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Which Microsoft 365 License Do I Need?

M365 Business Standard vs Premium

Barrett Dilger

September 25, 2023

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Microsoft 365 License Choice

Microsoft is a leader and powerhouse when it comes to business applications. One of the things I would critique about them though is that they change their structure and naming conventions, and then don’t explain or market them very well.  It leaves businesses unaware or confused, and leaves it to IT companies like us to explain it all. Which honestly, isn’t always an easy thing to do.

By this time, hopefully you are aware that there are no longer any “Office” products to speak of. One of the biggest changes that came about over a decade ago is that office suite of products has converted to a SaaS (Software as a Service) subscription – the “365” licenses. The other major change was the rebranding of the product line from “Office 365” to “Microsoft 365” which occurred just a few years ago.

Microsoft has built the M365 licenses to be packed full of productivity applications, so much so we have covered the various apps in other postings as well as how they stack up against their competitor Google.

M365 Business Licenses

The biggest issue causing confusion is that there is not just one M365 license.

There isn’t even just one class of M365 license. Not to overwhelm you, but there are at least 6 classes of license the last time I counted, ranging in terms of Consumer, Education, Business, and more.

That’s why it is so confusing, and why our clients ask the same questions. So here is the breakdown:

Small and Mid-Sized businesses want to purchase Microsoft 365 Business Licenses.

The M365 Business license has 4 options: Basic, Apps, Standard, and Premium.

The licenses seem to be staged in a typical “Good, Better, Best” sales structure, so it’s tempting to just choose one in the middle and call it a day. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Again, Microsoft doesn’t make the differences very clear. So, we will.

In fact, we made up a nice comparison cheat sheet to show all the differences in one place. Just click the image to download it.

M365 Comparison Download
Click to download our Microsoft 365 License Comparison

Which Microsoft 365 License is right for your business?

Probably not the first two. This is what you get (and why you’ll likely dismiss them).

Microsoft 365 Basic

M365 Business Basic is…well, basic. It’s a stripped-down version of the M365 Suite. It does not include any desktop apps, and only provides web and mobile apps. The mobile apps included are Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. On the web app side, it provides Teams, Exchange, OneDrive, and SharePoint.

If any amount of your business work gets done on a desktop, then this would be a very underwhelming experience. If your business is mobile-only, and this seems to fit, ironically there is no mobile device management or advanced threat protection included.

This is a very niche category, which is nice when it applies, but it is not suitable for most businesses.

Microsoft 365 Apps

M365 Apps focuses on providing the desktop apps missing from the Basic license. With this license, you’ll get access to the suite of desktop apps you know, such as Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You’ll also get cloud service apps such as OneDrive as well as the mobile apps of all the desktop versions. You’ll also get Publisher and Access as PC-only apps (there are no mobile apps for these).

So, what’s the catch? The big missing items are business email (with domain support), exchange support, and the Teams app. Can your business function without email or messaging tools? Perhaps if they’re supplied by another source it makes sense, but for most businesses that need communication functionality this license just doesn’t work.

App Access

The real meat of this article is comparing Microsoft 365 Business Standard vs Premium.

Microsoft 365 Business Standard

This is where things get some solid footing. M365 Business Standard is the first of the feature-rich business licenses. It doesn’t have quite everything, but it has a fully-fledged suite of applications to empower every business.

Business Standard will give you access to apps in all locations; desktop, mobile, and web. This brings you the popular apps such as Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

It also includes the main cloud services of Teams, OneNote, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Exchange – which powers your business email and calendars, collaboration tools, and includes Microsoft’s security.

Included in all of this is a slew of lesser-known apps like Forms, To Do, Lists, Bookings, Whiteboard, and Webinars. Once you realize how many apps are included, you’ll be amazed and start putting them to good use.

This is a solid license, and it might just work for a lot of businesses. But there is one better.

Microsoft 365 Business Premium

The fact of the matter is, M365 Business Premium is a far better license and will benefit your business.

Let me show you how.

There is nothing held back from the Business Premium license. You get everything that the Standard license offers, plus very powerful added features.

Intune is the first thing I think of when I think of Premium. Intune is a cloud service that allows for the management of all your devices in one place. You can control device app access for uniform management. Not only is this convenient for workstations around the office, but imperative for mobile devices. Mobile device management and app management are some of the most difficult challenges for businesses today. The modern workforce uses their mobile devices as much (if not more) than workstations. Plus, there is a trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) for mobile devices in organizations. How do you manage a device that is owned by your employee? Intune is how. You can easily grant or revoke access, mandate app versions and updates, and even remote wipe devices.

Then you get Azure Information Protection (AIP) for data protection. Another cloud service, this one is designed to discover, classify, and protect your documents.

Another powerful tool you get with Premium is Advanced Threat Protection (ATP). This includes Microsoft Defender, which is a detection & response application to protect your devices. Think old school antivirus, but on crack.

If your business is healthy and mature, or growing bigger than ever, then you need M365 Business Premium. It will make a world of difference to the management of your employees, to better your experience and theirs, as well as improve the overall security of your data.

I know it’s a lot to take in. So let me give a few details and examples of how “managing your devices” looks in a real-world situation.

Computer Management
Here are practical key features that will supercharge your business, which are only available in M365 Business Premium:
Access Control with Conditional Access

You’re the owner of your business, you are the king (or queen) of the castle. Every bit of your organization is at your beck and call. That absolutely isn’t true for anybody else on your team.

Not all data is equal, and some are very sensitive in nature. Be it your finances or your proprietary information. Not everybody on your team needs access to everything. They only need to access pertinent information to execute their job.

With conditional access you have full, granular control over who gets to access what. You can secure files and folders, ensuring they are accessible only by authorized individuals, at the appropriate time, on the approved device, and at a specific location. This gives them the tools to do their job but closes the gate so nobody unauthorized can get at it.

This type of control is only available from the M365 Business Premium license via their Information Rights Management (IRM) which controls access and permissions with the goal of preventing unauthorized sharing, copying, printing, and forwarding of sensitive information.

Device and App management with Intune

I’ve already mentioned Intune, but it probably sounded very “techy” and not something you want to delve into. Don’t let that fool you. It’s invaluable to your business as it provides company-wide management.

The basis behind this control are the Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Mobile App Management (MAM) tools. With Intune, you control what is allowed and prohibited on all company devices. That control is for all Windows PCs, as well as mobile devices and tablets.

The icing on the cake is that you can use Intune on employee personal devices. This allows them to continue to use their personal phone or laptop for their own convenience, but keeps your business data safe, by segregating it from their personal data.

Don’t quickly read over that. This is HUGE.

The modern workplace isn’t tied to the same building, desks, and devices. People are using their mobile devices far more than they ever have. In the enterprise world, the stats show that 60% of all devices are mobile and those devices account for 80% of the work. That’s a lot of mobile devices, whether they are company-issued or BYOD. That is why you need MDM to manage them.

Think of MDM as the ultimate “parental control.” You have full control over what your employees can access from their personal devices. That control also gets hardened with the Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) I mentioned earlier. ATP is designed to detect, prevent, and respond to cyber threats on your business, including email protection, safe links/attachments, and behavior analysis to name a few. ATP is essential for communication apps like Outlook and Teams.

Need more? You got it. Set and automatically enforce rules on all company devices. Lock down installing apps without approval, automatically install company approved apps, and even completely wipe a device remotely if a device is lost or stolen. No security nightmares when you are in control.

What about if you have a BYOD policy and your team are using their personal devices? No problem. You can give them as much or as little access as you wish. A good standard policy would be to restrict them to specific communication apps like Teams and Email, which get safeguarded with ATP.

M365 Business Premium is a powerful tool you don’t want to overlook.  

There is so much to unwrap in how powerful M365 Business Premium is and how it improves how your business operates. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

The main takeaway here? That you understand that M365 Business Standard is full of productivity apps for your business. M365 Business Premium has all those productivity apps, plus tools to make your business efficient and secure. Your technology shouldn’t be a stumbling block that hinders you. It should be a cornerstone to build your business bigger and stronger.

Have any questions? Reach out for more information.

Need an IT partner? We’ve been partnering with clients since 2013 to help them succeed. One of the ways is in managing their Microsoft licenses to ensure they have the right licenses for the right people, and never overpay for what they need. Just get in touch to see how we can help you.