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In the latest MSUC.Chat discussion the other week I noticed that we had been asked a variation of the same question in each meeting that we’d had so far, and with good reason. It went something like this:

“With O365, and the focus MS are putting on it, will SfB on-prem continue & what happens to my job if it doesn’t?”

If we break that down a little bit we get two root questions & two expansion questions:

  • Is SfB on-prem going to be left out in the cold because Microsoft wants everyone to have an O365 subscription?
    • What does this look like over 5 years?
  • 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?
    • How does that vary by job role – i.e. IT Pro, Consultant, Contractor?

I wanted to write up a response to those questions but it also occurred to me that part of the point behind what we were doing with MSUC.Chat was to have a discussion about industry topics/news and to gather and collect a set of opinions from people with different backgrounds and hopefully different takes on the answer. With that in mind I intend to approach a number of industry figures and MVPs from around the world to see if I can pull together their responses but in the mean time I’ll start the ball rolling with my two penneth:

Ben Lee – UC Consultant, UK based

Is SfB on-prem going to be left out in the cold because Microsoft wants everyone to have an O365 subscription?

I think that it’s pretty clear that Microsoft are driving their development time and effort towards O365 services and I don’t see that as a negative thing, sure there are downsides like the loss (or outsourcing!) of control of the platform & the inability to do much during outages etc.. but on the flip side you don’t need to assume any responsibility for patching, updates, improvement cycles. The stuff just appears when it is ready (which can have its own challenges!).

Where we are with SfB vs SfB Online at this time is about to pivot. At the moment on-prem deployments have the lead for most telephony scenarios in terms of pure features BUT SfBO with Cloud PBX is catching up quickly and Microsoft don’t need to close that gap, they just need the gap to be small enough that it doesn’t matter to the customers. The majority of users just need a dial-tone & things like Response Groups and other features are not quite, but close too, being edge cases. Your mileage may vary here depending on industry/sector 🙂 .

The other thing in SfBO’s favour is the deeper integration MS are able to build across the O365 suite, at the moment things like Groups & Teams could, in theory, be available or feature comparable using on-prem systems but as time goes by I believe that more and more features and functionality will start to rely on cloud-based processing (think the larger VC bridging solutions) & intelligence engines (applying context to interactions based on user data), stuff that needs large data sets to work from & burstable CPU to accomplish. Something that isn’t really applicable for most on-prem deployments – at least not without significant financial investment.

You also have the costs to consider, the O365 fully native proposition with E3 or E5 and then the required calling plans & per-minute costs can workout not very competitive depending on your ability to spin up & support servers or CCE. Some organisations the simplicity of having a single management interface and billing platform means that they are prepared to pay a bit more, others want to shop about and mix/match PSTN connectivity to reduce costs.

So, will SfB on-prem go the way of the Dodo? By my reckoning, not anytime soon, there will still be requirements for certain types of organisations to have on-prem only deployments, but will SfBO become the preferred deployment route of choice – yes I think it will.

What does this look like over 5 years?

I can see SfBO Cloud PBX functionality “catching up” and exceeding on-prem capabilities in the next 2 years but I still think that, whatever the next generation of SfB is called, we will have near parity with the cloud but more features will rely on having Hybrid to O365 enabled (like broadcast meetings today).

3-5 years out I’d like to think that Cloud PBX MS numbers will be a lot more prevalent and available in most parts of the world, regulations allowing (India, UAE etc.). I think again there will still be a version of the product for on-prem but that the discussion about hybrid or cloud will be a mute point, it will be such an obvious deployment choice that it would be like asking an organisation now if they want to deploy Edge servers (Most say yes, some say for security reasons they can’t).

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?

Ok so first of all with this one, what were you doing before you did SfB? Chances are you were either a telephony engineer/techy or a Windows server/infrastructure person right? Your organisation or interests led you towards UC products and at some point, you got your hands dirty with SfB and learned how to deploy/administer/look after it. Given that you work in IT one thing should be pretty clear that nothing and I mean nothing stands still here. Following on from the 5-year view above I wouldn’t even like to hazard a guess about a 10-year roadmap for SfB, UC, or even IT generally that’s like several IT lifetimes away.

So the good and bad news is that while what you do today will change and evolve, you already had to change and evolve your job role into whatever it is today, the process just gets repeated.

For IT Pro’s there will always be a way of adding value to an organisation, be that with system improvement, working practice updates or some other efficiencies to be made. While the nuts and bolts of the job today might be server patching, monitoring & maintenance and that that stuff will likely reduce as more is “cloudified” there will be more of a need to deal with system integrations and in the short to medium term migration projects as well as the less technical side of user adoption & processes. So I think the role will still exist, it will just be less technically orientated than perhaps we need today. Does that lead to consolidation of roles and reduction in staff numbers, perhaps but the threat is no less than that already faced from the outsourcing trends of a few years ago.

For Consultants & Consulting companies I think the trick again is to identify value elsewhere as the days of installing servers are likely to be numbered. There is value to be found beyond these nuts and bolts task; in designing the solutions, creating integrations, planning deployments and then helping to support such solutions regardless of who actually owns or runs the underlying components – look no further than the current challenge of keeping on top of the shifting O365 sands. I think the emphasis for consultants here will move back towards “purer consulting” and strategy based work, looking at things like mapping usage requirements to feature sets & developing migration scenarios and user adoption cycles etc..

For Contractors, I think the market rates are probably at about peak for the skill set, deploying SfB is becoming a lot more of a commodity service & while you and I know that doing a correct deployment can still be tricky there are a lot of people out there who know enough to get by and deploy something. As the market gets saturated the price decreases, the contractor role needs to morph in the same way as the IT Pro or Consultant towards softer skills, or you identify whatever is the “Next big thing” (see Azure!) and skill up on that if you want to remain techy focused…

This is one of those blog posts that in 3 years time I’ll be reading back with interest and a wry smile on my face as it all turns out to be cobblers…. but hey, we all have opinions right? Can’t always be correct all the time 😉

As I said I’m hoping to collate some responses from across the industry to the above questions and will do a mini series of posts to pull them together.

I’m also interested to hear some debate in the comments if anyone feels like having a look in their crystal ball of tech too and joining in? Please do.