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From Skype for Business to Teams: are you ready for change?

You may have heard the news last month that Microsoft is set to retire Skype for Business Online. This was hardly surprising – Microsoft has previously touted its Teams collaboration platform as the next paradigm shift for its ‘Teamwork Hub’. But now that we have a firm date for retirement – July 31, 2021, we can work backwards to make sure the transition is smooth and painless for everyone concerned.

Collaboration: from Skype for business to Microsoft Teams

It is important to note that the 2021 retirement is for the Skype for Business Online service only. The consumer version of Skype remains unchanged and current Skype for Business 2015 and 2019 server editions will be covered by extended support until 2025.

The fact is, Teams is not just a Skype for Business replacement, but a bigger play for Microsoft, something that hasn’t been well understood by the tech community.

What’s changing – the technical details

Teams is a new micro services-based collaboration platform built on existing Azure and Office 365 services completely independent from Skype for Business services.

If you look under the bonnet at the dependant services architecture, it is clear that there is no use of Skype for Business services. Instead, Teams leverages the consumer Skype services to replace the presence, calling and meeting/conferencing workloads of Skype for Business.

The new Teams chat service has replaced Skype for Business Instant Messaging. Office 365 groups are providing the underlying security controls and Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business are responsible for the total collaboration aspect of the Teams client.

Have you got your Teams adoption right?

Technically, enabling Teams is a simple task as it appears in the Office 365 Admin Portal. Users can be enabled instantly and use Teams side-by-side with Skype for Business while they make the transition.

But there are some important things to consider. How will applications SharePoint Online, One Drive for Business, Exchange Online, Microsoft Stream and Planner behave when you move to Teams?

An unplanned and unmanaged transition could severely compromise your organisation’s future collaboration roadmap and put IT management in a difficult situation.

You’ll also likely encounter some natural resistance among users. Change is painful and Skype for Business is well known and fit for purpose.

The easiest way to handle this situation is to gain an understanding of how each business unit functions and where Skype for Business has been instrumental to team members’ work. Then it will be easier to explain Teams with valid use cases on how an ordinary day’s work will improve with a better toolset. Stop selling a product, users only understand a good experience.

If the IT department itself has not adopted Teams inside out, deploying it at scale could result in organised chaos. It’s always easy to deploy and support a solution you are familiar with, hence it is important to complete a pilot phase for IT department to prove all possible concepts applicable for the organisation. Put enough security and governance policies in place to allow you to keep adoption steady but not to kill the user experience.

Act or React?

The bottom line is that Microsoft has indicated the way forward and customers will choose to “act or react”. Obviously, existing Office 365 customers got two years to complete the Teams migration or find a 3rd party solution to replace Skype for Business Online.

Teams user adoption is more of a challenge since it’s all about the balance between adoption and acceptance. Users are naturally loyal to familiar systems that work.

Start, experiment and scale

A good approach is to follow the guidance, Start, Experiment and Scale. Get champion users involved from the beginning. A good advocate will spread the word and a positive vibe regarding the upcoming changes. If you rush and try to do too much too soon, there’s a good chance your users will react badly and the pilot could fail.

If you decide to wait and “react” as the Teams migration deadline looms, you could have a nightmare scenario on your hands. Once again, Teams is fundamentally different from Skype for Business. It is not a good candidate for a simple overnight swap.

Considering all factors, the right balance would be to start to “act” as early as possible, then take time to experiment and assess the success. Importantly, you must have a method to measure the success and adjust the dials as you go with the adoption.

Don’t make assumptions

Making assumptions about how Teams works based on your experience with Skype for Business could get you into trouble. Do your homework and get a trusted advisor involved to validate some common assumption such as:

Current handsets and phones will be automatically compatible for Teams – Yes and no. Any Skype for Business-certified headset will be certified for Teams as well, but the phones will be different. Current Skype for Business phones may not be running the Teams client as a firmware upgrade. Those can be still registered with Teams, but some functions such as conferencing joining options will be missing. Teams will drop legacy phone support by 2023.

Current Skype for Business meeting rooms will be intact – Not exactly. You will not be able to book or join current Skype for Business meeting rooms if the users are migrated to Teams. You will have to plan for Teams-certified interoperable video services, such as Polycom RealConnect for Office 365, Pexip or BlueJeans. Remember, interoperability is always a second-class citizen as opposed to native Teams advanced features and functions.

Current Skype for Business licensing will be automatically applied to Teams – Yes and no. Teams is cloud-only, which means only licensed via M365/O365. If the current Skype for Business environment, especially with Enterprise Voice, is on legacy licensing, you are going to need some changes to the plan. If you are already using Skype for Business Online, Teams will automatically inherit the applicable SKUs (stock keeping units).

My networks are optimised for Skype for Business, so ready for Teams too – Once again Teams is cloud-only, which means almost every transaction is over the internet. Current MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) can still support on-net P2P (peer to peer) scenarios, but Teams can disproportionately liberate you from MPLS and save you money. Still, VPNs (virtual private networks) are not Teams-friendly.

I have contracts with my current telephony providers for Skype for Business, but Teams is cloud only – False. Teams has a best-in-class direct routing option to cater for on-premises voice provider options. You won’t lose your numbers or management flexibility. Feel free to continue using current 3rd part contact centres and analogue services with the Teams Direct Routing setup, subject to Session Border Controller (SBC) support.

Where to start?

Microsoft recommends a structured methodology called “Microsoft 365 Teamwork Assessment”, which is designed for Microsoft Partners such as Empired to work with customers directly and achieve the required level of Teams maturity within an organisation.

This exercise targets deep engagement with all types of stakeholders, including business decision makers (BDMs), change managers, IT managers and different technical teams and end-users.

This engagement is a process as outlined below:

We understand that every customer is different, so this framework is only used for guidance to deliver a managed outcome.

You could be at any point in the Teams adoption journey below:

  1. Already started the Teams journey at your own pace but hesitating to progress due to the complex nature of some workloads, such as SharePoint and OneDrive.
  2. Struggling to define a baseline governance configuration before starting the actual user migration.
  3. Stuck due to services or technology limitations such as networks, PSTN voice, existing meeting rooms, end points and file services.
  4. Already running Skype for Business and Teams in parallel but struggling with upgrade policies.
  5. Haven’t considered it yet as Skype for Business is too popular therefore Teams is a hard sell internally.
  6. Just started with Microsoft 365 and don’t know what to do with Skype for Business or Teams.
  7. Having difficulty obtaining the required level of sponsorship from business decision makers…help!!!

As a Microsoft partner we at Empired, can easily assess your situation and help you along the way, regardless of where you are in the Teams journey.

The bottom line is that it is important to act before you are forced to react with the Skype for Business Online retirement deadline looming.

Posted by: Lakmal Galappaththi, Practice Lead | 21 August 2019

Tags: Collaboration, Microsoft Teams, Teamwork

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