OPINION: The missing Lync

In the first article in a series, Microsoft's Paul Dolley writes on the features and functions that Lync brings to any organisation

If you are looking at the options for your organisation’s telecommunications strategy, then the chances are you’ve already taken a look at Lync, and you are certainly not alone

In fact, according to a recently released report by Infotrack, this year almost 60 per cent of enterprises surveyed are deploying or planning to deploy Lync including enterprise voice, up from 45 per cent last year.

So what does Lync have to offer? How should you approach deployment? And what are the challenges for users? We’ll address each of these questions in the coming weeks, but first up let’s get under the hood and see what Lync has to offer.

A lot of people think that Lync is about IM chat and Presence. Well yes it does offer those features, but that’s only scratching the surface of what Lync can do. In addition there is P2P voice, HD video, desktop and application sharing, and multi-party conferencing that can be any combination of audio, video, and content.

All of this is available not just inside your organisation, but also extends to connect your customers and business partners via its native federation features. Lync Federation also extends into Skype, bringing exciting new opportunities for B2C and C2B communications to any organisation.

Oh, and Lync can also completely replace your PBXes, integrate with your LoB applications, and run on pretty much any device you might have in your organisation today including PCs, Macs, tablets, iPads, and smartphones running Windows Phone, iOS, or Android.

Instant Messaging (IM) and Presence

Identity-based Presence is the cornerstone of Lync and is automatically updated from a variety of sources and applications notifying others if you are on the phone, in a meeting, busy, away, in a conference call, in a ‘Do not Disturb’ state, 'Offline', or, hopefully if you want to contact a person, 'Available'.

Presence from Lync also lights up in other familiar applications such as Outlook, and SharePoint enabling communications such as IM to easily take place.

P2P voice and video

Voice and video in Lync, just like IM, takes advantage of Presence instead of numbers. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I dialled a user’s extension number to call them. With Lync you just type in the person’s name and then just click to call them. If the user is video capable (that is they are using Lync on a video capable device) their Presence status note will also tell that you before you call them, so you have the option of going straight in to a video call.

Desktop and application sharing

Lync is more than just a communication tool – it also allows users to easily share their desktop, bring up a whiteboard, or any application.

When sharing programs, others can see only that program or designated document and nothing else on the desktop, whereas sharing a desktop allows the other participants to see everything including notifications.

Sharing a desktop is best used for switching back and forth between applications for others to see or co-edit, for desktop support and troubleshooting scenarios, or even real-time demos.

Multi-party conferencing

Conferencing does not need to be complex. Lync Meetings bring together traditionally separate components of desktop video, audio conferencing, web conferencing, content sharing, and room-based video conferencing solutions into a single user experience making it easy for users to get to grips with the capability.

Replacing your phone system

The most common question I get asked is “Can I really replace my phone system with Lync?” Yes, absolutely!

In regards to what features are available, all the normal PBX stuff such as call answer, forward, transfer, hold, divert, release, and park, along with support for analogue devices and a broad range of both IP and USB user devices are there.

In addition, there are many other features available such as device switching, call delegation, team calling, response groups (akin to PBX hunt groups), IVR, and auto attendants, as well as integration via Lync’s rich API stack to third-party voice applications such as multimedia contact centre applications, billing, and call recording .

So that’s a quick snapshot of what Lync can do.

Next week's article will take a look at what you need to know about deploying Lync into your organisation.

Paul Dolley is a senior communications specialist at Microsoft NZ focussing on unified communications and business productivity solutions. He is also a regular speaker at key Unified Communications and Contact Centre conferences across the world.

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