As a mobile employee who’s office is typically anywhere there is an internet connection – I live and die by video conference, instant one on one and group chat conversations. It’s the way our team stays connected even when we’re principally in at least 4 different cities. I was added to the internal Beta of Microsoft Lync and immediately saw some great improvements over the previous version (Lync is the product formerly known as Office Communications Server).
Picture integration into you existing investments of SharePoint (knowledge source and rich data about your user base), active directory (for your contacts), Exchange (augmented detail and communication methods) and a very healthy partner ecosystem for handset and device choices (Polycom, Jabbra – virtually any connected webcam and headset). Now extend that with presence information and connection points in your office productivity software (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, outlook etc.). The ability to connect and talk / chat / work with people on the spot when you need to can be a major improvement on productivity!
In the keynote demo, they had a great scenario of a couple of people starting off a chat session that expanded into a video conversation using consumer HD cameras (about $75 bucks). They were collaborating on an office re-design that needed to have some visual white boarding to plan furniture placement. The conference room in on half of the scenario had a smart touch board that was basically a giant touch screen monitor, so one participant spun up the whiteboard and docked it on the secondary monitor. In the conference room, people were able to interact, move, mark up the whiteboard on the touch screen monitor, while the other mobile employee was able to also interact from his screen on his laptop while on the road. Because they needed some additional support from a furniture expert – they were able to SEARCH their contact list (which was tied into their SharePoint infrastructure) and instead of looking at their Global Address book on exchange or personal contacts, they could search on “skills” which would search the SharePoint "My pages” of your internal knowledge experts, who might have identified they had furniture experience.
The scenario sounds very complex, but it’s actually quite simple to kick off, when Lync is deployed and you have the meta data in your GAL and SharePoint. A little training for the end users in the form of “quick hit – did ya know” videos can go a long way in showing what’s possible in order to get the creative juices flowing.
One thing that were very proud about is the fact that Lync is using industry standards that are open for anyone to use. The power of going with industry standards is that it gives you CHOICE on what to use and deploy as far as devices as well as support integration into 3rd party software applications. you don’t have to get locked into a proprietary $300k HD video conferencing solution that limits what you can do with your conferences and where you can have them. I remember setting those suckers up a while back and it wasn’t pretty!
Lync is one of those products that can help you cut costs on travel and increase productivity. It sounds like a broken marketing record, but honestly – being a mobile / remote employee it has cut down on the amount of travel I’ve had to do in order to stay connected with my team. Because a god part of my job is traveling the country meeting IT Pros and technical professionals – I’d rather spend my travel budget on meeting more of you, then talking with my colleagues.
Last word is on clients. I already mentioned all the hardware partners that are supporting Lync – there was an entre WALL of devices on display during the Keynote. I also wanted to mention desktop and mobile clients. You’re looking at a PC version that I have shown in the above screen captures – that’s the type of experience you have on your regular workhorse system. There are clients that are embedded into certain desk phones that are specific to Lync, so check out some of the traditional NON-PC options in that category. Not too far off in 2011 I understand that there will be Microsoft developed clients for iPhone and for Windows Phone 7 as well as partner developed clients for Nokia and other smartphone platforms. For a very light footprint – there is even a web interface available working across browsers -including Intel based Macs. Speaking of Mac, because of Lync’s integration with Windows Live Messenger, Mac users can get voice and Video calls, rich presence info and more when they talk with Lync 2010 users. Oh Yeah – that Windows Live Messenger integration piece also allows for some interesting blurring of the line with your work and home digital lives. It extends and simplifies your ways of talking to people that matter to you for work and personal life, but it also allows you to stay connected to home while on the road. They closed off the keynote consumer cross over piece by showing how a future Xbox Live update will enable Microsoft Kinect HD video chat to interface with a Lync client – sweeet!
To get your hands on Lync now, you can download client software and Trial server software from the trial section of the main Lync website. Interestingly enough, if all this technology seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to start for setup and pilot / proof of concept – Microsoft Lync will be part of the Office 365 cloud services solution when it becomes available in 2011. I know of a number of customers who have gone that route with the previous OCS version in order to rapidly deploy a pilot to their users as a proof of concept with no capital outlay and delay in server setup and config. Cloud services might be the way to go when you evaluate how new technologies can come in to your environment and prove the business value they bring!