Microsoft Skype for Business faces user concerns

IT managers fear the Microsoft Skype for Business rebrand will cause confusion among employees. Also a survey found concerns with performance management and end-user experience.

Microsoft's rebranding of Lync to Skype for Business has evidently sparked some user concerns, including performance management expectations and cost savings issues. But perhaps the biggest concern among users is the Skype name itself.

Nemertes Research Analyst Irwin Lazar said the rebrand especially triggered major concerns in regulated industries like finance and healthcare, and IT managers are struggling to explain the rebrand to employees. Even though Skype for Business has the same architecture as Lync, the confusion sets in when users think their organization has switched to the less secure consumer Skype model.

"Imagine going to work at a bank and finding your communication application is Skype," Lazar said. "The perception is now you're on public, consumer Skype running over the Internet."

With the rebrand, Microsoft had hoped to close the gap between enterprise Lync users and small business Skype users -- and capitalize on the Skype brand since the Lync name hadn't quite resonated with users.

Lazar said it will be an educational challenge for IT managers to push the update and bring Skype into their organizations. IT managers need to explain that the platform is Skype for business despite looking similar to consumer Skype, and that the platform is still enterprise controlled and meets compliance.

Darc Rasmussen, CEO of performance management software provider IR, said there's a danger of quality by association for Skype for Business as the end-user issues that often plague consumer Skype, from dropped calls to audio issues, can have an impact on the user perception of Skype for Business.

"There's nothing more frustrating for a group of people trying to jump on a conference call or video call than they can't hear each other or they're dropping in and out, and that perception can quickly kill ROI [return on investment] and drive high levels of user dissatisfaction and a lack of user adoption," Rasmussen said.

As a result, Lazar said many organizations may hold off on pushing out Microsoft's April update of Office 365 that would officially switch Lync to Skype for Business.

"It's a slow slog for a lot of companies," he said. "There's an awful lot of education that's going to happen."

Challenges that hinder deployment success

IR recently released a survey that revealed the top Skype for Business deployment concerns of 300 UC professionals from 204 companies around the world. The survey found that performance management in a multi-vendor environment and excellent end-user experience were the top two concerns at 38% and 36%, respectively. Users were also concerned with meeting cost savings (9%), getting best-effort support with little funding (9%) and having end-user adoption exceed expectations (7%).

Despite rebranding confusion and deployment challenges, Rasmussen said he expects Skype for Business adoption to ramp up.

Rasmussen said Gartner placed Microsoft in a leadership position in the UC space and Skype for Business is poised to disrupt the telephony market. According to a report from the T3i Group, 95% of enterprises in the U.S. are trialing or planning to trial Skype for Business. While that doesn't mean 95% of organizations will deploy the platform, a high level of trialing leads to the expectation of high adoption rates, Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said organizations that deploy unified communications grapple with moving from a single device like a deskphone to new ways of communicating and can struggle with adoption.

UC systems have to be well-tuned, efficient and reliable in order for users to successfully communicate and deliver ROI. "If all that user experience isn't there, then you're really losing ROI you would otherwise gain," he said.

Successful adoption of Skype for Business means paying attention to the infrastructure and technology ecosystem that the platform sits on. Rasmussen said monitoring the entire ecosystem, and not just the UC platform, allows organizations to proactively and reactively manage performance.

Lazar said the biggest issue he has seen organizations encounter is the move from deskphones to headsets.

"We have heard feedback that Lync voice quality is awful, but we found that it's not Lync-specific," Lazar said. "Voice quality on softphones is not as good as deskphones, and Lync deployments rely heavily on softphones."

The transition from deskphones to headsets and softphone clients moves voice traffic onto the same network as data traffic, giving network managers the challenge of prioritizing traffic and adding a new wrinkle to troubleshooting when users have issues with a call.

Network managers have to figure out how to manage voice traffic when it's running on the same stream of packets as Web surfing and backup. And when users have poor call quality, IT must determine whether the issue was caused by the softphone or if something like a game was taking up resources, Lazar said.

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