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The Burning Question About The Microsoft Lync Launch: Top 10 Answers From A UC Perspective

Thousands of enterprises already own licenses for tens of millions of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 user "seats" which will convert into Lync licenses. Millions (likely tens of millions) more will be licensed in the coming year.

The burning question for those customers and for the unified communications (UC) industry at large will be, "How does my enterprise make the best use of these licenses I own, or am considering owning?"

Tomorrow, November 17, 2010, Microsoft will officially launch Lync, their newly renamed Unified Communications suite. The successor to Office Communications Server 2007 R2, Lync 2010 fills in a number of the features which some customers and some industry analysts were calling for to make OCS 2007 R2 a complete enterprise communications solution. In addition, Microsoft has also announced that a cloud-based version of Lync will be available in the Microsoft Office 365 suite in 2011. This will involve even more customers in answering the burning question.

Fortunately, the answers to the burning question are very clear, based on the growing base of customer experiences and successes with UC in the past half-decade. There are nearly a thousand case studies published by a dozen vendors to describe UC successes. The Microsoft library of UC case studies, which they call "evidence" is very impressive, with 199 write-ups and videos from around the globe that span a broad spectrum of industries and a wide range of Use Cases.

When UniComm Consulting is asked this burning question by our clients, we answer it in context of this definition of Unified Communications: "Communications integrated to optimize business processes." This focuses attention on the business outcomes, beyond just the technologies. We also consider the question in context of other options available for the customer, whether from IP PBX suppliers, video system providers, conferencing system providers, UC system providers, or mobility solution providers. Just attend our sessions at Enterprise Connect and Interop (video here from Interop Las Vegas 2010) to see the major options for UC solutions and the many vendors for each option.

But this week, the burning question is about Lync. So, here are my top ten answers to the burning question:

1. Use Lync for desktop worker productivity. With just the Standard Lync license, users will see others' presence and can "click-to-communicate" between any two parties, with instant messaging (IM), voice, video, or web desktop sharing. Doesn't touch the PBX, but does off-load most communications to Lync.

2. Use Lync with Microsoft Outlook and Office. Now the users can click-to-communicate or share from any message or document. An IM or call from an e-mail message will include the subject in the session dialog box. Still two-party, still doesn't touch the PBX. More business acceleration.

3. Use Lync with mobile and remote employees. Smart phones, USB phones, IP phones, WiFi devices, tablets, laptops all have presence and click-to-communicate. Really cuts cellular phone costs (avoiding calls to busy or unavailable people) and can save 20% to 50% in facilities costs. May touch the PBX, or not. 4. Use Lync for specific Use Cases, processes, and jobs. Find the communications hot spots and determine the UC applications that will remove those hot spots and optimize the specific areas of your business where users need help. Lync may be the right technology for many of these users by supporting their specific communications requirements differently from or better than the PBX. The employees who are not in these selected Use Cases can remain on the existing PBX system. You get enhanced communications for the employees who can benefit from advanced capabilities, but don't needlessly spend capital upgrading your entire communications infrastructure.

5. Integrate Lync into business processes (also known as CEBP--Communications Enabled Business Processes). Almost every vertical industry has core application software supporting its major business processes--sales, production, distribution, R&D, enterprise support, etc. Lync functions (via the integral API platform) can be embedded directly into those applications so the user has (only) the necessary communication tools at their fingertips. May touch the PBX, or not.

6. Use Lync for Conferencing. With the Lync Conferencing client license (or the Enterprise client license with OCS) the system becomes the conferencing platform for IM, voice, web sharing and video. Moving from a one-on-one session to a conference is just drag-and-drop or type a name or number. Often big savings compared to conferencing services. May touch the PBX, or not.

7. Use Lync for Collaboration. This means real collaboration around a shared project with documents and information editing, persistent chat, blogs, and wikis, not just calling, conferencing, or messaging. Of course, Lync would be integrated with SharePoint for communication specific to the users of SharePoint workspaces, portals and documents. May touch the PBX, or not.

8. Extend Lync functions to customers, clients and partners. Most businesses want to do more with their customers than just call or send e-mail. Lync can be used to connect securely via presence, IM, voice, web, document sharing, or video with those parties outside the firewall. This can be done in several ways--meeting invites; comm-enabled portals; or federation via either public IM systems such as Microsoft Live Messenger or Office 365, or the client's or partner's OCS or Lync (or IBM Sametime or Cisco UC or other federated) system. May touch the PBX, or not.

9. Use Lync as the Video communications platform--desktop and meeting rooms. If the industry vision is that video is the new voice, as prominently promoted by Cisco, then video has to happen at the desktop and mobile devices, not just in meeting rooms. Lync, along with Microsoft partners' products, is a candidate to be the video platform, especially if you're planning any of the applications 1 to 8 above. Won't involve the PBX.

10. Oh, yeah, use Lync as your Enterprise IP PBX. Since you've read answers 1 through 9, you realize that the reasons to install a unified communications system are all about business process improvements and benefits, not about whether Microsoft has built a better PBX. However, with the launch of Lync, it's also becoming a functional communications system that meets many enterprise communications needs, so at least put it on your list of roadmap options.

This list of ten answers to the burning question is not meant as an endorsement of Lync over any other solution, per se. Rather, it is an illustration of how This list of applications just illustrates what thousands of businesses are already doing as shown by the vendor use cases, and as we know from our consulting engagements. So, if you have a burning question in about UC in your company, check the list, or give us a call.