Polycom Integration with Skype for Business is Changing the Value of the Ecosystem
For the last three years at Enterprise Connect, Brent Kelly and I have done a session contrasting Cisco and Microsoft in UC. Over those three years, one key differentiator had been Cisco’s integration capabilities, especially in video. As a single vendor for a “complete” UC portfolio, it was logical that Cisco would have a better integrated video offer than Microsoft.
However, the reality is that an ecosystem can offer significant value versus a single vendor system. This has been clear in the Microsoft/Apple battle in PCs. While Apple chose the single vendor path (hardware, software, peripherals), Microsoft has taken the open ecosystem path, and in the process harnessing a range of companies that provide PCs, peripherals, applications, etc. Microsoft has taken a similar approach to video integration into Skype for Business. It is clear that significant progress has been made. This can be seen by examining Polycom, Microsoft’s largest and deepest video partner for Skype for Business.
The Skype for Business ecosystem has a large number of players. While Polycom is not the only vendor providing video solutions for Skype for Business, they have made it a major focus. As part of Microsoft’s announcements and demonstrations during their Enterprise Connect 2016 keynote, this strategic partnership with Polycom continues to move forward. Over the last year, Polycom’s video solutions have increasingly become more integrated with Skype for Business, as evident in several ways. One example is the integration of the Polycom room environment into the Skype for Business platform. Polycom has integrated a traditional video environment, including rooms, MCUs, and features, directly into Skype for Business. With Polycom RealConnect, a video room that is capable of participating in general SIP-based video session can, with a single click by the user, join a Skype for Business meeting. For the Skype for Business participants on a Microsoft client, the room appears as just another client. In the room, the Skype for Business video users appear as other elements, mirroring the more traditional room feature set. This integration can be done for a single or many rooms, and includes the ability to extend to non-Polycom room systems, such as Cisco room video systems.
The integration includes advanced calendaring as well. For example, a conference room can be considered a resource and can be invited into a meeting. The conference room is essentially part of the Outlook calendar invite and is now pre-positioned for the meeting. When the user walks into the room, the room display will automatically show the upcoming Skype for Business event, and the user merely has to click on the event for the room to join the Skype for Business event. If multiple rooms join the same event, they will share the core Polycom resources and the integration to the Skype for Business core, ensuring a room-to-room experience. In addition, many types of Polycom endpoints can join Skype for Business sessions directly, when needed.
At Enterprise Connect, Microsoft and Polycom also announced that Polycom’s RealPresence® Group Series in-room video conferencing solutions will be qualified on Skype for Business Server and supported on Office 365. With the RealPresence Group Series, Polycom has delivered innovative features like audio enhancements to reduce background noise, audio fencing to focus to the active part of a room, as well as features in larger rooms for active speaker tracking through audio and face detection. Polycom’s solutions take into account both the science of room acoustics as well as the underlying system technology. For example, the noise reduction capability monitors the audio stream with technology that can detect actual human voice and mutes any lines that are noisy but do not have an actual speaker. This is done while maintaining the ability of the room environment to be used as a more traditional SIP video room while also extending to Skype for Business.
One key area that is getting a lot more attention is huddle room video solutions. While video has some level of deployment in larger conference rooms, especially in larger businesses, the small 4- or 6-seat huddle room has largely been left out. In fact, data shows that only about 5-7% of US conference rooms are video enabled. To enable the remaining 93% requires some key elements, a lower price than traditional room systems, easy installation, simple Skype for Business integration, and a great non-video experience for when video is not used, as most of these rooms will continue to be used as audio-only for many task-based meetings.
Polycom is addressing this market with a new product, the Polycom RealPresence Trio. The Trio is aptly named as it delivers audio, content sharing and video. The RealPresence Trio has charted a different path than other huddle room options. While most huddle room video solutions start with the camera module, the Trio starts with an updated version of the iconic Polycom conference phone, which looks like it has gone to stealth school, with the audio chops to match. However, the big differentiator is that the phone device sitting in the middle of the room is also capable of video through a small Visual+ accessory module that connects using L2 Ethernet to the RealPresence Trio base. This module goes behind the on-wall monitor and has HDMI for the display and USB for a camera. The advantages of this configuration versus the traditional camera/electronics on the display and an audio mic on the table are clear. First, the connection uses the Ethernet cables that are already available at both points, eliminating a separate wire running from the table to the wall. Video is a potential future upgrade—any room can start with a RealPresence Trio for voice, and extend to video in the future as required with the Visual+ accessory. In addition to video and content sharing, RealPresence Trio supports a full range of audio inputs, including USB and Bluetooth with Near Field Communications (NFC). A user can just walk into the room, touch the NFC logo and have instant integration of their device to the room.
Overall the experience of video in the Skype for Business world is moving forward at a rapid pace. If we look to the PC world as our reference, it is clear that the flexibility and capabilities of an ecosystem provide significant value versus a single vendor solution and can yield significant value and subsequent adoption. The key is ensuring that the flexibility and breadth of the offer do not come with complexity and user adoption issues. Choosing a single vendor solution or ecosystem integration used to mean choosing between simplicity and complexity. Microsoft’s focus on bringing Skype for Business to the cloud with Office 365, and the focus on integration and user experience with companies like Polycom is dramatically reducing those barriers. For many customers, moving to the cloud with Microsoft and Polycom will feel like a compelling and simple solution architecture—and one that will protect their existing video investments as they make the move.
This paper is sponsored by Polycom.