What Does Microsoft Need to Do to Win in Collaboration and Communications?

T. Banting

Summary Bullets:

• Microsoft needs to consolidate and rationalize Office 365’s overlapping functionality to avoid the potential chaos associated with having too much choice in its portfolio.

• Microsoft should decouple telephony from Skype for Business, add PSTN calling to Teams and end-of-life Skype for Business online to differentiate in the team collaboration platform market.

With Microsoft Ignite about to start in Florida (25th September), it’s interesting to try to read behind the lines of some of the sessions and speculate as to how Microsoft really will start ‘to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more’. At the moment, it’s hard to achieve more when Office 365 contains so much feature and functionality overlap between products such as Office 365 Groups, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Yammer.
With 78 sessions of Skype for Business and 46 for Microsoft Teams, it is clear that collaboration and communications will be somewhat of a hot topic for attendees; however, the session titled ‘Understanding your collaboration options in Office 365’ sums up the issues Microsoft has in its Office 365 suite. Indeed, the session aimed at IT influencers and implementers states ‘how do you provide guidance to your users so that they can make good choices? Too much choice can lead to chaos, while not enough choice can create too much friction for effective collaboration to happen’.

I couldn’t agree more! I can’t see Skype for Business and Teams coexisting as independent products. Over recent years, Microsoft has deliberately blurred the use of Skype (the consumer service) and Skype for Business (the enterprise unified communications product) and perhaps this is a clue to where I believe the company needs to get to.

1. Decouple Telephony from Skype for Business: Microsoft already has cloud-based call plans within its consumer Skype service as well as its existing domestic and international PSTN calling plans with Skype for Business. In fact, Skype offers group calls for up to 25 people, the ability for forward calls, and voice messaging. Perhaps Microsoft could add a few more business relevant features from its cloud PBX E5 plan (hold/retrieve, call delegation, transfer, camp-on) to Skype and make this service available to anyone that needs it- consumers, small businesses or large enterprises.

2. Add Teams: Although positioning Microsoft Teams as chat-based, Teams does have some real-time voice (including hold and transfer), video and meeting capabilities. For those companies that still wish to have desk phones, Microsoft Teams should look to support Skype for Business certified devices.

3. End-of-life Skype for Business Online: Why? Well, because as Microsoft states, too much choice can lead to chaos. It makes little sense to have two products with overlapping functionality. Indeed, with competitors such as Slack, Atlassian, and Cisco Spark integrating third-party services and offering persistent workspaces, stand-alone unified communications clients are looking somewhat dated and second class citizens to shiny new team collaboration platforms.

Microsoft, this is a nascent market and one you could potentially take by storm. Winter is coming, to borrow a well-known phrase – and you are in need of some ‘Stark’ differentiation!

About Tim Banting
As Principal Analyst within the Business Technology and Software group, tracks and assesses the rapidly evolving communications and collaboration marketplace. His areas of coverage include collaboration platforms, unified communications, video collaboration and social analytics

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