It’s been nearly a year since Microsoft rebranded its enterprise unified communications offering from Lync to Skype for Business.
The change in name and appearance was one of the biggest indicators of the strength of the consumerisation movement in B2B IT, with the computing giant citing the extremely high usage-levels of its consumer-version as a driving factor for the move in a bid to increase UC adoption. But what did this all mean for Microsoft partners? Polycom’s Charlie James, Director Microsoft Alliance EMEA, spoke to us in the run up to CeBIT.
1. What has been the impact of the change from Lync to Skype for Business on the European UC market?
“According to Canalys, Microsoft UC device shipments are expected to increase by nearly 40 per cent in EMEA between 2015 and 2016, since the rebrand from Lync to Skype for Business. That’s a strong indicator of the massive impact that the change had on the market. Combine that with the fact that Skype for Business is available as a Service through Office 365 and you see how Microsoft has opened up its UC engine to a whole new market. The user-friendly interface of the solution is not to be underestimated, as it provides a consistent interface which is a key part of the whole thing. By embracing the popularity of the consumer brand Microsoft has made UC seem less complicated to companies of all sizes. Skype is a great brand and Microsoft has really capitalised on that value.”
2. Have you seen changing customer/end user demands for UC as a result?
“We’ve seen a huge change in the number of customers asking us about our integration with Skype (both for business and consumer) compared to the questions we used to get about Lync. The move was really indicative of Microsoft tapping in to the consumerisation of IT, which has reached new levels. IT and network managers are looking for easy integration and succesful adoption of their solutions because this in turn drives business success, which is the main priority for all businesses. We all use a range of these solutions through our favourite mobile apps; voice calling is built into Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp, and starting a video call via Skype is a regular occurrence. Because the Skype interface feels so familiar to end users, they are actively demanding it at work now that they know it is available. They know how much easier, and more productive, it is to reach decisions as a pair or a group when you can look someone in the eye, as well as bring in content.”
3. What has been the impact of these changes on Microsoft technology partners?
“As a key Microsoft technology partner, we knew this change was coming long before it happened, which is why we had the first Skype for Business-ready VoIP handsets, as well as a host of other solutions which have been developed as a part of our joint product development roadmap to include native integration with the Skype for Business platform. We knew the launch would have a huge impact on the market and we are fully aligned with Microsoft to ensure we continue to maximise the opportunities for our customers. What you will notice is that we have adopted the same thinking around shaping technology to the end-users’ desires and expectations. For example, we launched two new centre-of-the-room solutions last year (Polycom RealPresence Trio and RealPresence Centro) which feature an even simpler, more consumer-friendly interface. And these have been real game changers for us.
Customers who opt for Skype for Business and want to integrate it into their existing platform to be able to extend its collaborative features across their enterprise often turn to us to make that happen. They want the simplicity of Skype but the nature of the beast for enterprise customers is that often their current systems won’t integrate natively with Skype. That’s where we come in, we’re seeing a huge spike in customers who have both Polycom and other-vendor video solutions, who want us to make it work for them, which of course we can, to bring that common experience across devices!”
4. Is Skype for Business an opportunity or a threat for the enterprise UC market?
“The launch of Skype for Business opened up a whole new market for us. Traditionally some might have seen Skype as a threat to a vendor like Polycom, but our view is that consumer solutions have actually done a great job in breaking down some of the barriers to adoption of enterprise UC, as well as amongst SMEs. Many organisations have been aware of the benefits of video for some time, but they haven’t invested because they are worried about ROI with low levels of adoption. With Skype for Business in the market, we’re hearing that less and less. It has lowered the barrier to entry and has introduced video collaboration to the previously untapped markets. Polycom has the widest range of natively-integrated voice and video endpoints for the Microsoft environment, so the extension of that environment is only a good thing for us. Beyond that, the availability of Cloud PBX and Skype for Business as a Service in the Office 365 cloud has made the SME market much more open to the concept of UC, now that it is scalable and flexible to their needs.”
5. How has the ‘ease of use’ of consumer friendly technology like Skype translated into enterprise UC solutions?
“End users just expect things to work. For example, when you schedule a meeting and send out an invitation from an Outlook account that’s integration with Skype for Business. Enterprise users tend to have other technologies in place too, so we have taken a step further and developed Polycom Real Connect that allows non-Microsoft UC environments to experience the same simplicity when they are invited to a Skype for Business collaboration.
Beyond this, BYOD is no longer an up-and-coming trend, it’s already here and UC vendors should be acknowledging this and integrating it with their solutions. Our newest solution, RealPresence Centro, has USB ports for each participant so they can easily share content or just charge their device, to avoid the historic scrabble to get content on screen. The same solution will automatically track you and keep you onscreen and in earshot even if you get up and move around the room. In a physical meeting people will get up to use a whiteboard, or stretch their legs, and this natural behaviour shouldn’t be limited by UC.”
6. As a Microsoft partner, how do you keep pace with the Skype evolution?
“For us, it is not about keeping pace. It is about strategic product development and we have a roadmap in place with Microsoft. In order to deliver the endpoints that Skype for Business relies upon, to the best possible standard, our R&D departments work jointly. Because of our strategic alliance with Microsoft we are the market leaders in Lync/Skype for Business handsets. 76 per cent of Microsoft UC-compatible phones sold globally are Polycom, but it requires forward planning and close teamwork to achieve that level of success.
We also try and look at the bigger picture, the fast-pace of Skype for Business and the massive resources that Microsoft invests in the product mean that by partnering on integrated solutions we can be part of bringing the latest innovations to our customers.”
7. What impact has Office 365/Skype for Business in the cloud had in Europe?
“The EMEA UC addressable market was estimated at $11.4 billion by Canalys at the end of 2015. It is expected to grow at a CAGR of 31.8 per cent for phones, 17.4 per cent for headsets and 22.4 per cent for other devices including video endpoints and room systems. That’s a huge potential for growth, and it is being largely driven by the rebrand and new emphasis on cloud-based solutions. The flexibility and scalability of cloud appeals to both enterprises and SMEs, as they can adopt whatever best meets their needs, whether that’s on-premise, cloud or hybrid. Beyond that, the growth of UC generally means that organisations are thinking more carefully about how they can unify all the communications in their organisation. That includes equipping underutilised spaces such as huddle rooms with voice, video and content collaboration. Again, this provides a welcome opportunity for us.”
8. Which Microsoft/Skype developments do you think will have the biggest impact in the future?
“We’re really excited about the future and the potential applications of some of these ground-breaking technologies. For instance, we have a huge customer-base in the public and humanitarian sector, and we can really see how the real-time translation aspect of Skype could make a significant impact on these groups. The World Health Organisation used Polycom video solutions to get experts ‘into the field’ as quickly as possible during the 2014 Ebola crisis. Imagine if they could have spoken directly to the operatives physically on the ground, as well as patients, without the need for translators. The potential applications of these kind of innovations are enormous. I know the word ‘innovation’ can be overused, but I feel like in this context it’s totally justified! We bring the expertise in HD audio and video, and we can provide these at globally approved medical standards, but we are really committed to partnering our solutions with other innovations in real-world applications where they can make a difference to people.”
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