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Unify Square Shares 5 Skype for Business Predictions

General availability and licensing information on some of Microsoft's Skype for Business voice services are due for release soon. By year's end, if Microsoft delivers on its promises, you should be able to get PSTN Conferencing for Office 365 and Cloud PBX with basic call control and PSTN connectivity throughout the U.S.

Fast-forward two years and you ought to be able to mirror your call-control features on premises and in the cloud. Such seamlessness, for all of an enterprise's communications and collaboration needs -- even (or maybe especially) voice -- is all part of Microsoft's plan to take over the enterprise (queue up evil chuckle).

But seriously, where do Microsoft's Skype for Business plans and promises lead enterprises and industry participants?

With 2016 nearly upon us, the folks at Unify Square, a Microsoft consulting and services partner, have ventured a few guesses. This morning the company issued its top five predictions for Skype for Business and UC in 2016, based on what it says it has seen and heard while helping more than 50 Fortune 500 companies with their Skype for Business initiatives. What the Unify Square soothsayers see:

  1. Skype for Business has the potential to exceed 100 million enterprise seats by 2018
  2. Issues with end-user satisfaction will drive "right-sized IT budgets for UC initiatives
  3. Microsoft's growing UC dominance will make interoperability concerns a thing of the past
  4. Hybrid cloud deployments of Skype for Business will be the norm
  5. Microsoft will deepen its market conflict with carriers

I won't delve into each one here, but I will share a few thoughts from Scott Gode, VP of product marketing at Unify Square, and one of the executives who put these predictions together.

Gode tells me that the company sees two phenomena that relate to the projected 100M seat count. The first is an overall increase in license purchases -- a sign of the growing trust in Skype for Business as a UC platform and in Microsoft as a UC provider. The second is "an aggressive uptick in companies being more open to moving up the stack on modalities -- not just buying the licenses, but turning on conferencing or voice."

Almost every enterprise Unify Square talks to is looking for a way to "wind down its old-school conferencing vendors it's been paying and wind up Skype for Business." Enterprises are doing the math, and are discovering that the cost curves associated with support, training, and maintenance are in their favor if they use Microsoft technology, Gode says.

The timing for bringing Skype for Business into Office 365 is great -- for Microsoft, that is. "There's a lot of cloud enthusiasm and UC bullishness, and the combination of the two makes for good timing in rolling out a lot of the functionality that Microsoft has with Skype for Business in Office 365."

Of course, cloud communications providers are busy plotting their own strategies for enterprise domination, as witnessed in a trio of announcements coming out of UC-as-a-service players just this week: Corvisa added points-of-presence locations in London and Amsterdam so it could better service global enterprises; NEC announced the Univerge Blue service aimed at delivering enterprise-class availability across hybrid, private, or public cloud deployments; and ThinkingPhones expanded its video capabilities with the acquisition of cloud-based video conferencing provider Fuze (which itself acquired LiveMinutes earlier this year to get into team collaboration).

And what about those traditional voice carriers that Microsoft will ultimately square up against? Unify Square cites Gartner's expectation that the rate at which enterprises adopt Skype for Business as a voice solution will propel Microsoft into a top three position as a global telephony provider by 2016's close.

But Gode characterizes Microsoft as being pragmatic in regards to carrier competition. For one, the stronghold local carriers have in last-mile connectivity isn't going away. Additionally, global enterprises with handfuls of long-term telecom contracts in place are limited in how they might take advantage of Microsoft voice services. And let's not forget that Microsoft considers many carriers as strategic partners for cloud connectivity and infrastructure -- the big domestic players, AT&T and Verizon, among them. Just last week, Gode points out, Microsoft announced that Deutsche Telekom will be its data trustee for its cloud in Germany -- "the vital next step in growing cloud services for SMEs and enterprise customers."

The question for traditional telephony providers is this, Gode says: "How can I team with Microsoft in a 'one plus one equals three' sort of way? And the offshoot: What do I give up vs. what do I gain by partnering with Microsoft?"

If Microsoft is as successful as it intends, carriers that have UC cloud services may end up shedding them. They won't leave the cloud communications opportunity behind, however. Rather, they'll slap their brand names on Microsoft offerings and go to market that way, Gode suggests.

All of this is not to suggest that the UC universe is Microsoft's to win, Gode adds. Cisco, for one, might have a thing or two to say about that. But it is to say that the idea of standardizing on a single, all-encompassing platform is gaining appeal in the enterprise. And, as our own research shows, Microsoft may end up with the edge.

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