Microsoft has made a substantial impact with its Lync 2010 and 2013 products and the imminent upgrade rebranded as Skype (News - Alert) for Business unified communications software. Now, more than ever, business computer users – the historical stomping grounds for Microsoft’s revenue – are talking about and using UC features. These features – generally options that improve workplace collaboration like Instant Messenger, screen sharing, document sharing, presence, audio or videoconferencing – are all part of Lync/SfB.
My objective in this article is to consider how the success of Lync, in particular, and the transformations wrought by UC, in general, will impact the hosted PBX (News - Alert) service provider market. Are we starting down a PBX replacement path? Is Microsoft trying to become a communications service provider expanding on what Skype has done in the consumer market for a business clientele (the name Skype for Business indicates this is the case) or to complement the PBX? How should telephony and hosted PBX service providers react?
Phone (News - Alert) Features are Relevant; Phone Calls, Not So Much
Traditional PBXs and their analogs in the hosted PBX world offer a range of features many of which are still extremely relevant – auto-attendant, hunt group, extension dialing, music on hold, dial-plan management, and voicemail to name a few. However, phone calls are not as important to communications in the current business world as they once were. One of my co-workers summed it up well. “95 percent of the time I am on the phone is for scheduled conference bridges – day to day small interactions are dealt with on IM. The phone is inefficient for that,” he told me. Old-timers will say if you do not call someone when you interact with them it is depersonalizing. The younger generation of professionals will say communication is at an all-time high, taken in all of its forms. here is no question that social media is hyper-personalizing relationships rather than depersonalizing them. Whichever it is, in the hosted PBX market, we have to meet demand, which increasingly centers on interactions that have no audio component.
Evolving Feature Requirements
Bottom line: Hosted PBX service providers need to incorporate more UC features. More and smarter devices, as well as broader and ubiquitous networks, have changed the possibilities for communication. Lync has coupled together many of the more popular features I mentioned at the start of the article into a relatively easy-to-use software package. While many business communications users will agree these new features are all either necessary or becoming necessary, there are also many of the traditional PBX features (now delivered on hosted PBXs) mentioned above that remain crucial to businesses communication. The strongest trend I see is the move away from the hardware telephone in favor of software clients and, in the case of WebRTC, browser-based UC applications.
Microsoft (News - Alert) Got It Right, Finally
Buying Skype, creating a set of features that both work well and integrate cleanly on computing devices and leveraging more robust broadband networks, have all conspired to put Microsoft in an enviable position when it comes to market leadership as businesses move into the era of UC. Let’s not forget that Microsoft has been well positioned for at least 20 years to leverage its OS and Office Suite of software in every business desktop computing advance, and it has taken this substantial advantage and failed repeatedly. (How many of you use Internet Explorer? How about Windows Live Messenger? Where were you during the OCS revolution?) With Lync, everything came together.
Service Providers have a Great Opportunity
It is an interesting time to be a service provider with all of the changes in how communications services are being sold – there are a lot of businesses in the process of making big decisions to convert from their 20th century phone system to hosted PBX or to a hybrid hosted/UC solution. There is no question that Microsoft (and other well-positioned technology behemoths) wants a large slice of this enterprise service provider action. Further, Microsoft has indicated, with its Lync Online and its business decision to stop selling a multi-tenant version of Lync to service providers, that it is aiming to bypass the service providers they have, to now, supported as a channel to reach businesses.
As a service provider there are large-scale transformations in the business communications industry that both threaten your business and provide an amazing opportunity for growth. The success of Microsoft Lync provides a shining example of why all service providers have to think strategically now about the services they are offering and about their own next steps. Now is the time to add UC and provide a more hands-on, consultative package of services for your business customers.
Micah Singer (News - Alert) is CEO of VoIP Logic (www.voiplogic).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi