Get seamless integration across multiple communication modalities
This utopian vision requires a fair amount of work in the background. You have the obvious technical challenge of integrating the modalities; however, in many ways this is far simpler than changing the culture of a business—which requires making information such as presence and skill set freely available and working to achieve a flexible and empowered workforce of individuals who are trusted to work in support of each other and the organization wherever and whenever necessary. Any company that embarks on a UC project needs to clearly identify why it’s doing so, outline its business and technical goals, and communicate why and how it will bring this change to users.
What Is Lync?
Lync is the new name for Microsoft’s real-time communication platform, previously known as Microsoft Office Communications Server. OCS provided enterprise IM, presence, and conferencing with direct integration to the Microsoft Office suite of applications. It also provided nascent telephony functionality and conferencing features that were cost effective and easy to manage.
In conjunction with Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Lync builds on its predecessor, OCS, in key areas:
- The PC and browser client experience, which I discuss later in the article
- Extensibility improvement through Microsoft Unified Communications Managed API (UCMA) 3.0, which provides a single set of APIs to access and control all modes of communication; the APIs ensure that access to communication modalities can be easily embedded in new and existing applications through Microsoft Silverlight and the .NET Framework
- Management improvements (e.g., PowerShell, Silverlight web-based management console)
- Improved telephony features
The Lync ClientWith Lync, Microsoft has worked hard to streamline the client experience, moving toward a single client for real-time communication. The biggest change is that the separate Live Meeting client no longer exists, with the functionality integrated into the main Lync client.
The Lync client gives users all the necessary information to easily find and communicate with the correct person through the most appropriate method. Presence information is gathered from integration with Exchange calendar information and enhanced by real-time usage data from the PC, location, and device awareness. The addition of photos in presence, close integration with SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2007 for skills-based searching, and a Twitter-like update capability called the Activity Feed (which can provide status updates, Out of Office—OOF—messages, and notifications about photo changes) all provide a rich environment that lets teams work closely together and understand one another’s goals. In addition, users can quickly and easily find the relevant person in an organization. Of course, organizations that want to disable functionality such as the Activity Feed can do so through client policies.
The Lync client has been completely redesigned from OCS. It has a simple layout, with easily accessible key options; it operates based on four main tabs that provide contacts, activity feed, communication history, and telephony functions. Examples that demonstrate Lync’s ease of use include the ability to effortlessly switch between audio devices even within a call, the ability to pop out the video feed in a call and move it to another monitor for ease of viewing, and the telephony tab’s provision of visual access to voicemail and a large-size numerical keypad for dialing.
Microsoft has done a lot of work to ensure tight integration between Outlook, Lync, and the wider Microsoft Office 2010 suite. (Of course, Lync also works with earlier versions of the Office suite. For detailed information about compatibility, see TechNet’s Lync 2010 Compatibility web page.)
One very effective Lync improvement when working with Office 2010 is the presence contact card, which is identical wherever presence is accessed across the Office suite. The contact card provides key details about people’s locations and availability, as well as single-click access to the main modes of communication, as Figure 1 shows. For example, Lync consolidates contact objects found in the Global Address List (GAL), Outlook contacts, and potentially on Facebook and LinkedIn through the Outlook Social Connector (OSC), to present a single contact with all relevant information about a person.
Another welcome addition, described as “the mother of all redials” at launch, is the new conversation history tab in the Lync client. This is another example of tight integration with Exchange because it uses either Exchange 2010 or Exchange 2007 as a data store to give instant visibility of all previous communication, whether over IM, voice, or conferencing, and lets users dive straight back into a previous conversation, with the context of what happened previously.