Forget about telephone numbers, think about contacts. That’s the allure of Skype for Business – Microsoft’s communications and collaborations software.
With multiple communication channels and collaboration tools in a single integrated package, workers can focus on who they need to contact rather than finding the right phone number – a shift that encourages businesses to re-evaluate how they interact with people.
It’s a quantum leap from traditional telephony, which businesses seem happy to make. But with different deployment options, licensing models, and integration considerations, you’ve got to think carefully before taking the plunge.
Is Skype for Business right for your business?
If your workers spend most of their time at a desk and you simply require a new phone system, then Skype for Business is overkill. Certainly, it’ll do a good job of managing calls. But it’s a bit like buying a turbo-charged 4WD to drive to the end of the road to pick up some groceries. You’re buying a bunch of features you’ll never use.
On the other hand, if your workers are mobile and need to see each other’s availability, work with different groups, and share information quickly and easily, then Skype for Business offers a powerful toolset to reimagine how your business communicates and shares information.
Getting going with Skype for Business
There are three ways to deploy Skype for Business: On-premise, from the cloud, or a combination of both formats.
On-premise deployment lets you wrap your hands around the software and maintain oversight of infrastructure and upgrades. So you’ll need a capable IT team to configure sites on your network that contain Skype for Business components and keep everything running smoothly. Alternatively, you’ll need the services of an external organisation who has skilled engineers to deploy and manage your Skype for Business environment for you.
From the cloud, Skype for Business is ready to go across a range of devices, and the Office 365 portal makes buying additional services quick and easy. Skype for Business manages service delivery from Microsoft data centres, which means systems maintenance and support staff aren’t your problem. A monthly per-user subscription fee takes care of everything. However, you’re not totally off the hook. Because you still need to connect and marry Skype for Business with your network. What’s more, you’ve got to source and configure your own devices, and maintain licensing for each user.
A blended hybrid approach comes into play when the contact centre is part of the solution. While the addition of cloud PBX and PSTN calling to Skype for Business introduces some calling functionality, large enterprises continue to tread carefully, retaining core contact centre systems inhouse while offering mobile workers cloud services.
While it can seem confusing, having a clear understanding of your business needs quickly turns up the model that suits you. It also pays to seek advice from a credible provider to help you understand which is the right option for you.
As with all Microsoft products, licensing is required from a Server and Client perspective. You may well have Skype for Business licences already. Microsoft has done a great job of seeding in entry level Skype for Business licensing into businesses over recent years.
You’ll need a User Subscription License (USL) to set up Skype for Business Online. Secure a license through either Office 365 or the Skype for Business online plan to use presence, instant messaging (IM), peer-to-peer and multi-point VoIP and HD video, and consumer Skype connectivity.
If on-premise Skype for Business Server is your thing you’ll need Client Access Licenses (CALs) to connect users and devices to Skype for Business Server for presence, IM, peer-to-peer VoIP and HD video, and Skype connectivity.
The Plus CAL in particular provides access to PSTN in/out, emergency calling, and other enterprise-grade phone features. Businesses looking for the additional functionality should explore Enterprise and Plus-CAL license options.
Both on-premise and hybrid deployments require a Skype for Business Server license for each server providing registrar services. Neither Edge servers nor Mediation servers require a specific Skype for Business server license.
The key is checking what license entitlements you have as part of the planning process, so there’s no unpleasant budgeting surprises when you make the leap (or when Microsoft calls to perform a licence audit).
Microsoft doesn’t make hardware devices – handsets, gateways, session border controllers (SBC) and the like. So you’ll need to consult an authorised reseller, like Pyrios, to design and integrate your devices with Skype for Business.
Polycom, AudioCodes, and Sonus are your safest bet in Australia and New Zealand. These vendors have tested and certified their products to work with Skype for Business.
There’s more scope when it comes to contact centre integration. Microsoft Lync and Skype for Business have certified over 20 different contact centre solutions. Enghouse and Interactive Intelligence are the most popular vendor solutions deployed in Australia and New Zealand.
Individual contact centres come with their own quirks. Discuss your requirements with a specialist before taking the leap.
Plan for success
New technology has never been so accessible. But readier access shouldn’t invite less rigorous planning. Take the time to understand current Skype for Business licensing entitlements and where your intended usage will leave you under-licensed.
A clear deployment and transition plan, including hardware and integration requirements, will smooth the change process and ensure your new technology is up to the mark from day one and into the future.
Contact Pyrios if you’d like help to assess your readiness and to build a plan to migrate.
Author: Al Cowan