Unified Communications

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Jon Arnold
Jon Arnold
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All You Need Is Lync

Microsoft applications pervade the business environment, while traditional telephones fade away. Perhaps that makes Lync the de facto communication standard.

The Beatlesque phrase would have made a good theme song for last week's Microsoft Lync conference, and it certainly reflects the worldview Microsoft would like enterprises to embrace. I followed the event closely, and the takeaways served to reinforce my thoughts about Lync.

Lync is quickly growing to become a leading UC platform -- of that there is little debate -- and whether you remain software-based or move to the cloud via Office 365, Microsoft is well positioned for where the market is heading. And although Microsoft now calls UC "universal communications," in terms of most core unified communications applications and capabilities, Lync is a natural solution. The messaging coming from the conference reiterated this in several areas:

  • Nobody straddles the business and consumer spaces better than Microsoft, at least where the desktop is involved. This matters because UC is steadily shifting away from the desk phone to where the screens are. Even though PC shipments seem poised for terminal decline, the PC is still where most work gets done, and most businesses remain standardized around Microsoft. Because its products are so ubiquitous, the integration between home and work environments is seamless. That plays well for trends related to decentralized businesses and virtual organizations.
  • All the multimedia endpoints are covered. As above, with the shift in UC utility moving from desk phones to screens, Microsoft has made sure Lync works on every screen beyond the desktop. It doesn't matter which smartphone or tablet you're using -- you get full UC functionality wherever you're working. This is a key part of the value proposition, since UC is about supporting multimedia applications. This is in direct opposition to the voice-centric, siloed focus of an IP PBX.
  • Microsoft is clearly supporting video, not voice. That's where the messaging from both the conference and attendees was most focused. At the heart of this is Skype, which Microsoft has long struggled to leverage among its other assets. Skype has worked with Lync for audio and IM for some time, and has had some success federating Skype across businesses. The next step is to add video, and that was a key item from the conference. If this gains traction, Microsoft will have a leg up when it comes to building productivity bridges for both businesses and consumers. This could actually strengthen the company's contact center initiatives for businesses that want to integrate video into the customer care experience.
  • In case you're wondering, Microsoft hasn't abandoned voice; it prefers to view it in a world that doesn't need desk phones. Skype is a bigger part of the Lync story now, and aside from the above-stated focus on video, it handles voice quite well, even in a business setting. An even bigger push in this direction will be the ability to do PSTN calls using Lync Online. This ties into Microsoft's push to provide fully featured UC from the cloud, and represents another telephony option without the need for a phone system.
  • Continuing on the cloud theme is JLync, which by all accounts is a version of WebRTC. All vendors are chasing WebRTC at top speed, even though monetization is largely missing. Microsoft has been pursuing its own WebRTC path apart from everyone else for a while, and JLync is another step in that direction. The stakes are potentially high here, since this could allow Lync users to launch Skype sessions in any browser without needing a plugin. Given all the applications that Skype now supports within Lync, plus Skype's proprietary nature, JLync could give Lync a distinct market edge for becoming the UC platform of choice.

When you take all the factors into account, Microsoft is painting a pretty complete picture without any mention of an IP PBX. The company continues to make optimistic claims about shipments of voice seats and access licenses, but validation has been hard to come by.

The home phone is losing relevance, and so is the office phone. Telecom vendors have been dominant for so long, it's hard to imagine a world without them. But if you look closely enough, there are businesses that function entirely on mobile devices and PC-based applications for telephony. 

The IP PBX vendors will continue to make the case that they are an integral part of a UC solution. And when it comes to business-class telephony options, nothing else really matches up. That will remain a defensible position for some time, at least as long their partnerships with Microsoft remain good business all around. However, if the current Lync vision gains credence, those partnerships will weaken and even become adversarial.

There's a lot at stake here. Ultimately, the winners will be those that are properly positioned for how the tea leaves are reading. Even if PC shipments are declining, Microsoft can deliver UC anywhere your employees are. Whether they're relying on voice or video, Lync could very well be all you need.

WebRTC, wireless, video, unified communications, contact centers, SIP trunking, the cloud: All of these topics and more make up the focus for Enterprise Connect 2014, the leading conference and expo on enterprise communications and collaboration. Across four days, you'll meet thought- and market-leaders from across the industry and access the information you need to implement the right communications and collaboration products, services, software, and architecture for your enterprise. Find out more about Enterprise Connect and register now. It happens March 17-20.

Jon Arnold is Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and strategy consultancy based in Toronto, Ontario. The consultancy's primary focus is providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel regarding IP communications and disruptive ... View Full Bio
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Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Strategist
2/26/2014 | 10:12:56 AM
Skype as de facto standard
My guess is that Microsoft acquired Skype because it recognized that Skype is the de facto standard. I'm sure Microsoft would prefer the Lync licenses, but Skype seems like the best evangelist for a compatible UC platform.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/26/2014 | 8:55:02 PM
Re: Skype as de facto standard
This is a great direction for Microsoft. Unlike Windows 8 and 8.1, this is an example of Microsoft making a very smart early strategic move in acquiring Skype. True unified communication is the future. Several tools do it well, but Microsoft is poised to do it better than anyone, if someone doesn't screw it up. Then you start talking about the seamless connections between Lync and Office and SharePoint and Exchange and, and, and, the impact could be huge.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
2/28/2014 | 9:46:16 PM
Yes, but...
Ok, first up, Lync is awesome. Well, it is if the servers are designed, configured and delpoyed properly, and its' running on a network that is well designed to support multimedia traffic. I have spent many happy hours doing voice and video via Lync and it has been wonderful.

Oh, but not on a Mac. Lync for OSX is just about the buggiest product MS has ever released (and if you look back, that's quite an achivement; the bar has been set quite high). Unplug a USB headset? Crash. Move from wired to wireless? Crash. Do nothing, and it will randomly? Crash. Suspend and restore? Crash. Seriously, it's a totally different product to the workhorse Lync I am used to on Windows.

If Lync wants to be the pervasive solution in the Enterprise (and perhaps beyond?), the apps on both major platforms have to be rock solid and feature matched.
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