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Mac on Lync – why so important?

Prologue

I wrote the below on Friday evening. On Saturday morning I was working with an IT team to enable a CEO of a major organisation who couldn’t video due to a bug in the Lync Mac client. Fortunately 14.0.7 fixed the issue….so please Microsoft, pretty please get a 2013 Mac client out asap.

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PC and MAC desktop sales are declining so why do Microsoft have to spend precious development time on a MAC client that only has 5% market share and continues to fall in relative importance to mobile devices?

Simple. MAC deployments to senior executives have grown massively over the past five years and from my experience in large organisations the pace of IT departments scrambling to give the top 5% of their company with Apple desktop machines continues unabated.

The Lync 2013 iphone and ipad clients receive top marks from me, I have no problem championing senior executives deploying and using the client. When it comes to the Lync MAC client however I have no confidence in supporting the existing MAC client. I don’t believe the current MAC client was coded by the Lync engineers but left to the MAC office team. This was a significant mistake. The client has limited functionality, looks 5 years old and is bug ridden. It also fails to keep up with the Apple development track.

Why is it important for Lync to be used and adopted by the top 5%? The best possible Lync adoption involves significant cultural change. A truly successful Lync deployment changes how an organisation communicates not only internally but externally and it can shift organisations from geographically siloed business units working asynchronously to globally aligned teams who discuss and execute their plans in real-time.

Lync is a key facilitator of this shift but the technology alone can not drive an organisation to adopt a new culture. It is often the most senior leaders who drive the change. Getting senior leaders logged into Lync and using it creates a ripple of adoption. A business leader often have tens of thousands of people under their command. If that leader uses Lync the adoption cascades through their organisation. Giving that leader a bug ridden after thought is just about the worst possible thing Microsoft can do to drive adoption.

Of course a bottom up approach is possible and is working now in many organisations but the MAC client is a significant obstacle for the Lync evangelists within an organisation. Please help Microsoft, you’ve done a great job with the new Lync 2013 mobile clients, now it’s time to get the MAC client right and give the Lync troops with another key weapon in their adoption tool kit.


Lync 2013 Online Preview

Microsoft has often committed to feature parity between Lync online and on premise.  While there seems to be significant progress in the next release of Lync 2013 there are some gaps.

Before technical/feature discussion a quick note on potential changes to plans.   In the current Office 365 the Lync to Phone ability is included with Enterprise Plan E4 or a standalone Lync Plan 3.  The E4 plan includes Office, Sharepoint, Exchange and Lync where Lync Plan 3 is Lync only.  Just to be clear in either the 2010 or 2013 version of Office 365 you will need to contract with a voice provider who provides the PSTN connectivity.  Currently the only certified provider is Jajah.  The seeming change is to what plan allows you the right to buy PSTN connectivity.

Currently – purchase E4 or Lync Plan 3 and Jajah will enable PSTN dial in and out

Current draft document for 2013  – E4 and Lync Plan 3 and Jajah will enable PSTN dial in and out

It now seems that E4 no longer has Lync to Phone capability and a purchase of Lync Online Plan 3 will be required.  Two large caveats on this; firstly it is only a draft document so things can change, secondly the potential pricing is not known.  If you are building a business case for Lync online and would like the full capability offered by the online service check in with your MS account team or partner to confirm one way or the other.

Onto the technical differences between online and on premise that I can now see:

Persistent Group Chat – MS has integrated group chat into the main Lync client where before it was a standalone client.  Extra servers and clients prevented most organisations deploying group chat functionality in 2010 but now I believe organisations will deploy and I think it will be a popular addition for the users.  If you are online however it’s not available in this release.

Quality reporting – Lync/OCS has always had a strong set of reporting features which can go unnoticed by some but for me are a critical tool for a successful Lync deployment.  They allow an IT team the ability to see what is happening on a technical basis but also for adoption teams you could see how the service was being taken up by the users.  If you are online these reports are not available.

SharePoint Skill Search – not an essential feature but another nice to have within a Lync deployment, especially as Sharpoint and Lync are often deployed in the same project/programme.  Not available online.

CAC/QoS – Network teams deploying Lync like the option of deploying call admission control and quality of service.  These are not available online.

There are two questions that remain unanswered at the moment but are crucial to understand from a technical and strategic perspective:

1 – Does online only allow a single geographic instance?  If this remains the case it is difficult to deploy a global organisation on Lync with the shared version of Office 365.  Most global on premise deployments have at least two global locations and I’d say the majority have three covering Americas, Asia and Europe.  The hybrid model may ease some of these issues but further detailed is required.

2 – Understanding how the hybrid model works will be a significant mile stone in understanding whether an online deployment with full Lync capabilities is feasible for a large organisaiton.  The hybrid model allows an organisation to have a mixture of users online and on premise.  MS state this will be enabled in Lync 2013 but I have yet to see the details.  The devil is very much in the detail on this subject make sure you ask your MS account team for detail as soon as it is released.


Lync 2013 Preview Information

Want to know technical information about Lync 2013 Preview?  Then these links are the place to go.  This is my list of goto people who are providing great information on Lync 2013.  There are plenty more articles and post being generated, be sure to follow the #lync hashtag on Twitter

http://blogs.technet.com/b/keithmayer/archive/2012/07/18/what-s-new-in-lync-server-2013-for-it-pros.aspx#.UAf5c5NwaUk 

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj204672(v=ocs.15)

http://www.shudnow.net/

http://imaucblog.com/archive/2012/07/16/introducing-lync-server-2013/

http://www.justin-morris.net/microsoft-lync-server-2013-preview-available-today-whats-new/


Microsoft Office Wave 15 – updated

Office 15 aka Office 2013 is rumoured to be officially announced by Steve Balmer tomorrow.  Here is what I would like to see from the event:

  • A clear understanding of how Office needs to evolve on mobile and non Windows devices
Not so fast…no detail on iOS and Android for Office but my gut feel tells me that the ‘Best on Windows 8′ line that was spun today is setting up MS to say consumers can have iOS if you want a ‘sub-standard’ experience.  In addition the release notes of Lync 2013 confirms extensive support for iOS, Android and Mac.
  • A corollary of the above – how does Office live in the touch enabled world
Interesting take on touch.  MS not only confirmed touch but went further with their opinion that a stylus pen will work well in the enterprise and with Onenote 2013.
  • Office 365 – what a statement it would be for Office 365 if Balmer announced release of Office 2013 and on the release day all Office 365 customers on the right plan (E3) receive instant access
 Office 365 2013 is available for preview right now.  Good work MS.
  • Greater integration of the server Office products of Lync, Sharepoint and Exchange into the desktop/mobile Office client
No great detail about this today.  The presentation was relatively short and this type of detail didn’t stand a chance of being released.
  • Can Microsoft make Office social and maintain relevance
They are certainly trying by having new social features in Office 365 and a new consumer version of Office 365 and SkyDrive – again more to be found in future releases
  • Finally Skype and Yammer integration, how and when.

Skype integration is confirmed with Lync 2013 – although not enabled yet I believe.  Initially it will be IM and peer to peer voice but I assume this will improve over time.   Yammer is interesting.  Office 365 2013 seems to have a very similar feature set with ‘Newsfeed’ but Yammer did get a mention in the presentation today at the very highest level.


Lync – Unified Communication Article Detail

Its always nice to read articles in the IT industry press on projects that you’ve helped to create and manage.  I’ve been sat on these stats and feedback for many months but never been able to share in the public sphere.  I thought I’d provide more detail behind some of the stats/quotes and challenges we have come across during the project.  Deploying unified communications remains complex.  The complexity is driven by vendors, service providers and finally by the business which wished to deploy, however if the technology can be deployed successfully there are significant benefits to be had.

Due to the proposed scale in this project we have developed around 15 different documents, comprising of over 15,000 words and 300 slides.  We had 50 slides alone that described the process on how we chose a headset, which included sending different headsets to 3 different continents and charting to see who preferred mono or duo wired devices.

If anyone would like further information on how to shape the project or how we are currently deploying then please feel free to contact me here

Eweek article here

Information Week article here

Below concentrates on the three elements that the articles covered; Demand, Use Cases and Savings.

Demand

In a survey of 1,000 of the participants, 93% said they would recommend Lync to colleagues, 78% thought their productivity was enhanced, and 75% were willing to give up their landline phone if they were provided with Lync. “I thought that last one was the punchline,” Yochem said.

The survey was sent to pilot users from all business units and geographies.  The response rate at the time was over 70% of pilot users. We also gathered around 100 quotes, around 90 of which were positive and 10 providing constructive feedback, such as; mobile client is required etc etc.  The survey also helped us build a picture of the user base which tailored our training approach.  We found for example circa 50% of users required little help with the new technology, a further 20% found the technology to be daunting but helpful after receiving mostly virtual/online training, the remaining 30% of users were more difficult to reach.   Some of that 30% just seemed to reject all forms of technology.  They were the people who had their emails printed out for them.  It was interesting to note the consistency of the numbers across geographies and business areas.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise was the latent demand that was already within the business for the technology we were deploying.  The twin factors of globalisation and consumerisation of IT are creating significant demand for improved communication capabilities.  The demand factors are just as relevant for large organisations as for small business.  Implementing a new and feature rich communication capability is like pushing at an open door.  The only real challenge is managing expectations of users.

Challenges:
  • Pilot demand – If you implement your pilot correctly then within a matter of days or weeks your pilot will be oversubscribed which will create an issue of having to constantly manage requests and often turn people away.  As soon as you give the technology to 10 people they will almost certainly ask for 2/3/4 people more.  Before you know it you have a 400% increase on your hands and it simply cascades.
  • Moving from Pilot to Production – Be ready to move quickly from pilot to production.  This is very easy to write and immensely difficult for large IT organisations to do.  Often IT business cases and procurement of solutions take 18 – 24 months by which time you’ve completely mis-managed your user base and you will end up buying something that is already superseded in both the consumer and business market.

Use Cases

– The time required for sales training on a new medicine was reduced by 75%. A likely interpretation is that it wasn’t so much the training that went faster as all the meeting logistics and travel that were eliminated, Yochem said.

– A supply chain team reported the time required to complete routine transactions with suppliers shrank from days to minutes once a federated Lync connection was in place.

– A global research and development team reported it was much easier for them to set up videoconferences. Even though AstraZeneca has high-end videoconference rooms available, making Lync available at the desktop eliminated a lot of the overhead of scheduling video collaboration sessions.

We went through a lengthily period of creating a business case for the pilot and move to production and as is normal we created a number of use cases on how the technology could be utilised by the business.  While we were in the right ball park with what we created, we were totally blown away by the number of user created use cases.  I’m know for sure that if I took some of the cases to the finance guys before the pilot they would laugh me out of the office for being either too fanciful or technology driven.

  • Using video conference to remove errors in the R+D process between the UK, US and China
  • Using video so managers can communicate from a remote location with sealed manufacturing units (boy were we popular with the manufacturing team when we installed the camera which they thought was there to ‘snoop’ on them)
  • Integration with 3D virtual worlds to aid training
  • Senior leaders joining video conference calls from home where before they would have had to travel into offices at 3 or 4 in the morning, sometimes in locations with challenging security situations
  • Line managers no longer feeling guilty that they don’t know what their direct reports look like and not being able to travel to see them
  • Building presence into machines that can communicate their current manufacturing status to a management dashboard
  • Using instant messaging as a helpdesk and skill finder
Challenges:
Users will constantly push the boundaries of capabilities.  Can it work on mobile, can it integrate into business apps, can it go on my mac, can it go on my home machine, can i give it to business partners, can i use it to communicate back home while on travel etc etc etc
I’d like to think we have had a good communication channel with Microsoft on some of these product specific challenges and I do think they are listening to what the end user requires and you will see that come through over a number of capabilities and developments over the next 12 months.  We took a conscious decision at the beginning to provide as much positive feedback to Microsoft as possible and I’d like to think this has helped create credibility with Redmond.

Savings Generated

In addition, although the focus of the pilot was on improving productivity rather than saving money, “we’re very interested in some of the savings we’ve seen,” Yochem said. One of the participants in the trial who goes on regular two-week trips to China saved $600 in communication costs alone, she said.

No doubt if the technology is implemented correctly the business case for unifying onto a single communication platform for your business is soon justified.  Savings are delivered through a combination of retiring existing platforms, substituting away from expensive products, aiding business with travel reduction cuts and real estate rationalisation.

Challenges:

To unlock these savings however the project team need to be intune with existing IT teams who manage budgets and are willing to retire and trust the new platform.  In addtion for the travel and real estate savings the project must be an enabler for projects managed and owned by travel and real estate teams.  IT just can’t drive these savings.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has had similar experiences running such projects, if so please leave or comment or get in touch.


Unified Communications: Terrible Name Great Technology? 4

One of the favourite questions for the industry I work in is; ‘What does UC mean?’ or  ’How should we define it?’ I’m not a big supporter of such questions, mostly because I dislike most of the answers. More importantly the question also misses the point of what we as an industry should be attempting to provide.  We shouldn’t be focused on defining terminology, we should focus on the  communication capability of an organisation; ‘How can we improve our communication capability?’ or ‘What makes my business stronger?’ are for me much more relevant questions.   Before I can answer such questions I always like to understand the existing estate by taking a baseline and evaluating where an organisation is with their communication estate, what can and can’t they provide:

  • Make calls to landlines and mobiles with high reliability, quality and meeting regulatory requirements
  • Voicemail accessible from anywhere
  • An Audio Conferencing service
  • Share instant messages
  • Have 1 on 1 and multiparty video conferencing
  • Host a web conference with the ability to share desktop and content (including interactive content such as videos), potentially to hundreds of people
  • Up to date and immediate presence availability for all users
  • Integration into the office applications – not just simply Microsoft but also other systems
  • To do all of the above with both internal and external users without any need for heavy configuration
  • To be able to do the above on any PC/iOS/Android /HTML5 device, accessed on the corporate network and on a users home machine
  • Integrate and extend into an existing communication system to allow for a gradual migration
  • Integrate into internet communication platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype
  • Users should not need to enter multiple systems/accounts
  • Business agility – how easy is it to open a new office
  • The system should contribute to a reducing business administration cost base
  • The underlying network should support good quality voice and video communication
  • Users should have access and can be contacted on a global basis

I’d be interested to know if you think I have missed anything from the above, if so let me know.

If your company system can provide all of the above then you shouldn’t care what it is called, just give yourself a pat on the back and keep providing the fantastic level of service.  If however you are like most orgainsations and some way away from achieving all of the above take a step back and evaluate where you are.  The chances are you will be in the process of procuring a communication technology, such as PBX, Video or Audio Conferencing.  Just make sure you demand of yourself that the system you are buying can get you on the right path, because if not you will continue to provide a fragmented, overly complex and costly communication estate while one of your competitors is doing something different.

Please note not a single mention of Cloud, specific vendors or interoperability/open standards.  Cloud is not a feature nor a capability; it is a delivery mechanism that can and should be factored into the cost and reliability evaluation – it is also a phrase that has been warped by our industry to become an almost useless and meaningless phrase.  The same applies also for interoperability and open standards, they are used in so many different ways they become empty words when used within our industry.  It is interesting to me as well that people who lack knowledge or experience of the communication industry often rely on such buzz words as crutches to sell a particular piece of technology – listen for the words carefully they are quite a good way of filtering people out who don’t really understand what they are selling/saying…


P&G IT/IS – Real Time Communication and Data

I’ve not worked or been involved with anything at P&G but from what I have read and heard from a few second hand sources I am very impressed with the CIO Fillipo Passerini and his emphasis on how communication and data are changing how organisations do business.

I’ve included some quotes below from an Information Week article and a roundtable discussion from the Wall Street Journal article:

Lets start with the premise that the IT landscape has fundemtnally changed over the past 5 years and you need different skill sets within your department (WSJ)

The focus on business has become extremely important. An IT professional can transform the way business is done. This is very, very different from the profile of the people we would hire five or more years ago.

The IT department is no longer the king of technology.  Consumerisation has created a push business model where business people are constantly knocking on a CIO’s door.  IT has to embrace this change, if you don’t the business will find someone who will.

From a Unified Communications persepctive it is interesting that a CIO with such a vision highlights video conferencing as a key aspect of an IT provision (IW);

Another example is the ability for people to video-connect anytime, anywhere, any place, because we are a truly global operation. We may have teams working on a new business initiative in China, a commercial plan is developed in Europe, and commercialization [happens] in the U.S. For these people to come together instantaneously without having to fly or without having to plan—this is what is going to enable us.

I think you could take the above paragraph from 95% of the Fortune 500 and it would be an accurate statement of how they are wanting to operate.  They are literally turning their organisational model inside out. Yet if I was to survey those Fortune 500 I’m willing to bet that a significant number of them will complain about their video conference estate.  Even with significant investment most large organisations believe their VC estate is too cumbersome to operate, not fit for purpose and doesn’t have the required network to support.  You then often find the IT department state that video is just a gimmick that no uses anyway.  Well here is a CIO that is as close to the business as he can be and he’s committed to delivering high quality video to as much as the work force as possible.

Moving away from communication and onto data.  P&G want to invest in real time data.  I’m fully committed to this aim as well.  Consumers are living in real time.  They comunicate with their friends and families in seconds yet they typically communicate with the businesses they buy from in days and weeks (and on a separate point they communicate with their governments in months and years but that is a different story).  This will not be acceptable in the communication age.  For a business to respond in real time their data has to be accurate and available in real time (IW);

In terms of data, this strategy needs the right real-time data. What’s real time? The goal P&G’s working toward is that as soon as data is collected, it’s available for use, Passerini says. P&G isn’t after new data types; it still wants to share and analyze point-of-sale, inventory, ad spending, and shipment data. What’s new is the higher frequency and speed at which P&G gets that data, and the finer granularity. Passerini says P&G has about two-thirds of the real-time data it needs.

If P&G really do have 2/3 of data in real time they are probably producing significant competitive advantage within the market place.  My experience with large organisations is that they often don’t even know where their data is or what they are generating let alone have it available in real time (WSJ);

The other example is the ability to predict, do modeling and “what if” analysis. We’re creating some automation to [analyze] what is happening, why it is happening, so that we can focus all of our energies on how to improve what we have to improve. This will give us an ability to predict or to stay in control of sales volume, market shares, much, much better and be more specific, surgical, in the interventions we make.

In my view P&G have the exact blueprint for an IT department:

  • Find business people who can talk IT and employ them rather than IT personnel.  There may not be that many available on the market but its ok you don’t need too many to run a large IT department
  • Concentrate  and focus investment on real time data and communication
  • Don’t fight consumerisation – ride it and use it
  • Continue to cut costs in the department and invest those savings

In the articles Passerini didn’t mention the normal fodder for CIOs, such as; data centres, service levels, security but I guarantee they are the issues that under performing IT departments land on their CIO every day.  I know where I’d rather be focusing my time on.


Cisco seek restrictions on Microsoft Skype Integration 1

Today Cisco asked the European Commission to reconsider their recommendation that the purchase of Skype be approved without restriction.  Cisco has specifically asked that Skype video conferencing be ‘open’ and prevent a Lync/Skype lock-in.  This is fascinating stuff on several levels:

Cisco and Microsoft have many ties and joint working agreements (as the Cisco blog mentions) and for Cisco to officially complain will almost certainly sour those relationships.  I thought the working relationship had improved over the past 12 months but I’d assume this will be a set back.

Cisco might like to think they are a competitor to Microsoft and mention them in a great deal of their market information, where I don’t really see the same focus on Cisco as a competitor within the wider Microsoft machine.  Sure the MS UC teams talk about Cisco but outside of Lync I just don’t see the same recognition of Cisco.  You always hear Microsoft guys whisper about teams being hauled in front of Balmer for losing a deal to Google, I’ve never heard of a similar fate for losing to Cisco.  Maybe by poking the big Balmer bear on a key acquisition Cisco might get more competitive focus within Microsoft.

And my thoughts on the substance of the request.  I’m in no doubt that Lync/Skype integration would prove a popular selling point for Lync (if MS ever officially announce such a thing) just as the Cisco acquisition of Tandberg proved popular, but neither purchase creates a market distortion:

Microsoft’s plans to integrate Skype exclusively with its Lync Enterprise Communications Platform could lock-in businesses who want to reach Skype’s 700 million account holders to a Microsoft-only platform.

This is patently absurd.  If a business wishes to reach the 700 million account holders it downloads Skype for free on any platform they choose and contacts a user directly from Skype without any need for Lync.  Far more likely in fact is that a company can contact a Skype user via their corporate Facebook account – how is this possibly locking anyone into a Microsoft platform?

In addition the various regulators rightly highlighted that internet platforms can quickly dissipate, consumers are not locked into Skype.  Apple and Google already have similar products, Twitter or Linkedin if they so wished could easily deploy a video platform – Vidyo I’m sure would be more than willing to spin something up for either platform.

Then I think there is the technical legal point that Cisco’s own blog post highlights.  Cisco state that the current industry today lacks interoperability.  They are dead right but if that is the case how can the EC justify that a merger of two systems, one of which is already closed, create any further industry degradation?  If the EC forces MS to open Skype then Microsoft lawyers will rightly demand that all other video systems are forced to be open and interoperate due to legal precedence.  Sony, Wii and Xbox, Apple’s Facetime, Google hangouts would all be forced to interoperate.  Can I use Google hangouts to join a Cisco Telehealth VC session today ?  The courts simply could not enforce such a ruling.

I just don’t understand why Cisco have done this, it makes them look desperate, it probably damages working relationships, I’d be amazed if their appeal stands any weight and they might just have woken up the Microsoft machine.  Cisco stepped away from the network space with PostPath and Flip and lost billions.  Focus on your own strategy and products rather than making ill conceived requests.