There’s a new paradigm for intelligent communications with Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
Effective communication is the foundation for nearly everything that happens in a business environment. The problem for many in today’s workforce, however, is that while there are many effective communication tools in the market, most are separate products optimized for a singular function like chat, video conferencing, file sharing, or other tasks. Most lack integration of these different capabilities which means most users still have to move in and out of applications and self-manage how they access, share, and store relevant information.
Microsoft, however, is capitalizing on the evolution and convergence of both data usability and user experience and delivering market-leading intelligent communications solutions. Skype for Business is a well-known conferencing and chat product that is widely adopted by organizations of all different sizes. Microsoft Teams is a new hub for chat, meetings and phone-based needs as well as further enabling team collaboration through app integration. Both solutions are part of Microsoft Office 365, and while used for different organizational needs, they are integral to the concept of intelligent communications and a major step towards a new, better way of working. Intelligent communications leverages tools above and beyond instant message, phone calls, and meetings. It provides a single experience for calling, meeting and team collaboration in a single space.
To understand Skype for Business (SfB) and Microsoft Teams, we chatted recently with two of SADA Systems’ key strategists and contributors on the topic of intelligent communications: Kevin Curtin, Senior Solutions Architect, and Simon Rilkoff, Senior Change Consultant.
In this roundtable, Kevin and Simon frame how to think about these different solutions, why they are critical for productivity, and how organizations can ready themselves to get the most out of them.
Q. Let’s start with some perspective on how Microsoft thinks about and delivers intelligent communications solutions.
KC: The first thing that’s important to recognize is that both SfB and Teams are, at their core, part of a holistic story about productivity. Microsoft has a long, successful legacy of identifying how people work best and delivering solutions that support and enable them. Teams is moving into a completely new category as an always-on foundation for teamwork.
SR: And SfB was a great introduction to a new way of communicating for organizations. But as users had more access to more data, and as decision-making expectations were pushed down to lower levels in the organization, Teams has come about to solve some of the intelligence and integration aspects that SfB doesn’t have.
Q. There has been some confusion around Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams. Can you speak to their different strengths and how they’re used in organizations?
KC: Many enterprises looked to SfB as a way to solve complex implementation and management issues around PBX and phone systems. It was a services-based solution, yet it also had advantages of delivering messaging and video conferencing capabilities on top of it, and that was hugely attractive. Teams is deeply embedded in Office 365 and provides a more robust teamwork type of workspace. It’s an extension of what SfB initially brought to the table, but is in a bit of a different class of products in that it extends collaboration and productivity into every part of an employee’s working environment.
Q: It sounds like Microsoft is very attuned to user productivity needs. What, then, is the actual experience for Skype for Business and Teams users?
SR: From the end-user perspective, there’s an increasing need to map the work expected of you with the tools you use to do it. In other words, you need information to be effective in your work, and information that can be delivered through one tool is better than being delivered through multiple tools you have to move in and out of. Teams allows you to connect, share, and meet in real-time. That’s a huge advantage over just getting on a phone call with a colleague.
Teams is an even broader extension of that because it’s the place you do pretty much all your work. It offers a single pane of glass over a user’s entire working environment so they can leave it on all the time and operate most of their communication, sharing, collaboration, and storage needs all with the contextual data required to be effective. Most Teams users operate with it on all the time as their main tool for anything related to connecting with others.
Q. It sounds like Teams is able to act as a hub for different types of applications and functions. What is the impact of that?
SR: Think about all the different apps that a typical worker uses; it may be 10-15. If you are constantly moving into and out of these apps, you’re losing productivity and possibly neglecting critical information that could be helpful in meeting your goals. Yet, because Teams is optimized to integrate with apps in the Office 365 suite as well as 3rd party apps, you can do things like snap-in SurveyMonkey, Asana, Workfront, or any number of apps that your team may be using. The information you access in those apps can then easily be communicated, in context, within your team.
KC: Teams is essentially a Lego set. It is something into which you can integrate applications as needed, and use piece by piece as your organization grows. That inherent agility is a major differentiator from other communication and collaboration solutions.
Q. What readiness steps do you recommend that organizations take to assess if either Skype for Business or Teams is right for their needs?
SR: Start by addressing what you can currently do and what you’d like to do. If the answer is that you’d like an easier way to manage communication with collaboration capabilities than SfB is a logical solution. If you’re looking at ways to leverage relevant information to different departments, provide insights through analytics, adapt existing and new apps into a single workspace, or deliver more flexible ways to collaborate for different user personas, then Teams offers these evolving capabilities as Microsoft continues to invest in the platform.
KC: An organization should look at where data lives and the requirements for utilizing it when needed. Most will discover that their data is very siloed and therefore, not being used as effectively as it could. If that’s the case, then they should begin to identify how Teams can help them pull data from their different sources like CRM and ERP systems, apply workflow, and deliver that data contextually in chats, video conferences, and in other ways. An organization that can get that perspective will see the advantages that can come from transformation with a communications solution like Teams. It’s important to note, too, that the cloud is a big aspect of this. Being able to store and transact all this functionality through the cloud is a big reason why Office 365 and its component products are so effective. Organizations who are preparing to use Teams or Skype should be using or preparing to implement a comprehensive cloud framework that adopts security best practices and rapid, continuous innovation as part of their IT strategy.
Are you getting the most out of your enterprise communications tools? SADA offers several types of technical and business envisioning and discovery packages to better enable you on your intelligent communications journey.