Microsoft Matures Team Strategy at Ignite

Another Microsoft Ignite conference is in the books, held late last month. This year's communications and collaboration announcements were much more evolutional than in 2017, when the company announced that it was making its Teams app the core of its real-time collaboration strategy, even going so far as to say that it would eliminate Skype for Business within Office 365 and transition those users to Teams.

Since that 2017 announcement, Skype for Business customers, and those evaluating or planning to deploy the UC platform, have been in a bit of a scramble to revamp their go-forward strategies. Many Microsoft customers we work with have put the brakes on plans to roll out Skype for Business as they conduct due diligence on Teams. Those who planned on an on-premises approach are now forced to consider cloud as Microsoft has no intention of delivering an on-premises version of Teams. So what are the takeaways from this year's event?

At Ignite 2018, Microsoft announced several enhancements to Teams, most notably the ability to blur backgrounds in Teams meetings, as well as new capabilities to better manage home and shift workers. Given Microsoft had previously announced calling feature parity with Skype for Business, there wasn't much new to say on the telephony front. (Click here for a complete list of Teams-related announcements).

Microsoft also provided a number of futuristic demos showing Teams room integration with its HoloLens wearable augmented reality devices and an ability to perform real-time language translation during a live meeting in which participants speak in their native tongues. The later provided a clear example of Microsoft's ability to leverage its AI platform within Azure for competitive differentiation.

Most notable was the rapid expansion of Microsoft's third-party partner ecosystem supporting Teams. At Ignite, Polycom announced general availability of its cloud connector for enabling customers to bring their existing videoconferencing endpoints to Teams meetings, while BlueJeans and Pexip said they're going GA with their own solutions this month. Endpoint options continue to grow, as well: Crestron expanded its offerings to include phones and room systems and Plantronics introduced its new Elara endpoint that combines a headset with a mobile phone cradle, while HP, Lenovo, Logitech, and Yealink demoed new conferencing and phone endpoint options. Slower to come is a broad selection of Teams phones, with AudioCodes, Crestron, and Yealink providing the only options.

Nemertes 2018-19 study on team collaboration adoption found that 27.1% of the more than 600 companies studied were already using a team app, while another 31.8% planned to have one in place by the end of 2019. Microsoft was the clear leader, with a 32.9% share of those using team collaboration today, while Cisco Webex Teams (formerly Spark), Slack, and Google Hangouts Chat rounded out the top four.

Interestingly, just 8.5% of participants expected team collaboration apps to replace their existing phone systems, though 42.6% saw the possibility of that happening in the future.

For Microsoft to achieve true success in converting its customer base to a Teams-centric telephony/UC environment, it must address several outstanding concerns:

  • Support for Teams calling and meetings in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments -- Today, Skype for Business is widely supported by VDI vendors like Citrix, and on VDI hardware from Dell and others; I expect to see similar support for Teams in the near future
  • Third-party management -- Microsoft must deliver equal support for third-party management platforms from vendors like IR, Nectar, and Unify Square. Even though Teams is cloud-based, IT leaders we speak to tell us that they still expect to maintain an in-house capability to manage performance all the way to the endpoint (and increasingly, the headset), or procure management services from managed services providers
  • E911 -- I expect to see support for third-party E911 solutions from vendors like RedSky and West Safety Services, above and beyond capabilities already available in Teams
  • Broader endpoint support -- This should include a fuller range of phones for a variety of scenarios – for use in public areas, for example, and for vertical solutions like hospitality
  • Increased options for PSTN access -- This would allow customers to

    completely eliminate their own PSTN access services. Today customers tell us that calling plans for Teams are still too limited in availability, and too expensive to consider

At Ignite 2018, Microsoft demonstrated that it is well on the road toward fulfilling its vision announced in 2017 of making Teams the center of its unified communications world. Over the next year I expect to see even more advancements that bring Teams fully to the level required for enterprise phone system replacement.

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@imlazar

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