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Last month’s Microsoft Ignite event in Florida saw a number of important announcements and launches. One of the most eye-catching was definitely the announcement that Skype for Business would be phased out and absorbed into Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft Teams can essentially be viewed as the company’s answer to workplace collaboration software rival Slack. Teams allows business users to set up chat windows between both groups and individual co-workers.
According to Lori Wright, General Manager of Microsoft Teams and Skype, who gave a keynote speech at Ignite, Teams has been gaining ground over the past year, with more than 125,000 organisations using the product. Bringing Skype for Business voice and video chat functionality into the Teams umbrella will undoubtedly heap more pressure on Slack going forward.
So what can customers expect from the transition and what other features were announced?
For a start, it was announced that Skype for Business is being transitioned to Microsoft Teams “over time”.
Ben Canning, Director of Program Management at Teams and Skype, addressed what he described as the ‘killer’ questions posed by customers. One of these questions asked: ‘Is Microsoft Teams really ready for our company?’
Some of the Skype for Business features have already been incorporated into Teams while others would be brought across over time. For now, the two systems will continue to run side by side but Canning said that Teams was ready for use and deployment now. Existing Skype for Business customers can choose to migrate when they are ready but Canning suggested that those in the early stages of adopting Skype for Business consider Teams instead.
Skype for Business Online and Microsoft Teams will both share a common backend, which should make the transition seamless. As both clients can be run in parallel, Skype customers can try Teams as soon as they like. Organisations can even have some users on Skype for Business and others on Teams.
Canning called this "a great way to roll out Teams in your organisation".
Another of the ‘killer’ questions Canning addressed, and one linked to the issue of when to transition involved the Skype for Business Server, which many organisations are using. He said that Microsoft remained committed to the next Skype for Business Server and that the next server product was scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2018.
This continuing support recognises the fact that some organisations would prefer to host their voice chat on their own premises rather than migrating to the cloud.
Lori Wright said that, in combining Teams and Skype for Business, they were moving beyond Unified Communication and into Intelligent Communications. She said that this next step was being made possible by advances in AI and machine learning.
In practical terms, Wright used the example of a technology that can capture the full context and background information surrounding a meeting, with no language, visual or hearing barriers. Once the meeting was over, the system could compile and send a full summary, complete with actionable items.
A ‘Contacts’ tab is being added to Teams, allowing Skype for Business contacts and groups to be imported automatically.
A ‘Calls’ app is also being added with numerous options, including:
Teams meetings can be scheduled in a calendar in Outlook, in a way that will be familiar to many Skype for Business users. This makes it easy to use even with little to no training – although, on that subject, Microsoft Teams now contains a smart ‘T-bot’ that can train end users as they go along. Canning said this T-bot will itself learn over time.
Meetings can also be recorded, with an option for transcription. This is useful for team members who miss a meeting, or to search for keywords and then jump straight to that part of the recording.
Audio Conferencing, which was known as PSTN Conferencing within Skype for Business, is now available in Microsoft Teams as a public preview. Users will have dial-in instructions added to their Teams meeting and participants can join with an audio telephone call even if they have no internet connection.
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