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Planning Your Move to Microsoft Teams from Skype for Business

With plans to move Skype for Business Online users over to Teams, we ask what the time frames for the switch might be

Planning Your Move to Microsoft Teams from Skype for Business

Microsoft’s announcement in September that it planned to replace Skype for Business Online with Teams as its flagship cloud UC platform was received as something of a bombshell by the industry.

The immediate reaction was shock that Microsoft had decided to “kill off” Skype for Business just two years after its launch, although it quickly transpired that the changes applied only to the online version. In fact, at the Ignite tech conference where Microsoft made the announcement, it also unveiled plans for a new Skype for Business Server 2019 edition to be rolled out next year.

Still, the news has created a lot of uncertainty for resellers and end users alike. Immediate questions it raises include when Microsoft plans to make the big switch, when current Skype for Business Online users need to start planning to move to Teams, and exactly how much Skype for Business functionality will be shipped over.

What will I get from Teams?

It seems that Microsoft has made the decision based on the rapid rise in popularity of team messaging and collaboration platforms. It launched Teams in March 2017, despite already having the Yammer app available as part of the Office 365 suite. With hindsight, it looks as if Microsoft already had clear plans for where it wanted to go with Teams, adding voice and video powered by Skype for Business Online right from the start.

The decision to prioritise an IM and collaboration-led solution like Teams over a more traditional VoIP and video-based UC solution like Skype for Business can certainly be viewed in the context of a wider trend in the industry. Chat-based applications are increasingly seen as a more efficient, intuitive alternative to email, while in-built collaboration tools provide a direct link to productivity business leaders like. Add audio and video conferencing capabilities to the mix and you get an extremely powerful business comms platform.

Teams is positioned as a direct competitor to the likes of Slack and Cisco Webex Teams, another big brand solution in the booming market for chat-led integrated UC&C platforms. Where Microsoft will hope to gain an edge over its competitors is its ability to integrate an even broader set of solutions and options into Teams – VoIP PBX from Skype for Business, email and calendar from Exchange, and data from Sharepoint.

The big point of difference following the migration of Skype for Business will be the addition of full cloud PBX functionality to Teams. As it stands, Teams allows voice, video and IM communication between Teams users, or anyone using a similar compatible platform. But Skype for Business Phone System is an enterprise grade PBX which will allow users to manage phone calls from within the Teams UI. PSTN Conferencing and PSTN Calling plans will also be migrated over to establish connections beyond the Teams app via telephony services.

What is the timescale for transition?

As yet, Microsoft has not confirmed a definite date for when it plans to put Skype for Business Online to bed and offer the newly beefed-up version of Teams on its own. That makes it difficult for current Skype for Business Online users to plan ahead for moving over, although Microsoft has started to support transitions, and a date of 2020 has been bandied about for the switch over to be complete.

Microsoft has released some details of its proposed timelines for moving Skype for Business functionality over to Teams.

Things have started almost immediately with the addition of PSTN Calling, under the new name Calling Plan, by the end of 2017. This is an enterprise level feature from the Office 365 E5 plan which adds SIP trunking capabilities to Teams – basically, you can now link Teams to external phone lines via a third-party ISP provider.

However, calling services on external telco lines will not be activated until the second quarter of 2018, and no timeframe has yet been given for switching over Skype for Business Phone System, the cloud PBX. So these seem preparatory changes, as no one knows just yet when Teams will have full call management capabilities.

Another important Skype for Business Online feature, Federation, will arrive in Teams also in the second quarter of 2018. Federation allows companies running separate Office 365 accounts to communicate with one another, so is another important step in extending Teams from an internal comms platform into an external solution.

Within the same Q2 2018 timeframe, Microsoft also plans to add Skype Room Systems support to Teams, so it can be used manage video conferencing in meeting and huddle spaces using existing equipment.

So overall, a lot of the important functions not already shared between Skype for Business and Teams will be switched over by the middle of 2018. But the big one most enterprises will be waiting for will be the addition of Phone System, which will confirm that Teams does provide a reliable call management solution.

When should my company make the switch?

Microsoft is keen to encourage businesses to start signing up for Teams straight away for obvious reasons. But there is a feeling that it is handling the matter more with a view to its own commercial interests than the needs of its customer base.

Many Skype for Business Online subscribers will feel rushed by the pace of change. This is understandable given the fact that Skype for Business was only launched two years ago, and in that time the channel has had to work extremely hard convincing customers of the merits of embracing a full cloud UC solution in Office 365. To now be asking those same customers to switch to another platform is a big leap.

The best advice would therefore be to not feel rushed or pressurised. Teams is a useful and impressive collaboration platform in its own right. But until Microsoft has confirmed the full transfer of functions from Skype for Business Online, and set an end date for subscriptions to end, it makes sense to carry on using the service as you have been.

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