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Ignite 2017 #1 - The Journey from Skype for Business to Teams

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Ignite 2017 #1 - The Journey from Skype for Business to Teams

By: -
3 Oct 2017

Microsoft makes an aggressive, but not surprising shift toward Teams …

For analysts, Microsoft Ignite was split between three venues – the Hyatt, the Orange County Convention Center and the Hilton.  During my two-day stint, I found myself running from place to place to catch keynote after keynote, session after session, and meeting after meeting.

Our team was pre-briefed on key announcements to be made at the event. Most noteworthy for us was Microsoft replacing Skype for Business (SfB) in Office 365 (O365) with Teams.  (See Wainhouse Research analyst Bill Haskin’s blog for details on this pending migration and specific capabilities available within Teams, and Andy Nilssen’s blog which looks at the Teams announcement from a higher-level PCS perspective.)

Given SfB’s strong penetration in the enterprise and Microsoft’s strong push toward O365, it’s easy to question the decision to phase out SfB in favor of Teams, a relatively new offering.  As a longstanding and relatively satisfied SfB / O365 user -- and a relatively new (but determined) Teams / O365 user -- I can tell you that shifting from SfB to Teams is no walk in the park.  At least that’s true with the current version of Teams, but to be fair some SfB features are not yet available within Teams.  To be clear – I’m not disparaging or complimenting either offering.  This is about change (to a new client with a new look, new feel and new workflow, etc.), and the repercussions that such change brings.

Side note – the WR Test Team has yet to perform a thorough assessment of Microsoft Teams.  However, the results of our testing to date have been quite positive – especially in terms of video / audio performance and experience.

In full disclosure, I am not the least bit surprised by Microsoft’s announcements re: SfB and Teams.  Some might call this a gutsy or risky move.  I view it as necessary for Microsoft to remain relevant in this market segment.

For those keeping track, Cisco and Microsoft (and a handful of others) have been trading blows in the UC (Unified Communications) arena for years.  Cisco had its Jabber client – and many other clients -- with associated on-premises infrastructure.  Microsoft had OCS, Lync and eventually its Skype for Business UC client and on-premises infrastructure.  And the war raged.

Things changed in late 2015 when Cisco announced Spark, and shifted the discussion away from UC and toward a new and broader theme centered on persistence and teaming.  And while not everyone has jumped on the “teaming” bandwagon, most agree that this larger discussion has merit.  To some degree, Teams is Microsoft’s response to Spark (and certainly Slack, which currently has more than 6 million daily users).  Long story short – Microsoft had little choice but to enter the teaming space.  I think Microsoft is wise to shift attention to Teams -- before the shine wears off Skype for Business.

Side note – Microsoft has positioned this shift toward Teams as an expansion beyond teaming, messaging, and UC into a new world of “Intelligent Communications” with a goal of providing a single unified “portal” with a fully integrated user experience including directory services, messaging, e-mail, calendaring, internal and B2B conferencing and collaboration, internal and B2B collaboration, ERP, CRM, line of business applications, and more.  Essentially, this is UC on a much broader scale.

While at Ignite, I asked various people for their thoughts.  The biggest pushback was from large enterprise folks who are rightly concerned about the impact on their users.  As I’ve said before, consistency and familiarity trump performance and feature-set every time.  This shift will certainly bring some pain for SfB / O365 organizations, but the feedback I got was mostly positive.  People want to “team,” and for Microsoft shops, a Microsoft-branded and integrated teaming solution will be an easier pill to swallow.

To be clear – Microsoft is not abandoning SfB altogether.  SfB will remain the company’s UC client for on-premises deployments – for the time being, and the company plans to release the next version of SfB Server, dubbed vNext, in H2 2018.  But you don’t need a crystal ball to see where this is headed.

Click here for our second blog on Ignite focused on Skype for Business in the meeting room.