Office 2013 is now available, but is it Office 365?

Lots of talk has been buzzing around the web about the impending release of Office 365, and today Microsoft finally took the covers off the next version of its desktop productivity suite – Office 2013.

The confusion here is that it’s partly being branded as Office 365 Home Premium (you can read more on the Microsoft Press Release). This particular offering does integrate with cloud services such as SkyDrive and Skype, and is itself delivered via the cloud on a subscription basis – however has no relation to what we have traditionally known as Office 365 being Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online.

I refer to a previous post I wrote in which I shared my concerns over the name Office 365 as being generally confusing – now with the addition of Home Premium I personally believe this extends the confusion. Home users will now thing they have Office 365, which is nothing compared to what enterprises run their corporate productivity systems on.

When is the actual business cloud service of Office 365 being updated? Steve Ballmer’s post on The Official Microsoft Blog explains more.

 

The Death of the PBX

When Gartner released a study predicting the death of the PBX last year, it elicited various reactions, mostly critical of the claim that cloud-based Unified Communications (UC) will dominate the enterprise communication landscape. A year had passed and we are able to see how the cloud is slowly transforming the way business calls are handled. Skype is still gaining traction – with estimated 633 million users all over the world, this cloud-based technology gave businesses an irresistible value proposition: lower costs, increased collaboration and most importantly features that PBXs cannot offer.

Will PBXs really become extinct?
 
Although PBXs have dominated business communications for the past few decades the technology is getting old – PBXs fail to keep-up with the increasingly mobile workforce. For instance, their weak smartphone integration keep users frustrated every time an important business call fails to forward.

PBXs are also very expensive – their fixed high monthly costs deprive business of options that could better allow them to invest their operations budget to core business functions. This technology also typically needs to be installed one at each location and be centrally configured by the provider – for a business with numerous satellite offices; this would mean thousands of dollars in investment and support.

The Rise of Cloud Telephony
 
Cloud telephony is a solution whereby the PBX or the telephony application is hosted by a third party over public Internet or private network infrastructure. By hosting the telephony switching and storage components provides businesses more flexibility in terms of resource consumption, costs and technology. Cloud communications like Skype, Lync Online and other emerging industry key players (in the Australian market) such as Telstra Digital Business, Fonality and MyNetFone are slowly taking place of PBXs in SMBs. In the medium to large business space this has already been happening for many years with enterprise-grade solutions such as Telstra IP Telephony. Just as Gartner predicted, businesses are looking for solutions that are as agile as their workforce.

With Cloud telephony, businesses can experience real time communication – for instance, instant communications platforms such as Lync can be easily accessed from a user’s desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone and can be used whenever and wherever needed. Ultimately, this means that employees can not only stay in touch but also choose a communications application they prefer – voice, web conferencing or instant messaging.

Key Industry Players
 
Skype being one of the industry leaders in consumer UC provides a wide range of cloud based communication platforms ranging for personal use to enterprise accounts. Skype for Business still remains one of the most widely used cloud telephony applications due to the tremendous savings it achieves. Skype for Business has low-cost call packages applicable for international calls and mobiles. This gives businesses the opportunity to save not only on telephone costs but also on time wasted on conducting face-to-face meetings.

Microsoft’s Lync on the other hand, is getting a boost on features, with Lync Online; users can have an enterprise-grade unified communications platform that is better than Skype. For instance, when bundled with other Office 365 applications such as SharePoint Online and Office Professional Plus, users can directly communicate straight from documents viewed or applications logged-in. And now, with the Lync to Phone capability, users can set-up an account with a Lync-to-phone service provider to make and receive calls from any phone number (i.e. through Lync Online Plan 3).

Lync-to-phone enables users to experience voice and PBX capabilities of Lync Server for only a fraction of the cost. With this latest add-on of Lync Online, businesses can communicate with any third-party dial-in audio conference services; use one number for calls done on smartphones, tablets or laptops; configure call controls like transfer, simultaneous ring, etc and whole lot more. See the feature list of Lync-to-phone here.

It is only a matter of time before PBXs are totally replaced with cloud-based communications. Although there are still critics which claim that role of PBXs in communications will just change rather than totally scrapped; it still makes more sense to businesses now, especially for small to midscale ones to invest in technologies that are future proof, cost efficient, easily scalable and are proven productivity boosters.