Software Review: Attendant Pro (Part 2) – Quick Access Shortcuts

Skype for Business, Third-Party Skype for Business Products

We’re back with the Attendant Pro app, developed by Landis Computer. Last time I said I wanted to devote a post to Attendant Pro’s shortcuts…which is exactly what I’m doing here.

Attendant Pro has two types of shortcuts: Shortcut Keys and Quick Access Shortcuts.

I mentioned both of them in my last post. Both are very useful, both within the app and whenever you’re on your computer.

One MIGHT be a little more useful than the other though. Let’s go into more detail and see why.

Shortcut Keys

Shortcut Keys are hotkey combinations. Many are set in Attendant Pro already, but you can change them. They’re available for most of the standard Attendant Pro tools – Answer (F6), Hold (F7), Transfer (F9), Start/Stop Recording (custom), etc.

All of the Shortcut Keys, whether pre-set or custom, have a Global option. Checking the “Global” box turns the shortcut key into a Global Hotkey. Now it will activate no matter what program you’re using at the time.

Say a call comes in while you’re typing in Word. You immediately recognize the call and want to forward it. Do you switch over to the Attendant Pro window and start clicking? No, you just type in your shortcut key for forwarding, like “F8” or “Ctrl+I”.

Attendant Pro recognizes the shortcut (even in the background) and performs the preassigned task of call forwarding. You keep on working.

Quick Access Shortcuts

When I first saw these in Paul’s demo recording, my eyebrows went up. Multi-option custom controls for Skype? Build one in a matter of minutes, with no programming or PowerShell? Talk about a value-add!

Experimenting with a trial version validated my excitement. Quick Access Shortcuts let your front desk build their own Skype “command center.” Unique to their organization, their building, or even one office.

Landis has provided a video for Quick Access Shortcuts 101:
One Click Quick Access Shortcuts to Common UC Tasks

Examples of Quick Access Shortcuts

One shortcut is “Night Mode.” Think of it like a new Presence mode – when you’re done for the day, you click the shortcut in Attendant Pro, and all calls are sent to wherever you designate. Voicemail, a special after-hours number, a Response Group, whatever.

You can even assign it a global hotkey – no matter which program window is open, you can enter the keystroke and Attendant Pro switches to Night Mode.

Set it up in the Options menu like this:

  1. Open Options (the gear icon).
  2. Click the Shortcut Setup tab.
  3. From the dropdown menu, click “Blank – Change Call Forwarding.”
  4. In the Name field, enter “Night Mode” (or whatever title you want). I called it “After-Hours Forward.”
  5. Enter a Description if you want (not required).
  6. Click the Hotkey field. Hit a series of keys to define the Hotkey. I used Ctrl+Alt+N.
  7. Check the Global box so you always have this available.
  8. In the “Forwarding Type” field, select the type of forwarding you want. Voicemail, in this case.
  9. Click OK. Done!

After-Hours Forward

Landis has a step-by-step tutorial up on YouTube: Attendant Pro Skype for Business (Lync) Training: Night Mode / Receptionist Night Mode – LandisComputer

How to Create a Quick Access Shortcut

So it looks like there isn’t too much to making a Quick Access Shortcut, right? And that’s the beauty–there isn’t. All you need is a goal and a few minutes. Here, let’s do another example.

Let’s say I wanted to see all the missed calls for the day, at a glance. But those are listed in Outlook, not Attendant Pro. How would I set up the shortcut?

  1. In the Quick Access Shortcuts dropdown list, I’d pick “Template – Show Missed Calls.”
  2. Selecting this option reveals the following screen:
    Missed Call Options
  3. A default value shows up in the Name & Description fields; you can edit it, or leave as-is.
  4. No Icon is selected by default; you’ll have to pick one. But you have plenty of choices.
    Attendant Pro Icons
    (This is only a part of the list. It’s extensive.)
  5. I’ll choose a simple yellow bar icon.
  6. Next, the Hotkey field. You can opt to enter a hotkey for activating this Shortcut or not. Either way, you can activate it from the “Me Area” in Attendant Pro with a click.
  7. I’ll enter a three-key combination: Shift+Ctrl+F. Hmmm, do I want that to work as a Global hotkey? No, leaving it in Attendant Pro only is fine. No checking the “Global” box.
  8. The Action fields you can leave as-is. They contain the commands needed to locate Outlook and call up the Missed Calls.
  9. There we have it. A configured Quick Access Shortcut for viewing missed calls.
    Missed Call Check Finished
  10. I click OK and I’m done.
    Attendant Pro Quick Access
  11. I click the Shortcut and I’m zapped over to Outlook, into the Missed Calls view. (Lucky for me, I have none!)

That took 3 minutes. Maybe.

Even More Value for the Front Desk

There’s no limit to the number of Quick Access Shortcuts you can set. Create multiple shortcuts for the same command, and point it to different targets (for example, create a Group Voicemail shortcut for each internal team). The possibilities may not be endless, but they’re pretty close!

I asked for your Front Desk experiences last time. Almost all of the responses I’ve had this week were, “We didn’t even know the Lync Attendant existed!” Well, you don’t have to know. Get Attendant Pro and whoever manages your calls is set.

Attendant Pro Website – Landis Computer

What are your thoughts on Attendant Pro? Please comment or email.

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Software Review: Attendant Pro (Part 1)

Reference, Skype for Business, Third-Party Skype for Business Products

In the days of Lync Server 2010, we had a little app called Auto Attendant.  Made by Microsoft, it gave receptionists & office managers enhanced abilities to manage Lync calls.

You could still use Auto Attendant with Lync 2013.  But once Skype for Business Server came along, Auto Attendant faded away.  No longer needed, I heard some industry chatter say.

But I also heard many complaints about the missing Attendant Console. Businesses who’d used Lync liked it, and wanted to keep using it.  Would the old Lync Attendant Console still work with Skype4B?  If not, what would?

It didn’t take us long to find an alternative.  In fact, it was closer than we realized.

Attendant Pro from Landis Computer

You may recognize the name from Matt Landis, author of the stellar we’ve cited many times.  Matt’s company, Landis Computer, has created a new Attendant Console for Skype for Business.  They call it Attendant Pro.

Attendant Pro – Landis Computer

We have a Skype for Business customer which has a high-traffic front desk.  Four locations, one acting as a central hub, lots of people back and forth…it adds up to a bunch of calls every day.  Skype for Business can handle it, but the front desk team had problems managing calls almost immediately.

It’s the sort of situation for which Attendant Pro was created.

We reached out to Matt’s team for some advice on implementing Attendant Pro. They did more than just give us advice.  Paul from Landis kindly gave us a bunch of his time, going through Attendant Pro’s feature set and capabilities with our IT Consultants.

Once he was done, we had no problem recommending Attendant Pro to our customer.  Or becoming a Landis Partner!

I’m happy to share the story here, so you’ll have an idea of what Attendant Pro can do.  Bottom line: This client blows the old Lync Auto Attendant away in EVERY respect.  Landis went above & beyond Microsoft itself!

Attendant Pro’s Purpose: Do Call Management Simple, Do it Right

The basics of call management are pretty universal. With the calls coming in, the business needs:

  • A way for high-volume users (receptionist) to do their job more efficiently.
  • A method to route lots of calls, transfer/forward calls throughout the organization
  • A management system that makes handling the front desk easier

When using Skype for Business, your call management needs to stay consistent with the Skype4B system.

What Landis did was build a single-window app to organize calls, contacts, transfers, and shortcuts.  And here’s a bonus: it’s a 1-minute install.  No servers required, no configuration necessary.  Attendant Pro hooks into your existing Skype for Business client.  Any changes made in either your client or Attendant Pro?  The other reflects them automatically.

Here’s the Attendant Pro interface.

attendantpro_maininterface

  1. The “Me Area.”  You control your Presence status from here.
  2. Incoming Calls pane.
  3. Current Call pane.
  4. Handled Calls pane.
  5. Quick Access Shortcuts pane.
  6. Contact Groups list. The Contact Details pane also appears here, which displays a contact’s details.
  7. Caller Information pane.
  8. Contact Search & Dial Pad pane.
  9. Hotkey/Quick Commands bar (along the bottom).  Has quick-reference keys for several commands (ex. Hit F9 to do a Blind Transfer), and clickable options like “Start Recording.”

YouTube Walkthrough of Attendant Pro Main Screen

Looks pretty straightforward, right?  That’s the point.  Everything’s right here in terms of activity.  The app’s configuration sits right behind these panes, making management tasks easy.  Let’s see just how easy with the feature set.

Features of Attendant Pro

Fair warning—this is a long list! (And I’ll bet I’m missing a few, as well!)

  • One Click Design: Perform many of the management tasks (forward calls, send to voicemail, start IM) with only one click.
  • Choose between a Skype-like interface or a Lync-like interface. It’s a checkbox under Options.
  • Multiple organization methods for contacts within Attendant Pro’s UI (groups, lists, etc.).  Attendant Pro will pull in contact groups from your own Skype client. If you make changes to contact groups within Attendant Pro, it will communicate that contact change back to your client as well.
  • Powerful Right-Click: Right-click any contact in the Contact Groups pane, and you have plenty of Skype-related options to use.
    2016-09-09_8-16-59
  • Surface-Friendly: You can use Attendant Pro on a Surface tablet as easily as a laptop. Manage calls while walking around!
  • 1 Click Call Transfer. You set the default transfer type (Blind, Consult, Safe) in Options. But, you can switch transfer modes right in the call as needed.
  • Add notes to a call before transferring, to inform users at a glance (like a Presence status for the call).
  • Send an Email Call Back Reminder: This feature creates a pre-filled email with the date/time of the original call, and a clickable number link. You can pass a note along to the intended recipient before you’ve even finished the original call!
    callback_email
  • Global Hotkeys. In Options, there’s a list of Shortcut Keys (not to be confused with Quick Access Shortcuts) you can set. A shortcut key to answer a call, put it on hold, transfer…and if you check the “Global” box, it becomes a global hotkey. Then it doesn’t matter which app you’re looking at–type in the shortcut keys and Attendant Pro does what you want.
    shortcutkeys
  • Hold on Transfer – an option that automatically places a call on hold the moment the receptionist clicks Transfer. That way they can look up the contact they need for the transfer, and the caller’s not talking in their ear the whole time.
  • Day/Night Mode using Shortcuts (see the next bullet). Once “modes” like this are set up, you click once and you’re ready to go home.
  • Quick Access Shortcuts: Create shortcuts for frequent actions. Send an IM. Generate a pre-filled email. Change Presence status. Transfer calls. Forward all calls to voicemail. And many more. There’s a HUGE amount of timesaving capability here.

In fact, the Quick Access Shortcuts feature is so powerful, I want to dedicate a post just to its functions. Look for that next time.

Using Skype for Business? Have a Front Desk? You Need Attendant Pro.

Still using the old Lync Attendant–or worse, no call management system? Make the switch to Attendant Pro right now. You’ll be blown away by the improvements. There’s a 30-day free trial available: Download Trial of Attendant Pro. You do need Skype for Business or Lync Server installed.

If you’d rather get straight to using Attendant Pro, or you need help installing Skype for Business first, call us! (PlanetMagpie is a Landis Partner.)

What’s your Front Desk Call Management like? Please comment or email your experiences. And join us next time for more on Attendant Pro!

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How to Train Users on Skype for Business

Conferencing, Instant Messaging (IM), Reference, Skype for Business, Third-Party Skype for Business Products, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

I covered training in the past, for Lync Server, a few times.
The latest post is: 7 Questions from a Lync Training Session

But I haven’t posted about training for Skype for Business use. Until now.

I intend this post as a guide for building your own Skype training. Don’t follow the form exactly; you might gloss over something your staff or customers want to address further. Instead, think of the following as a skeleton – with some meat on it – from which to build your own training sessions.

Part 1: Major Points to Cover in Training

When starting a Skype training session, I first introduce myself, and state what we’re all here for. Then I use a lead-in to get the trainees talking (that way I’m not “talking at them” the whole time).

Depending on the audience involved, I’ve used these as lead-ins.

  • How many of you use “regular” Skype?
  • By now you’ve had a chance to play with Skype for Business. Any questions before we start?
  • What we’re covering today is a complete communications system. Skype for Business contains a set of communications tools…some you may know about, some you may not.

Then, I move into these major points.

  1. Skype4B Features: Instant Messaging, Presence, Enterprise Voice/VoIP, Conferencing, Persistent Chat
    • Common questions I get here: What is Presence? What’s VoIP? Does this change how we make calls? Is this like Shoretel/RingCentral/Citrix? Prepare short qualifying answers for these.
    • Example: “Presence is a status indicator. It tells everyone if you can talk right now, or if you’re in a call. You use it to tell others when you’re busy or not.”
  2. Meetings Capabilities: Video, Desktop Sharing, PowerPoint Sharing, Whiteboard
    • Most people aren’t interested in Polls, so I stopped including them.
  3. UX Differences in Skype for Business vs. other Tools
    • For some, the popup windows Skype creates when a phone call starts are distracting. You’ll want to make users aware of where each communication tool appears on their computer, and why it’s doing that. (A good way to justify these popup windows is to say that they give you the opportunity to expand the conversation further. Add video, or share a file.)

Part 2: Intro to Hardware Used

PolyCom CX600This part’s highly adaptable, for obvious reasons. The hardware one customer uses is different from what another customer uses.
We often install these:

  1. Polycom CX600 phones. PolyCom CX600 Quick User Guide (PDF)
  2. Polycom RealPresence Trio Hubs for conference rooms.  (Review Part 1) (Review Part 2)
  3. Headsets vary between Jabra and Plantronics models.

Normally I refer trainees to the User Guide after going through the hardware’s purpose and functions. Then I show how to use the hardware when performing Skype tasks.

Part 3: How to Perform Basic Tasks in Skype for Business

It’s at this point where I preemptively apologize. Some trainees already know the basics, and if I don’t warn them ahead of time, they can lose interest in the training when I cover those basics again. But I have to cover them–at least one person in every training session doesn’t know the basics!

So I spend a few minutes on how to:

  • Send an IM
  • Change your Presence status (make sure to point out the difference in Busy vs. Do Not Disturb)
  • Make a Call (via desktop client first, then via whatever phone or headset they have)
  • Schedule a Meeting
  • Join Meetings

Part 4: How to Use the Skype for Business iOS App

This is really popular! Every time I get to talking about the app, someone interrupts me to ask for it on their phones.
I cover what it does: Access Skype Contacts, make calls, check voicemail, join meetings
And what it doesn’t: Schedule meetings, call someone back who left a voicemail, see Contact Cards.

Skype for Business on iOS is Good, Not Perfect
Mobile Client Comparison Tables for Skype for Business – TechNet

Since it’s very difficult to showcase a phone screen in the middle of a group training session, I always say I’ll meet with individuals who want the app afterward. Invariably, someone wants me to run them through it at their desk.

Part 5: Q&A

Conference Room

Daunting!

There’s always questions. Normally I take questions throughout the training; people are always curious about something. However, some dedicated time at the end gives me room to answer questions in more detail, or to prompt users for post-training questions.

Common questions I receive at this stage:

  • What if we have two meetings scheduled at the same time?
    (In reference to booking a RealPresence Trio.) I told them that one meeting would get the time, but the other wouldn’t have the Trio available.
  • Can we park calls?
    Call park is a stalwart of old PBX days. It’s no longer necessary, since you can easily transfer calls within Skype. I tell users that Call Park does exist within Skype for Business, but it’s not enabled by default. We only enable it on request.
  • How do we mute everyone [in a meeting]?
    For some reason, people like making other people quiet down! I point out the Mute All option in a Skype Meeting (it’s under “Actions” in the People menu), and on devices like the RealPresence Trio Hub.

Training Helps Us Make Skype Usable for Everyone

I’ve done quite a few training sessions this summer. We’ve had lots of new Skype for Business (server and hybrid) installations complete. Once we’re close to finishing, we ask the customers if they’d like training, or reference documentation (we make 2-8 page “QuickCards” for these). Often customers opt for training, which we’re happy to provide.

During the last session I had (just last week) someone commented, “this (Skype for Business) is really tech-heavy.” I responded with, “That’s true, it is. There’s a lot of meat to the system. If you spend a little time with it, you’ll see how useful it becomes.”

She appeared to like the idea. I installed the iOS app on her phone, at her request, 30 minutes later. Taking Skype from the desktop, with all its power, and moving it onto a very familiar platform (her phone) made it more reachable for her.

Which is the whole point of our training. Skype for Business is a powerful and complex system, yes. Our primary training goal is to make it useful for each customer, in their own day-to-day work activities.

Do you train users on Skype for Business? What kinds of questions do you hear from users? Please comment or email them, even if they’re off-the-wall. Especially if they’re off-the-wall; I love those!

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Bias in Skype for Business Portrayals Hurt Customer Experiences

Skype for Business, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

While going through a backlog of Skype-related links from the past few weeks, I saw something come up over and over again…Bias.

Yes, I saw a lot of bias in how Skype for Business was portrayed.  Guess the product has been out for long enough that people’s opinions are swayed one way or the other.

This might come out as a bit of a rant.  But it does have value for would-be Skype for Business customers, and for the IT departments who support them.

Positive and Negative Examples of Skype for Business Bias

thumbsdown-639x478For my first example of bias, a Mr. Paolo Bocci published a LinkedIn Pulse piece:  Skype for Business, a Broken Promise

He came down hard on Skype4B, calling it “chaotic” and saying it’s difficult to adopt.  What concerned me wasn’t his conclusion – he’s welcome to that – it was the assertions without base or source.

One example is his assertion that Skype for Business “does not excel” in videoconferencing.

“Video conferencing between PC is not enough and attempts to enrich the system with expensive devices proved complex and unsuccessful.”

But Mr. Bocci did not provide any source or even evidence from his own experience to back up his claim.

Now, Lync Server did indeed have problems with video.  I remember that viscerally.  Skype for Business however, according to customer experiences, improved the flow of video in meetings.

And that’s with the exact same network bandwidth requirements as Lync Server.  See for yourself.
Skype for Business Server Media Bandwidth Requirements
Lync Server 2013 Media Bandwidth Requirements

If Skype for Business does have a limitation (and I’m sure we can think of a few), then it’s up to us to make Microsoft aware, and to work on solutions.

thumbsup-640x480


Conversely, Microsoft recently published a comparison between Skype for Business and some of its direct competitors.
Comparing Skype for Business versus Slack, Cisco, and Google Hangouts

Again, bias showing up.  This time on the positive side.

This report (basically a big table) says that Slack has no video calling.  The report was published on June 24.  Yet we did a post in March about Slack’s soon-to-arrive video call feature.  Microsoft is seriously stretching the truth.

(And the “Full Office integration” line is silly.  Google Hangouts works with Google Docs just fine.)

The Problem with Bias: Unjust Coloring of a Product

What’s the big deal here?
Why am I blogging about bias?
Doesn’t everyone know it’s out there?

Yes, most people do.  But here’s the reason – non-technical people may not recognize technical bias.

We’re running into this a lot lately. New customers are saying things like this:

  1. We heard Skype for Business was for the enterprise.  It’s too big for us.  [Ended up going with Skype for Business Online after some intense discussion.]
  2. Can’t it integrate with our CRM app?  Slack does that.  [Never moved forward on Skype4B]
  3. (Skype) works with our current phones, right?  We don’t have to get new ones?  [Their phones weren’t even VoIP capable!]

I’ve asked where people hear such things.  Haven’t received a concrete answer yet. It’s not their fault; they most likely read a blog post or saw a friend’s tweet, and adopted the position.

We’re human.  We do this all the time.  But it becomes frustrating for them when we explain the facts. It can (and sometimes does) taint their opinion of the product unjustly.

As IT professionals, it’s our job to build & support technology people need.  We all have favorites, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But it’s important to use facts in our arguments.  Bias, however creeping it is, can end up causing out customers unnecessary grief.

Which comes back to us too!

An Unbiased Take on Software Starts Customer Experiences Off Right (and Makes IT’s Job Easier)

Is Skype for Business perfect?  No.  Does that make it a failure?  Something we should avoid?  Not at all.  It’s a beefy software application, yes, and as such isn’t right for every business.

If we approach Skype4B with a pre-established bias – positive or negative – then we tarnish the customer’s experience of it, right from the start.

Here’s my as-unbiased-as-possible position on Skype for Business:

  • Skype for Business Server is a usable communications system for businesses of any size, provided they have or will build the infrastructure to run it.  If they do, it can provide great value to everyday office communication.
  • Skype for Business Online is a usable communications system for businesses of any size, though its as-yet-limited functionality makes it a better option for small businesses or startups.  Depending on Microsoft’s choices, it may remain as a viable option even as those businesses grow.  If it doesn’t, Skype for Business Server can take over.

What do you think?  Am I underestimating or overestimating technical bias’ impact on Skype for Business usage?  Please comment or email your thoughts.

Next week’s post will be late.  But you’ll want to check back – we’re talking about Skype for Business training.

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An All-New Company Website, Missing Messages Update, and the Skype4B for Mac Preview Status

Instant Messaging (IM), Skype for Business

We had a bit of quiet time on the blog, didn’t we?  Sorry for the vanishing act folks.  But I’m happy to say it was all worth it.  Behold, the all-new PlanetMagpie.com!

PlanetMagpie IT Consulting Website

PlanetMagpie.com V4

PlanetMagpie.com, Rebuilt for 2016

(I think I need to try out a full-screen WordPress theme…)

The new site has lots of new content and resources.  For instance, our new Skype for Business datasheet!

It also includes a pass-through back to this blog.  Totally mobile-friendly UX.  We even have more upgrades on the schedule too, like a presentation module (lets you choose what content you want displayed on a custom page).

Stop by and let us know what you think!

IM Missing Messages Error

I did further research, but a solution to this error evades me still. We’re going to submit the issue to Microsoft Support and see what they say.  If you have any screenshots or logs pertaining to this error, please email them to me and I’ll include them.

I did however come across this thread in the TechNet Forums:
Lync Conversation History Issue – TechNet Forums

The issue: A user didn’t see their conversations saving in Conversation History.  Not the same as messages going blank after you miss them, but close.  Eason’s response, selected as the best Answer, contains several procedures for resetting Conversation History.

I do not know if these will work to restore your missing messages.  But the procedures are worth a shot, since they deal with the same elements in Lync/Skype for Business.  If you do try them out, please comment below on their success/failure.

Skype4B for Mac Preview – Client Troubles

Another update came out for Skype4B for Mac in late July. Then another last week.

Features added in the latest builds:

  • Screen sharing monitor picker displays actual monitor layout.
  • Unread conversations are now badged in the chats pane.
  • Spell check support during chat.
  • Contacts menu will be enabled and populated when a contact is selected.
  • Chats can be deleted in the chats pane.

It’s definitely still in beta.  Installing the update actually locked up my test Mac!  Unfortunately, this latest version now refuses to let me log in.  I filed a report as such, but it meant I couldn’t test the latest build.

By this point I thought the Skype for Mac client would have reached RTM stage.  Or at least finished its preview stage.  It seems not.  I’m still holding out for a full-version Skype for Business on the Mac by year’s end.  Let’s hope we see one!

What do you think?  How’s your experience been with Skype4B for Mac Preview?  Please comment or email your thoughts.  And join us back here next week!

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No Post Today, But Thanks for The iOS Error Responses!

Skype for Business

No post this week, and maybe next.

A lot of you are seeing the “Missed Message” iOS error. I’m going to take more time on this. Try to get more input, and test the beta iOS client more.

(If you have any insights, please share!)

We’re also close to debuting a brand-new website. I’ll post announcements on Twitter when it’s live. Feedback always appreciated.

In the meantime, here’s some topics I’m looking at for future posts. Which would you like to see? Please vote!

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 20-07-2016 09:00:00
end_date 31-07-2016 23:59:59
Poll Results:
Which Post Topic Would You Like to See on the Skype for Business Insider?

Until next time!

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Four “Real-World” Updates Now Available for Skype for Business Server

Conferencing, Exchange, Instant Messaging (IM), Skype for Business, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Microsoft has released a June 2016 Update for Skype for Business Server! It contains 4 new features:

  1. Video Based Screen Sharing
  2. Multiple Emergency Number
  3. Busy Options
  4. Offline Message

All of which struck me as having something in common: They’re all very useful in real-world office scenarios.

Accordingly, I’ll define them using examples of office scenarios today! Let’s dive in and see what Microsoft has given us.


Scenario: “When Beth shares her screen, the meeting gets slow and jerky.”
Solution: Video Based Screen Sharing

How Video Based Screen Sharing Works
When you install the new update, Video based Screen Sharing (VbSS) equips your Skype for Business Server to use UDP in its screen sharing. Previously, screen sharing used RDP. This should give a performance boost and help Meeting quality, even on lower-bandwidth connections.

Video based Screen Sharing for Skype for Business Server 2015 – Microsoft TechNet

Best of all, you don’t have to configure anything! VbSS is enabled by default.


Scenario: “We have people visiting from the UK office this month. They won’t know our phone system.”
Solution: Multiple Emergency Number

How Multiple Emergency Number Works
Just like the name implies, Multiple Emergency Number enables you to set multiple emergency numbers using PowerShell. It’s a location policy update which you control.

The major value here is for larger businesses with international workers moving between locations. Let’s consider a business with 2 offices: one in the U.S., and one in the U.K. Each office has a Site in Skype for Business. Each Site’s location policy has its own local emergency number. For the U.S., emergency is 911. But in the U.K., it’s 999.

Using Multiple Emergency Number, you can add multiple masks for all other site’s emergency numbers. In order to add 999 as a mask in the U.S. Skype location policy, you’d use these cmdlets:

$a = New-CsEmergencyNumber -DialString 911 -DialMask 999
New-CsLocationPolicy -Identity [YourID] -EmergencyNumbers @{add=$a} -EnhancedEmergencyServicesEnabled $True -PstnUsage [emergency PSTN usage]

Saves training time, and makes everyone a little safer.

There’s many other ways you can use Multiple Emergency Number. Have a look at its TechNet page for examples: Multiple emergency numbers can now be set in location policy in Skype for Business Server 2015 – Microsoft TechNet


Scenario: “X is calling. I really can’t (or don’t want to) talk to them right now.”
Solution: Busy Options

How Busy Options Works
Busy Options is a new voice policy. With it installed, you can configure Skype for Business to give callers a busy signal if they call someone who’s already on a call, or send them to voicemail. The person called then receives a notice in their inbox for either a missed call or voicemail.

Some of this functionality already existed in Skype for Business Server. Busy Options expands upon it. Conferencing, Team Calls, and Response Groups all benefit from it. Each gains several options–for example, users in conferences can still new conference invitations. But new peer-to-peer calls are rejected according to their Busy Options settings.

In terms of applicability, the documentation indicates that you can enable Busy Options down to the single-user level. But, doing so for an entire enterprise is more commonly referenced.

Installing & configuring Busy Options is more involved than the other updates listed here. I’ll link to the Deployment page to make things easier: Install and configure Busy Options for Skype for Business Server – Microsoft TechNet


Scenario: “Bob is offline again! I need to send him this.”
Solution: Offline Message

How Offline Message Works
Offline Message leverages Exchange Web Services to send messages from a Skype for Business client to another user’s Exchange mailbox. If the user is offline, the message gets stored with Exchange. Effectively, it allows you to send messages to someone who’s offline.

When you do, you (the sender) will see a notification like this:

Offline Message Alert

Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

They (the recipient) will see an orange dot on their Conversations icon. Just like the red dot on the iPhone’s apps, it means, “Hey! You have missed messages!”

To enable Offline Message:

Open the Skype for Business Server Management Shell.
Run the following cmdlet: Set-CsImConfiguration -EnableOfflineIM $True
To confirm, run: Get-CsImConfiguration
Finally, confirm that the “EnableIMAutoArchiving” property is set to True with Get-CsClientPolicy. Otherwise Offline Message won’t work. (It should be set to True by default, but make sure.)

Enable or Disable Offline Instant Messaging (IM) in Skype for Business Server 2015 – Microsoft TechNet


New Skype4B Tools to Make Everyday Office Work Easier

We’ve installed these on our Skype for Business Server as of this post. Testing has already commenced! So far I’ve received one Offline Message. If any snags come up, I’ll make sure to document them here.

Which of these “real-world” updates do you think will benefit your company the most? Please comment or email your thoughts. And we’ll see you next time!

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The Skype Meetings Tool: Free Videoconferencing, But Do We Need It?

Conferencing, Office 365, Skype for Business, Unified Communications

I was all set to talk about Skype for Business’ user experience today…and Microsoft went & debuted another Skype tool. Now I have to see what this is about!

Introducing the free Skype Meetings tool!

You’ll find a write-up at Microsoft’s Office Blogs: Introducing Free Skype Meetings – Office Blogs

Naturally I have questions.

  • What kind of features are we getting with this tool?
  • How does it stack up to Skype for Business?
  • Does it integrate with anything?
  • How well does it work?

So of course I signed up. And pestered co-workers into helping me test Skype Meetings. Here’s what I found.

How to Get and Use the Skype Meetings Tool

You don’t need a Skype Account to use Skype Meetings. A quick signup with your business email address will do.

The app is two-part – you sign up on the website, and then download the Skype Meetings app.

Skype Meetings App

Running the app will prompt you to accept the auto-detected audio & video settings.

Skype Meetings Settings

After that, you can start up your Meeting (or join an existing one) right away.

But you also get an email asking you to verify your address…and set a password…before you can go to your Skype Meetings account page.

Skype Meetings Account Password

Skype Meeting Account

Features Included

Most of the Skype for Business Online Meeting functionality is included.

  1. Built-in Instant Messaging (IM)
  2. A Meeting-specific URL
  3. Join the Meeting on any device
  4. Whiteboard
  5. Screen Sharing
  6. Upload & share PowerPoint files

Skype Meeting

Near-identical UI too. If I didn’t know where the missing features were, I wouldn’t miss them. Which is good for non-experienced Skype for Business users…easier adoption.

Skype Meetings’ Limitations

However, the app definitely has its limitations. Those features I noticed missing? Here’s the list of what’s NOT included:

  1. Scheduling Meetings
  2. Adding more than 10 people in a Meeting*
  3. Recording
  4. Polls and Q&A
  5. IM-to-Meeting
  6. Dial-in (can use Skype Meetings on your cellphone, but you can’t call into the Meetings)

Without these features, Skype Meetings is geared toward on-the-fly Meetings. It does essentially the same thing as Google Hangouts.

There’s also the issue of signup. The Skype Meetings page says people can meet “without a subscription.” That’s true…but they can’t just click a link and jump into a Meeting. Invitees must ALSO enter their business email and download the Skype Meetings app. Just to join the Meeting. It only takes a few steps, but still.

*Even the ability to add 10 people to a Skype Meeting is restricted. After 60 days of use, Meetings are automatically limited to 3 people max!

The Big Concern

The big concern we had was with Skype Meetings’ built-in restrictions. It is its own product, and you’re essentially on a timer from Day 1.

Does it integrate with anything? Yes…with Office 365. To gain any more features – or to add more than 3 people in a Meeting – you must upgrade to an Office 365 subscription.

Will Skype Meetings connect into Skype for Business Server? No. They are separate products. There’s no upgrade path from Skype Meetings to Skype for Business Server either. (Unless you just stopped using Skype Meetings and installed Skype for Business Server, of course.)

An article on TheVerge.com put it succinctly:
“Skype Meetings is designed to entice small companies to pay for Office 365.”

Final Thoughts: Nice for What it Does, But It’s a New Entry into a Popular Field

How best to view the new Skype Meetings tool?

As a way to introduce people to Office 365?
As a single-purpose tool for impromptu online meetings?
As a Microsoft-based alternative to Google Hangouts?
As a bait-and-switch, if you’re feeling cynical?

Skype Meetings is all of these. It does its one job and does a pretty good job of it. We experienced no stability issues or disconnects. Even screen sharing only produced a 1-second delay.

That said, there are other options for quick-and-simple free videoconferencing. Google Hangouts, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc. If Microsoft is hoping to grab market share away from these with Skype Meetings, it’s in for a fight.

Where do you see Skype Meetings working best in your office? Please comment or email your thoughts.

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Listing the Active Users on Skype for Business Server (Plus an iOS App Update)

Office 365, PowerShell, Skype for Business

Two topics today! This past week I responded to a reader question about active users, and continued my testing of the Skype for Business iOS Preview app. Here’s what I’ve come up with from both.

First, a quick update on the iOS Preview app!

iOS Preview App: New Features, Still Very Limited

We had an update come through with some new items:

  • Enhanced Skype Meeting experience: you can now upload a PowerPoint presentation to a meeting and present it right from your phone or tablet, letting you run your meetings on the go
  • Group communication: search for an existing distribution group and initiate an instant message, or an audio/video conversation with the group
  • Directly open your Outlook calendar from the Skype for Business meetings tab
  • General and stability improvements

I tested Tore’s idea for the “Saving phone number disabled” error message. It did work – on one of our phones. The other (mine, unfortunately) still reports the error.

Reader Question: How Can I Find Out the Number of Active Users on Skype for Business?

A reader I’ll call Tom, with whom I’ve spoken a couple times now, had a question on Active Users. He wanted to know if there was a way he could, via the Control Panel or PowerShell, find the number of Lync/Skype4B users who were active right now.

Interesting question! He asked if there was a PowerShell cmdlet to find out – easily the fastest method. However, I don’t know of a cmdlet which displays active users for Skype for Business Server.

There IS a cmdlet which displays active users for Skype for Business Online. It’s:

Get-CsOnlineUser

Office 365 also has an Active Users Report for Skype for Business Online in its Admin Center.

Active Users Report in Office 365

(I really want one of these in Skype for Business Server, Microsoft…)

Getting a full list of active users on Skype4B Server? That’s a little more complicated.

Option 1: Monitoring Reports

If a certain user is active, you can find out with the Monitoring Reports. Specifically, the User Activity Report

Remember this screenshot? It came from a User Activity Report on our then-Lync Server.

calldiagperuser

With the User Activity Report you can see who’s active during a specific time period, and what peer-to-peer or conferencing sessions they’re in. It does serve to answer Tom’s question, but not in the most direct manner.

What about PowerShell?

Option 2: PowerShell Scripts

I checked several PowerShell cmdlets – Get-CsUser, Get-CsAdUser, etc. None would give me a list of active users on our Front End. I even tried the Get-CsOnlineUser on our server, just in case it did work. No such luck.

So I turned to scripts. Rather quickly I found two script-based options for listing active Skype4B users.

One, the incredibly powerful Get-CsConnections.ps1.
Script: Get-CsConnections.ps1 – See User Connections, Client Versions, Load Balancing in Lync Server: Ehlo World!

Written back in 2011, the author has updated the script multiple times, and it does work with Skype for Business Server.
It requires installation, the steps for which are documented in the post. (EDIT: According to the script’s developer, all you need to do is download and run. All the better!)

Get-CsConnections.ps1 has plenty of parameters to choose from. For instance, running the script to see the number of active users on a Front End Server named DEFAULT is:

Get-CsConnections.ps1 -Server DEFAULT -IncludeUsers

Get-CsConnections.ps1 Script Result

Image courtesy of Ehlo World! Blog.

The same blog also had the second option: a “oneliner” script using the Get-Counter cmdlet.
One Liner – See Number Of Connected Users, Endpoints On A Lync Front End Server: Ehlo World!

In order to use this, you’d need to know the specific counters for active users. They are, according to the post:
LS:USrv – Endpoint Cache\USrv – Active Registered Endpoints
LS:USrv – Endpoint Cache\USrv – Active Registered Users

The full “oneliner” script reads:

Get-Counter “\LS:USrv – Endpoint Cache\USrv – Active Registered Endpoints”,”\LS:USrv – Endpoint Cache\USrv – Active Registered Users” | Select-Object -ExpandProperty CounterSamples | Format-Table Path,CookedValue -Auto

A simple method for finding active users. Fewer steps too. But, not as many options as Get-CsConnections.ps1.

I find the underlying “counter” technology fascinating though…the post is definitely worth a read. I may dig further into it for later posts as well.

Impressive Use of PowerShell for a Deceptively-Thorny Problem

Great question Tom! Set me on a bit of a goose chase, but we wound up with some juicy tidbits as a result. Thank you to the Ehlo World! Blog as well for their stellar work.

What would you use Skype for Business Active User data for? Please email in or comment your thoughts.

Next week I’m honestly not sure what I’ll write about. Another how-to post, or maybe some user experience advice? You’ll have to join us back here to find out!

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Does Skype for Business Fit into Microsoft’s Bot-based Future?

Instant Messaging (IM), Persistent Chat, Skype for Business, Unified Communications

Everyone’s talking about the LinkedIn acquisition. Microsoft spends $26 billion to acquire a company, no matter how big, people notice!

Naturally I wondered about what this might mean for Skype for Business. We can already surmise LinkedIn’s profile information will appear in Office 365 apps. Will LinkedIn feeds inform Skype for Business Online too? Will Cortana pop up during a Skype conversation, offering LinkedIn information on that one person you just mentioned?

At this point, speculation runs rampant. With good reason—even Satya Nadella isn’t quite sure where working with LinkedIn will take them.

(Seems like $26 billion is a lot to spend without a crystal-clear path to the future, but it’s not me making the decisions…)

However, my attention got quickly diverted by other news. News, it turns out, that may address Skype for Business’ future more directly.

I do think Skype for Business has some big changes in store from Microsoft’s acquisitions. Not from the LinkedIn acquisition though…from another one.

A Magic “Wand” Might Fit Skype for Business into Microsoft’s Bot Plans

Microsoft Boosts its Chatbot Future By Acquiring Wand Labs – Fast Company

Synopsis: Microsoft bought Wand Labs, a tiny startup working on connecting up different apps & services. The Wand apps use “a messaging interface to let you perform a variety of collaborative tasks.”

Bot-enabled Smart WatchHmmm. A chat/messaging-based system for integrating disparate tools. If you tied that sort of functionality into some communications software, you’d get a system that can reach you anywhere needed.

You could even activate conversations right at the moment you needed to talk to someone. Through a quick message, or a voice call…ooh, maybe even chat. Microsoft happens to have a product like this…

Microsoft now has LinkedIn, a massive social network with lots of business conversations & employment data, as well. How would they work all this together? What would be the value?

According to the latest speculation—bots!

Fast Company talked about Microsoft’s plan to build bots & agents into its software. For those who don’t know, bots are a semi-autonomous software app which performs a set of tasks at your behest. Agents are similar, but use a deeper access to your personal information to help you organize & perform your work.

With the Wand acquisition, Microsoft has the technology to spread bots & agents across its entire platform. Wand software connects the apps. Skype for Business provides voice and chat functionality. Azure facilitates the bots.

Consider this example: On the Wand Labs website, they show how one person can share access to their home’s Nest thermostat, to another person, from their phone. Now envision that kind of technology within Skype for Business. Instant desktop sharing from any app? Pull a Skype contact into a group text? A lot of possibility here.

4 Predictions for Skype for Business Using Wand in the Future

This is me making predictions, I know. One never truly knows how accurate a prediction will be. But it’s fun to do, and I’ve had a pretty good track record so far!

So here goes. Four predictions on what Skype for Business may move toward, using Wand Labs technology and (maybe) LinkedIn tools.

  1. Cortana entering Skype for Business. She’ll listen for file requests, remind you of meetings, issue notices to Persistent Chat subscribers, etc.
  2. The Wand Labs system bridging Skype for Business’ Instant Messaging and/or Persistent Chat into LinkedIn’s systems.
  3. New bots in Microsoft’s platform using Skype for Business-style communication independent of the full install.
  4. Skype Call functionality appearing in LinkedIn profiles. Great option to connect with someone fast, but still protecting your phone numbers.

Only time will tell just how extensive the integrations will become. I’d rather like #2. But #4 might tread on some LinkedIn users’ privacy. Privacy, in fact, may become the big issue going forward. I’ll keep an eye out for changes related to both Wand and LinkedIn.

What do you think will come out of Microsoft’s latest acquisitions? Please email or comment your thoughts below.  Got a prediction of your own?  Let’s hear it!

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    The Skype4B Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft's Skype for Business Server 2015, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., MCSE in Communication and PlanetMagpie IT Consulting's Tech Writer.
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