Friday, March 25, 2016

Skype for Business in the cloud

It's been 4 months since Microsoft announced the release of E5 and all the new calling features in Skype for Business Online included in this plan. There is no doubt in my mind that this will drive a huge shift in the collaboration market. It will change what services the cloud deliver, how it is delivered and at what cost . Here are "some " of my thoughts on the matter. (I originally wrote this post in Norwegian at my company blog. This is an updated and translated version.)

The change is happening now.
The transition of producing services for end users from on-premises solutions to cloud solutions has been in motion for quite some time already. And using the cloud has been embraced by most companies. What many previously viewed as a threat to their own work and the company's security needs, is today met as a welcome relief and seen as efficient opportunity to reach a larger consumer market. Not all concerns about security has been overcome. But if you make informed decisions and assessments, there are many features of the cloud companies can deploy, and then use internal resources more effectively than before.

Seeing the shift to the cloud, many predicted Microsoft and Amazon (and others) cloud services would kill nearly all local IT business. But looking at it now, a couple of years down the road, we see the local market has not disappeared. It has just changed. Companies no longer need core expertise in hardware and setup of computers, as that can be bought from the cloud. Now, companies can use their internal resources to focus on strategies, applications, services and processes that help to support core business. These companies still need help and consulting services, the need for "help" has only moved up the layers, and often across different areas of expertise.

Now the time has come to do much of the same with the "telephony services". And I wrote "telephony" in quotes here, because the use actual telephony is becoming a less and less important part of an overall collaboration platform. This shift of how we communicate is something the major telecom operators will notice, and if they do not adapt it will be tough market for them within a few years. I do not think the use of telephony itself will die out or disappear right away, as the organizations are just not prepared for a total shift just yet. But the importance of the phone itself and the way we relate to it is going to change rapidly in the future. Or should I say; Is changing right now.

Telephony as a service
The major providers of unified communications from the cloud are now fighting an interesting battle. The most important one for my company, is telephony services in the cloud. Phones are becoming a "bread and butter" service that do not need any kind of special expertise or skill deploy. The customer only have to select a couple of settings in a portal along with other services they have from the same provider. This is an exciting challenge for our traditional way of thinking about telephony.

At the same time as this battle for the cloud pbx is going on, several vendors are opening up API's. Making it easier than ever to create applications on multiple platforms.  More and more vendors have begun delivering equipment and devices with built-in wireless service and/or 4g services with fixed rates at a fixed price. This enables the consumer to move freely in large geographical areas without worrying about his or her connection, and can freely use the client or the browser he or she prefers to communicate with the rest of the world. Data traffic is and will remain very important, while the traditional, pay per use dialup is going to diminish. Why would anyone want to pay phone charges to talk with distant and close business contacts or family members, when there are applications or services offering this for free (And the quality is as good as, or even better than the traditional services)? Many of us are already doing this in private settings with all kinds of different applications on the market. Is it so unnatural to think that companies will not start using the same technologies, preferably with a little more control over what is actually used?

The future?
As always, it is hard to tell what's going to happen in the future. But there is no doubt the shift in the market is here to stay for a while. And the changes will have an impact in many areas. For one, it is going to be a lot harder to be a hoster in the future. I don't think you can win customers over by price any more, and unless you have something unique to offer, the big cloud will quite possibly be cheaper.

As a result of the shift, I also see we, as consultants, need to adopt to the new ways of delivering IT. Customers still needs help, but with a slightly different approach. There can be many obstacles and challenges to overcome for companies moving to the cloud. Both within their own organization, and with the technology itself.

Also, the shift in where we consume our services, will have an impact on how we consume our services. With the need of a constant connection to the cloud, customers will need reliable data-plans for their devices, with fixed prices. And since the consumer already have this data-plan for everything else, why not use it for everything, and drop the traditional pstn calling down the road. The shift has been made from traditional analog devices to digital and ip devices, so why shouldn't in happen in the mobile world as well?

Interesting times indeed.