OPINION: The missing Lync - part III

In the final article of the series, Microsoft's Paul Dolley looks at what a project with Lync means for users.

Previously we have looked at some of the features that Lync has to offer, as well as some of the deployment considerations when you roll out Lync. In this final article we’ll drill into what this means for your Lync users as well as what business benefits you can expect to realise from Lync.

An often overlooked part of any unified communications deployment is the potential impact of change it can have for the organisation as a whole, as well as the users. This applies both from a cultural, as well as technology perspective.

Many enterprises looking at Lync believe that because they have always provided physical phones to users as their voice communications device that they should continue with this approach moving forward. Now that may be appropriate for some users or role profiles, but what if your organisation wants to implement a flexible working policy allowing staff to work from home, or maybe you have employees who need to travel between sites on a regular basis.

One customer told me that the desk phone was the only reason people physically went to the same location to work every day - purely because their direct dial number was tied to that device. Some users got smart and overcame that by forwarding their desk phones to their mobile phones, but this came at significant cost to the organisation who were picking up the costs of all those forwarded calls.

By simply replacing the phones with headsets, the problem is solved, as Lync’s ‘VPN-less’ access capability means that users phone numbers and phone calls go with them wherever they are. Geographic barriers simply disappear. For the road warriors who are never in the office, providing them with the Lync Smart Phone client achieves the same result, giving voice, video, and collaboration features anywhere where they have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection.

An interesting by-product and business benefit of this, often seen, is that building occupancy rates reduce by around 20-30%, as users who can now work from anywhere do so! That is potentially a lot of real estate footprint and costs that can be eliminated, not to mention the increase in employee satisfaction and associated productivity gains that occur as a result.

Whilst on the topic of reducing costs its worth taking a look at conferencing and how Lync can impact there as well.

Many organisations will have a number of disparate conference systems in use today – Audio conferencing may be a service subscribed to from a Telco, video is normally restricted to the boardroom and only used for internal Video Conferences, and Web conferencing, if used, will be a separate platform again for users to get to grips with.

Therein lay a couple of problems – For users, having to learn the different features, user interfaces, and capabilities of each platform becomes a huge barrier to adoption, to the point where most of the conferencing capability simply isn’t used at all.

The second problem is around managing your conferencing costs. Audio conference providers typically charge on a per-user, per-minute basis for conference calls and costs can mount up really quickly if you are not careful. Video conferencing is also prohibitively expensive to deploy broadly in many organisations, meaning its true business value is simply not exploited to the level it could be if everybody had access to it.

Lync allows you to being all of this capability in-house onto a single platform, and gives users control over the meeting types and how they are run – you can be in the middle of a Lync audio conference and then escalate to video with a single click. Content sharing, White-boarding, polling, Q&A, and a range of other conference features make this a very powerful and compelling business tool.

Of course, any Lync conference can include any combination of internal or external participants. Users can dial-in from a phone for an audio only experience, connect from any Lync client, or even directly from an HTML5 browser and still get a full multimedia conference experience.

I have seen entire business cases to deploy Lync justified purely on conference system cost savings and benefits alone, so even if your organisation is not yet ready to toss away your phone system, it doesn’t stop you from starting on the unified communications journey with conferencing.

By far the quickest and biggest change you will see after deploying Lync into your organisation is the impact that Instant Messaging (IM) and Presence will have.

One of the biggest challenges I face at work, and something I am sure you will be familiar with, is trying staying on top of your inbox! Email overload is a real challenge nowadays, and the volume of email just never seems to decrease. But when you take a look at those emails, how many of them are internal, and out of those, how many that could have been replaced by an alternative form of communication?

This is where IM helps out. Communications behaviour starts to change when they you access to it. Here at Microsoft for example, the first communication modality used between users is nearly always IM. If I need to ask someone a quick question, I simply see if they are available and IM them. No emailing, no phoning and leaving a voicemail because they have gone for coffee, or having to wait for a reply.

Talking of voicemail, I never get a voicemail from internal people (or federated customers/partners) anymore. Human nature takes over, in that people will simply not call you if you are not available, because your presence state tells them in advance of this fact – Why would you call someone who is not there? You simply search for somebody else to answer your query instead, or just tag the person so that you get a notification when they do become available again.

There are many other business benefits to deploying a unified communications platform such as Lync, and hopefully this article will have given you some ideas on what can be achieved. Good Luck with your Unified Communications project!

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.

Read: OPINION: The missing Lync - part II.

Read: OPINION: The missing Lync.

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