Earlier this year my team started a pilot with a Microsoft technology called Lync. We had many customer demands for a messaging solution. We wanted to provide a solution contained on our internal network with integration features that would allow us to track and record messages. I had used Live Meeting for years as a web conferencing solution and heard that its successor was going to be Lync. After researching the basics and not being too excited about the tech, we decided to give it a try and contacted a partner that had experience in Lync deployment to assist us with the initial pilot.
Our pilots tend to be implemented within the IT team for a through understanding of the support requirements and end user experience. And besides, I like trying out new stuff. And in regards to Lync Im REALLY glad we did.
After a few months with Lync, I have realized it changes the way we communicate beyond simple IM. Through its connections to Exchange, Outlook and SharePoint it is a universal communications tool. I’ll give a brief overview of each in this post.
Presence is particularly powerful if difficult to value concept. For users connected to Lync you get a color coded indicator letting you know if a user is at their desk and available, in a meeting, giving a presentation or haven’t checked in over a period of time. You can also “Tag” users to alert you of changes in status. My assistant has a permanent tag on me and now has the nack of calling me the moment I sit down and log into my system regardless of the facility I’m at or even if off site. I see this status not only in Lync but Outlook and SharePoint also. How I noted this impacting me was in a scenario I frequently run into. I often need to reach out to my boss as our face-to-face meetings tend to be sporadic. The typical process is to start calling around, sending an email and trying to coordinate schedules. He’s a busy guy! Now, I look him up in Lync, has he checked in, is he in a meeting? I will Tag him to alert me when he is in and send him a IM that will also land in his email if he doesn’t get it on his desktop.
Instant Messaging is probably the best understood feature of Lync and its like you might suppose. The real utility is how it starts to replace email in many instances. Think about how many emails you receive that are one or two line questions or intended for a quick response. That’s what corporate IM is for. This is great during meetings and on conference calls to exchange thoughts and information with others behind the scenes as it were. And you can carry on conversations with multiple people simultaneously.
Initially I thought video would be the killer feature of the app. Its no doubt powerful and more useful than you might think but I’ll reserve the “killer” feature title for the voice feature mentioned below. To many desktop video conferencing may be thought of as overkill. But once you have it and its so simple to initiate you’ll find yourself using it more than you think. Being we have multiple facilities spread across our county this has proved very useful. Sharing video, desktops, documents during meetings or spur of the moment makes meetings more valuable and effective.
Scheduling is another useful feature. Having full integration with Exchange and Outlook provides numerous advantages. From Outlook, you can call up a new appointment and click “Lync Meeting”. A new appointment is set up and all the connections and dial in information for the Lync appointment is auto-populated . Users with Lync can click the included link and be connected. Those without Lync are provided a dial in number to connect to. Its a all inclusive audio and video conferencing solution. This requires connectivity to your on premise PBX solution and shows the real extensibility of the solution.
So the killer feature and the real eye opener for me regarding Lync, is connecting it to our PBX and then to Exchange Unified Messaging server. The user can now be assigned a number, just like a direct extension on your desk that can be used to send and receive calls through the Lync interface. Its an enterprise level VOIP service. And best of all, it transcribes your voice mail and attaches that and the voice file to an email that lands in your Outlook. This is powerful stuff.
The last bit here is the mobile story. Microsoft has released Lync 2013 for all major mobile platforms. So take all the things above and enable them on your smartphone. Yep, all the features and functions noted above are available on your smartphone. I use a Nokia Lumia 920 and Lync runs continually in the background,. When I’m at my desk, as IM’s or calls come in on my Laptop and hit my Lumia 920 simultaneously. I am away from my laptop occasionally but my phone, never. This means Lync is always with me.
So what’s happening with Lync now? We have our entire IT team using the standard Lync functions of Presence, IM and Audio and Video conferencing. We have a smaller group using the VOIP features. Me, I’ve had my desktop VOIP phone removed from my desk. All my communications are now managed via Lync. We are planning a more extensive roll out to our mid-level management Q1 in 2014. Lync will be a platform that we use to evolve communications at our organization and a step like that means big things to a team.
But that’s for another blog!