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Skype for Business users face Microsoft Teams migration questions

Microsoft customers considering a migration from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams will encounter several key questions regarding features and deployment models.

At Microsoft Ignite last week in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft used its annual customer conference to showcase its new and upgraded Teams product, which competes with Cisco Spark, Slack, Mitel MiTeam, Avaya Zang Spaces and many other similar products. At the conference, Microsoft Teams sessions were well-attended, which shows there's significant interest in the product.

As Skype for Business users consider a Microsoft Teams migration, they'll face several interesting questions. Some common questions include:

Is Microsoft Teams ready for prime time? I believe the product is. The new version includes several features that were added to compete with other similar products. New capabilities include voicemail, application sharing and coediting of documents. In addition, other notable features include:

  • guest access for business-to-business usage;
  • PSTN dialing, but the Microsoft PSTN service must be used;
  • importing contacts from Skype for Business;
  • sharing presence with Skype for Business; and 
  • pulling organizational information from Active Directory.

The product is now ready to stand on its own as a full-fledged team collaboration tool, and it's worth Skype for Business users' consideration.

Does the on-premises version of Skype for Business go away? No. On-premises Skype for Business is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Microsoft's installed base of on-premises Skype for Business users is massive. If Microsoft suddenly pulled the plug on Skype for Business Server, it would leave many customers in the lurch.

Many large customers or companies with regulatory requirements want to keep the product on premises for greater control, archiving capabilities or security concerns. At Ignite, Microsoft announced another version of the Skype for Business on-premises server is coming near the end of 2018. Microsoft has to support that version through the normal lifecycle of five years or so.

If you're a customer using the on-premises version, don't worry; it's here to stay, and Microsoft is still adding new features to it. However, some new capabilities, like Teams, are only available through cloud-based Office 365. So, if businesses want to use the team collaboration capabilities, they need to use the cloud.

If you're a customer using the on-premises version, don't worry; it's here to stay, and Microsoft is still adding new features to it.

Can I run Teams and Skype for Business in hybrid mode? The answer is both yes and no. A hybrid model makes a lot of sense for many companies. Use Skype for Business for calls or chat and presence, and run Teams for application sharing or team messaging.

In a sense, the business will be running two unified communications (UC) clients, which is a bit of an oxymoron, since unified client implies a single product. But this two-client strategy is a viable, low-risk way of getting workers used to this new way of working. 

What you can't do is use Skype for Business and then burst to the Teams cloud when capacity is maxed out. That would be ideal, but the products don't interoperate that way -- at least not yet.

What about all the third-party peripherals I bought for Skype for Business? Many Skype for Business users have made significant investments in third-party peripherals from vendors like Polycom, Crestron and Logitech that provide desktop handsets and conference room systems. Microsoft has said all existing phones and room systems will work with Teams. In fact, at Ignite, Microsoft announced Lenovo, Pexip and Blue Jeans now have certified room systems to work with Microsoft UC.

How do I migrate users from Skype for Business to Teams? Moving users from one product to another is never easy. Once a worker gets used to doing things a certain way, there's always hesitation in doing things differently. To help get over these hurdles, Microsoft offers three models for migration.

The first model is to run Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams side by side, as outlined above, which could go on for an indefinite period of time. Another option is called "side by side with notify," in which there's a date set to flip users from Skype for Business to Teams, and a banner appears in Skype for Business to warn the user when the cutover date is. The third option is to go to Teams only where workers are put on the new product immediately. 

Microsoft provides an administrator portal where these three models can be mixed, so a handful of Skype for Business users can be set to flip immediately, others set to side by side with notify and others left to run both clients until the policy changes.

A training bot has been set up to help users with usage. But a couple users at Ignite told me they tried the bot and it often had problems understanding the questions and giving answers. This is an area Microsoft needs to beef up if the product is to go mainstream.

Next Steps

Teams could supplant other Microsoft collaboration apps.

Executive buy-in for Microsoft Teams is crucial.

Compare Slack versus Teams for enterprise collaboration.

This was last published in October 2017

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