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?
Video communications growth accelerating quickly
Is your organization prepared?
Video conferencing, live event streaming, Video On Demand, digital signage, security camera systems and video chat are all different forms of video communications. By video communications, I mean a communication that is watched and heard. According to Cisco’s data, video is the biggest and fastest growing segment of all Internet traffic. Does your organization have the infrastructure to adapt?
Video traffic used by Consumers in 2015 is already more than 60% of all Internet traffic and by 2019 Cisco predicts it will grow by 2.5 times, accounting for almost 70% of all Internet traffic. See Figure 1.
Business video is the fastest growing segment in the enterprise use of the Internet. In 2015 it accounts for just under 8% of the global IP traffic, the 4th largest category, but by 2019, it will become the 2nd largest global IP traffic category accounting for 11% of global IP traffic.
Growing by more than 3 times between 2015 and 2019, Business video will be the fastest growing segment of global IP traffic. Business global IP video traffic will grow from 5,711 Petabytes in 2015 to 18,618 Petabytes in 2019.
Why is business video usage growing so much?
Video is, by-far, the most compelling communications method to engage customers and employees. It is also the most effective method for disseminating company-wide information.
Business video communications, in all its forms, should be something that is important to every CEO and CIO. Unlike the consumer video traffic segment, business video is not dominated by the streaming of entertainment such as movies and TV shows. The business video segment of global IP traffic is made up of the following primary categories of video usage (in no particular order):
- Video Conferencing
- Live Event Streaming
- Video on Demand (VoD)
- Digital Signage
- Security Camera (streaming and VoD)
- Video chat
Each of these segments can be considered as a market on its own, but more and more there will be relationships between these segments, and businesses that are able to easily connect them together will realize advantages over their peers.
Enterprise class capabilities
When an enterprise deploys a new technical capability, they need to make sure that the solutions are up to snuff in order to fit into the enterprise IT world. Security is always the primary concern but it is certainly not the only criterion that a new IT solution will have to pass the test on. Here are some items to consider:
- Deployment requirements
- Enterprise directory integration
- Recording capabilities
- Archiving and retrieval
- Tools to manage the deployment of new infrastructure
- Serviceability of the new technology
- And more ….
Each one of the categories above has a consumer solution(s) which could be used in an enterprise. These consumer solutions are not enterprise hardened technology solutions because they don’t address the list of items above. Here are some examples:
|Technology||Consumer Solution||Enterprise Hardened Solution|
|Video Conferencing||Skype; Facetime||Cisco (H.323); Skype for Business; Vidyo|
|Video on Demand (VoD)||YouTube||Kaltura; VBrick; Qumu|
The data tells us that business video will be bigger than the business use of the Internet for ‘Web & Other Data’ in 2019. That means that enterprises who have not already done so, need to be ready to provide and manage IT solutions in each of the business video categories. They will need to ask some questions on behalf of their organization:
- Do we have a solution or platform for each of the business video categories?
- Are each of these islands of technology or will they integrate with each other?
- Do we need an in house solution or a fully managed cloud solution?
- Does the solution meet our enterprise technology requirements?
- Who will use the solutions and how will we deploy the technology and train the users?
These are just some of the questions, but some important ones.
Enterprises are already seeing the value of video. According to Wainhouse, 4 out of 5 enterprises say that video use improves productivity and efficiencies in their organizations. Further, 73% want their organizations to expand the usage of video. But as video technology becomes more pervasive, its uses will expand into applications that most people have never heard of. For example, video magnification will provide new capabilities to organizations.
By magnifying recorded or live video:
- A Doctor can take the pulse of a patient they are talking to over video while their normal conversation is going on by automatically magnifying the skin of the patient until the pulse can be seen and measured.
- Security personnel can reproduce entire conversations, even if the people being viewed have their backs turned away from the camera. The conversation the people are having is causing objects all around them to vibrate and that vibration when focused on and magnified can re-create the conversation.
These are just a couple of examples of how one small niche video capability will provide new uses few people ever imagined.
With the explosion of video communications, there will also be a corresponding increase in the requirement to record, archive and retrieve video communications. Some of these capabilities are already in place and sometimes the services of product specialists are needed.
Over the next few blogs I am going to delve deeper into some of the video communications categories other than video conferencing.
We have written many blogs on video conferencing and I personally use the technology so much that when I have a call that doesn’t have video, it’s uncomfortable because something is missing. I feel like I am driving a car without my seatbelt on. Here is a partial list of some of our prior blogs related to video conferencing.
- The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made in Determining Screen Real Estate in a Video Conferencing Room
- Screen Real Estate – a Critical Factor in Making Video Calls As Good As “Being There”
- Pros and Cons of Using Skype for Business Video Conferencing Calls
- 5 Myths of Telepresence and what they mean to your business
- What Conferencing Technologies Should be Available in Our Meeting Rooms?
- Honey – They Seriously Shrunk the Cost of Telepresence!
- What is your Organization’s Attitude to Video?
- Has video conferencing crossed “The Chasm” to the mainstream market?
- The Rise of the Virtual Meeting Room
- Video in the Cloud
- Transforming the Healthcare Collaborative Ecosystem
Contact us at ET Group if you have any questions about our collaboration technologies and how we implement them.
Why I Choose Videoconferencing to Collaborate
In the early days of videoconferencing system, most vendors focused on the ROI of replacing expensive travel. It was easy to justify the expense of a videoconferencing system by eliminating a few executive trips, but as a user of video on a daily basis, I believe that the real value of videoconferencing lies in replacing phone calls and intra-city travel.
A person-to-person video call is much closer to a face to face meeting, than a phone call is – closer to being there. To make the experience as close to “being there” it is important to enhance the richness of the call with a large monitor and good audio quality. I use the CHAT 50 from ClearOne, it’s a USB powered speakerphone with built-in echo and noise cancellation, and it eliminates the need for me to wear headphones or ear buds, making the call feel more natural.
If you are solely focused on the ROI of replacing phone calls, it is more difficult to sell the value of videoconferencing. But if you shift the focus to include the soft benefits, videoconferencing can be a powerful tool to enhance communications and collaboration.
Video Is More Likely to Be Used in Place of a Phone Call, than as an Alternative to Travel
In our bi-weekly sales meeting the team assembles in our main boardroom, one of the participants (RD) is remote, so he participates via videoconference. We have two 80” displays and since RD is using a desktop video client (Vidyo), he appears larger than life on one of the displays; the other display is used to share content. Typically this works very well, everyone in the room can interact with RD as if he was in the room, we even tease him about his shirt selection.
Recently, due to logistics, RD was only able to join using a phone. We often have a roundtable discussion where each of us to raise issues and share experiences; after going around the table we were about to wrap up when RD spoke up and I realized that we had all forgotten that RD was part of the meeting – this never happens on a videoconference.
Videoconferencing Adds to a Rich Meeting Experience
In my work life, I have spent countless hours on audio conferences, both as a remote participant and in the meeting rooms. Audio conferencing enables remote participation but it has many shortcomings:
- Forgetting about people on the phone, is very common
- Sometimes as the remote participant we get frustrated, we can’t seem to break into the conversation
- There are side bar discussions happening we can’t hear
- Other times, as the remote participant, we welcome the opportunity to hide and get “real work” done during the meeting
It takes a very effective meeting facilitator to make sure everyone is engaged and heard in audio conferences.
Webconferencing tools help with this problem because they show a list of participants and often show who is speaking. But, it’s easy to lose track of this feature when you are focussed on the content being shared.
My experience with video calls is quite different. With effectively enabled video, you can have eye to eye contact and it’s much easier for all participants to remain engaged. It’s difficult for remote participants to hide or check email, as it’s apparent that they aren’t focussed on the discussion. My perception is that video conferencing leads to shorter more engaged calls, I haven’t seen any studies to back this up, but as video calls become more ubiquitous I’m sure we will see more research done.
We have all heard the statistics, according to a UCLA study 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Anyone who was tried video calls understands how it’s a richer experience than audio only.
A few weeks ago I had scheduled a face to face meeting in our office with one of our suppliers and two other colleagues. At the last minute we had to postpone the meeting and due to scheduling we ended up having the call via a videoconference. We had 5 participants, each using a desktop videoconferencing client. I was at home and could clearly see all 4 remote participants in a “Hollywood Squares” configuration on my 20” monitor. It worked wonderfully; I don’t think it would have been any better if we had all been in the same room. We could have all driven to our office for the meeting, but by doing it via videoconferencing we collectively saved approximately 10 hours of driving time, not to mention the environmental benefits. Had we done the same meeting using a web conference and audio only, we would have lost a lot of the communications richness. It would not have been as close to “being there”.
When Does Audio Conferencing/Web Conferencing Fit?
I’m not saying that audio conferences aren’t still relevant, there are times when video communication isn’t practical or when many of the participants don’t have access to the technology. And web conferencing adds an important layer of richness to an audio conference. It is not an either or discussion, the more conferencing elements that can be effectively combined, the richer the experience.
I use videoconferencing in place of phone calls regularly with my colleagues and prefer it in most instances, but there are times when audio and/or web conferencing are a better fit:
- When video isn’t available (participants are mobile)
- When you have a large number of participants (you can still use video but only see active speakers)
- One to Many calls (video of the host still enhances the call)
Earlier this year I participated in webcast hosted by a videoconferencing vendor. This was for a product announcement and there were over 200 people globally connected via the vendor’s videoconferencing technology. The technology worked well but we were able to see several of the remote participants, including a person driving down the highway while enjoying a coffee! As you can imagine watching the other participants became quite distracting and in this case an audio only conference with web conferencing might have worked better. Just like a audio conference call, certain protocols must be observed by participants. If you are going to do a videoconference for a one to many scenario, then I suggest setting it up so participants can only see the presenter.
I Always Choose Video Calls over Audio Calls
It seems we are living in a time of unlimited communications tools and new choices seem to pop up every day. From my experience and, if given the choice, I find a video call provides a much richer, focussed communications experience than voice only and I choose to use it whenever possible.
If you are interested in learning more about the unrealized benefits of videoconferencing don’t hesitate to Contact Us.
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.
Third party applications are also able to be integrated as well, including YouTube, MURAL, Adobe Acrobat and DocuSign.
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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