Death, Taxes &… Microsoft

Comms Business Magazine talks to Mark Whitehead, Director of Channel Sales at Managed Service Provider GCI, about why Skype for Business is gaining ground in the UC market place.b

Comms Business Magazine (CBM): Some observers are saying that now is a great time for SME’s to be looking at deploying Skype for Business. Do you agree and if so why?

Mark Whitehead (MW): The old adage death, taxes and Microsoft comes to mind here in terms of life’s certainties. So, some might say that any time is a good time to be deploying Microsoft products. But it’s true that the Unified Comms (UC) market is maturing fast. Surveys indicate high awareness of the leading UC suites and Skype for Business (SfB) is invariably cited in that leading vendor group.

In terms of timing, without question Microsoft’s marketing team did something right when they rebranded from Lync to Skype for Business. Skype in its original consumer iteration was like a pair of comfy slippers. It was a name they connected with. Consumers liked it and the Consumerisation of IT carried it with the certainty of death and taxes into the business space. So, to the question ‘is it a good time to be deploying SfB?’ I’d say a resounding yes. Catch the moment and harness the many benefits before your competitors do.

One final point. Skype for Business is the end of a long product development line (LCS, OCS 2007 R2, Lync 2010, Lync 2013… SfB). It’s a stable application and regardless of whether it’s delivered on-premise or as a hosted service (and GCI offers both) its performance is enterprise class. When something is ‘free’ (consumer Skype) we may accept the odd crackle or call drop-out. However today our business customers invariably cite the call quality for SfB as a real wow factor. That’s evolution for you.

CBM: Hasn’t it always been the case that SfB is very hard to justify for SME’s, not just due to the cost of deployment but also the cost of ongoing support?

MW: That may have been the case, but times are changing. We are currently working on a solution in conjunction with partners, that reduces the infrastructure investment and condenses things down to a single box (as opposed to multiple servers) and we’ll be releasing more details on that shortly. Other developments (such as reusing PowerShell script templates) will reduce ongoing costs by enabling code updates and moves, adds and changes (MAC) in a fraction of the time previously taken.

In the meantime, just consider for the moment the underlying trends. The PBX market is forecast to decline by 15% in the period up to 2020 as SME’s transition to cloud deployed solutions. At the same time smartphone sales have reached record levels and, according to PWC’s 2015 report, are forecast to become the primary comms device by 2020. That’s a heartbeat away. So the real question is can you afford not to engage with UC, and when you do some would say it makes sense to align with the market leaders such as SfB.

CBM: What are the SME pain points that SfB relieves?

MW: That’s a good question. Let’s start with the challenge of business continuity in a ‘weird weather world’ – try saying that quickly! In the last few weeks alone, we’ve experienced some of the worst floods on record. It was a similar story in 2015. Happily, SfB addresses the issues of business continuity by delivering mobility and home working as major benefit of its UC functionality. Nowadays, if you ignore the dog barking in the background (!) you would never know if your colleague was working from home or the office. Whether it is tablets tethered to smartphones, or laptops connected to wireless headsets, home working has come of age.

Second, with cost control high on the priority list for every business, the ability to collaborate at the click of a button and avoid the cost of trains, planes and automobiles is another big plus. We’ve found that the desktop sharing capability alone helps avoid ‘email ping pong’ and has been embraced as a huge efficiency gain by our customer base.

CBM: What are the alternatives to SfB and why is SfB a better proposition?

MW: The alternatives to SfB include the tradition PBX vendors using UC clients. These include Cisco, Avaya, Mitel and others. In our experience, one of the main reasons SfB is popular is because of a single word – ‘familiarity’. Most businesses already use MS Office as their core office suite and SfB is fully integrated with that solution. There are no widgets, no connectors and no adapters. It is one product, one system and one support package.

So in the end it’s familiarity that’s the big winner and explains perhaps why some analysts are reporting up to 25% penetration of SfB already in large enterprise, with smaller businesses gaining traction too. It is perhaps no surprise that Gartner’s October 2015 revision of its Magic Quadrant for UC places Microsoft firmly as a leader in the top right hand box.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine