Success with Skype: Is Your Problem the Product or the Process?
Favorable outcomes require more than even the deepest of understandings about the product ins and outs.
Sadly, too many organizations still fail to achieve measurable business improvements when implementing Skype for Business. Many blame the product; however, where does the real fault lie?
Like all true unified communications products, Skype for Business is complicated. This complexity follows from the goal of UC, which is to integrate multiple communication modalities for both end users and system administrators. With Skype for Business, a successful deployment requires architecture, design, and engineering skills related to Active Directory, Windows Server, SQL Server, Exchange, and, of course, the Skype for Business application itself.
The different "flavors" of Skype for Business can create product challenges, or, rather, issues aligning a selected architecture -- on-premises, cloud, or hybrid -- with specific organizational requirements. With Microsoft's primary focus on Skype for Business Online, and hybrid for everyone not fully serviced by the cloud, organizations can be "caught" when they realize certain scenarios or features are only supported by the on-premises product. To be fair to Microsoft, this is not a product challenge. To be fair to architects and designers, keeping up with and understanding the rapidly evolving Skype for Business feature set and current limitations of specific platforms is very difficult.
Having participated in deploying Skype for Business to hundreds of locations, I conclude that Skype for Business almost always functions as defined and designed. Blaming the vendor, because you misunderstood, failed to research, lacked expertise and/or experience on your team, or treated your UC implementation like a telephony upgrade, seems unfair.
And so we turn our attention to understanding process challenges related to UC in general and Skype for Business in particular.
More often than not, unfavorable outcomes related to Skype for Business occur because of project process failures, and have little or nothing to do with any inherent product shortcomings.
The most common process failures I have had the displeasure of witnessing include:
1. Failure to define project objectives.
When organizations are not clear how they will define the success for their UC implementation, unsurprisingly they often fail to achieve positive outcomes.
How will you measure success: Cost savings? Improved productivity? Quicker time to decision? Reduced travel?
2. Failure to evaluate options.
The good news is Skype for Business provides many architectural and design options: on-premises, cloud, and hybrid. And it supports many third-party extensions: multiple phones, headsets, meeting room solutions, call center options, etc.
The bad news is all these options create confusion. If your process does not transparently and accurately evaluate your options, then you may fail to build consensus. And this lack of consensus can slow down outcomes or call them into question.
3. Treating UC solely as an IT project.
Almost all Skype for Business projects originate in and are led by the IT department. Organizations that struggle, and often fail, see their UC implementation only as an IT project.
In reality, communications, training, and change management is equally important, and sometimes more important, than all of the IT technical work. To be clear, a strong architecture, competent engineering, and methodical implementation is foundational to success. An IT focus alone is important but not enough, or as us math majors would say, IT is necessary but insufficient.
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4. Assuming the network will be OK.
Your network will cause you problems. Face it and plan for it. Making Skype for Business or any UC solution work reliably on a wireless network is very challenging. Current technology does not allow seamless handoffs between laptop or mobile phone Wi-Fi connections and access points. This means training and setting expectations are critical components of success.
Similarly, home-based workers and users working remotely from places like hotels, airports, coffee shops, and client sites need to understand what they can do in order to achieve a good communication experience. Hint: You can always dial into a Skype for Business meeting using a mobile or desktop phone.
5. Succeeding and then failing. Failure to focus on operations.
The thrill of victory; the agony of defeat. Some organizations succeed in migrating all of their users to Skype for Business and then over the ensuing several months see plummeting end-user satisfaction. Often this is because they've never properly defined operational processes related to handling moves, adds, deletes, and changes (MACDs). Poor administrator and operational staff training, a culture that seeks to "bury" problems as opposed to encouraging they be reported, and a cumbersome or ill-defined incident reporting and resolution mechanism are common process problems that can lead to an overall UC project failure.
Skype for Business is a class-leading unified communications product that has the potential to greatly increase collaboration capabilities in many (but not all) organizations. More often than not, failures to achieve success with Skype for Business are due to process, not product, issues.