Don't Forget the AV Guy When It Comes to Microsoft and Skype for Business

By Rick Winde, Director, Advanced Video Solutions, MCW Solutions

Rick Winde, Director, Advanced Video Solutions, MCW Solutions

The term ‘unified communication’ used to be one with advanced technological connotation when discussing the voice and video needs of an organization. Now, the term has become much more commonplace and has even evolved into more sophisticated phrases such as ’pervasive video’ and ’ubiquitous platforms’. Essentially, it’s all the same and the difficult standards of yesterday have become more forgiving when it comes to connecting with one another, allowing for the possibility of instant collaboration satisfaction we have begun to crave.

Where did this craving for pervasive systems come from? We used to be thrilled to just be able to communicate faster via email and mobile devices. What changed? The answer is simple: the systems we experience every day in our homes. Typical home solutions for our cable, internet and phone systems have achieved such groundbreaking interoperability that it’s become the norm. Everything you could ever need is available at your fingertips and usually, it’s sold as a ‘free’ value-add to your subscription. In the enterprise; however, the consumer-model of communications interoperability and value-add functionality hasn’t quite reached such levels. The problem? We still expect it.

"Don’t be entirely sold by the cloud, some of it will prove to be vapor until both sides of the equation can keep up"

The enterprise used to adhere to rigid standards of IT, driven by things like QOS, managed infrastructure and call control. Such standards locked in companies such as Cisco, Polycom, and Radvision because they delivered the whole package: voice bridges, video bridges, call control and gate keepers. The Cisco Unified Call Manager (CUCM) became the standard for most large enterprises due to the comfort level of the CIOs and IT staff, who knew it was dependable and measurable, even if it did cost them around a million dollars to deploy. The problem is, it didn’t allow for communication to be truly pervasive and in the end, these large enterprise solutions failed greatly. Ultimately, they lost the desktop client to Microsoft— corporate America’s most widely used operating platform—and have been trying to work around it ever since.

Still, in our fast-paced world, we want instant gratification, not a work-around. Microsoft, with its realized advantage on the desktop, started taking a very active approach to making collaboration truly unified within an organization. With 80 percent of the Fortune 500 on the Microsoft Cloud and more than 400 million devices running on Windows 10, it would be easy to say they were successful and that sharing via Microsoft platforms is easier than it’s ever been. However, Microsoft has not been able to capitalize on the value of hardware made by partners such as Crestron, Smart and Polycom and most often, these manufacturers are at the mercy of each and every Lync, aka Skype for Business (SfB), update.

Let’s say, for example, you have an idea or a new project and start planning it out on your desktop. Then, when you’re ready to share your idea, you walk your laptop down to the conference room and expect the user experience to be the same in there as it is at your desk. This expectation is perfectly understandable, as Microsoft has made their solutions appear to be seamless. But, almost always, we hit a snag because no matter how interoperable the software may be, not much thought was given to the hardware and the systems just won’t talk.

Having deployed systems from all of these manufactures to be supported by SfB, we the AV guys are held accountable for making them work, not Microsoft. And my friends, it’s an uphill climb. Trust me when I say that buying into the entire SfB package has its limits and some of the offerings that take the mystery out of interoperability have their value. Simply adding budgetary dollars to your Microsoft licensing account to add an additional feature does not mean it will work with everything else. You cannot just rely on Microsoft to make it work, there are still too many variables to consider. It takes conventional knowledge and a solid AV partner to bring it all together.

When it comes to the AV guys, we still have to pay attention to details regarding the inclusion of hardware such as microphones, speakers, switchers, amplifiers, transmitters and so on. All of these components need to work in harmony for the user experience to be effective and PCs, especially Windows, do not make that part easy. How often have you connected to a meeting using a web-based application and you cannot be seen or heard? Almost always it is because of the settings on your laptop, not an issue with the collaboration platform.

Subjecting yourself to the nuances of a PC to complete your user experience in a conference room quickly becomes painful and short-sighted. By using AV conferencing codecs, which still hold a rightful place in the industry, we are able to take the guessing game out of the mix and use SfB effectively with second party cloud services. In addition to SfB, they connect to standards-based systems with traditional H.323, SIP protocol as well, giving us a well-rounded, interoperable solution with the added conventional wisdom we once had on QOS and call control—the dependable and measurable standards that will always live in the traditional CIO’s comfort zone.

In summary, you can achieve pervasive collaboration but keep in mind that the conventional wisdom of the AV guy still has its merit when it comes to building a solid solution. Don’t be entirely sold by the cloud, some of it will prove to be vapor until both sides of the equation can keep up and create the proper handshake.