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Lync (Skype4B) & Outlook: Communications User Interfaces

It seems obvious, but let's say it anyway: In enterprises, public or private sector, people want to communicate where they do their jobs.

So, if people are doing their jobs in email, they want to communicate from their email client, i.e. mostly Microsoft Outlook. If they are doing their job using presence and instant messaging (you know, like they do with texting in their personal lives), they will most likely want to communicate using Microsoft Lync or perhaps IBM Sametime/Connections or Google Apps. If their jobs require online meetings with voice, application sharing, and perhaps video, they will likely want to work in the context of their calendars and documents, such as they have in Microsoft Office, Google Apps, or IBM Sametime/Connections. If they are doing their jobs in a software application (e.g., SAP, Oracle, et al.), they will want to communicate in the context of that application or Web portal, which may include Microsoft APIs.

Sure, you might note, some jobs are very voice-centric, and the desk telephone is entirely sufficient for desk-based jobs or cell phone voice is entirely sufficient for highly mobile jobs. But the number of these voice-sufficient jobs seems to be on the decline.

Almost every one of our consulting engagements in the past four years has included the question of how to bring all forms of communications together into one or more of these primary user interfaces -- Outlook (which natively includes Lync functions), Lync, or software applications. Sure, all but the most progressive organizations still want a phone on the desktops, but the communications and IT teams are feeling the pressure to also deliver the entire suite of communication to the users' interfaces of choice.

The good news is that there are solutions to this puzzle. The bad news is that none of these solutions is perfect from a technology perspective. Every one of the options requires some management of technology integration and some degree of change leadership. There's no free lunch.

This is particularly on my mind as I'm about to fly to Chicago for Microsoft's new omnibus conference, Microsoft Ignite. Lync/Skype for Business will just be part of the mix, compared to its dedicated Lync Conference 2014, but the new Skype for Business will still have a significant role in the three-hour opening keynote session. In fact, Microsoft will be doing almost everything they can to reinforce the trend that we are already noticing to be the communication interface of choice for enterprises of all sizes and types. It's pretty likely we will hear a lot at Ignite about how Lync becomes Skype for Business and, voila, half a billion global users are now directly in reach of the enterprise, with presence, IM, voice, video and sharing.

We will also hear a lot about using Skype for Business in the cloud (my Office 365 Lync account was automatically updated to Skype for Business today) and on mobile devices. While Microsoft had a weak story for mobile devices back in the Office Communications Server (OCS) days, Lync 2013 closed those gaps and Skype has always been far ahead with mobile device clients for almost everything.

So, what is an enterprise to do? Here are some suggestions:

1. Embrace the change -- don't avoid it. These new communications tools offer powerful ways for the users to make their work both better and easier, as they have learned from their consumer-type experiences. It's not a great strategy to limit the communications offerings to the desk phones on the IP-PBX and pretend nothing else is happening. The users will work around to get what they need, whether through their mobile devices or through cloud-based subscription services (e.g. includes Chatter for presence, IM and click-to-communicate by voice or video to other Salesforce users).

2. Really understand your enterprises communications usage profiles... really! We've written previously about usage profiles. It is very effective to understand and differentiate the communications patterns of your users. Which ones are desk-based, voice-sufficient? Which are transaction-centric but need to communicate from within their applications like in the Salesforce example above? Which ones use document-centric collaboration, whether desk-based or mobile? You get the picture. Once you look for these patterns, they are very obvious, and very helpful.

3. Deploy the right tools for the users in the usage profiles. In some cases, the 'Lync factor' is not even involved, as with those voice-sufficient desk or voice-sufficient mobile usage profiles. But when there is a need to bring the Lync-type functions together with the IP-PBX, look at the informative reference materials on the vendors' sites and at the articles here on No Jitter (e.g. the Living with Lync series). You will find several options to integrate Lync with your IP-PBX:

In most cases, similar options exist for integration of the IP PBX with Google Apps, IBM Sametime/Connections, some application software providers, and some enterprise social networking solutions.

And don't forget, the bottom line of this debate is often the bottom line on the enterprise's profit statement or budget reconciliation. Are these investments making the enterprise better overall, and not just in the telecom department?

We wish you great good fortune on your enterprise's journey of communication coexistence and convergence. It's happening, or going to happen, so better to be leading the parade than to be bringing up the rear.