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Living with Lync: In San Francisco and Boston

Over the past two weeks I had the privilege of delivering the keynote address for the Enterprise Connect Tour in both San Francisco and Boston.

Over the course of an hour, I covered a number of topics all related to "where things stand with Lync:"

1. Lync adoption is growing, including Lync as the primary voice solution for many organizations.

2. There are significant feature and functionality differences between the three versions of Lync: on-premises (full feature set), Lync Online as part of Office 365 (no PSTN connectivity), and hosted Lync.

3. Skype integration with Lync is still awkward but holds great promise.

4. Several new valuable capabilities are included with the Lync 2013 upgrade:

a. The ability to invite external participants to join a conference via any browser, using the Lync Web App. This provides IM, presence, audio, video, and Web conferencing along with desktop sharing, and is almost indistinguishable from the native Lync client.
b. Far better mobile clients, including support for iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets and of course Windows Phones. The only gap is a Lync 2013 client for BlackBerry devices.
c. Persistent chat integrated into the Lync 2013 client; this seems to resonate almost exclusively in the financial services industry.
d. Far better large meeting control: the ability to disable IM and/or video, as well as a new Q&A manager.
e. A better video experience: up to five live streams, and video preview ("Does my hair look alright?")
f. Spellcheck for IMs...welcome supplement to the familiar red squiggly underline.

After establishing the groundwork in terms of what Lync offers, I then talked about how to decide if Lync is the right solution for your organization. My key message was that this takes work; there is no shortcut. More specifically, you need to complete a number of methodical steps:

1. Define, document and prioritize your business requirements (the "what")--do this by interviewing or surveying actual end users. Resist the urge to have IT act as a "proxy" for the real users.

2. Define multiple viable options--but prune as early as possible. I always like to include the "status quo" as one of the options. This helps to illuminate the risks of doing nothing.

3. List pros/cons of each option, but only in areas relevant to your organization--show your work and base ratings on the documented requirements.

4. Provide budgetary costing for each option--take the time to "do the math."

5. Make a recommendation--don't be afraid to make a point-in-time decision. Only evaluate commercially available products. Vendors always claim the "next" product version is terrific; however, you can only evaluate what you can actually buy today.

6. Pilot--to validate technical interoperability, but more importantly user adoption. All business cases require adoption in order to be successful. A pilot will help you ensure your culture is ready to embrace the selected technology and can also highlight areas where additional training may be required.

These steps were derived from my previous more detailed work The Goldilocks Approach: 7 Steps to Get to 'Just Right'. If you need help undertaking these steps, then get help. Do not skip these steps!

Based on my experience and evaluating the broader market, organizations that choose Lync as their voice and UC platform tend to value and look for a number of key characteristics:

• Tight integration with other Microsoft infrastructure: Active Directory, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype
• Very strong user experience
• Great remote experience
• Federation ability: B2B and B2C
• Cost savings (for some, Lync can save lots of $$$)
• A true UC platform (not a voice system with UC components "bolted on")
• Administration familiar to current apps/server team

If it turns out that Lync is the best UC and voice solution for your organization, then continue with steps 2 through 5 below ...

1. Define, document and prioritize your business objectives.

2. Ensure network readiness. This means implementing QoS/CoS and testing it on your WAN, LAN and wireless infrastructure, as applicable.

3. Secure technology design expertise and experience. If your internal resources have never deployed Lync voice before, seek external help.

4. Assign a project leader, and build a cross-functional team. You need a strong and experienced person to lead the project. This should be someone who is not afraid to make tough decisions.

5. Recognize communication, training and change management as critical. More communication and more training are always better.

Getting to Lync, or any other UC platform end-state, requires that you are able to make it through the mid-point where half of your users are on the old voice platform and half of the users are on Lync. To get to your final goal, you must have a plan to "manage through the middle." SBCs and DID management tools may become your best friends at this point.

Ahead of your journey, it is important to consider how you will manage Lync.

For bonus points, you may want to start thinking about Lync as a platform.

The Biggest Surprise
At the San Francisco and Boston sessions, I shared all of the above information in an attempt to help the attendees develop a strong and lasting relationship with Lync. I was hoping to save others pain and to accelerate their journey to a successful collaboration solution, whether that be Lync or not.

However my biggest surprise in both cities came when I took a poll via a show of hands.

As Eric Krapf documents for San Francisco and as I can attest to for Boston, less than 5% of the attendees felt Lync could act as a PBX replacement.

This opinion, which I suggest is entirely incorrect based on the evidence, was hugely surprising to me, especially given the number of case studies published where Lync has displaced PBXs. And especially given statistics that show Lync accounted for 13% of voice solution sales during 2013 in North America for organizations with 100 or more DIDs/extensions. And especially given my own experience replacing 38+ legacy PBXs with all-Lync voice solutions in the past 18 months.

It would appear Microsoft marketing still has a fair amount of work to do!

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Lync should necessarily replace your PBX; however, I am adamant that Lync is a viable voice solution that should be given due consideration. You can contest that; you can also argue that the sun revolves around the earth--but you will be wrong in both cases.

If you live in San Francisco or Boston and did not attend my sessions, I missed you. Perhaps your raised hand would have brought a better balance to my poll.

The good news is that if you are in Chicago or New York you still have a chance to register for the two next tour stops. I promise clear, real-world insight along with lively panel discussions. As a bonus, the Enterprise Connect team has so far delivered a very tasty breakfast and lunch along with a great end of the day opportunity to network over cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

In your opinion where do things stand with Lync? Evidence shows that Lync can absolutely replace your existing PBX but you are free to argue the world is flat. Add your thoughts in the comments below or interact with me in real-time on twitter @kkieller.

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