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Another week another round up of answers 🙂 You folks know the drill by now… I’m delighted this week to have some thoughts from Iain Smith, Head of Consulting for UK based Modality Systems (And MVP) and from Josh Blalock, consultant and MVP from the USA! So lets get cracking…

Iain Smith

Twitter | Linkedin | Blog | MVP Page

Iain is Head of Consulting for Modality Systems – a UC specific consulting company and has been working in the UC space for many years. Iain runs the Northern UC user group based out of Leeds in the UK and is a co-creator of MSUC.Chat with me, he also has one of the largest collections of phones & headsets known to man!

(Disclaimer: He’s also my boss 😛 )

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

Running a team of consultants at Modality System whose day to day role surrounds SfB including on-premises deployments, this is a question I’ve been asked many many times. My feeling is we will see in the next 2 to 3 years that Microsoft will continue to drive towards SkypeOnline/O365 at pace and I would have a guess in that (Spoiler alert, this is my hunch and I’m guessing when I say this) at some point the functions and features will become cloud first with SfB on-prem becoming a second-rate citizen, meaning for customers to get the latest and greatest they would need to go to into the cloud.

I think there will be always companies who want to keep the tech in-house and I think Microsoft will still offer this option as a solution, however for many customers I can see the roadmap changing already towards o365 and SkypeOnline.

***Another spoiler alert, at my user group at the end of 2016, I did a slide and presentation on what I expect to see in the next 12 to 24 months from Microsoft around UC. I’ve bullet pointed some below

  • Skype For Business will become a primary SkypeOnline play only, with Skype online owning the lion’s share of the newest features and functions available
  • The day to day engineering around Skype for business On-Premises will dwindle to around 25% of what the current rate is today.
  • Consultants in the field will have to become more of a pure consulting person rather than an engineer. Ie: Chalk and talk, and guiding the client on a UC journey of success.
  • Microsoft HoloLens will be available for Skype for business meetings so that you can see people real time in 3d.
  • The Microsoft team’s application will become the 1 stop shop for all things UC and Exchange. it will be become a single entity client with no need for Skype for Business and outlook to be installed.

What does this look like over 5 years?

5 years in UC is a long time, especially at the rate of technology growth in general. If we think back 5 years and where we came from in UC. Having be party to the UC market 5 years ago and more, there were a real nervousness around customers going to this thing called Lync 2010 as a PBX replacement. **Still to this day I know of clients still on Lync 2010 and a couple of OCS!**

Fast tracking 5 years from now. I think the market shift will have change beyond all recognition. And certainly, within UC we will see a big change in technology come 5 years, with the likes of a customer’s being able with a few simple clicks within a skypeOnline tenant port their DDI numbers from one telco to another in an instant into a cloud solution, and be ready to instantly continue to work without interruption. (Will DDI numbers be something being phased out in 5 year.?? I bet 10 years from now people will only know people by sip addresses/aliases like in skype consumer names etc). Also from a Microsoft view point im sure they will be looking at an automated fast-track solution for moving companies/users at leisure ie: You go onto some automated Microsoft website and put your location info, the number of users, your IP address ranges etc etc and some black art script goes and creates the tenant updates all the IP/DNS records and ports the DDI numbers for each location without any manual intervention.

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?

For people who I would class as an engineering (do’er/keeping the lights on), then yes, I personally would be looking over my shoulder as the landscape will and is changing as we speak. Also, I think with SkypeOnline and with more automation, Skype engineers will become a commodity service. The current climate reminds me of the old exchange days from a few years ago, when exchange was a real top drawer skill, then almost overnight everyone could build exchange servers and what was a premium price for a contactor dropped through the floor. That said, demand is still happening in Skype at this moment and I still see roles being advertised by recruitment agencies and equally I get asked on an almost daily basis if I want to recruit the next best UC engineer since sliced bread.

How does that vary by job role – i.e. IT Pro, Consultant, Contractor?

For me a UC role is going to change like I mentioned above to a pure UC consulting role in a kind of like ‘hand holding’ the client through the process rather that doing the installation/building work. I think this is also what Microsoft see’s (my opinion only), with the introduction of the Skype Operations Framework (SOF). The days will become less and less where a client needs a media gateway being installed to cater for some legacy ISDN/PBX solution. I think the future reads in this scenario that the client will simply port the DDIs into Microsoft cloudPBX solution, and ditch the legacy PBX and copper ISDN cabling.

My advice to anyone who has read this far down this blog post is… start thinking of the bigger opportunities in Office365. I think the future states that companies will be looking both for contractors and permanent employees with skills around the generalisation of Office365 solutions in total, meaning get skilled up in SkypeOnline inc the tenant, also widen your skill set to cater for the likes of Azure, Sharepoint, One Drive for business, Exchange online, PowerBI etc. The future for me reads that consultants and the likes should become generalists around the Microsoft 365 stack rather that a specialist in one application/sector.

Josh Blalock

Twitter | LinkedIn | Blog | MVP Page | YouTube (seriously go check these out 🙂 )

Josh is also a co-conspirator on MSUC.Chat, a newly minted MVP and a consultant for UC based out in the USA. If you haven’t already you should check out his YouTube page above and subscribe for some really neat regular SfB sector updates

Over the last year or so, many Lync and Skype for Business admins have found themselves watching the evolution of their respective product area with one eyebrow raised, wondering, “What exactly is happening within this career space?” This question is being pondered with good reason, as the face of Unified Communications, both within Microsoft and outside of it, is changing rapidly. In the Microsoft world, Hybrid is taking the UC world by storm, and Microsoft’s development efforts and investments over the last year and a half very strongly reflect this. For some, this change brings on much excitement. For others, this change looks more like a massive “push to the cloud”, which tends to lead to worry about job security.

For the first group, their excitement is well-placed, as cool new technology is unfolding before us on an almost weekly basis, and satisfies the curious geek in many of us. For the second group, however, the question about the long-term viability of a skill-set deeply rooted in the implementation of on-prem Skype for Business solutions is very real. So we ask ourselves, is the on-prem version of Skype for Business going away? Will those of us whose jobs are deeply rooted in on-prem be up a creek?

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?

First, let’s take a look at a very important fact: Microsoft has recently made their intentions for a Skype for Business “V-Next” public during a couple different presentations. This tells us that there is no need to fear the drying up of the on-prem Skype for Business server product after the current version, which means our on-prem jobs should be relatively safe for at least the next few years. Good news, right?! My answer is yes, this is good news, but that doesn’t mean we should heave a sigh of relief and go back to complacency with our current skill set.

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?

Another important fact: on-prem will be around for quite a while, but the landscape is still drastically changing, and a noticeable shift to the cloud is still underway for many enterprises. To me, this is not worrisome; instead it is an opportunity for growth and change! Let’s be honest, getting too comfortable with a technology and doing the same type of deployments day-in and day-out for years can start to get tedious. Being challenged to change and adapt our skill set over time, on the other hand, allows us to evolve our careers over time at a pace that is comfortable and controllable.

Do I think that it is going to continue to be possible to work on strictly on-prem deployments for several years? Yes, but only for a select few. The number of job opportunities for on-prem only admins is going to steadily shrink, and a Hybrid-based skill set is going to rise in demand in its place. Being part of this change, rather than resisting it, can only stand to benefit one’s career.

As an example, looking at the traditional telephony role (think PBXs, analog devices, etc), I have seen many telecom engineers’ careers shift in recent years. They have had to adapt in organizations where a VOIP-only approach has been adopted. This didn’t mean, “Sorry, traditional PBXs are out, and so are you!” Instead it meant that their skill set would still be relevant, but on different equipment, and with different methodologies, which meant some learning and adapting as this change unfolded in front of them. Not a bad thing, but a great example of how the traditional “on-prem engineer” may need to think about their role as the Cloud-first world explodes in front of us.

In summary, my advice is simple: embrace the change! Start taking part in as much education and training as you can. Branch out in related technology areas (or unrelated if you are feeling adventurous!), and expand your skill set. If you work with Lync and Skype for Business, start getting really familiar with Office 365 and maybe even Azure. The tide is shifting; embrace that as an opportunity!

So that’s us for this week, anyone spotting the common theme here? I think it’s reassuring at some level to know that these challenges and issues in our space do appear to be fairly global (well EU / USA at least).

Thoughts & contributions welcomed and again big thanks to Josh, Iain and the others for chipping in.