The State of the Skype for Business Ecosystem

Back in May of 2015, we did a post on which Skype for Business version businesses should use.

Since then, Microsoft has launched several major enhancements to Skype for Business, changed its focus from Server to Online, and beefed up its cloud capacity.

While I think the 2015 post is still accurate in terms of its comparisons, the whole ecosystem has changed. The “scope,” as it were, has broadened. Now we have numerous clients, platforms, and capabilities to choose from…as well as multiple competitors trying to reach the same customers.

Accordingly, I think it’s wise to start 2017 off with a snapshot of Skype for Business’ current state. What do we have available, what should admins know about, what’s the competition like, etc.

(Note: I will update this post semi-regularly going forward. If you see something we’re missing here, please email it to me so I can include it!)

The Skype for Business Ecosystem (as of January 2017)

Platforms:

  1. Skype for Business Server
  2. Skype for Business Online
    1. Subscriptions include Cloud PBX, PSTN Calling, and PSTN Conferencing.
  3. Skype Meetings
  4. Skype Teams
  5. Skype Room Systems & Microsoft Surface Hub
Skype Meetings Settings
Wow, lots of Skype for Business tools!

 

Quick Reference: What’s the difference between Skype, Skype Meetings, and Skype for Business?

 

Clients:
Windows Client
Mac Client
iOS App
Android App (Google Play)
Windows Phone App
Skype Meetings (Web Tool)

Skype for Business Competitors

First, a caveat: This will not be a comprehensive list!

Since Skype for Business contains many different tools, competitors stack up for each. Some competitors target one type of tool (video conferencing), while others go for a more comprehensive communications platform (like Skype4B itself).

 

Targeted Tools:Office 365 Services
Google Hangouts
GoToMeeting
Join.Me
WebEx

 

Comprehensive Communications Platform:
Slack
Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager)
HipChat
WhatsApp (Getting more full-featured all the time, it seems…)

 

We’ve done some “competitor comparisons” on the blog, for your reference:

 

Looking at the Skype for Business ecosystem going forward
Image credit: Veronika Balasyuk

Potential for More Major Changes Coming This Year

This is where the Skype for Business ecosystem is, as of January 2017. What changes the year will bring, we cannot fully say. But we’ll blog about them all year long! (So don’t forget to subscribe. Top right.)

We do know some of Microsoft’s goals for the year. Skype for Business Advanced Analytics for one. Skype Room Systems – formerly Project Rigel – for another. (I have seen some of the products; they’re impressive!) And international expansions of Skype for Business capabilities as well.

Adoption level, competitor movements? We’ll see, won’t we?

 

What Skype for Business does your business have for 2017? Please comment or email.

Join us here next week for our first guest post of 2017!

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Skype Operations Framework 101

I received an email on Monday from Microsoft. They’ve added a new requirement for their Communications competency (which PlanetMagpie retains).

One person must pass a SOF assessment for Silver Communications. Two must pass the SOF assessment for Gold Communications.

Which reminded me – we haven’t talked about the Skype Operations Framework (SOF) yet!

So let’s close out 2016 with a breakdown of the Skype Operations Framework. What it is, what it’s not, and what you should expect from it.

What SOF Is: A Mapped-Out Approach for Deploying Skype for Business Online

The Skype Operations Framework is a complete method for planning, deploying, and operating a Skype for Business Online service within an organization.

Skype Operations Framework Visual

There are four primary divisions on the SOF website. First is “Get Started,” with the map for deployment. You have two routes to take, labeled as Customer Journeys:

  1. Get Deployed (you have no Lync or Skype deployment), and
  2. Cloud Migration (you have an existing Lync/Skype on-premise or hybrid deployment).

Next is “Learn It,” a beefy training section called Skype Academy. There’s a list of training sessions for almost every aspect of both customer journeys.
*Also, don’t miss out on the Skype Operations Framework & Skype Academy Blogs linked in the top right corner.

Third is “Give Feedback,” which leads off to the Skype Feedback site’s SOF forum. It’s an open field for people to leave feedback about the SOF itself.

Fourth is “Partners,” a resource to find Skype for Business deployment partners (hmmm, we should be on there…).

Finally, there’s a bonus link in the top right nav bar, “Skype Community.” It goes to one of the MS Technical Community discussion boards, dedicated to Skype for Business. The Skype Operations Framework has one of the 6 available Spaces.

(The Assessment is linked at top right, below Blogs and Downloads. You will need a Microsoft account to access the Academy and Assessment.)

This is an extremely detailed approach for Skype deployment. The SOF diagram serves as a powerful visual for the Skype for Business Online deployment process. It also gives you a reminder that cloud services are “evergreen” – constantly updating, instead of waiting long months/years between software versions.

The branding and content even equivocate “the cloud” with Skype for Business and Office 365. Clever.

What SOF is Not: Short or Simple

While the Skype Operations Framework is thorough, it’s not comprehensive. It doesn’t try to extend beyond its goal–which means a few limitations.

SOF is Not: A replacement for product documentation. We’ve had TechNet for years; this won’t replace it. The Framework is more like taking documentation and applying it in practice.

SOF is Not: The One True Path. Even Bryan Nyce, one of the Ignite 2016 presenters talking about SOF (“Dig into the Skype Operations Framework“) said that SOF is a recommendation, not a command. (He gave a great talk; it’s worth an hour.)

SOF is Not: Concise. The documentation is thorough, and appears to overdose on planning (likely to avoid problems caused by rushing in). In the process, some of the content’s downright ponderous. I kept reading passages and thinking, “I could have said that in half the words.”

What’s Missing? The Server Side

Now here’s the biggest flaw with the SOF – from my perspective, that is.

The Skype Operations Framework does not cover Skype for Business Server deployments!

All this work to promote adoption of Skype for Business Online (even at the expense of on-prem servers—the whole “Cloud Migration” route takes you off of on-prem deployments), and Skype for Business Server is barely mentioned.

I did find a response to a comment posted to the Skype Feedback page.

Skype Operations Framework Feedback

“The SOF framework provides a standardized approach to successfully plan, deliver and operate Skype for Business by incorporating practical guidance, tools, assets and recommended practices.”

“Many of the tools and assets created for SOF, while designed for the cloud, are applicable to on premises deployments.”

“As we deliver new assets and offers we will continue to focus on assisting customers and partners with their journey to the cloud.”

This sounds a little too dismissive for me. Maybe I’m biased (okay, I’ll admit some bias).

But, given this message, the conspicuous absence of Server mentions, and Microsoft’s “the cloud” focus, I must come to one conclusion. The Skype Operations Framework appears to suggest that Skype for Business Server—Microsoft’s own software—is antiquated in their eyes. Skype for Business Online is not only a better choice…it’s the only choice.

What You Should Expect from the Skype Operations Framework

If you want to deploy Skype for Business Online, it IS possible to follow the exact method laid out in the SOF. (That’s kind of why it’s there…) It even includes variants, so depending on where you are with Skype, you can reach successful deployment.

However, since the Server deployment is not included, anyone wanting an on-premise Skype for Business deployment has more of a challenge.

  • The Cloud Migration section does help direct you from an on-premise Skype deployment to O365 or Hybrid version.
  • The Plan phase offers the most value for on-premise Skype4B. It’s critically important to assess your overall IT readiness (including network bandwidth & activity) before any major software deployment.
  • The Deliver phase quickly loses its benefit when you’re working on-premise. Many of the cmdlets are the same, yes…but setting phone policy in Office 365’s Administration Portal isn’t nearly the same as Voice Routing in the Skype for Business Control Panel.

The Verdict: Useful Roadmap and Training Resources – If You’re Following Microsoft to Cloud-Only

I haven’t gotten through all the material in the Skype Operations Framework yet. There’s a ton of it. Which is great for IT pros looking to get on Skype for Business Online.

It really is a wealth of information—training, partners, roadmaps, and resources. Continuously updated too; in fact, they posted updates just yesterday. To you guys who wrote & developed SOF – you did some good work, and we appreciate it.

All that said, I do hope SOF gets an update to include Skype for Business Server. We hammered out our own deployment approach over time, through several problems and lots of testing. Having a roadmap like SOF would have saved us weeks.

What are your thoughts on the Skype Operations Framework (SOF)? Please comment or email me. This is a big topic, and I’m sure plenty of people have questions we can address.

Until next time, faithful readers…Happy Holidays, and have a safe & joyous New Year! We’ll see you back here in January 2017.

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Can You Turn Off Skype for Business New Message Alerts?

The other day, a reader commented with this question. 2016-11-30_14-08-04“Is there an option in Skype4B to have it set up where your chat does NOT blink or pop up on your screen? I would like just an icon on my taskbar, until I acknowledge it.”

You know this one. Whenever you get a new IM, or an incoming call, a little box appears in the bottom right of your screen with a message – “John Smith is calling!” – and an Accept button.

I replied to the comment, saying, “I’m not sure the option you’re looking for is available. Part of Skype for Business’ central approach is to show you notifications when someone wants to chat or call you. That said, you CAN turn Push Notifications on & off for the mobile apps.”

Afterward, I did a little more research. Judging from the results, this reader is definitely not the only person interested!
Disable Pop-up Notifications – SkypeFeedback.com Forums

I pored through help files, forum threads, and even the cmdlets index. We know that you can limit alerts on the Windows client–for example, stopping them when your Presence is set to Do Not Disturb.

What about a universal “turn off alerts” setting though? Does it exist?

Skype for Business – Disable Notifications – Answers.Microsoft.com

After the research (example: the above link) and user comments, I can say this. No, you cannot totally disable the Alert notification popup. But you can control where it appears, and how often.

So we have something, at least! Let’s list out how to control what we can control here.

Control Where the Alert Popup Appears

By default, the Alert Popup appears on the bottom right of your screen. But you can change that.
Enter Settings by clicking the gear in your Skype for Business client, and select Alerts in the left column.
Look in the first box on the right. You’ll see a line saying, “Where should alerts appear?” with two dropdown menus.

2016-11-30_14-32-36

Click the second dropdown (titled “Position”) and you’ll see the options. Lower-Right Corner, Lower-Left Corner, Upper-Right Corner, Upper-Left Corner.
Click the option you want, and then click OK.

Control How Often the Alert Popup Appears

The Alerts window contains more options than just Position. They’re broken up in three categories: “General Alerts,” “When my Status is Do Not Disturb,” and “Contacts not Using Skype for Business.”

  • In “General Alerts,” you can turn off alerts for someone adding you to their Contacts list.
  • In “When my Status is Do Not Disturb,” you can turn off all alerts, show only alerts from people in your Workgroup, or show all alerts (but only conversation alerts from people in your Workgroup).
  • In “Contacts not Using Skype for Business,” you can block all invites and communications, allow invites but block all other communications, or allow anyone to contact you.

2016-11-30_8-20-14

Your system admin may set some of these via Group Policy. Otherwise, you can change them yourself.

If the “Don’t show alerts” option was in the “General Alerts” section, this post would be over. One click and we could shut off alert popups. Sigh.

Control Push Notifications on Mobile

We have a little more Alert Popup control on mobile devices than on desktops. There are two ways to control Push Notifications on mobile: on the phone itself, and on the Skype for Business Server.

On the Phone (iPhone):
Open Settings.
Navigate to the Skype for Business app (it may be labeled just “Business”) in the apps list.
Tap Notifications.

img_1191

To turn off all notifications, tap the toggle next to “Allow Notifications.”
*Note: If you have grayed-out options, then push notifications are not enabled on the server. See the next section.

On Skype for Business Server:
Log into the Skype for Business Server Control Panel.
Click the “Clients” menu.
Click “Push Notification Configuration.” You may have an existing Global policy set. Like this:

2016-11-30_8-54-47

If so, double-click the Global policy. (If not, click “New” to generate a new policy.)
Check (or uncheck) the boxes next to “Enable Microsoft push notifications” and/or “Enable Apple push notifications.”
Click Commit.

Control Notification Sounds

For this, I hearken back to the original 2015 post I did on notifications: Make Lync Stop Bugging You – How to Shrink its Powers of Distraction

Look at Option 1, “Turn off the annoying “Ding!” sound when an IM comes in.” We end up doing this a lot for customers, for some reason…

We Cannot Make the Skype4B Alert Popup Go Away. Yet.

At the end of the day, you’re still going to see someone’s face pop up on your screen, when they want to talk to you. It’s central to Skype’s communications.

That said, nothing says this won’t change in time. We’ve already seen third-party tools for modifying alerts & notifications, like SuperToast. I’m not a developer, but I can easily see one building a tool to control Alert Popups.

I’d bet many of us would gladly pay for such a tool, wouldn’t we?

What do you think about Skype’s Alert Popups? Useful reminder or productivity-attacking pest? Please weigh in, in the comments or via email.

 

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The Skype for Business Mac Client is Here!

It’s finally here! Microsoft has at last released the new Mac client for Skype for Business.
(Okay, it was released on October 26. But I was on vacation.)

As soon as I saw the announcement, I grabbed a copy and one of our test Macs. The same Mac on which I’d tested the Skype Preview earlier in the year (and had several issues). Fortunately, the new Mac client installed & ran smoothly.

Get the Mac Client

Download Skype for Business on Mac here: Skype for Business on Mac – Microsoft Download Center

(Curious note: Microsoft has a page up for Skype for Business apps: Download Skype for Business across all your devices. The Mac client version available here? It’s still Lync for Mac 2011. Somebody didn’t do their update…)

So what do we have for our Mac friends? The new client is, I’d say, a fair and equitable companion to the Windows Skype for Business client. There are some differences, and (as of now) a few limitations. But overall, I think our Mac customers will enjoy this client very much.

What the Mac Client Has

You wouldn’t expect any Skype for Business client not to have all the basics. The Mac client is no different. Presence status, IM, making/receiving phone calls, Meetings (Meet Now and Scheduled Skype Meetings), video calling, screen sharing…all are included. It even has a couple new features: One-click Meeting Join. Full-screen sharing.

All within a nice clean typical-Mac-UI interface.

 

Skype4B Mac Contacts

 

Being a Windows guy, I thought for a moment that they’d stripped out many of the options. Until I realized that those options were available in the Skype for Business navigation menus instead.

 

Skype4B Mac Commands

 

Which actually led me to finding some notable differences between client versions.

Differences from Windows Client

In keeping with the Mac’s “streamlined UI” motif, several items you’d find right away in the Windows client aren’t showing in the Mac client. At least, not at a glance.

For instance, Call Forwarding. You can set Call Forwarding options in 2 places on Windows – in Skype for Business’ Options, and in the Call Forwarding dropdown along the bottom of the Windows client.

The latter option is not available in Skype4B on Mac. You can only set Call Forwarding in the Preferences window, under Calls.

 

Skype4B Mac Preferences-Calls

 

(As you see here, setting your Voicemail Greeting is also under Calls.)

Also, Device selection. Through which device will you make & receive calls? On Windows, Skype for Business lets you choose this in the same 2 places as Call Forwarding. On Mac, Skype for Business only lets you do this in Preferences, under Audio/Video.

By default, Instant Messaging windows open in the main Skype for Business window, under “Chats.” Chats also serves as Conversation History in the Mac client.

 

Skype4B Mac Conversation

 

(If you want separate windows for Instant Messaging conversations, check the “Show conversations in separate windows” box in the Preferences/General window.)

 

Skype4B Mac Preferences-General

 

Limitations & Known Issues

This is a V1 client. I’m sure Microsoft could have held it back longer for more feature additions, but they opted not to. Kind of glad they did; Mac users have dealt with Lync for Mac for too long.

That said, the new Mac client does have limitations. A few features Windows users enjoy are not available…at least not at this stage.

  • No Application Sharing (yet).
  • Persistent Chat is NOT integrated.
  • No Delegate management.
  • No initiating calls to Response Groups.
  • Call Park is not available.

In terms of known issues, Microsoft has already published a list: Known Issues – Skype for Business on Mac

One to note here: you can’t have both Lync for Mac and Skype for Business on Mac clients installed side-by-side. If you use Lync for Mac, uninstall it before installing Skype for Business.

I came across one of the issues almost immediately. If you’re logged into Skype for Business with one account, but logged into Outlook with another, Skype Meeting functionality doesn’t come up in Outlook.

Even when you’re logged in with the same account, you may need to use the “Online Meeting” button to add Skype Meeting URLs/dial-in numbers to a Meeting invite. When I first opened a new Meeting, I had a blank invite. I clicked the Online Meeting button, and you see the result below. Instant Skype Meeting.

 

Skype4B Mac Skype Meeting

 

It’s Finally Here! Go Install Skype for Business on your Mac

Final impressions: I’m glad Microsoft did the Preview. This client was all-new, and it definitely had bugs. Leveraging the Skype4B community is a good way to hunt them down quickly.

The new Mac client is stable; I’ve had it running for over 36 hours now with no errors or crashes. It has a good feature set. It’s ready for day-to-day use. And we’re all happy for that!

For a full feature list, check the now-updated client comparison table: Client Comparison Tables for Skype for Business Server 2015

(Just remember to uninstall Lync for Mac first. And the Skype Preview client, if you tried that out!)

What do you think of Skype for Business on Mac? Please comment below or email in your thoughts.

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Polycom RealPresence Trio Crashing! How to Resolve a Trio Provisioning Issue Causing Device Failures

I’m back! And we have fresh content for you to enjoy.

Earlier this year we noticed a series of errors occurring with the Polycom RealPresence Trio. Customers who used the Trio devices reported multiple failures. Through a series of tests, fixes, and working with Polycom Support, we determined the cause of the problem. And a workable solution.

realpresencetrio-errors
Oh no! Trio Down!


Since then, Polycom has created a fix and updated their Trio software. Which is great! I’ll put a link to the update at the end of this post. I’m still documenting the solution we devised though, in case you need it at some point. (It also helps to illustrate where the error came from.)

Okay. So what happened with the Trios?

THE ERRORS – Failures during calls, random sign-outs, etc.

Customers reported that the Trio Hubs “kept failing” and “needed restarting every day.” We found the following list of errors occurring:

  • Outbound calls wouldn’t work
  • Meet Now function would not activate
  • Pairing between Trio Hub and Visual+ dropped
  • Trio Hub reports “Disk Full” error
  • Communication between Trio devices disrupted
  • Random sign-outs on the Trio Hub Skype for Business account

In all cases, the Trio required a restart to function normally. However, the errors would occur again, anywhere from 1 day to 1 week later.

THE ISSUE – Provisioning?

The Trio device was looking for a provisioning server.

A provisioning server can perform many roles in a network. Activating servers when needed, allocating storage dynamically, etc. (Techopedia Definitions Page for “Provisioning.”)

Provisioning a Polycom device is a rare occurrence. It’s meant only for configuration (e.g., changing the default hotkeys on a VVX phone). Most devices we only provision once–at the outset, before they’re installed at the customer site.

But, in the case of the Polycom RealPresence Trio, something else is happening. The Trio Hub is looking for a provisioning server, off of which it can copy device settings. The problem is, it’s not finding one. And instead of terminating the search process, it repeats the search in an endless loop.

This is NOT what the Trio should do. But it was.

The process goes like this:

  1. Trio sends out a signal to the network, looking for a provisioning server.
  2. No provisioning server responds (because none exists).
  3. Trio logs the lack of response as a failure event (filling up the Trio’s available space).
  4. Trio sends out a new signal. Repeat process over, and over.
  5. The device chokes on its own logs. Memory leaks occur. Device crashes.

This issue hurts all Trio users. But it’s especially problematic for users on Office 365/Skype for Business Online. With nothing installed on-premise, they’re limited by their setup. The bandwidth used up will cause anything from network hiccups to computer crashes.

Polycom does have a VOIP Provisioning Server for some of its IP phones, like the VVX line. It’s publicly accessible; you can view its information here: Welcome to the Polycom VOIP Phone Provisioning Server

But the Trio doesn’t need to call a provisioning server (especially not over and over!). Its firmware is demanding the search without any need for it. We don’t know at which firmware version introduced the search issue, but we do know that Polycom Support is working on it.

THE SOLUTION – Give the Trio something to find

The Trio wants to find a provisioning server. It keeps logging the failure to find one, clogging itself up and crashing. What should we do to solve this?

Use Polycom’s Recovery Mode to install fresh firmware on the Trio Hub (and Visual+)? No. This does refresh the device, but the problem reappeared 1 week later.

How about setting up a provisioning server for it to find?

Sure enough, this approach worked. We set up FTP servers at the customers’ sites, and copied the RealPresence Trio configuration files into them. Simple, and extremely-low-resource.

Monitoring the server logs confirmed that this worked! Now the process goes like this:

  1. Trio sends out a signal, looking for a provisioning server on its network.
  2. FTP server responds.
  3. Trio locates the configuration file on the FTP server.
  4. Trio communicates with the FTP server. It downloads the configuration file, and uploads its own settings files to the FTP.
  5. Process completes. No repeated search, no memory leaks.

Going forward, we’ll set up FTP servers as part of the customer environment every time we install a RealPresence Trio. It stops the “chatter” and prevents the above errors.

Trio Software Now Contains the Fix. (But the FTP Solution Works Now, If Your Trios Are Failing.)

Polycom updated their RealPresence Trio Software (Rev AE) to fix the provisioning issue. You can get it here:
RealPresence Trio Software – Polycom

The Release Notes contain more details on the fixes: http://downloads.polycom.com/voice/rp_trio/rp_trio_relnotes_v5_4_3_ae.pdf

We’ve installed and tested the software update. It does resolve the provisioning server issue.

We’ve opted to leave the provisioning servers in place at customer sites though. Even though we’re deploying the hotfix. That way we can verify the fix works by monitoring FTP traffic, and test removal of the FTP servers with the fix in place.

Have you experienced similar errors with the RealPresence Trio?  If so, you have two choices.  Use the Polycom software fix, or try setting up an FTP server with the Trio’s configuration files.

Either way, please comment or email your experience with the Trio. I’d like to know which solution works best, and what others are doing with the RealPresence Trio.

Thanks to everyone for your votes in the last poll. They’re all counted…as you’ll see, coming up!

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Blog on Vacation (Because I Am!)

Ahh, the great outdoors...wait, who's emailing me?
Ahh, the great outdoors…wait, who’s emailing me?

You may be wondering, “When’s the next Skype for Business Insider post?”

Not to worry, we have plenty of posts in the queue.

As 2016 draws to a close, we plan to talk about:

  • Skype for Business Advanced Analytics
  • Supporting the RealPresence Trio Devices
  • The Skype for Business Mac and/or iOS Clients (depending on which is released first!)

 

Before all that though, I have a little something to do: Go on vacation.

Yes, it’s time for a short trip to see some sights & unwind. I’ll be back the week of November 7, refreshed and ready for more posting.

In the meantime, I’d like to once again poll you, our readers. Normally I do this at the end of the year, but hey, most reader feedback’s always appreciated!

 

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 19-10-2016 09:13:57
end_date 12-11-2016 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which topics do you want to see covered on the Skype for Business Insider Blog as 2016 wraps up?

 

Please share this poll around on your favorite social media, too. Non-readers just need to see what they’re missing!

Before I go, I’ll share a little secret. I’m pushing for a new testing server, with Skype for Business installed, as a full-time Blog Tester. Then I can use it test out all sorts of PowerShell scripts, review hardware accessories, put third-party plugins through their paces, you name it.

What do you think? Please comment or email. I’ll see you all back here early November!

 

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What Skype Teams Must Do to Beat Slack

Today we’re talking about Skype Teams.  What’s that, you might ask?  Read on and find out.

Skype Teams is a messaging app for group conversations, organized into channels.  Like Persistent Chat, but standalone and with more features.  The first mention I saw of it was a ZDNet post last month: Microsoft to beef up Skype’s team collaboration capabilities to take on Slack – ZDNet

Does this make it a Slack competitor? Is Microsoft going head-to-head with its upstart rival?  It appears so!

As I commented in my last Slack-related post, competition is great.  That goes for everyone involved.  Including Slack.

So let’s take a look at what we know about Skype Teams (admittedly not much).  As well as where it’ll need to compete hardest—and win—or risk stumbling into irrelevance right away.

Skype Teams
Image Courtesy of Petri.com.

Skype Teams’ Current State

Skype Teams is currently in development.  Some testing has taken place.  Closest I found for a projected release date was January 2017.

Skype Teams features referenced by other sources include:

  1. Channel-based Chats
  2. Direct Messaging
  3. File Sharing
  4. Notes
  5. Groups/Group Scheduling
  6. Video Calls
  7. Threaded Conversations (join a topic by replying to an existing message, like Facebook comments)
  8. OneDrive Sync
  9. Apps for the Web, Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone

Challenging Slack? What about Licensing?

The above list is extremely similar to Slack’s feature set.  Licensing however, is another matter.

I didn’t see any mentions of a free option so far.  Only that Skype Teams will integrate into Office 365 for existing users.  Which does mean users can drop Slack and use Skype Teams, thereby saving on paying for Slack.

But Microsoft will have to make a powerful case for Skype Teams.  Their competitor already dominates the chat space, and continues to improve.  Microsoft will have to take a bold approach if it wants to beat Slack.

What Skype Teams Has to Do (if it wants to beat Slack)

Here are my humble recommendations to Microsoft.  If they want Skype Teams to enjoy some success and compete against Slack, they should consider the following tactics.

Clamp Down on Privacy.
We mean it Microsoft…NO spying capability in Skype Teams.  Private means Private.  That includes from you!

This is one area where Microsoft could even overtake Slack. Slack does have private channels, but they aren’t as private as you might think.

(Microsoft overtaking a competitor on privacy?  Hey, it could happen!)

Make Integrations Stupidly Easy.
Slack is famous for lots of third-party integrations.  To even have a chance of competing here, Skype Teams must make adding third-party integrations not just easy…but stupidly easy.  I’m talking extensive documentation, well-tested APIs, dedicated reps for working with app developers, etc.

Plus, Skype Teams must work seamlessly with Skype for Business Online AND Skype for Business Server. Unless you plan to build every Skype for Business tool into Skype Teams, the app will need to co-operate with whatever form of Skype for Business the user runs.

Lots of OneDrive File Storage.
Slack’s free plan gives each team member 5GB of storage.  The Plus plan goes up to 20GB.  Microsoft could easily give each Skype Teams member much more storage space – 1TB perhaps? 2TB?

Make it Available to ALL Office 365 Levels.
Right now, other sites are saying that Skype Teams will be part of Office 365 (of course), available to business plan users.  Likely at E3.  That is too high.  Every Office 365 user, business or personal, should have access to Skype Teams.

How many Slack business accounts come from people trying out the app at home?  Plenty, I’m sure.  Personal affinity often encourages business adoption.  No reason Microsoft shouldn’t try to cover this path.

Searchable Archives Forever.
Slack offers unlimited searchable archives with its Standard and Plus plans.  The Free plan lets you search through the previous 10,000 messages – which is still a huge amount!  Skype Teams should store messages indefinitely, and provide search capacity forever.

Then we can find the one message you’re SURE you sent.  Even if Karen in Accounting says you didn’t!

And finally…

Offer a Free Option.
Slack lets people use their software for free.  You pay to gain more features, additional storage space, and support.  Why not something similar for Skype Teams?  Even a limited free option, open to anyone with a Microsoft Account, would go a LONG way toward encouraging adoption.

My Prediction:  Skype Teams Won’t Beat Slack, But May Propel the Chat Space Forward

In any tech space, you don’t want companies getting complacent.  Witness Yahoo’s recent hack, and the huge delay between the hack and their announcement of it.  I don’t know the reasoning behind such a delay, but the complacency will unquestionably harm them in the long run.

I said last time that the Skype for Business platform “needs to continue innovating, keep adding to its feature set…or it could see upstarts like Slack take its place.”  It appears Microsoft will do exactly that.  To which I say, good!  Let the competition continue.

Until we see more details about Skype Teams, I’m not comfortable making any firm prediction.  But given the E3 level and some comments already made, I’d have to say this: Skype Teams will not beat Slack.  But its introduction may kindle more interest in the chat space overall.

Slack has done extremely well in the past few years.  I do hope they’ll continue their momentum.  Maybe Skype Teams will help more people enter the chat space, weigh their app options, and spur both apps to greater heights.

What are your thoughts on Skype Teams?  Please comment or email.  Will you give the app a try?  Another unneeded Microsoft add-on?  Let’s hear it.

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Device Review: Plantronics 5200 UC Headset

Some time back I reviewed the Jabra Motion Office headset. Since then I’ve tried out a few other headsets with our Skype for Business clients. While most had good sound quality, none really competed with the Jabra.

Until now.

Meet the Plantronics 5200 UC Headset bundle.

It includes the Plantronics Voyager 5200 headset, a BT600 Bluetooth adapter, and a charging case.
Voyager 5200 UC Bluetooth Headset System – Plantronics

Plantronics 5200 UC Unboxed

Time for another review!

Initial Impressions

When I first took the headset out of its box, I found it neatly ensconced in a black plastic case. I thought right away of travel. This headset design appears to emphasize mobility; it’s a small foldable headset in a portable case. Everything you need fits in the palm of your hand.

The Headset
As you see in the photos, the headset has a rotating eartip and boom arm. Left- and right-side usage is just a matter of turning the eartip. The boom arm curves outward, putting it away from the cheek. As I have a beard, this works great both for comfort and clarity.

The earpiece is thicker in the back. I thought this would weigh on my ear more, but the opposite was true–it balanced the rest of the headset better.

Voyager 5200 UC Headset

Plantronics claims a 7-hour battery life. Mine seems to hover at 6 hours. Still plenty of talk time.

On/Off and Volume buttons are raised and easy to use. You get the click-click push against your finger (otherwise known as “haptic feedback”) when you press one.

Voyager 5200 Buttons 1
Voyager 5200 Buttons 2

The boom also has 2 buttons: one for Mute and one for Call Controls. The Mute is easy to find – it’s the red button on the boom arm. You saw it in the second and third images, above.

The Call Controls button is harder to find – it’s on the very back edge of the boom arm.  It’s colored black, the same as the boom arm.  (You can see it if you squint at Image #3 above!)  I actually didn’t know it was there until I found it by accident while holding the headset.

Plantronics likes to mention that the boom arm has 4 mics in it.  They wanted the 5200 to sound clear even if you’re walking.  The 4 mics help to eliminate wind feedback (that whistling sound you get when you’re talking in a breeze).  The mics do this job well.

The Case
The case is solid plastic with 2 charging connectors built in.  One connects when you lay the headset within the case.  The other stands the headset upright for quick retrieval (for those “I wasn’t expecting a call quick grab the headset!” moments).  This upright cradle also has a magnetized base, so the headset seats itself.

Plantronics 5200 UC Case

The case also contains its own battery.  Plantronics states that you can charge the headset twice off the case’s battery before it exhausts.

To test this, I unplugged my case and left the headset on all day.  Its battery wasn’t quite dead, but I put it in the case and went home (without plugging the case in).  Came back in the morning, and sure enough, the headset was fully charged.

Talking

To test speaking and listening quality, I used the Voyager 5200 with:

  1. Skype for Business on my work laptop. The Bluetooth adapter took only seconds to install, grab the headset’s details, and change my Skype default device. I made several calls in the office & to customers using it. Now, I’ve used my Jabra headset for months now. While talking with everyone on the Plantronics, nobody said anything about my voice quality. Or appeared to even notice I was on a different headset. I’d consider that a great result for voice quality.
  2. Skype-C (Consumer Skype) at home. I plugged the Bluetooth adapter into my home desktop, since I have Skype installed there. In less than a minute I was talking with a friend over Skype with the headset. My friend commented that my voice “sounded clearer than the last call.” (I had previously used a freestanding Snowball microphone.)
  3. iPhone 6. At first the headset would not pair with the iPhone. I had to turn Bluetooth off/on, and then hold down the Call Controls button. Then I got it to pair. Calls worked fine from then on, with the same sound quality as in Skype.

Plantronics offers an app for desktops, iOS and Android for its headsets. It’s called Plantronics Hub (you’ll find it in the App Store). It’s not required to use the Voyager 5200, but it’s a nice add-on.

Issues

As with all things, sometimes I run across a couple issues. While the Voyager 5200 is undoubtedly a great headset, here are the issues I came up with from it.

  • The Call Controls button is not as easy to use as Jabra’s Motion Office headset. It’s close, but the location and color make it less visible (as noted above).
  • The included USB cable is very short (less than 5 feet long, I believe). This limits where you can put its cradle. It’s standard mini-USB though; no problem replacing it. I used a 6-foot generic cable and it worked fine.
  • The eartips are not the most comfortable. I tried all three, and the middle one works best in my ear. However, even that doesn’t seat too well in my ear. Feels like there’s still a space between the eartip and my ear. If I don’t get it exactly right, people sound like they’re talking at me through a breeze.

Voyager 5200 Eartips

The Verdict: My New On-the-Go Headset

Thanks to its sturdy case, I can put the Plantronics 5200 UC in my laptop bag and not worry about it. It comes with me to customer sites, and sets up in seconds for Skype calls. Sound quality is excellent.

I can even leave it on for long periods and not have a sore ear afterward!

When I’m in the office I’ll continue to use my Jabra, since it has its nice cradle with a tiny screen. But when I’m on the go, I’ve got my Plantronics 5200 UC.

What headset do you use with Skype for Business? Please comment or email your responses. If you have your own experience with the Plantronics Voyager 5200 UC bundle, we’d love to hear those too.

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Software Review: Attendant Pro (Part 2) – Quick Access Shortcuts

We’re back with the Attendant Pro app, developed by Landis Computer. Last time I said I wanted to devote a post to Attendant Pro’s shortcuts…which is exactly what I’m doing here.

Attendant Pro has two types of shortcuts: Shortcut Keys and Quick Access Shortcuts.

I mentioned both of them in my last post. Both are very useful, both within the app and whenever you’re on your computer.

One MIGHT be a little more useful than the other though. Let’s go into more detail and see why.

Shortcut Keys

Shortcut Keys are hotkey combinations. Many are set in Attendant Pro already, but you can change them. They’re available for most of the standard Attendant Pro tools – Answer (F6), Hold (F7), Transfer (F9), Start/Stop Recording (custom), etc.

All of the Shortcut Keys, whether pre-set or custom, have a Global option. Checking the “Global” box turns the shortcut key into a Global Hotkey. Now it will activate no matter what program you’re using at the time.

Say a call comes in while you’re typing in Word. You immediately recognize the call and want to forward it. Do you switch over to the Attendant Pro window and start clicking? No, you just type in your shortcut key for forwarding, like “F8” or “Ctrl+I”.

Attendant Pro recognizes the shortcut (even in the background) and performs the preassigned task of call forwarding. You keep on working.

Quick Access Shortcuts

When I first saw these in Paul’s demo recording, my eyebrows went up. Multi-option custom controls for Skype? Build one in a matter of minutes, with no programming or PowerShell? Talk about a value-add!

Experimenting with a trial version validated my excitement. Quick Access Shortcuts let your front desk build their own Skype “command center.” Unique to their organization, their building, or even one office.

Landis has provided a video for Quick Access Shortcuts 101:
One Click Quick Access Shortcuts to Common UC Tasks

Examples of Quick Access Shortcuts

One shortcut is “Night Mode.” Think of it like a new Presence mode – when you’re done for the day, you click the shortcut in Attendant Pro, and all calls are sent to wherever you designate. Voicemail, a special after-hours number, a Response Group, whatever.

You can even assign it a global hotkey – no matter which program window is open, you can enter the keystroke and Attendant Pro switches to Night Mode.

Set it up in the Options menu like this:

  1. Open Options (the gear icon).
  2. Click the Shortcut Setup tab.
  3. From the dropdown menu, click “Blank – Change Call Forwarding.”
  4. In the Name field, enter “Night Mode” (or whatever title you want). I called it “After-Hours Forward.”
  5. Enter a Description if you want (not required).
  6. Click the Hotkey field. Hit a series of keys to define the Hotkey. I used Ctrl+Alt+N.
  7. Check the Global box so you always have this available.
  8. In the “Forwarding Type” field, select the type of forwarding you want. Voicemail, in this case.
  9. Click OK. Done!

After-Hours Forward

Landis has a step-by-step tutorial up on YouTube: Attendant Pro Skype for Business (Lync) Training: Night Mode / Receptionist Night Mode – LandisComputer

How to Create a Quick Access Shortcut

So it looks like there isn’t too much to making a Quick Access Shortcut, right? And that’s the beauty–there isn’t. All you need is a goal and a few minutes. Here, let’s do another example.

Let’s say I wanted to see all the missed calls for the day, at a glance. But those are listed in Outlook, not Attendant Pro. How would I set up the shortcut?

  1. In the Quick Access Shortcuts dropdown list, I’d pick “Template – Show Missed Calls.”
  2. Selecting this option reveals the following screen:
    Missed Call Options
  3. A default value shows up in the Name & Description fields; you can edit it, or leave as-is.
  4. No Icon is selected by default; you’ll have to pick one. But you have plenty of choices.
    Attendant Pro Icons
    (This is only a part of the list. It’s extensive.)
  5. I’ll choose a simple yellow bar icon.
  6. Next, the Hotkey field. You can opt to enter a hotkey for activating this Shortcut or not. Either way, you can activate it from the “Me Area” in Attendant Pro with a click.
  7. I’ll enter a three-key combination: Shift+Ctrl+F. Hmmm, do I want that to work as a Global hotkey? No, leaving it in Attendant Pro only is fine. No checking the “Global” box.
  8. The Action fields you can leave as-is. They contain the commands needed to locate Outlook and call up the Missed Calls.
  9. There we have it. A configured Quick Access Shortcut for viewing missed calls.
    Missed Call Check Finished
  10. I click OK and I’m done.
    Attendant Pro Quick Access
  11. I click the Shortcut and I’m zapped over to Outlook, into the Missed Calls view. (Lucky for me, I have none!)

That took 3 minutes. Maybe.

Even More Value for the Front Desk

There’s no limit to the number of Quick Access Shortcuts you can set. Create multiple shortcuts for the same command, and point it to different targets (for example, create a Group Voicemail shortcut for each internal team). The possibilities may not be endless, but they’re pretty close!

I asked for your Front Desk experiences last time. Almost all of the responses I’ve had this week were, “We didn’t even know the Lync Attendant existed!” Well, you don’t have to know. Get Attendant Pro and whoever manages your calls is set.

Attendant Pro Website – Landis Computer

What are your thoughts on Attendant Pro? Please comment or email.

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Software Review: Attendant Pro (Part 1)

In the days of Lync Server 2010, we had a little app called Auto Attendant.  Made by Microsoft, it gave receptionists & office managers enhanced abilities to manage Lync calls.

You could still use Auto Attendant with Lync 2013.  But once Skype for Business Server came along, Auto Attendant faded away.  No longer needed, I heard some industry chatter say.

But I also heard many complaints about the missing Attendant Console. Businesses who’d used Lync liked it, and wanted to keep using it.  Would the old Lync Attendant Console still work with Skype4B?  If not, what would?

It didn’t take us long to find an alternative.  In fact, it was closer than we realized.

Attendant Pro from Landis Computer

You may recognize the name from Matt Landis, author of the stellar we’ve cited many times.  Matt’s company, Landis Computer, has created a new Attendant Console for Skype for Business.  They call it Attendant Pro.

Attendant Pro – Landis Computer

We have a Skype for Business customer which has a high-traffic front desk.  Four locations, one acting as a central hub, lots of people back and forth…it adds up to a bunch of calls every day.  Skype for Business can handle it, but the front desk team had problems managing calls almost immediately.

It’s the sort of situation for which Attendant Pro was created.

We reached out to Matt’s team for some advice on implementing Attendant Pro. They did more than just give us advice.  Paul from Landis kindly gave us a bunch of his time, going through Attendant Pro’s feature set and capabilities with our IT Consultants.

Once he was done, we had no problem recommending Attendant Pro to our customer.  Or becoming a Landis Partner!

I’m happy to share the story here, so you’ll have an idea of what Attendant Pro can do.  Bottom line: This client blows the old Lync Auto Attendant away in EVERY respect.  Landis went above & beyond Microsoft itself!

Attendant Pro’s Purpose: Do Call Management Simple, Do it Right

The basics of call management are pretty universal. With the calls coming in, the business needs:

  • A way for high-volume users (receptionist) to do their job more efficiently.
  • A method to route lots of calls, transfer/forward calls throughout the organization
  • A management system that makes handling the front desk easier

When using Skype for Business, your call management needs to stay consistent with the Skype4B system.

What Landis did was build a single-window app to organize calls, contacts, transfers, and shortcuts.  And here’s a bonus: it’s a 1-minute install.  No servers required, no configuration necessary.  Attendant Pro hooks into your existing Skype for Business client.  Any changes made in either your client or Attendant Pro?  The other reflects them automatically.

Here’s the Attendant Pro interface.

attendantpro_maininterface

  1. The “Me Area.”  You control your Presence status from here.
  2. Incoming Calls pane.
  3. Current Call pane.
  4. Handled Calls pane.
  5. Quick Access Shortcuts pane.
  6. Contact Groups list. The Contact Details pane also appears here, which displays a contact’s details.
  7. Caller Information pane.
  8. Contact Search & Dial Pad pane.
  9. Hotkey/Quick Commands bar (along the bottom).  Has quick-reference keys for several commands (ex. Hit F9 to do a Blind Transfer), and clickable options like “Start Recording.”

YouTube Walkthrough of Attendant Pro Main Screen

Looks pretty straightforward, right?  That’s the point.  Everything’s right here in terms of activity.  The app’s configuration sits right behind these panes, making management tasks easy.  Let’s see just how easy with the feature set.

Features of Attendant Pro

Fair warning—this is a long list! (And I’ll bet I’m missing a few, as well!)

  • One Click Design: Perform many of the management tasks (forward calls, send to voicemail, start IM) with only one click.
  • Choose between a Skype-like interface or a Lync-like interface. It’s a checkbox under Options.
  • Multiple organization methods for contacts within Attendant Pro’s UI (groups, lists, etc.).  Attendant Pro will pull in contact groups from your own Skype client. If you make changes to contact groups within Attendant Pro, it will communicate that contact change back to your client as well.
  • Powerful Right-Click: Right-click any contact in the Contact Groups pane, and you have plenty of Skype-related options to use.
    2016-09-09_8-16-59
  • Surface-Friendly: You can use Attendant Pro on a Surface tablet as easily as a laptop. Manage calls while walking around!
  • 1 Click Call Transfer. You set the default transfer type (Blind, Consult, Safe) in Options. But, you can switch transfer modes right in the call as needed.
  • Add notes to a call before transferring, to inform users at a glance (like a Presence status for the call).
  • Send an Email Call Back Reminder: This feature creates a pre-filled email with the date/time of the original call, and a clickable number link. You can pass a note along to the intended recipient before you’ve even finished the original call!
    callback_email
  • Global Hotkeys. In Options, there’s a list of Shortcut Keys (not to be confused with Quick Access Shortcuts) you can set. A shortcut key to answer a call, put it on hold, transfer…and if you check the “Global” box, it becomes a global hotkey. Then it doesn’t matter which app you’re looking at–type in the shortcut keys and Attendant Pro does what you want.
    shortcutkeys
  • Hold on Transfer – an option that automatically places a call on hold the moment the receptionist clicks Transfer. That way they can look up the contact they need for the transfer, and the caller’s not talking in their ear the whole time.
  • Day/Night Mode using Shortcuts (see the next bullet). Once “modes” like this are set up, you click once and you’re ready to go home.
  • Quick Access Shortcuts: Create shortcuts for frequent actions. Send an IM. Generate a pre-filled email. Change Presence status. Transfer calls. Forward all calls to voicemail. And many more. There’s a HUGE amount of timesaving capability here.

In fact, the Quick Access Shortcuts feature is so powerful, I want to dedicate a post just to its functions. Look for that next time.

Using Skype for Business? Have a Front Desk? You Need Attendant Pro.

Still using the old Lync Attendant–or worse, no call management system? Make the switch to Attendant Pro right now. You’ll be blown away by the improvements. There’s a 30-day free trial available: Download Trial of Attendant Pro. You do need Skype for Business or Lync Server installed.

If you’d rather get straight to using Attendant Pro, or you need help installing Skype for Business first, call us! (PlanetMagpie is a Landis Partner.)

What’s your Front Desk Call Management like? Please comment or email your experiences. And join us next time for more on Attendant Pro!

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