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Living With Lync: Succeeding With Skype

Reflections, observations and predictions on what “Living with Lync” and “Succeeding with Skype” will mean in 2015.

On Nov. 11, as No Jitter reported, Microsoft announced that it's renaming the next version of Lync as Skype for Business. The day after the announcement I had the opportunity to speak with Jamie Stark, product manager for Lync.

Now that the initial flurry of Lync/Skype articles has diminished, based on my conversation with Stark, I offer some reflections, observations and predictions on what "Living with Lync" and "Succeeding with Skype" will mean in 2015.

From my discussion with Stark, several things are clear.

1. This is much more than a rebrand. Yes, Microsoft is changing Lync's name to "Skype for Business"; however, this is much more than a simple rebranding. Reflect on when Office Communications Server (OCS) became "Lync." Recall all the features added. The transformation of Lync to Skype for Business will include several new features:

    • Improved connectivity between Lync and Skype, including the ability to access the Skype user directory and video conferencing interoperability
    • Simplified user interface operations, including one click to transfer
    • Skype's call monitor window, which makes it easier to monitor your call even as you make use of other applications

• Improved connectivity between Lync and Skype, including the ability to access the Skype user directory and video conferencing interoperability
• Simplified user interface operations, including one click to transfer
• Skype's call monitor window, which makes it easier to monitor your call even as you make use of other applications

For some organizations the business-to-consumer possibilities created by a Lync and Skype directory mashup will enable new business efficiencies and potentially inspire completely new business models.

2. Microsoft is trying to make the transition as easy as possible for organizations running Lync 2013. For the first time ever, Microsoft will support an "in-place upgrade" for organizations moving from Lync 2013 to Skype for Business. This is a big deal compared to the process that required building parallel infrastructures when moving from Lync 2010 to Lync 2013. That being said, some organizations may rightly choose to build out parallel infrastructures in order to mitigate risks associated with the transition to Skype for Business.

I did confirm with Stark that the in-place upgrade would not work from Lync 2010, so if you are already in the process of planning a migration to Lync 2013, my recommendation is to proceed. If you are living happily on Lync 2010, you may want to defer any migration planning until at least Q2 2015 when more particulars will be available. If you are in the process of evaluating Lync, I wouldn't stop. There will always be version n+1 just over the horizon; continue your evaluation based on the released Lync 2013 feature set.

When I asked Stark about supporting the large Lync ecosystem of devices and add-on applications through this transition, he indicated that Microsoft was working hard to ensure that existing Lync tools worked well with Skype for Business. Stark did comment that all the vendors will have some work to do, minimally needing to update documentation and potentially product naming to reflect the new branding.

Stark also indicated that through this transition Microsoft will be focused on "giving administrators the tools to be able to effectively manage in the right way." This means that the Skype for Business client will include both the Lync classic and the Skype user interfaces, he said. Administrators would be able to control when a group of users is transitioned to the new interface; this should aid in adoption planning and support for larger organizations.

Enterprise communications managers are likely to appreciate this ability to control the UI transition. Users in some organizations are only now figuring out where the Lync 2013 interface "hid" common features such as the mute button, so delaying a transition to the Skype for Business UI until 2016 might make sense in such cases.

3. Microsoft has more cards then it is showing. Stark repeatedly hinted that Microsoft has not yet shared the full story; I expect this is partly because the story is still evolving. While I prodded him, he was careful not to let slip anything not covered in the official announcement.

I speculate that Skype Translator, the real-time language conversion tool that allows you to speak another language without ever learning it, will eventually find its way into Skype for Business. Stark did mention that through the Skype Translator preview Microsoft was looking to capture data on accents and speech patterns that could eventually provide the higher quality of service an enterprise-grade tool of this nature would require.

It would also be great if Skype for Business allowed the Skype post-call survey to be turned on selectively. Gathering metrics associated with a specific call would improve the ability to diagnose issues in a corporate environment. While the current Lync Monitoring server reports provide great call quality metrics, in larger environments it is often difficult to determine the exact call where a user had an issue. Allowing a user to "flag" a call as problematic could streamline the investigative process.

4. Skype and Lync are a potent combination. Combining the Lync and Skype development teams certainly unlocks internal efficiencies at Microsoft. We are already seeing improved technology sharing between the teams, such as with the SILK codec introduced into the various Lync 2013 mobile clients, H.264 and directory sharing.

Lync has had a good year in 2014, as evidenced in its placement in the leaders' quadrant of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Corporate Telephony for the first time (and still being a multiyear leader in the Magic Quadrant for UC). According to Gartner, Lync is the seventh largest global telephony vendor. Lync ranks third among IP-PBX vendors in North America in organizations with more than 100 extensions, per Peter Hale, who heads up the enterprise team for telecom and IT analyst firm MZA.

Skype adds massive scale to the combined ecosystem. Skype boasts more than 550 million registered users and on a daily basis 60 million concurrent users consume 2 billion minutes of Skype audio and video.

5. This announcement had nothing to do with Office 365. While the Lync community is still waiting for the promised PSTN connectivity options with Office 365, the Skype for Business announcement focused solely on the on-premises version of Lync. Perhaps Microsoft will eventually add Skype's ability to call mobile and landlines in 170 countries/regions to the Office 365 version of Lync, but Stark was clearly not prepared to discuss this possibility.

6. Microsoft may face some challenges. Online forums indicate not everyone is thrilled with the Lync UI moving towards the Skype UI. Questions are being asked about how this fits in with the overall Office 2013 look and feel. While millions of people use Skype, only a tiny percentage of those users would choose the Skype UI as representing "best in class."

The Skype brand brings great global recognition but at present this is mainly in the consumer space. As one CIO recently commented to me, "I was proud to say I have successfully deployed Lync. I'm not sure how I would feel about saying I had deployed Skype." (Read Skype for Business: Great Marketing Move or Colossal Brand Blunder?, today's piece by Phil Edholm, principal of PKE Consulting, for his take on how the rebranding's impact on enterprise adoption.)

Lync is clearly not going away; it is gaining a new name, a new look, and new features that should benefit organizations who have already selected Microsoft as their voice and UC platform.

If you are interested in more details on the year in Lync and year ahead with Skype for Business, please join me when I deliver the keynote address on Wednesday, Dec. 10, to kick off the Enterprise Connect virtual event, Microsoft Lync: What Is the Impact for Your Enterprise? I'm interested in how you see Skype for Business impacting your UC plans. Please comment below or via Twitter @kkieller.

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