By Lyndon Evans, Microsoft Partner Director at GCI.
On Monday 25th September I tuned in to watch Microsoft Ignite over in Orlando, Florida. Kicking off with Satya Nadella, whose keynote embodied Microsoft’s future focus, dipping in and out of Augmented Reality, Quantum computing and championing the customers who have pioneered innovation.
From my last blog, I knew we were due some big announcements around Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Satya himself did talk about Teams “creating a modern workplace” but didn’t delve into great detail due to a separate “Teams focused” seminar being hosted later that day.
Next, I tuned into Kirk Koenigsbauer’s session on Microsoft 365 where a lot was mentioned about teamwork and an integrated complete solution. Kirk spoke of Teams as “the digital hub, the first place you go to work and stay connected”. Shortly after, Kirk hinted at a new user interface, a single canvas, a single place for work. Teams already has over 150 plugins already in place, enabling you to access a variety of services from third party vendors like Adobe, Trello and Twitter. Kirk finished by explaining how Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive speech recognition will underpin the communications roadmap for Microsoft.
It wasn’t later that day that the lid was truly lifted on the Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams rumours. Accompanied by a group of presenters, Lori Wright took to the stage to discuss what Microsoft’s vision for the foreseeable future was. The below slide is taken straight from the keynote:
On the surface, the above slide doesn’t make you fall off your chair, but two points are very immediate in my mind:
- Teams will become the prime communications tool for all Microsoft cloud users. Cloud PBX users, along with their calling plans, will be migrated into Microsoft Teams, officially making Teams the dominant collaboration platform for Cloud users.
- Skype for Business is still alive and kicking. We are expecting a new server to be launched in Q4 2018 as well as a new Skype for Business client. This workload is aimed at the needs of Enterprise voice users outside of Microsoft cloud, typically organisations who require rich voice services, additional service integration, complex integrations or higher SLA’s.
With over 3 Billion minutes carried on the Skype network every day, Microsoft have made their intentions very clear in regards to supporting both Skype for Business and Teams simultaneously. A new management tool will be introduced, allowing administrators to manage users in both platforms from a common tool and providing them with the ability migrate users. I am assuming the normal PowerShell scripts will be available to allow bulk migrations as and when needed.
Microsoft spent a considerable amount of time walking viewers through the new Teams UI. Albeit with some new functionality, the layout will be very familiar to anyone who is currently a user of Teams. Whilst watching, I realised that “Teams” was more than just a brand name for Microsoft, it emphasises the practice of team working, keeping all your communications and collaboration in one place is key to the vision.
In Teams, channels are used to organise your work with relevant content, keeping a history of meetings, communications and team interactions. In other words, Teams acts as a hub for structured and unstructured content. You no longer need to open Outlook, Skype for Business, SharePoint or other applications to gather the information you need, it’s all in one place.
From within the clean, fresh Teams dashboard, launching into video conferencing is incredibly simplistic. When trying to compare its user experience, think of Teams’ predecessor; you’re in a familiar environment using one feature rich application. Furthermore, for an application that houses so much under one roof, switching content is seamless.
For many, the above image may look like your standard conference call, but it really isn’t. With Teams, Microsoft have delivered the same world class video conferencing experience as Skype for Business, coupling it with the power of the cloud to give you more functionality than ever before – The developments in this space are definitely something to keep your eye on!
Utilising AI and Cognitive processing in Azure, your video conference is closed captioned and fully transcribed. After this is complete it gets stored, accompanied by a transcript and is fully searchable within the Teams application.
It’s at this point where I can see exactly why Microsoft have introduced and focused Teams into the Enterprise work space. Although some of the functionality to do this exists in a range of applications, there wasn’t one application that did it all… until now.
In complicated Enterprise infrastructures it’s extremely difficult to provide a user with all of the applications they need without consulting a multitude of vendors. With all encompassing solutions like Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams, you can’t help but say that an individual’s productivity will improve dramatically.
During Ignite, it was really positive to see Microsoft’s continued commitment and development to Skype for Business, announcing that a new Skype for Business server and Client are on the way. I expect there will be some level of parity between Teams and Skype for Business server moving forward, aiding with transition but also supporting Microsoft’s pursuit of hybrid models, which in my opinion is key to beating the competition.
There’s a lot more detail to follow from Microsoft Ignite, but a commitment to Teams/Skype for Business interoperability was mentioned as well as Call Analytics coming to On-Premise Skype for Business server.
Ignite as a word can be defined loosely as ‘to give life or energy to someone or something’ and for me that’s exactly what Microsoft Ignite has done. Now, when I talk to customers, I can proudly back Microsoft’s vision, showcasing how Teams has the ability to add energy or life to any organisation, providing them with the power to improve productivity and simplify the way staff work, ultimately making them happier.
At the same time, it’s reassuring to know that GCI can continue to leverage Skype for Business as the main collaboration platform for customers who have complex requirements or the need for advanced voice services such as Call Recording, Contact Centre or PCI Compliance. Not only this but we can still provide a hybrid solution, supported by Microsoft and give the customer exactly what they need.
Lyndon Evans is Microsoft Partner Director at GCI
Lyndon is a passionate IT evangelist who has focused exclusively on developing Microsoft UC and Cloud Solutions for the last 10 years. He holds P-Seller status with Microsoft, helping to articulate the benefits of technology and its deployment. In his current role, Lyndon works closely with Microsoft and GCI’s Sales teams, orchestrating and directing a sales focus built around Microsoft’s Productivity, Azure and Cloud platforms. Lyndon is also a Fellow of the British Computer Society and holds an MSc in Computing.