Teams Is Replacing Skype for Business Online, Now What?

In September 2017 at Microsoft Ignite, as I expected and predicted, Microsoft announced that Teams would replace Skype for Business Online. Some details were fuzzy, but the end goal was clear. Eventually there would be no Skype for Business Online.

The Ignite announcement created confusion and a fair amount of angst, especially within the core-Skype for Business and Skype MVP communities. Now that the dust has had some time to settle, and with a more detailed Teams roadmap now available, it seems a good time to propose some prescriptive guidance for organizations currently using Skype for Business.

With the Teams introduction, organizations now have three primary Microsoft choices to enable communications and meetings:

  1. Skype for Business (only available to install on premises)
  2. Skype for Business Online (available only in the cloud)
  3. Teams (available only in the cloud)

Each of these primary choices has different strengths and weaknesses. Multiple hybrid combinations also are available, but for now let's look at the core offerings.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Skype for Business is robust, configurable, and able to extend with third-party offerings, such as but not limited to contact center functionality. Skype for Business on premises can absolutely replace an existing PBX for medium and large organizations. I've led or been part of projects in which Skype for Business has become the sole voice system for thousands, 10 thousand, and even more than a 100 thousand users. However, with this power and flexibility comes complexity. Properly architecting and maintaining a Skype for Business environment requires skills and operational discipline many organizations lack.

Skype for Business Online shifts much of the architectural and operational burden to Microsoft -- although you still need to ensure your network is stable, with quality of service, and that you have a good connection to the Microsoft network (via Express Route, for example). With Skype for Business Online you don't need to worry about server hardware upgrades, OS or application patching, performance monitoring, or sizing. Skype for Business Online makes delivering voice, video, and conferencing capabilities far easier than doing so from the on-premises counterpart.

The challenge with Skype for Business Online is that it lacks some of the features and flexibility of Skype for Business. Originally Microsoft planned scenario parity between Skype for Business on premises and Skype for Business Online by the end of calendar-year 2017. With the announcement of Teams in September 2017, it altered these timelines.

Teams is a completely new product. Microsoft created Teams as a hub to combine and coordinate different application functionality from Office 365. Notably, Teams will subsume all of the current voice, video, and chat communications that are part of Skype for Business Online; in addition, it will offer Teams Meetings that include and extend the capabilities of Skype Meetings. Eventually Teams will replace Skype for Business Online; Microsoft has not indicated exactly when this will happen.

Today Teams lacks key features found in Skype for Business and even important features that are part of Skype for Business Online: PSTN telephony (sometimes call Enterprise Voice), lobby support for meetings, federation between organizations, PowerPoint loading and sharing in meetings, call quality analytics, and unified presence between Skype for Business and Teams, for example.

Eventually Microsoft will address all of these functionality gaps. The Teams roadmap suggests scenario parity for communications and meeting use cases between Skype for Business and Teams by the end of 2018. While this is an aggressive timeline, Microsoft is making good progress and frequently releasing new Teams capabilities, the most recent of which I wrote about for No Jitter earlier this week.

Best Paths Forward

So, what should your organization do given the new communication and meeting options introduced with Teams?

If you had a plan to migrate some or all of your users to Skype for Business Online during 2018, then stay the course and proceed. The business case that made Skype for Business Online a good choice hasn't changed. Yes, you will eventually need to migrate users from Skype Online to Teams, but this is not likely to be required until sometime in 2020 at the earliest.

If you're currently running Skype for Business 2015, you likely will need to watch and wait for another six months to nine months before being able to decide between upgrading to Skype for Business 2019 or shifting some or all users to Teams. The Teams interoperability with Skype for Business and Teams hybrid models will not be available until later in 2018.

If you're already using Skype for Business Online, you don't need to do anything immediately; however, eventually you'll need to migrate your users to the Teams client. Start pilot testing Teams, and start planning.

In fact, all organizations should start some form of a Teams pilot. Pilot testing is important because Teams introduces a new collaborative work style, perhaps moving people from their Outlook inboxes into channels. Through pilots you can begin to estimate the challenges your end users will have adopting a radically new user interface. You can learn what training and support new users of Teams require. You can also allow your IT staff to start exploring the administration elements of Teams and the capabilities of Teams as a platform, including its ability to integrate bots and workflow apps.

With Teams, Microsoft has huge aspirations and is working toward a longer-term vision where Teams becomes the workflow hub that incorporates and surfaces all the features of Skype for Business along with all the capabilities of SharePoint, OneDrive, and the Office 365 suite, including the multitude of new Dynamics applications. In this longer-term vision, the Teams hub provides a centralized point where artificial intelligence can provide real business value.

If Microsoft can bend reality to match its aspirations, Teams may propel Office 365 into being the one productivity bundle to rule them all. The decision to replace Skype for Business Online with Teams made 2017 confusing, and this confusion is likely to continue persist throughout 2018 as the capabilities of Teams continue to evolve. I expect Teams to be a big area of discussion at Enterprise Connect 2018, including in my Tuesday 3:00 p.m. session, "Skype for Business & Teams: Navigating the Twisty Road Ahead." (If you haven't registered yet for Enterprise Connect, which takes place March 12 to 15 in Orlando, Fla., do so now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Early Bird Pricing, or get a free Expo Plus pass.)

My team and I help organizations predict and plan for the future then deliver exceptional results in the present. We'd be happy to help you succeed with Skype or Teams or both. If you have specific questions please comment below, send me a tweet @kkieller or message me on LinkedIn. I'm darn good at responding.

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