Beth Schultz
Beth Schultz is editor of No Jitter and program co-chair for Enterprise Connect. Beth has more than two decades of...
Read Full Bio >>

Beth Schultz | September 27, 2016 |


Showtime for Skype for Business Online

Showtime for Skype for Business Online With its latest series of advancements for Skype for Business Online, Microsoft execs want to make sure you know its cloud communications story is "very real."

With its latest series of advancements for Skype for Business Online, Microsoft execs want to make sure you know its cloud communications story is "very real."

Microsoft kicked off its second-annual Ignite conference yesterday in Atlanta with lots of talk about mobile-first cloud-enabled digital transformation, a host of security-, intelligence-, and cloud-related announcements for the here and now, and a deep think about future "magical technologies" and the democratization of artificial intelligence so that "every person, and every institution that people build ... can go on to solve the most pressing problems of our society and of our economy," as CEO Satya Nadella shared in an innovation keynote.

Gurdeep Singh Pall at Ignite

I'll leave Nadella's vision of a better world through AI for another day, and focus here instead on the more mundane stuff of concern to enterprise IT professionals charting communications and collaboration strategies for their organizations. In an opening session on Skype for Business, Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of Skype, walked attendees through the latest Microsoft has to offer in cloud communications. The announcements and demos covered a variety of capabilities, including audio conferencing, mobile UC, and video conferencing, and are also summarized by the Office 365 team in a blog post, "Move all your communications to Skype for Business Online."

Following the session I had the chance to sit down with Andrew Sinclair, GM of Skype and Skype for Business product marketing, for a recap. First and foremost, Sinclair wanted me to know, the news for the No Jitter audience is that everything Microsoft announced at the March Enterprise Connect conference in regards to Skype for Business, it's delivered on (see related articles, "Microsoft, Avaya Aim Sky High" and "Microsoft Grooms Skype for Business for Rooms"). Secondly, he wanted to be sure I understood that Skype for Business in the cloud is very real -- "it's ready, it's massive, it's global," he said, following up with a variety of proof points.

Global Calling
At Ignite, for instance, Microsoft announced that it has expanded PSTN Conferencing's reach into an additional 17 countries in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, and Europe. With these latest additions, available as part of the E5 licensing suite, people can now join Skype for Business meetings using local numbers from 90 countries and 400 cities, Sinclair said. That makes Microsoft as far-reaching an audio conferencing service provider as any other out there, he added.

In addition, Microsoft continues to expand the numbering options for global users. Default city numbers are now available to all Office 365 customers, and Office 365 administrators can now select dedicated toll numbers or toll-free numbers in hundreds of cities worldwide. And, starting next month, Skype for Business customers in France and Spain can get PSTN Calling in preview mode, adding to the U.S., U.K. and Puerto Rico, where the service is already generally available.

Lastly, in what Sinclair called a "little bit of a techie feature" enabled by a single line of code, Microsoft is giving Office 365 administrators a way to home Skype for Business meeting participants in the regional data centers nearest to their physical locations. This capability, due by year's end, replaces the need to provision all conferencing from data centers in the U.S. or U.K., Sinclair said. Local provisioning means reduced latency and better quality, as well as the means to meet data sovereignty requirements.

User Flexibility
Yes, Microsoft has acknowledged, some enterprise organizations do want to support Skype for Business on Macs, as well as on iOS devices -- and it is committed to making those experiences all the better. In October, Microsoft plans to release the new Skype for Business for Mac client, written from scratch using Apple's Swift programming language. The client will support HD audio and video, plus allow users to join meetings with one click.

On the mobile side, Microsoft has announced Skype for Business integration with Apple's recently released CallKit API. Via the integration, the Skype for Business client takes over the native dialer -- no more having to leave the UC client and open the Apple calling app to place calls. With native dialer access, Sinclair said he sees the mobile phone now really being able to replace the desktop phone. "Think about the savings, and the convenience," he said. "This is about having UC everywhere."

In another, but unrelated, announcement concerning an improved user experience, Microsoft said it will release a preview of real-time transcription and translation, via live closed-captioning, in Skype Meeting Broadcast. The preview, due by year's end, will initially support spoken English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and German, with additional languages added in during the preview.

Next-Gen Meeting Rooms
No Jitter readers who attended Enterprise Connect 2016 may remember talk of "Project Rigel," the codename for the next generation of meeting room capabilities previewed by Zig Serafin, corporate VP of Skype Business Services, during his keynote. A major new initiative, he said at the time, Project Rigel aimed to make Skype the "start button" in meeting rooms, bringing a touchscreen, interactive Microsoft Surface Hub-like experience to meeting rooms outfitted with displays or projector. Skype for Business online meeting capabilities would provide the remote user experience.

As of yesterday, Project Rigel is now officially the next generation of Skype Room Systems and Microsoft is delivering on that vision to enable a click-of-a-button meeting experience for Skype for Business users. Any space, from small huddle site to broadcast venue, can now be a Skype meeting room, Sinclair noted. "We no longer dictate the environments [for meetings]. Siloed solutions don't fit anybody," he added.

As part of the Skype Room Systems ecosystem, Logitech SmartDock for Skype Room System bundles are available to reserve today, and will start shipping in a few weeks. Crestron's Skype Room Systems will ship at the end of the year, and the Polycom MSR Series for Skype Room Systems will start shipping early next year.

Organizations that use other video conferencing systems aren't to be left in the cold, Sinclair added. Microsoft also has announced the preview of Polycom RealConnect Service for Office365, hosted on Microsoft Azure. Like its premises-based predecessor, RealConnect Service provides a way to non-native video teleconferencing systems from Cisco and others into a Skype for Business meeting using the same easy one-click capabilities available with the next-generation Skype Room Systems. "It's all about protecting the investment people have in telepresence systems while creating a seamless meeting experience," Sinclair said.

Seamless Migration
The last bit of Skype for Business online news revolves around Microsoft's new Skype Operations Framework (SOF). With SOF, Microsoft is offering an expanded set of end-to-end planning, deployment, and operations methodology and tool set for Skype for Business. The recently announced Cloud Migration release aims to ease the task of migration from the on-premises to cloud-based version of Skype for Business. "There's great evidence that customers that take the time to do this right have a great experience," Sinclair said. "And we want everybody to have that sort of experience -- seamless, painless, and delightful."

Watch this space for additional SOF news coming from Skype for Business partners, and until then I'll leave you with one last note. While the rumors that Microsoft is working on a "Slack killer" team messaging app to be named Skype Teams, neither Sinclair nor other Microsoft executives would give credence to the talk. That's not to say such a product isn't taking shape within Microsoft, but just that if it is, it's not ready for primetime yet.

Follow Beth Schultz and No Jitter on Twitter and Google+!
Beth Schultz on Google+


October 24, 2018

With disparate workplaces and ever-expanding volumes of information to manage, the challenges for collaborating effectively are only intensifying. Many critical applications are not integrated, and

October 10, 2018

Businesses are growing across international borders quicker than ever, but scaling operations to follow suit can be a harder, longer process.

This webinar focuses on scaling your next-generat

September 26, 2018

Join Kevin Kieller, Microsoft UC&C expert, along with Ribbon Communications and Polycom, for an update on Microsoft Ignite, and a focus on critical things you need to know about your voice deployme

March 12, 2018
An effective E-911 implementation doesn't just happen; it takes a solid strategy. Tune in for tips from IT expert Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research.
March 9, 2018
IT consultant Steve Leaden lays out the whys and how-tos of getting the green light for your convergence strategy.
March 7, 2018
In advance of his speech tech tutorial at EC18, communications analyst Jon Arnold explores what voice means in a post-PBX world.
February 28, 2018
Voice engagement isn't about a simple phone call any longer, but rather a conversational experience that crosses from one channel to the next, as Daniel Hong, a VP and research director with Forrester....
February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.