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Living with Lync

Like moving in with any partner, learning to live with Microsoft Lync requires experience, patience, trial and error and sometimes a little compromise. Before you agree to share your desk and your computer with Lync, you should establish some relationship rules. And, if you quickly moved in together in a moment of "heated feature passion", but now feel the initial attraction fading, some UC "couples therapy" might re-kindle the original "spark" and improve organizational effectiveness.

I am thrilled to once again be hosting the Living with Lync session at Enterprise Connect 2013 in Orlando. In advance of this session, and for those who are unable to attend, I wanted to begin this online discussion of the good and less good aspects of "living with" Lync.

I'm going to assume you have already chosen Lync as your partner. If you are still "dating" or "playing the field" I would suggest you read my previous article The Goldilocks Approach: 7 Steps to Get to "Just Right" which provides a proven methodology to find your UC "soul mate".

Lync is UC and UC is much more than voice
If you want to get along with Lync, you first have to understand and embrace the fact that Lync provides a complete unified communications solution. Lync is not simply a voice replacement. Yes, Lync can, does, and for many organizations should, replace their existing voice system. However, if you are only looking for a voice system, Lync may not be the best choice. Lync is a UC solution and unified communications is about much more than just voice.

While Lync is not only a voice system, I think it is important to emphasize that if you choose, you can deploy IP phones with Lync, just like you can with any other "voice only" solution. In fact, with Lync you arguably have far more endpoint device choices: Polycom (my current favorite), Aastra, HP, and snom.

When using Lync as a solution, many users may be well serviced by the robust softphone capability built into Lync, especially those users who are nomadic or work remotely--and desk-bound users can also be well accommodated. The key is for the specific user type to select the correct endpoint device, or devices: softphone with a wired or wireless headset, USB handset, USB speakerphone, IP set. While Lync can address most voice scenarios associated with "traditional" systems, you do sometimes need to reorient your thinking in order to best address the business requirements.

Because Lync is a true unified communications solution, it means Lync users are authenticated (this makes a difference) and have access to presence (including the very useful "tag for presence change" function), instant messaging, voice, video, shared desktop and conferencing mode (i.e. multi-party) for all of the foregoing. This means you should not try to solve all communications needs with voice alone. Living with Lync means "thinking outside of the voice-only box".

Presence is super line appearance
Here is one example of how you should think differently with Lync: With traditional telephony, administrative assistants often have "line appearance", that is they can see when their boss's phone is ringing and answer it; they can also see when their boss is on the phone. Customers often ask for Lync to work the same way.

Lync can definitely handle this specific situation but it does so a little differently. First, Lync allows users to set up delegates. Delegates can answer calls on behalf of the person being called. A person can have multiple delegates and a delegate can handle calls for multiple people. When a delegate answers a call, the "boss" is notified that the delegate did so. Delegates can also place calls on behalf of their boss.

In terms of seeing whether the boss is already on a call or busy, presence really is a super version of line appearance. Everyone in an organization that uses Lync can see when another party is available, away, in a meeting or already on a call. You can also use instant messaging to inform a boss who is already on a call that another person is holding for them.

Trying to force Lync to behave exactly the same as your "old" telephone system is not the best way to live well with Lync.

Calling a person and not a device
One of the most fundamental shifts organizations need to make to get the most from Lync is to embrace the concept that with Lync you call a person and not a device. This means Lync assumes one person has one contact address (a SIP URI) and a single "old style" phone number (in E.164 format).

To illustrate the shift in mindset required, what follows is a concrete example I recently had to deal with. In traditional telephony, it was common for important people to maintain multiple offices in multiple cities. These people also had at least one, and in an extreme case I recall, up to three mobile phones. Further, if you were in the "elite group" you also might have this person's home phone number, and maybe even a vacation home number. This meant to reach this individual you would work your way through a list of numbers in priority sequence, based on where you thought they may be on a particular day. Decorum would dictate that you rarely called their mobile phone as a first step. Imagine introducing Lync into this environment and being asked to provide "equal or better" functionality.

Lync adopts the thinking that people contact people, not devices. This is the same mindset that had my cousin recently suggest I was "old fashioned" when I asked him what his home phone number was; like many people, my cousin had no home phone--why would he want people to call his house when he was not home? In the future of communications, you connect to a person, not a device. Email is already like this and in living with Lync you need to start believing that all communications should adopt the same single person/single address concept.

A caveat--private telephone lines
While in Lync a person only has one SIP address, it actually turns out that Lync allows you to assign two telephone line numbers to a person: the "normal" phone number and a special "private telephone line" number. (Technical details here.)

The number for the private line does not appear in directories or contact lists (which makes sense because they are after all private). Calls to the private line have a special ring and the "toast" notification shows "Private call". Calls to private lines always ring through regardless of presence state; so these calls ring even when presence is set to "do not disturb". As well, calls to private lines do not ring delegates or other team members and are not forwarded.


Between now and my March 19 Enterprise Connect session, I plan to post additional blogs on topics related to living with Lync. Next up: "Living with Lync: Common Pitfalls".

Do you have stories to share related to your experience living with Lync? Do you have any specific topics you think I should cover at the Living with Lync session? Please comment below or share your insight with me on twitter @kkieller.

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