Microsoft's First Lync Conference: What Did We Learn?
Lots of announcements and progress, but a few missing pieces.
Microsoft's first-ever Lync conference is in the books. Held this week in Coronado, CA, the event gave Microsoft customers, partners, and employees a chance to gather, hear about Microsoft's direction and roadmap for Lync, learn from each other, and visit with Shamu the whale at SeaWorld. Microsoft laid out an aggressive roadmap, taking a page out of its competitors' books by using an event to build momentum and excitement for its product. Announced attendance was 1,000, more than double their initial planning estimate.
Chief among Microsoft's announcements were plans to deliver, over the next two months, fully featured mobile clients for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android. By supporting voice and video on these devices over WiFi, Microsoft closes an important gap between its portfolio and that of competitors including Avaya and Cisco.
In addition, Microsoft demonstrated IM and voice interoperability with Skype; a universal web client offering full Lync functionality on any computer (Mac or PC); a Lync "room system" built with partners including Crestron, LifeSize, Smart, and Polycom that offers video and shared whiteboard collaboration between conference rooms and desktops; and plans to close some of the feature gaps between LiveMeeting/Lync Online and Lync Server.
While the video room capabilities offer an expanded capability to bring Lync into the conference room, Microsoft's Skype integration extends Lync presence and voice to the millions of Skype users around the globe (video interoperability is on the roadmap). Microsoft even defined a new term--B2X--to highlight its focus on extending real-time collaboration to consumers and businesses through Skype.
Even with all these announcements, there were still some missing pieces.
Microsoft stressed the fact that Lync was now part of the Skype business unit, with Skype head Tony Bates delivering the opening keynote. But what Microsoft didn't spend much time on was the integration of Lync into its other collaboration products--SharePoint most notably, but also Yammer, its recently acquired social business platform. Microsoft didn't paint a holistic picture of enterprise collaboration stretching across business process applications, workgroups, documents, and even office applications.
Instead, the message here was squarely focused on Lync's real-time capabilities and federation with Skype. This stands in contrast to IBM's social-focused vision displayed at its Connect conference in January, and Cisco's push to extend collaboration into social and video as it highlighted last year at its annual Collaboration Summit. I expect over the next year we'll hear more about Lync-based collaboration in the context of its other applications and business processes, but it was missing this week.
Microsoft didn't talk much about management of its solution, outside of stating that it would support controls on mobile clients to limit cellular data usage. One of the concerns that we often hear from those using or considering Lync for telephony is managing a multi-vendor architecture that includes phones, gateways, SBCs, headsets, etc., from a variety of manufacturers. While there was an announcement of Lync-based management from NetSocket, and numerous SIs and service providers touted their ability to support Lync, we didn't hear much from Microsoft on how it's addressing the challenges of managing an end-to-end Lync solution.
Several Microsoft customers mentioned a desire for at least slightly better contact center capabilities within Lync. With partner solutions from companies including Aspect, Genesys, Interactive Intelligence, Prairie Fire, and Zeacom, Lync customers have broad choice of ACD/IVR platforms, but there was a definite interest from Lync users in expanding Lync's own contact center capabilities to avoid yet another third-party product.
Finally, Microsoft announced plans to bring enterprise voice capabilities to Office 365/Lync Online in the next 18 months. Today, customers of Microsoft's SaaS offering must run their own Lync server on premise, leverage a hosted provider that delivers integrated voice, or use products from companies such as Esnatech to federate non-Microsoft on-prem voice with Office 365. Once Microsoft delivers an enterprise voice capability of its own, it will create a new option for those looking for an entirely SaaS-based solution. Buyers will have to evaluate the feature differences between Office 365's multi-tenant model versus the single-instance, more extensible solutions, from Microsoft's various hosting partners.
Overall, the vibe at the event was positive. Microsoft brought in numerous end-user customers from a variety of geographies and verticals. While most were only just now turning up Lync voice end users, all were consistent in their view that they plan to aggressively deploy Lync voice in the future. Microsoft can help their customers along by delivering greater integration of real-time and non-real-time collaboration, holistic management frameworks, improved contact center features, and more harmonization between its cloud and on-premise offerings.