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The Fighting Temeraire, Microsoft and James Bond

The famous oil painting The Fighting Temeraire by J M W Turner depicts one of the last ships of the line to have distinguished itself at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, being towed towards its final berth in Rotherhithe to be broken up for scrap in 1838. The ship is being towed by a steam powered tug, the new and innovative technology which represented the future direction of the Royal Navy. As a scene this has some interesting parallels in the communications landscape today.

Many distinguished historians have provided interpretations of all the nuances of the scene and the painting featured strongly in the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall where it was used to depict the old world versus the new. Now of course, James Bond always proves he’s needed irrespective of the technology (or politics) he has to contend with but this got me thinking about the parallels in our world of technology.

In a matter of only a few weeks Microsoft will directly offer to provide the final part of their current communications jigsaw – their provision of PSTN calling from within Skype for Business (itself part of their overarching Office 365 cloud service). At this point Skype for Business (and Unified Communications in general) really does become part of general office compute. That’s general office compute from the company that already provides the daily tools that enable email, word processing, slideshows, spreadsheets, databases, CRM and not to mention operating systems for the great majority of the business world.

In the way that the unarmed tug towing the Temeraire would still be no match for that old lady’s 98 cannon, its steam engines would ultimately give rise to the Dreadnought battleships that supplanted the ship of the line. Is Microsoft, having developed its communications applications from Live Communications Server in 2003, now about to become that all conquering Dreadnought class in 2016?

Inevitable.

Fighting or ignoring technological evolution will not prevent it. I am amazed how many times I hear senior IT leaders arguing that Skype for Business won’t satisfy the voice communications needs of demanding business users or that Microsoft don’t have a reputation in communications and that their platforms are not going to be reliable enough.

These same people no doubt argued (not unreasonably) that IPT with its reliance on a converged LAN full of active devices (switches and routers), rather than TDM systems with dedicated wiring to desk phones would never satisfy the demands of business users. And that those converged networks have also ushered in exponential growth of communications mediums and services (think integrated instant messaging, presence and video, as well as voice) is quietly ignored.

So are we now facing the situation where the discreet suppliers of IPT, UC and indeed the macro network providers are being outmanoeuvred by federation and are facing their own Temeraire moment? Yes and no - because Skype for Business still needs a skilled crew!

Microsoft Skype for Business is certainly fit for business - but it’s a software platform not a complete solution. Organisations deploying it should remind themselves that its success depends on several important factors:

  • The cultural readiness of an organisation to embrace its multi-faceted collaborative features
  • The criticality of fit for purpose local and wide area network connectivity
  • The selection of appropriate user devices from smart phones to headsets and best of need video end points

And ultimately its success can depend on having a services provider whose expertise enables it to help with as well as supply and manage the end-to-end performance of all these components.