In my travels, I meet with partners around the world who historically have been deeply engaged with us on Office, Exchange and SharePoint as platforms for driving improvements in productivity and collaboration at their customers and a recurrent theme keeps coming up in conversations, usually in phrases like:
The Battle for VOIP is here
“Lync is a juggernaut – once a customer sees it, the deal is done!”
“Lync isn’t a PBX replacement, it makes a PBX an archaic idea”
“Lync is like bringing fire to cavemen”
So I thought it would be worth spending some time outlining why Lync is a great product to lead with and how, as partners, you can build a great business around Lync, but first to address the other common phrase we hear from partners who are outside the Lync product space – “Isn’t the battle for VOIP over? Didn’t Cisco win that already?”
You can roughly divide the phone market into three eras – the PBX era, the PBX replacement era and the post-PBX era. In the PBX era, the telephone equipment providers were highly connected to carriers and the very name – private branch exchange – indicates this connection. Systems customers bought were a local version of the phone company infrastructure, switching calls internally and then connecting to the external telephone system as needed and this was a dramatic revolution – companies could scale out their operations at a level not before seen because they could easily communicate broadly. Architecturally, this was copper and switch technology that has improved, but was based on the same fundamental architecture of the phone system that was scaled out in the 1940s.
In the mid-90’s, as the Internet grew, it became increasingly obvious that packet based networks (like the Internet) scaled better and were more resilient and cheaper than direct wired networks, which lead to the emergence of VOIP and related standards as competition to the traditional PBX market. In this fight, the economics of VOIP were compelling – moving a phone was no longer about activating a port, but plugging into an Ethernet connection and the phone would find the switch. Additionally, the voice traffic became just another app on the network to be routed. The market leaders at the time – Nortel, Lucent, Avaya – were the same root companies that drove the PBX market but were busy creating ‘hybrid PBXs’ that could support the traditional copper wire infrastructure and the new Ethernet infrastructure. When Cisco entered this mix, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain and the rapidly gained share against the traditional phone suppliers who were focused more on protecting their installed base than accelerating innovation in a classic example of the Innovator’s Dilemma. But what Cisco was selling was a pure IP based phone system, but a phone system none the less – it suffered badly from skeuomorphism, where the system was designed with PBX style components – handsets on the desk, big switches, etc. In short, Cisco didn’t redesign the phone, they moved the phone backend to IP but kept the historical design that existed since the 1940’s.
Lync is a fundamental rethink of the phone. Instead of the historical design, it thinks about messaging, meetings, voice and video as an extension of the core collaboration experience and operates as an app more than it operates as rigid infrastructure – just like email follows you from your Windows PC to your Windows Phone, Lync follows you from device to device and shifts the focus from just voice to full collaboration – instant messaging, voice, group chatting, meetings, etc. are all oriented around the user versus being device and place-centric.
This drives three really big impacts – first, Lync maps the experience to the realities of how people work today – mobile, collaborative and flexible. By moving collaboration off the desk and into devices that go with users (tablets, laptops and mobile phones), voice becomes another app that seamlessly blends into how we collaborate and shifts from being the center of attention to people being the center – when using Lync, you don’t think about the mode of communication (IM, Voice, Meeting) as much as you think about the people you want to connect to and context for the communication. It becomes seamless to move from an instant messaging conversation to a voice call to a meeting with shared video or shared application content. This is a really powerful rethinking of how people collaborate and matching the tool to the people, instead of people adapting to the tool.
Second, for our business partners, Lync is really an incredible ‘tip of the spear’ for account engagement – when a customer adopts Lync, they upgrade their entire productivity stack to the current versions – Exchange is migrated forward, current version of Office is deployed and SharePoint is upgraded to take advantage of the presence and capabilities of Lync. This is an incredible account penetration play – by leading with Lync, you become the thought leader on collaboration in the account and the incumbent trusted advisor on all management and maintenance of the collaboration and productivity infrastructure. With the addition of our Solution Incentive Program for Lync, the margins on leading with Lync are compelling as well.
Lastly, Lync opens up new models for collaboration outside of your business. At Microsoft, not only am I able to Lync with my peers and colleagues across the company, but I can also connect to partners and customers in other organizations who use Lync, Microsoft Messenger, and—in the future—Skype. This is the final rethinking of the PBX – moving from a private phone system built off the ancient copper platform to a collaboration platform that connects me to my company, my partners and the world in a new way.
I’m really curious – how are you leading this change with Lync at your customers? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @hey_ross…