Is Skype for Business a Telecom game-changer?

As the Skype for Business bandwagon matures the telecoms industry finds itself in a period of F.U.D, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, some would say we are even coming out of the period!

F.U.D. is demonstrated below using Technology ‘S’ curves.  As legacy technologies reach maturity and begin to provide diminishing returns, new, emerging, technologies come along creating F.U.D.  A successful new technology evolves and matures, before eventually overtaking and continuing to grow, improve and augment until the next ‘big thing’ comes along and the cycle starts again.
s-curve-uc-blogThe telecoms industry has seen these patterns over the years with emergence of the Digital PBX taking over from analogue, into IP PBX overtaking from Digital PBX and onward and upwards into Unified Communications.  One thing is for certain, technology evolution is inevitable.

Historically Unified Comms has not been particularly unified!  Yes, all the functions that Skype for Business provides have been available for some time, albeit from a number of different vendors in different applications and not particularly Unified.

Skype for Business truly is unified, a single, integrated solution providing multiple modes of communication in a single application available across a range of platforms and devices.

I recall exhibiting at UC Expo in 2010, right at the start of the Lync/SfB Technology ‘S’ Curve.  I was on a small stand, leading with Lync 2010.  During setup I remember looking around and seeing all the offerings available from other vendors, massive screens with VC units, stands with shiny phones, the list goes on, and there I was with a couple of laptops and a few headsets!  I expected a quiet couple of days, in fact it was one of the busiest stands!  Whilst the delegates could have easily walked around to a few stands and built their own solution it would have more ‘C’ than ‘UC’.  People loved the single application providing all these services and the tight integration into Office was an added bonus.  It was this event that cemented in my mind that this technology was the future!

When we talk about SfB as a telephony replacement we must take this into consideration, SfB is not just a telephone system.  SfB changes the way you communicate in business, both technically and culturally.

Some SfB critics seem to point to some of the SfB features as weaknesses, I believe this is just a lack of education and vision, more of a ‘we’ve always done it this way’ attitude and not looking at how things can be done differently, efficiently and cost effectively.

Take traditional Video Conferencing for example.  Historically VC units have been expensive, clunky units, reserved for board rooms or specific VC enabled meeting rooms, providing limited access for the majority of workers.  Yes, the VC units are ‘always on’ and ready to go and excellent (in the whole) quality, however, it did seem the norm that a VC meeting would always start a few minutes late as people worked out how get into the meeting bridge!

With Skype for Business every DESK is VC enabled and ‘always on’ using a familiar application that people use day in, day out.  Even when you want to move into a meeting room and have a Video meeting between rooms of multiple people SfB provides simple, cost effective solutions with plug and play USB devices, simply pick up your laptop, move to a room, plug in and away you go, no need to book the VC bridge, setup a separate call its simple.  The cost effectiveness of some devices also enables more meeting rooms to be VC enabled, opening the service up to the masses!

The Group Pickup feature of traditional PBX’s is one that I often get asked about.  Whilst it is available in SfB I say it’s a thing of the past.  Presence enables other users to see if someone is not at their desk and therefore calling them is pointless, presence aware Hunt Groups will only deliver calls to users that are available and the mobility of the product means that a user can field their calls wherever they are using the Smartphone Application or built in call forwarding options.  The days of the phone ringing and ringing on a vacant desk are gone.

These are just two examples of many.  The way we communicate with SfB is inherently different to the way we have traditionally and I believe Presence is the key to this.  When delivering SfB demos and end user training I like to positon the way we communicate as being ‘Real Time’ and ‘Non-Real Time’ with Presence enabling me communicate effectively in this manner.uc-blogIf someone’s presence shows them to be Available I can use a Real Time communication to talk to them, so an Instant Message or Voice/Video call.  If they are shown to be Busy or Away then I know a real time communication is not relevant, therefore I can send a ‘Non-Real Time’ message, for example an email or voicemail, for them to pick up as and when they become Available again.

Here I have mentioned a few of the features of SfB (IM and P, Peer to Peer Voice and Video).  Add to this Conferencing (internally and externally) with Voice and Video, Screen Sharing for Collaboration and then include PSTN breakout and PBX functionality and Skype for Business can realistically provide a replacement for traditional telephony with the added benefits that provide the real value and return on the investment.

So to summarise should organisations adopt SfB during a period of F.U.D.?

Microsoft reports that 47% of UK businesses are currently using SfB, trailing it or considering trailing it as a full telephony replacement.

I am going to play a little devil’s advocate now.  As a Skype for Business evangelist I take a slightly biased view and say absolutely all organisations of all shapes and sizes should be looking at SfB and could be adopting it as their PBX replacement today, there are so many use cases and benefits to be had in every business vertical.

However, the realist in me recognises that a wholesale, big bang, shift to a new technology is not always practical.  Companies have investments in legacy telephone systems, the asset of which they would like to sweat.  Given this I believe that a Hybrid approach is a great stepping stone towards a full roll out.  I see increasingly organisations that are making the shift to Microsoft’s Office 365, which includes elements of SfB.

The adoption of the O365 services is still predominantly around Exchange and the Office suite.  SfB and the rest of the 365 toolset is often left by the wayside, despite it being included in the license bundle and much to Microsoft’s dismay.  If you have SfB why not harness the tool and have it integrated with your existing phone system?

An integrated Hybrid model, deployed today as part of a long term strategy to eventually migrate to a full SfB with Enterprise Voice deployment, allows an organisation to use the tools I have described to improve Communication, enable Collaboration, and become more agile and stay ahead of the curve.  Integration into the existing phone system provides the Enterprise Voice element and completes the Unified Communications toolset.

I believe that the key to a successful hybrid implementation is to work with a partner who understands both technologies.  You can talk to the team at Pennine about all SfB deployment options and how SfB can provide communication benefits for your business.