Microsoft's operating system may be the primary engine in most businesses, but there is a world outside Windows. Microsoft offers an array of services that address some of the most common headaches small businesses face and enable them to operate like much bigger organizations. Here are five of the gems.
1. Office 365
You can buy Office 365 Small Business Premium for only $150 per user per year. That's less than the cost of a single Office 2013 Professional license, but it allows you to install the full Office 2013 Professional suite on up to five devices--including iPhones and Android smartphones.
But Office 365 is more than Microsoft Office in the cloud. Office 365 Small Business Premium also includes Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, which give you a complete business infrastructure without the cost and overhead of buying and maintaining your own servers. Plus, Microsoft manages the server back-end. It's like getting an IT department thrown in for free.
2. Power BI
Data is power. Power BI, Microsoft's business intelligence service, lets you analyze and leverage data through a tool most businesses are already comfortable with--Excel. You can create analytical models, build interactive visualizations, and more.
You can also share insights with other team members, track who is accessing what data, and see which data sets are used most. Power BI is included in an Office 365 subscription.
3. Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials
Many businesses are too small to have a dedicated IT department and lack the skills and resources required to manage Windows Servers. The Catch-22 for these businesses, though, is that their needs exceed the capabilities of the Windows desktop OS as well.
Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials provides an affordable, simple server option for businesses with 25 to 50 users. It's a stepping stone that takes your business from a random group of separate Windows PCs, to a more capable business network. Instead of having individual users back up their own PCs (which is likely a pipe dream anyway), Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials can automatically back up client computers to a central location--a lifesaver in the event that a laptop with crucial information is lost or stolen. You can also easily restore entire PCs or specific files or folders as needed.
You can use Remote Web Access to connect with company data and resources over an encrypted connection from virtually anywhere. The Remote Web Access interface is designed to be a touch-friendly experience, allowing users to connect from any Web-enabled device.
Using Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials gives your business the ability to manage and protect data, implement and enforce policies on endpoint PCs, and more, without requiring a full-time IT administrator or Windows Server guru to run it.
4. Windows Intune
The BYOD movement is particularly advantageous for small businesses, so you need a tool that lets you reap the benefits while mitigating the risks. Windows Intune gives your business a unified platform for managing both PCs and mobile devices running Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone 8, iOS, and Android. The service lets you implement policies, distribute software, and track device inventory from one Web-based console.
A single license of Windows 8.1 costs $120 in the Microsoft Store. For a little more than that--per year--you can subscribe to Windows Intune with Software Assurance ($11 per user per month), which includes licensing for Windows 8.1 Enterprise (or whatever the current Windows OS is). You can also subscribe to just Windows InTune without the Windows license for $6 per user per month.
5. Bing Webmaster SEO reports
SEO is part science and part dark art. It's also crucial for ensuring your website ranks high and attracts traffic. But understanding search-engine algorithms and mastering SEO can be a full-time job.
Bing Webmaster Tools provides information in a way that non-Web gurus can understand, and lets you see how your Web pages rate. It generates reports based on a set of SEO best practices and helps you fine-tune your website with page-level recommendations. The Bing reports explain any potential issues and show a sample of pages affected by non-compliance with established SEO guidelines.
These five services just scratch the surface of Microsoft's offerings, but using them can save your business money and give you tools to operate more effectively and efficiently. More importantly, they'll put you on level playing field with much larger enterprises, and give your company a strategic edge over the competition.