Skype for Business – The Joy of Ad Hoc Conferencing

Skype for Business – The Joy of Ad Hoc Conferencing

It’s about time.  Actually, it’s all about time.  Whenever we talk about cloud computing, or mobile computing, or both, we talk about how it’s all meant to save time.  Instead of passing a document around from person to person for review, we all gather together and review it online, making revisions and arriving at a final version within the day, instead of within the month.  Instead of making users remember drives and volumes we provide them with simple lists and search.

Then there’s the Conference

One of the few leftovers from the old days of meetings in conference rooms is that most of us seem to still feel the need to schedule a conference call.  Skype for Business and Outlook make this easy as all we need to do is click the “Skype Meeting” button and the connection information appears.  Seems simple enough.  Of course then there’s the stream of “Propose New Time” messages that flash back and forth before a universally acceptable date and time are arrived at.  Feels like the good old days…

Skype for Business Conference

Loses the Spontaneity

Admit it, when a good idea happens you really don’t want to wait.  You want to pull everyone needed into the conversation to make a plan, agree on it, and get started right away.  You grew up with television.  You expect instant gratification.  And you should have it.

So the next time you’re talking to someone on Skype for Business, perhaps even a video call with a document you’re sharing and discussing, when that urge hits you to bring someone else into the conversation, indulge yourself.

Those who are already using Skype for Business know what this means.  For those who aren’t using it yet, or those who were never shown how to use it, just go to your contact list, find the person you want to add to the conversation, and drag them into it.  Literally.  Point, click, and hold on their picture and drag them into the window containing your conversation.

Need someone else’s input?  Drag them in, too!  Want immediate approval?  Drag in the boss.

Yes, it is just that simple to create a sudden conference call on a completely ad hoc basis by simply dragging more contacts into the conversation.  It instantly becomes a multi-point conference.  Everyone can share everything.  Everyone can be a presenter.

Also, anyone who needs to can defer.  If they’re busy but haven’t set their presence to “Busy” they can simply refuse the connection.

But who wants to feel left out?

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Federation – Keeping Skype for Business Online Private

Federation – Keeping Skype for Business Online Private

Especially now as Lync officially becomes Skype for Business many people are wondering what the difference is between Skype for Business and… Skype NOT for business!

In the beginning….

It may help to start by remembering that, when it was introduced, Lync was originally called the Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS), offering companies the ability to create a closed network through which their own people could send and receive instant messages, voice, and video communication with each other using their internal data network as the transport.

(For those old enough to remember, this is not “the beginning” by any means. Some will remember back to the original incarnations of “syscon”, a prompt line command given to allow operators to communicate with the system console operator to ask questions and communicate quick messages.  This was followed by internet relay chat (IRC), sendmail and other communication applications that eventually led to the development of OCS.)

At about the same time, Skype was growing to become the largest public communications network in the world, offering instant messaging, voice and video communication, screen sharing, and more to any user who downloaded the client software and signed up for the service, for free!  For additional charge users could use the interface to make telephone calls that would connect them to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Microsoft Competes, and then it doesn’t

Those who follow Microsoft know that there are really very few platforms, applications, or segments upon which Microsoft does not compete, and communications would certainly not be one of them.  Microsoft Netmeeting eventually gave way to The Communicator which eventually became the client end of Microsoft Windows  Messenger and MSN Messenger on the Microsoft Network, which would eventually just be called Messenger before it finally went away completely, replaced by the other network Microsoft purchased outright, Skype!

Why would Microsoft buy Skype if they had both Lync (formerly Office Communications Server) and Messenger (formerly called so many things)?

Many believe that Microsoft was seeking a way to become the software-based substitute for the common PBX phone switches that large corporations used to control their many telephones. Voice over IP had demonstrated that much money could be saved by eliminating corporate telephone networks and the management costs attendant to them and moving all voice, video, and other communications onto the corporate data network.  Skype’s telephone interface might contain a way for Microsoft to provide that connection to the PSTN without itself becoming a regulated public utility!

So Will Skype be Public or Private?

The happy answer is “potentially both, depending upon the wishes of the network owner.”

Just as has been the case with Lync and OCS before it, including Lync Online which will now become Skype for Business Online, customers have the opportunity to control access to their private network by using a control called federation.

Simply defined, federation allows private networks to choose which external domains will and will not be allowed to communicate with users on their internal network.  As an example, when CloudStrategies partners with a new software or service provider, let’s say Microsoft, the network administrator will visit a console that contains a list of those external domains allowed to “federate” with and thereby communicate with cloudstrategies.net.  By adding “microsoft.com” to that list, users in the microsoft.com domain can now communicate via Skype with users in the cloudstrategies.net domain.

Network owners also have the option to leave federation “open” which will allow anyone from any domain to communicate with anyone in their domain.  With very few exceptions, this does seem to have the effect of negating the value of having a private network.

What May Be Even More Interesting

We recently blogged about Yammer here in the CloudStrategies Blog.  There is certainly some degree of overlap between some functions of Yammer and some functions of Skype.  How or if these will be integrated, since Microsoft owns both, will be interesting to follow, and we’ll be sure to keep you posted.

The new Skype for Business clients are rolling out to Skype for Business Online users and soon will become available to users of on-premise versions of Skype for Business Server.  To learn more about making the transition as smoothly as possible, and how to manage federation effectively, contact your CloudStrategies Advisor today!

Making the Enterprise Social with Yammer

Making the Enterprise Social with Yammer

Have you ever considered the lifecycle of an idea?

The igniting fuel of any idea is inspiration, which can come from anywhere. Something someone sees, hears, touches, smells, or simply considers. A serendipitous series of experiences that cause something synergistic to happen inside the mind of a person.  An idea.

Next the idea is discussed, probably very informally. “Have you ever thought of…” conversations are so often spur-of-the-moment events. With instant messaging technology at our fingertips we might not even be near the person we discuss our idea with. We very often just tap out a short message about our idea.  Share it with someone else. Let them start thinking about it.

As the idea begins to take root in more minds it begins to sprout and grow. More people get drawn into the conversation as the idea is shared with them. Because instant messaging is so wonderfully asynchronous we no longer need to wait until people are together in the same place at the same time talking about the same thing. Thoughts about the new idea are shot back and forth between people. The thread weaves more people into it, and the idea starts growing exponentially.

Chrysalis

With all of these thoughts shared about the idea it morphs repeatedly, expanding, growing, changing, improving, until ultimately it can no longer fit within the chrysalis of being simply an idea, it must now burst out and become a full-fledged plan that eventually becomes executed and makes the amazing transition from idea to reality.

Social Intelligence vs. Facts

We have seen powerful platform tools like email facilitate the sharing of facts. We have seen communication platforms that enable collaboration on a whole new scale.

When it comes to ideas, however, the source from which everything else begins, the sharing required to develop them must be spontaneous and highly responsive. People must have the freedom to express their thoughts if they are to contribute most positively to any idea.

  • Imagine having the agility to share thoughts instantly as they occur to you, ruminate over them, continue discussing them whenever you are moved to do so.
  • Imagine being able to go back and review all of the spontaneous inspirations you and your colleagues have shared going right back to the original idea.
  • Imagine being able to mold the growing idea with other multi-modal tools that add sound, visuals, and other media to your thoughts.
  • Imagine groups breaking off to separately develop specific parts of the idea.
  • Imagine being able to return to the discussion whenever and from wherever you choose, responding to inspiration and stimuli you may encounter at any time, and picking up right where you left off.

Now imagine that all of this is documented so well that you can take all of it and work with it to create a cogent, valuable plan from all that thinking and sharing.  A plan that contributes tremendously to the growth and success of your enterprise.

Imagine Yammer

You’ve just imagined Yammer, a persistent chat tool that allows your organization to privately conduct the kind of informal but important interaction that takes ideas from inspiration through to implementation.

Yammer captures your institutional knowledge in a framework that is completely governed by your business rules yet open enough to support inspiration and imagination. Yammer protects and preserves this institutional intelligence even though some of the participants may leave the organization.  It changes the way people work together, for the better.

Here’s an Idea!

An initiative like Yammer requires not only buy-in from the executive level, but also from the grassroots level as well.  It requires the commitment to participate and to learn and grow. Your CloudStrategies Advisor can take you through the process and help you understand what to expect, and what your company will gain by making Yammer a part of your communications life.  Contact us today about Yammer.

Your Cloud Water Cooler – Preserving Camaraderie in the Virtual Organization

Your Cloud Water Cooler – Preserving Camaraderie in the Virtual Organization

A major bank chain gave the Employee of the Month award to a support person who went above and beyond.  That support person accepted the award gratefully, but sheepishly.  He wasn’t sure how to tell the executive who had presented it to him that he was not their employee.  He was an outsourced subcontractor.

Plays Both Ways

This scenario plays out in two ways, both of which require the attention of any manager who has people working in the field, on a client site, from their home, or elsewhere.

In this case, the employee was mis-identified by the client company as being their employee.

Turn that around, and there’s the employee who forgets, at least functionally, that they are employed by someone other than the company whose premises they report to every day.  Many contractors come to identify with their client as if they were their employee.

The Dark Side of the Cloud

This could be considered the “dark side” of cloud computing.  It has become so easy for anyone to gain access to their resources from anywhere at any time that more and more people are working outside the company’s premises.  While this means, in many cases, that they save amazing amounts of time that would have been spent commuting to and from the office which can now be used for productive work.  Many find they can concentrate far better in the privacy of their own home and get more done.  Companies find their infrastructure costs plummeting.

So why do we say it’s “the dark side?”

People, People Who Need People…

With all these productivity gains and expense reductions, the one thing that can be lost is the interaction between people who work together.  People often do need, or at least prefer, the company of other people during their working day.  Socializing has long been an integral part of the work experience, and the process of living their daily lives can be diminished by not having more opportunity to interact.

From a corporate perspective, the other danger is disenfranchisement.  As with any culture, companies want their people to identify with them, to share their values, to feel themselves a part of the larger company presence.  The sub-contractor who received the Employee of the Month still identified himself as working for the contractor company.  What about all the subcontractors whose identification of themselves shifts to the client company?  How long is it before the client and the contractor find themselves in a disagreement over an employee who wishes to change employers?

The Cloud Water Cooler

While many companies make admirable efforts to mitigate these risks by holding regular social events for employees to attend, these do not address the daily need for face-to-face interaction.  Interpersonal communication requires more than just spoken words to be truly robust.  Paralinguistic cues such as facial expression, posture, animatedness, and more provide a much richer experience, one that most people would suffer the lack of.

See You on the Video

Personal videoconferencing can make a tremendous difference.  Conversations held using point-to-point one-on-one videocalling do add many of the paralinguistics that make such a difference.  One obvious exception that may arguably be preferable is the lack of olfactory paralinguistics.  But facial expression, gestures, posture all come through.  Many users report that the glass of the video screen tends to “vanish” over time as they become accustomed to speaking via video.

Taking this a step further, many companies are creating video chat rooms where remote users can connect to “gather” for casual conversation, much as they would in an employee lounge.

Instant messaging, social networks, photo sharing websites and other digital environments can go a long way toward re-enfranchising the disenfranchised and renewing the sense of esprit-de-corps, the camaraderie that makes a team a team.

Your Social Cloud Strategy

As you work with your CloudStrategies Advisor to develop your cloud strategy, talk about your social networking concerns.  Keep everyone on the same page with cloud technologies that bridge the gap.

Microsoft Lync – Becoming the Telephony Leader

Microsoft Lync – Becoming the Telephony Leader

Choices. Have you ever noticed how communicating with others is really all about making choices?

We choose what to say. We choose our words (hopefully carefully). We may include illustrations. We choose supporting gestures, even facial expressions and changes in tone of voice. We choose media, voice over telephone or computer, written words, video, shared applications or desktops, fax, texting or email and more.

While technology has never dictated our choices it has been somewhat difficult, in the past, to receive content or messaging one way and respond to it in another.  Taking content from a fax, for example, and responding in an email required scanning, retyping, or some other time-consuming manipulation to respond to in an email.

Unified Communications

Beyond all else, the vision of Unified Communications was to make it easy, in fact effortless, for people to make their own best communication choices.  Microsoft Lync is an ideal example of this vision in action.  A user receiving an instant message over Lync can choose to simply respond by typing an instant message.  If they feel the response calls for a more personal response, or requires an extensive response that might take too long to type, they can simply click to choose voice communication instead.  Should the ensuing dialogue require even more personal interaction they can then add video with just a click.  If supporting data will help resolve the issue, they can share the contents of their own screen, or any application, with just a click.

Each new medium adds more modes of communicating.  Voice adds inflection, volume, and other nuances.  Video similarly adds facial expression, virtual “eye contact” and more.  Because these modes go beyond words, they are called paralinguistic cues, and being able to add and move among these modes is what creates truly robust interactions.

Lync delivers on the promise of effortless multimodal switching!  Truly an enabler of new dimensions of more effective interpersonal communication!

Expanding the Network

As would be true of any network, if companies attempted to use only their corporate Lync network as their sole means of communication they would be cutting themselves off from the mainstream of people who don’t use Lync.  In a November 10, 2014 post on Office Blogs, the Microsoft Lync Team itself reports that “over 40 percent of our person-to-person VoIP calls had at least one person using Lync outside the Microsoft firewall (over 7.5 million of our 19 million minutes).”

To include the global community of businesses and people who use public-switched telephone as their primary communications medium, Lync integrates telephony services.  In fact, according to a Gartner study from October 2014, “Microsoft is the seventh-largest corporate telephony vendor with 5.1% of the global market in 2013 with significant annual growth of 106% in 2013. Microsoft continues its strong growth in 2014 and is being chosen by more enterprises as their strategic corporate telephony platform.”

In fact, Lync currently provides telephony services along with its other unified communication services, to customers with more than 200,000 users on their network, which clearly validates Lync’s potential as “software-only” alternative to the dated PBX systems currently in use at many corporations.  According to the Gartner study, “Microsoft continues to develop Lync as a corporate telephony solution, although organizations generally select it initially for presence, instant messaging (IM) and conferencing needs, and then evaluate it as a replacement for their legacy PBX platforms.”

Integrating Lync and Skype to Increase Market Share

Skype has become a key unified communications choice for millions of users worldwide, and since Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype in 2011 people have conjectured as to how Lync and Skype will be brought together.  The answer came in November 2014 with the announcement of Skype for Business, which brings the best of Skype and Lync due out in 2015.

The Gartner “Magic Quadrant” for telephony still shows competitors like Cisco and Avaya having greater completeness of vision.  The Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications, however, positions Microsoft as the industry leader both in completeness of vision as well as ability to execute.  Clearly, Microsoft is intent upon matching their telephony position to their UC position.  With the global telephony network incorporated into the effortless ability to choose communication modes and media within a single, consistent user interface, Lync users will enjoy unparalleled facility and flexibility.

The Importance of a Qualified Partner

Gartner cautions, “Gartner clients report challenges in providing high availability with Microsoft Lync for basic telephony. Poor call quality, dropped calls and system outages plague some implementations that did not utilize a qualified Microsoft Lync integrator.”

Trust CloudStrategies to provide the guidance, the innovation, and the quality of integration and support services required to provide a truly effective Lync operating environment.  Contact us today for more information.

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