IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Recipes for Office 365 Business Solutions

Our cookbook of Office 365-based applications will point you toward a new, richer way to profit from sales of Microsoft’s online productivity suite. By Rich Freeman

There are many things for channel pros to love about Microsoft’s Office 365 communication and collaboration platform. The single-digit commissions Microsoft pays resellers of that offering after a subscription’s first year aren’t among them.

“That is not a business model that’s sustainable if you’re a small company,” observes Jerod Powell, CEO of Infinit Consulting Inc., a managed and cloud services provider headquartered in San Jose, Calif. “You need to have some value-add.”

For Powell and other Microsoft partners, that means developing business solutions on top of Office 365. The product’s constituent applications—especially Microsoft SharePoint—make solid foundations for everything from workflow and knowledge management systems to predictive analytics solutions and beyond. “If you can think it, you can probably build it in there,” Powell says, adding that doing so increases not only an Office 365 sale’s bottom-line impact but a solution provider’s “stickiness” with its customers as well.

Wondering where to begin? Here are high-level recipes for five Office 365 solutions that should stimulate your thinking.

Recipe 1: Financial Reporting Solution
Most accounting solutions come with built-in reporting tools. Most financial professionals find them sorely lacking.

That was certainly true at one of Infinit’s clients, anyway. “It was taking the comptroller two weeks to generate a lot of the 10-K-, 10-Q-type stuff,” Powell recalls. That frustration ultimately inspired Powell and his team to create an Office 365-based reporting solution that pulls data out of an accounting or ERP system, stores it in SharePoint, and provides intuitive, graphical access to it on PCs, tablets, and smartphones via Microsoft’s Power BI business analytics application.

Creating such a system isn’t for the faint of heart though, Powell warns. Building one for that first buyer took over six months and $200,000 worth of development time. “It can get complicated fast,” Powell says. Using that initial version of the system as a template for future installations, however, Infinit can now roll out new deployments in as little as a day.

Ingredients

  • An Office 365 subscription that includes SharePoint Online
  • A Microsoft Azure subscription
  • Microsoft Power BI
  • An accounting or ERP solution, preferably cloud-based, with open APIs

Preparation Summary

  1. Assess the client’s reporting needs. Each buyer will require different reports formatted in different ways. Many will have regulatory compliance requirements to consider too.
  2. Implement and customize the solution.
  3. Integrate the solution with the client’s accounting or ERP system. Some clients may wish to link the solution to a payroll or time and expense management application as well.

Additional Serving Suggestions

INFINIT typically bundles its financial reporting solution with a package of associated managed services that provides 24/7 support, mobile device management, and more for a single, per-user monthly fee.

Recipe 2: Office 365 Help Desk
Office 365 components like Yammer and Delve aren’t exactly complicated, but newcomers to them are bound to have questions. Offering clients a solution that provides self-serve answers to those queries raises their satisfaction with you and Office 365 while lightening the load on your help desk.

MessageOps, a division of Boca Raton, Fla.-based SMB service provider Champion Solutions Group, has been selling just such a tool since last September. Available via a website or as a native SharePoint application, the MessageOps system directs users to quick start guides, videos, and other Microsoft training content about topics like using Office 365 on an iPad and conducting group video meetings via Skype for Business.

“We’ve collected this mountain of great information that Microsoft has and we’ve put it in one easy place to access,” says Champion President and CEO Chris Pyle. Users who can’t find the answers they need, he adds, can also submit freeform questions, which the solution automatically routes to an in-house help desk if one exists or to Champion’s help desk.

Partners not eager to develop a comparable system on their own can resell MessageOps’s product on a white-label basis. Details are available at www.office365adoption.com.

Ingredients

A business edition of Office 365 that includes SharePoint Online

Preparation Summary

  1. Install the base edition of your solution.
  2. Integrate the solution with the customer’s existing Active Directory environment, or create an Active Directory for them.
  3. Integrate the solution with your help desk solution and with the customer’s as well if there is one.
  4. Customize the solution. Different Office 365 packages come with different bundles of Microsoft software. Removing or disabling information about products that your client doesn’t use makes finding relevant material easier for them.

Additional Serving Suggestions

Self-serve training resources are helpful, but most clients will benefit from live classroom instruction as well. Offering such courses is another revenue opportunity for Microsoft partners looking to wring every dollar they can out of Office 365 engagements.

About the Author

Rich Freeman is ChannelPro's Executive Editor

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