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The Evolution of Skype for Business

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Over a year ago, on the eve of Microsoft’s Ignite 2015, Lync evolved to become Skype for Business (SfB). Since then, Microsoft has delivered on several productivity and platform fronts with SfB, including the Cloud PBX platform, richer mobile client functionality & device support, Skype Meeting Broadcast and most recently the new Skype Operations Framework (SOF). In unison, Unify Square has also continued to progress our solutions in lockstep with Microsoft in order to provide the best Skype for Business experiences for large enterprises. So, as we near Ignite 2016, let’s take a look at just how SfB has progressed over the last year, from on-prem to hybrid and into the cloud and from desktops to mobile devices.

This year, we’ve seen the “UC-enablement” of Office 365 with Cloud PBX. This has empowered organizations to globally manage calls directly from the Office 365 platform and has furthered migration away from ‘old school’ PBX systems. The Cloud PBX provides consolidated management through the use of Office 365 as the administration portal that enables IT teams to manage end users for unified communications & collaboration. The Cloud PBX also delivers diverse deployment options allowing IT teams to take advantage of existing telephony infrastructure, whether they be traditional PBX systems or on-premise connected SIP trunks.

With SfB also came PSTN Audio Conferencing and the ability to use dial-in numbers (with the choice of using toll-free or local numbers) to join SfB meetings from any device AND dial-out to bring participants into a meeting. With this replacement of the traditional PBX phone systems, SfB took a huge step towards simplifying how end users set up and join conferences. Microsoft also set out to provide a solution for various meeting types with Skype for Business. First and foremost was the ability to host thousands of attendees virtually, from any browser and any device with Skype Meeting Broadcast. This enables businesses to not only create global conferences online within the organization, but also opens the door for hosting large virtual meetings outside the organization. Additional third party apps and software such as Go to Meeting or WebEx are no longer necessary and don’t require IT teams to manage yet another system when an organization leverages Skype Meeting Broadcast.

As the world becomes increasingly mobile, Microsoft has delivered a handful of SfB mobile device enhancement features, with one of the main improvements being significantly upgraded experiences for MAC devices, such as group video calling capabilities, content sharing, multiparty IM and Skype directory search. Other mobile functionality improvements include the following:

• The ability to upload a PowerPoint to a meeting via iOS/Android
• Outlook Mobile integration for presence, scheduling, and meeting-join
• Push notifications for iOS/Android
• Group conversations and people-centric conversation history
• Split-screen support for iPads /iOS client
• Integration with iOS 10 VoIP APIs
• Selection of multiple conversations to delete or mark as read
• Certificate based modern authentication and PIN based access as server side policy.

As time progresses, Microsoft also strives to simplify the user experience within meeting rooms, no matter what equipment already exists, by enabling a meeting with the push of a single button. This meeting room simplification is known as Project Rigel and Microsoft partners such as Logitech and Polycom are working to deliver devices with functionality to enhance the user experience of hosting a live conference in a physical room. Further, Microsoft also has SfB plans that provide a conferencing auto attendant, incorporate common area phones and group call pickup, and enable extension dialing. And, with the introduction of Skype bots, there’s even promise for Microsoft to eventually extend bots to SfB and enable end users to plan and complete business tasks without ever leaving the application.

While continuing to improve global Skype for Business latency issues, Microsoft has also opened the gates for delivering particular functionality based on targeted business scenarios. With Skype Web SDKs and the Skype for Business App SDK, Microsoft enhances customer communications via chat-based customer engagements, ad-hoc meeting scheduling, guest meeting join capabilities, and anonymous direct messaging. In this way, common scenarios such as remote interviews or virtual office visits become common everyday conference scheduling tasks across any device, in any location for end users.

Most recently, Microsoft introduced Skype Operations Framework (SOF) that recognizes a multi-faceted approach for deploying SfB through Planning, Delivering, and Operating. By providing this operational methodology, Microsoft sets the tone for best practices to enable a successful SfB transformation and eventual full-scale enterprise deployment, as well as a shift to the cloud for those organizations who have not yet made the leap. Each of Microsoft’s SOF categories (Plan, Deliver, and Operate) break down to multiple sub-categories for creating UC strategy, roadmaps and steady state operational management post deployment.

From the days of Microsoft Lync to Skype for Business, Unify Square has delivered managed and consulting services and software products which enhance the IT and end user experience with Skype for Business and map directly to Microsoft’s Skype Operations Framework. For years, we have recognized that call quality and availability go hand in hand along with user satisfaction for delivering enterprise-scale operational excellence. Our solutions cover every aspect of Skype for Business, from pre-deployment all the way to the monitoring and analysis of day to day Skype for Business data to ensure the healthy and high ROI operations of a global UC system. As SfB continues to evolve, organizations considering it as a UC solution and those with SfB already in place can look to Unify Square for assistance in offering and enabling end users with easy-to-use functionality that enhances conferencing and voice telephony and improves overall productivity.

This year, look for the large Unify Square Platinum Sponsor sign at Microsoft Ignite 2016 in Booth 711 to learn more about Skype for Business and how we can fulfill all your Skype for Business needs. We’ll have comprehensive demos highlighting all of our newest PowerSuiteTM solutions (including some exciting new functionality related to Skype for Business-Online) allowing you to easily visualize the power and utility of our Skype for Business focused portfolio.

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