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Microsoft UC - All Teams, all the Time. Sort of.

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Microsoft UC - All Teams, all the Time. Sort of.

By: -
30 Sep 2017

Since Microsoft launched Office 365 Teams November 2016, it’s pretty much been all they’ve talked about on the UC front. All the tea leaves seemed to point to a pending transition from Skype for Business to Teams: the Skype4Biz team was both shaken and stirred, Teams was increasingly highlighted in earnings calls and analyst meetings, and the avalanche of updates pointed to a Teams-focused development schedule.

So, when Microsoft announced that Teams will replace Skype for Business in Office 365, no one fell out of their chair. During their Ignite conference in Orlando, Microsoft provided a wealth of detail on this transition – here are the main takeaways from my POV:

Teams is Microsoft’s UCaaS Future – emphasis on UCaaS. If you are “all in on O365”, you will ultimately be transitioned from Skype for Business to Teams, at a “logical pace”. However, this does not imply Skype for Business is dead – yet. To the contrary, and as Microsoft’s Ben Canning and Bob Davies put it to packed room of IT pros, “we’re just as committed to Skype for Business Server as you are!” Indeed, Microsoft is planning a 2H 2018 vNext Skype4Biz server drop. More detail to follow in a separate blog update.

The migration roadmap should align with the feature roadmap - Microsoft gave the audience a preview of their updated Teams experience, and the Meeting and Enterprise Voice feature demonstrations looked functional and "prime-time-ready". However, the demo teams were quick to clarify that a number of key features were currently "in preview" or beta. While Microsoft hasn't provided any public detail on the exact Skype for Business to Teams migration schedule, we'd expect it to follow their feature-release roadmap - vetting readiness through theirs standard TAP protocol, providing voluntary opt-in windows, and communicating scheduled upgrade windows, aligned with Meeting and Enterprise Voice release schedules.

Teams’ value prop is bigger than UC + Team Messaging – Microsoft describes Teams as their foray into Intelligent Communications.  Accenture’s Jason Warnke described Teams as “a cockpit for communications”. Personally, I’m gravitating towards Teams as an “Integrated Collaboration Portal”, or ICP – but mainly so I can say “you down with ICP?” and see who responds “yeah, you know me!”.

Portal is the key word here, and integration the key concept. Sure, integration isn’t new to the Team Messaging space – but Microsoft has an advantage when it comes to integrating within its own ecosystem. The result is that Teams stands to deliver a fully unified user experience, across a wide spectrum of enterprise productivity, communications, and collaboration solutions. Lori Wright, GM for Teams and Skype Marketing, hosted a Teams breakout session that I found helpful – demos, testimonials, and pertinent details:

  • New Skype back-end infrastructure: we could not get a clear answer on what this new infrastructure really is. However, it was described as “cloud born”, and a platform that enables faster innovation and higher quality. We expect that Azure is involved somehow, and the change represents a move from an outdated Skype for Business code stack to a current and net-new set of technologies.
  • Presence-enabled contacts: a new Contacts tab delivers access to a presence-enabled contacts list. The first time you log into Teams, it will import your Skype4Biz contacts – maintaining any pre-defined group structure you may have created. The presence engine is now unified, which means your status will be consistent across Teams and Skype4Biz.

    As an aside, this effectively creates a familiar Skype4Biz experience within Teams’ “Chat” function – your contact list, presence, and IM > audio > video escalation looks familiar.

  • Enterprise Voice (in preview): a new Calls function delivers telephony features, including a speed dial (pinned / suggested contacts), a dial pad for PSTN calls, history, and voicemail – which, of course, pulls from Exchange. Note e911 will be supported, just as with Skype4Biz in O365. Call transfer was demoed at Ignite, with a mention that “this was one of the EV features we’ve added, and we’ll continue adding more and more EV features [over time]” – implies to me that the initial EV feature list may be a little light, at least out of the gates.
  • Meetings (in preview): things get interesting in the new world of Teams meetings. You can schedule a Teams meeting from a new Outlook add-in, within an existing thread in Teams, or within the integrated Teams calendar – all of which end up in your Exchange calendar. Teams meetings support the expected audio, video, and content sharing experience, including support for PSTN callers – however, the demo Teams video call delivered a much-improved experience over Skype4Biz, at least in terms of layout. Can we get a huzzah for quad-screen CP layout?? We also saw a few nifty additions, like participant contact cards that include an “org chart” button, presumably pulling from Active Directory.

    If a Teams meeting is recorded, Microsoft flexes its cloud muscle, using its O365 AI engine to automatically transcribe the recording. Transcriptions are indexed and searchable, allowing you to jump to the right spot in a recording based on keywords or phrases. And if the meeting was associated with a Teams channel, its recording will be automatically added to the relevant thread.

  • Office and SharePoint integration: Microsoft showed off tight integration between Teams and both SharePoint and Office. Your SharePoint files are accessible through the Files tab (or DropBox / Box files, etc.). You can edit Office files in Word, Word Online, or directly in Teams. Editing a Word doc in Teams looked an awful lot like the Word Online experience, fwiw.

These were the tree-tops details I found interesting specific to the Skype4Biz > Teams evolution. Overall, I left more optimistic about Teams than I arrived. I was really trying to figure out how telephony would work for me in a persistent multi-threaded messaging world – the answer, it turns out, is that Teams is evolving into an Integrated Communications Portal. Also turns out, I’m likely down with ICP! Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up on Skype4Biz vNext server post, and additional Wainhouse Research Ignite coverage.