A Guide to Maximizing the ROI from Your Microsoft 365 Subscription

When asked which Microsoft 365 tools they use, few of the platform’s subscribers reply with anything other than the typical Office applications like Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word. If they want to hold a video meeting, plan a project, or share an in-house work video, they typically turn to third-party software. 

Despite paying the additional monthly fees for a Business or Premium subscription, the vast majority of Microsoft 365 users don’t take full advantage of the applications included in their package. In many cases, businesses end up wasting time and money on redundant third-party competitor apps that do the same thing as what’s available for free in their MS Suite of tools. These third-party alternatives are invariably less effective and less secure than Microsoft’s. If this sounds like you, read on to learn how to get more from your Microsoft 365 subscription.

Microsoft 365 Overview

Beyond the standard Office Suite applications that you are familiar with, Microsoft 365 includes a wide range of additional collaboration tools like Yammer, Teams, and Sway. These powerful applications help you chat, plan, hold meetings, stream videos, and conduct many other useful business functions. Microsoft has worked hard to integrate these tools into a single, seamless cloud platform or ‘productivity cloud’, as they like to call Microsoft 365. For users, it means the included apps are far more efficient and secure than external competing products.

There is also the issue of support: Since every Microsoft 365 subscription comes with full 24/7 web and phone support, it makes sense to do everything in one place and use a singular point of contact for help. Why pay more just to complicate matters?

Here are seven Microsoft 365 products that are already part of your subscription that you can start using today for free.

1. Yammer for internal communication

What is Microsoft Yammer?

Yammer is an in-house social networking platform for organizations on the Microsoft 365 platform.It’s already one of the most widely used internal communication tools available, but it’s worth noting here in case some people haven’t discovered it yet. With the capacity to host from two up to 80,000 members in a single secure conversation, Yammer is the perfect in-house communication tool for small businesses and large enterprises alike.

Yammer Pros and Cons

The social networking aspect of Yammer is what makes it a winning application, combined with sharing tools, scalability, security, and integrations. However, some users note that the search function is limited and the number of notifications excessive. Also, similar Microsoft 365 communication apps like Teams and Kaizala make some Yammer functions redundant.

Here are some competitor apps which you could replace with Yammer: 

  • Workplace by Facebook has similar functionality to Yammer but costs extra, lacks Microsoft 365’s security, and has no real advantages. 

  • Zoho Connect is a popular cheap tool for collaboration but lacks the intuitive UI of Yammer.

  • Google Workspace provides a decent set of business tools but not at the professional level of Microsoft.

2. Microsoft Bookings for scheduling appointments

What is Microsoft Bookings?

Bookings is a simple but powerful appointment app that makes it easy to schedule appointments or meetings along with some added features. Users can share their availability, send customized questions with each appointment, and integrate the app with the calendar and email functions in Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft Bookings vs Calendly

Microsoft Bookings is better suited as an appointment booking app for small businesses, whereas Calendly suits any size company from freelancers to large enterprises. Consequently, Calendly is more widely used but may be unnecessary if Microsoft Bookings fits your needs.

Here are some other competitor apps which you could replace with Bookings: 

  • GoToMeeting is one of the most popular call bookings apps available, with a huge range of features. Although it costs extra, large organizations may find it preferable over MS Bookings.

  • Setmore is a free online platform for freelancers or small businesses with decent functionality but no real benefits over Bookings.

  • ScheduleOnce gets good reviews but the full version requires an additional cost and offers few advantages over Bookings.

3. Microsoft Stream for video streaming/storing

Overview and benefits

Another lesser-known Microsoft application is Stream, a video creation and delivery tool that has been overshadowed by YouTube and Vimeo. However, with Stream, organizations can better control the administration and security of their content while advanced features like facial recognition and timecode-tagged discussion forums add value. Stream is also intended for internal company consumption, and not sharing outside the organization.

Stream lets you easily organize your videos into channels or groups, host live events on Teams, or share content via SharePoint, OneNote, or Yammer. 

Here are some competitor apps which you could replace with Stream:

  • YouTube is by far the most well-known video streaming app but lacks the dedicated security and support that comes with Stream.

  • Vimeo is another popular video app, preferred by smaller companies that require high-quality videos.

4. Power Automate for automation/integration

What is Power Automate?

Power Automate can be used to increase productivity by automating repetitive tasks like data entry, scheduling, and synchronization. With Power Automate, you can create automatic workflows not only between Microsoft products but also third-party apps from the likes of SAP, Salesforce, and Oracle.

Here are some competitors which you could replace with Power Automate:

  • Zapier – The popularity of Zapier means this tool is more widely used than Power Automate yet it achieves a very similar result. Most users simply don’t realize they can use Power Automate instead.

  • Integromat receives good reviews due to its APIs and integrations with Google apps, but like Zapier it costs extra and is online only.

  • Workato is a lesser-known, low-cost automation app that may appeal to businesses that don’t use Microsoft 365.

5. Microsoft Forms for online surveys/form building

What is Microsoft Forms?

Did you know there’s a Microsoft 365 app for creating online surveys and tests? Microsoft Forms is just that – a simple, intuitive way to quickly produce and distribute customer satisfaction surveys, event questionnaires, or staff feedback forms.

When using Microsoft Forms for business activities, you can easily integrate it into Outlook, Excel, or other 365 tools, and it’s compatible with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.

Microsoft Forms vs Google Forms

Google Forms is free and more widely used than Microsoft Forms but their functions are very similar. While Google supports multiple question formats in a single form, Microsoft has better graphic themes and QR code support.

Here are some other competitor apps which you could replace with Forms:

  • Typeform is another popular Forms app but can’t compete with Microsoft’s support and functionality.

  • Zoho Forms is popular amongst small businesses that likely don’t use Microsoft products, but its Professional subscription fee is quite high.

6. Microsoft Planner for task/project management

What is Microsoft Planner?

Planner is a web-based project management tool for planning projects, task assignments, file collaboration, and virtual meetings. It’s a bit simpler than Microsoft 365’s other project-management tool, Project, but more capable than Microsoft To-Do, which is not included in the Premium or Standard versions of Microsoft 365.

Here are some competitor project-management apps which you could replace with Planner:

  • Trello is a popular online planner but lacks the business functionality and communication tools of MS Planner. However, Trello’s collaborative Kanban-style boards are easy and intuitive to use.

  • Asana is popular due to its ease of use, but their Business account is expensive. For large organizations, MS Planner is a more cost-effective option with equivalent functionality.

  • At $99/month, Basecamp is one of the most expensive Project Management tools. While some users find it more intuitive than Planner, it’s a lot of extra money for an otherwise similar app.

7. Microsoft Teams for chat, calls, and video conferencing

Overview and benefits

Microsoft Teams is one of the most widely used and powerful apps in Microsoft business software. It’s one of the best communication tools available for teams of 2 to 10,000 users, or more. Often confused with other Microsoft collaboration tools like Yammer or Skype, Teams has been found to be the most collaborative and productive of them all.

For basic messaging, Microsoft also offers the Kaizala app (similar to WhatsApp or Signal) but it doesn’t have the same file-sharing and integration benefits of Teams. 

Here are some competitor apps which you could replace with Teams:

  • Slack is probably one of the most well-known free online apps for business, with unlimited users and large file storage. However, it lacks Teams’ strong support, channel meetings, guest access, and integrations with the Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

  • Zoom supports group video calls with external clients but doesn’t offer any benefits over Teams for internal collaborations.

How Leverage IT can help

Many Microsoft 365 users aren’t fully aware of the applications included in their subscriptions and subsequently miss out on some of the free benefits. We can take the complexity out of leveraging the Microsoft 365 ecosystem by rolling applications out in a consistent, strategic manner that includes training and Q&A webinars for your staff.

We’ll identify redundant apps that are in use across multiple departments and consolidate all projects into a standardized platform to increase your productivity. The Leverage IT solution will ensure that all your staff are using Microsoft 365 in the most productive, secure, and cost-effective way.

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