Expert View: Simon Shaw - Microsoft Teams and the Digital Workplace Challenge

On the 31st July 2021 Skype for Business Online will be retired, and after that date the service will no longer be available with enterprise users advised to migrate to MS Teams. Videocall recently published a Whitepaper to guide IT and Facilities leaders through planning their organisation's migration strategy.

We asked six of our Videocall experts to share their experience and answer questions on the opportunities, risks and key considerations when planning a large scale migration from Skype to Teams and what impact it is likely to have on an organisation's digital workplace.

Part 2 of 6: Simon Shaw 
Head of Strategic Accounts, Videocall

Rob Portwood | Simon Shaw | Chris Young | Richard Clayton | Tim Earys | Jimmy Ferreira

What do you think an organisation’s biggest challenge will be when migrating from the platform (e.g. SFB to Teams) behind their digital workspace?

If we first recognise that a ‘unified communications’ or ‘unified collaboration’ platform’s core purpose is to provide functionality to users of varying technical aptitude and ability that allows them to perform their job more efficiently, then the next logical question would be how are those user’s current method of working going to be effected by the migration to a different platform, and how will different user groups react to this change within their core desktop toolset, which is relied upon heavily to perform basic day to day tasks.

Assuming the change at the desktop is fully embraced by all user groups, and they are able to message, call, Videoconference, screen share, and annotate at will across multiple devices and locations, then it is also entirely logical and reasonable that this experience should be extended into a corporate meeting space, indeed any corporate meeting space.

Achieving this extension is not straightforward, particularly across different service owners, with meeting spaces and meeting space design being typically owned by facilities, and platform decisions being owned by IT. It is all too common for this disconnect to result in over investment in convoluted, design heavy meeting room technology, that is either incompatible with the core platform, or that requires inherently complex interoperability services, with interfaces that are so unfamiliar and unintuitive to the user that they revert to the familiar; their trusty, easy to use laptop, and a pair of headphones.

Providing a cutting edge, workspace or workplace with the technology of the future that will remain so for the next five years is an exciting project, but the fundamental challenge, the biggest challenge for any organisation is making the technology accessible, easy to use, and essentially a seamless extension of the desktop.

What future issue or hidden ‘gotcha’ is most commonly overlooked with a platform migration of this scale?

Migrating from MS Skype to Teams is a fundamental platform change, and every aspect of the service from a technical / infrastructure level, to meeting room technology, and training of end users must be carefully mapped out and allowed for by an experienced and qualified project team.

What is not hidden, but is often overlooked is how will the entire mix of collaboration technology that touches the platform from the meeting room to the desktop is going to be maintained and supported, as well as reported on, i.e. great design, effective build and implementation, but lack of consideration for operational consistency and efficiency.

If a project fails to deliver user confidence and drive adoption shortly after implementation, all that careful planning and resource dedicated to scoping and implementing the project is then either overlooked, or worse falls under unwarranted scrutiny.

What future issue or hidden ‘gotcha’ is most commonly overlooked with a platform migration of this scale?

“Program Management 101” in our experience is having clear a “goal” as granular as possible, with very specific milestones that are relevant, phased, timely, individually and grouped all pointing at the goal.

The overall goal and milestones must be supported by a clear set of dependencies relevant to each as the project moves forward, it will be fluid and coarse corrections needed requiring constant review. Hence not losing sight of the goal.

Finally, not overlooking the nature and outcomes required of a support model across the entire service and users experience.

What future collaboration service or feature requirements should organisations be considering right now and why?

Defining feature requirements is comparatively simple. Users want to be able to message, see presence of their colleagues and 3rd parties and share content with two-way annotation. They want to be able to do this regardless of location (office, home, mobile), and using a device of their own choosing.

Translating these requirements into an effective and efficient collaboration service that is practical to apply, manage, and support becomes the real challenge. The key word to consider is ‘service.’ The connotations are vastly different to selecting an appropriate feature set within a ‘tool’ or ‘platform’. Of course service requirements will vary between organisations, and decisions need to be made on scope that are dependent on internal resources, and preferred operational models.

How important is it for IT leaders to align their platform migration approach with the wider business workplace strategy?

It’s a fundamental requirement of any modern enterprise, as without this depth of thought there will be an obvious disconnect between the workplace and the platform which drives it and provides a defined user experience.

However in practice this is often the other way around. I’ve yet to work with an organisation that designs a workplace strategy, and then looks for a platform that will align with it.

What factors should be considered when choosing between a gradual or direct upgrade journey?

It is very unlikely that any transition of this scale will be ‘direct’ (overnight) and will be gradual – perhaps based on geography. This means that for a period of time both services will need to run in parallel.

  • How is this going to affect the user experience?
  • Will there be confusion over what service to use for what application (e.g. meeting, file sharing, etc)?
  • How does this affect the meeting room experience and which rooms and functionality will be available?

In your experience what has/is the role of technology vendors in the evaluation, implementation and support of major platform migration across the digital workplace?

Technology vendors, quite understandably, focus on providing technology that is fresh, exciting, and future proof. This enables customers to make informed investments, typically with three to five year refresh lifecycles. Ultimately their focus is therefore on the technology, with service, support, and implementation commonly provided by their channel partners and service providers.

Evaluation of platforms from vendors is of course more than a little one sided, as focus is inevitably going to be on driving usage of their own technology, but more importantly, they have a limited perspective on the level of interoperability required to transition from one technology platform to another, and how this interoperability must be supported.

I’ve yet to see a global deployment project that is a complete ‘rip and replace’ of all platform, desktop, and meeting room technology, and even if this were possible in the practical world, interoperability with third party systems and technologies is always required to some degree or another.

Technology providers that focus on their platform, also tend to lack complete understanding of the digital workplace, applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach to meeting room technology and workspaces that is insufficient and inflexible for the modern enterprise. This creates a severe disconnect between workspace technology vendors and platform vendors, leaving the end customer having to undertake their own complex evaluation processes, map implementation with careful consideration, and also dedicate significant resource to supporting and operating the entire end solution under an SLA.

Excerpt from "Microsoft Teams and the Digital Workplace Challenge" White paper.

This paper will show why it is critical for the Enterprise to have a digital workplace strategy in place and to ensure that employees have a good user experience as they navigate their way around this migration. It will look at the benefits of a seamless, consistent experience whether that is in a physical or virtual workplace.

For the leaders of organisations this presents one of the most significant opportunity for many years to improve how their workers interact and collaborate to foster greater engagement and productivity.