How are Skype and Skype for Business Coming Together?

The promise of bringing Skype together with Skype for Business (S4B), has a lot of voice and video communications enterprise staff pretty excited. They have been holding onto the promise for more than a year that Microsoft will make life seamless for them by bringing together the enterprise and consumer worlds of voice and video (V&V).

About a year ago, Gurdeep Pall, the Microsoft Corporate VP for Skype, said:

“We’re also making it easier to connect to people everywhere. Lync already offers instant messaging and audio calling with Skype users. Skype for Business adds video calling and the Skype user directory making it possible to call any Skype user on any device.”

But what has, or does, that promise hold for the enterprise?

Skype_for_Business_Secondary_Blue_RGBSure it will be nice for the directories to come together so anyone can find anyone else, and maybe there is now full connectivity at all levels (Presence to Video), but I don’t find much evidence of a seamless and full connection. (If you can point to real progress in this area, please leave comments below.)

I think it is still going to take some time.  And … in today’s world, time is more of the essence than ever before.

As I was searching online for more evidence of Skype and S4B coming together I found some interesting articles on what Microsoft was focusing on in the V&V market, and it didn’t really have much to do with Skype and S4B coming together.

Skype (Microsoft) seems to be focused in a new direction. Enabling V&V from your browser – if you are using Internet Explorer. From about a year ago:

“Together with the industry-leading expertise of Skype and Internet Explorer, we’re excited to announce development has begun on the ORTC API for WebRTC, a key technology to make Real-Time Communications (RTC) on the web a reality.

We aim to make browser-based calls more convenient by removing the need to download a plugin. It’s all about convenience – imagine you’ll be able to simply open IE and make a Skype call to friends, family, or get real-time support for that new device right from your browser.”[Emphasis added].

And stated in an article from three weeks ago on the Skype website called, “Skype for Web and Skype for Outlook.com – Update”:

“We’re thrilled about the exciting scenarios that ORTC APIs enable and we are proud to be one of the first to use these ORTC APIs in the Edge Browser.  The ORTC APIs will enable us to develop advanced real-time communications scenarios – like group video calls with participants all on different browsers and operating systems – using features like Simulcast and Scalable Video Coding (SVC), all while preserving the ability to easily interop with existing telephony networks.”

And finally very recently on the Skype for Business website, Microsoft said,

“The ORTC API preview for Microsoft Edge is the latest result of a close, ongoing collaboration between the Windows and Skype teams. Together we’re able to apply decades of experience building great web platforms to deliver some of the largest and most reliable real-time communications services for businesses and consumers. What does this mean for you? For developers, we’re providing new ways to build innovative real-time communications into your web-based experiences. For people using Skype and Skype for Business at work or at home, calls and meetings on the web will soon get even easier and more seamless.”

It looks like Microsoft is shifting its focus to a Browser based approach for their real-time communications connections.  Maybe this is in addition to the direction to bring Skype and S4B together?

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What does all this mean?

  1. A new way to interoperate between Skype and S4B?
  2. Microsoft is changing paths or going down duel paths?
  3. Browser based apps win?
  4. All of the above?

The Market Waits for No-one

Browser based communications tools are not a new idea; WebRTC has been the poster child for this technology for some time and is gaining significant momentum. The path to using this technology is being forged by many tech companies and their customers.

There are over 210 companies now offering WebRTC based software products (http://www.webrtcworld.com/webrtc-list.aspx)  and the list is rapidly growing. WebRTC is a quiet revolution that is being incorporated in multiple channels of communications without fanfare:

  • Google uses WebRTC in Hangouts
  • Citrix uses it in their GoToMeeting product
  • Uberconference uses it in their global voice conferencing service
  • Norwegian Telco giant Telenor launched a popular video chat service (appear.in) on a WebRTC platform which has thousands of users worldwide
  • One of the world’s largest telecom operators, AT&T, has embraced WebRTC
  • In April, 2015, Facebook announced that it was ditching the agreement with Microsoft to use Skype for voice and video calling and going to WebRTC

The Business to Consumer (B2C) Market for Voice and Video Communications

Enterprise user departments are not waiting for IT solutions to enable V&V for their B2C customers. The leading enterprises have already brought their solutions to market. Here is an example from Barclays Bank:

In a previous blog, “Transforming the Healthcare Collaborative Ecosystem”, I pointed out how integrating V&V into healthcare processes is revolutionizing how things are done. You don’t need to wait for Skype and S4B to come together – the evidence is growing. In fact, by doing so you will be falling further behind the competition.

In the B2C market, using the native browser will be the way of the future for real-time voice and video and how Skype and S4B come together will only matter for enterprise internal communications. Microsoft knows that. That is why they are excited about their new direction.  It is worth noting that some independent Microsoft S4B developers already have an API in place to connect with S4B on the enterprise side and have enabled browser  based V&V chat for B2C applications.  Anywhere365 is a contact centre app for S4B that enables S4B contact centre agents to chat, have voice and video calls, as well as application share with the clients that are using their browser.  No need for the customer to have any particular client installed on their device.

Speed to market is what matters now – especially in B2C. Integrating voice and video into your consumer facing web applications has been done in as little as 2 months.

If you are still not convinced and want to wait for the integration of Skype and S4B for B2C V&V, ask yourself a couple of simple questions:

  1. Do you really want to have to ensure every consumer device has Skype on it to be able to connect to it? (It is simple to connect on a browser when your customer is on your website)
  2. What is your best case timeline for integrating a B2C voice and video communications based on the current Skype client?

If you check out some of the Microsoft articles I referenced above, you will note the push that Microsoft has for Microsoft Edge – their next generation browser – which I am sure, will be powerful. I think that long term, the proprietary Skype client will be moth balled in place of a more open browser experience.  However it actually turns out, I commend Microsoft for proactively positioning themselves with the browser voice and video capability.

The Skype brand will stick around, but today’s Skype client technology might not last.

What do you think?

Driverless Cars and Driverless Buildings

If you were sitting at home and I told you that there was a Google driverless car in your driveway that was going to take you to work today – Would you get in the back seat and let it drive you to work? You would be able to do other things during the drive instead of focusing on the rush hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic.

But would you have the confidence in the technology to just … trust it?

We know that the driverless car is here and it is quickly gaining acceptance as a viable technology. Like the driverless car, buildings are also becoming “driverless” from a real-time operations point-of-view. The technology is here and has already been deployed in many buildings around the world.

And for good reason.

Commercial real estate buildings consume 40% of all energy and 70% of all electricity.  So if you are a commercial building owner, it is worthwhile to make sure that your building(s) are optimized to consume the minimum amount of energy.

There are two ways to get the most out of your building:

  1. Mechanical and structural performance optimization. Ensuring the building performs the best that it can. This technology eliminates the building’s deficiencies or faults and optimizes the building for efficiency and performance
  2. Real-time operational performance optimization. Ensuring the building is run optimally, i.e. using the least amount of energy possible

These are very different mandates although they may seem similar.  Let’s use the analogy of a car further to explore the differences between the two.

Mechanical and Structural Performance Optimization

There are many ways that a car’s performance can be optimized.  Here are a few examples that most of us would be familiar with:

  • Make sure you have the right amount of air pressure in the tires. The right tire pressure will reduce wear on the tires, give you better gas mileage and make the ride better for the passengers.
  • Make sure the carburetor is providing the right amount of oxygen.  When the air mixes with the fuel, if there is not enough air mixed with the gas, then the vehicle will burn more fuel than is necessary.
  • Use grease – not only will it lubricate bearings, suspension, etc., but if it is applied to gaskets on the carburetor, it will make them easier to re-use and prevents them from sticking to the intake manifold or the carburetor.
  • Make the car more aerodynamic. The less wind resistance the car has the better the gas mileage. That’s why you see pick-up trucks driving around with their tailgates down.
  • Make sure the engine is tuned. A well-tuned engine provides the best balance of power and fuel consumption.

We could go on and on with ways to make a car perform better.

Car performance is taken to the ultimate degree in the Formula 1 racing world. The items I mention above are barely a starting point. Formula 1 teams consider fluid dynamics, different tire types for different driving conditions, airfoil shape optimization, air-cooling flow, and many other factors. If you do a Google search on ‘F1 performance optimization’, you will find reams of material on the subject.

By doing mechanical and structural tuning to make sure the car performs the best it can, you optimize the performance of the car and save gas (energy).

Likewise, you can do many mechanical and structural things to optimize the performance of a building, i.e. make it more energy efficient, in terms of how much energy is required to heat or cool the building, or how much electricity it uses. You are probably familiar with some of the ways to make your own home more energy efficient:

  • Switch to LED lighting
  • Insulate your home better
  • Get energy efficient appliances
  • Install solar panels
  • Etc.

The same types of things can be done in a commercial building but the scale and scope are much greater. Some of the things you can do cost little or no money, but there are also things that will take operational investment, like identifying faults in the building and fixing them, and there are others that will require capital investments, like replacing old boilers or HVAC units.

Honeywell has a very good service, which helps building owners with the mechanical and structural performance optimization of their buildings. It is called the Honeywell Attune Advisory Services. They state that, “Honeywell’s energy and automation experts work directly with your company to provide the information you need to make energy-efficient and money-saving business decisions.

Using state-of-the-art technology, paired with a global reach of over 10,000 energy and operations experts, Attune Advisory Services meets you wherever your buildings are on the energy-and-operational-efficiency spectrum. They provide support to gain baseline awareness of building performance, make improvements to reduce energy and operations costs, and define an ongoing strategy to manage and optimize each facility.”

Just like your neighbourhood car mechanic or even an F1 racing crew, the Honeywell team of 10,000 global experts, will help you get the most out of your building. And just like the F1 teams, they even have software that monitors performance in real time and provides reports to help you make adjustments.

But what they don’t do, is operate your building for you in real-time, in the most efficient manner. But there is another company, Building IQ, that does provide this service, and they do it well.

Real-Time Operational Performance Optimization

The driver of a car operates the car the entire time the car is en route to its destination. They accelerate, turn, brake, make adjustments to traffic conditions, navigate, etc. It is a task that requires the full attention of the driver. A driverless car takes over all these tasks from the driver. Technology is used to take over all the operational responsibilities of the driver.

Most commercial buildings have someone who operates the building day-to-day. They are responsible for ensuring that the systems that provide the heat or air conditioning are turned up, or on, well before people arrive at work and that the building maintains the right temperature all day long so that people are comfortable in the building.   They are also responsible for many other things in the building and often do not have the time to operate the building in real-time from one minute to the next. However, they may make adjustments from time to time if tenants complain about the heat or lack of heat depending on the time of year.

The driver of a car can minimize gas consumption if they drive the car by avoiding as much acceleration and braking as possible. Maintaining speed, is more fuel efficient than accelerating or decelerating. Do you drive your car and optimize its fuel consumption? I would guess that very few people do, but they could.

Driverless cars are much better at minimizing gas consumption by avoiding as much acceleration and braking as is possible. They are also better at slowing down ahead of time for congestion or avoiding congestion altogether because they get that information well ahead of time through all of their programming algorithms. They also know where the best-priced gas is and can determine if it is worth filling up at one gas station or another.   They know when the weather is going to be bad and can mitigate the impact weather has on the operation of the car.

Minimizing the fuel consumption of the car by operating it efficiently is very different from getting fuel efficiencies from a well-tuned car. In order to minimize fuel consumption of either, a well-tuned car, or a car that is very poorly tuned, you simply avoiding accelerating and braking as much as possible.

Driving a car that is BOTH well tuned and is driven in a way that minimizes fuel consumption will give you the best overall fuel savings.

The same is true when getting energy efficiencies from a building. You can increase the energy efficiency of a building by having it tuned up (Honeywell’s Attune Services) and you can operate the building more efficiently by using Building IQ’s technology. These two approaches compliment each other and should be used in unison for maximum building efficiency.

Building IQ is the leader in real-time operational energy savings for commercial office buildings.  Building IQ’s Predictive Energy Optimization reduces your operational energy consumption and cost, using sophisticated algorithms running in the cloud and connected to your building’s HVAC system.  The foundation of these strategies is a customized thermodynamic model, which has been assembled from the building’s actual energy consumption, coupled with algorithms for real time information from: the weather, occupancy, energy pricing and control system data. Building IQ can save 10 to 20% of a building’s HVAC energy costs, without impacting building comfort, because you tell it what temperature you want it to be – zone by zone.  They can save building owners energy whether their building is well tuned or is not well tuned.

Just as the driverless car takes over the real-time operation of the vehicle, Building IQ takes over the real-time operation of the HVAC units of the building.

When I asked you at the beginning of this blog whether you would get into the back seat of the driverless car and let it whisk you away to work, I suspect many of you, like myself, would be a little hesitant to jump in the car. But if you could sit in the driver’s seat and take over control of the vehicle any time by simply grabbing the steering wheel and depressing the brakes, you might not hesitate to take your first driverless ride.

The same holds true with the Building IQ technology. A lot of building operators would be hesitant to let a cloud based computer take over the operation of their building’s HVAC systems. But if they could take back control with the press of a button (and they can), then maybe its time to try and find some more energy savings by operating the building much more efficiently than the building operator is able to.

To learn more about the Building IQ technology and how it can help you save energy in your building, please contact us.

Cloud Video Conferencing (VCaaS) – Is It Worth It?

Cloud Computing Infographic-4

Top 4 Reasons to Formalize your Corporate Communications Framework

A corporate communications framework is a structured way to look at the communications tools your organization is currently using. In this blog I want to answer the question – Why bother formalizing the CCF at all?After all, chances are no one is asking for your organization’s CCF. But, there are a number of compelling reasons to spend the time to get this down on paper. Here are the top 4 reasons why a Corporate Communications Framework should be formalized…

What is a Corporate Communications Framework?

A corporate communications framework is a structured way to look at the communications tools your organization is currently using. What tools are you using? Are they the right tools? If not, what tools are needed? A Corporate Communication Framework (CCF) should not to be confused with your organization’s Corporate Communications Strategy, which is about what content to communicate and how that content is communicated. The difference between the two is important because they have very different meanings and are managed by different groups in the organization.

What is the difference between communication and communications?

Communication is a shared experience. Communications is how that experience is shared. Communicating is the core of every interaction we have. The relative framework for different types of communication enabled by different types of communications brings an insightful view to communicating and reveals the sweet spot that enables Innovation.

Is your Communications Technology Framework a Patchwork or Tapestry? Why it Matters.

According to a recent study by Filigree Consulting, 72% of Corporate Collaborative environments are “Not Integrated” or “Unsupported”. The benefits of achieving an “Optimized” Corporate Collaboration EcoSystem are significant. Find out how to achieve an optimized Corporate Collaboration Ecosystem and why most organizations struggle to do so.

Skype for Business – A Unified Communications Tool?

Skype is used for a lot more than video. In fact it really started out and is still primarily used for voice calls. Skype offers a full Unified Communication (UC) technology stack, which is pretty powerful, but not as “industrial” as some enterprise UC technology offerings from say, Cisco or Microsoft.

Pros and Cons of Using Skype for Business Video Conferencing Calls

Why spend money on a videoconferencing solutions when Skype is free? Here are 6 reasons Skype may not be the right solution for your business video conferencing needs