Magic Leap – Enterprise Communication

A few questions spring out of the latest video from Magic Leap Fortune’s Brainstorm:

They made it clear in the video that they will target consumer applications first but they will also focus on communication and productivity within the Enterprise and they say they are starting to engage with partners in that space. I wonder who they are engaging with?

I would imagine Cisco and Microsoft would be very interested in seeing the impact on their current Collaboration portfolio. Given that Microsoft have a potential competitor in Hololens I’m guessing there probably isn’t too much interaction between the companies. Cisco could be an interesting partner, Rowan Trollope certainly has the vision and Cisco don’t have a direct compete in their portfolio and if Magic Leap needed any advise on supply chain I’m sure Cisco would have plenty to give.

Could mixed reality replace or augment video and audio conferencing? The way the guys on the video explain the experience it seems clear that at a minimum it could augment existing communication technology, there is a chance it could also be a generational leap.

Until we see the technology applied to real world examples all the above is speculation but I agree with Brian Wallace in the video, technology adoption can be rapid and this technology could well be coming to an office near you sooner than you think. If by the early 2020s 70% of people are wearing a device like Magic Leap the impact of office communication will be profound.

One final question – Rony Abovitz mentioned Magic Leap is a computer. I wonder what operating system they are planning to run on the device? Android, Windows or something completely new or will Magic Leap act as a device which can be OS agnostic. I suspect the device will have multiple OS support and not run its own but you never know.

Cisco and Skype Technology Working Together

I can’t share the whole screen but yesterday we supported a town hall style call with a combination of Cisco TelePresence and Skype for Business. It was very well received and there are many more planned. The Cisco Telepresence end points combined with Skype for Business (with Acano in the middle) prove a good combination. Not only is it a high quality experience it is also very cost effective – no per minute charges.

A few quick points:

  • Great quality VC unit with an ideal speaking/presenting position
  • Skype for Business (S4B) provided the access for participants to listen in
  • S4B also provided excellent meeting controls, especially the ability to mute all, without mute all these meetings can be very difficult to manage
  • S4B also provides the ability for the participants to ask questions via the IM
  • Share desktop or programs is the only supported way to share content. Uploading slides, whiteboarding and polls are not supported
  • If you were concerned that your S4B infrasturcure isn’t scaled to meet the demand or the town hall had over 250 people this same format works in Skype Broadcast
  • Be careful on Acano 1.8 there is a bug that if you mute the VC room it will drop out of the call – this has been fixed in 1.9

MAC Skype for Business…almost here

Next month we will hopefully see the long awaited launch of the first genuine Lync or Skype for Business client for a MAC. The current Lync for MAC client is rooted in the OCS client of many years ago and has many issues which have been documented/

The story of the MAC client is a classic case study in how you have to factor in the (important) minority when you deploy communication technology.

Independent and passionate individuals in the Lync/Skype community have long lobbied Microsoft for a first class MAC experience.  In the pre Satya Nadella days the lobbying largely fell on deaf ears. I still remember the audible grown in Redmond during an airlift event for Lync 2010 when the Lync product team announced Lync would be ‘best and first on Windows desktop and mobile’. Microsoft often defended the lack of investment in MAC with the argument that their telemetry highlighted over 95% of clients to access a Lync/Skype server would be Windows rather than MAC.  If I were being cruel I might say that’s because there were many people trying to access the Lync/Skype server but the MAC client crashing so frequently prevented them from doing so and affecting the overall numbers.

The issue with the 5% of MAC users is that they are almost certainly always senior management. Not only does it create an unnecessary embarrassment for IT to have to defend the Lync MAC client to the most senior non-technical people in their organisation it cripples a crucial deployment tool – the senior management email endorsing that their teams use Skype for Business in their day to day life – including telephony. It’s a difficult conversation within the deployment project team to seek the sponsorship of a Skype for Business deployment when the senior manager is constantly having to reload or update a client based on 10 year code.

Fortunately Microsoft now commit to provide a consistent experience on desktop and mobile across Windows, iOS and OSX. There is still ground to make up for Microsoft to achieve such a commitment. We’ve seen a limited iOS Skype for Business app and constant URL issues with iOS updates and we are yet to see the full generally available MAC client and how it interacts with the real world challenges of daily Skype for Business usage. Hopefully there is not long to wait now to see if Microsoft can remove a fairly large obstacle in Skype for Business deployment.

Impressions of the Surface Hub Part 1

I’ve been spending several hours with the Surface Hub, my initial impressions from my first two to three hours were:

  •  The hardware is well built, the touch capability is responsive and the UI of the device in general is well thought through and simple to use
  •  The Office productivity apps (Whiteboard, Edge, Onenote, PowerPoint, Word, Excel and Maps) which are pre-loaded with the Hub provide a solid experience and they certainly give an initial wow factor when shown on the hardware
  • The built in Skype for Business capability works well, the user interface takes a lead from the overall UI of the Hub and is well thought through and simple to use
  • You can Miracast between a Windows 10 device and a Surface Hub with the inking capabilities shared across the devices and all can be shared into a Skype for Business meeting

Here is an example of the Surface Pro connected to the Hub. With Edge support for inking you can draw on both devices and then save to One Note

  • Do not expect to replicate a room based VC system with the Surface Hub. The cameras are good enough to see people as a part of a collaboration experience but not good enough as a video only device. The wide angle 1080p 30fps cameras seem under specified – could 4k cameras have made a difference to the overall video experience? Receiving full screen video is good however.

All the above make the Surface Hub much more than a glorified white board. The paradox of the Surface Hub however is that its greatest strength (being a Windows 10 device) could also be one of its greatest challenges. With a touch screen laptop and a separate 23inch screen I have all the same apps and experience a Surface Hub can provide at the comfort of my own desk. To be in a Skype for Business meeting with sharing and collaboration I don’t need to get up and book a meeting room with a Surface Hub and I don’t need to learn how to utilise the Hub in a Skype meeting. So why should I use the Hub during my day to day office life?

There are clear and obvious business use cases for the Hub but I didn’t feel these were compelling enough for the Hub to start moving into general office meeting room plans.

After spending around 2 to 3 hours with the Hub I’d reached what a thought was a conclusion but it was only after I started to download Windows Apps from the Store the full potential of the Hub spring to life….more to come on this in the next couple of weeks.

Skype for Business Ignite Announcement Summary

Skype for Business at Ignite: How close are they to delivering ‘move all your communications to Skype for Business Online’

This is quite a long article, this is largely due to the fact that Microsoft managed to pack a great deal into Ignite related to Skype for Business, I’ve broken the article into five sections.

  1. Skype for Business Loves Apple
  2. Skype Voice Online
  3. Skype Room Systems
  4. Skype Broadcast
  5. Underlying Messages from the Conference

Skype for Business Loves Apple

  • New Mac Client – generally available in October.

Don’t expect the Mac client to be the completely finished article in October as Microsoft plan further updates in 2016 and Q1 2017. The good news is that while not entirely feature complete it is no longer a poor Windows imitation. The Mac client is the new user interface (UI) lead for the Skype for Business product.

Watch out for a key element required in the new client UI. The new UI uses the existing IM conversation history feature which is currently hidden in the Windows Skype for Business client but it is brought out front and center in the new UI. Many large organisations have IM conversation history disabled at the request of their compliance office so if you do see a large blanck area in the new client UI it is almost certainly due to IM conversation history being disabled by policy.

  • Callkit 10 – Integrated calling comes to iOS

I’m glad to see Microsoft developing the Skype for Business app quickly to take advantage of Apple’s Callkit. This now removes the need to unlock the phone to take a Skype for Business call. Calls are also integrated into the native iPhone call screen. We still need to check that the iOS app doesn’t consume too much iPhone battery during day to day operation but the stated vision is clear, the iPhone app can replace a standard desk phone with the integrated capability. Again this needs testing thoroughly within a real world environment.

I believe the iPhone app will be updated in October to support Callkit. No word if there are any other changes to the client to match the Mac UI.

Skype Voice – Hosted by Microsoft

All those within the industry know that the Skype for Business team are focused on delivering feature parity between Skype for Business Online and on premise. The largest gaps have been the ability to provide a voice replacement PBX/phone and the ability to home users onto their closest region to support conferencing. Typically a large enterprise will have data centers in each of their major regions and users are homed on their closest region to host their Skype conferences. This helps reduce network latency and maintains a good conference performance. For example if three users are having a Skype conference in the UK but their Skype conference is hosted in Singapore there is a danger that network latency may impact the call. In the standard Office 365 service the ability to home users to their local region has not been possible until later this year, leaving businesses with no choice but to host Skype conferences with potentially large network latency. When Microsoft enable the ability to home a user onto their closest Microsoft data center it will almost certainly give Online an advantage over an on premise deployment. Online will have more available data centers than any single enterprise deployment and therefore likely to be closer to a user. The devil may be in the detail however so let’s wait and see what the Preview delivers in 2016.

  • Regionally Hosted Meetings

Here are where you can host users during Q4: Dublin, Amsterdam, (UK coming soon but after Q4), Washington, Chicago, Texas, Indianapolis, Quebec, Toronto, (no plans for South America yet), Pune, Chennai, Osaka, Saitama, Hong Kong, Singapore, (South Korea coming soon but after Q4) New South Wales and Victoria. Please note Germany and China are not included and there are no plans to include these in the options. This is due to the fact that the data centers and Office 365 service are not fully managed by Microsoft but via a third party arrangement (which for what it is worth is to protect Microsoft and its customers from US government data requests).

  • PSTN conferencing

Microsoft now provide 90 countries and 400 cities for the PSTN conferencing service. There are restrictions however on where you consume the Office 365 license. China and India for example have a local dial in number available to use for global users but you can not yet currently purchase a PSTN conference licence for a user in several countries including China and India.

  • Voice in France and Spain

Inbound and outbound telephony is now available in the UK, US and Puerto Rico. Spain and France are to be added in Q4 2016 with the promise of more to come in 2017.

  • Reporting – Enter UC Commander or Event Zero as it was known

A number of early on premise voice adopters needed to deploy additional reporting services on top of the Quality of Experience servers which have been a part of deployments since OCS. While the QoE servers provided an excellent back end system to collect data on call records and quality the front end did not meet the needs of the teams supporting users as it often took several hours to gather information on poor quality calls. The ‘single pane of glass’ view is effectively a web overlay of QoE with many useful graphs and charts on a user and infrastructure level and can be found within minutes rather than hours.

Skype for Business and Video Rooms

Microsoft are pushing hard on the supposed 97% of meeting rooms that have no technology in them with Project Rigel moving to the mainstream and re-branded as Skype Room Systems. In addition Polycom also announced their Cloud Bridging solution as an option within Office 365 which provides the ability to bring in standard based Video Conferencing rooms into Skype for Business meetings. A capability only available today on premise with a separate bridging solution bought from Acano, Pexip or Polycom.

  • Cloud bridging within Office 365

I would like to see this in operation before commenting too much on this capability but the theory looks impressive. You assign a Cloud Interop licences to a user within the Office 365 admin portal which will enable an additional element of the Skype for Business meeting signature with the details for the VC room systems to dial in to. The technical specification seems to be impressive with multi-protocol call control with gateway: H.323, SIP, WebRTC, TelePresence (3 screen systems) Protocols.

One interesting element to note for on premise customers. The manipulation of the signature for VC support is a new element of the standard Skype for Business meeting signature. I wonder if this capability will be enabled on the on premise service for those clients who wish to stay on premise for their Skype for Business and VC Rooms.

  • New Skype Room hardware

This was one of the less impressive elements of the presentation.  Logitech, Polycom and Creston released new Skype Room Systems but I don’t see any significant advantage over and above the older Lync Room Systems which after an initial wave of enthusiasm have sunk into relative obscurity. I still have issues with the audio and video quality of these rooms and even in the demonstration at least two of the vendors came into the meeting with poor audio. This may have just been a local issue related to conference halls but it is consistent with what I hear from these types of devices. There are also questions over where the camera sits within the room and how all the pieces of technology are managed. I’d like to know how many Skype Rooms Microsoft will deploy to 97% of their own meeting rooms.

Skype Broadcast

MS continue to develop Skype Broadcast and their latest feature release is the addition of foreign language captions to the Broadcast meeting. This capability was developed in Microsoft Research and it is great to see it come into a general available product. Initially there are 5-8 languages but the plan will be to move to 50. For the future (although Microsoft have delivered no details) I’d expect to see this capability extended from captions to voice transcription.

Underlying Messages

  •  On premise continues to be the poor second child…but still has the largest customers

Absolutely no mention of on premise in the keynote and the title of Gurdeep’s key note sends another clear message ‘Move all your communications to Skype for Business Online’. It does not necessarily mean on premise software will not receive the additional capabilities but it is clear from Microsoft where the direction of travel is.

The Skype team were keen to highlight Accenture as a model Skype for Business organisation. The numbers were very impressive but I’m almost certain they are all delivered on premise. Perhaps when Accenture move their on premise estate to Online then we know that Online is ready for all organisations.

  • No mention of Skype Teams

Gurdeep’s keynote was rammed full of information and Microsoft had some clear messages they wanted to send out to the wider world. Skype Teams if it is to be a Slack killer requires and deserves an independent announcement and session. The leak a few weeks ago around the existence of Skype Teams was almost certainly deemed enough for now by the Skype team (how do you think MSPoweruser got the story?) to put a bookmark in for later this year.

  • Goodbye to Gurdeep

It was interesting to note that after the key note Gurdeep has left his leadership role at Skype. Zig Serafin is also moving on from the Skype leadership team. We don’t know why and are unlikely to find out the real reason (good or bad) but it is a shame to see Gurdeep go. He was one of the founding members of a small team in Microsoft who led the Real Time Communication challenge laid down directly by Bill Gates. He is certainly leaving a significant legacy which has seen Microsoft grow from a niche player to one of the dominant players in the unified communications industry today. I hope the new management appreciate his vision and build on it quickly.

Skype for Business – moving to Skype?

Have Microsoft delivered on their promise to provide communication from the Living Room to the Boardroom? Honestly you’d have to say no. While they have technically joined the Consumer Skype world to the Skype for Business estate the integration is limited. The search capability is not intuitive enough and the largest miss is the inability of a Skype client to join a Skype for Business meeting.

There are very good technical challenges behind the limited integration. The clients and servers are completely different code and while Microsoft tried to bridge the divide initially they rightly decided to build a unified back end and client architecture. While we haven’t visibly seen this yet we are told the work continues at pace.

So here is my pure speculation – once the technical integration is complete Microsoft will look to move to a single brand and leave just Skype. Couple of things to say before I go on. I have zero inside knowledge on this so it is just my speculation. If I did have inside knowledge (as I did in the OCS to Lync change) I wouldn’t be writing this. Secondly the shift away from Gurdeep will bring in a new management team who bring new ideas so the journey that MS might have been going down might change.

Why haven’t they done it already? I don’t believe they could re-brand under a single Skype name until they have all their clients able to join any meeting and contact any user. Imagine I’m on the consumer version of Skype and I get invited to the Business version of Skype but when I attempt to join it says your Skype client can’t join a Skype meeting. Confusion would reign, hence why they have to keep the names separate.

So why do I think they are preparing this, what hints am I picking up?

The Skype team has launched several new capabilities this year aimed at or built on ‘for Business’ and yet not a single one has the ‘for Business’ appendage:

  1. Skype Rooms
  2. Skype Broadcast
  3. Skype Meetings

The new touted Slack competitor takes the Skype name but merely appends Teams

This effectively leaves the core clients, server and Office 365 service which uses the Skype for Business name.

But wait there is more….for the client there is a small change in the new Mac client which is using the new UI principles for Skype for Business. The Skype for Business Windows 2015 client had Make a Skype for Business Call (see below) yet the Mac has removed ‘for Business’.

This could well be just programming glitch, a very small feature that has not made its way over in the design or programming guide. Then I checked to see the Skype for Business Windows Office 2016 client and it has also reverted to Skype rather than Skype for Business. This is more than a simple glitch, someone has consciously chosen to amend the menu from Skype for Business Call to Skype Call.

Hot off the press the iOS Outlook App has been updated which now enables a user to create a Skype for Business meeting and this again stresses ‘Skype Meeting’ rather than Skype for Business.

It may be a simple case of unconscious re-branding and a confusion of Skype and Skype for Business but it may also be the case that Microsoft are gradually removing the 18 month old ‘for Business’ appendage and preparing the ground for just Skype.

Here is my closing thought on this, it is largely irrelevant if Microsoft re-brand or not to your end users. While we IT Pros know and use the different terminology I’d suggest over 90% of standard users just refer to it all as Skype and they get a little confused when they can’t currently Skype between Consumer and ‘for Business’. They typically just blame it on IT policy rather than technology.

When your IT project has CEO Sponsorship

In a wide ranging interview Pascal Soriot explains how recent investment in telepresence has changed the way AstraZeneca works. Amazing to see a programme I led being called out.

What it doesn’t say is that while the timelines were tight and we were using very early software Pascal and his direct team supported our delivery and service team every step of the way. While we felt the pressure to deliver the atmosphere created by Pascal and those around him including the CIO Dave Smoley was to trust the IT team to deliver. It seems obvious but it is a rare commodity in IT projects. The initial deployment was in 2014, it took around 6 months – I suspect in other organisations it would have taken at least a year, possibly more. AZ went on to invest further in the telepresence estate in 15/16 and you can read Pascal’s direct comments for the results.

Across the board AZ has been transformed under Pascal. I can’t wait to see the positive results coming through in the next few years.

Take a read of the full interview, it highlights how AZ is moving to growth again but here are the highlights for me anyway 🙂

CF: How do you run the company?

PS: …..And for the leadership team we use technology. We use tele-presence, We have a tremendous network of video conferences and tele-presences.

CF: How often do you meet as you did yesterday?

PS: I meet, well we meet in the team every month, once. And we meet physically three, four times a year. The rest of the time we meet by tele-presence, by video conference. And we have a great network, in fact this year, the whole company has reduced its travel budget by 25 percent. Because we told people, you know, we have a tremendous network of tele-presence and we want to use that. So now people are able to use their laptop, If you’re familiar with tele-presence, it’s better than video conference. In every meeting I’m in myself, we have three, or four, or five sets of people connected from everywhere. We have to operate like this, we have no choice. We are truly global.

Lessons from GE CEO

I’d highly recommend watching the 9 minute interview with Jeff Immlet. For 9 minutes you are getting many great lessons on how to run a company. Key points raised in the interview:

  • You can no longer be a centralised company – you have to decentralise and use IT to maintain effective decision making
  • Your major locations should no longer be isolated – they should be in hubs such as Boston, use technology to join these hubs together

If your think your company doesn’t require IT skills at its very core think again;

  • The CIO is integral to company strategy
  • You can no longer just bend metal and allow an IT company to run the analytics assocatied with the metal, you lose control of your business
  • You need IT skills across the entire organsition and everyone entering the organisation requires knowledge of IT – such as basic coding skills
  • IT is the key driver for productivity and margin – outsourcing IT does not help this

Internal feedback mechanisms need to be less structured and hierarchical – use technology for immediate feedback