Microsoft has always promoted Lync as a great tool for business communication and collaboration. The popular adoption of Lync shows this is indeed the case. With the acquisition of Skype in 2011, Microsoft found itself with two of the leading collaboration platforms under one roof. Over time, Lync and Skype have been integrated to a certain level.
Microsoft is now taking this up a notch. Lync and Skype are being merged into a single product called Skype For Business. The next planned release of the Lync product will use the Skype name and branding. Across the whole product family, including on premise servers, clients, and Office 365 Lync Online, the new name will be Skype for Business.
The best features from Skype and Lync will be available in the new product. It will feature a Skype inspired design with the user interface of the current Skype client being adopted. The client changes will be the most visible difference to users. If they are already Skype users, then they will feel right at home. Existing Lync client users will benefit from the intuitive Skype For Business user interface after the switch. Microsoft has also discussed a possible Lync mode for the new clients that will switch back to the Lync user Interface. No details are available on how this will work at present.
As Skype For Business extends the current Lync product family, upgrading should be relatively straightforward. The new product will install over the top of existing Lync Server deployments, upgrading them in the process. No new hardware will be required. If your Lync infrastructure is performing okay today, then it will be able to handle the new Skype For Business. It also slots into an existing Microsoft based infrastructure easily, using Active Directory accounts for authentication.
One major benefit of the change will be to provide your staff with access to the hundreds of millions of Skype users via audio and video chat. At the same time, all the benefits of Lync, such as content sharing, are retained. Skype for Business will also support interoperability with 3rd party Unified Communications products, such as those from Cisco or Tandberg.
The KEMP LoadMaster family of load balancers and application delivery controllers fully support Microsoft Lync and we expect to fully support Skype for Business as well. More details will be available upon the general release of the Skype for Business product.
What if your organisation uses neither Lync nor Skype? If that is the case, then this is a perfect time to investigate implementing Skype for Business as an employee communication and collaboration tool. If you want to get the maximum benefit of this tool, you need to first have a business discussion and not an IT discussion. The IT is relatively straightforward. You can deploy Skype for Business in-house or you can outsource the provision to a 3rd party, or even to Microsoft via Office 365.
You can have the best-designed Skype for Business deployment in the world, but it is useless if the organisation doesn’t use it in a way that benefits the business. Here are some guidelines for when you are considering adopting Skype for Business in your organisation:
- Don’t make the decision whether to adopt Skype for Business an IT led discussion.
- Get senior management buy-in from the start. You will need the authority to push past, or reject, any objections that might be raised to adopting Skype For Business.
- Get business input from the start. This is especially true for any staff that spends a lot of time away from the office. Find out what their pain points are when trying to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and partner organisations. Will Skype for Business features allow you to reduce or eliminate these pain points?
- Identify early adopters in your user base. Who always has the latest smartphone before everyone else? Give them early access and make them champions for the new method of communicating.
- Don’t ignore those wary of new technology. As a counterpoint to the early adopters, identify those who don’t like change and include them early in the process as well. Give them training and early access to the Skype For Business tools. Win these users over and half the battle will be won.
- Don’t leave too much time between providing the tools to your test users and the rest of the organisation. You don’t want a ‘them and us’ mentality to occur. Provide a means for anyone who wants to be an early adopter to join the test group. Don’t refuse anyone.
- Make sure you have the resources to quickly answer any queries from users who are helping you test the product. Don’t let enthusiasm drain away.
- Provide good user documentation, how-to videos, FAQ’s, and at least some face-to-face training for everyone.
Skype for Business can transform the way organisations communicate and collaborate. Investigate it, and see if your organisation would benefit.