about everything Microsoft 365 has to offer in 2021.
Understanding the Four Levels of Microsoft 365 for Business
Not every company needs the same features or levels of support. And if you’re only using half the features in a business suit, you probably don’t want to pay full price.
Microsoft recognizes this reality. In an effort to meet the needs of most businesses, the company offers four levels of business service within Microsoft 365. We’ll cover the basics of each of these service tiers below. Then we’ll focus on some of the biggest value-adds within Microsoft 365 Business Premium and show you how those features can improve your IT operations.
Microsoft 365 Business Basic
As the name implies, Microsoft 365 Business Basic is the most barebones offering available. On the plus side, it’s cheap, at just $5 per user per month on an annual commitment. However, we can’t recommend it for most businesses as it contains only the web and mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The Business Basic plan does include cloud services like Teams, Exchange, OneDrive and SharePoint. It also has the same security and compliance tools as the other bundles. But most conventional businesses with any office staff are going to chafe without access to the desktop versions of the Office suite.
There’s no PC and mobile device management or advanced threat protection in this bundle as you might expect. It’s also missing Microsoft Bookings.
If your business is highly mobile and your users won’t need desktop-class Office apps, the Business Basic plan can save you money. But for most companies in 2021, it’s not the right plan.
Microsoft 365 Apps
Microsoft’s other budget plan is called Microsoft 365 Apps. This plan costs $8.25 per user per month on an annual commitment and gets you the full suite of premium desktop applications, including these:
- Publisher (PC only)
- Access (PC only)
OneDrive cloud services are also included, as are web and mobile versions of the Office suite.
However, there’s a lot missing here. You don’t get Teams, business email, exchange support, or a host of other advanced features.
This is the bundle for companies lacking in digital transformation, essentially. If all you need is the Office suite and little else, Microsoft 365 Apps could be the bundle for you.
Microsoft 365 Business Standard
Businesses looking for a more robust plan should start by considering Microsoft 365 Business Standard. Of the two full-featured business plans, Business Standard leaves off some advanced features in exchange for a lower cost ($12.50 per user per month on an annual commitment).
Business Standard customers enjoy access to the web, mobile and desktop Office applications, plus the standard suite of cloud services (that’s Teams, Exchange, OneDrive and SharePoint). They get Exchange-powered business email and calendaring, robust collaboration tools including guest links and syncing across devices, and the latest in Microsoft’s security and compliance offerings.
Business Standard users also gain access to Microsoft Forms, Lists, and Bookings—three apps that can transform external and internal communication.
The Microsoft 365 Business Standard plan is a potential choice for many businesses. That said, the few things that the plan leaves out have the potential to be truly transformative. Below, we’ll outline the features and functions that are reserved for Business Premium customers. You can then determine whether these powerful additions are the right call for your business.
Microsoft 365 Business Premium
Microsoft 365 Business Premium is the most expensive and most robust of the four plans, at $20 per user per month on an annual commitment. That additional expense gives your business some impressively deep features that the other plans lack.
The Microsoft 365 Business Premium Plan contains everything that’s included in Business Standard, plus the following transformative features and functions.
On the cloud services front, Business Premium users enjoy Intune and Azure Information Protection (AIP). Intune is a cloud-based tool for both mobile device management and mobile application management, while AIP allows for document discovery, classification and protection.
Another massive addition to Business Premium is Microsoft’s advanced threat protection package, which includes access control tools, the ability to remotely wipe devices, Microsoft Defender and more.
Most crucially, Business Premium gives you tools for both PC and mobile device management. As your business grows, it becomes crucial to control your employees’ devices, both for employee experience and security purposes.
For companies that need advanced features like MDM, advanced threat protection, conditional access, and the ability to remotely set up, update, or even wipe machines, Microsoft 365 Business Premium is the best solution.
The same goes for companies that are partnering with a Managed IT services firm for their IT needs. Managed services firms will almost always offer implementation and support for device and app management, so they will operate most efficiently when that advanced framework is available to them.
Three Crucial Features Exclusive to Microsoft 365 Business Premium
We want to home in on three specific features that are exclusive to Microsoft 365 Business Premium and that are crucial for businesses who want to manage their digital assets well.
These features aren’t necessarily the easiest to understand or to implement. In fact, the complexity may be more than you want to handle yourself. If you haven’t implemented these features yet, you may well want to partner with a managed IT services firm like Alltek to do so.
But one way or another, you certainly want to take advantage of tools like these. They give businesses so much more power and flexibility in their control of devices and files, increasing both productivity and security in the process.
Conditional access is the term for managing who has access to what, when, and from where. Companies of any complexity are sure to have some files that are too sensitive for all users to access (and, worse, modify).
For example, most of your employees have no business looking at your company’s financial documents or data. But if those files are stored on a network without conditional access, anyone can access them (or, worse, steal the data or share it outside the company).
Conditional access is what allows you to limit files and folders to the appropriate audience, time, and even location. Your employees need access to the right files at the right time, but leaving access wide open is a recipe for disaster.
All packages of Microsoft 365 Business offer limited access control, such as guest links to files and permissions-managed sharing within OneDrive. But only Business Premium gives you additional Advanced Threat Protection and Information Rights Management. If you want full control of conditional access, you need Business Premium.
If you aren’t a tech professional, Intune is the sort of feature that’s easy to gloss over. But the power and productivity of this service are deeply impressive when it’s used to its fullest potential.
In a nutshell, Intune is Microsoft’s solution for mobile device management (MDM) and mobile application management (MAM). Using this service, you can control what can and can’t be done (and installed) on company devices. Crucially, this control isn’t limited to Windows PCs. It extends to mobile devices and tablets as well.
You can even use Intune to control how people’s personal devices interact with your network. Microsoft Intune can identify organizational data and keep it separate from a user’s personal data.
Mobile Device Management (MDM)
There are more mobile devices (laptops, tablets and smartphones) connecting to your corporate network than ever before. Whether company-issued or BYOD, these devices pose a security risk and create a device management headache.
Microsoft’s mobile device management (MDM) tools greatly simplify the process of managing these devices. You can decide what services employees can and can’t access from personal devices, and Microsoft’s excellent Advanced Threat Protection package keeps corporate data safe when accessed through apps like Teams and Outlook.
Additionally, you can set organization-wide IT policies and then enforce them on company-owned devices. For example, most organizations lock down company-owned devices so that users cannot install software without IT’s approval. Many also take the step of enabling remote wipe on company machines so that a lost laptop doesn’t turn into a security nightmare.
You can also require enrollment of personal devices for users who want full access on their device or limit access to specific applications (such as Teams and email, which are both protected using Exchange Online Protection and other tools).
Mobile device management and associated tools are incredibly robust and powerful, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what they can do here.
Questions about Microsoft 365 Business Premium? Alltek Can Help!
The powerful tools in Microsoft 365 Business Premium have the potential to transform how you get work done. However, they can be a handful to implement if you don’t have a highly technical background.
Since 2003, Alltek Services has been handling IT needs for small businesses across a wide range of industries. We’re deeply versed in the tools provided with Microsoft 365 Business Premium.
If you have questions about Microsoft 365 or aren’t sure about how to roll out certain components of Microsoft 365 Business Premium, our team can meet your needs. We can oversee the setup and implementation of advanced features like conditional access, Intune, and mobile device management, among others. Whatever your organization needs, we can identify and implement it.