[IMGCAP(1)] Microsoft’s Office 365 suite is eliciting quite the buzz from companies of various sizes and in various industries. CPA firms, which are both data consumers and data collectors, are becoming increasingly more comfortable with the idea of using a cloud service and are intrigued by the software’s ability to increase business productivity at a flexible cost. In fact, four out of five Fortune 500 companies use Office 365’s services, and this trend is extending to small and medium sized businesses as well.

In Microsoft’s 2015 Annual Report, the company claimed more than 50,000 small businesses subscribed to Office 365 every month for the 22 months preceding the survey. As more CPA firms and other businesses begin to implement the service into their everyday operations, it’s important they understand the unique features included in the suite and how to use these tools to suit their specific business needs.

With so many businesses using Office 365, it is important for business owners to understand all aspects of the service to get the best result. Here are 10 ways Office 365 can help CPA firms streamline their operations and meet their projected goals.

1. Coediting documents
Within Office 365, users can simultaneously coedit documents via SharePoint. SharePoint functions as an intranet site where an organization’s important information and files can be stored in a single, secure location. Users can share links to files with other members of the company and view any changes being made in real time. Additionally, individuals can restore previous versions of documents and compare these versions throughout the editing process.

Essentially, Office 365 users have access to an archived collaboration platform that avoids the communication silos likely to occur when employees are forced to email documents across the office.

2. OneDrive for Business and sharing documents
OneDrive for Business enables users to store, access, and share documents on any device with an available internet connection. The feature is integrated within the whole of Office 365, so when a user makes changes to a file, the changes are saved across all applications and devices. Administrators can set access and editing permissions that reflect the structure of the organization and ensure the business adheres to any compliance standards for which it may be responsible.

OneDrive for business also permits firms to securely share documents with clients, vendors, and partners outside of the company, specifying whether a guest can view, or view and edit, the shared document.

3. SharePoint Calendars
CPA firms can centrally host information regarding company deadlines and events using the SharePoint calendar. This feature mirrors an office’s whiteboard or paper calendar that would be displayed in a communal area. Anyone within the firm is able to view the calendar, which makes it easier to keep track of important dates on a company-wide scale. Like Outlook, SharePoint calendar allows users to schedule single or recurring events. Users can add their SharePoint calendars to their Outlook and can overlay Outlook calendars with SharePoint calendars to allow them to see all of their events at once.

4. SharePoint Notebook
SharePoint teams can create Notebooks specific to their roles within the firm. Shared notebooks can be used to brainstorm projects, aggregate materials and files, record and distribute meeting minutes, and list tasks to be completed. Like the coediting document feature, users can set access and editing permissions, restore older versions of the notes, and coedit pages as if they were in the same room.

This centralized notetaking enables employees and departments to easily collaborate and share information in one place.

5. Planner
Planner acts as a virtual project manager.

The application is displayed on an easy-to-use interface where teams can cooperate, share documents, assign tasks, and coordinate projects. Assigned tasks are represented by “Cards” and each card can include specified due dates, attached files, and corresponding conversations and categories. The Planner “hub” records and displays the progress of individuals and teams using real-time data analytics.

6. Delve
Delve is a feature of Office 365 that develops a collective display of documents most relevant to users at a specific day and time. The application consolidates data from across the Office 365 platform and uses this information to predict the what resources a user needs and when. Delve allows users to readily access the most popular documents being edited within the organization, as well as develops a home page of relevant information specific to the individual’s role and needs.

If an employee has a client meeting scheduled in their Outlook calendar, Delve will pull any associated documents onto the user’s home page before it begins.

7. Power BI
Microsoft’s Power BI is a cloud-hosted business analytics service that compiles all of a company’s data into single interface and displays this information on live dashboards that can be tailored to the visual needs of the business. The feature creates insightful visuals using combo and funnel charts, fill and tree maps, gages, and additional data representations that empower organizations to make more informed business decisions.

Power BI works with a variety of storage options, whether the data is hosted on premises, in the cloud, or a combination of both. The feature can be used on almost any device, and its live dashboards can be shared both within and outside the company. Visuals can also be embedded within a company’s blog or website to enhance the presentation and appeal of the firm’s content.

8. Skype for Business meeting capabilities
Office 365’s Skype for Business can be a valuable asset for any CPA firm looking to improve its communication and collaboration capabilities. The application supports instant messaging, voice calling, and video chat on any internet-capable device. Users can continue to communicate uninterrupted while coediting documents, sharing screens, hosting presentations, switching devices, and more.

Skype for Business supports seamless communication throughout all of the Office 365 applications and across a variety of devices.

9. Easy conference calling
Hosting conference calls is simple using Office 365’s Skype for Business. Users can check the availability status of the people they want to contact, select participants, and begin a conference call all within the application’s user-friendly interface. If another person needs to be added to the call, users can simply drag the person’s name from their contact list directly into the meeting. The application is suitable for both small and large businesses. Users can hold conference calls with up to 250 people and can broadcast a meeting for up to 10,000 participants at once.

10. Single sign on across several services
Office 365 uses a software component developed by Microsoft that provides users with single sign-on access to numerous online applications during the duration of a session. This feature eliminates the need for a user to enter their credentials for every application. Single sign-on includes the Box, Citrix, Citrix GoToMeeting, SalesForce, Google Apps, Office 365 and more. Once a member is logged in, they can easily switch between any application until their online session expires.

Correctly understanding these unique features found in Office 365 tools will enable a seamless workflow. However, business owners should take the time to properly assess their employees and company’s needs to determine which Office 365 tools are the best fit.

Jamison West is the president and founder of Arterian, a subsidiary of Aldridge. Arterian has won several Microsoft West Region Partner of the Year awards and was one of the first Microsoft partners to become a Cloud Solution Partner. West is a contributing member of the Aldridge leadership team and services as the company’s Microsoft Cloud visionary. His primary responsibilities include managing Aldridge’s strategic partnerships with cloud vendors and business development for Arterian.



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