executives in a business meeting

The TV screen said “via Skype” as I watched the news broadcast that was a continuous video conference with all types of guests including journalists and experts joining in live from all over the world.

You could easily tell which participants were using Skype with an HD camera or were on low bandwidth.  The shared Internet can be unkind to video calls due to lack of quality, prioritization, and available bandwidth.

So when I got the invite for the insider’s look at the new version of Lync called “Skype for Business” I was worried.  Especially since there are a reported 340 million users on Skype and only 100 million users on Lync.

To date on average I have experienced Skype calls to be the same quality as mobile cellular calls – sometimes with video, sometimes not.  That might be OK for some organizations, but for most the CIO/IT leadership needs to consistently deliver clear and robust voice and video calls to support operations and customer interactions.

In a nutshell

The conference room at Microsoft Canada was mostly packed with consultants except for the two tables where I sat – with four national/North American CIOs whose combined annual revenue was easily over $500 million per year. Alex Moore, Microsoft Communications Solution Specialist, began by reaffirming Microsoft Lync’s position as a leader in “Unified Communications” for both Gartner and Forrester, its use at 90 of Fortune 100 companies and its support by an ecosystem of 1,000+ partners.  He went on to confirm that Skype for Business is the next version of Lync and that it is both an evolution

Alex Moore, Microsoft Communications Solution Specialist, began by reaffirming Microsoft’s position as a leader in “Unified Communications” for both Gartner and Forrester, by Lync’s use at 90 of the Fortune 100 and supported by Lync’s vibrant ecosystem of 1,000+ partners.  He went on to confirm that Skype for Business is the next version of Lync and that it is both an evolution in the technology as much as a name change.  It is a blending of Lync (that simplifies and unifies) and Skype (that breaks down barriers) that unifies all forms of communications including audio, video and web conferencing, instant messaging, telephony and voicemail.  What has been their guiding principle? “To unlock the power of the group and make every meeting great.”

Key improvements

Previous Lync users will find the Skype for Business client interface redesigned with familiar Skype look, feel and features that are easy to use.  Adding vendors, partners and customers to Skype for Business contact groups is now a simple search.

Microsoft updated call security in Skype in the last release so calls from Skype for Business users enforce security settings on the call to external Skype clients.  Mr. Moore confirmed that Skype for Business Windows client will work with Lync 2010 and Lync 2013 Server while the Lync 2013 client will work with the Skype for Business Server.

The new Skype for Business Server has enhanced features, reliability and legacy interoperability.  It is intended for both stand-alone on-premise implementations and hybrid implementations with Office 365.  The new Video Interoperability Server (“VIS”) enables legacy video interoperability with both on-premise and hybrid implementations.  Some organizations may choose a pure cloud architecture with Skype for Business Online via the Internet that will have cloud phone conferencing and call improvements and functionality added in later 2015 to 2016.

Microsoft Surface Hub (Collaboration Screen)

Of special note was the on-screen demonstration of the Microsoft Surface Hub for team areas and meeting rooms scheduled for release later in 2015.  It’s a touch-enabled TV screen with a camera that is “Skype ready” and allows for videoconferencing, white boarding and presentation sharing between on-site and remote participants.  It works with legacy room systems, qualified Partner devices and upcoming Skype Room Systems and devices.  Mr. Moore mentioned that Microsoft is committed to “continued joint innovation with device partners that will enable an even wider range of scenarios”.

Skype for Business Roadmap Timeline

The Skype for Business client is being released the week of April 13th with Office 365 Lync Servers being upgraded on an ongoing basis over several weeks.  Office 365 administrators will notice the change in their dashboard once the update is complete.  Mobile device client updates and the Microsoft Surface Hub are scheduled for release in the later part of 2015.  Further, Office 365 cloud and Skype for Business Online updates in 2015 and into 2016 will include PSTN phone conferencing and calling with availability starting in North America and then expanding to Europe.

No worries – thumbs up!

By the end of the session, I was impressed by what I heard and saw during the Skype for Business demo.  In speaking with Roberta Fox, Chief Innovation Officer, of the Fox Group she commented, “Bridging consumer and business is a good step.  They are supporting both enterprises and the public Skype user community.”  For me, blending the best of Skype and Lync into Skype for Business while improving online cloud services and Skype Rooms Systems is a win for end users and organizations looking for consistent and productive one-on-one and team communications and collaboration.  As with other voice and video over IP systems, to ensure call quality is “enterprise grade” organizations should have a communications backbone that includes dedicated connections with quality of service and prioritization to the PSTN, internal networks, and the Internet.

Online resources

Microsoft has made the following resources available to help organizations plan and prepare for the transition from Lync to Skype for Business:

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