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Microsoft Ignite Announcements - Skype for Business Enhancements

October 10, 2016

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Skype for BusinessMicrosoft Ignite wrapped up an exciting week of announcements, informative sessions, partner exhibits, and keynote speeches.  Atlanta played host to the week-long Microsoft activities at World Congress Center with many evening events spread across downtown.  Atlanta was a great venue that was easily accessible and welcoming; the only drawback was limited hotel space within walking distance to Ignite. 

Microsoft announced several upcoming enhancements to Skype for Business unified communications solutions that are expected to be released this year.  Numerous Microsoft partners such as, Clarity Connect and Polycom, joined Microsoft with their own Skype for Business enhancements. 

Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Skype and previous leader of Microsoft’s unified communications product initiatives, Gurdeep Singh Pall, began the week with a Skype update in an Ignite session (Skype team will be led by Rajesh Jha moving forward). Pall cited the growth statistics of Skype with, declaring more than 1.1 billion mobile app downloads, three billion minutes of calls per day, and three trillion minutes of video calls. 

The adoption of Skype for Business has moved it into the leader category for business unified communications with a strong hold in IM, presence, and video. The more recent addition of voice capabilities outside Skype to Skype calls are gaining traction, but adoption is not at the same level as the other Skype UC applications. 

To drive more adoption as a complete unified communications solution, Microsoft is investing in several enhancements to the Skype for Business platform. 

Skype for Business Mac Client and iPhone Client – Update 

In June of this year, CallTower’s CTO, Brandon Watts, published a blog, “My MAC Lync Experience + Preview of Skype for Business MAC Client,” on his experience using the new Skype for Business Mac client as part of preview program. Microsoft will be moving to the next phase with general availability release in October. The new client will include several improvements including: 

  • “One click” to join meetings 
  • High definition video meetings 
  • Recent chat display with indication of new chats 

According to Microsoft, the new client has been written from the ground up using the modern Mac programming language, Swift. It provides high-definition audio and video, in addition to features like one-click join for meetings and edge-to-edge video and desktop sharing to make full use of a screen. 

Also mentioned in the Microsoft blog are the latest enhancements to integration on iOS starting in October. Using the Apple CallKit framework, Skype for Business calls now work just like a cellular call on the iPhone. Users can accept a call via the lock screen or put a Skype call on hold to take a cellular phone call. 

Skype Operations Frameworks 

To further drive adoption, Microsoft has created a program called Skype Operations Framework or SOF that provides recommended processes for all phases of Skype deployments along with certified resources to assist with the projects. Microsoft also added cloud migration support to SOF to assist in the migration of premise based services to the Microsoft cloud. 

Skype for Business Contact Center in the Cloud 

Clarity Connect, Microsoft ISV and Contact Center Solutions provider, announced at Ignite, a new offering that will deliver Contact Center solutions to Office 365 Skype for Business users. The Office 365 Contact Center solution is a new cloud-delivery model that enables organization to move their contact center to cloud regardless of whether they have Skype for Business on premises or fully hosted (Skype for Business Online). The cloud contact center solution was created exclusively for, and is native to, Skype for Business, enabling it to work seamlessly with Office 365. 

Skype for Business Advanced Analytics 

With Microsoft’s ability to pull data from the Skype for Business servers and ability to leverage analysis with Power BI, Skype for Business customers and partners will have an opportunity to create new products and offerings around Skype for Business. Skype’s Advanced Analytics is a more narrowly focused tool that Microsoft plans to release a preview for by the end of 2016. Advanced Analytics will pull Skype server data into a single reporting and analytics dashboard. Customers and partners will be able to improve management of the application including adoption and training by viewing utilization of calling and conferencing, information on the types of devices connecting to the Skype meetings, and additional end user specific data. The tool will also allow for diagnostic investigation down to the individual user level, which will help trouble shoot call quality issues, video call issues, and other performance related issues. 

Skype for Salesforce.com Integration (Beta) 

Skype for Salesforce surfaces the capabilities of Skype for Business Online directly within Salesforce to give sellers the ability to communicate in real-time with colleagues straight from the Salesforce Lighting Experience.   Click here to learn more.  

Organization Auto Attendant for Call Queues and Routing Inbound Calls 

These two new Skype for Business features are scheduled for preview in October. There are no dates listed for product availability. 

Project Rigel & Polycom 

Project Rigel is now officially Skype Room Systems. The code name Project Rigel has been lifted and the project has brought the Skype for Business meetings experience to the room based conferencing equipment. Polycom displayed the new look for the room systems including the Real Presence and the Group Series with the Skype Room System integration. Core to the solution is a Microsoft Surface Hub that is used for system control and mirrors the look and feel of the Skype application. Simple one-click to join meetings on the Surface Hub that is integrated with the Polycom devices was impressive. Polycom has taken the same approach down to the Polycom VVX desktop phone equipment that will have a Skype client look on the higher end models with the latest firmware. The shared Polycom and Microsoft goal appears to be a single user experience for entire line of products. 

Regionally Hosted Meetings 

Microsoft plans to support regionally hosted meetings “by the end of the calendar year.” It will be possible to provision Skype for Business meetings to use the nearest datacenter region. 

PSTN Consumption – CSP Billing 

PSTN consumption cannot be billed through Microsoft Cloud Solution Providers (CSP). However, if you read the fine print in the product description it clarifies that CSP customers can purchase the E5 licensing from the CSP and then add on the PSTN consumption-based billing directly through Microsoft. The customer would be invoiced by the CSP, for the E5 licensing, and invoiced separately by Microsoft.

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