Microsoft and Verizon hope to reach new markets with a joint program to offer Microsoft's Office 365 Small Business Essentials package to mobile users. Apart from the classic Office apps and hosted services like Sharepoint and Exchange, the package includes online-oriented programs like Lync for unified communications, FieldForce for employee movement tracking and Intuit's GoPayment for credit card processing on mobile devices.
Microsoft's newest and biggest partner to bring Office 365 to small businesses is another company that has long had small business in its own sights: Verizon.
During a presentation in midtown Manhattan on Monday, representatives from Microsoft and Verizon both took the podium to stump for Office 365 as delivered by Verizon Wireless as part of the latter's Small Business Essentials package. Aside from the portfolio of devices offered by Verizon, the package includes access to Office 365 for $6 per month per user.
"Business is happening everywhere," claimed Michael C. Schaefer, executive director of wireless business solutions for Verizon. Small businesses like "the pizza shop on the corner" are important economic engines. And the fact that 90% of Office 365's existing customer base is small business made both Verizon and Microsoft that much more confident that their package would be well received.
Those already familiar with Office 365's small-business SKU will find all the familiar components here: online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote; cloud-hosted instances of SharePoint and Exchange; and Lync Online, Microsoft's instant-messaging and voice-conferencing client app, which sports clients for both desktops and mobile handsets offered through Verizon. Said handsets, aside from being on Verizon's 4G LTE network, also include mobile device management features such as remote wipe, and automatically sync all client data to the small business's Office 365 account when activated.
The rest of the Business Essentials package includes other tools for business that aren't part of Office 365 and haven't been part of its list of offerings so far. Intuit's GoPayment, for instance, allows for credit card processing on mobile devices, and includes integration with QuickBooks. Another Verizon-provided package, FieldForce, allows businesses to track the movements and behaviors of their employees on the go.
Most of the touted benefits of using Office 365 relate to cost and ease of use. Few small business can afford to maintain their own business-grade hardware (e.g., Exchange servers); most of them are already familiar with Microsoft products in some form, or use them with their business partners; and many of them deal with remote clients or are spread out geographically. By providing small businesses with low cost-of-entry access to Microsoft's ecosystem, Verizon and Microsoft claim, they could get as many as four billion users in 88 different regions connected.
Partnerships with companies such as Verizon provide more than just 4G LTE bandwidth and branding for Microsoft. They also provide potential new user bases, via the mobile-handset world--a sideways leap from the desktop and back-office world. Microsoft has been struggling to make that leap for some time, and has a great deal invested in Office 365, Windows Phone, and the newest iterations of its online services as a way to make that happen.
This particular Office 365 deal is exclusive to Verizon for the time being. If it's successful for both parties, Microsoft will almost certainly look to other mobile providers, both at home and abroad, to keep alive its evolution from a desktops-and-servers company to a cloud-and-services company. The lukewarm success of Windows Phone, for instance, is strong evidence it won't be able to go it alone.