Excerpt from our Office 365 Education supplement developed in association with PC Pro Magazine.

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ALEX PEARCE IS FOUNDING DIRECTOR OF BFC NETWORKS, AND A SHAREPOINT MVP SPECIALISING IN THE USE OF MICROSOFT TECHNOLOGIES IN EDUCATION. HERE, ALEX ANSWERS SOME OF THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS SCHOOLS HAVE ABOUT OFFICE 365 EDUCATION.

Question:  How easy is Office 365 Education to deploy? Is it something the average school can do?

Answer: Implementing Office 365 Education can be as simple as you want it to be, and you can get a Microsoft Partner to do it for you. It depends on how you want to use it. You can have something simple, using services such as Exchange Online and Lync Online, and then add SharePoint- based solutions which are tailored for schools and academies. But why not give SharePoint a go anyway, creating sites for staff and students to collaborate together?

Question: How much time does it take to manage once it’s up and running?

Answer: The Office 365 Education Portal screen is very easy to navigate and manage for creating users, adding them to groups and resetting passwords. A Microsoft Partner could always help you to enable Single Sign On to your school or academy’s log-on system, so your staff and students only have to log in once to their computer to reach all the great features of Office 365 Education.

Question: Is it simple to add or remove students and teachers to and from the system?

Answer: Both teachers and students can be added to the system very easily. The Office 365 Education Portal is easily laid out, allowing you to create teachers and students and give them email or access to SharePoint Online. Remember that you want to be able to identify between teachers and students when in SharePoint Online to allow them to see only the data that is relevant to them. You don’t want students seeing staff documents within the staff area, for  example.

Question: Are we stuck if our school internet connection goes down?

Answer: No. Office 365 Education offers much more offline capabilities than its rivals. There’s the offline mode of Office Web Access, synchronisation of documents to local PCs or your network thanks to SkyDrive Pro and SharePoint Online, plus Outlook’s ability to cache email. But that’s not to ignore how important it is to ensure that you have a good support mechanism for your schools’ internet line, or access to a backup line. When you talk to your ISP or your local council or supplier, you need to ensure that you’re getting good bandwidth and high uptime guaranteed. Don’t be afraid to invest in a good internet connection. It’s worth every penny.

Question: Can I mix and match Office 365 plans if staff need desktop applications?

Answer: Yes, you can. You could have some staff just using Exchange Online Plan 1, then have a mix-and- match between A2, A3 and A4 where you have assigned the staff the licences according to the features they require. Some may need the desktop applications, or SharePoint Online, Exchange Online or Lync Online.

Question: If we use Office 365, are we still OK with UK laws and regulations?

Answer: The UK Government has set out a requirement for cloud services, which Office 365 matches and exceeds. Datacentres are based in Europe and are amongst the most secure you’ll find anywhere. Microsoft is always working hard to reach the next level of regulation to demonstrate that Office 365 is safe and can be used in education, government, health and other public services. Office 365 has been accredited IL2, which is part of the UK’s G-Cloud cloud framework. Not all rival services can say the same.

Question: What happens if we leave Office 365 later? Is all our data lost?

Answer: If you decide to leave Office 365 Education you need to plan the removal of the data the same way you would if you decided to deploy your data to the cloud service. As part of your plan you may want to remove and safeguard your files, but there are ways to do this to ensure that you get everything correctly. The trick is to plan the migration before you leave – not that you’ll find any reason to once you’re up  and running.

Question: Do the Office Web Apps have the features our students need to get their homework and coursework done?

Answer: Absolutely. The Office Web Apps are great and even better when being used in Office 365. You’ll get no more excuses on the lines of “I have an Apple Mac at home and I can’t open Word” or “I don’t have Office installed on my computers or tablet.” Office Web Apps can be used across the board.