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Navigating the “Roadmap” to Microsoft Teams: From Pilot to Deployment

BY DAVE MAILER

IT technology and infrastructure

The retirement of Skype for Business

 

In 2017, Microsoft announced its plans to replace Skype for Business with Microsoft Teams. Unlike the recent transition from Lync to Skype for Business, this is not simply a rebrand. Instead, Microsoft Teams represents an entirely separate, cloud-based product. Following this announcement, Microsoft laid out what it is calling a “roadmap” for customers to assess the capabilities of Teams relevant to their unified communications business needs and plan their move accordingly. In the words of Microsoft, this means that “customers can determine the timing for moving to Teams that best suits their needs”.

 

It was made clear at the time that any customers reluctant to make the move to Teams straight away would still be able to use Skype for Business in the meantime, as Microsoft has no plan to remove it from Office 365 ‘in the near future’. However, as of 1st October 2018, Skype for Business is no longer available for new Office 365 customers and Microsoft has stated that it plans to cease any ongoing investment into Skype for Business, saying, “Our vision for bringing together intelligent communications and collaboration is focussed on Microsoft Teams.”

 

Additionally, although Microsoft will be releasing Skype for Business Server 2019, with the ability to support existing on-premises users, the company does not currently have any plans to release another server edition beyond this.  Highly unusually, end-of-sale and end-of-support dates have already been announced for Skype for Business Server 2019, even before the version has been released.

 

What is “intelligent communications”?

 

Microsoft has boasted that this “intelligent” unified communications solution will include a new, people-centric chat. Users will be able to review their entire chat history with other users easily through the client or browser and it is alleged that searches will also be easier to execute. Microsoft announced at Ignite that it was working with Blue Jeans and Pexip to deliver cloud video interoperability.

 

How should organisations prepare for a migration to Teams?

 

There is no single migration methodology that fits all use cases. When and how any organisation chooses to migrate from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams will be largely dictated by the nature of that organisation’s current Skype for Business deployment and the organisation’s intentions for moving to the cloud.

 

Critics espouse that, at the current time, Microsoft Teams is not ready to function as a like-for-like replacement for Skype for Business.  Teams will need to offer a number of further key features in order to function as an enterprise-grade platform in the same way as Skype for Business, including Skype Room System support and full enterprise telephony capabilities.

 

There are, of course, a number of factors that organisations must also consider when planning a migration to Microsoft Teams, including data residency, detailed analytics, third party extensions and the potential for connectivity with external parties, such as partners, clients and suppliers.  This will also include, not insignificantly, the impact that the change will have on users in terms of training, product familiarity and changes to business processes.

 

Piloting Teams alongside Skype for Business

 

Microsoft has strongly encouraged users to start piloting Microsoft Teams as soon as possible, saying, “We encourage all Office 365 customers to start using Teams, independently or in parallel with Skype for Business.”

 

According to Lori Wright, the general manager of Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, 70% of Skype for Business users are already using Microsoft Teams, either as a pilot alongside Skype for Business or as a complete migration. Microsoft has been encouraging all organisations currently using Skype for Business to start using Teams as soon as possible, in order to expose and acclimatise employees to the new platform. 4C Strategies supports this general advice. However, it is critical that organisations understand the impact that running a Teams Pilot alongside Skype for Business will have upon user experience.

 

Testing Teams will be critical to most organisations’ migration. When piloting Microsoft Teams, it will be useful for the organisation to keep detailed records of Teams’ functionality, comparing factors such as quality, reliability, usage and adoption to the current level of satisfaction with Skype for Business.

 

With all of this said, how can an organisation ensure success when piloting Microsoft Teams?

 

Environmental readiness

 

Prior to beginning a pilot of Teams, Microsoft recommends taking the time to ensure that your environment is prepared and optimised. The company has released a guide on how best to ensure this.

 

Firstly, Microsoft recommends conducting a network readiness assessment, focussing on network performance and planning, as well as other aspects of networking. For example, ports and protocols. Once a network readiness assessment has been completed, Micrcosoft’s next recommended step is to make use of its tool, “My Advisor”. My Advisor is a self-service toolset to assist with planning and managing operational success in Teams and Skype for Business Online.

 

Before onboarding users to Teams, Microsoft also recommends conducting a quality assessment of the current Skype for Business deployment. This would entail utilising the Call Quality Dashboard (CQD) to monitor usage of the current deployment and identify trends in quality, and utilising Call Analytics for troubleshooting and to investigate the quality indicators of individual calls.

 

A further recommendation from Microsoft, and perhaps the largest, is the appointment of a dedicated person, or group of people, to act as quality champion for the organisation. This individual would essentially be responsible for the project management of the Teams pilot, monitoring usage and quality and assessing where action is required. 4C Strategies has undertaken or participated in this role for a number of clients and can bring significant value to this function.

 

Ensuring a successful pilot

 

Once environmental readiness has been achieved, the organisation will begin piloting Microsoft Teams, most likely alongside its current deployment. The more successful an organisation’s pilot of Microsoft Teams is, the more successful the subsequent migration to the platform will ultimately be. A successful pilot will, primarily, benefit from maximum user adoption within the organisation. The key will be to help users adjust to the new range of features, whilst ensuring that the adoption isn’t too fast or overwhelming.

 

There are a number of ways in which organisations can ensure as successful a pilot as possible. The main reason for piloting the new platform prior to complete migration is the level of dependence on the existing deployment. For professionals that are familiar with working with Skype for Business, a migration to Teams is not simply a matter of trying something new in the Microsoft roadmap; it is a complete change to the fundamental way in which these individuals work. Because of this, a successful pilot will implement aspects of Teams functionality into everyday workplace collaboration, whilst continuing to grant users the freedom to enjoy their favourite features of Skype for Business.

 

A successful pilot will also depend on the provision of training resources, to aid adoption by overcoming the relevant learning curve. This will equip employees within the organisation with the ability to embrace the new platform as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

 

Lastly, a successful pilot should be used as an opportunity to enhance overall collaboration within the workplace. By making the pilot an interactive and fun experience for employees and placing emphasis on the advantages of collaborating through Microsoft Teams, adoption will be perceived to be less of a chore and the Teams pilot can be used as an opportunity to take overall workplace engagement and collaboration to the next level.

 

How soon should an organisation begin piloting Microsoft Teams?

 

The migration from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams will by no means function on a one-size-fits-all basis. Instead, any organisation’s approach to the migration will be dictated by the ways in which the organisation currently deploys Skype for Business. Organisations that are already operating fully in the cloud, and intend to continue doing so, may be able to start piloting Teams relatively early, as the transition to a cloud-based deployment, a common stumbling block for other organisations, has already been made.

 

Organisations deploying Skype for Business on-premises, whilst a delay of the migration to Teams is feasible for the foreseeable future, should at the least consider deploying a Teams pilot in a hybrid configuration in an effort to kickstart the inescapable migration to a cloud-based deployment.

 

How does an organisation choose the appropriate migration strategy?

 

Whilst, for now, Microsoft is merely encouraging organisations to begin piloting Microsoft Teams alongside the current deployment, it has been suggested that Microsoft will begin pushing organisations more forcefully towards Teams by 2021.

 

Before this happens, organisations that are currently deploying Skype for Business exclusively on-premises, and perhaps do not yet have a definitive plan regarding the migration to Teams, will be required to define their specific requirements from the migration and will need to wait to see if Microsoft will deliver on its “roadmap” and accommodate these requirements.

 

Seeking advice from a unified communications consultant

 

Any organisation struggling to decode Microsoft’s roadmap in order to successfully plan a migration to Teams should, in the first instance, consider contacting a unified communications consultant. As a specialist independent unified communications consultancy, 4C Strategies is ideally placed to assist with reviewing an organisation’s plans for a migration to Microsoft Teams, and other key strategic unified communications decisions, in the context of specific client requirements.

 

4C Strategies can assess the optimum timing for a migration, relating to unique business requirements, as well as assisting in the role of quality champion and providing the relevant training to ensure a successful pilot and maximum user adoption.

 

If you are a Skype for Business user unsure of how best to migrate to Microsoft Teams and would like to receive advice from a qualified unified communications consultant, please feel free to call 4C Strategies on 01858 438938 or, alternatively, email webenquiries@4c.co.uk.

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