At this week's Ignite event in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft has partly confirmed speculation that has been building in recent weeks. The company unveiled a unified communications (UC) vision in which Skype for Business online will become part of Microsoft Teams. It’s a bold move which paints a long-term vision for the company and its customers based around Office 365. The keynote was peppered with a glimpse of the future including one demo with Ford which showed mixed reality using HoloLens with a view to how UC can empower design teams in building cars.
It’s undoubtedly cool stuff and a vision for the future, but understandably many of our customers will be asking us what it means for them in the here, now, and medium-term future. What’s crucial to note is that Microsoft has recognised that organisations are on different paths. Despite many in the press reporting that Microsoft plans to “kill off” Skype for Business, it’s doing no such thing – the company confirmed its commitment to Skype for Business Server, with a new version coming in 2018 and better support for on-premise and hybrid environments. Microsoft has recognised the simple fact that the majority of organisations in the UK (and indeed our customers) are some way in between the “old world” of on-premise environments and the “new world” of the cloud. They’re transitioning, and most are running hybrid environments. The announcements today recognise choice; Microsoft plan to continue supporting Skype for Business as part of Office 365 for now, so there is no obligation on your part to adopt Teams immediately. If you’re an organisation already running Skype for Business online then you may want to jump straight in, but many organisations will still find that the Skype for Business Server (on-premise) is their best primary PBX replacement, at least at this moment in time.
For those of you not au fait with Teams, it’s a chat-based workspace in Office 365 that brings together the people, content and message tools teams use every day. A counter to the rising popular working methods which evolved around Slack and Google Hangouts, it’s the enabler of teamwork within Office 365. We’re told that communications were built into Teams from the start, as meetings and calls are a natural part of teamwork. Users can start a call or scheduled meeting within a Teams channel, group or chat whilst previous conversations and shared documents are all seamlessly carried into the meetings with notes and discussions saved back into the stream.
The great thing is that Teams will bring everything together in one place via a single unified client. It should break down silos and avoid the legitimate questions that Microsoft users ask today regarding when they should use Teams, Yammer, Skype for Business or e-mail. Additionally, Microsoft has revealed that Teams will have feature parity across Windows and Mac clients, something which has not previously been the case with Skype for Business.
Microsoft’s announcement is great for customers – it makes Office 365 even more useful than it was. It also opens the door to simplified workspaces, greater use of the Office Graph (Delve) to surface relevant documents, in context and as needed. However, it’s also a commitment that Microsoft has recognised that Cloud PBX isn’t going to change overnight. Nor is every firm going to adopt Teams straightaway. It enables organisations to evolve at their own pace and showed us just what the future of UC could look like – and it’s pretty exciting!
Scott Riley is chief strategy officer at GCI
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