Archive for October, 2012
Among CIOs and IT executives surveyed, 13% expect to see salary cuts in 2013, reports the Society for Information Management (SIM)
For IT leaders and their tech teams, it’s business as usual. IT departments are still looking for ways to reduce costs, still trying to increase employee productivity, and still cautious about raising salaries, according to the latest survey data from the Society for Information Management (SIM).
PAYDAY: Who are tech’s highest paid CEOs?
IT COMPENSATION: Top CIOs take home seven-figure pay packages
While maintaining the status quo is the prevailing sentiment, one area that showed marked change in 2012 is IT spending. Companies funneled more of their revenue to the IT department this year than they did in 2011, SIM reports.
In 2012, the average IT budget was 4.94% of corporate revenue, up from 3.55% in 2011 (and a full percentage point higher than the average rate of 3.84% measured over the past eight years). Looking ahead to 2013, 46% of respondents expect IT budgets to grow, 32% expect them to stay the same, and 22% expect a decline.
SIM, which counts 3,500 CIOs and IT executives among its ranks, is hosting its annual conference, SIMposium, next week in Grapevine, Texas. Here are 12 tech trends the organization highlighted in its annual IT survey.
* Staff turnover remains low. Turnover among IT employees has been consistently low over the last few years, at 5.2% in 2009, 5.5% in 2010, 5.51% in 2011, and 5.23% in 2012.
* CIOs are sticking around for longer terms. At the highest tier, IT pros are keeping their jobs longer than they have in the past. In 2012, CIOs said they’ve had their jobs for 6 years on average, up from 4.5 years in 2011 and 5.1 years in 2010. Over the last seven years, the average tenure of a CIO was 4.6 years.
* Salary cuts a reality for more IT staff. Salaries increased for 60% of IT staff in 2012. Meanwhile, 29% reported unchanged salaries, and 11% said salaries declined in 2012. One troubling trend: More respondents reported shrinking salaries in 2012 (11%) than in 2011 (8%), and an even larger percentage (13%) expects to see salary cuts in 2013.
* Personnel costs consume the lion’s share of IT funds. Where does the money go? A breakdown of 2012 IT budget allocations shows about 60% of monies are spent on people, including staff and consultants.
Internal domestic staff: 33%
Internal offshore staff: 6%
Outsourced domestic staff: 8%
Outsourced offshore staff: 3%
Consulting services: 9%
In-house hardware, network, software, facilities and asset depreciation: 24%
Outsourced hardware, network and software: 14%
* Outsourcing expenditures to climb in 2013. The percentage of budgets allocated to offshore outsourcing is expected to climb in 2013, according to respondents. It has generally hovered in the 4% range in recent years, falling to a low of 2% in 2011. In 2012, the percentage of IT budgets allocated to offshore outsourcing climbed to 5%, and respondents expect it to consume 7% of IT budgets in 2013. By geography, the largest percentage of offshore outsourcing work goes to India (43%), followed by western EU (13%), Philippines (12%) and eastern EU (6%).
* Training expenses are flat. Education and training have eaten up a consistently modest portion of the IT budget over the last five years, averaging 3.1%.
* Reporting structures vary. The corporate hierarchy varies for CIOs and senior IT executives. The largest percentage of CIOs (43%) report to the CEO. Another 27% report to the CFO, 19% to the COO, and 10% to a business unit executive.
* The CIO role is all about relationships. Nearly half of a CIO’s time is spent managing relationships with business colleagues, IT staff and vendors.
HOW CIOS SPEND THEIR TIME
Relationship management with business: 24%
Relationship management with IT staff: 13%
IT governance: 10%
Human resources: 8%
Relationship management with vendors: 8%
Software development: 6%
* Outside talent eyed for CIO jobs. More CIOs come from outside the company than are hired from within, SIM reported. Among survey respondents, 54% said their current CIO was hired from outside the company, plucked from an external IT organization. Another 5% said their current tech chief came from outside the company, but from a non-IT organization. The remainder said their current CIO previously worked within the company’s IT group (37%) or within the company, but outside of IT (5%).
* IT success = on-time delivery. Timeliness remains the most significant metric for IT. When asked to rank the top IT metrics, respondents cited: projects delivered on time, project ROI, projects delivered on budget, SLA targets, and productivity improvement.
* BI still commands mindshare. Compared to last year’s survey, there’s very little change in IT project popularity. Business intelligence, cloud computing, and ERP are ranked first, second, and third, respectively, in SIM’s list of the top five applications and technologies. The top three are unchanged from SIM’s 2011 survey. In fifth place, as it was last year, is CRM. The only newcomer to the top five is collaborative and workflow tools, which climbed from eighth place to fourth in the 2012 rankings.
* IT’s moneymaking potential gains attention. Likewise, most of the management priorities for IT pros have a familiar ring to them: increasing business productivity, aligning IT and the business, improving business agility, and reducing IT costs. But one stands out. Revenue-generating IT innovations ranked fourth in the top 10 IT management concerns (it was ninth last year).
More than 1,000 devices certified for Windows 8 starting at less than $300.
Windows 8, Microsoft’s bold new operating system, officially debuted this morning at a coming out party in New York City highlighted by a display of the wide variety of devices on which it can run – from PCs to tablets to hybrids to laptops to notebooks.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says Windows 8 embraces so many different devices that it redefines the PC by giving what had been considered limited or specialized devices the full functionality of traditional desktops with the addition of touchscreen support.
“Windows 8 shatters perceptions of what a PC now really is,” he says. “It pushes the limits of what a PC is.”
Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division, heralded the improved performance of Windows 8 devices over Windows 7 and touted the wide range of new hardware that will support it, starting at less than $300.
He says that vs. Windows 7, battery life is 13% longer and boot time is 36% faster – and that’s running it on a PC certified for Windows 7. With Windows 8 the improvements are even greater, he says.
While the operating system is designed for touch, Sinofsky says it works equally well on machines with keyboard and mouse, and any application that runs on a certified Windows 7 machine will also run on Windows 8.
Sinofsky also promoted so-called “modern” applications that are designed to take advantage of the touch user interface and that are available via the Windows Store, an online market that opens at the same time Windows 8 becomes available.
A separate version of Windows 8 called Windows RT runs only on ARM processors to promote battery life and to enable smaller, thinner, lighter devices, he says. These devices only support modern applications; traditional Windows 7-supported apps will not run.
The idea is that Windows RT will only run applications that have been approved by Microsoft and that are downloaded from the Windows Store. Microsoft also controls updates, with the idea that over time security and performance of the machines will remain high, he says.
While the Windows Store has thousands of modern applications ready to go, the inventory pales compared to the hundreds of thousands available for Apple iOS or Android devices. But Sinofsky claims there are more applications in the Windows Store than there were in any similar application store when it opened.
Microsoft staffers demonstrated a wide range of Windows 8 machines including desktops, all-in-ones, tablets, convertibles, hybrids, laptops and notebooks. One device from Asus that was highlighted at the press conference has a detachable keyboard that contains a separate battery that extends the life of the system to 18 hours. It’s also available with a 4G wireless service from AT&T.
Microsoft mentioned its own Surface devices that compete with its partners’ machines, but downplayed their importance. One was pulled off a shelf holding a half dozen other devices built by Microsoft partners and demonstrated briefly in between descriptions of other portables.
Surface represents Microsoft’s foray into selling the accompanying hardware — a bold design of a thin tablet with an add-on tropical colored cover that doubles as a keyboard to turn the device into a notebook.
There are two major versions of Surface – Surface Pro and Surface RT. Surface Pro is based on x86 processors and carries the full Windows 8 operating system that can support traditional applications as well as modern applications designed specifically for Windows 8 and catering to its touch centricity.
Later during the launch press conference, demonstrations of machines made for Windows 8 showed how a touchpad on a laptop could be touched and swiped with the same gestures that would be used on a touchscreen, and Windows 8 would respond.
Windows 8 was also significant in the redesign of Office applications, the latest versions of which are optimized for touch, Sinofsky says.
Microsoft, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung are launching tablets with Microsoft’s Windows RT
Microsoft will open the floodgates for Windows RT tablets at a release event Oct. 26 in New York City. The Surface tablet from Microsoft will be available on launch, with more tablets from Asus, Dell, Samsung, Lenovo and Acer coming in the following weeks.
The tablets are designed for long battery life and will compete with iPad and Android tablets on price and features. The tablets will come with Microsoft Office Home and Student 2013 RT Preview, which will include Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote. There are things to consider such as support for older peripherals and backward Windows compatibility, but here are Windows RT tablets and hybrid devices that have been announced so far:
The RT tablet getting the most attention is Microsoft Surface. The tablet represents the first time Microsoft has made its own client hardware, and expectations are high.
The Surface can be ordered from Microsoft’s website starting at US$499 with 32GB of storage. For an additional $100, Microsoft is offering a Touch Cover accessory, which is a magnetic cover that is also a keyboard. A 64GB model is $699 and comes with the Touch Cover. The Surface tablet is 680 grams, 9.3 millimeters thick and has a 10.6-inch screen. It has a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 processor, which is based on an ARM processor.
Other features include front and back cameras, Bluetooth 4.0, a microSDXC card slot, USB 2.0 ports and 2GB of RAM. Microsoft is trying to differentiate the Surface from rival RT tablets with some tweaks such as a kickstand to hold the tablet. The tablet will be available initially in the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, France, Germany, Hong Kong and the U.K.
Asus’ Vivo Tab RT
Asustek was the first to show off a Windows RT device with the Tablet 600, which has now been renamed Vivo Tab RT. The tablet, scheduled to go on sale later this month, has a 10.1-inch display and a Tegra 3 processor. Asus has not yet officially revealed the tablet’s price, but retailer Staples has tagged it at $599.99.
At 520 grams, the Vivo Tab RT is lighter than Microsoft’s Surface, and also thinner at 8.35 millimeters. The tablet has 32GB of storage, 2GB of memory, a 2-megapixel rear camera and an 8-megapixel front camera. The tablet’s display will show images at a 1280-by-800-pixel resolution, according to published specifications. Other features include a micro-HDMI port, micro-SD slot, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
AT&T has announced it would offer the Vivo Tab with 4G LTE later this year. Data plans or pricing for the device were not available from AT&T.
Samsung’s Ativ Tab
Samsung is listing a 12-hour battery life for its Ativ Tab tablet when playing movies, which is perhaps the most of any tablet available today. However, it is unclear whether that battery life will be achieved by using a dock that has a spare battery. The tablet has a 10.1-inch screen, weighs 570 grams and measures 8.9 millimeters thick.
Pricing for the tablet hasn’t yet been announced. But U.K.-based online retailer Clove said in a blog that the tablet will become available in late October for about US$735, which totals about $880 including value-added tax.
The tablet will run on Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, which is configured to deliver connectivity and all-day operation. The Snapdragon processor has integrated 3G/4G capabilities but currently the tablet does not have mobile broadband features. Windows RT is being pitched as a consumer OS, but Samsung has highlighted some enterprise features in Ativ Tab including Microsoft Exchange and Cisco VPN (virtual private network) support.
The Ativ Tab has a USB 2.0 port and a micro-HDMI port. It also has a software and hardware feature called AllShare, which will allow the tablet to share multimedia files with other Samsung devices such as Android-based Galaxy tablets. Other features include NFC and Wi-Fi Direct, which is a way for devices to talk wirelessly without the need for an access point.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11
Lenovo in early October announced IdeaPad Yoga 11, the company’s first hybrid laptop/tablet with an ARM processor and Windows RT. The device has an 11.6-inch screen that flips to turn the device from a laptop into a tablet. But with a starting price of $799 it won’t be an easy sell as a tablet, especially as it is slightly heavier and more expensive compared to tablets with similar features.
The device will run Nvidia’s Tegra 3 processor, and Lenovo did not say if it would have 3G/4G features. It weighs 1.27 kilograms (2.8 pounds) and offers 13 hours of battery life. Other features include 64GB of storage, 2GB of RAM, a HDMI out port, a 720p Web cam, a USB 2.0 port and a media card reader. The Yoga 11 will go on sale in December.
Dell’s XPS 10 tablet
Dell is re-entering the consumer tablet market with the XPS 10, which has 10.1-inch screen and Windows RT. The company is targeting the tablet to fit in the BYOD phenomena. System administrators can disable the tablet remotely if it gets lost or stolen. IT administrators can also remotely deliver software images and updates to tablets. The tablet has a Snapdragon S4 processor, but other hardware details are not available. The tablet’s price and specifications will be available at a later date.
Other RT tablets
Acer plans to announce a Windows RT tablet at a later date, while Toshiba has temporarily scrapped plans to launch a device based on the Windows RT OS.
Surface’s two covers, which double as keyboards, offer unique feature (see slide show, video below)
Microsoft launched two 10.6-in. tablet computers dubbed Surface on Monday, built on Windows 8, with two versions of unusual attachable Touch Covers that double as keyboards.
The Windows RT version of Surface will go on sale first in 32GB or 64GB versions. It will be priced at the same level as competitive Windows RT tablets from other makers, Microsoft said.
The Windows 8 Pro version will ship three months later in 64GB or 128GB versions, and is expected to sell at the price of ultra portable PCs, Microsoft said.
The Microsoft Surface tablet
The Microsoft Surface tablet, unveiled late on Monday, comes with a built-in “kickstand.”
In pictures: Surface — ‘A PC, a tablet and new’
A full spec sheet for both Surface tablets is posted on Microsoft’s site.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called the tablets actual PCs because they are based on Windows 8. “The Surface is a PC…a tablet..and a new experience,” Ballmer said.
Windows RT will run ARM chips, while Windows 8 Pro will function on X86 architecture. The ARM architecture is widely used in smartphones and even Apple’s iPad, while Intel has been the biggest maker of X86 chips for laptops.
Ballmer spent time saying he appreciated efforts of various Windows 8 tablet makers with past PCs and coming tablets, but added: “With Windows 8, we didn’t want to leave any seam uncovered…Much like the need for mouse [introduced with Windows 1.0], we wanted to give Windows 8 its own companion.”
Analysts were concerned that Microsoft might rankle its tablet makers. But the news surprised some analysts, including Steven Osinski, a member of the board of the business administration college at San Diego State University.
“It seems to me that Microsoft, the sleeping giant, has finally woke up to 2012,” he said. “If Surfaces works as well as Microsoft claims, here’s a product that will give Apple’s iPad a major run for its money.”
Features in the tablets include a built-in stand, a vent around the perimeter to let off heat and partnerships with Netflix, and inclusion in the Xbox network, he noted. “This will be a threat to Apple’s dominance in the tablet market,” Osinski added.
The fact that Apple has a two year start on Microsoft with its 9.7-in. iPad that starts at $499 will matter. The iPad currently has more than 60% of the market, while various Android makers split the rest.
The two covers with the machine are called a Touch Cover and a Type Cover, with the latter offering a touchball experience and the ability to touch type with resistance.
An accelerometer in the covers allows a user to never need to remove the covers to orient them for typing. Microsoft demonstrated how they can be attached and used, and offered reporters brief up-close demos.
Windows 8 will go on sale in less than a month. Here’s what you need to do to get ready for this sea change in the PC world.
Judging from the tech press, Microsoft will have an uphill battle getting PC users to upgrade to its revolutionary new operating system. Fewer early adopters of preview releases than for Windows 7, a new interface that turns off power users who claim that it’s only suited to tablets, and game makers crying foul at its Apple-like single app store for new-style apps all have conspired against the new OS. Not to mention the loss of a key bit of nomenclature for the new apps—Metro. But there may just be room in the world for an operating system that’s equally comfortable on both desktop PCs and tablets. And the new operating system is not without its cheerleaders in the tech press.
For most people, Windows 8 will add benefits like a whole new class of simple, clean, informational apps. It also means much faster startup times, better multi-monitor support, and improved file transfer and task manager dialogs. The startup speed improvement alone will make the upgrade worthwhile for me. And the upgrade pricing is far less onerous than previous Windows upgrades: any Windows user all the way back to XP can upgrade for just $39.99, and purchasers of recent Windows 7 PCs will only pay $14.99 for the upgrade.
Windows 8Let’s say you’re one of the intrepid few who want to give the newest Windows upgrade a go. There are a few decisions you need to make before taking the plunge, and some prep work that will help smooth your transition to the new operating system. So here are my suggestions of what you need to do to get ready for Windows 8.
Decisions: New PC or Upgrade?
The first thing you need to decide after you’ve determined that you want to give Windows 8 a try is whether you want to start fresh with a new PC or upgrade your existing one. And once you’ve made that decision, further sub-choices await you below that initial guiding one. If you choose to go with a new PC, a subsequent decision will be whether you want a touch tablet, a desktop, or a laptop. If you really want to see everything new in Windows 8—especially its prowess with touch input—a tablet makes sense, and don’t forget that you can plug it into a dock connected to a keyboard and larger display when you’re not on the move, just as you can with a laptop.
You’ll find ample choice in tablets from the likes of Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, ZTE, and even Microsoft itself, with the Surface. And I’m afraid your decisions don’t end there: If you do choose the tablet route, you’ll need to make one further decision: Do you want one with a traditional x86 CPU or a so-called “Windows RT” machine, which runs a mobile ARM-based processor like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 and Nvidia’s Tegra 3?
The x86-based tablets based on Intel and AMD processors have one big advantage over the Windows RT tablets: They’ll run all existing Windows applications, while the RT devices will only run new style apps (formerly called “Metro-style apps”) and desktop apps specifically updated for them. For their part, the RT tablets will be lighter, thinner, and offer longer battery life, and will still run Microsoft Office and all the new-style apps. For summaries of several Intel-based tablets and what differentiates the various manufacturers’ offerings, read Are You Ready for Some Wintel Tablets?. Note that the Microsoft Surface will be available in both Windows RT and Windows 8 Pro versions.
You don’t need a tablet to enjoy Windows 8 touch, though: laptops with touch screens and all-in-one PCs with the same will be sold by a gaggle of hardware manufacturers as well. For some ideas of your options, see my article How Can You Get Windows 8?
Upgrading to Windows 8
Since Windows 8 will run on any PC that can run Windows 7, you don’t have to spring for a whole new machine to make the move. As I mentioned, users of Windows 7, Vista, and even XP can upgrade for just $39.99 until January 31, 2013. The Windows 8 installer checks your system, peripherals, and software for compatibility when you start an upgrade, so you don’t really have to worry about installing it on a machine that can’t handle it. For reference, Microsoft posted the following minimum specs for Windows 8 Release Candidate, and these will probably stick for the GA (general availability) release:
Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
Additional requirements to use certain features:
To use touch, you need a tablet or a monitor that supports multitouch.
To access the Windows Store and to download and run apps, you need an active Internet connection and a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768.
To snap apps, you need a screen resolution of at least 1366 x 768.
Internet access (ISP fees might apply)
You can also check the compatibility of your hardware peripherals and installed software at Microsoft’s Windows Compatibility Center
But again, you have a couple of choices to make after deciding that you want to upgrade your existing PC. This time there are fewer options than Microsoft offered with Windows 7: You pretty much have two options: Windows 8 “regular” or Pro, and 32-bit or 64-bit versions. For IT managers at large organizations, there’s also the Enterprise Edition, which is only available in volume licenses, and I’m really just concerned with consumers here.
There are two main reasons you might want Pro instead of regular: You plan to use your PC in a business environment where the machine needs to join a network domain, or you’re a home-theater-PC fan who wants Windows Media Center. Pro also adds BitLocker encryption, Hyper-V virtualization, and remote desktop. If you’re upgrading from Windows 7 Professional, Pro is your only choice for an upgrade installation.
On the 64-bit question, I’d recommend installing this higher bandwidth edition unless you’re installing on a very old PC with very limited memory. The higher bitrate will take advantage of more installed RAM—especially useful for working with video and high-resolution images. You can install 64-bit Windows 8 on a machine that was previously running 32-bit, though you won’t be able to preserve any apps or data, which brings us to the next installation decision.
When you run the Windows 8 installer, you have two choices: Upgrade and Custom. Custom fresh install or upgrade install. For a fresh install, you need to upgrade by starting up with the installer, while upgrades require you to start the Windows 8 installer within your running existing OS version. Upgrade does different things depending on which previous OS version you’re upgrading from. Here’s Microsoft’s table of what can be transferred to Windows 8 Release Candidate from each earlier version (and we can assume it will hold for upgrading to the final software release):
Current operating system What you can keep
Windows 8 Consumer Preview • Nothing (your files will be saved in the Windows.old folder)
Windows Developer Preview • Nothing (your files will be saved in the Windows.old folder)
Windows 7 • Programs
• Windows settings
• User accounts and files
Windows Vista • Windows settings
• User accounts and files
Windows XP • User accounts and files
If you want more upgrade choices—say, moving apps from Windows XP to Windows 8—there’s a third-party tool that supports more upgrade scenarios. Laplink’s PCMover Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant costs a reasonable $14.95, and can retain applications, settings, and data from your older Windows PC. The software even includes phone support.
Prepare Your PC and Yourself
Clean out the Clutter. If you do decide to go the upgrade route, even if you use PCMover, there are a couple things you can do to make for a better upgrade experience. Go into the Programs and Features Control Panel and uninstall any old apps that you never use and no longer need. Run Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup utility to clear out temporary files, offline Web pages, the Recycle Bin, and other detritis with CCleaner.
Scan for and remove viruses and spyware. Malware is surely something you don’t want be taking along to your new computer, any more than you’d want to take bedbugs from your old house to your new one. Make sure you’ve removed all the nefarious critters before upgrading, or if your machine is hosed beyond help, just perform a Custom full install rather than an upgrade.
Back up to a disk image
Should you decide that you must return to the past and can’t live with Windows 8, uninstalling is not a pushbutton operation. You need to have a disk backup image on an optical disk or USB stick—you won’t be able to restore from a recovery partition. In Windows 7 and Vista, you can use the Create a Recovery Disc utility. Just type those words into the Start button search box, and have blank DVDs ready.
Create a Microsoft account. Windows 8 uses a Microsoft account for app purchases in the Windows Store and saving to SkyDrive cloud storage. It also means your settings will be replicated when you log into another Windows 8 machine. A simple way to do this is to sign up for an Outlook.com e-mail account. But you can create a Microsoft account using any existing email address, too: Just head to the Microsoft Account Signup page. This will also enables single-sign in for compatible sites and apps. It also makes emailing, IMing, and gets you entrance to other Microsoft sites such as Xbox LIVE, Zune marketplace, and the Office Live apps.
Prepare yourself. The new UI looks unfamiliar, but if you know a few things, you’ll feel right at home. In fact, think of the screen you first see as just an extended start button panel, though one that displays live updated info such as new emails, sports scores, weather, and anything else you want an app to show. One of the tiles, the one with wallpaper, takes you back to the old familiar Windows 7 environment.
A couple rules of thumb always obtain when working in Windows 8: move the cursor to the corners of the screen with mouse systems, or swipe in from the edges of the screen on touch screens. The right-side brings up basic options like Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings. The left side shows your recently running apps and the Start page. Another key tip: When in doubt, hit the Windows Key. To familiarize yourself with some of the new terminology Windows 8 brings—not sure what Charms and Semantic zoom are?—read my Windows 8 Glossary.
A new operating system release is something I’ve always relished, akin to learning a new language or putting on a new suit. Windows 8 is a bigger shift than any previous version since Windows 95. Sure, many have and will buck at the changes, just as they did with previous innovations. I remember the tech pundits railing out against the Start Button when that first appeared, saying it dumbed down the operating system. Now the same folks are railing against its seeming removal in Windows 8. I’d argue that the new Start screen is really just a big Start button menu, and I’d argue that, as in the past, users will not only grow accustomed to the new direction of PC (and tablet) computing, but come to expect and demand it.
New Microsoft Lync features, services mean the unified communications platform will draw more customers; parity with Cisco, Avaya targeted
Microsoft is talking about its upgraded Lync unified communications platform, revealing client support for more devices, server features for better meetings and collaboration as well as integration with the peer-to-peer voice and video service Skype.
While it is clearly a good UC choice for customers with needs that align with Lync’s strengths, it’s not yet a platform that can jump in readily to replace traditional PBXs in environments heavily reliant on traditional desktop phones, experts say.
USE CASE: Microsoft delivers missing Lync for telemed project
Still, Lync is getting closer and its new features are bringing it into closer parity with UC leaders such as Cisco and Avaya, they say.
In touting upgrades to Lync 2013 – no release date has been set – Microsoft highlights its adoption of H.264 scalable video coding (SVC), a video codec standard that makes it relatively simple to display video on a range of devices, meaning Lync can support participants on screens ranging from smartphones to room displays, says BJ Haberkorn, director of product marketing, Microsoft Lync.
In addition, video displays by Lync clients has been upgraded to show up to five participants on screen at the same time, an improvement from having just the active talker on displayed. The view of those five is optimized depending on the number of participants and what other conference tools are being used.
Lync 2013 adds voice and video over IP for all devices, meaning that a device connected to a Wi-Fi network can participate in audio and video calls despite being disconnected from a traditional phone link. So users equipped with smartphones and tablets can conference over IP networks.
This is especially important to iPad users, he says, because the devices don’t support cellular phone networks. So they can join conferences, register presence and instant message other Lync participants.
The latest Lync client supports Windows 8 with a reworked interface that embraces touchscreens, which he refers to as the Windows 8 paradigm.
Peer-to-peer voice and video service Skype is federated with the upcoming Lync server. That means a corporate user working off a Lync enterprise network could provide and receive presence information with users of Skype. They could also establish audio calls with Skype users, but not video calls. Microsoft has that ranked as the next feature it will work on after the initial release of Lync 2013, Haberkorn says.
Last summer, Microsoft added Lync to Phone, a service that lets Lync users complete calls to and receive calls from the public phone network using the Lync Online Client. Such services are available only in the U.S. and U.K. through third-party public phone network providers.
Microsoft is pushing Lync to the application developers to include UC tie-ins to the applications they write. An app could include links to information about parties listed in the user’s address book and enable connecting with them directly from the application.
Microsoft has already done this with many of its productivity applications in Office where communications can be tapped via what is known as a rich content card that lists contacts’ name, email, phone, instant messaging and presence information. That can include information about others sharing documents via SharePoint in the SkyDrive cloud.
For example, OneNote is better integrated within Lync meetings for taking notes, and within Outlook it is simpler to send invitations to meetings.
When Lync is upgraded, it will have clients for PC desktops including Windows 8, Macs, iOS, Windows Phone and Android. That will support tablets – used mainly within organizations – as well as smartphones.
Lync’s look will be streamlined, cutting out the chrome that is now regarded as visual clutter, and making the overall look in step with what has been done to Office applications.
All this adds up to an improved Lync, but one that still isn’t for everybody, says Phil Edholm, president and principal at PKE Consulting.
The reason is that not all businesses have uniform communications needs. He divides workers into three groups: knowledge, information and services, Edholm says.
The knowledge workers, such as engineers or financial analysts, are the ones that need the wide array of features UC can provide such as conferencing, collaboration, instant messaging and presence to get their jobs done. They don’t rely on strict business processes as much as the other two categories of workers, but they need to communicate a lot with each other.
They also need to communicate with information workers who do rely on business processes and who need sometimes to communicate with knowledge workers. An example: a contact center worker who uses set business processes to finalize sales but who occasionally needs to talk to a subject matter expert – a knowledge worker – to supply information to a customer before a sale can be closed, Edholm says.
Service workers, such as delivery truck drivers, use information to direct their tasks, but don’t need a UC infrastructure to do so.
“Lync is a toolset, and you need to decide who needs the tools,” Edholm says, and sometimes that means deploying it to a select group
For instance, a Scandinavian police organization client of Edholm’s had 30,000 workers only 3,000 of whom were knowledge workers. Those 3,000 needed unified communications, but most of the rest didn’t, leading the organization to install Lync for some but not all.
In a company with 90% knowledge workers and 10% information workers the situation would be different. It would make sense to install UC for everybody just to avoid multiple systems and their maintenance needs despite the fact that some of the workers would use just the phone capabilities.
In a typical mixed deployment such as the police organization, the legacy telephony system could tie into Lync. Those with just desktop phones could reach those with Lync and vice versa, but the desk phone users wouldn’t require new gear nor would they have to learn new ways of doing things, he says.
Lync becomes a challenge when it is deployed to people who only use its telephony features. “Lync is not structured to be a telephony-only system,” he says. “You can do it but it doesn’t lend itself to being easy to use and easy to install if it’s just telephony.”
That’s because while it may perform all the necessary functions, there may be different ways of carrying them out, which requires training.
For example, multiple line appearances where a phone can ring on an individual’s desk but also at the receptionist’s desk would be replaced functionally by presence, a different way of doing the same thing.
“The biggest resistance comes with going from traditional telephony to Lync,” Edholm says. “This is changing somewhat and will change even more with [the bring-your-own-device trend],” he says.
Edholm says he did a comparison of Lync vs. Cisco’s UC for collaboration, and he found that an important factor is what the UC system has to interface with.
If the organization considering UC has a Microsoft directory system, Microsoft business applications and Microsoft databases, as well as Microsoft personal productivity tools such as Office, it makes sense to use Lync. It was built with Office, SharePoint and Active Directory interoperability in mind, he says.
If an organization doesn’t use Microsoft email, calendaring and productivity apps, then adopting UC from Avaya, Cisco, Nortel or Siemens might make more sense, especially if the existing PBX is made by one of these vendors, he says. “It’s not the UC system alone, it’s the kind of workers you have and the other systems you use,” he says.
Lync itself seems to be moving away from controlling the traditional desktop phone in favor of a UC system that includes telephony run from a desktop PC and a server in the data center or the cloud, which has service providers showing interest in the platform.
BT, for example, is offering a new Lync-based cloud service called BT One Cloud Lync that provides Lync as a service with the infrastructure based in the BT network.
Similarly, West IP Communications offers a Lync service that supports Lync edge, mediation and federation servers in West IP data centers. The upside for customers, says Jeff Wellemeyer, executive vice president of West IP, is quality of service. If these components are located on customer premises for a widely distributed Lync deployment, it makes it more difficult to ensure quality of service to all branches.
Hosted Lync isn’t for all customers, though, particularly those whose media traffic is intended to stay within the LAN, minimizing WAN QoS as an issue, he says.
Wellemeyer says that customers tend to progress in their use of Lync features, perhaps starting with just instant messaging, adding presence, conferencing, collaboration and connecting to the public phone network with some softphone use.
Moving to Lync as a PBX replacement is considered a move for “someday,” he says. “We’re not seeing a lot of customers tearing out their PBXs and putting in a Microsoft infrastructure.”
They might use Lync supplemented by PBX technology. “They think Lync’s not there yet,” he says.