Massey University charts early shift to Skype for Business

The ability to deploy Skype for Business as a hybrid cloud system could help the university retire its legacy telephony kit.

The arrival of Microsoft's Skype for Business could finally help Massey University rid itself of the remnants of its old analogue voice technology.

The university, based in New Zealand's Palmerston North, is an early trialist of the beta of Skype for Business, which is expected to reach full commercial launch in a couple of weeks. It has serious intent to deploy the software campus-wide by the end of the year.

Massey, with three real-world campuses and one virtual campus to serve, 31,500 students, and 3,000 staff members, has already consolidated onto Microsoft's Lync 2010 in an effort to replace "decades old" analogue Nortel telephony systems, senior systems engineer Glen Eustace said.

The journey has not been smooth. Multiple technologies remain, and the university found that its underlying network infrastructure was "not what we thought it was".

Efforts to shift to IP also coincided with other projects -- a shift from ISDN to SIP and a change in mobile suppliers -- creating further challenges.

The university's PC fleet also needed attention, not being configured for IP telephony and still running on Microsoft XT.

"There was a lot going on at once," Eustace said.

But those frustrations may have a silver lining, with Skype for Business offering the ability to deploy as a cloud solution, on premises or as a hybrid.

Eustace, who beamed into a Microsoft press briefing on Thursday, said the fact that the university is still on Lync 2010 means it can now migrate to Skype for Business, rather than upgrade.

"There is an opportunity to move forward without risk to the existing platform," he said. "Skype for Business and Lync will interoperate during the transition."

The cost of the software is also already covered by the university's Microsoft enterprise agreement.

Test users in marketing and IT are now exploring what Skype for Business has to offer, Eustace said. Of special interest is the software's rich screen sharing, interactive collaboration and meeting features, and its integration with the global Skype community.

Because the university hasn't fully taken the plunge into Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365, the ability to deploy as a hybrid cloud system is also key.

Glen Eustace

A Skype shift could help the university address another challenge: Integrating a new telephony system with its call centre.

Eustace said the call centre uses Customer Interaction Center (CIC), an IP-based system from Interactive Intelligence. That software already offers strong integration with Skype.

Eustace also likes the look of the Skype for Business mobile client, saying it appears to offer a similar experience to the desktop. Being on Lync 2010 meant the university missed the arrival of a mobile client in Lync 2013.

Another feature of Lync 2013 that Massey needs from its migration is call pick-up, the ability to answer someone else's calls.

A Skype for Business iOS client is expected to follow the Windows release within months. Again, with an 80:20 mix of PCs to Macs, this will help address Massey's needs.

Also beaming into the briefing was Giovanni Mezgec, Microsoft's general manager of product marketing for Skype for Business.

He said the software builds on the best of both Skype and Lync, delivering a familiar Skype user experience through the client interface. That is matched with Lync's enterprise-grade management via Active Directory integration and strong security.

Integration with the consumer version of Skype would also help companies reach out beyond their firewalls to better communicate with customers and partners, he said.