Microsoft Ignite: Skype for Business Cloud PBX Solutions a Key Focus
Since the Office 365 E5 release, Microsoft has focused on identifying remaining gaps that need to be filled by partner solutions to provide a robust Cloud PBX solution.
[Editor's note: This article has been edited from its original to clarify a few points about Microsoft's "white spaces" categories of focus and correct a product name.]
Next week Atlanta will host the second Microsoft Ignite Conference, bringing together more than 20,000 IT decision makers, IT professionals, and enterprise developers. As part of the "One Microsoft" initiative announced in 2013 and aimed at reorganizing and rallying the company, the Ignite event combines six separate events the company previously held: TechEd, Management Summit, and its Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Project Conferences.
I recently had a chance to chat with Microsoft's Sean Olson, product manager for Skype for Business voice experience and James Skay, senior product marketing manager for Skype for Business Developer Platform, about announcements that were made at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in July that will be continuing topics at Ignite next week. Since Microsoft announced Office 365 E5, which includes Skype for Business, they said, a lot of effort has gone into understanding what current gaps, or "white spaces" as Skay referred to them, need to be filled by partner solutions in order to provide a robust Cloud PBX offer. Skay said that these white spaces have been grouped into four areas: contact center, attendant console, compliance, and recording.
For partners to integrate to the premises-based Lync Server, Microsoft created the Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA). Now, in conjunction with key partners, the Skype for Business team has been working on bringing these enterprise solutions to the cloud. Olson is quick to say that Microsoft is not porting UCMA to the cloud; as he described it, "UCMA does many things." Some of those things will not be in the new API, mainly because a cloud architecture brings with it different capabilities and requirements.
Because Ignite is such a key event in the Microsoft calendar, communications companies save their best and brightest Skype for Business-related announcements for right around this time. Filling one of the white spaces described by Microsoft, during Ignite Enghouse Interactive will unveil a new Attendant Console for Skype for Business.
Enghouse says that this is the first professional attendant and operator console solution native to Skype for Business Cloud PBX and accessible directly from Microsoft Office 365. Without the need for any on-premises equipment, an interactive and graphical interface brings a gamification approach to increasing attendant and operator productivity. Calls travel dynamically and change color based on a contact's queue position and age. In addition, users are empowered with directory searching coupled with Skype for Business Presence. The graphic below highlights some of the features of the console.
Enghouse Interactive has provided a Lync and Skype for Business-compatible console and contact center solution for premises deployments for several years. John Cray, the company's vice president of product management, told me that Enghouse has 400+ customers using either the contact center, console, or both.
Enghouse Interactive and Microsoft agree that many of the capabilities required to support a third-party attendant console, (e.g., the ability to take a call, put it on hold, handle transfer and call join scenarios, provide presence) are required by both console and contact center applications. Capabilities that have been built by Microsoft to support a fully cloud-enabled auto attendant with hunt groups are now complete. Adding the additional contact center-specific requirements and APIs still needs to be done before we see a fully-featured, cloud-enabled partner contact center solution tightly integrated to Office 365 E5.