This month we dive into Unified Communications (UC) – with a focus on Office365 and Microsoft Lync.
For those of you in the know, I know what you’re thinking. What a tease right? ..or is it??
Let’s do a quick roundup so everyone knows What we’re talking about and Why it’s important. For IT people supporting small business, UC is…EXCITING. It’s the holy grail of syncretizing your shit > The keystone…the Rosetta Keystone…that completes the bridge between Real-Time & Non-Real-Time messaging. From a single interface; one can manage ALL forms of communication, including (but not limitted to): Email, Phone, IM/Chat, Conferencing (voice & video), Desktop/File Sharing, VoiceMail, SMS, Fax, etc… Sounds like a wet dream, no? Well it certainly has been for some time. Not much more than a dream that is…A giant frustrating teaze to anyone that’s gone hunting for it. Since the late 1990’s when the phrase was first coined, “Unified Communications” has been too cluncky, too expensive, and more often than not – nothing more than Vapor-Ware. Never has it shown up from a reliable provider, as a complete cross-platform, device-agnostic reality. Until now.
Enter Microsoft Lync. Stay with us Apple fans…this is good news for you too. Lync works as well on a Mac as it does on a PC, as it does on an iPad, iPhone, Android, tablets and more. Lync launched in 2010 and in 3 short years, is already a $1Billion dollar business. Of course, like most other UC Platforms – they’ve been focused on the enterprise. UNLIKE the others, Microsoft’s droppin it like it’s HOT.so2speak;) By including Lync in many of the Office365 packages, MS is effectively giving it away. Much like they did with MediaCenter in Windows7/8, it’s there for you whether you take advantage of it or not. So… How do We Take Advantage of it? AND is it REALLY what we’ve all been waiting for; An affordable UC solution for SMB’s? This was the impetus for this article, and the 250+ hours of zealous research hence.
Many of our clients have heard me say, “The new Office365 subscription model is a Game-Changer”. And it is. The combined value of the products & services is unbeatable. It sells itself – without even mentioning the Lync part. And these are some of the additional benefits Lync promises:
- Voice and Video calls, Virtual Meetings, Presence, and instant messaging (IM)
- Transcribed Voice Mail (in your inbox)
- Data collaboration, Application & Desktop Sharing
- Integrated with Office365 (Outlook, OneNote, Sharepoint, Etc.)
- Cross-Platform/Cross-Device (Windows PCs, Windows Phone, iOS, Mac, and Android)
So why haven’t we mentioned it and How can Microsoft include all of this with Office365, for as little as $5-$22/mo? The going rate for a Virtual PBX alone starts at around $29/mo (an important fact to note(!). This is the primary part of your existing budget that Microsoft Lync replaces (also why we haven’t mentioned it). The lack of simple clarity on this point in the literature online is astounding. It took quite a bit of digging to learn exactly what Lync is, and that it comes in many flavors. The hosted version (included with Office365) DOES NOT include one critical part: Voice connections to the outside world. Free Lync2Lync calls is great but…Why would we want to manage a separate/detached calling device to get an outside line? WE WANT WHAT YOU PROMISED: UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS! Or should we say, “UNIVERSAL Communications” – as Microsoft is now calling it.
Ok, so Microsoft isn’t a telephone service provider (yet?). To make this solution work with inbound/outbound calling, we need to add VOIP service to it from a 3rd party provider. Not just any VOIP will do, however. We need a provider that supports VOIP with Hosted Lync. And we want it at a price that we (SMB’s) can afford.
Startups & Small Businesses with 2-25 people must run lean to survive in this economy. Technology budgets are tight. Making wise investments in this area can make or break a new company. This is why UC is so important. The increased productivity benefits are perhaps secondary to the potential cost-savings achieved by combining multiple services in one (Phone, Email, RDP, Business Software, CRM, Etc.). Much like the savings we all realized by moving to the “triple-play” at home (tv-phone-internet) – we should expect similar cost-savings from Unified Communications, right? At the very least, it must be comparable to current market alternatives; gmail + AT&T/Vonage/Ringcentral/etc. This means we’re working with a starting budget in the range of $5-$20/mo per user + $30-$230/mo per organization.
So we went on the hunt, with just a few initial requirements:
- VOIP + Hosted Lync with pricing plans built for SMBs (pay-per-use)
- Lync integration with Hosted Exchange via Office365
- Provider must be Reputable for Quality of Service (business-class reliability)
- Provider plays well with others (partners/integrations = future growth insurance;)
We found 27 companies providing VOIP w/Hosted Lync, only 12 of which met our standards. Almost everyone in this space is still targeting Medium-Large size businesses – with Cost-Per-Seat pricing models in the range of $25-$100/mo. No pay-as-you-grow plans to speak of – making it difficult for Start-ups (with personnel that fluctuates between 2 & 25 people) to get in and grow. Unless of course Microsoft brings the Journal back to Outlook and sync’s it up with Exchange like it should be – enabling most of us to do away with the need for a separate CRM system. Seriously Microsoft…wait, never-mind. We’ll get into CRM’s in another post. This is getting long winded..
In short, this is what we want:
To make & receive calls with our Business phone number (from any device), and have those calls logged to a shared contact. These records pop open during incoming calls, and provides click-to-call for outgoing calls. From the contact record we can see the entire communication history anyone in our organization has had with this contact; including shared Emails, VoiceMails, Faxes, Call Logs, IM’s, Meetings, etc. Everyone in our company should be able to do this from any device.
And this is what it takes to get it, from our top two chosen service providers:MONTH-TO-MONTH, NO-CONTRACTS:
Office 365 E3: $20/mo/user
Enterprise Voice: $24.99/mo/user
Custom Domain: $8/mo
Office 365 Unified Messaging: $5/mo
Total for first user: $57.99/mo
Each additional user: $44.99/mo
Office 365 E4: $22/mo/user
Complete Enterprise Plus Voice: $12.25/mo/user
Total for first user: $34.25/mo
Each additional user: $26.75/mo
Each additional user (no voice): $12.65/mo
We recommend the first option for start-ups with 1-5 people. It’s quick to setup & easy to turn seats on/off. For slightly more established SMBs with 4+ people, the second option offers more long-term savings. AND for Small Businesses with even smaller budgets and/or need for lots of local numbers, we’ve got non-uc solutions starting at $1/mo(!)
Well that’s it for UC for now everybody. If you’re an SMB and you’ve read all the way through this post, you’ve likely got some questions about CRM integration at this point. That’ll be the focus of our next blog post. We’re cooking up some exciting stuff for yall! Can’t wait? Give us a call today and we’ll schedule our first meeting on Lync!