Questions and Answers

lync

Comms Business Magazine examines some key questions the channel has about Microsoft Lync and gets some answers from the people in the know.

Let’s not beat around the bush, just how many case studies have we seen for Lync? How many address the market that the majority of resellers operate in – the SMB sector? Is Lync just an internal means of collaboration or can it really reach out to the outside world with voice-based communications? And, once you understand all this, how can you become a reseller? Let’s take a look at what the experts are saying.

1. In a nutshell, what is Lync and where does it fit in the communications mix?

Graham Fry

Graham Fry

Graham Fry, Managing Director, avsnet, says Microsoft Lync is a gateway to collaboration and more effective communication, a real-time presence system and a creator of business efficiency.

“Most importantly it is the underlying web that brings together a business’ UC components so staff can transform the way they work and interact with colleagues, prospects and partners.”

Guy Koster, Director Lync Business Practice EMEA at Westcon Convergence defines Lync as a true unified collaboration solution application offering presence, IM, voice, video and collaboration tools (application, screen sharing and whiteboard) on one common platform that can be shared on any device from mobile to tablet to desk-top.

“A compelling advantage of Lync for the reseller is that it is vendor agnostic and integrates with any existing PBX infrastructure making it cost effective for the end user, by enabling them to leverage their existing assets on an evolutionary (integration) versus revolutionary (fork-lift upgrade / rip and replace) basis.”

According to Rosie Jackson, Head of Product Marketing at Outsourcery, Lync is an all-encompassing communications facility, which allows users to connect via message chat, voice, video, or by sharing an application or PowerPoint for webinars of training purposes.

Jackson says, “This can be achieved from just one client and an Internet connection, so users have mobile and Web access through leading browsers, devices and platforms. In an increasingly mobile world, organisations are constantly searching for communications tolls to aide mobility in the workplace and Microsoft Lync provides this flexibility by enabling users to share and access work anywhere, anytime.”

Lisa Dolphin, Propositions Marketing at Mitel has some buts about Lync when she says, “Lync is a powerful unified communications platform, but the biggest benefits to the enterprise are achieved when using this alongside a solution that can integrate voice into unified communications. Using communications solutions such as MiVoice from Mitel alongside Lync, enables enterprises to unite voice communications with IM, audio, video and web conferencing, ensuring best-in-class voice within a Microsoft environment.

Only by combining powerful telephony solutions with Lync, can the channel better enable organisations to create a seamless communication and collaboration experience.”

Justin Blaine

Justin Blaine

Justin Blaine, Sales Director at Swift Managed Services describes Lync as a fully-fledged Unified Communications tool that integrates with Exchange and your Active Directory.

“Lync has the majority of features of any PBX and can connect to SIP Trunks without the need for any gateways, contrary to what most people say. This solution depending on the MS licences purchased enables Voice, Video, Instant Messaging, Collaboration (sharing and altering documents in the same session) as well as an enhanced Presence capability regardless of whether you are in the office, or any office worldwide, working remotely via desktop or laptop or on a smartphone or tablet device.

Microsoft also take things one step further in support a feature on the Lync platform called federation, this enables Lync users to communicate with users outside of their organisation, this could be ideal for users that need to share experiences and knowledge, something that could be useful when deployed within the NHS or local government departments.”

2. Is Lync just an internal means of collaboration or can it really reach out to the outside world with voice-based communications?

If voice has been implemented effectively and adopted by staff, definitely, says Graham Fry, Managing Director, avsnet.

“This particular Lync benefit can be slower to reveal itself compared to general presence and IM, but voice is ultimately about bringing people together, whether internally or externally.

Lync makes it easier for external communication to occur and its prevalence in business will only increase as Lync sees greater levels of uptake.”

According to Richard Carter, Group Sales & Business Development Director at Nimans, I the enterprise space Lync is already being used as a PBX alternative where limited voice  functionality is required.

“For simple telephony Lync will definitely connect to the outside world and a gateway is the best route, but more complex telephony is better via a third party system. When you move away from council’s and universities and start moving into other areas you are more likely to use it in the way we are going to use it internally, whereby our new Unify system will integrate fully – so you will be able to call from Lync but that will connect via a system rather than an onsite gateway. Hosted is another way of embracing Lync opportunities. Lync is here, now and happening although there’s still a long way to go before the balance of power begins to shift in favour of Lync.

Toshiba’s Daniel Fuller-Smith, Sales Manager UK and EMEA, Unified Communications & Solutions Division says that traditionally Microsoft Lync has been sold as a single platform solution for businesses.

“This has led to some companies upgrading to the platform at the cost of their existing systems, rolling out expensive new software and licensing in an attempt to maximise the benefits of this Unified Communications solution. This can have the reverse effect as staff struggle to cope with the change of technology, and companies misjudge the investment in training required to support the deployments.

The rise of federation, which can integrate a multitude of platforms, will allow customers not only to mix and match platforms within their business, but also connect with suppliers and customers. From a customer perspective this will open up communication in the B2B and B2C arena, so businesses need to ensure that they have invested in order to capitalise on the opportunity.

Let’s take an estate agent as an example. Many often invest in UC so that agents can update their teams on progress via IM without the need for a phone conversation. Status updates available through IM can give them the edge over competitors.

Federation service providers are already starting to appear that can integrate Lync with XMPP based systems as well as with social applications like Facebook and Twitter. Key to federation will be the expansion of existing presence notifications to allow for access control and interruption management. With these upgrades, federation can be the game-changer that will allow Lync to interoperate with the many other Unified Communications products in the market.”

3. Is this just an enterprise solution or can Lync realistically be sold to SME users?

Guy Koster at Westcon is confident Lync can address the SME market.

“Lync is a fully scalable solution addressing all customer segments ranging across SMB to Enterprise, single site to multi-site, to global deployment – offering full flexibility.

Lync 2013 adds resiliency and mobility making it a perfect solution for the SMB. Lync can also be deployed in a hosted environment using Office365 although an on-premise gateway is required in order to deploy full Lync voice capabilities including point-to-multipoint and connection to the PSTN

This is a significant market development for resellers providing hosted services to address the SMB market because it creates a compelling proposition for end users who are looking to reduce costs and complexity that are often associated with buying and deploying enterprise-class UC solutions.

Selling cloud-based solutions also creates an opportunity for resellers to create annuity sales income in addition to creating more ‘entangled’ and ‘persistent’ customer relationships.”

Justin Blaine at Swift Managed Services wants to put things in perspective when he says, “Many people believe Lync to be only an Enterprise product however, a standard £5,000.00 sever could serve as many as 7000 users, you then add the appropriate Client Access Licences (CAL’s) to deliver the feature set required, thus meaning it can be cost justified even at SME level. Likewise we are also starting to see the hosted model being provided by some vendors therefore being sold just like hosted telephony e.g. Pounds per seat per month.

Lync has seen a very fast roll-out within local councils, hospitals and the education sector, typically because these are the organisations that qualify for aggressive Microsoft licensing plans; however we are seeing that paradigm shift to the Enterprise space as well as the SME sector. Swift have many customers that use Lync and its predecessors versions, we use it internally within our own business and have many projects planned in 2014 after our current one is finished which is a hybrid solution which is both on and off premise that has 2000 seats that is being delivered for one of our reseller partners.”

Jeremy Payne, Group VP Marketing and & Alliances at Enghouse Interactive, says Lync is definitely suitable for all types of users.

“When you think about the alignment of Skype with Lync, you can see a world where the connectivity is much better. Customers, employees and outsourced partners/suppliers can all be connected in one environment, irrespective of where they are geographically and, to a large extent, what device they are on.

Most SMBs and enterprises use the MS Office suite as their desktop client, so Lync is an easy and natural progression.”

Richard Carter at Nimans asks, “Is an out of the box Lync solution really capable of being managed by an SMB IT Manager? Possibly as I think things are becoming simpler in terms of adoption.

In the past it was definitely an enterprise level solution but now all SMB resellers are really looking at this area of the market. There’s much more understanding of Lync now and industry debate at the smaller end of the market. It can be viewed as an on-site service but another option is to sell it as Software as a Service where it can be introduced on a trial basis, enabled instantly and up-scaled and downscaled in line with a customer’s needs. This can overcome any on-site engineering or technology barriers. Resellers don’t have to worry about anything such as firewall issues. Fast deployment is ideally suited to the SME arena.”

John Donaldson

John Donaldson

Definitely not says John Donaldson of iHub, “Microsoft Lync deployment for onsite deployment for SME customers just does not cost in. The professional services costs are too high. Office 365 supplies some parts of Lync as a hosted service, but this does not include fully featured Enterprise Voice, so this is not a true PBX replacement.”

Not so says Lisa Dolphin at Mitel! “The flexibility of Microsoft Lync means it can be adopted at both the enterprise and SME level, delivering benefits to both. Any views that SME users are not suitable for Lync are inaccurate. There is a real opportunity for channel partners in the SME market with deployments in many small public sector departments. Regardless of their size, MiVoice for Lync remains a compelling proposition for all organisations looking to get the very best from their UC investment.”

Meanwhile, Roger Jones, at Sonus Networks thinks we should consider the different Lync deployment models first, “Many Enterprises would wish to have on premise Lync but there are now a number of providers who will provide hosted or cloud Lync Enterprise voice solutions. These cloud Lync solutions are ideal for the SMB market.”

Rosie Jackson at Outsourcery appears to agree, “Lync is a scalable solution and as a cloud based solution is accessible to organisations of all sizes. SMEs therefore have the same option of a shared platform for a cost effective Unified Communications Solution.

Cloud based tools have rapidly evolved over the years, to the point where traditional on-premises telephony and collaboration features such as video and audio conferencing, call routing and delegation are now expected to be essential components of a cloud solution. With this comes the requirement for platform certification to ensure security, reliability and resilience.”

4. Are there any ‘Lync Busters’ out there?

Roger Jones, sales CTO EMEA at Sonus Networks, “From a traditional perspective Cisco Jabber is a clear competitor. The majority of other players are typically hosted or cloud providers such as Broadsoft. Internet companies such as Google, Apple and WhatsApp all provide consumer based platforms that could be used in an SMB environment.”

Another who cites the Cisco product is Jeremy Payne at Enghouse Interactive, “There are always competitors. Cisco’s unified communications offering, Jabber, is very well positioned and rated highly by industry analysts – and there are many different providers of instant messaging – presence and voice/video conferencing. Perhaps though, like many things in life it is about what is easiest – and arguably, given the amount of MS users out there, Lync has an advantage both in terms of market penetration, integration with Outlook etc, and ease-of-use of all the key tools needed for unified communications.

5. What’s involved in becoming a Lync ‘authorised/accredited’ supplier?

Jeremy Payne at Enghouse Interactive, “There are 2 elements to this – Firstly it makes sense for partners who are really interested in Lync to go through the Microsoft certification programme. Secondly to become an Enghouse accredited partner we require certification on our sales, service and support training. This is cornerstone of the way we do business. It is important that the right solutions are advocated and those solutions are implemented and supported in the right way. When a partner has demonstrated several successful implementations of Enghouse Lync based technologies – including contact centre solutions – operator/attendant consoles amongst others they can apply to be verified as a Lync solution specialist.”

Westcon seems to have given this a lot of thought and has a plan for resellers as Guy Koster explains.

“Westcon is collaborating closely with Microsoft and Microsoft specialist agencies in the UK providing an on-boarding framework to simplify and accelerate the process. This consists of the following steps which lead to the achievement of the Lync competency:

Step 1: Love Lync – The ‘Love Lync’ recruitment workshops take place on an on-going basis at Microsoft’s offices and are open to anyone who is interested. Here resellers will learn what Lync can do for them and how Westcon will support them on their journey.

Step 2: On-boarding programme –After the executive buy in from the partners Westcon and a Microsoft specialist agency will run a series of Lync business acceleration where resellers will learn about what they have to do to become authorised and accredited

Step 3:  Westcon and a Microsoft specialist agency will then offer business coaching and training company to educate the partner’s sales team on the advantages of Lync offering in-depth sales training, presales, resource and marketing access to Westcon’s portfolio.”

Rosie Jackson, Head of Product Marketing at Outsourcery, points to the need to work with an experienced partner, “In our own experience, we have gone through the hard work of building the platform, understanding the software, changing our sales model and developing a unique market proposition in order to be a reputable Lync supplier.

Looking out for organisations that have gained the expertise that originates from the days of Microsoft LCS, through to OCS and then into Lync shows that they will have a good understanding of how the product has developed over the years. Telecommunications and IT skill sets are very different, and in order to be a reputable and credible supplier, you need to be able to understand both. Being Ofcom regulated also provides a stamp of approval and the assurance that the standard of delivery will be superior by being a Telco in your own right.”

Ed Says…

At the outset I asked, ‘Where are the case studies?’ No, not the in-house deployments, not deployments for headset certification testing, and definitely not local government where huge discounts are given, but what about a case study about regular, commercial firm with up to 250 employees? I promise we will print that as soon as we see it. However and meanwhile, ignore Lync at your peril. At the very least understand it so you can sell again