Multinationals Need to Think Globally about Skype for Business
Skype for Business has matured just as corporate organizational complexity has jumped off the charts. The need to be connected in the office, from the home, on the road, even from the seat of an airplane or train is more than just a hallmark of this digital age. The ability to reliably and securely collaborate across distance, device, and location is critical to effectively managing the modern multinational enterprise. What I’ve seen is that everyone says they “get” Skype for Business, but – if you take a close look at actual capability – few can deliver, and even fewer can deliver at scale.
There are three parts to a successful long-term unified communications solution, and almost no one has the depth and breadth to effectively address all three in a large multinational enterprise. First, you must have technical mastery of the UC solution. Second, you need to have the experience deploying the UC solution in today’s intricate and ever-changing corporate organizations. Third, multinational UC solutions will need to work in the complex regulatory and infrastructure regimes that exist across the globe.
Large multinational enterprises have good IT teams, but it is almost unheard of for these teams to have extensive experience across multiple enterprises deploying a corporate-wide UC solution such as Skype for Business. This stands to reason, as communication systems tend to be on a 10-year refresh cycle, so any team that did the last one probably isn’t intact a decade later and the product itself has probably changed dramatically. Consequently, most global UC implementations rely heavily on one or more partners, which makes sense as CIOs look to de-risk these deployments.
UC solutions like Skype for Business have gotten quite good, but solution architecture and engineering at a global scale is not trivial. While a team of gold certified consultants from a regional partner can usually get a couple of thousand seats of Skype for Business working across one or two domestic campuses, making that scale for tens of thousands of users in dozens of locations throughout the world takes experience as well as knowledge. There just are not that many partner firms with that kind of experience; more on this later.
Why is the global solution architecture for Skype for Business so hard? First, there are underlying engineering issues related to endpoints, networks, security, and even CODECs that make it challenging to provide a predictable and uniformly good experience in all major global use case scenarios. It can all be made to work, but unless you have done it before you just aren’t going to get it right the first time out. The second problem is that the capability Skype for Business provides for management and reporting is likely far short of what a multinational enterprise requires. Something as fundamental as root-cause analysis is already challenging without adding the global engineering complexities that could make quality support a nightmare. You will want to understand these engineering and support issues at a global level before you do the solution architecture if you want to get it right.
At a different level, Skype for Business as a product and as a solution is going to change as it continues to mature. Staying ahead of those changes requires a significant commitment of resources to Microsoft and to the vendor ecosystem that supports Skype for Business. Innovations such as software defined networks (SDN) and 5G wireless will impact product and solution architectures that may lead to adjustments in deployment architecture.
In addition to being able to address the technical challenges, an effective Skype for Business deployment needs to be nimble and robust enough to support the modern multinational organization and its incredibly dynamic operating ecosystem. Business lines are now part of an economic portfolio that adds, divests, and morphs manufacturing and distribution units at an increasingly rapid clip. Supplier and channel relationships can change quickly across firms and across borders at a moment’s notice. Optimizing for cultural and operating differences between business units and between different countries requires flexibility. Just as today’s competitive multinational is agile and adaptable, so too must be its UC platform. Designing and managing Skype for Business for that agility and adaptability at the level needed for a multinational is, as I keep saying, non-trivial.
The third challenge – the global regulatory and infrastructure issues surrounding UC – is more nuanced but no less important. UC is not a vanilla over-the-top consumer application that operates outside of regulatory review. In every country (sometimes even at the state or local level) there are going to be privacy, compliance, discovery, and reporting requirements that the multinational will need to address. Identifying and managing to these requirements requires a reliable understanding of what they are. Architecting to meet regulatory requirements is one challenge, adapting the solution every time these requirements change is yet another.
Local and regional infrastructure issues are also important. You cannot simply design for TransPacific latency as a generic problem – you need to understand specifically how your traffic is routed through which cable landings and how the traffic is exchanged at which peering point; you also must understand the second (redundant) path and its performance relationship to the primary path, particularly when the primary path is down. There are going to be performance variations in everything from a dedicated MPLS solution to public last-mile connection in each market that someone should design for and manage to. Knowing the details for every market at a global scale is, frankly, non-trivial.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of moving parts that a large multinational enterprise will need to manage as it prepares for and runs its Skype for Business unified communications solution. An enterprise could certainly assume the risk, manpower, and costs associated with managing all of this, but more likely the IT executives will look for success through the engagement of a design-build-operate partner. At a multinational scale, there are very few potential global partners with the experience plus engineering and business talent to be credible.
Recalling the three-part criteria I recommended for a successful global deployment of Skype for Business:
(1) technical mastery
(2) business and organizational understanding
(3) global regulatory and infrastructure expertise.
A couple of the global systems integrators can meet one or two of the criteria but not all three. In my experience, only a global telecommunications provider with a dedicated focus on enterprise UC has the depth and breadth of knowledge to provide the level of expertise needed to effectively support a large multinational’s Skype for Business deployment. The fact that a global telco can also directly package network and security services into their UC offer – resulting in cleaner and more reliable service level agreements – makes the global telco an even more appealing partner for the multinational organization. Given the complexities attached to providing reliable troubleshooting and support for Skype for Business, I would also tend to favor a solution provider that could run all or most of the traffic on networks they largely own or control.
How to think about global telecommunications providers and UC? Seven years ago when I first started managing the Lync (now Skype for Business) telco partner engineering program for Microsoft, I observed that some of the large or global telcos were not really committed to offering a robust UC solution that optimized the product’s design. Many of the wireless providers insisted on running Lync through their IMS core or through their envisioned VoLTE solutions, which detracted from Lync product performance. Landline providers were convinced that an over-the-top solution like Lync would cannibalize their existing TDM revenues so more than a few were reluctant to invest in or sell Lync solutions. Many considered UC to be little more than a dialtone/PBX replacement and so did not develop the services muscle to support the collaboration or mobility solutions offered by UC.
BT took a different approach and one I consider the industry standard. BT committed out of the gate to developing an engineering team of Lync subject matter experts and to focus on making Lync work as designed over their global network. They embraced Microsoft’s vision for software-based unified communications and understood as well as anyone that the value of UC was to enable global enterprises to more effectively collaborate. They worked with Microsoft to proactively address engineering and performance issues and opportunities. While other telcos made some of these bets, none have done so at the scale of BT.
This paper is sponsored by BT.