by Jeff Owen

Telecom Reseller follows a considerable number of companies and technologies looking at their technical and business pros and cons. Microsoft offered Lync commercially on December 1, 2010 and has been gaining traction ever since.  Lync keeps popping up in various and multiple press releases from equipment manufacturers, service providers, software companies, industry analysts’ reports (see http://www.telecomreseller.com/?p=21788 for the latest), and webinars.  Obviously, Microsoft Lync has made an impact!

I recently spoke with BJ Haberkorn, Group Manager, Microsoft Lync, to get the Microsoft perspective.

TR:  Lync has been in general release for about 18 months. How has Lync changed during that time?

Haberkorn: There are two things that I really notice when I think about what is different.  The first is actually not about the product, but reactions to the product or market perspective on it.  When we hit our one year anniversary last December 1st, we published a retrospective of Lync’s first year (see http://tinyurl.com/d3a3a72) that talked about customer and market reactions, including some who have completely eliminated their PBXs by deploying Lync.  Today roughly 3 million enterprise users rely on Lync as their only phone.

From a product perspective there have been some pretty dramatic changes, as well. Midyear 2011 we released Lync Online as part of Office 365.  Now customers can actually consume Lync as a service rather than using on premises equipment.  Then late last year we released a number of Lync clients for mobile devices for Windows Phone, Android, and iOS including iPhone and iPad.  Again, the reactions to these have been great because people love having that consistent Lync client across their PCs, MACs, tablets, and smartphones.

TR: From the Microsoft perspective how has the UC market changed since Lync was announced?

Haberkorn:  One of the major changes is the fact that we’re now well established as a communications systems provider.  We’ve seen, in both our customer engagements and the research we do, a pretty dramatic change in the procurement process.  If you go back just a couple years I’m not sure that Microsoft would have been on the short list of a lot of the large voice equipment/services purchases and now we are.  From a technology perspective, or maybe more of a requirements perspective, we’ve seen customers embrace this idea that UC is more than just having the different ways of communicating all in one system.  It’s about unifying communications with the applications that you use to run your business.  So we’re starting to see, more and more, customers demanding a strong connection with their collaboration and productivity tools such as SharePoint and Office, as examples.  They’re even asking for connections with custom tools that they built themselves or acquired for a third party.

TR:  Lync competes against some well-established and formidable competitors in the VoIP/UC market, what differentiates Lync from Avaya, Siemens, and Cisco?

Haberkorn:  There are probably two key differences that customers see with Lync; our technology and business model.  On the technology side customers tells us about Lync is that their users want it because we deliver a single, consistent client experience across all platforms (e.g., PCs, MACs, tablets, smartphones) so they only have one user interface to learn.  When you look at some of the other players in this space they don’t really offer that.  So on a user experience perspective people see a real difference. The other thing customers tell us about the technology is that when other companies in this space layered on additional functionality they did so by adding additional systems/servers.  Thus, the backend is much more complex than Lync, which does it all on one system.  When customers look at those things, they see a personnel training advantage and cost advantages with Lync.

In some ways, the differences in our business model are even more striking.  Many of our competitors operate in a traditional vertically integrated business model, so if you buy their solution, you buy service from them, phones from them, software and services from them.  We’re very different from that.  We’re, of course, a software supplier and our approach is very much horizontal.  We provide the software and you can run it on the infrastructure and devices of your choice (servers, devices, hypervisor, etc.).  It gives the customers access to more innovation and greater ability to negotiate because they can now make their selection not only on function but also price from multiple vendors.

TR: What does Microsoft do to vet potential Lync channel partners and how do prospective customers find out who is on the approved list?

Haberkorn:  When I think of partners I think of two groups; Systems Integrators and technology providers.  In both cases we have formal programs and our goal is to make it easy for customers to find a good partner and have a great experience.

On the technology side, our Open Interoperability Program allows us to qualify the interoperability of vendor technology offerings with Lync.  We publish all the qualified 3rd party technology by type, maker, and product on Technet (http://technet.microsoft.com).  This program is open to all comers so any company that wants to be part of it simply applies and goes through the testing to be qualified as interoperable with Lync.

It’s much the same for Systems Integrators (SI), where we have formal certification programs.  SIs can certify either as Silver or Gold certified partner both of which carry explicit requirements for investment and having Lync trained, qualified, and knowledgeable staff.   Customers and prospective customers can go on the website and search for these partners by geographical area, vertical industry served, or almost any other search criteria to meet their needs.

TR: Wrapping up, from the customers’ perspective what unique benefits do users receive or perceive from Lync?

Haberkorn:  On an individual level, I think it’s the ability to work and be incredibly productive no matter where you are–office, traveling, or home.  Secondly, it’s having this great experience that connects to all the other applications they use on whatever devices.   Organizationally, it’s the tremendous cost savings, operational simplification, and the ability to change where and when people work better fitting their schedules, reducing company real estate requirements, and improving moral.

More at http://lync.microsoft.com

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