How to evaluate Office 365

Currently I am conducting a lot of sessions (and webinars) on Office 365. After I demonstrate the business benefits of this product, most participants get so excited that they want to try things out. Due to lack of time, I just tell them to sign up for a one month free trial of Office 365 and test drive it.

However, I realized that evaluating Office 365 is not as simple as downloading some test version of one application and trying it out. Therefore, I thought of writing this post which explains the whole process in brief.


How to evaluate Office 365 – The steps

How to evaluate Office 365 by Dr. Nitin Paranjape

Start the trial

Here is the link which shows the comparison of various available plans. This link may not show the pricing and plans in your country. You should change the country by choosing it from the top right corner of the page.

There are different plans with different components. However, when you are evaluating the platform, it is a good idea to go for the highest possible plan – E3


This way you can evaluate all available products and services and then decide what you want or do not want. Even if you are a Small & Medium Business, I suggest you should try the Enterprise E3 option. This is because the features available in E3 may be relevant even to a smaller sized company.

Form an evaluation team

This is very important. Usually, only someone from IT performs this type of evaluation. That is not correct. The team should consist of people from IT, HR and Business Units / Departments. Unless business users are involved, the evaluation becomes a pure technical and financial exercise!

Configuring the trial

This step should be done by the IT person. Creating users, assigning licenses to them and installing applications on their PC / Laptops / Tablets and mobile phones are the basic steps. Getting Started section provides detailed help about this step.


Understand and document the functionality

This should be done in a systematic manner. I suggest that you create a table which has following columns.


Map features to business needs

This is the most important step. Just knowing about technical features is not enough.

Office 365 E3 includes many powerful products:

  1. Office 2013 professional
  2. Exchange 2013
  3. SharePoint 2013
  4. Lync 2013
  5. Office Web Applications (editing Office documents on browser)
  6. OneDrive for business
  7. Office mobile for Windows, Android and iPhone
  8. Social Network (Yammer)
  9. Business Intelligence (Reporting and Analytics)


There are literally thousands of features. Unfortunately, a typical evaluation does not even notice all these features, leave alone understanding the potential business benefit.

One thing is certain. Every feature is designed to provide some business impact and benefit. Each one of them is created to solve some problem or cater to some need.

Every organization and business has different needs. Therefore, it is practically impossible for Microsoft to list the potential uses of each feature.

This is what an evaluation should do.

Take every feature, understand the potential benefit and think about where you can utilize it in your work context. This is called Business Mapping.

Business Mapping Example

SharePoint is used for sharing all types of documents. That is obvious. But there is another feature called Content Types… It allows you to capture mandatory information whenever you save a document in SharePoint… Sounds like a technical feature. But it has tremendous business impact. I don’t want to describe it here… but you can view this 3 min video to realize the practical importance of this feature.
(Download the video and then view it)

Quantify the benefits

Some benefits are obvious. For example, if multiple people can edit the same document we can produce a better quality document in a shorter period of time.

There are two benefits here – time saving and better quality.

Time saving is easy to quantify – just think how long it required using older method of sending multiple copies to each other using email.

The quality improvement is difficult to quantify – it is an intangible benefit.

Which one is more important from a business point of view ? Obviously – better quality.

Calculate the Return on Investment

Once the benefits are quantified, it is just a question of multiplying each benefit with number of users who will benefit from it and the frequency of benefit. This way you can calculate informed ROI for the investment in the new platform. If the ROI is compelling – which it most certainly will be – you can decide the right type of Office 365 package for your organization.

Benefit from one activity x Number of users Affected x Frequency per year =
Yearly benefit per feature

Sum of yearly benefit per feature = Total Benefit per year
(in terms of time saving)

Now we need to convert time saving to money. That is easily done by dividing your turnover by the number of people. That gives you per capita contribution to revenue.

The assumption is that if you save time, you will obviously utilize it for some value adding activity which will lead to growth in topline / bottom-line.

Total benefit per year / Total cost per year = Return on Investment


This is a very simplistic but practical way of finding out the ROI of IT investments.

Present it to decision makers

Once you have the benefits well documented and quantified, it is time to present the case to decision makers – Business Heads, Top Management, Procurement, CEO… whoever is capable of appreciating the benefits and take an informed decision.

What next?

Based upon the benefits statement, purchase and deploy the appropriate version of Office 365. But the work does not end there. It is just the beginning.

The next step is to go to the potential beneficiaries and teach them how to use the new platform to improve business processes and outcomes.

Although this article is specific to Office 365, it can be applied to any technology evaluation scenario.

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