Microsoft thinks that your old-school telephone systems and board rooms have had their day in the sun. We can’t say that we disagree on that point. Microsoft also thinks that they have the single solution you’re going to want to replace all of that ‘traditional’ fare — Skype for Business. On that score, it’s up to you to decide if they’re right. They do make a compelling case, however.
Skype for Business is being touted as a complete communications system, “including audio, video, content sharing and messaging service”, which can integrate with packages like Office365, is able to dial out to cellular phones (that’s going to get up service provider noses) from several supported countries – of which SA is one – and this is all based in the cloud. It also integrates with existing systems if you’re reluctant to throw away the old. The only major downside that we can see? You’re crippled in the event of an internet outage.
But being able to chuck out ageing PBX systems, join meetings from anywhere, and cutting costs (if you’re one of those accountant types) is sure to be worth it, right?
Stuff was given a live demonstration of what Skype for Business can do today, via a virtual meeting that took place in the comfort of the quietest room we could find at Stuff Towers. More than 30 users, not counting those present in a conference room, connected to the meeting from a range of locations and devices, with some using their laptops and others connecting via mobile phones. One or two connected via a telephone call initiated from inside the Skype window.
Connection was as simple as, in our case, following a web link and adding a plugin to Chrome. The virtual meeting, from that point on, went without a hitch, without requiring a Skype or Microsoft account (but those are totally options) or indeed anything more than a browser and an internet connection. From that vantage point we were able to see and hear all of the meeting’s participants, interacting via voice, video and instant messaging and were also given a look at presenting – sharing a single user’s desktop with all of the users in the meeting. Video streaming, of a sort, is also possible but this relies heavily on the host’s upload speed. Hence we were treated to a slide-show instead of a stream today.
Microsoft says that this Skype for Business system supports up to 250 users on an internal company network. This sounds impressive until you get to the next number – they’re claiming up to 10,000 users on a single web-based meeting. Sadly we weren’t given a practical demonstration at that scale.
We were also given a brief look at Robit, a VPA or virtual personal assistant from Intervate. Using a natural language interface, Robit was able to arrange quotations for the Robit system itself, though this didn’t happen in real-time. It seems similar to Cortana’s digital assistant functions but it can apparently be programmed to answer just about any questions pertaining to a specific subject – making it a candidate as an AI assistant in a business. We’d like to get a closer look at Robit in future. Hint, hint, Microsoft.