“Scenario Parity” finally here for Skype for Business Online

“Scenario Parity” finally here for Skype for Business Online

Last week, 20,000 people flocked to Atlanta for Microsoft’s annual “unified enterprise technology conference”, Ignite which brought together several previously separate events including the Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and TechEd conferences. Whilst Ignite focused on the entire Microsoft Technology Stack, this blog summarises the ‘key announcements and my personal thoughts about how these impact Skype for Business – Microsoft’s Cloud PBX Platform.

Skype for Business Online – It’s all about Cloud. All Cloud!

The opening Skype for Business delivered by Gurdeep Singh Pall (corporate VP of Skype) made it clear that for Microsoft, Skype for Business is all about Cloud. During the keynote, the Skype team showed off the latest “soon-to-be-available” Skype for Business Online PSTN Calling features. As development and global localisation continues, PSTN Calling allows Microsoft to be your business’s telephony carrier and provide phone numbers (DIDs) in specific geographies which is currently: USA as of December 2015, UK and Puerto Rico as of July 2016, and now Spain and France which are in “preview”.

Microsoft also showcased the new Cloud PBX Attendant and Cloud PBX Call Queues – both key features that were AWOL from the initial Skype for Business Online offering. These capabilities replace and extend the Response Group service that is part of Skype for Business on-premises and the Microsoft Exchange Unified Messaging Auto Attendant (that’s a mouthful). Microsoft said that by the end of 2016 (late November was touted), organisations will have an easy way to use the Skype Online service to provide a “Thank you for calling our company. Press 1 for sales…etc.” auto-attendant service. In addition, businesses will finally be able to have inbound calls simultaneously ring multiple or groups of users in order to provide “basic call contact centre-like service”.

How much Cloud is Cloud

Changes in the way Microsoft sales teams are “compensated” have also changed this year with them being paid directly on the usage of Microsoft Cloud Services such as Skype for Business Online. This translates to a 100% sales focus on selling and encouraging organisations to use Skype Online…not hybrid and not on-premise.

This is being mirrored within the Microsoft engineering teams too with Microsoft remaining on-track to provide Skype for Business Online with “scenario parity” to it’s on-premise versions by the end of CY 2017. Scenario Parity refers to the ability for Skype Online to address the same user needs as Skype for Business on-premises currently does, even if not always in an identical fashion. This was key – its scenario parity, not feature parity! Of course, no matter what Microsoft calls it, it’s clear that features of Skype for Business Online are continuing to expand at a rapid pace.

Cisco & Apple Partnership Brings the Biggest Benefits for Microsoft

Back in August 2015, Cisco announced a partnership with Apple to provide “unique collaboration capabilities on iPhones and iPads.” With the release of IOS10, it now appears that the iOS capabilities are not as unique to Cisco as announced.

Cisco describe the “fruition” of this partnership as allowing “Cisco Spark to be built to take full advantage of the features in iOS 10,” however with iOS 10 now released, the reality is that any VoIP application, including of course Skype for Business iOS client, can also take advantage of iOS 10 and the new Apple CallKit API to improve the end-user experience. Strangely at release of iOS10, the best overview of how the new CallKit API worked was on the Xamarin website. Xamarin is a Microsoft owned, cross-platform toolset that allows developers to create Windows, Android and iOS apps using a single codebase.)

Key usability that the new Skype for Business Client (using enhancements that the CallKit API brings) includes the ability to:

  • Easily answer Skype calls even when the device is locked
  • Answer, ignore, or redirect a second call if you are already on a Skype for
  • Business call. Prior to iOS 10, the in-progress VoIP call would drop if a cellular call was received
  • See missed calls in the “Recents” list, just like with cellular calls, and return a call with a single tap

Making every room video enabled with Project Rigel

Project Rigel was first introduced at the Enterprise Connect 2016 keynote and aims to help Skype for Business address “97 percent of meeting rooms … currently equipped with traditional projectors or displays and only a telephone for including remote participants,” as noted in an official company blog. As its developed, Project Rigel, now officially supports the latest generation of Skype Room Systems, and is built around a Surface Pro 4 device as the main control panel and display driver which runs on a specialised version of Windows (in kiosk mode). It sits in a specially designed dock that connects to an existing display screen or projector and a camera and audio device can be plugged into the dock as needed.

Whilst Logitech seems to be the first to bring their Project Rigel solution to market, Polycom and Crestron will not be far behind.

A new form of Intelligence – powered by the Cloud of course!

During Satya’s Ignite keynote, he focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and Microsoft’s goal of democratising AI in order to “empower every person and every institution on the planet to achieve more.”

The opportunity to connect Microsoft’s AI Cloud to Skype for Business was demonstrated by showing real-time transcription and translation services within the Skype Meeting Broadcast service. This capability is currently in preview and expected to be generally available at the end of the year.

Want to see more? Join Cisilion at our Innovation Centre Re-Launch event! 

We will showcasing this and the rest of the Office 365 proposition in our new Innovation Centre which re-opens in November 2016. Register now to come along.

Rob Quickenden, Chief Strategy Officer at Cisilion