Monday, September 23, 2013

Microsoft Technology Centre/Lync Love Day - Toronto

Am trying to keep pace here, and a headcold right now isn't helping.

This post is a bit belated, but definitely worth sharing. Last Wednesday, as part of Microsoft Canada's Lync advisory group, I was invited to attend to attend Lync Love Day, along with a tour of their newly-opened MTC - Microsoft Technology Centre. The timing was good, since the day after I was on the analyst concall where the U.S. Lync team gave their update on things. So, I've had a full dose of MSFT lately, and feeling pretty in tune with where they're going.

The MTC, btw, is their first in Canada, so I'm in the early cohort of people to see it. If you've been there or to any of their other MTCs outside of Canada, am sure you'd agree they've done a great job. These days, all the vendors are trying to get/stay close to technology buyers/influencers/decision-makers, not just because the market is so competitive, but also because their new technologies are complex and the stakes are getting really high for IT folks to make the right bets.

I've got some MTC photos below, but most of our time was spent getting updates on Lync. Overall, the message there is about "delivering an experience - and not just communicating". Key areas we heard about included how Skype and Lync will be integrated, extending Lync to the mobile space and driving more enterprise voice adoption via the cloud.

It's still not clear if they know how to monetize Skype, especially when talking to enterprises. Skype definitely has a play with SMBs and SOHOs, but my concern is that enterprises will associate Skype with being consumer-grade and PC-based, both of which run counter to Lync's value proposition for this end of the business market. To me, whatever they do with Skype will be a bonus, and with RIM imploding, I'm sure moving into enterprise mobility space is a higher, more lucrative opportunity.

Video, of course, is another piece of the puzzle, and having been at the LifeSize event earlier last week, I wanted to address this separately. As a sidebar, for both of these events, I was the only analyst in attendance, so you won't likely get this type of perspective from anyone else unless you follow a pretty broad circle of people like me.

Since Cisco staked their claim on video and telepresence being about collaboration, all the other vendors have fallen into line for this to be the main driver. I've now seen how LifeSize is delivering their take on collaboration, and MSFT gave us a great demo for theirs. Of course, the big advantage with Lync is the natural integration with Office and everything else MSFT, and so as long as they can provide an easy-to-use high-touch environment, they have a great solution.

We saw that in spades, and there's a photo below to give you a taste. Their approach to collaboration is different, as instead of fixating on a passive video screen to watch other people or share content, there is also an interactive element via whiteboarding. It's a very natural, cool way to work, especially since the work can be shared and edited in real-time and then saved for sharing later. Nothing new here, but collectively all the pieces are offered as the LRS - Lync Room System, and it's a pretty compelling mix of collaboration, content sharing and live interaction for anyone connected to the session. And, yes, it works across most mobile devices, so you can join a LRS meeting pretty much from anywhere.

As with any other UC vendor, video is a big part of the story, but just as important is how seamlessly it works across all the tools and applications we use every day. Yes, it costs money, but it's a lot less than immersive TP, and a far richer experience than desktop, cloud-based video conferencing services. This should be a great way to enhance the Lync value proposition, and since there's hardware involved, LRS looks to be pretty channel-friendly. We saw pieces from SMART Technologies and Crestron - hardly household names, so there's a lot riding on them are partners. Polycom is also a LRS partner, but we were told they're not ready for market yet. Hmm - should that be a concern? I'll leave that out there for consideration - time for some pictures....

Mark Hickson demo'ing LRS - behind him is the whiteboard, left; and on the right screen are 3 live video panels - 1 for him, 1 for a remote attendee, and a hard-to-see panorama showing each of us there in the room with him. He's holding up a tablet to show the video there as well, and later he did the same with the other mobile device on the table in front of him.
One of the testing/interop rooms during the MTC tour
Fellow UCStrategies colleague, Roberta Fox, checking out the gigantic touch screen in the MTC lobby - this was pretty impressive.
Last stop on the MTC tour - the Envisioning Centre. Very cool - theater setting where they simulate various work environments to show us just how seamlessly their technology works across the spectrum of settings.

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