Let There Be Training

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pretty geeky guy. I am fascinated by new gadgets and clever software. Looking around my desk, I see at least nine different electronic widgets, gizmos, and questionably practical appliances. Even worse, I have an almost obsessive curiosity about what makes them do whatever it is that they do. Scattered amongst those gadgets are tools to take them apart and hopefully put them back together without ending up with too many “spare” parts.
This is why I am so interested in protocols. This is why I love sitting down with Wireshark traces deciphering call flows and client/server interactions. Frankly, this is why I started writing unified communications articles in the first place. I figure that if this stuff is exciting to me, it must be just as exciting to the rest of the world.
However, there is one thing about technology that doesn’t excite me, and I run across it all the time — technology that users don’t understand. No, I am not talking about my kind of understanding involving screwdrivers and packet traces. I am talking about not understanding how technology is used, let alone used efficiently. I am talking about a company that puts a new application on its users’ PCs without a lick of training. Sure, geeks like you and me will eventually figure it out, but the vast majority of folks will either struggle with it or not use it at all.
I see this all too often in the communications arena. A company will spend significant amounts of money on something like Skype for Business, install it on every desktop in the company, and then wonder why the adoption rate is so low. Now, I am not picking on Skype and saying that it’s difficult to use. It has a number of features that are easily understood without training or a user manual.
However, there are many sophisticated and workplace transformational aspects that don’t just jump out at you. You don’t make a major investment in a unified communications product for presence jellybeans. You do it because you expect workforce efficiency, ongoing expense reductions, employee productivity, customer retention, and improved teamwork.
I travel around the country speaking at users groups and conferences. I also meet directly with companies, large and small. I speak to directors of IT, heads of contact centers, business unit leaders, and the worker bees that do a great deal of the heavy lifting. I’ve seen some very successful implementations of unified communications, but I have seen and heard of far too many halfhearted attempts.
I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve shown someone how to actually use a product on his or her PC or smartphone. While I love hearing someone say to me, “Wow, it can do that?” I am always tempted to say, “What’s wrong with your IT department? You should have already known how to do that already.”
Show Me the Way
There are many ways to avoid computers stuffed with unused and underused applications. The obvious solution is to provide user adoption training. This can come in multiple formats tailored to meet the needs of different learning styles.
Some people learn best in a classroom setting where an in-person instructor walks his or her students through a new product. A hands-on approach is ideal, but may not be necessary for all products. The important thing is to provide a forum that shows the product being used and allows for questions and answers.
Of course, training budgets have been slashed and herding students into a classroom may be deemed too expensive. However, that doesn’t let you off the hook. There are alternatives.
Personally, I prefer a straight forward user guide with a library of video clips that explain some of the more complicated features and workflows of an application.
In some cases, a webinar or series of webinars is more than sufficient to train users. Even when classroom training is employed, these online resources are needed after training has occurred. It’s also important that they be kept up-to-date to reflect new features or changes to older features. Outdated training is nearly as bad as no training at all.
For enterprises that don’t want to invest in in-house training, third parties are often available to teach the ins and outs of a new application. This training often comes in the same formats as described above and can be delivered in person or off-site.
Bring in the Evangelist
User training is certainly important, but just as important are technical evangelists. These are people who are so excited about a product that they need to make the rest of the company feel the exact same way. They spread their knowledge and excitement through emails, workshops, personal webinars, or by becoming the go-to power users. I have seen a drastic increase in product adoption simply because the excitement of these people becomes contagious. Users stop being afraid of that new thing on their PC after they see the amazing things it can do.
The point is that technology is exciting, and maybe I should stop complaining because as a reader of No Jitter you already know that. It can radically change your job, your life, and the lives of your coworkers and customers. This is especially true about unified communications products and services. However, misunderstood technology can hinder and actually drive down productivity.
We live in a time where every corporate dollar spent should be scrutinized. Don’t waste good money on unused software. Don’t sacrifice your employees’ productivity on poorly understood applications. Embrace change, but be prepared to light the light and show the way.
Can I get a witness?
This article excerpt, by Andrew Prokop, originally appeared here: http://ubm.io/1NdvexP

Why the Azure Cloud?

Last week was an exciting week for the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. We held AzureCon, one of the world’s largest virtual cloud events, and more than 150,000 of you tuned in to learn how we’re advancing the intelligent cloud for organizations of all types – from NASCAR, http://bit.ly/1MUcpz8 and Alaska Airlines, to the United Nations Development Programme, Rockwell Automation and more. Hear first-hand from our customers about how Azure continues to help them transform their business in these videos.

At AzureCon, we outlined the road ahead for the cloud – from big data and predictive analytics, to the Internet of Things, to trends like containerization and microservices, and cutting-edge cloud infrastructure – to highlight how Azure is changing what’s possible in business today. But transformation doesn’t have to be complicated. At Microsoft, our mission is to make cloud innovation a simple and affordable reality – all while offering you the most unique value. Through consistency and seamless integration across cloud and on-premises, unmatched product capabilities, flexible pricing and best-in-class support, we are committed to making sure that Azure is the best public cloud for running Microsoft software, or any software.

A cloud at your pace

To support your journey to the cloud, we are committed to giving you the best pricing and flexible options. The Azure Compute Pre-Purchase plan, which we unveiled at AzureCon, is an example of this commitment. This new offer is designed for predictable compute workloads and can provide you up to 63 percent cost savings when you pre-purchase one year of compute. And if you’re moving a significant number of workloads to Azure, but at a moderate or less predictable pace, the new Azure Compute Option provides great pricing with more budget flexibility. Run any compute instance in Azure with discounts up to 60 percent in exchange for add-ons to your Windows Server annuity licenses. More information on these two offers is available here. In addition, we also recently announced price reductions on our popular D Series virtual machines by up to 27 percent and on our A8-11 virtual machines by up to 60 percent off standard prices. These are just a few examples of how we’re committed to giving you the best pricing and the most flexible options in our cloud.

We also continue to hear from you the importance of enabling hybrid scenarios. This includes the use of your Microsoft software across your datacenter, Azure and third party hosted datacenters. Extending on our support to Bring Your Own Licenses (BYOL) to Azure, we are now making it possible for you to bring your existing Windows Server licenses to Azure, just as you can with other popular Microsoft products, such as SQL Server and SharePoint today. We will also make it possible for you to run Windows 10 on Azure. Simply put, we’re ensuring that Azure is the best place to run Microsoft software. Look for more details soon.

Want to learn more about the innovations that make Azure the most complete cloud experience? Check out the summary of last week’s AzureCon announcements below:

An open and flexible cloud

  • Azure Container Service is a new open source container scheduling and orchestration service that builds on Microsoft’s partnerships with Docker and Mesosphere. With Azure Container Service, you can create and manage scalable clusters of host machines onto which containerized applications can be deployed, orchestrated, and managed. Watch this video to learn more.
  • Azure HDInsight, a fully managed Apache Hadoop cluster service with a broad range of open source analytics engines including Hive, Spark, HBase and Storm is now generally available. With this release, you can now configure these clusters to run using both a Windows Server Operating System as well as an Ubuntu based Linux Operating System.

Enabling IoT and Big Data

  • Azure IoT Suite is now available for purchase. The suite leverages our cloud platform to let you easily build and scale IoT projects. In addition, the new Microsoft Azure Certified for IoT program offers you a whole ecosystem of partners whose offerings have been tested and certified to help with your IoT needs. Watch this video to learn more.
  • Cortana Analytics Suite, a fully managed big data and advanced analytics suite available to purchase. Watch thisvideo to learn more.
  • Expanded Azure Data Lake capabilities, including Azure Data Lake Store, Data Lake Analytics and HDInsights. With Visual Studio integration, you can take advantage of simplified authoring, debugging, and optimization of big data code. We also introduced U-SQL, a new language that unifies the benefits of SQL with the expressive power of user code. Working with big data no longer requires your entire team to learn new skills before they become productive.
  • Azure SQL Data Warehouse, including recently released Power BI integration, is now broadly available as the first enterprise-class cloud data warehouse that can dynamically grow, shrink and pause compute in seconds – enabling you to pay only for the query performance you need. Watch this video to learn more.

Great performance in the cloud

  • N-series, a new family of Azure Virtual Machines with GPU capabilities, were announced and will be previewed in coming months. These VMs are based on NVidia’s M60 and K80 GPUs and designed to serve remote visualization and large scale compute scenarios. Watch this video to learn more.
  • DV2, our next generation of D-series Virtual Machine instances based on customized 2.4 GHz Intel Xeon® E5 v3 (Haswell) processors are now generally available. These instances are up to 35% faster than the current D-series instances and one of the most performant options in the public cloud today.

Trust at hyper-scale

  • New Azure regions in India – Central India in Pune South India in Chennai and West India in Mumbai – making Microsoft Azure the first hyper-scale public cloud provider in India.
  • Azure Security Center is the first-of-its-kind security service that gives you an integrated, end-to-end visibility and control of your Azure resources, helping you stay ahead of threats easily. Watch this video to learn more.
  • Financial Services Compliance Program is a new program for financial services companies to stay on top of global financial regulatory oversight and risk management requirements. Watch this video to learn more.

True hybrid cloud

  • ExpressRoute advancements including ExpressRoute for O365 and Skype for Business which is now generally available. You can take advantage of Office 365 using ExpressRoute for performance and privacy improvements in connectivity. Watch this video to learn more. We also announced the ability to connect to Microsoft Azure’s Government Cloud via ExpressRoute. Finally, new pricing plans for ExpressRoute are now available provide more flexibility in choosing the right plan based on your data usage.
  • Azure File Storage is now generally available. Azure File Store leverages the widely used SMB 3.0 protocol for secure connections with applications both on-premises and in the cloud. Watch this video to learn more.

Comprehensive, integrated app development

  • App Service Environment is generally available with a fully backed SLA for securely running and scaling all of your apps. Watch this video to learn more.
  • Azure CDN with Akamai. A new partnership with Akamai will enable integration of Akamai’s industry-leading CDN capabilities into Azure, expanding Azure CDN’s capabilities, scale and geographic reach. Watch this video to learn more about Azure CDN capabilities and our new partnership with Akamai.
  • Azure Mobile Engagement, which enables user segmentation, app user analytics, and contextually-aware smart push notifications and in-app messaging across devices to maximize app usage, retention and monetization is now generally available.
  • Live Encoding for Azure Media Services for delivery of high quality video, under a variety of network conditions, to every device for the live streaming of events – as battle-tested by Super Bowl XLIX and the 2014 Winter Olympics is now generally available. Watch this video to learn more about Azure Media Services.

Check out the keynotes and drilldown sessions from AzureCon to learn more about what Azure can do to enable your journey to the cloud!

This article excerpt, by Microsoft Azure Team, originally appeared here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en…/

Cloud Computing’s Refuseniks: How Long Can They Hold Out?

Umpty-squillion surveys come out every week, and they generally disagree with each other. Personally I tend to take notice of the ones that tell me that red wine is good for weight loss and long life.

I read one recently, though, in which no fewer than 51 percent of managers said they’re not presently investing in cloud technology. “OK”, I thought, half the population isn’t doing it yet. Then I read that in the same survey that 49 per cent said that in two years’ time they still wouldn’t be investing in it. And I was more than a little surprised by that.

Cloudy thinking
Bear in mind that they weren’t talking about whether they’d move their entire world to the cloud: it was whether they were investing in cloud at all. At all.

Fair enough, I understand organisations not moving en masse to (say) hosted virtual desktops. But no Office 365? No Google Apps? No DropBox? No AWS for a cheap server for a pilot project?

Some organisations tend to shy away from cloud services – specifically those with particularly high security requirements on the data they store. But even then there must surely be the temptation to adopt some kind of fully managed hosted service for applications under less scrutiny – public-facing brochureware websites, for example.

Furthermore, the cloud can be incredibly attractive in a business continuity context. Say you host your email service in a co-location data centre facility where you own all the servers and network kit, you manage the servers yourself, you have a secure remote access mechanism with two-factor authentication. Is it really that big a leap of security confidence to decide to shift it all to (say) Office 365?

And even if it is, what about that two-factor authentication system you’re using on your private data centre installation? Is that an on-site offering? I’ve recently been getting to grips with Symantec’s hosted offering – it works a treat and doesn’t need me to feed and water it.

Taking the concept further, you could even use the cloud to monitor and control your internet usage behaviour. Even the most paranoid security officer must surely find it hard to complain about using an Internet-based system to control your internet browsing.

In this sense I’m talking about services such as Websense’s cloud offering, which I introduced to my infrastructure in a previous life and which I found absolutely excellent – access gateways worldwide, synchronisation with our Active Directory, resilient services, a single management GUI, not overly expensive, and I got to throw away a fleet of god-awful ISA servers that hosted the legacy on-premises version.

I completely understand why people don’t move wholesale to the cloud. A fully cloud-based infrastructure is something that suits only a minority of organisations. But I’m still astounded to see that almost half of those questioned in the particular survey I read are of the belief that they won’t be using it at all in two years’ time.

Okay, there are concerns. There’s security. There’s the fact that it’s easy to forget what you left running and end up with a bigger bill than you expected.

There’s the fact that in all but the smallest cloud providers you have bugger all influence over their techies if the infrastructure goes down and your finance server is unavailable at year end, or your email’s not working for a couple of days. I get that.

Keeping up with the hackers
Surely, though, the people who say they won’t be using the cloud in the future are forgetting that what you can do with it is likely to change radically in the next 24 months. Security will have kept up with the hackers; connectivity will be even better than it is now (my fiver says that by then you’ll see proper quality-of-service guarantees over the Internet as if it were a private WAN).

I reckon that some vendors of traditional IT products may even entirely stop shipping software and appliances, instead stripping down their support division (supporting customers with on-prem solutions is highly non-trivial) and supplying their services as entirely cloud-based services. Will this 49% of IT managers simply avoid those services even though they’re acceptable to the auditors and the best of breed?

No, I don’t think they will. I suspect simply that when they were asked: “Will you be investing in the cloud in two years’ time?”, they’re thinking: “Hell, I’ve got so much to do now, and so much on my roadmap for the next 24 months, that I can’t even think about cloud as well”. But that in fact by the time they get part-way down their roadmap they’ll find themselves with a cloud solution.

Because by that time we probably won’t be calling it a cloud service. Or a SaaS product. Or an AnythingaaS solution, for that matter. Because by that time we’ll be so used to the idea that we won’t have a special name for it: in two years time it’ll just be called a product. 
This article excerpt, by Dave Cartwright, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1Wvmbu7

10 Ways Microsoft Office 2016 Could Improve Your Productivity

On September 22, 2015, Microsoft released Office 2016 to the masses. At first glance, you may not notice much has changed since Office 2013. But when you look deeper, you will find some interesting and productivity-enhancing differences.

For years we’ve been promised wonderful benefits from cloud computing, and Microsoft Office 2016 is trying to deliver on those promises. It’s designed to meet our expectations of what a cloud-based, mobile-ready productivity suite can and should be. Only time will tell if Office 2016 actually delivers the goods, but the initial reviews are promising.

Here are 10 things Microsoft Office 2016 offers as it aspires to be the last productivity suite you are ever going to need.

1: Real-time co-authoring

Co-authoring has been around for a long time for many Office apps, but with Office 2016 that collaboration can now take place in real time. That means you will be able to see what your co-conspirators are doing in a Word document or PowerPoint presentation as they do it—and conversely they will be able to see what you are doing. It won’t even matter where you are or what device you are using.

2: OneNote notebook sharing

OneNote is one of the most useful applications available in Microsoft Office, and it is also one of the least appreciated. Office 2016 allows you to share a OneNote notebook with as many people as you want. And because OneNote works with text, images, worksheets, emails, and just about any other document type you can think of, it can be a great central resource for a team working on a project. That is, if they know to use it.

3: Simplified document sharing

Office 2016 simplifies sharing of documents by adding a Share button to the upper-right corner of your Office apps. Clicking that button will give you one-click access to share your document with anyone in your contacts list. You don’t even have to leave the document to do it. That does sound pretty simple.

4: Smart attachments

If you’re like me, you have to send email attachments just about every day. In previous versions of Office, adding attachments to an email required you to navigate to the location where the document was stored. You can still do that in Office 2016, but if the document in question was one you worked on recently, it will now show up in a list of shareable documents right there in Outlook. Essentially, Office 2016 keeps a universal recently worked on list for you.

5: Clutter for Outlook

Like most of us, you probably get a ton of email every day. Wading through the Outlook inbox to prioritize each email takes time and hampers your ability to be productive. Office 2016 adds a new category to your inbox triage toolbox, called Clutter. You can designate certain emails as low priority and they, and future similar emails, will be deposited automatically into a Clutter folder in Outlook. So now you have four categories for email: important, clutter, junk, and delete.

6: Better version history

Collaboration and creativity can be a messy process, with shared documents changing drastically over time. Office 2016 compensates for potentially lost ideas by keeping past versions of documents and making them available directly from Office applications under the History section of the File menu.

7: New chart types in Excel

The ability to visualize data with an Excel chart has always been a welcome and powerful capability. However, the list of available chart types found in previous versions of Excel needed an update. Office 2016 adds several new chart types to the templates list, including Waterfall, which is great chart if you like to track the stock market. Other new chart types include Treemap, Pareto, Histogram, Box and Whisker, and Sunburst.

8: Power BI

Between the release of Office 2013 and Office 2016, Microsoft spent a great amount of time and capital acquiring technologies that shore up its business intelligence and analytical applications. Power BI, a powerful analytics tool, now comes bundled with your Office 365 subscription. Knowing every little detail about how your business is running is essential information, and Power BI can bring it all together for you.

9: Delve

Delve is another new tool that comes with an Office 365 subscription. The best way to describe Delve is as a central location that gives you access to everything you have created, shared, or collaborated on using Office 2016. It is another recently worked on list, only this version of the list is stored in the cloud—so you can access it from anywhere with any device using the Office 365 Portal.

10: Purchase choices

Office 2016 is generally available only as a subscription. Even if you buy a boxed version of Office 2016, you are buying access to an annual subscription, with one exception. If you purchase the Office Home & Student 2016 box, you pay a one-time fee of $149.99 for just the basic Office apps.

Microsoft has definitely stacked the deck so that the best bang for the buck is a subscription to Office 365, which includes Office 2016 plus all the cloud services. Businesses should be looking at one of the Office 365 for Business subscriptions. It is also going to be your best deal.

This article excerpt, by TechRepublic, originally appeared here: http://www.techrepublic.com/bl…/

Skype for Business vs Regular Skype: Is It Time to Upgrade?

If you haven’t taken a look yet at Skype for Business, it’s well worth reviewing for your organization’s needs.

Launched in April of 2015, the Skype for Business platform is positioned as a business version of the wildly popular consumer Skype product.

Skype for Business is specifically optimized for use by businesses of all sizes, including small businesses.  And Microsoft has been upgrading and improving the product, with additional upgrade plans in the works.   It now offers business users some distinct benefits that the regular version of Skype does not have.

Skype: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going

To understand Skype for Business and the potential for your business, it’s important to understand a little of the product’s history … and the vision for where it’s going.

The “regular” version of Skype has been around for more than a decade.  The popular voice and text messaging app now generates over 50 billion minutes of traffic per month, Microsoft reports.  That’s a lot of brand equity to leverage.

Microsoft purchased Skype in 2011. While the app continued to grow in popularity post acquisition, including among small businesses, Skype wasn’t optimized for business use. It was designed originally for use by individuals. Business-specific features were few and far between — until now.

Under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, who took the helm of Microsoft in 2014, we’re starting to see the vision for Skype as a business tool.

Essentially, Skype for Business is a “marriage” of Skype with Lync, Microsoft’s popular business communications platform.

“And now, we’re bringing it all together — the familiar experience of Skype that people have come to know and love, with the trusted platform in Lync that businesses around the world count on,” Zig Serafin, corporate vice president for Skype for Business, noted in an April launch announcement.

What’s the advantage to small businesses of combining the two products into Skype for Business?

First, Microsoft has a proven communications platform in Lync, with features created specifically for business use.  Over 100 million professionals already used Lync at the time the transition began.

Second, small business users who are familiar with regular Skype, don’t have to learn an entirely new interface.  When it comes to introducing Skype for Business to your employees, who sometimes are intimidated by having to learn a new software application, this familiarity can be an advantage.

According to Microsoft officials, the Skype for Business product we see today is just the beginning. We can expect more product enhancement over time.

Difference Between Skype and “Skype for Business”

Skype for Business offers several features and product advantages over regular Skype, but here are the three main differences that the majority of small businesses will be most interested in:

1) Administrator role with differentiated permission levels

Skype for Business is designed for use by a company, versus the individual. It includes an administrator role. The administrator can assign permissions, such as who has access to which features.

For example, small businesses could limit the ability to make international calls.  Jamie Stark, product manager for Skype, told Small Business Trends, “Salespeople might have permission to call international numbers,” Stark said. “Support people don’t need this capability. The admin can control this.”

There’s also the ability to record calls in Skype, and, says Stark,  “One of the handy things is you get this ability of role playing.” The admin can assign who has rights to access the recorded discussion, as well as who can rewind and fast forward.

If a person leaves the company, the administrator can deny access.  This gives you greater security over your confidential and sensitive company communications.

Skype for Business allows the admin to verify who is using the program’s features. That way, you can be sure you’re maximizing the benefits of your investment.  “Especially in the case of small businesses, you want to make sure if you license [Skype for Business] that your employees use it. This allows you to do that” by monitoring, via Outlook, who is using it and who is not, added Stark.

2) Larger conference calls and meetings

Skype for Business allows up to 250 people on a single meeting or conference call.  This makes it better for one-to-many presentations such as webinars, as well as full company meetings where you have more than 25 people.  Regular Skype is limited to 25 people on the meeting or call at one time.

These meetings can include people who are not on Skype for Business, as long as they can access a phone or internet connection.  Additional charges may apply for dialing in.

3) Deeper Integration with Outlook and Office 365

Regular Skype offers a free http://bit.ly/1M7pe4d plugin that gives you limited integration with Outlook. From within your Outlook inbox, you can send a Skype instant message, start a free Skype-to-Skype call, or call a mobile or landline. The integration also features a contact’s online status, contact information and mood message on Outlook contact cards.

Skype for Business is more deeply integrated with Outlook and Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft’s office applications. This makes for more efficiency.

Skype for Business can display each employee’s current location, whether they are participating in a conference call or not — even if they are on vacation.  According to Stark, “Right next to their name in Outlook I see whether they are participating or are out of the office. If I have a question for someone in engineering, I can see if they are out of the office.  If I need an answer now, I can go into Skype for Business and see if anyone in engineering is involved in a meeting and ask the question if I don’t want to wait until the other person returns.”

Skype for Business meetings can be scheduled or launched instantly from within a PowerPoint or Word document, for fast collaboration.

You can remotely control others’ desktops from within Skype for Business — and do much more, depending on which level of Skype for Business you choose (there are 3 levels).

Also, Microsoft rolled out iOS and Android apps for Skype for Business. So Skype for Business can be used by just about any kind of mobile device.

Three Levels of Skype for Business

The Skype landscape for business users can be a bit confusing at first glance, so let’s break it down for you.

There are really four different levels of Skype currently.

There’s the regular edition of Skype — plus three levels of Skype for Business.

With the free regular Skype, you can make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls. You can receive and make calls to mobile and landline numbers (for an added fee). You can hold conferences with up to 25 people at one time. You can do video or voice calls, or text chat. Sharing screens is easy, as is sending files through Skype — and much more.

Very small businesses that use Skype sporadically or for limited purposes may want to stick with the regular Skype for now.

Keep in mind that currently Skype and Skype for Business are two different products. While they may appear similar, you really can’t use them interchangeably at the present time.  For instance, you can’t call your regular Skype contacts directly from Skype for Business or vice versa.

The small businesses that should seriously consider using Skype for Business are those looking to drive internal efficiencies through deeper integration with Office 365, or those wanting more control and security over their company communications, or those looking to hold larger meetings with more than 25 participants or with more advanced capabilities that enable webinars or large group presentations.

For those looking to upgrade, here the three levels of Skype for Business:

  • First, there’s Skype for Business Plan 1, at $2 per user per month.  This gives some basic features.
  • But the best value is with Skype for Business Plan 2, for $5.50 per user per month.  For that modest extra monthly fee, you get many more features and benefits, including the ability to record video and audio, deeper integration with Office 365 and Outlook, ability to share a whiteboard, and much more.
  • Finally, there’s Skype for Business Server which is mostly likely to be used by larger organizations.

Compare plan features and benefits.

Apparel Designer Uncovers Key Mobile Benefits

So, who’s using Skype for Business?

Dakine, a sports apparel designer, found Skype for Business’s mobile options to be a major asset for the company, as noted on Microsoft’s Customer Story site.

With one-third of its employees usually out of the office, visiting any of the thousands of retailers that sell its products, for example, Skype for Business is a great way for everyone to keep in touch.

“We leverage the video and audio conferencing tools of Skype for Business to better collaborate and stay in real-time contact with our teams around the world,” said Nic Richards, the company’s IT Manager.

This article excerpt, by Ed Lieber, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1M7pe4f style=”line-height: 1.5; background-color: initial;”>

WebRTC & Skype will shape the future of UC

WebRTC and other real time protocols including Object Real Time Communications (ORTC) that eliminate the need for plug-in software to function (but work natively in a browser) will have a lasting effect on communications. As noted in the 2015 WebRTC State of the Market Report, over half of businesses are already using WebRTC in some form or plan to use it in 2015, and over three-quarters of respondents will use it next years and beyond.  However, these protocols won’t replace Unified Communications platforms; rather they will complement the solutions that are already available today.  What they do mean however is the final nail in the coffin for legacy voice only PBXs in business as you just won’t be able to compete if you can’t communicate.

The effect of Microsoft’s Skype for Business strategy on Unified Communications cannot be underestimated. Lync (now Skype for Business) integration was already table stakes for others’ UC elements and platforms, and the move to evolve Lync with Skype features and integrate users is profound. Microsoft’s latest release of APIs for its Edge browser to enable ORTC is also significant here.

Unified communications has enabled collaboration, and collaboration features such as screen sharing have brought people (not just employees) together to work in ways are increasingly efficient and effective. Collaboration has also moved helped contact center agents become engaged with customers in a way that builds the kind of relationships needed to engender loyalty and grow business revenues.  The integration and alignment of platforms like contact centre and UC is significant for consumers and business alike and will drive new business models enabling customer engagement when, where and how they like.  Be ready for the anywhere, anytime business!

55% Of Enterprises Predict Cloud Computing Will Enable New Business Models In Three Years

55% Of Enterprises Predict Cloud Computing Will Enable New Business Models In Three Years

  • 69% of enterprises expect to make moderate-to-heavy cloud investments over the next three years as they migrate core business functions to the cloud.
  • 44% of businesses are relying on cloud computing to launch new business models today, predicting this will increase to 55% in three years.
  • 32% are using cloud computing to streamline their supply chains today. Senior executives predict this figure will rise to 56% in three years, a 24% increase.
  • 59% say they use cloud-based applications and platforms to better manage and analyze data today, reflecting the increasing importance of analytics and big data enterprise-wide.

These and other insights are from a recent Oxford Economics and SAP study of cloud computing adoption, The Cloud Grows Up. You can find the study here (no opt-in). In late 2014, Oxford Economics and SAP collaborated on a survey of 200 senior business and IT executives globally regarding the adoption and use of cloud technology. Oxford Economics’ analysts compared the latest survey with one completed in 2012 looking for leading indicators of cloud adoption in enterprises. They found many C- and VP-level executives are taking a more pragmatic, realistic view of what cloud technologies can contribute. Enterprises are moving beyond the hype of cloud computing, putting in the hard work of launching new business models while driving top-line revenue growth.

Key takeaways from the study include the following:

  • Top–line growth (58%), collaboration among employees (58%), and supply chain (56%) are the three areas enterprises expect cloud computing to impact most in three years. The greatest gains will be in the areas of supply chain (a 24% jump), collaboration among employees (20%) and increased agility and responsiveness to customers (17%).
  • Developing new products & services (61%), new lines of business (51%) and entering new markets (40%) are three key areas cloud computing is transforming enterprises. With a 35% increase, developing new products and services is the most dominant strategy enterprises are relying on to grow their businesses.
  • 58% of enterprises predict their use of cloud computing will increase top-line revenue growth in three years. 67% see the cloud changing skill sets and transforming the role of HR.
  • 74% of enterprises say innovation and R&D are somewhat or mostly cloud-based. 61% say they will have developed new products and services in three years as a result of adopting cloud technologies.
  • Enterprise cloud security strategies are maturing rapidly. From 2012 to 2014, strategies for ensuring the security of API and interfaces increased 24%, from 20% to 44%. Additional concerns that increased include virus attacks (up 19%), and identity theft (up 16%).
  • 31% of respondents say the cloud computing has had a transformative impact on their business. 48%, nearly half, state that cloud computing has had a moderate impact on business performance. The majority believe cloud computing will have a significant impact on top-line revenue growth in three years.
  • 67% of enterprises say that marketing, purchasing, and supply chain are somewhat and mostly cloud-based as of today. Cloud-based adoption has reached an inflection point in enterprises, with functional areas having the largest percentage of workloads running on cloud-based apps. Enterprise senior executives see the potential to improve innovation, R&D, and time-to-market via greater collaboration using cloud technologies.

This article excerpt, by Louis Columbus, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1gCW7he

Questions You Should Be Asking Any Prospective VoIP Provider

Too many times, we are pulling people out of bad provider situations that could have been avoided with either proper consultation in conjunction with a neutral VoIP expert. Or, due diligence could have been accomplished just by pegging a prospective VoIP provider with some simple questions that put providers’ feet to the fire.
Before signing on the dotted line, here are the items you NEED to get answered:
What kind of support do they offer? Any cloud VoIP company worth their weight should have 24/7/365 support. A bonus is if the support is all American based, but this comes at a premium, mind you. CallTower, the company we use for our own hosted Skype for Business VoIP needs, offers this.
What large customers do they service? Quality VoIP providers all have larger enterprise “wins” which they should be able to brag about. The actual names don’t matter as much as them being able to attest to owning such accounts. If the company stutters on its enterprise client list, be wary. Enterprises are definitely moving to cloud hosted VoIP, and you want reassurance that this provider is handling some large accounts that have their own reputations on the line.
Do I need any special equipment onsite? Some providers like to sneak in equipment requirements, like the need for session border controllers (SBCs), specialized servers, or other pricey gear which may not be discussed on sales calls. Be blunt on initial conversations and ensure that no specialized gear is needed beyond the core basics of what a VoIP-grade network needs anyway like a good firewall, switch(es), and desk phones. Specialized equipment usually leads into talk about pricey maintenance plans which are money makers for some sly VoIP companies.
Can their desk phones/soft phones work anywhere? This is hitting at the heart of the viability of their service as being accessible and usable anywhere with a data/internet connection. The best cloud-hosted VoIP providers all promise usability anywhere there is internet. But be precise on this question. While the likes of CallTower, RingCentral, and 8×8 allow you to truly take your desk phone anywhere you go, some VoIP providers qualify their statement by saying you need to be on your “home base” internet line aka your office.
What is the contract term? Cancellation fees? This varies by provider, of course, but you need to ensure you know your term details and what it will take to back out of an agreement. Cancellation fees are the last item any salesperson would ever choose to discuss without being asked.
Is pricing promotional or locked in? Many providers out there will use crafty promotional pricing to lure you in. Many of the cable providers are very guilty of this on their hosted phone systems (which I DO NOT recommend by the way). Get your pricing details in writing, and ensure you know how long a promotion is lasting, how many desk phone lines it affects, and what the new pricing will be post-promotion.
How many toll free minutes are included? Almost all providers advertise fancy toll free capabilities. But toll free minutes usually come at a premium in the industry. As such, get these details in writing and ensure you are getting the package you need if you are going to rely on toll free incoming calls.
How many fax pages are included? Faxing, either via ATA adapters to physical fax machines, or eFaxing, comes with limits on incoming/outgoing pages. Find out up front how much faxing you can do and across how many users/adapters. Many providers gloss over these details during discussions as people usually don’t ask for clarification here.
Do I get my own web-based administration portal? How easy is it? The best providers out there have rock solid web based admin portals you can use to configure your service. The not-so-great ones advertise portals, but they are buggy, messy, and usually require calls to support to fix issues caused by the cruddy interfaces. I’ve got a few providers I could name, but I’ll refrain here. Get a test drive on the web portal to see if it meets your needs. RingCentral and 8×8, two providers we love, have awesome web portals which allow clients to make any adjustments they wish.
How fast do they implement new technologies? This is key in distinguishing if the company is a market leader, or just one playing constant catch up. Many lesser hosted PBX providers are slow as molasses to implement software updates or make evolutionary leaps on their systems. This was one of the biggest factors which pushed us to go with CallTower for our hosted Skype for Business service, as other players we checked out were lagging far behind the curve in the software they were using.
Do they have a trial period? Don’t be afraid to take a test drive. All the best players in cloud VoIP have trial periods you can take advantage of. If a provider claims they don’t offer trials because their other clients don’t ask about them, or that they don’t have the ability to, steer clear. The major players we recommend to clients like CallTower, RingCentral, and 8×8 all have industry standard trials which allow any client to play with the system they are buying into before jumping two feet forward. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it; don’t treat your VoIP system any differently.
What does your SLA look like? While Service Level Agreements (SLA) aren’t rubber stamps for the uptime you will see from a provider, they do outline the kind of reimbursements/credits you are owed in situations of non-delivery or outages. A level of four 9′s (99.99% uptime) is the very least you should be seeking from a provider. This equates to about 52 minutes of downtime per year which is quite acceptable for most companies. Obviously, the more 9′s you can garner, the better, but be realistic and don’t pay hefty premiums to get a 100% out of a provider. It’s a baseline to use for comparison among providers for the most part.
Be sure to get input from key stakeholders in your organization BEFORE calling a sales rep, as you will likely build a question list with items that are custom to your needs. Fact finding up front is critical to avoid wasting time on providers who can’t match your requirements list.

This article excerpt, by Derrick Wlodarz, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1CLbzC4

What You Need to Know About Microsoft Skype for Business

First there was Skype, a well-liked app for instant messaging, video chat, and voice calls. Then Microsoft bought the company in 2011, continuing to offer it as a consumer product along with Lync as a business application. But last year Microsoft announced it would drop Lync in favor of Skype for Business, which would combine features of both Lync and Skype.
Today, many people are confused with what is actually available and how it works. After all, there are two Skype services (the free consumer version and the paid-for online or on-premises version). There are two client types available as well.
Let’s break them down:
Skype for Business Server 2015: This on-premises server provides IM, presence, peer-to-peer VoIP and video, conferencing, enterprise voice, and telephone-system (PSTN) connectivity.
Skype for Business Online: This service in Microsoft Cloud or Office 365 provides IM, presence, peer-to-peer VoIP and video, and conferencing. It does not provide enterprise voice or PSTN connectivity, but Microsoft says these features are in development.
Skype for Business: This client replaces the Lync client as part of the Office suite. It works with Skype for Business Server or Skype for Business Online. Clients are available for Windows and Windows Phone; clients for OS X, iOS, and Android are planned, but in the meantime you can use the current Lync clients on these platforms with Skype for Business as long as you enable client access in your global policy.
Skype: This client is available for consumer download, providing free service for personal use. Its features are similar to those of Skype for Business but usually are more limited in scope; for example, consumer Skype supports 25 people on a conference call versus 250 in Skype for Business. There are Skype clients for Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Fire OS; they do not work with the Skype for Business servers.
Because Skype for Business Online doesn’t support enterprise voice and PSTN features, IT organizations moving their Exchange and SharePoint deployments to the cloud must continue to use a third-party telephony platform or the on-premises Skype for Business Server.
For now, Skype for Business Server offers several key advantages over its cloud version:
Skype Meeting Broadcast: This feature allows as many as 10,000 people in a meeting broadcast, such as for webinars.
PSTN Conferencing: This feature lets people dial into a call from a landline or mobile phone if they don’t want to (or cannot) join in through their PC, mobile device, or browser.
Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling: This feature lets people make traditional phone calls through their Skype for Business client without having a traditional on-premises PBX. You’re given blocks of numbers to choose from based on your region, and you can assign these numbers to your users. (Microsoft plans to eventually offer a configuration option where you can use existing on-premises phone lines.)
The good news is that all three of these on-premises-only features are now available for testing in preview editions of Skype for Business Online. Microsoft says they should be available in the production version of Skype for Business Online by year’s end.
You might criticize Microsoft for being late on delivering these core enterprise communications features in Skype for Business Online. But I’d prefer it do them right rather than rush the work. Initial reviews from IT folks in the field on the beta features praise the quality of service, with only minor complaints that the technical preview is missing a few important features (like voicemail) that will no doubt be coming in the production version.
This article excerpt, by J. Peter Bruzzese, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1ImEpFH

UC Consolidation Accelerates

Nemertes’ 2015-16 UC&C Benchmark shows continued consolidation toward Cisco and Microsoft in large end-user organizations for a variety of reasons.
Nemertes Research recently released the results of its 2015-16 benchmark on unified communications and collaboration. Based on data gathered from 50 participants representing 45 end-user organizations, largely with 2,500 employees or more, this research provides a snapshot of enterprise plans around UC technologies including IP telephony, video conferencing, team chat, SIP trunking, video conferencing, and more.
This year’s results show an increasing trend toward consolidation of UC applications onto a single-vendor platform. In 2014, approximately 26% of participants had plans to consolidate. That number jumps to 38% in 2015, with another 7% planning to begin a consolidation in 2016. 
This means that, fast-forwarding a year and a half, nearly half of companies participating in our research will have either completed or begun a move toward single-vendor UC. Additional factors driving consolidation include the need to have a single mobile client for all UC apps, the desire to simplify licensing, and the challenges related to interoperability among disparate vendors.
Among those who have selected a consolidated vendor, Microsoft dominates: Fifty-three percent are moving to Microsoft, up from 41% in 2014. Cisco takes second-place honors at 35%, up from 29% in 2014. Other vendors receiving mention include IBM and ShoreTel.
End-user organizations that are consolidating are moving most every UC application. All start with IM/presence, 94% add in desktop video and Web conferencing, leveraging integrated UC suites like Cisco Jabber and Microsoft Lync/Skype for Business. Seventy-five percent are migrating telephony to the consolidated platform, while another 35% are including additional apps like file sharing.
A big driver for consolidation is the desire to improve the user experience, particularly around providing a one-click capability to launch meetings that include voice, video, and screen sharing. More than half of participants either already have this capability, or plan to deliver it by the end of 2016.
Two vendors are notably missing from these results: Avaya, cited by 16% as their primary telephony provider, and Google, cited by 6% as their primary provider for email/calendar. Each of these vendors will need to figure out how to stem the tide of migration to competing platforms.
Of those respondents who said their organizations are using Lync/Skype for Business for IM/presence, Web conferencing, and perhaps voice/video chat, but who have no consolidation plans, just 19% are integrating Lync/Skype for Business with their IP telephony platforms. They are doing so either using plug-ins like Avaya Client Applications or Cisco UC Integration for Lync (CUCI-Lync), or via third-party integration clients like those from Damaka.
Interestingly, Microsoft’s recent rebranding of Lync to Skype for Business doesn’t seem to be having an impact on migration to the platform, but nearly 41% of those we interviewed had a negative view of the name change, noting that they are now dealing with confusion between the consumer and business versions of Skype. This is especially problematic in regulated industries where use of consumer Skype is prohibited. Another 26% rated the name change positive, noting that employees will like the familiar user interface as well as added integration with consumer Skype, while 34% had no opinion or were neutral.
Those who are developing their own UC roadmap and strategy should look from the end-user backwards. If maintaining separate platforms, think about how that impacts usability, manageability, and cost. If moving to a consolidated single vendor, think about how you will make the switch, and how you will address licensing, depreciation of existing assets, training, and integration between UC and other applications like contact center to guide your decision-making.

This article excerpt, by Irwin Lazar, originally appeared here: http://ubm.io/1KO1TcN