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Navigating from Skype for Business to Teams

Microsoft, at its Ignite conference this past September, threw its customers a curveball in announcing that it would be building Skype for Business telephony features into Teams, and would eventually converge Skype for Business fully into Teams, eliminating Skype for Business as a stand-alone product, at least within Office 365.

Nemertes is currently interviewing IT leaders across a range of company sizes and verticals for our forthcoming 2018-19 Unified Communications and Collaboration study. Teams, specifically how to evaluate and incorporate it, has been a primary topic of conversation.

Many of those operating Skype for Business on premises are concerned they won't be able to take advantage of Teams, or may end up having to run Teams and Skype for Business side by side until such time as they're able to move to the cloud (assuming they can build a business case for doing so). IT leaders in mixed environments (Microsoft on the desktop for IM and presence, and Avaya/Cisco/Mitel/etc. for telephony) -- and there are a lot of them, especially in the large enterprise --wonder about Microsoft's vision for integrating Teams with existing telephony platforms, and the company will ever offer interoperability between Teams and team collaboration apps from other vendors. One IT leader even went so far as to say that they're holding off moving an existing IP telephony platform to Skype for Business because they don't want to be forced into the cloud.

So what should IT leaders do? Here are five tips:

  1. If you're already using Skype for Business for telephony on premises, now is the time to figure out your cloud strategy. The reality of the market is most UC providers want to move their customers to the cloud. Moving to cloud provides renewable, predictable revenue, and allows for rapid delivery of innovative new features. If you've already moved or are planning to move to Office 365 for email, calendar, document collaboration, and other tools, committing to an on-premises Skype for Business instance is probably not a good strategy. You'll likely find a future in which your workers are forced to use both Teams and Skype for Business to communicate, creating confusion.
  2. If you're a mixed-vendor shop, the decision is murky. The most common scenario we see are organizations that have Cisco phone and videoconferencing systems, and use Skype for Business for instant messaging/presence, voice/video chat, and Web conferencing on the desktop. Interoperability between those two worlds is already possible in a variety of ways (see No Jitter blogger Brent Kelly's excellent post," 10 Cisco-Microsoft Hybrid UC Deployment Options," from August 2016 for details).

    The approaches Brent discussed are gradually extending into Teams for video interoperability. Microsoft partners including BlueJeans, Pexip, and Polycom have already announced products and services for integrating existing videoconferencing room systems into Teams. Where it gets ugly right now is for those organizations that not only are looking to use Teams, but also are using Cisco Spark, Slack, or other team collaboration applications.

    Several of our research participants operate Cisco voice/video platforms and want to deploy Cisco's Spark Board for digital whiteboard-based collaboration, but are reluctant to do so because they're also using Teams or Skype for Business for team messaging. At this point there's no good interoperability story between Teams and Spark, or Teams and any other team collaboration app (though as Jonathan Rosenberg, VP & CTO of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, noted in a November 2017 blog post, Cisco is evaluating preview APIs that may potentially provide some level of future integration).

    For now, I'd advise organizations to take a wait-and-see approach for future integration before deciding on a widespread deployment of a single team app. However, if you're fully committed to your existing voice and video vendor, consider its team collaboration application now, and hope for eventual integration later.

  3. Evaluate your collaboration personas. Nemertes has found in our research that organizations that take the time to develop collaboration personas, and define the capabilities needed for different roles, achieve a higher level of success in their collaboration planning efforts. Realize that team collaboration isn't for everyone, and rapidly moving to it may create significant disruptions, especially for roles in which a telephone is still the primary means of communication. Before you move aggressively into Teams, ensure that using it will improve your internal and external collaboration rather than hinder it.
  4. Give Microsoft some time. It's only been about four months since Microsoft announced the convergence of Teams and Skype for Business. As No Jitter blogger Brian Riggs recently noted here, Microsoft has executed on its promised telephony feature roadmap, but it doesn't yet have feature parity with Skype for Business and likely won't until some time in 2018, or even beyond. If you have sophisticated telephony features, your only choice for the time being may be to stick with your present environment.
  5. Accept that one size may not fit all. If you have a Cisco voice and video environment, and are really high on Spark Board, don't be afraid to deploy Spark now, even if you think that Teams' integration with Office 365 for document development has more value for different roles. You may run into some challenges managing multiple team apps, especially if business units use apps beyond the ones you officially support, but ultimately your goal in your collaboration strategy ought to be to support the tools that best allow your employees to collaborate, not to best simplify your management environment. That may mean you deploy Spark for ideation-centric personas that want virtual collaboration sessions across multiple locations, and Teams for those who primarily need to collaborate around Office (and maybe even additional team apps for other roles).

On the horizon, hopefully, are further interoperability capabilities to both enable Teams to integrate with legacy phone systems, as well as support messaging federation. Until then, consider your Teams roadmap in accordance with your willingness to shift to the cloud, and your need to align collaboration capabilities with employee needs.

Learn more about Team Collaboration at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Early Bird Pricing or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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