Deploying Skype for Business in the real world - Part one

Business is entering a new phase where communications and collaboration tools are collapsing distance, breaking down barriers between teams and speeding up decision making. Although many technology vendors are active in this area, the one that is at the forefront of this change is Microsoft with its highly disruptive Skype for Business (Skype4B) communications suite.

Skype4B now combines the familiar user experience of consumer Skype with the enterprise functionality and security of Microsoft Lync. The expected benefits include cost savings against traditional stand-alone technologies and improved productivity through better internal and external collaboration.

However, for organisations thinking about adopting Skype4B, there are a number of considerations that should be given:

  • The cultural readiness of the organisation to embrace its multi-faceted collaborative features
  • The readiness of local and wide area network connectivity for the inevitable increase in real-time voice and video traffic
  • The suitability of the range of user devices from smart phones to headsets to laptops for the functionality of Skype4B (i.e. voice and video)

In this two-part article, we’ll assess a few of these key decisions to help you consider how and when you may want to implement Skype4B in your organisation. In part one we are focusing on your people, culture and your processes.

People and culture – creating the right blend.

People, it’s generally acknowledged, really are the key to any successful organisation irrespective of its mission. It’s your people who have the ideas, drive, determination, knowledge, skill and commitment to make an organisation what it is and really drive results.

Key to the success of those people is communication and the culture of your business will determine and define that communications landscape.

So, is your corporate culture set up for Skype4B? All sorts of factors play into your business (and thus communications) culture. Are there physical walls and offices denoting hierarchal structures, sharp suits and implied formal communication channels or is everything open plan, relaxed and interwoven? Skype4B exists comfortably in either environment (and delivers tangible efficiency benefits to both) but how it’s physically used may differ.

At a purely practical level, Skype4B enables people to easily communicate with each other via multiple channels, voice, video, instant messaging and email within a familiar interface – and this is a practical benefit to every kind of organisational culture.

When you want to communicate with a colleague, you know in advance which communications channel is the best choice at that time due to the inbuilt Presence indicator. Via a simple, familiar coloured traffic light you know whether the person is free to talk, in a meeting, busy but able to be disturbed, or in do not disturb mode with additional detail – ‘working from home / please call mobile’ etc also available. So far, so familiar to organisations who already include presence via an older version of Skype4B (Microsoft Lync or its forerunners) or an alternative UC platform.

But it’s at the organisational level that Skype4B can really improve your business efficiency. The pure level of integration between Skype4B and the rest of the Microsoft Office application suite helps your users to save time and be more efficient, in a very natural and seamless way. For example, if you’re working on a document on a SharePoint site and have a query, you can see from within the SharePoint application the author’s details, if they are on line and their presence status. Then with a simple right click on their name and you can contact them using voice, Instant Message (IM), email or video as desired. The seamless and natural integration makes it incredibly intuitive and users who might otherwise resist learning how to use UC tools and features find themselves compellingly drawn into the new world.

And this is where we get to culture. If your organisation is, for whatever reason, very hierarchical or highly structured it may be that people are neither encouraged nor comfortable communicating beyond their immediate peers or adjacent process workers. But even in a highly structured environment, offering multiple choices of channel for communication will still greatly improve communication flow and the speed with which matters are addressed. A quick IM message which gets an immediate answer from an online colleague without having to disturb a meeting or engage in a conversation. And any time saved is an efficiency gained.

But for those organisations who freely embrace collaboration, it’s about getting the right answer to a question as quickly as possible. It's about the ability for any person to quickly ascertain if a colleague is free, contact them on an appropriate channel and effortlessly move from say IM to a voice call with Desktop Sharing in a single session as the discussion evolves. This can literally shave days, if not weeks, from the time it can take to get answers to more complex, as well as simple, questions.

The buzz word is collaboration and what it really means is the ability to connect with one or many on multiple channels, irrespective of geography or hierarchy, to quickly and efficiently deal with business issues as they arise.

But, no matter how much the manufacturers focus on user experience design, these are still complex applications with many capabilities. Even the most sophisticated user will only do what they know how to do.

The result for many companies, is that their people use this sophisticated UC tool the same way they used the telephone system – they make and take calls in the office.

For Skype4B to truly deliver the promised benefits - better productivity, more agile workforces and improved collaboration - users have to actually use it. If you want to realise the benefits and embrace collaboration into your business culture, then user training, cheat sheets and internal peer-support user groups to support your deployment are as important as ensuring a successful technical implementation. Then you’ll reap the promised rewards.

Process vs speed.

In a fast paced and collaborative world, process can seemingly be a victim to speed. And this can lead to issues down the line if something goes wrong or if something gets lost or overlooked in a rapid interaction.

But the most effective businesses know that constant interruptions or short circuit work arounds carried on during fleeting conversations (no matter how high-tech the enabling technology) are no match for getting business processes properly developed and followed then continuously reviewed and refined.

Where Skype4B plays its part is enabling the easy management and review of those working processes - allowing people to communicate quickly, collaboratively and effectively in an unstructured fashion when dealing with unexpected issues; but also to use those same collaborative tools such as video conferencing, white boarding and desktop sharing to enable structured debate to occur without, for example, the need for disparate or time constrained staff to travel to formal meeting rooms.

Read Deploying Skype for Business in the real world - Part two