Skype for Business (the former Lync) is set for general availability this week so it’s time to take a look at just what kind of impact it may have on the unified communications market along with any challenges that customers may face should they decide to roll it out.
As with all things Microsoft, it’s the channel partners that will ultimately play a large role in determining how successful Skype for Business ultimately is so I talked with Justin Stevens, Director of North American Channels for Sonus Networks. Sonus makes session border controllers and other devices that play a key role in securing and ensuring proper performance of UC applications.
Skype for Business: Raising the Profile of Business Collaboration
Lync already enjoyed significant momentum in the UC space over the last couple of years, so Stevens doesn’t expect the Skype for Business rollout to make a huge difference for existing UC consumers. But he does think it will bring the whole concept of UC to a broader audience who didn’t quite grasp the fundamental change previously “This is much more than dial-tone, its business transformation through collaboration.”
While those in the IT community certainly “get” what UC is all about, “at the leadership level, the GM and above at enterprises, what UC specifically is or it’s promise is not clear,” he says. “They don’t understand the full potential of the collaboration vision and the transformation of components from communications to collaboration. Skype for Business helps alleviate that confusion.”
Now IT can have discussions that go something like, “Are you familiar with Skype? UC is like that but for business.” “That’s where this message will resonate very well with decision makers,” Stevens says.
What to Expect: Better Mac Client, Seamless Integration
In terms of the product itself, the integration with Office applications is more seamless as Microsoft continues to simplify the whole look and feel and make the product more intuitive, he says.
“The integration is what they worked on more so than new features. It’s delivering on [Microsoft CEO] Satya Nadella’s promise of anytime, anyplace, anywhere,” Stevens says. “It’s going to connect no matter what you’re using, including Android and Apple devices. It’s breaking down barriers to true real time collaboration.”
Apple users have long complained that the Mac client for Lync left much to be desired. In fact, the topic dominated the comments section of a Microsoft blog post in March announcing the technical preview of the product. But Stevens says the Mac client continues to improve – and he uses it every day. (In fact, my conversation with him took place over a Lync meeting, with Macs on both ends.)
“Microsoft has acknowledged that there’s a huge population that are Mac or Apple-centric and the technology continues to improve in that regard,” he says. “I don’t know that Microsoft itself has a strong adoption package around Apple or Mac, but the partner community does.”
Skype for Business: It’s all About the Channel
Indeed the partner community will play a key role in the successful deployment of Skype for Business, which makes it imperative that customers choose a partner that’s well-versed in the technology.
Giovanni Mezgec, general manager of the Microsoft Skype for Business team, claims the channel is well-prepared:
We have seen a five-fold increase in partners deploying Lync in the cloud over the past year, and over 80 percent of the channel have been trained on Skype for Business. You can use Microsoft Pinpoint to find a local partner.
Stevens suspects that partner training may be overstated, or perhaps applies only to elite partners. “But there’s a strong community of long time experts to move us forward,” he says.
Do be careful in selecting a partner, however, as new entrances are simply adding “Skype for Business” to their web sites as the business demand increases, even if they don’t have real training and know-how to back it up.
“A partner that really understands Active Directory and edge integration is key,” Stevens says. “That’s where the most complex portion of the integration happens.” That’s especially true for customers that deploy in a hybrid premises/cloud model, as he suspects many will with the positive aspects of the plus license. Going at it alone can result in skipping many of the lessons learned and best practices making deployment a challenge.”
He suggest customers ask partners what companies they’ve deployed Lync for and how many deployments they’ve done. Ask about the technical competencies of the engineers who will be working on the project, in terms of certifications and experience. Carriers may also be a good source of references on Microsoft Partners with significant Lync experience, he says.
One last piece of advice: “Resist pricing temptations; going for the cheapest is not always the greatest idea,” Stevens says. “Going with a good partner will save you from doing it wrong, and the cost of reworking it – which can be a 10-fold increase over doing it right the first time keeping the project on-time and on-budget.”