Technology is an ever changing landscape. Now more than ever organisations are ending up with different technology silos which don’t integrate and may not always be optimal to the company’s operations. With traditional voice platform vendors now being Unified Communications (UC) vendors, functionality has increased dramatically but so has the complexity. Unfortunately, most clients are not working in a “greenfield” environment so leveraging previous investment and migrating over time is common. Great in theory – but in practice can it work, and is it cost effective?
One scenario that is common in larger organisations is where they have invested in Cisco networking, including IP telephony, and have made a similar commitment to Microsoft for server and desktop applications. When it comes to UC what platform do they chose, Cisco Jabber or Skype for Business? Ideally you would leave Microsoft on the desktop but leverage the years of software development and hardware from Cisco IP telephony? Unfortunately trying to do this is not easy either technically or commercially.
When Microsoft released Office Communicator Server (OCS) R2 – the predecessor to Lync (now Skype for Business) -they clearly articulated three ways to implement their product:
• IM & Presence only
• Integrated with a 3rd party voice platform
• Complete voice replacement
Microsoft even created Remote Call Control (RCC) to help enable integration. This worked reasonably well and 3rd party voice platforms vendors and systems integrators worked towards making this as seamless as possible. Unfortunately, Microsoft has discontinued RCC integration in Skype for Business and replaced it with a new feature “Call via work” however this is widely regarded as a backward step.
Even if technically the solutions work seamlessly, the next challenges are commercial:
• To implement Skype for Business using a 3rd party voice platform means voice licencing charges from both vendors, making it very expensive
• Once integrated, it requires support and maintenance from both vendors
• Whilst some systems integrators have the skills and are happy to support these environments, they are more complex and may impact support costs
• Even though previous versions of the platforms have been certified, integration of the current versions of Skype for Business and Cisco CUCM are not officially supported by the vendors
If this is the position with two of the vendor giants in the industry, what about other vendors? Because of Microsoft’s position with the desktop, we are really only talking about integration with other UC vendors and Skype for Business. UC vendors all provide their own desktop applications that include IM & Presence, click to dial, softphone and to a greater or lesser extent collaboration and video. But they are all trying to keep up with the seamless user experience that Skype for Business provides with the rest of the Microsoft portfolio of desktop and server applications.
Skype for Business is a very powerful UC and collaboration tool that does voice. There are also other vendors who provide very powerful voice applications that do UC and collaboration. One downside with Skype for Business is that a number of 3rd party elements such as handsets, video endpoints, gateways and SBCs are required. Other UC vendors may include these in their portfolio, so providing a more tightly integrated experience.
The other UC vendors are not such giants of the ICT world as Microsoft and Cisco. Most of these vendors invest in providing integration with Skype for Business. Vendors such as Avaya, NEC, Mitel and ShoreTel all promote integration with Skype for Business and also develop their own UC applications. They all have feature rich offerings and many of them have decades of R&D invested in managing voice and voice applications i.e. contact centre, IVR etc that are a more appropriate fit for many organisations.
With end users in mind, integration options should probably only be a stopgap measure as you migrate from one platform to the other. It is easy to get stuck in the middle resulting in a mismatch of features between users and not adopting either of the platforms fully to provide the best end user experience.
Even with consolidation of vendors within the industry, there are still many options available. The key is to understand your business requirements now and what they could be in the future. Different platforms suit different organisations.
TeleConsultants has been helping our clients get value from their investment in business applications of telecommunications since 1986. Using this experience, we continually help them through technology change with the skills, knowledge and expertise to provide totally independent advice. If you are looking at how to take advantage of this technology for your business we are keen to hear from you.