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Living with Lync: Lync is a Platform!

Coming out of the February 2014 Lync Conference in Las Vegas, it seems many analysts and customers are realizing that Lync is a platform upon which communication-enabled business applications (CEBP) can be built.

This should come as a surprise to no one. Microsoft builds platforms. Windows was always a great development platform. Even way back at Consumer Electronics Show 2010, then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said there were over 4 million Windows applications. The Microsoft Office suite has also always been a platform, with thousands of organizations taking advantage of specialized add-ins to add features and functionality. SQL Server, SharePoint and even Xbox likewise are solution platforms.

In a similar model, Lync (and OCS before it) has always been a platform with a well-defined and well-documented set of APIs (note that "APIs" is plural).

Last year during the "Living with Lync" session at Enterprise Connect 2013, the concept of Lync as a platform came up but was not a focus area. In fact, I was hesitant to explore Lync as a platform for CEBP in detail. The whole CEBP acronym seemed to simply confuse people. Again this year during my EC2014 Living with Lync session, there was certainly a mention of Lync as a platform--but I suspect most of the audience is still debating whether to "Lync" or not.

At EC2013, I hesitantly brought up CEBP because many organizations still seemed to be debating whether Lync could serve as a true PBX replacement. I didn't want to confuse these people by mentioning that Lync was one of the best communication-enabled platforms upon which to build communications and collaboration applications. (And, if you happen to still be wondering if Lync can serve as a complete PBX replacement, the answer is an emphatic and proven "Yes"!)

And yet, by April 2013, I felt the tide was turning in certain pockets of the user base; so I began focusing more on Lync as a platform, and talked about Lync add-on applications in my articles "How to Make Money With Lync--Part 2" and "Lync, CEBP and UC--Connecting the Dots," which were based on the UC Summit session Jon Arnold and I delivered. In the session and the articles, I articulated the fact that Lync is a fantastic communication-enablement platform.

So if Lync truly is a "platform," what can you do with the communication platform Lync provides?

1. Easily enable click to communicate within your desktop or Web applications
If you have Lync and Outlook, when you get an email, you can see the presence status (available, busy, away) of the sender and each person copied on the email. Even better, you can click on a person's name and then click to instant message, voice call, or video call that person. You can also choose "Call All" via the menu to instantly convene an ad hoc group collaboration session. This same capability works within SharePoint or Office.

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But the really cool, and powerful thing is that with very little effort you can add this capability to your own line-of-business applications. Note that to do this you must have access to the source code for an application; you cannot simply add this to third-party vendor applications, but you can ask them to do so!

2. Create automated "bots"
At Lync Conference 2014, Microsoft showed off a hypothetical "Med Bot" (medical bot) that could help patients self-diagnose common afflictions, ultimately escalating to a video call with a nurse or doctor as required, all within a browser session.

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While telehealth seems like a natural fit, a more "fun" example that leverages Lync as a platform is Trivia Engine. Trivia Engine is a knowledge reinforcement tool that uses an engaging, e-Learning, "game show" format and leverages an existing Microsoft Lync infrastructure. Using a Lync instant messaging session, participants compete to answer the most questions correctly as quickly as possible for the best score. As they compete, they learn while having fun, and Trivia Engine allows you to track their learning progress. All of this is possible by utilizing Lync as a platform.

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One of the companies I am associated with developed Trivia Engine over ten years ago, but the platform capabilities of Lync meant that "Trivia Engine for Lync" could be easily created.

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Next Page: Presence, click to communicate, communication kiosks, analytics and more...

3. Extend presence and click-to-communicate to your website
UCWA (Unified Communications Web API) allows you to add presence and click-to-IM to your Web applications. (Click here for an example; if you are interested in the code behind this example, find it here.)

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Further, the new "jLync" API shown at the February Lync conference extends the click-to-call and click-to-video-call capabilities of UCWA to browser-based applications. In fact, the telehealth example referenced above operates entirely within a browser using the yet-to-be-released "jLync" API.

4. Create communication kiosks
The Lync platform can provide person-less interactions by way of kiosks. This can replace or free up receptionist time associated with deliveries and visitors.

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Vytru, Avtex, and ETC Ask the Expert are some examples of companies that have leveraged Lync as a platform to provide kiosk-based services.

5. Provide unique and insightful analytics
The monitoring server role in Lync along with the built-in SQL Reporting Services provide a strong foundation to help you understand usage and the quality of service you are delivering.

The standard Lync Monitoring reports provide usage data related to peer-to-peer IM, voice, video, file transfer and application sharing sessions. The reports also provide details related to conferencing usage when three or more people are involved. And additionally, the Quality of Experience (QoE) reports give insight into the audio and video quality that is being delivered, along with details related to the end-user endpoint (laptop microphone, headset, Lync phone, video camera) and network connection (wired or wireless). Further, Microsoft continues to expand the reports available to users on Office 365.

Third-party companies such as UnifySquare with their PowerView tool, NetIQ, Event Zero's Dossier products and others have been able to extend the standard Lync reporting precisely because Lync is a platform.

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And for organizations that don't want to buy and install more software but rather simply want to understand the information and receive recommendations on appropriate corrective action, several companies, such as Softchoice, offer usage and adoption analysis and consultative services.

6. And more ...
The true value of any platform is that it enables creative developers to dream up, experiment and implement things we have not even imagined yet. (Note that this is the same notion that drives the "hype" of WebRTC.)

The existing Lync APIs do not yet expose all of the functionality of Lync. However, UCMA and jLync, along with the history of Microsoft supporting developers, suggest good things for the future.

Lync is a platform. So who knew?
It seems Microsoft always knew. Focusing on user experience and building a communications platform has always been a key architectural focus for Microsoft; other vendors are only now trying to catch up in both areas. George Druze and Michael Greenlee knew before most people, and to prove it they wrote the book Professional Unified Communications, Development with Microsoft Lync Server 2010 four years ago. A small number of people also knew earlier on and started creating applications that leveraged and extended Lync.

The secret is out. If the recent Lync Conference is an indication, then many people know now. As such, I expect an increasing number of exciting communication and collaboration applications that extend and leverage the Lync platform.

Do you have feedback on any specific Lync add-on applications, or do you see the need for some creative new communication-enabled application?

Use the comments section below to share your thoughts. I will review and respond to each and every comment. Or, interact with me in real-time on twitter @kkieller.

Use the comments section below to share your thoughts. I will review and respond to each and every comment. Or, interact with me in real-time on twitter @kkieller.

Follow Kevin Kieller on Twitter and Google+!
@kkieller
Kevin Kieller on Google+

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