When Microsoft announced it was changing the name of its unified communications tool Lync, to Skype for Business, there were more than a few chuckles around the old IT department water cooler. Lync had first been introduced as the “suit and tie version” of instant messaging that also allowed for teleconferencing, screen sharing, and overall business collaboration. I’m no marketing guru, but by rebranding it as Skype for Business, I was wondering if the business world would still take it seriously. So I dialed up a few Stability Alliance partners (www.stabilityalliance.com) to find out. Mike Machulsky is the President of Software Logic (www.softwarelogic.com), a Microsoft Gold Partner and an expert in everything Lync. Colleen Palma is Vice President at Partner Consulting, a nationally renowned unified communications firm (www.partnerc.com). And Mike Feld is my partner here at VertitechIT, a guy who’s built, bought, and sold a number of telecommunications and IT businesses over the past two decades.

What is Lync (aka Skype for Business) and why should I care?

Palma: Gartner now ranks Lync as one of the two most popular unified communications platforms in the industry (alongside Cisco). Most business people are first introduced to it as a desktop application that sits in the taskbar. Your co-workers names appear as a list and you can see in real time, who is at their desk or available to chat.

Feld: But you can also send files, share your desktop, and even give them control of your keyboard and mouse. You’ve got video and audio capability as well. It really is a phenomenal collaboration tool.

Machulsky: And I think now you have to see it as a phone too. Depending on the size of your company, it may be an economical replacement for your traditional PBX system allowing you to make calls through your laptop or through a traditional looking Lync-enabled handset.

How easy is it to go from an old PBX to a Lync phone system?

Feld: If you’re a large company with 500 or more users and have an existing Microsoft enterprise licensing agreement, you already own many of the bits and pieces to which Lync is simply an add-on. For a smaller business, it may be cost prohibitive.

Palma: It’s not a good solution if you have sophisticated voice applications like a large contact center (even though there is a lot of third party software to make things work). It’s a great solution if you have pretty straightforward users and are very Microsoft-dependent as it integrates flawlessly.

But as far as collaboration, it’s hard to beat it?

Machulsky: If you’ve used any of the common online meeting pay services like Webex or GoToMeeting, they work fine but there are plug-ins to install, links to share, and there’s always that one guy that can’t seem to connect. With Lync, it’s a laptop, a Bluetooth headset, and a built-in webcam and everyone’s good to go. It can take time and effort to set up online meetings and that’s why people might not use them but because Lync is tied to Outlook, you can do everything without ever leaving your Outlook screen.

Feld: Leaving the voice application aside, we have clients using Lync on a global scale for collaboration because it easier and much less expensive to deploy than to buy dedicated infrastructure to do so.

What are the network considerations?

Feld: Your network is everything when it comes to Lync. Your network switching and routing architecture, your underlying servers, storage, VR, everything must be at the proper performance level. If you use Lync for mission-critical voice, it’s got to be bullet proof. If your network goes down, your phone goes down.

Does Lync grow with you and do I need to worry about security?

Palma: If rolled out properly, scalability is really not an issue as it’s just a matter of adding licenses. There are really no limits. As for security, that’s really not a problem either as it’s just as secure as any other internal application. The firewalls and security devices on the network protect Lync the way they do everything else.

So I think it’s right for me. Where now?

Machulsky: Don’t try to go it alone. If the configuration isn’t right, you’ll either have installation or scaling issues.   Make sure your consultant knows Microsoft, but also has telephony and networking expertise.

It might seem that by changing the name to Skype for Business, Microsoft is trying to position Lync as a business tool for the every man. The experts will tell you that as far as workplace collaboration is concerned, it’s just that. But if your intention is to make Lync your comprehensive unified communications system, you’d be wise to take a closer look.