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Business Case for Skype for Business?

Learn how/why Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 is the go-to product for unified communications by exploring common business cases.

This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

In this chapter we will explore common business cases for Skype for Business Server 2015. Before we cover the business cases for Skype for Business Server 2015, it is important to understand some fundamentals about unified communications, which has become a standard term in the Voice over IP (VoIP) industry. Unified communications (UC) is defined as the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging, Presence, telephony, video conferencing, data sharing, call control, and unified messaging (integrated voicemail, email, and fax). The term is pretty self-explanatory, as it aims to unify your existing communication tools over the IP network. A common approach to UC is to consolidate all communication tools into a single-vendor solution. This chapter outlines why many people believe that Microsoft Skype for Business Server 2015 is the go-to product for unified communications, and it covers the following topics:

  • Why Unified Communications—Gives an overview of why UC is beneficial to all types of organizations.

  • Return on Investment—Describes how you define ROI and how UC provides ROI.

  • Why Skype for Business Server 2015 for Unified Communications—Explains why, based on what we know about UC, Skype for Business Server 2015 is the ideal solution for UC.

Why Unified Communications

Communication that occurs in silos poorly replicates the richness of an in-person meeting. Individuals share ideas orally, visually, and in writing. The digital analogs are audio, video, application sharing, white boarding, IM collaborating on documents, and more. Communication that can seamless integrate all of these modalities comes closer to replicating that in-person interaction that sparks the best ideas and enables frictionless team collaboration. Skype for Business Server 2015 integrates these modalities to provide that level of remote collaboration.

There are four key components to UC:

  • Instant messaging and Presence

  • Web, audio, and video conferencing

  • Enterprise telephony (traditional PBX functionality)

  • Unified messaging

This section gives a brief description of each of the key UC components and explains why moving to a UC solution can be beneficial for organizations.

Instant Messaging and Presence

Instant messaging (IM) is the capability to communicate instantaneously between two or more people with text-based messages. Presence conveys the ability and willingness of a user to communicate. These two capabilities combine to be the most commonly used UC components in nearly every organization. Understanding how Enterprise IM and Presence evolved will help you understand why it is the core of any UC solution.

IM and presence has been around since the 1990s. You might remember ICQ and AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). A lot of companies followed suit, and soon there was an explosion of consumer IM providers, all with different protocols and clients. Consumers started to use these consumer IM services for business communications, which was very risky for organizations. Business users were using third-party tools that often were not secured in any form. Usage could not be tracked or controlled, and these tools were being used for day-to-day business on company PCs. When users were communicating through public networks, the exposure to malware increased, as well as the possibility of valuable company information leaving company PCs or being intercepted going over unencrypted traffic to public networks on the Internet. Because of those risks, there was a need to develop an enterprise-grade solution that would allow business users to securely communicate the way they were used to communicating outside of work.

In 1998, IBM launched Lotus Sametime, the first enterprise instant messaging product. Shortly after that, Microsoft released Exchange Instant Messaging, which would later evolve into Live Communications Server, then Office Communications Server, then Lync Server, before finally becoming what is Skype for Business to reflect the evolving integration of Lync Server with the Microsoft acquisition of Skype. IM has evolved into an integral business-critical communications tool for most organizations. In fact, many organizations consider IM more critical than email, and some consider it even more critical than dial tone.

Benefits of Instant Messaging and Presence

IM and Presence are the core of all UC solutions. These two features are often packaged together, and sometimes are simply referenced as only “instant messaging.” IM is a feature most organizations will implement on day one of a UC deployment. Presence is one of the major drivers for UC, because it is at the core of providing an increase in productivity to end users. Presence introduces the real-time availability of users, which allows organizations to benefit from increased productivity through more efficient communications, particularly when face-to-face meetings are not possible or are inconvenient, as in the case of remote work scenarios. This benefit is best described in the scenario that follows.

Assume that Randy and Alex both work for CompanyABC. The company does not have a UC solution deployed today. Randy works in the Manhattan office and Alex works in the San Francisco office. If Randy wants to get in touch with Alex, he has two options: He can either send Alex an email or call him on the telephone. The problem starts here: Randy does not know when Alex will respond to that email or whether Alex will be around to answer the phone when he calls. Most likely, time will be wasted with missed calls and emails while Randy is attempting to reach Alex. This type of inefficient communication impacts their overall business productivity.

Now, introduce a UC solution that leverages IM and Presence. When Randy wants to communicate with Alex, he simply needs to look at his Presence indicator. If Alex shows as available, Randy can send an IM to Alex and ask whether he is available to talk. In some cases, an IM might be all that is needed to cover what Randy originally needed to talk to Alex about. If they need to communicate through voice, this is often a quick escalation in the same Skype for Business client. If Alex is showing as not available, Randy will know what the most efficient way to communicate with him is. Randy could tag Alex’s contact for status alerts, which would alert Randy when Alex becomes available. Randy could also communicate either through an email or a phone call to voicemail, or Randy could simply wait until Alex is available to start an IM conversation.

The scenario just described clearly outlines why IM and Presence are critical components for UC and are major drivers for organizations to introduce a UC solution to their environment.

Web, Audio, and Video Conferencing

Conferencing is not new to most organizations; however, a unified conferencing experience remains relatively new despite growing adoption. Many organizations have web, audio, and video conferencing through separate third-party providers. For web and audio conferencing, organizations are typically charged a monthly fee per user in addition to a per-minute fee for using these services. For video conferencing, some organizations have large deployments of video conferencing equipment on their network, whereas others might be using a third-party hosted solution.

The services available in each of these areas can vary greatly. Some audio conferencing solutions are simply PSTN dial-in bridges, in which all users in a conference will dial a PSTN phone number and be placed into a conference hosted by the provider. Some web conferencing solutions provide a web browser application for conferencing functionality, whereas others require a desktop application to be installed. Which service options are available to organizations is not entirely important for this section; however, it is important that these services are usually not interoperable with each other. This leads to a disjoined conferencing experience, and organizations are not able to realize the true benefits of conferencing.

Benefits of Web, Audio, and Video Conferencing

When an organization deploys a unified communications solution that supplies all conferencing workloads as part of the solution, the most recognized benefit is leveraging a single vendor for its conferencing solutions. This often leads to a consistent user experience as well as reduced costs to deploy and operate such a solution.

Providing users with a unified conferencing solution that is easy to use and that provides benefits to their productivity means that they are more likely to use it. Because end users are actually using this solution more often, the ROI is realized faster, and the organization benefits from increased productivity. In the “Unified Communications Return on Investment (ROI)” section, we explore these benefits in greater detail.

Enterprise Telephony

Enterprise telephony has evolved greatly over time. Most commonly this functionality is referenced using the term private branch exchange (PBX), which was first used when switchboard operators were manually operating company switchboards. It now is used to describe complex telephony switching systems of all types.

Enterprise telephony refers to the capability of making and receiving voice calls between users across the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and all the complex features that many organizations demand of a PBX system. These features can include the following:

  • Auto attendants

  • Automatic call distribution (ACD)

  • Call accounting

  • Call forwarding

  • Call park

  • Call pickup

  • Call transfer

  • Call waiting

  • Music on hold

  • Voicemail

  • Emergency call handling (911 and E911)

The features listed are commonly used to determine whether a modern telephony system is capable of performing PBX features. Many new systems are not marketed as PBXs. They are called PBX replacements with UC functionality instead. Microsoft’s Skype for Business Server PBX replacement is called Enterprise Voice.

Understanding the Benefits of Enterprise Telephony as Part of a UC Solution

Many UC solutions are designed to replace PBXs. Because of this, the benefits of introducing enterprise telephony as part of a UC solution is just that—to remove your PBXs. Many organizations have a PBX deployment with the following characteristics:

  • There are many vendors across many locations.

  • If the same vendor is used, there are many software versions.

  • Each system has a separate maintenance contract.

  • Each system has a local PSTN ingress/egress.

  • Systems typically require specialized engineers to perform basic tasks.

When you introduce a UC solution like Microsoft Skype for Business Server, you integrate voice communication as another modality into the same client used for IM, application and desktop sharing, file transfer, and web meetings. The user experience is integrated, making it more efficient for users to collaborate seamlessly. This convenience enabled by Skype for Business Server spans the Microsoft Office suite and can be easily integrated into customer line of business applications.

Skype for Business Server eliminates the need to configure internal dial plans. By routing based on the SIP URI, all internal calls initiated by dialing the user’s phone number are translated into the callee’s SIP URI and routed that way. Administrators, for the most part, only need to concern themselves with configuring dial plans and routing to the PSTN via a gateway. This significantly simplifies the configuration of Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business Server 2015 compared to a traditional PBX environment.

Unified Messaging

The term unified messaging (UM) is used to describe the integration of different messaging systems. This can include email, fax, and voicemail. This integration typically means that you can access all of these messages from the same interface and on different devices. The most common use of unified messaging is to combine voicemail and fax into an organization’s email system.

Microsoft Exchange Server UM is the voicemail solution for Skype for Business Server 2015. UM functionality was introduced in Exchange 2007. Exchange UM provides voicemail, Outlook voice access, and inbound fax functionality. Many other solutions typically deliver voicemail and fax messages to a user’s Exchange email inbox as an email attachment, or through the use of an add-in. Modern UM systems offer functionality such as the following:

  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR)—The capability for the caller to interact with the UM system through voice commands.

  • Find me, follow me—The capability to ring other telephone numbers before leaving a voicemail.

  • Voicemail transcription—The capability for the UM system to transcribe voice messages and provide voicemail preview as a text transcription in an email to the end user.

  • Secure voice messaging—The ability for the UM system to encrypt voice messages and restrict the users who are able to listen to them.

  • Auto attendants—Often leveraging IVR, UM systems are able to act as a receptionist, receiving calls coming into the organization and directing callers to end users.

Understanding the Benefits of Unified Messaging as Part of a UC Solution

Deploying unified messaging as part of a UC solution has similar benefits to deploying enterprise telephony. Many organizations today have a separate voicemail system deployed with each PBX. Introducing a single UM solution using Exchange UM can reduce costs as well as increase user productivity by providing enhanced features in a single interface.

Unified messaging is a key part of deploying UC in any organization. For many organizations, UM is considered “low-hanging fruit.” Exchange UM can often be deployed rather quickly, replacing legacy voicemail systems, and integrate with Skype for Business Server 2015, resulting in a quicker ROI. Exchange UM provides additional benefits such as call logs, server-side conversation history, visual voicemail, calendar integration, and unified contact cards.

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