joe.schurman

Skype for Business App Development Firms

UCAppsAs Skype for Business ushers in an entirely new platform of communication features and capabilities, extending the platform and the investment in it by enabling features within applications is not only possible, but in high demand.  By doing so, organizations reach their maximum potential in becoming a digital business.  While there are many well-known providers enabling organizations to deploy and experience the platform, there are not many who can extend it and develop these compelling apps.  Additionally, not many organizations, nor Microsoft themselves in some cases, realize that several providers have bet big on this opportunity by offering apps and by training developers on the Skype for Business platform to help organizations experience the art of the possible and high value ROI.  To help bring some of these providers to the surface and provide some visibility as to who they are and how Microsoft and other organizations can contact them, I wanted to highlight a few firms that have bet big on the Skype for Business Developer platform and can bring these experiences to life for organizations who which to make the most out of their investment and offer seamless communication across all business scenarios and experiences.

Excitingly, the Skype for Business platform enables developers to create and enable new an innovative experiences ranging from Telehealth to Customer Service Centers and thanks to the power of Microsoft Azure, they can all be hosted with no on-premise deployment required!  The following providers have proven to deliver applications within this area of expertise and are driving UC Apps to the market on a faster scale than ever before thanks to new cloud delivery models:

  • Avanade (http://www.avanade.com):  I have to preface this listing with the fact that I run Avanade’s UC Apps program.  However biased, Avanade has bet big on UC Apps and is delivering industry-based application experiences for digital businesses ranging from Remote Advisory solutions integrating with wearable video devices to digital lobby experiences and customer contact center applications.  Avanade is a join venture company between Accenture and Microsoft founded in 2000 specializing in professional services and cloud applications for the enterprise.  With over 19,000 employees (2014), and a global footprint that reaches all geographies, Avanade offers scalability and reach in their delivery of UC Apps.  Avanade, alone, cannot fill the need for this demand in the enterprise today and is extending its partnerships with key firms to meet those requirements.
  • Modality Systems (https://www.modalitysystems.com):  A UK-based firm, Modality has been developing Skype for Business and Lync-based applications for almost a decade ranging from mobile to cloud applications improving the overall end-user experience with the platform and extending into line of business applications.
  • Clarity Consulting (http://claritycon.com):  A US-based firm, Clarity has brought to market one of the most sophisticated Contact Centers for the Microsoft Lync platform and is home to one of the most renowned UC Apps developers, Michael Greenlee, who has provided consultation to the industry for over a decade on building robust and advanced UC-based applications.
  • EC (http://www.evangelyze.net):  A relatively unknown and global provider, and my former start-up that I founded in 2008, has come to market in 2015 with a suite of new line of business applications for retail web chat and Telehealth through their new Live Suite platform running on Microsoft Azure and integrating with Skype and Office 365.  With new leadership and venture funding, EC may wow us all in 2015.
  • Unify Square (http://www.unifysquare.com):  Unify², a US-based firm, specializes in Microsoft UC platform management and monitoring with applications including PowerMon and PowerView, providing tools that offer deep analytics and real-time data to help infrastructure management teams informed as to UC behavior within their organizations.  With several former Microsoft Lync development employees in tow, Unify² has deep breadth in product design, development and scalability in their applications.
  • Mindlink Software (http://www.mindlinksoft.com):  Another UK based firm, Mindlink specializes in chat applications for the Microsoft UC platform building brand recognition with their popular persistent chat app for Microsoft Lync.
  • ComputerTalk (http://computer-talk.com):  This UK-based firm, like Avanade, specializes in professional services, providing developers to enterprise organizations to customize their Microsoft UC experience.  Additionally, ComputerTalk has also produced several products including their own Contact Center solution for the Microsoft Lync platform.
  • Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS):  Microsoft’s consulting services arm works side by side with the Skype engineering team and Microsoft partners to enable Skype Developer Platform applications for the enterprise.  MCS has delivered very complex integration work as well providing interfaces between the Microsoft UC platform and other vendor services as well as heavy mobile development capabilities.
  • Nectar Corp (http://www.nectarcorp.com/):  Nectar specializes in system monitoring like Unify Square, but provides deeper integration with both the Microsoft SDN (Software Defined Networking) API and reporting/archiving services, enabling rich diagnostic and reporting services enterprise corporations need to manage and maintain their UC deployments.
  • Aruba Networks (http://www.arubanetworks.com/):  Not commonly known for their application development capabilities as they’re a proven provider or wireless and wireline communication services, Aruba has immense capability to deliver end-to-end system monitoring and network diagnostic reporting from the Microsoft UC endpoint and server through the network.  Leveraging both Microsoft’s UC SDN API and Aruba’s SDN services for their communication products, Aruba provides the level of detail an enterprise corporation needs to manage their UC environment and the network supporting it.
  • Verba (http://www.verba.com/):  Verba provides communication and collaboration recording and archiving solutions for UC systems.  Leveraging the Microsoft UC platform, Verba surfaces a plethora of data that can be used by enterprise corporations to meet compliance requirements by reporting all the way down to individual conversations, recorded voice sessions in peer to peer and conference sessions, and IM/Chat recording transcripts.  Administrators can search for keywords to view any conversation that has taken place that may be out of compliance.
  • Actiance (http://www.actiance.com):  Previously known as FaceTime, until Apple purchased the naming rights, Actiance provides communication, collaboration, and social media governance for most of the Fortune 500.  Actiance enables services that allow secure organizations or departments to communicate with peace of mind by setting up communication barriers allowing only compliant and controlled conversations within specified teams.  Actiance solutions span across many vendor solutions and products, but offer a wide range of capability for the Microsoft UC platform to enable organizations to leverage Skype for Business in secured, controlled environments.

If your organization is looking to see the art of the possible, give these providers a ring to start your journey with UC Apps.  Their solutions are also listed on the Microsoft internally-popular website, Microsoft PinPoint, accessible via https://pinpoint.microsoft.com.

Skype for Business Favorite Features

Trying to take a poll of what your favorite features are with the Skype for Business 2015 release.  Please vote below!

Skype Developer Platform Launches at Microsoft Ignite

joe-at-ignite_editedMicrosoft Ignite, hosted in Chicago, IL last week was one of my most favorite events.  Packed full of product and platform announcements accompanied by exclusive interviews, video shoots, presentations and sessions as well as a massive after party showcasing one of mine and my kids’ favorite bands, “Fall out Boy”, it was an event to remember.  At Ignite, 2 significant announcements were made within the world I live in everyday with the launch of Skype for Business (both Skype for Business Server 2015 and Skype for Business Online) and the newly announced Skype Developer Platform which my team and I have been working with for the past year.  The Skype Developer Platform has enabled us over the past year to develop and deploy web-based applications with integrated HD-Audio/Video, Instant Messaging, Conferencing, Presence and other features backed by the Skype for Business platform offering new, exciting, and innovative end-user experiences through the magic of communications software.

In short, the Skype Developer Platform is the essence of what the promise of CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Processes) was a decade or more so ago.  With this capability, developers have the opportunity to learn a new and intuitive API to build rich applications that connect devices, processes, and people in ways not thought possible and across industries as with customer service in retail, digital banking experiences between customers and agents, as well as rich new secure Telehealth capabilities connecting care providers and patients.  This capability has definitely been a long time coming, but has also required relentless work and dedication not only by Microsoft, but its partners and developers like us as well as industry focus on a “plug-in-less” solution for Audio/Video via the web as seen driven by WebRTC and the new ORTC project.

Next steps include taking this capability to Skype for Business Online and connecting Skype Consumer and Skype for Business users in natural and familiar ways to improve communication and collaboration as well as remove human latency that exists between processes today in order to truly enable the Digital Business and Digital Customer.  Stay tuned for more information and frequent updates.  To learn more about the Skype Developer Platform and recent announcements, visit http://www.skype.com/en/developer/.

To watch the full presentation from Ignite, see the video below:

To see examples of new apps we have developed leveraging the platform, watch below:

Skype for Business Apps and Azure

AzureSFBIf you are not familiar with Microsoft Azure or maybe still have no idea what “the cloud” means, hopefully this post will shed some light as well as introduce new capabilities enabled by the Skype for Business platform to host and integrate Microsoft UC applications in the cloud.  For the past decade the my colleagues and I have been developing line of business or add-on feature applications to the Microsoft UC platform, starting with Live Communication Server to Office Communications Server to Lync and now for Skype for Business.  One of the most difficult situations that we are always faced with has to do with delivery and consumption of the application by a customer with dependencies requiring on-premise infrastructure.  Those days are thankfully nearly over with the promise of cloud-based services.  From a Microsoft perspective, Azure promised ease in deployment of new cloud-based applications which was very exciting to developers overall, but when trying to deliver this experience with services requiring communications software, there seemed to be no way around installing at least one service on a virtual machine or physical machine.  This overhead adds complexity and cost to the overall solution and in turn results in the type of customer base you can deploy to.  With enterprise organizations moving off of on-premise and even hybrid infrastructure environments to cloud production models today, the urgency of moving software-based communication services equally to the cloud has been vexing for many providers.  Over the past year, Microsoft has made many new advancements with their cloud platform, through Azure, by accelerating the availability of cloud services that can fully replace the role of the traditional server and even the virtual server in many and soon all cases.  To many, “moving to the cloud” simply meant moving an application or infrastructure service (vm, server, etc.) to a provider outside of your own datacenter, hosted by the provider or group of providers.  Actually, moving to the cloud and the true value of what Azure provides, is fully moving off of virtual server/machine dependency and leveraging specific services to replace those roles.  So lets discuss how my team and I as well as several others pioneering with Azure today have accomplished this.

With the release of new Azure services including Worker Role services, Azure Web Apps, API Management, and other new services, you can now offload many services that traditionally required a physical machine or even a virtual machine to these cloud service capabilities.  From a Microsoft UC perspective with Lync and Skype for Business, we no longer require a dedicated virtual server only to host a Microsoft UC application, depending on the application.  For example, even the most machine-dependent API, the Microsoft UCMA (Unified Communications Manged API) specifically required a physical or virtual machine to host a UCMA app which can now be augmented and soon replaced by Worker Role services.  To add, Azure has enabled capabilities such as Virtual Networks and Public VIPs which allow capabilities provided through Microsoft UC (Lync and SFB) Edge Services such as federation and remote access to run securely and efficiently in the cloud where specific physical servers were required in the past.  With Azure Web Apps, we can deploy auto-scaled websites and web services in minutes directly from the Visual Studio development environment.  With upcoming features including a rich new web development platform for Skype for Business, being able to offer client-rich features leveraging the latest innovations in web audio/video, IM, conferencing, and ability to integrate with Node.JS, WebRTC, SignalR, and other service-driven apps is instantly available.  With Azure Identity & Access Management features, we can now deploy web-based applications to Azure for customer consumption and subscription and leverage Azure Active Directory or Federated Identities including popular Microsoft IDs (MSAs) so that end-users can login manage identity on their own terms.  With Azure Data & Storage options, we can store SQL Server databases directly in the cloud without requiring a virtual or physical server deployment and configuration of SQL Server.

SFBAzure

What’s best about all of this is that you don’t have to be an infrastructure expert to deploy any of these services and they are all managed from one single dashboard/portal via https://manage.windowsazure.com.  Lastly, the connection to Azure and VisualStudio.com has increased development productivity, collaboration using TFS online services for User Stories, Bugs, Test Cases and managing our backlog efficiently across all team members.  Bottom line, we have cut down our delivery to minutes and days instead of weeks and months through Microsoft Azure when delivering our UC apps for the Microsoft platform.

At the end of the day, the cost savings as a result of speed in delivery and better team collaboration in using Azure services compared to the traditional approach are passed on to the customer to acquire a product that offers the ultimate in price-performance.  Being able to collaborate more efficiently, synchronizing tasks and backlog across team members and enabling quicker delivery to test and production environments directly from Visual Studio to Azure, means faster delivery of the app to the customer and more time spent on iterative development.

For more information on Microsoft Azure, visit http://azure.microsoft.com.  For more details on Visual Studio and TFS Online, visit http://www.visualstudio.com.  Get started for free and join us in delivering new and exciting experiences in the cloud.

Announcing Skype for Business

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If you haven’t heard, Microsoft has announced the upcoming release of Skype for Business.  As many others are, I am personally super excited about the upcoming release as Skype for Business represents the ultimate goal in what Unified Communications wished to achieve in connecting organizations and experts on a global scale across all user experiences (mobile, cloud, devices).  Skype for Business not only enables the security and scalability that enterprises require, but also the ability to attract new generations of workers.  With 5 billion+ users who have experienced the Skype consumer client, familiarity is king and enabling the simplicity of communication across platforms, browsers, and devices will usher in a new categorization of collaboration, Universal Communications.  This capability will enable organizations to reach their highest potential of truly becoming a digital business by enabling cross-enterprise communication and collaboration, but more importantly, connecting to their respective digital customers!

I have personally been involved developing applications for the upcoming Skype for Business platform’s predecessor applications including Microsoft Lync, Communicator, and Windows Messenger and can tell you that the development capabilities for the platform are what excite me the most.  Being able to implement scalable and feature-rich collaboration and communication services into line of business applications is my life’s passion.  With the new Skype for Business platform, healthcare organizations will finally be able to offer secure, stable, and deep experiences in Telehealth/Remote Care.  Financial institutions will be able to replace analog experiences such as banking lobbies.  Retail organizations will be able to truly connect seamlessly and offer integrated shopping experiences via web and mobile applications.  Integrated and real-time audio translation services will enable communication between any party regardless of nationality.  That’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the art of the possible.

I look forward to the release and will be commenting on capabilities when able to as well as showing examples of possible capabilities and my team’s experience with our research and development efforts related to the Skype for Business Web Developer platform.  Having commented on Microsoft’s UC platform heavily in the past and being a 6-time and the 2nd Microsoft UC MVP, I can truly say that Microsoft has it right with Skype for Business.  This is the culmination of over a decade of work, producing a platform that will enable future generations of innovation in human communication.  I look forward to being a part of that journey!

Read more about the release via http://blogs.skype.com/2014/11/11/introducing-skype-for-business/

Microsoft Lync Conference 2014

Really excited about the upcoming Lync Conference next week in Las Vegas, Feb 17-20.  I will be presenting a session on Wednesday focused on the CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Process) Framework my team and I have built at Avanade.  It’s been amazing to see the evolution of capability that has been built over the past decade.  I still remember deploying Live Communications Server 2003 to global organizations looking to provide secure, enterprise Instant Messaging.  Now, we can provide remote healthcare diagnostics, connect individuals and organizations across IM, Audio, and Video via the web, and more!  It’s definitely been a journey and I cannot wait for the future.  Follow the event via #LyncConf14.  For more details on my session, visit http://www.lyncconf.com/SessionDetail.aspx?id=15168.  For an overview of the Avanade CEBP Framework, visit http://www.avanade.com/cebp.

 

Future of UC Webcast

Today I had the honor of co-presenting with Don Van Doren and Jebb Dykstra via one of the best panel discussions I’ve ever been on concerning the future of Unified Communications. Moderated by Randy Thomas, this webcast session is definitely worth a listen and share.

https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/509/59785

EC wins Best in Show Award @ITEXPO

Evangelyze wins Best in Show award for UC App Dev @ITEXPO

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Siemens Hits the Nail on the UC Head

Siemens CCO Chris Hummel addressed the main issue with UC today in his keynote @ITEXPO. UC vendors stop developing clients, focus on experiences! More to this discussion to come!

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Enterprise SBC Conversation

Sitting in and discussing Enterprise SBC Essentials via Panel. Interesting conversations around dealing with hybrid and trial customers. Massive amount of movement to UC solutions requiring gateways and SBCs to be flexible in features and interop support. Many enterprises currently in trial with multiple UC solutions and need single, adaptable, SBC to deploy with chosen solution.

Based on panel discussion, both Sonus and Sangoma offering compelling capability. Sonus more advanced in offering hybrid capability!

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