What is the secret ingredient of Office 365?

Two of the biggest changes in the communications world this decade are cloud computing and unified communications.

We have heard a lot about Office 365 and the fact that it is moving our business tools to the cloud. The part I am seeing least understood by business owners who are considering the move is the unified communications component of the tool. (At Combo, we sell Office 365, so I’m fielding a number of queries about it right now). 

Yet there’s still a part of Office 365 that is as yet a mystery to most of us – the Lync tool. 

So what’s the big deal? We have email, instant messaging, and Skype – what else do we need? 

A few months back I had read about Lync and wasn’t really excited by what I read. It wasn’t until I saw a live demo of how it changes the way we work that I went back to the office and turned it on.

Back when I was a nerdy technician, I loaded beta code all the time to be ahead of my client’s demands. What I learnt was that beta code teaches you a lot about how to fix your computers and also takes up a lot of spare time. Great for your young guns, but the older, wiser me is happy to leave it to others and focus on business strategy. Not so with Lync and its unified communications. 

So why the excitement? Well, it’s because of what it ties together and delivers on a nicely stacked plate. 

Firstly, it adds ‘presence’. This allows me to see the location of contacts when I add them to an email – it even pulls this from their Outlook calendar so they don’t need to set it manually, and I will know if they get my email straight away or later. 

I then add the ability to send an instant message to a person or group, followed up by setting up a one-to-one or one-to-many video/audio conference. 

With the premium Lync Online service, I can add people who are outside of my organisation and not on Lync. Once the session is established I can also share an application, or my whole desktop.

This sort of videoconference can be done via other products such as Webex or GoToMeeting via subscription too. There are also high end products from Tandberg, which was purchased by Cisco in 2010 to complement or replace Cisco’s own expensive teleconferencing and video conferencing solutions. 

But these products are only part of the unified communications solution and are not as accessible to the SME business. With Lync we can afford to have the communications tools distributed to most staff and make use of hardware already built into existing laptops or relatively cheap webcams plugged in to PCs. 

The technology allows us to have video chat running with a few people talking back and forth, and a lot of people lobbing in instant messages over the same tool – all of a sudden we can collaborate on a massive scale in real time. 

Add a few DeBono thought processes and we have a creative space that can change history. 

I have trialled this technology off a mini-laptop in a hotel room 1000km from my office, using a tethered Wi-Fi connection via my mobile phone – and it worked! It was clear and quick. I was able to share a spreadsheet and collaborate. 

The clients we have moved across already (it only came out of beta nine months ago) are all delighted with the service it has offered, and the functionality improvements they have gained. 

This is definitely going to be a technology that changes the landscape in 2012. 

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