By Mark Lawton – Business Development Director
As someone who has been closely involved in the Microsoft unified comms journey over the last 12 years, I was excited to be invited to the Business Voice launch event In London on the 7th of November.
My involvement with Microsoft UC started in 2007 with the launch of Office Communications Server (OCS) when I was working at BT. For BT, being a very traditional telecoms provider, Microsoft moving into the voice market represented both an opportunity and a threat – undoubtably more threat than opportunity! I was lucky to be part of the team that were driving the adoption of OCS internally, which given BT’s relationship with Cisco had to be low-key. We even had to put ourselves on a separate domain (ocs.bt.com) to keep ourselves hidden from the main IT Department.
I vividly remember attending my first Microsoft OCS training course. It was like being thrown into a room full of people speaking a foreign language; for a telecoms guy, it was another world. To be honest, from day one I got it. I got that it was more about collaboration than it was about making and receiving telephone calls, and I think once you've adopted that mindset you really understand the power of UC. Since then I have followed the Microsoft journey all the way through Lync, Skype for Business, and now Microsoft Teams.
In 2012 I joined Microsoft to help drive the adoption of Lync throughout their hosting and telco partner base – with mixed results. As with BT, many organisations saw UC as a threat, but there were some forward-thinking organisations that saw the opportunity and the bigger picture, and some of those Risc are still working with today.
The rebrand from Lync to Skype for Business was chaotic. Even as Microsoft, we only had couple of hours' notice before we had to explain this to our key partners. That was at the end of 2014 – around the same time that it was becoming clear that Microsoft were going to enable conferencing and telephony in Office 365 itself, rather than having to rely on 3rd parties such as BT. In early 2015, as anticipated, Microsoft announced this intention. They were clearly disrupting yet another market – but for those forward-thinking partners, where there is disruption there is opportunity.
Further disruption occurred with the announcement of Teams in mid-2017. I have never seen Microsoft drive a product so hard into both the existing and new customer base. As a hardened Skype user, I found it frustrating to move to the Teams client for messaging and telephony, but I get the big picture. Teams builds on what Skype delivered;
- Instant Messaging
- Video and Audio Calls/Conferencing
- Screen Sharing
- Persistent Chat
- Groups and Channels
- App Integration
- Document Collaboration and Storage
Teams is THE platform where Microsoft see us all working collaboratively in the future, taking out key competitors like Slack, Google and Cisco (WebEx). One of our IT partners with 100+ employees is moving to Teams for all internal communications – leaving email for external comms only. A brave move – or an obvious evolution of how teams of people communicate?
Now we’re up to date, let’s go back to the event last week. Even though all the elements of Business Voice (Phone System, Audio Conferencing, Calling Plans) have been available in Teams from launch, they had only been available as an add-on to enterprise licences, limiting the target customer base. Microsoft Business Voice addresses this gap because it can be enabled for any licence that includes Teams. It’s a new service for small to medium sized businesses that can deliver everything in a single solution and, importantly, at a price point that competes with traditional hosted IP telephony.
OCS, Lync, Skype for Business and now Teams have never been about delivering low-cost calls – they have always been about driving new ways of working and helping people to collaborate effectively from wherever they are located, from whatever device they are using, and however they prefer to communicate.
So, is Microsoft Business Voice an evolution or revolution? Without taking the easy option, I think it's both. It is an evolution of 12 years of product development and is the realisation of Microsoft's vision of disrupting the telecoms market, but from a pricing and market reach point of view, it is definitely a revolution - enabling enterprise class conferencing and calling for every business, regardless of size. For me, having been involved in the complete UC journey, I'm incredibly excited to see the impact of Business Voice – watch this space.