As Microsoft Lync Celebrates First Anniversary, Telecom Providers Embrace Unified Communications

REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 14, 2011 — Business communications have undergone a revolution over the past few years. People have come to expect flexibility and mobility. They want to be able to ask someone on the opposite coast a quick question via instant messaging (IM) without interrupting their work. They want to join a videoconference back home while traveling abroad and share a presentation with the group. And businesses, as ever, want employees to be more efficient and processes to be more cost-effective.

Microsoft Lync is making these kinds of communications the norm. Lync integrates IM, presence, audioconferencing, videoconferencing, webconferencing and voice on a single platform to bring people together with one interface that works with the applications people know and use today, including Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange.

Since its launch in December 2010, Lync adoption has been rapid, driving a 250 percent increase in voice deployments compared with the previous year. As Microsoft Lync celebrates its first anniversary, the company recently announced two new customer wins: Sprint Nextel and Swisscom. For these industry-leading telecom companies, Lync offers a viable replacement to the private branch exchange (PBX), or typical desktop, phone system. It is an enterprise-ready communications solution that offers flexibility, mobility, improved productivity, increased ROI and, in some cases, new business opportunities.

Sprint’s Mobile Workforce Saves Money and Reduces Environmental Impact

Sprint Nextel is a principal provider of wireless and wireline communications services in the United States. In 2008, as part of an ongoing effort to reduce its environmental impact, improve employee productivity, and reduce costs and administration for its cumbersome telephony systems, Sprint established a mobile workforce program. Sprint wanted to improve the effectiveness of communication for employees, while reducing expensive local carrier and PBX maintenance costs. By deploying a unified communications solution from Microsoft, Sprint was able to free employees from their desks and make it possible for them to work virtually anywhere.

Tossing out the PBX infrastructure to support desk phones will save Sprint more than US$44 million per year in reduced office space rental, local carrier charges and utilities costs, as well as the complete elimination of PBX maintenance costs.

“In 2006, if you had looked at our network, there were 489 PBXs scattered across the country,” says Joe Hamblin, manager of unified communications for client services at Sprint. “We set out a vision and said we wanted to have all of these PBXs gone from the infrastructure and be left with two datacenters — and that is what we have been able to accomplish.”

After the company decided on a network solution, Sprint deployed Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2 across the Microsoft with Sprint Global Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network to provide enterprise voice, IM, presence and conferencing (audio, video and Web) capabilities, along with integrated email and unified messaging capabilities available through its Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 deployment.

To provide the mobility employees demanded, the IT team wanted a communication solution beyond the traditional PBX system it was using, which was costly to operate due to ongoing connection charges, on-site maintenance fees and annual upgrades. It decided to replace its costly PBX systems by using a software-powered approach from MPLS and SIP trunking. The company eliminated all 489 PBX systems across all locations.

To better support its Mobile Workforce initiative, Sprint upgraded its communications solution with Microsoft Lync Server 2010 for all 39,000 employees. “We wanted to use our technology to allow employees to work virtually anywhere,” says Scott Woodrome, strategy manager, Enterprise Real Estate at Sprint. “In our largest campus facility, we deployed Wi-Fi throughout, ensured that we had open seating, and implemented a ‘home pavilion’ with multiple areas to sit. We also created customer-friendly areas so employees could bring customers to the office.”

Through the unified Lync client, employees now have a single interface where they can view presence, send instant messages, place voice calls, or set up ad hoc collaboration sessions and online meetings.

Sprint also deployed location servers that enable Lync to detect employees’ locations automatically based on their network connection. At a glance, employees can see location information for co-workers through the Lync client. “People really pay attention to presence and location,” Woodrome says. “Now they can see not only if someone is available but where that person is, so they do not waste time walking over to another office.”

And Sprint employees are now more productive than ever. “Microsoft Lync allows us to be more productive, more collaborative with our teams, to join a conference call without any numbers or without any codes — you can just click a button,” Woodrome says. “With the click of a mouse, we can move from an instant messaging session to a phone call to an online meeting where we can share documents and applications.”

Sprint has reduced both its operational costs and its environmental impact, in addition to providing a more productive, flexible work environment for employees. The company estimates a total cost savings of more than US$44 million per year in reduced office space rental, local carrier charges and utilities costs, as well as the complete elimination of PBX maintenance costs.

By upgrading to Lync Server, Sprint has moved even closer to meeting its goals to reduce its environmental impact and ensure a “virtually anywhere, anytime” mobile workforce. “When we implemented unified communications,” Woodrome says, “we had an opportunity to further expand on the definition of mobility, leveraging the technology that Sprint has introduced to business customers. Now nothing ties a worker to a particular spot in an office environment.”

Swisscom Dials Into the Future

Innovation rules in the Swiss market, where customers expect the latest technologies in every product they use, from kitchen appliances to computers. For Swisscom, the largest provider of fixed network, mobile networks and unified communications technologies in Switzerland, this demand means continually embracing the forefront of communications innovations to understand where the future of telecom technology is headed.

To that end, Swisscom recently deployed Microsoft Lync to its 20,000 users for enhanced collaboration and voice capabilities. As a result, Swisscom is now responding to RFPs 20 percent faster and is anticipating a total of $17 million in cost savings over five years across telephony operations, travel expenses and the elimination of PBX upgrades.

“We already had Office Communications Server R2 in place, so the upgrade to Lync took us just four weeks,” says Michael Kerle, senior director of product strategy at Swisscom. “The implementation was not difficult. What we faced, mainly at the beginning, is that people are used to working wirelessly. We don’t use cables at all. We don’t have fixed offices. We run from one office to the other. We just sit down where there’s something available. So we really had to heavily invest in our wireless network when we upgraded to Microsoft Lync because the previous network wasn’t made for real-time communications.”

The company decommissioned 94 legacy PBX systems from a number of vendors.

“After a certain number of years you have to upgrade them — and that costs money,” Kerle says. “And it’s not really future-oriented anymore because you’re basically replacing one phone system with another phone system, and the functionality is the same. But you spend a lot of money. Plus managing 94 different PBX systems required 94 different management systems.”

Lync has boosted collaboration for Swisscom in a couple ways. For one, employees don’t have to travel as often. Teams can collaborate and share documents from any office, anywhere, even from home, saving time and expense.

In addition, collaboration can be more spontaneous. “If you work on project teams, little questions come up all the time, and with Lync you can easily clarify things,” Kerle says. “You can quickly share a PowerPoint presentation, Excel spreadsheet or whatever. And that, I think, has really changed how people work together. We’re more efficient in the way we collaborate now.”

Part of that efficiency is because of Microsoft Lync’s presence feature. Employees no longer have to spend time trying to track down co-workers. If someone’s status is set to “away,” employees can wait until the other person is “available” to send an email or make a call.

Swisscom has not only embraced Microsoft Lync across the organization, but the technologies have become a core part of what the company is offering to its customers.

Swisscom provides managed communications and collaboration services, which include Microsoft Lync, Exchange and SharePoint 2010, along with the company’s connectivity and security offerings. These services are available to business customers for a fixed price per user, per month.

“So, in the end people don’t have to invest in those things anymore, they just get the service from Swisscom,” Kerle says. “We run the service either out of our datacenters or out of the customer’s datacenters on premise at the customer site if they wish.”

Kerle says that some of Swisscom’s customers are unsure whether they are ready to let go of their desk phones. “So we let them visit our offices to see there’s not a single phone left, and there are actually thousands and thousands of people using handsets with Microsoft Lync, and making calls. That helps a lot.”

The New Normal

Microsoft Lync enables people to communicate in new ways, increasing productivity wherever they are. With features that include HD video, conference recording and social features such as status updates and activity feeds, Lync gives people a more collaborative, “in-person” experience than standard PBX systems. People can choose how to manage their conversations, redirect calls, set their level of availability, and decide how and when they can be reached.

A few years ago, Bill Gates predicted that software would change the way people communicate. Today, we are witnessing that vision come to fruition. It’s an exciting time — and even the telecoms are on board.

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