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). Check out our article on the pros and cons of the platform or our article on Skype for Business.
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?
Sure 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?
What does all this mean?
- A new way to interoperate between Skype and S4B?
- Microsoft is changing paths or going down duel paths?
- Browser based apps win?
- 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:
- 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)
- 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?
Top 4 Reasons to Formalize your Corporate Communications Framework
In my last blog I explained what a Corporate Communication Framework (CCF) is and what it should look like. 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:
#1. Competitive Advantage
Formalizing the CCF is the first step to getting your organization to becoming a more collaborative organization. Firms that collaborate better perform better.
Clarity on which communication tools your organization uses enables greater collaboration by eliminating confusion.
The types of communication tools and the quantity of communications tools are constantly expanding. This expanded choice opens up possibilities. But it can also cause confusion and disarray. Sorting through the choices and the disarray is important.
The new technologies and feature creep within existing communication tools are blurring the lines of differentiation between the tools, which can in turn:
- Result in different parts of the organization using different tools for the same functional purpose. This often leads to ineffective communication and supports siloing within the organization, not collaboration.
- Lead to duplicate licensing – paying more than once for the same communication tool capability.
“If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.”
Having a good CCF in place means that the communications tools become enablers in the background infrastructure and your employees can focus on their jobs.
Time spent getting communications technologies working or sync’d means less time working on the job. People might think they are accomplishing something by getting the technology working but this has a huge cost impact to the business. Using work time to get communications tools working is another example of the Boiling Frog Syndrome (see Wikipedia excerpt) at work.
Getting technology tools functioning should not be a part of your meeting time. A perfect example is Skype. Getting Skype to work in corporate meeting environments, which it isn’t designed for, often leads to spending up to half the meeting time getting the technology to work. What you thought was a FREE communication tool is all of a sudden costing you a lot of money. But like the frog being slowly boiled, you may not be aware of this cost.
If the technology works without spending time getting it going, you can focus on the tasks at hand, and move your business forward.
#4. Accelerating Your Corporate Culture
With a well thought out and optimized CCF, there are more options available for what content is created and how it can be communicated. The people responsible for the Corporate Communications Strategy in your organization will have greater communications capabilities available to them. Having more choices and options on what content they communicate and how they communicate it means, they can communicate richer experiences with greater impact and can accelerate the messages that shape corporate culture.
We can make our organizations better at communicating by formalizing our Corporate Communication Framework. The CCF is a critical piece of a corporate collaborative ecosystem (CCE). Taking the first step of formalizing our CCF can be transformative.
Once your CCF has been formalized and optimized, make sure you review the CCF at least once a year. The rate of change is accelerating and communications tools are always evolving. The CCF should be a living strategy in your organization – like a movie, not a picture or snapshot in time.
The second step to transforming your organization is to move more of your organizations communications to Real Time. This can have a profound impact on your business. I will discuss this in more detail in a future blog.
If you need help sorting out the patchwork of communication tools in your organization and turning them into a tapestry, we can help. Contact us.
5 Myths of Telepresence and What They Mean to Your Business
If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you have more than a passing interest in collaboration, video conferencing or telepresence. Confused? You’re not the only one. You can’t use search terms like collaboration, or telepresence without coming up against different definitions, methodologies or applications. You walk away from a search like that inevitably asking: “What’s the right definition?”
That is the problem with terms like collaboration and telepresence. They are broad and sweeping and you will be hard pressed to find many people who have the same definition. But that isn’t a bad thing. Creating authentic communication and collaboration isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” industry.
5 Myths of Telepresence
Recently, Cisco published an article on their blog debunking five myths around telepresence. These myths are things that we, at ET Group, have come across time and time again when talking to clients. The Myths Cisco talks about are:
Myth #1. “It’s unaffordable and only for the enterprise”
Myth #2. “Web-based consumer services are good enough”
Myth #3. “Software vs. hardware”
Myth #4. “Telepresence is too complex to set up and use”
Myth #5. “The payback is limited to travel”
Debunking The Myths
Debunking the myths is important for three reasons:
- It gives existing telepresence users a way to gauge their investment.
- By putting the myths under the microscope readers can take stock of any preconceptions they might have.
- It helps people to make good decisions when developing a technology roadmap for the next five years.
Myth #1. “It’s Unaffordable and Only for the Enterprise”
I’m going to leave the telepresence ROI discussion to my peers. I’m going to focus on Myths 2-4 because they’re centered more on the technology involved behind the scenes and the user experience.
Myth #2. “Web-Based Consumer Services Are Good Enough”
In previous blog articles We’ve discussed the pros and cons of consumer grade services for your business Video Conference needs. Recently, Microsoft began folding its MSN messenger application and pushing those users towards their Skype platform. The only announcement which improves Skype’s business readiness as a result of this move is an improved mobile application. Mobility without security isn’t going to offer businesses a new experience with Skype. In fact, it would be my guess that the fanfare of the new Skype user base may impact performance with the sheer number of subscribers. Why do I say this? Skype and MSN have had high profile outages in the past due to congestion. It’s worth thinking about what would happen with their combined user bases.
Myth #3. “Software Vs. Hardware”
This question is at the heart of every video conferencing roadmap, and it feeds into three key questions:
- How do you want to collaborate? For an example read 3 Real-Life Solutions to Ensure Video Conferencing Adoption.
- Where do you want your teams to work? See a previous blog Do you Lack Meeting Room Space? Without Exception, Every Company or Agency I Speak with has This Problem.
- What can I leverage today, for tomorrow? Further discussed in the blog Conference Room Audio Visual Solutions are an Integral Part of a Well Executed UC&C Platform.
People often ask, how do I ‘future proof’ my investment? Do I go with a desktop client like Jabber, Lync, or Vidyo; or invest in an integrated boardroom solution? After we start discussing the three questions above, we often find that clients want to do both.
The reasons clients may wish to do both vary, but it boils down to one thing: In many telepresence deployments there is tremendous investment overlap in the requirements for mobile versus office deployments. Understanding this allows clients to prevent the conversation from starting as a “this or that” discussion and making it about workflows and where collaborative technologies can enhance productivity.
Myth #4. “Telepresence is too Complex to Set Up and Use”
I think that it is important to recognize the difference between complex, and flexible. Yes, there are many different ways that you can deploy telepresence. But, that’s true of your Phone System or PBX, and it’s just as true of your computing environment whether its Windows, Mac or Linux based. Options don’t inherently mean complexity, and anyone that tells you differently is avoiding the question.
Options mean that you have to take a very sober look at where your company’s deployment is starting from, and where you want to develop your collaborative ecosystem too in the next five years. But building the ecosystem is only half of the battle.
The other half of this myth is using telepresence; the user adoption of the technology. User adoption is a microcosm of how companies adopt new technologies. Most, will have a few highly evangelical adopters who will win over the office over a period of time. A few will adopt a technology and have it sit unused while they try to figure out what its business application will be. Rarely will everyone see the need to make a change and jump in with both feet. At its heart, user adoption is a battle of perception. Developing adoption comes down to three things, dispelling fears and doubts, kicking the tires, and users finding what’s in it for them.
What Will Telepresence Mean for Your Business?
A lot of what I’ve talked about, and Cisco’s blog post can be summed up into one question: What will Telepresence mean for your business?
If anything, this blog has shown you that there isn’t one-way to answer this question to satisfy everyone. The next time you go to search for collaboration or telepresence, instead of asking “What’s the right definition?”, ask yourself “How will my business define it?”
Cisco has done an excellent job of trying to dispel fears and doubts. If you’re still stuck on the definition we at ET Group can help you with the rest.
Skype for Business – A Unified Communications Tool?
The most “fame” Skype has received is probably from the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” where the cast uses it regularly to communicate. For example, Raj’s parents who live in India are fringe characters in the show and viewers only know them via Raj who is using Skype on his laptop in the USA.
I use the word “fame” in quotes because TV has given Skype a level of notoriety, which most technology just doesn’t reach. The show has to some extent normalized the use of Skype. And note that the word Skype isn’t actually mentioned on the show but we assume that Skype is the program that is being used, as opposed to other system designs.
Skype – the Most Popular Internet Communications Software in the World for Voice and Video
Millions of people use it every day for personal communications.
According to TeleGeography, ”While international phone traffic growth is slowing, traffic from voice and messaging applications like Skype continue to increase at a stunning pace. TeleGeography estimates that cross-border Skype-to-Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent in 2012, to 167 billion minutes. This increase of nearly 51 billion minutes is more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.”
And those personal users are extending Skype for business use as well.
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.
Skype’s full UC capabilities make it a lot more useful than any of the single communications capabilities on its own.
What Are the Core UC Capabilities Required in Order to Qualify as a UC Product?
- Instant Messaging (IM)
Skype’s UC Capabilities
Presence is about knowing the status or availability of the people that are part of your list of contacts in Skype. If you had 25 people that were on your list of Skype contacts, with a quick glance at the list you can determine if they are online, available, busy, etc. Presence is a handy tool to quickly see how your contacts are currently connected into the Skype world.
IM (Instant Messaging)
IM is no technology breakthrough but is very handy as part of a UC suite. IM let’s you send instant messages to your contacts, or create group message forums. This is handy in a number of situations; your contact shows as busy but may answer an IM message still keeping their voice or video call going; when you establish a voice or video call, one of the parties may have their mic on mute. IM allows communication to advise that they can’t hear the muted party; sending messages to one of the parties in a multi-party call as a side bar conversation. Interestingly Microsoft, which owns Skype, recently announced that they will be retiring Windows Live Messenger forcing users to upgrade to Skype.
Here is where Skype really shines. Free calling computer-to-computer anywhere in the world. That is how Skype went viral, established a huge user base and became a household name brand service. Skype’s voice offering capabilities have grown significantly since the early days and includes: Skype to landline; Skype to mobile; and multi-party conferencing calls (can still be dicey), and voicemail. Note: Most of the additional services are chargeable.
Skype video is pretty good for person to person but their multi-party video offering is chargeable, requiring one participant to have a premier account and doesn’t work that well. I have used other products that allow me to conduct a good video to video call with limited bandwidth, where the same call using Skype, has Skype telling me to turn off my video because there is not enough bandwidth.
Skype will likely continue to develop this part of their technology solution. A case in point is that they just recently announced a new Video Messaging service where users (for a fee) can leave video mail messages.
Beyond Unified Communications
Skype also offers features, which go beyond the UC stack, such as: content sharing, files transfer, and SMS messaging. These features make the product more powerful and useful.
Skype also works on lots of devices, PC, Macs, tablets and phones, but typically the full UC suite is not available on all these platforms.
Skype is a powerful communications platform and is getting better all the time. It is not always the best platform for business or for connecting outside participants to meeting rooms.
Time will tell whether this changes as the product continues to develop. Skype’s continued growth and feature enhancement paints a rosy future for it. Skype is a great starter technology for enhanced communications.
But as you start to pay for more Skype features and push the limits of the technology, there are other viable options, which solve some of its limitations and are offered at a comparable price point. Contact us to discuss these alternative options like commercial grade video conferencing solutions like our HybridX.
5 Microsoft Teams features that will make you forget about Skype
When we think of video calling, many people often still think of Skype. Skype was one of the first applications to offer that in-person feel, even when participants were miles apart. It was a great alternative to commuting for client meetings, or having to book conference rooms for conversations that would only be a couple of minutes. Skype was low-cost, easy to use and well liked by many.
However, like many early technology ventures, Skype was not without its faults. While great for one-on-one conversations, once businesses tried to add multiple parties to a call, the audio and visual quality left much to be desired. Users found themselves spending so much time ensuring that the call was functioning, that they were unable to be present for the actual conversation taking place.
Today, things are much different. So different in fact, that Skype no longer exists. In 2011, Skype was purchased by Microsoft, and although they kept it around for the next 10 years, the application was ultimately laid to rest in 2021. This decision was made so that Microsoft could focus all of their efforts on their newer product — Microsoft Teams.
What is Microsoft Teams?
Microsoft Teams is more than a video calling application, it’s a complete communication and collaboration hub. Teams is ultimately used for video meetings of course, but it’s also a chat platform, a place to store and access files, a platform to organize and manage the multiple teams and projects within your organization, and so much more.
Therefore, here are 5 reasons why, although you may miss Skype, Microsoft Teams will more than fill that collaboration sized hole in your corporate communications strategy:
1. Multi-Party Capabilities
While Skype did not work well for multi-party calling, Microsoft Teams excels on this front. It’s called Microsoft Teams because it’s made for, well, teams. Meetings can host up to 300 participants without losing sound or video quality. For meetings with more than 300 people, Teams also allows you to host “Live Events” with up to 250 presenters and 20,000 viewers.
2. Effortless Video/Audio Calls
One of the greater qualities of Microsoft Teams is the ability to effortlessly schedule, start and join video meetings. Users can join a meeting using the “Join” button, or start a meeting using the “Start Meeting” button. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
You can also join meetings directly from your personal calendar, or a calendar that is shared within a Teams channel.
The in-call features such as breakout rooms, live reactions and screen-sharing are extremely intuitive and audio/video settings are simple to navigate.
3. Microsoft Teams Rooms
Another common complaint about Skype was that it was not easy to connect to a meeting room AV system. Microsoft Teams was created with this as one of many use cases in mind. And now Microsoft offers Teams Rooms — specifically designed to make remote participants feel like they are in the room with you. Teams Rooms’ technology is flexible and adaptable to the needs of your meeting space.
Remote participants can connect to a Teams Room from any device using the Microsoft Teams app.
4. Microsoft Teams is Cloud-based
Since Microsoft Teams is a cloud-based application, it also saves you the headache of constantly clearing your devices’ storage while allowing you the ability to upload, store and edit files and documents in one convenient space.
This allows you to share meeting notes in real-time and easily find them again later. Accessible for all team members across all connected devices.
5. Apps and Integrations
Microsoft Teams comes with a number of tools ready to help you have the best possible meeting experience. Meetings are more interactive with features such as whiteboards and polls. You can turn on scribing to take notes while you speak while also being more inclusive!
Since Teams is a Microsoft product it also integrates seamlessly with other Microsoft tools like Outlook, Word, OneNote and Sharepoint.
How do you know if Teams is the right platform for you?
- Do any of my employees work remote?
- Are large video meetings a struggle for my organization?
- Does setting up a meeting room for a video take almost as long as the call itself?
- Is file sharing during a virtual meeting a headache for you and your team?
- Is my team struggling to collaborate effectively?
If you’ve answered “yes” to even one of these questions, then Microsoft Teams may be the solution you’re looking for.
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