Next in my series of community opinion pieces on the sate of the market for Skype for Business & O365 skills.

If you are coming to this post without the others you can see the original article here and part 2 here… 🙂

This week we’ve got some commentary from UK MVP Andrew Price & specialist Microsoft recruiter Will Rowe.

Andrew Price

Blog | Twitter | LinkedIn | MVP Page

Andrew is a UK UC Consultant for Freedom Communications and creator of the UCDay and Microsoft Cloud User Group events.

Is SfB on-prem going to be left out in the cold because Microsoft wants everyone to have an O365 subscription?
This a good question, one I do believe is very valid to anyone that works with on-premises deployments of Skype for Business. I don’t see on-premises deployments completely disappearing, but maybe the skill set required to support the companies out there who are not in a position to move to the Microsoft Cloud. We will see customers who are very much looking at staying on-prem, maybe leverage cloud solutions in a Hybrid scenario or go all in with the Microsoft Cloud.
 
Microsoft’s vision is very cloud focused with new features and functionality being launched in the cloud first model. A good example of this is Microsoft Office 2016 if you compare what Office used to be to the modern world (Professional Plus vs ProPlus). We now have multiple different channels with new features being released daily, weekly, monthly depending on your channel selection in ProPlus, but If you are running Office 2016 Professional Plus you can expect to see new features a lot slower compared to Office 2016 ProPlus model.

What does this look like over 5 years?
The best way to answer this question is providing my own personal insight to the future, by the changes I have been implementing to my events by including a lot more Cloud focus sessions and rebranding my UC User Group to the Microsoft Cloud User Group. I can see a lot more customers moving from old expensive tin and looking to shape their future IT requirements around the Microsoft Cloud, as its now becoming a one-stop shop for all your IT needs.

My job is based on installing/upgrading/managing SfB on-prem if we go cloud what do I do next? / is my job at risk?
So my current role fits this question quite well, so what do I do next? My vision is to start branching more into the world of Office365 and Azure as these areas will keep my skill set very current and active within the Professional Services market. I have always believed in moving with the trends and times as the IT Market is ever changing, with customers adopting and developing technologies to meet their requirements.

Will Rowe

Twitter | LinkedIn | MSEmploy

Will is a UK based specialist recruiter in the Microsoft space and can regularly be found at community events and Skype User Group meetups propping up the bar & always good for a chat about life, the universe, the tech industry and jam production…

My job is based on installing/upgrading/managing SfB on-prem if we go cloud what do I do next? / is my job at risk?

This is a question that I am asked in some form or other at least once a day, often more; the fact is that the pace of change in our industry is accelerating to an almost unbelievable speed.  The change to cloud from on-prem will come at some point for a majority of organisations and although we are talking about SfB currently this can be applied to broader O365 technologies like Exchange as well.

Let me answer the last part first:

Yes – your job is at risk.  This is a fact and it might seem to be an inflammatory statement but as with all things in the IT world products come and go in a wave: you ride it as long as you can and then you look for the next big thing.  Lync really hit the big time with v2013, and since then we have seen that rebrand into SfB for various versions and if Microsoft have their way (and you believe their marketing!) then the world will be smiling and dialling through Cloud PBX in the very near future.  

The wave of SfB is cresting currently and will start declining over the next few years as the really large deployments get done and then the smaller SME companies take up the product.  There will always be work migrating people into O365, but the market is now asking less for pure Skype for Business skills and more for ‘Specialist Generalists’ (A hideous term, even though I made it up myself!) who have a specialism in Sfb and a broader skillset in something O365 related, usually Exchange.  This is a complete about-face from where we were 18 months ago when we were placing pure Skype people and the market wasn’t interested in people coming from a messaging background.

This means that if your job is entirely focused around SfB on-prem then eventually there will be little demand for your skills.  The wave will have broken and you will be sat on the beach looking for a surfboard without a clue of where to find one.

But this is not going to happen overnight – let’s not panic here.

What do you do next?

Good question.

Looking at the market, my feeling is that in 2-3 years the demand for pure SfB skills will have declined severely: at some point it will come back as MSFT innovate and release some new way to make money to the market – we are seeing this with Exchange migration skills as the demand for O365 has kicked up a notch.  The Microsoft Gold Partners (ever a good barometer for the way the world is moving) are looking for the ‘Specialist Generalists’ mentioned earlier with only the occasional company like Modality actively going after pure SfB skills.  We will see a rise in this kind of requirement hit the end-customer environment (they are usually a few years behind the partner network) with public sector trailing them giving us a time line of 4-5 years before you find yourself sat on the beach of broken dreams…

And this is where having this foresight allows us to pivot into something new.

Azure, in my opinion, and more importantly Infrastructure as a Service on Azure, is going to be the next wave for many of the people in the SfB world.  Many come from an infrastructure and server background and have moved into Voice, and as has been expressed many times the SfB product touches on a huge amount of the Microsoft stack.

If you are an Engineer or Consultant these are transferable skills that will be directly applicable to a move to the private cloud platform.  The projects to migrate on-prem datacentres and servers into Azure (and yes – whisper it – even AWS *cough*) will be the fuel for careers for a significant amount of time, and it will move you into a position where you start to see technologies that will be more relevant to the world of 2022: think DevOps and building cloud platforms that allow the rise of AI and machine learning.

There are, of course, other routes:  User Adoption of SfB and O365 is growing as companies seek to maximise ROI of their shiny new cloud platforms meaning that if you have an ability to connect with people and present / deliver training you might wish to consider this in the short term, and business & process analysis in the longer term.  Strategy around UC and then broader cloud adoption (maybe multi-cloud in terms of vendors) is a serious contender for people at Architect level who are comfortable engaging at C-Level and who wish to create a roadmap for organisations in the cloud space.  This will be more of a move into almost management consulting and transformation and a step away from UC and again it calls for a broadening of skills.

The IT industry moves fast.  The technology you start working on at the beginning of your career is not going to be the one you finish with. Not any more: ask an entire generation of COBOL developers and get their opinion.  This isn’t something to be concerned about though – it just takes some thought to figure out the way forward.

Why am I so sure that O365 and cloud will change this industry?  Why am I so sure that your job is at risk?

At the last MUCUGL in Polycom I witnessed something that altered my worldview: Tom Arbuthnot (he of the MVP, Tom Talks and all round top bloke) did a live demo where he created, in the space of 20 minutes, a new Voice enabled Cloud PBX SfB profile using nothing but tickboxes and wizards.  

With a cheat-sheet, a bold and winning smile, and a positive mental attitude I could have done it and I don’t know anything about anything. Well – maybe recruitment.  And jam making.  But not this.

The world is changing, and it is a good thing.  There is always a way forwards – start thinking about what you want and don’t fear change.  Who knows what you could be doing in 20 years’ time?  Maybe riding an AI robot dinosaur called Wiggums to the wormhole plant to explore the latest planetary discovery…

It could happen.  Maybe 🙂

— end —

A huge thanks to Andy and Will for responding to my weird request and jotting down their two peneth worth. Do feel free to chip in with a comment if you find this interesting so I can pass on the thanks. Coming up soon we’ve got a take from over the pond  from the US and another take from the UK consulting scene…

Back Soon,

Ben.