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Living with Lync: Lessons Learned

At this year's Enterprise Connect I led the "Living with Lync" session. We assembled an excellent panel of experts who brought lots of experience in living with, and "thriving with", Microsoft Lync. Whether you attended the session or not, examining some of the great lessons from the expert panel is worthwhile.

The Panel
To better understand the lessons shared, it is first important to understand that the 2013 Living with Lync "experts panel" consisted of four individuals with deep and varied experience related to Lync:

Pierre St-Aubin is an Associate Partner at the consulting firm of Deloitte Canada, which consists of over 9,000 individuals located in 61 offices across the bilingual country of Canada. Pierre has been the key visionary and leader in Deloitte's current project to replace 59 legacy PBX and 30 legacy voice mail systems with a centralized and standardized Lync voice solution. Pierre was able to share key lessons relevant to a large organization that is considering Lync.

Mike Palmer is the Manager, Information Technology Department at the City of Langford in beautiful British Columbia. Mike represented a smaller organization which has decided to transition to Lync. Mike help the City first implement the previous-generation Microsoft OCS R2 integrated with their Nortel CS1000 ("Converged Office"), and then fully transitioned to Lync using SIP trunking.

Dave Damer is the President and founder of ThinkTel Communications, a National CLEC in Canada and leader in SIP trunking and cloud services to enterprise and wholesale customers. Thinktel was the first organization in Canada to offer Lync-certified SIP trunking and now provides hosted Lync (complete with enterprise voice) and Lync deployment services. Dave was able to share lessons from multiple customers related to Lync and Lync with SIP trunking.

Dino Caputo brought deep technical expertise to the panel. He is the lead Lync technical architect at Softchoice, a billion-dollar national IT supplier (US & Canada). Dino is also a partner along with me at EnableUC, a company that builds add-on products for Lync such as Trivia Engine for Lync, a training and knowledge reinforcement tool that uses a "game show" format to promote entertaining learning. Dino knows all the "nuts and bolts" of Lync and shared some key technical lessons.

The Lessons
Based on what the expert panel shared, I have consolidated their feedback into a top ten lessons learned list. In no particular order, the top ten 2013 Living with Lync lessons are...

1. Lync works. In previous years there was debate around whether Lync (or previously OCS) could serve as a PBX replacement. There is no longer any debate. All of the panelists attested to the fact that Lync is a proven, worthy, and complete voice option replacement.

2. The transition to Lync can be easier than you think. Mike really championed this point. Especially for a smaller organization, making Lync your new voice system can actually be easier than you would expect. Training and communication are still very important (as are the other lessons) but implementation tasks when dealing with hundreds of users are significantly easier than when dealing with thousands of users. (Also see my balanced pair of articles: Is Lync Really that Complicated? and Is Lync Really that Simple?)

For Mike, Lync provided a simpler and lower-cost environment to operate, as compared to his previous voice solution. Pierre also indicated that the transition to Lync at Deloitte was supported by a very strong business case.

3. Training is important. Pierre emphasized that while technical expertise is mandatory, without a strong training program, especially in large organizations, lack of user adoption can negatively impact a solid technical solution. Make sure you allocate sufficient project budget to properly train your users on how to effectively use Lync.

4. Communication and change management are important. Beyond "how to" training, Pierre emphasized that one of the key factors for success at Deloitte was strong communication and change management. Tell users well in advance what is going to happen (at Deloitte they took away all the old phones when transitioning an office) and explain how Lync improves and changes the way they can communicate.

Specific examples: the concepts of presence and delegates replace the concept of multiple line appearance on old sets; with Lync you call a person, not a device; best practice is to precede an internal call with an IM: "Got time for a call?" Federation lets you connect more deeply with customers and suppliers, missed call notifications and voice mails come into your email inbox, including to your mobile device.

5. SIP makes things even easier. Dave shared several examples from customers that illustrated how Lync with SIP trunking was an easier path. Mike concurred, as the City of Langford's Lync solution was based on SIP. Dino supported this suggestion, as he has deployed Lync solutions with both SIP and PRIs; the SIP solution clearly reduces initial Lync configuration and ongoing maintenance burden.

Next page: The second half of the lessons learned

6. Lync + telecom + network experience = success. All of the panelists reinforced the fact that a successful Lync implementation required expertise with Lync, with telecom (PRIs, DIDs, SIP, dealing with carriers, etc.) and with the network (capacity planning for bandwidth, QoS/CoS, configurations for media bypass, monitoring). If your Lync deployment is only being driven by the "app" group you may run into issues.

7. Network is important. While Lync does have an adaptive codec that works well over an unmanaged network (e.g. working from a local coffee shop), when people are in the office, they expect "rock solid" voice. As such, like for any voice over IP (VoIP) solution, to provide reliable voice quality with Lync you absolutely need to implement prioritization of voice packets (i.e. QoS or CoS) end-to-end on your network.

This means you must involve and work closely with the network team to have a successful Lync voice deployment. Because implementing QoS properly can be complicated, Dino talked about the need to test QoS (using probes and packet inspection tools like WireShark to understand what is actually happening).

8. There are lots of options and many decisions required. Mike used server virtualization successfully for his Lync deployment. Pierre chose to use physical servers, as he supports almost 10,000 users, who use at least 5 million minutes of conferencing per month. Mike deployed Lync IP phones to most locations, Pierre deployed IP sets to meeting rooms, but almost all users make use of the Lync softphone on their firm-provided laptops along with a wired headset.

The panel talked about the greater flexibility and choices Lync provides. Dino and Dave talked about the PRI versus SIP trunking choice. Dino mentioned ensuring you are using "Lync certified" devices; he mentioned the current list of approved devices can always be found at

9. Treat the transition to Lync like a project. The panel members as a group talked about positive experiences they have all had with Lync; however, it was clear from their stories that all of them planned and managed their Lync deployments as a true project. All recognized that Lync provided much more than "just voice"; as a true UC solution there were more elements to be managed, but this also brought many more collaboration benefits.

10. You need a strong project leader. A Lync project requires making lots of decisions, likely dealing with multiple groups in your organization, and in managing a complex set of tasks and dependencies. To improve the likelihood of success, you need more than an "administrative" project manager, you need a true UC project leader. The members of the panel all brought clear direction and guidance to their Lync projects. Make sure you find a strong project leader if you likewise want your Lync project to be a success.

The session from Enterprise Connect 2013 provided lots of great lessons from a very strong panel. I hope some of these help streamline your investigation of or transition to Lync.

Have you had similar or different experiences living with Lync? Please let me know in the comment section below or via twitter @kkieller.

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