Microsoft Unveils Coming Skype for Business Improvements
Microsoft announced some coming updates to its Skype for Business unified communications solutions, highlighting improvements expected to arrive this year.
The improvements were prefaced by a progress report from Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Skype, in a Microsoft Ignite session this week. He cited the following Skype progress markers:
- More than 1.1 billion mobile app downloads
- Three billion minutes of calls per day
- Three trillion minutes of video calls
- More than 1 billion meetings per year
Pall has long headed Microsoft's unified communications product efforts. However, a leaked memo from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella discussing a newly formed Microsoft AI and Research Group, explained that his role will be shifting at Microsoft, although specific details weren't explained. The Skype team instead will be led by Rajesh Jha, who will head the Office Product Group. For more details on that Microsoft reorganization, see this RCPmag.com story.
Skype for Business Mac Client
The big Skype for Business news this week is that Microsoft is planning a "general availability" product release of its Skype for Business Mac client in October. The client previously had been at the private preview stage since July. According to the Ignite presentation, the new Skype for Business Mac client will have the following feature improvements in its user interface:
- Recent chats are shown and newly arriving chats get indicated
- Meeting scheduling doesn't require jumps to Outlook
- Meetings take just "one click" to join
- Meetings show in high-definition video (including PowerPoint)
- Meetings controls are now out of the way (but accessible by a mouse move)
The Skype for Business Mac client has been "written from the ground up" using the Swift programming language. Consequently, it can takes advantage of these high-definition video and audio capabilities, Microsoft explained, in an announcement this week.
In addition, the iOS 10 operating system will soon be capable of telling call recipients that they are getting a Skype call on iPhones. That capability will be "coming soon," per the Ignite presentation.
Pall indicated that a lot of these "modern collaboration" client improvements are happening first on the Apple side. He displayed a "Skype loves Apple" slide at one point during the Ignite session. The Apple CallKit Framework is one of the enabling factors.
Skype Operations Framework
Microsoft is improving resources for organizations considering moves to Skype for Business. This effort goes by the umbrella name of "Skype Operations Framework." By "Framework," Microsoft seems to just mean "Program." It's yet another Microsoft "FastTrack" kind of effort, providing tools and resources, as well as partner support, to organizations looking at using Skype for Business.
This week, Microsoft added cloud migration support to the Skype Operations Framework. It's designed to help organizations move from using the server version on premises to using Microsoft's service-enabled Skype for Business Online solution. Microsoft's partner support for Skype Operations Framework includes "Modality, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Avanade, Unify Square, Tata Communications and Carousel," per the announcement.
Skype for Business Advanced Analytics
Microsoft plans to release a preview of "Skype for Business Advanced Analytics" by year's end. It's a dashboard tool for Skype for Business Online, showing graphs and reports. Microsoft's announcement provided few details about the new tool. However, a blog post by consulting firm Perficient described its capabilities as follows:
- It shows macro details about the service, such as the use of conferencing and calling features
- It permits diagnostic investigations down to the individual user level in cases of suboptimal experiences
- It enables analyses via Microsoft's Power BI tools
Skype for Salesforce
Skype for Business is one of those Microsoft solutions that leans heavily on its partners, both for product support and expanded capabilities. One example of the latter, announced today, is the new "Skype for Salesforce" beta release, which boosts the capabilities of Salesforce.com's customer relationship management (CRM) service.
Skype for Salesforce is designed to surface presence and contact information from within Salesforce's CRM solution. A user hovers a mouse cursor over a name in the CRM and gets the ability to see that person's "status." They can then choose the most effective communication method at that point, such as voice, e-mail or chat.
The new Skype for Salesforce capability is enabled by Microsoft's Skype Web SDK. It's currently at the beta test stage and its use requires having a subscription to the Skype for Business Online service, as well as the Salesforce Enterprise or Unlimited Edition. It currently works for chat on any browsers that support the Salesforce Lightning Experience, but the video and audio capabilities also require using either the Apple Safari browser or the Microsoft Edge browser. Microsoft is promising that expanded browser support with Chrome and Firefox will be coming.
Skype Room Systems
Another partner-heavy effort is Skype Room Systems, which previously went by the "Project Rigel" code name. It promises to bring the Skype for Business meetings experiences to everyday conferencing equipment. Microsoft considers its own Surface Hub conferencing product to be in a different market niche as it includes Office capabilities as well.
Logitech is planning to ship its SmartDock for Skype Room Systems product "in a few weeks," according to Microsoft's announcement. During the Ignite presentation, it was mentioned that SmartDock can be managed by any Windows 10 management tools. Crestron is planning to ship its Skype Room Systems products by year's end. Polycom has plans to start shipping its MSR Series for Skype Room Systems in the "early first quarter of 2017."
Polycom is also a provider of a RealConnect Service for Office 365, which is designed to provide video teleconferencing services using existing conferencing equipment. It taps Microsoft Azure datacenters to deliver the teleconferencing service. The Polycom RealConnect Service for Office 365 is now available for testing at the preview stage, Microsoft's announcement indicated.
Microsoft's announcement this week offered a bunch of other Skype for Business news tidbits.
The Skype Meeting Broadcast service will be getting a preview of "real-time transcription and translation" by year's end. This service is for organizations needing to communicate with "large online audiences." With the new transcription and translation capabilities in place, it will be possible to show live captioning in "English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and German," Microsoft's announcement promised.
Microsoft announced an expansion of its PSTN Conferencing service. It now supports Skype for Business meetings in 400 cities "using local numbers from 90 countries."
Microsoft plans to preview its PSTN Calling service in France and Spain "starting in October." It's already available in the "United States, United Kingdom and Puerto Rico."
For organizations wanting to keep their data local, such as for legal compliance reasons, Microsoft plans to support regionally hosted meetings "by the end of the calendar year." It will be possible to provision Skype for Business meetings to use the nearest datacenter region, Microsoft promised.
Lastly, two Skype features, "Organizational Auto Attendant" and "Call Queues," will get previewed in October.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.