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Understanding Lync

When discussing Microsoft Lync, keep in mind the question--what Lync for what service--since Microsoft is trying to be all things to all users, it gets overly complicated. Maybe the former doctrine of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) no longer applies.

A recent cutover that left me wanting doses of Tylenol was only successful because we delivered what the customer wanted--a simple telephony solution. The solution was anything but simple since the wiring job wasn't standard or acceptable and added in days of extra work. The customer had grown accustomed to their Nortel system of over 20 years, and while we didn't originally sell it to them, we've de-installed it three times and relocated the system twice. Former Nortel customer complaints over the decades were that the Auto Attendant/Voice Mail system was overly complicated and unless you purchased desk phones with a surplus of buttons, you found yourself forgetting or using the wrong feature codes. This is chiefly what Microsoft argued about traditional telephony in their old anti-PBX ads; only their Nortel telephony experience doesnt mean everyone else's experiences were similar. For the most part, Nortel customers experienced a product with proven quality.

Along with quality is an ingrained sense of user experience that seemingly is judged on different merits. Lync needs work but that doesnt mean Lync doesn't have merit; it just doesn't have the user experience that drives masses of people to adoption.

Still, no other vendor, except Apple, has come so close to providing "an office in the box" as Microsoft. I say this as a compliment. Lync in whatever form factor you whip up is a contender, but it has significant weaknesses that Microsoft needs to make right.

Hardware Compatibility
"Optimized for Lync" is marketing-speak gone bad. It's not just my one experience with a Plantronics headset that doesn't work with Lync, but many issues I've pored over, reading and trying to understand. Hardware manufacturers seem to have jumped on the bandwagon of Microsoft's brand, but these vendors arent delivering what I'd call the optimal Lync experience. For those investing in Lync, you may want to dig deeper into the "Optimized for Lync" claims.

Let me detail my concerns. It's not that I don't want Lync or am not open to new things. I like Lync. I still believe that Lync could be the PBX's best friend, but that's where the friction enters. PBX vendors are challenged by cloud services, but will they move towards massive or even friendly integration with Lync or cloud services? Many continue to focus on the "sole solution" being their own offerings.

Here's a note for vendors riding or trying to ride opportunistic sales by promoting their "Optimized for Lync" gear that not only isn't optimized but just doesn't work: You're not only damaging your reputation and brand but you've punished Microsoft too. Microsoft is also without excuse because I can't fathom why their software issues are readily dismissed, and I can't believe that dependency upon Lync as platform in any form factor leaves open the idea that rolling users back after an OS change disrupts users, features or services. Then, to haphazardly put marketing over user experience--this is Microsoft's self-inflicted wound. Wanting to grab PBX market share is fine, but user experience should never be monkeyed around with.

Lync is complex and maybe part of this is Microsoft trying to be all things to all people. The common issues of choice are, which Lync are you talking about? Anyone with doubts can just review Microsoft's Client Comparison Table or Comparing Lync Online with Lync Server (on-premises). I believe this is where Microsoft and traditional telephony part ways. Microsoft is offering numerous products, while traditional telephony offers a single product with numerous features bundled together to fit numerous verticals. Thinking about it, both can accomplish the same things, but I'd argue Microsoft's method is too complex simply because of the number of choices. But the real complexity isn't about the choices that will confuse many, but architecting Lync either in the data center or on premises. The golden opportunity, I believe, is for the providers that are hosting Lync. But they too seem reticent in understanding telephony users.

When I read Sorell Slaymakers recent post: UC Architecture Strategy #5--Services Model, I immediately thought of Lync. Sorell hits it right on when he writes, "complexity can be managed." Whether managing UC or Lync, complexity is manageable with adequate resources. Now this is where some part ways, but the reality is, does your organization have adequate resources to manage Lync?

Seemingly, enterprise has come full circle with communications. Decades ago the question being asked in the boardroom was, "Do we want to become a phone company?" Now it's: "Do we want to become the data center and the phone company?" Some enterprises are outsourcing the responsibilities and some still maintain that doing it in-house is better. In any situation, having the resources proves challenging; and delegating tasks outside the organization proves equally challenging in dealing with the loss of control. This is no different than Centrex services and until the experience breaks away from the past, I think Lync could suffer.

High Availability
My concerns about high availability still exist, and this doesn't mean that Lync isn't highly available or able to deliver. It's about the journey and this affects the users, the company including customers, and those involved in delivering the services.

I can't help but believe that the complexities are simply self-inflicted by Microsoft from being all things to all people in all ways. This is a subtle difference over traditional telephony that attempts to be all things to all people but in one way using one platform. Still, this doesn't make me solidly against Lync--anything but.

Where Is My New & Improved Lync?
Lync cannot remain static for any number of years. Microsoft must change Lync and deliver new and improved Lync faster. If it means waiting for "Lync 2014" then they could become just another piece of a fragmented market. Before they deliver new and improved Lync, Microsoft must diligently focus on solidifying Lync and fixing existing issues in all OS platforms.

Anything future that rolls out must avoid the mentality of, "We'll patch it later." The IT folks will still need to have rock-solid rollback plans in place. These plans are imperative because I don't think Microsoft will roll out products that don't need patching unless they can un-complicate their organizations products and services. The service-driving issues will be how disruptive these product updates and upgrades become.

Lync has to change because in its present form it's kind of redundant or misplaced. Maybe it's a na�ve question, but why not just put Lync in Outlook? Everything else is already there: Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notes. Maybe that's too complicated? At least with one powerful app, boot order no longer matters and it just seems to make sense as a natural progression of convergence.

Microsoft booting up Lync in your machine needs work. I pointed some of these issues out in a prior post Hosted Lync for Mac . When your boot order isnt right or because the NIC hasnt established an Internet connection, dont expect Lync and Outlook to fare any better. Lync also needs fine-tuning and attention to detail. Making Lync consistent in every way makes it difficult to compete against, but until Microsoft delivers expected consistency, competitors will chip away at the Lync argument for replacing the PBX. Nuances and workarounds are for geeks, not the masses of workers that need phones and communications to be always available. This may sound prudish but I don't see UC sales setting the world on fire. Customers want working solutions with little disruption.

The reason for my nagging about this is simple. Microsoft Lync has the potential to be the killer of most hosted PBX services. The retail garbage offered today lacks value. Microsoft is so close it makes me crazy that I can't get a lousy headset to work to prove call quality. Countless numbers of businesses under 10 stations would benefit from hosted Lync, especially Mac users. NO PBX REQUIRED would be my lead advertisement and I'd be pushing Lync myself.

Re-Inventing Traditional Telecom
I will offer up what my IT buddy recently wrote me. I need to add that his note is after I spent weeks troubleshooting Lync and hosted Exchange. Here's what he had to say:

"There are so many things that can go wrong with these types of integrations. Many variables. Where you need to see the value of supporting these things is that there is billable time to sort out the problems, and customers know they need you around to do it. Finding a partner to support you rather than leave you hanging is key. There's a ton of integration challenges and that's acceptable, that's where you make money. I know you're used to selling solutions that work well, getting in and out and collecting with your name being stamped to it. This model is the "Apple model." (Steve Jobs model) A solution from an IT perspective is it should come with you standing behind making it work and keeping it working."

Lync certainly can and likely will be disruptive. I don't like the thought of having to roll users back to older OS because their softphones no longer work--as noted in my previous post. This is akin to re-work and that is counterproductive, costly and disrupts business continuity. Then, as my buddy alludes--are we willing to change how we offer services? You may think it's a no brainer but you need to understand that doing so is more than an exercise in policy. On the surface it's seemingly sacrilegious to telecom. Honestly, I don't know that telecom folks have it in us (forgive my global inclusion); I just believe that most in telecom have the same model/value that we do and to knowingly offer services and products that require constant attention, translating to more costs to customers--it still just doesn't sit right with me.

The other reason I brought up Sorell Slaymaker is several years ago, Sorell and I had a brief exchange about the problem of conferencing over SIP trunks and the traffic jam that it can create for large organizations. I still believe that we need some sort of appliance (traffic cop), just as in the past weve had conference bridges on either side of the network. Hosted Lync, I believe, will need some appliance for larger deployments. What nailed my belief was the following: Most businesses voice traffic usually clocked 30% local and 70% toll. But Intercom or even inter-office traffic was a good portion of calling that could be as high as 50% depending upon the vertical. Several weeks ago when I spoke with Bryan DiGiorgio, CEO of Workspace Communications, Bryan said, "34% of all customer calls and 70% of conferencing is on-net." These same customers still make intra-office calls and this intercom traffic traverses the cloud in a hosted Lync environment.

Now, PBX guys go ahead and jump on this as to why some customers need PBXs to keep traffic out of the cloud. Still, this is one reason why I've said in the past that, "Lync could be the PBX's best friend." But I also don't believe that the PBX has the greatest advantage either.