Lync 2013 Brings the Human Element to Online Meetings

Here's a technology truism: You can have an absolutely phenomenal technology, but without user adoption, it's still a failure. And I'm not just talking about IT departments implementing a technology; I mean actually getting end users to embrace that technology. At the Microsoft Lync Conference last week in San Diego, one of the big messages was how Lync 2013 was intended to be "people-centric," with much of the focus in keynotes and sessions on the new and enhanced user features for unified communications (UC). It seems Microsoft, or at least the Lync team, has end-user adoption in its sites.

Microsoft Lync Conference 2013 at Hotel del Coronado in San Deigo

"Ultimately, it's all about the changing human interaction, the way people communicate, and really being able to provide an environment that makes them comfortable," said Giovanni Mezgec, general manager for Lync product marketing. Mezgec knows that the "bits and bytes" are important for IT pros, but it's equally important to remember the user experience. "They don't want to be constricted. They want to have the flexibility of looking at the information that they want. Bringing that experience in an environment that makes them feel like a natural extension of what they do already is so important to really foster adoption."

Related: 2013 Promises To Be a Big Year for Lync

Lync 2013 does offer improvements that should entice IT pros, particularly a simplified server architecture, which should lead to fewer servers required for an on-premises deployment of Lync. Lync Room System (LRS) is a new method of integrating meeting rooms and multimedia devices to optimize meeting experience for both in person and online attendees. And the switch to the H.264 video codec lets Lync present scalable HD video.

"It's a highly technical product that connects with a legacy infrastructure that is as complicated as it can get, which is networking and IP telephony and all that," Mezgec said. "We hope that we are making that easier [because of what we've learned] from 2010 to 2013 in terms of how to do this in a faster, better way for IT. We've taken some steps, but we're nowhere near done, of course. There's a lot more that can be done there. But hopefully we've made some significant steps that enable people to have more comfort with it."

Throughout the Lync conference, there was a lot of talk about some of the big announcement from the Lync team, particularly integration with Skype and video capabilities coming to the Lync mobile clients (on Windows Phone, iOS, and Android). These features were demonstrated at the opening keynote, and appeared to work beautifully. Video on mobile could be seen as a long overdue feature, but it's great to see it working so well cross-platform. As for Skype integration, the promise here is to bring a kind of platform agnosticism to UC; that is, you can initiate a call or conference from Lync without reservation that the recipient on the other end is on the same platform.

Although these additions should be huge for Lync 2013, Mezgec was interesting in highlighting some of the smaller elements of the product, enhancements that affect the user experience possibly without drawing great attention to themselves. For instance, during the video conference demo at the opening keynote, Lync corporate vice president Derek Burney showed how you can pin individual video thumbnails (by default, Lync displays the four or five most recent speakers).

Microsoft's Derek Burney shows off Lync 2013's video conferencing features
 
My cynical take on this feature is that it would be used by managers to keep an eye on their employees during meetings -- make sure they weren't playing Angry Birds or something else on another screen (which is actually something else Burney showed that you can do with the Lync client -- oops!). However, Mezgec put a more positive spin on pinning video by relating it to how people react during in person meetings: "Right now I'm talking to you. But I also keep an eye on Frank because Frank smiles when I say the right thing. So how do I do the same thing in a meeting that isn't live? So, pinned video. I want to keep an eye on Frank even if Frank is being silent."

Mezgec also explained how the Lync thumbnail images presented in conferences from video are created from larger images, which allows Lync to adjust the focus when a subject would otherwise move out of frame. "You're used to, when somebody moves, you follow them. You're not truncated and suddenly you don't see their head," Mezgec said. "Stuff like that, I think it's really, really, important. It gives people the ability to be brought together in a virtual way, by keeping that human touch and the common sense of human experiences."

What this model recognizes is that not all communication and interaction is verbal; we pick up clues to meaning from many different sources when we sit with someone in person. As Mezgec said, "Moving that online, it's a lot more about the unwritten things about human interaction than about technology, ultimately at the end of the day. What I'm excited about is the fact that we actually have a product that enables that expression with Lync 2013."

If you weren't fortunate enough to attend the Lync Conference, you can still view both the opening and closing keynotes on the conference website, which I highly recommend. Of course, I'd be interested in hearing responses from anyone who attended about what they thought of this first ever Lync Conference, or from anyone about what they think about Lync 2013 and its place in the UC landscape. Do you think Microsoft is on the right track to spur end user and IT adoption with Lync 2013? Leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Learn More: Lync Server 2013 Deployment Scenarios

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins
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