Blog on Vacation (Because I Am!)

Skype for Business
Ahh, the great outdoors...wait, who's emailing me?

Ahh, the great outdoors…wait, who’s emailing me?

You may be wondering, “When’s the next Skype for Business Insider post?”

Not to worry, we have plenty of posts in the queue.

As 2016 draws to a close, we plan to talk about:

  • Skype for Business Advanced Analytics
  • Supporting the RealPresence Trio Devices
  • The Skype for Business Mac and/or iOS Clients (depending on which is released first!)


Before all that though, I have a little something to do: Go on vacation.

Yes, it’s time for a short trip to see some sights & unwind. I’ll be back the week of November 7, refreshed and ready for more posting.

In the meantime, I’d like to once again poll you, our readers. Normally I do this at the end of the year, but hey, most reader feedback’s always appreciated!


Which topics do you want to see covered on the Skype for Business Insider Blog as 2016 wraps up?


Please share this poll around on your favorite social media, too. Non-readers just need to see what they’re missing!

Before I go, I’ll share a little secret. I’m pushing for a new testing server, with Skype for Business installed, as a full-time Blog Tester. Then I can use it test out all sorts of PowerShell scripts, review hardware accessories, put third-party plugins through their paces, you name it.

What do you think? Please comment or email. I’ll see you all back here early November!


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What Skype Teams Must Do to Beat Slack

Persistent Chat, Skype for Business, Unified Communications

Today we’re talking about Skype Teams.  What’s that, you might ask?  Read on and find out.

Skype Teams is a messaging app for group conversations, organized into channels.  Like Persistent Chat, but standalone and with more features.  The first mention I saw of it was a ZDNet post last month: Microsoft to beef up Skype’s team collaboration capabilities to take on Slack – ZDNet

Does this make it a Slack competitor? Is Microsoft going head-to-head with its upstart rival?  It appears so!

As I commented in my last Slack-related post, competition is great.  That goes for everyone involved.  Including Slack.

So let’s take a look at what we know about Skype Teams (admittedly not much).  As well as where it’ll need to compete hardest—and win—or risk stumbling into irrelevance right away.

Skype Teams

Image Courtesy of

Skype Teams’ Current State

Skype Teams is currently in development.  Some testing has taken place.  Closest I found for a projected release date was January 2017.

Skype Teams features referenced by other sources include:

  1. Channel-based Chats
  2. Direct Messaging
  3. File Sharing
  4. Notes
  5. Groups/Group Scheduling
  6. Video Calls
  7. Threaded Conversations (join a topic by replying to an existing message, like Facebook comments)
  8. OneDrive Sync
  9. Apps for the Web, Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, and Windows Phone

Challenging Slack? What about Licensing?

The above list is extremely similar to Slack’s feature set.  Licensing however, is another matter.

I didn’t see any mentions of a free option so far.  Only that Skype Teams will integrate into Office 365 for existing users.  Which does mean users can drop Slack and use Skype Teams, thereby saving on paying for Slack.

But Microsoft will have to make a powerful case for Skype Teams.  Their competitor already dominates the chat space, and continues to improve.  Microsoft will have to take a bold approach if it wants to beat Slack.

What Skype Teams Has to Do (if it wants to beat Slack)

Here are my humble recommendations to Microsoft.  If they want Skype Teams to enjoy some success and compete against Slack, they should consider the following tactics.

Clamp Down on Privacy.
We mean it Microsoft…NO spying capability in Skype Teams.  Private means Private.  That includes from you!

This is one area where Microsoft could even overtake Slack. Slack does have private channels, but they aren’t as private as you might think.

(Microsoft overtaking a competitor on privacy?  Hey, it could happen!)

Make Integrations Stupidly Easy.
Slack is famous for lots of third-party integrations.  To even have a chance of competing here, Skype Teams must make adding third-party integrations not just easy…but stupidly easy.  I’m talking extensive documentation, well-tested APIs, dedicated reps for working with app developers, etc.

Plus, Skype Teams must work seamlessly with Skype for Business Online AND Skype for Business Server. Unless you plan to build every Skype for Business tool into Skype Teams, the app will need to co-operate with whatever form of Skype for Business the user runs.

Lots of OneDrive File Storage.
Slack’s free plan gives each team member 5GB of storage.  The Plus plan goes up to 20GB.  Microsoft could easily give each Skype Teams member much more storage space – 1TB perhaps? 2TB?

Make it Available to ALL Office 365 Levels.
Right now, other sites are saying that Skype Teams will be part of Office 365 (of course), available to business plan users.  Likely at E3.  That is too high.  Every Office 365 user, business or personal, should have access to Skype Teams.

How many Slack business accounts come from people trying out the app at home?  Plenty, I’m sure.  Personal affinity often encourages business adoption.  No reason Microsoft shouldn’t try to cover this path.

Searchable Archives Forever.
Slack offers unlimited searchable archives with its Standard and Plus plans.  The Free plan lets you search through the previous 10,000 messages – which is still a huge amount!  Skype Teams should store messages indefinitely, and provide search capacity forever.

Then we can find the one message you’re SURE you sent.  Even if Karen in Accounting says you didn’t!

And finally…

Offer a Free Option.
Slack lets people use their software for free.  You pay to gain more features, additional storage space, and support.  Why not something similar for Skype Teams?  Even a limited free option, open to anyone with a Microsoft Account, would go a LONG way toward encouraging adoption.

My Prediction:  Skype Teams Won’t Beat Slack, But May Propel the Chat Space Forward

In any tech space, you don’t want companies getting complacent.  Witness Yahoo’s recent hack, and the huge delay between the hack and their announcement of it.  I don’t know the reasoning behind such a delay, but the complacency will unquestionably harm them in the long run.

I said last time that the Skype for Business platform “needs to continue innovating, keep adding to its feature set…or it could see upstarts like Slack take its place.”  It appears Microsoft will do exactly that.  To which I say, good!  Let the competition continue.

Until we see more details about Skype Teams, I’m not comfortable making any firm prediction.  But given the E3 level and some comments already made, I’d have to say this: Skype Teams will not beat Slack.  But its introduction may kindle more interest in the chat space overall.

Slack has done extremely well in the past few years.  I do hope they’ll continue their momentum.  Maybe Skype Teams will help more people enter the chat space, weigh their app options, and spur both apps to greater heights.

What are your thoughts on Skype Teams?  Please comment or email.  Will you give the app a try?  Another unneeded Microsoft add-on?  Let’s hear it.

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Device Review: Plantronics 5200 UC Headset

Third-Party Skype for Business Products, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

Some time back I reviewed the Jabra Motion Office headset. Since then I’ve tried out a few other headsets with our Skype for Business clients. While most had good sound quality, none really competed with the Jabra.

Until now.

Meet the Plantronics 5200 UC Headset bundle.

It includes the Plantronics Voyager 5200 headset, a BT600 Bluetooth adapter, and a charging case.
Voyager 5200 UC Bluetooth Headset System – Plantronics

Plantronics 5200 UC Unboxed

Time for another review!

Initial Impressions

When I first took the headset out of its box, I found it neatly ensconced in a black plastic case. I thought right away of travel. This headset design appears to emphasize mobility; it’s a small foldable headset in a portable case. Everything you need fits in the palm of your hand.

The Headset
As you see in the photos, the headset has a rotating eartip and boom arm. Left- and right-side usage is just a matter of turning the eartip. The boom arm curves outward, putting it away from the cheek. As I have a beard, this works great both for comfort and clarity.

The earpiece is thicker in the back. I thought this would weigh on my ear more, but the opposite was true–it balanced the rest of the headset better.

Voyager 5200 UC Headset

Plantronics claims a 7-hour battery life. Mine seems to hover at 6 hours. Still plenty of talk time.

On/Off and Volume buttons are raised and easy to use. You get the click-click push against your finger (otherwise known as “haptic feedback”) when you press one.

Voyager 5200 Buttons 1
Voyager 5200 Buttons 2

The boom also has 2 buttons: one for Mute and one for Call Controls. The Mute is easy to find – it’s the red button on the boom arm. You saw it in the second and third images, above.

The Call Controls button is harder to find – it’s on the very back edge of the boom arm.  It’s colored black, the same as the boom arm.  (You can see it if you squint at Image #3 above!)  I actually didn’t know it was there until I found it by accident while holding the headset.

Plantronics likes to mention that the boom arm has 4 mics in it.  They wanted the 5200 to sound clear even if you’re walking.  The 4 mics help to eliminate wind feedback (that whistling sound you get when you’re talking in a breeze).  The mics do this job well.

The Case
The case is solid plastic with 2 charging connectors built in.  One connects when you lay the headset within the case.  The other stands the headset upright for quick retrieval (for those “I wasn’t expecting a call quick grab the headset!” moments).  This upright cradle also has a magnetized base, so the headset seats itself.

Plantronics 5200 UC Case

The case also contains its own battery.  Plantronics states that you can charge the headset twice off the case’s battery before it exhausts.

To test this, I unplugged my case and left the headset on all day.  Its battery wasn’t quite dead, but I put it in the case and went home (without plugging the case in).  Came back in the morning, and sure enough, the headset was fully charged.


To test speaking and listening quality, I used the Voyager 5200 with:

  1. Skype for Business on my work laptop. The Bluetooth adapter took only seconds to install, grab the headset’s details, and change my Skype default device. I made several calls in the office & to customers using it. Now, I’ve used my Jabra headset for months now. While talking with everyone on the Plantronics, nobody said anything about my voice quality. Or appeared to even notice I was on a different headset. I’d consider that a great result for voice quality.
  2. Skype-C (Consumer Skype) at home. I plugged the Bluetooth adapter into my home desktop, since I have Skype installed there. In less than a minute I was talking with a friend over Skype with the headset. My friend commented that my voice “sounded clearer than the last call.” (I had previously used a freestanding Snowball microphone.)
  3. iPhone 6. At first the headset would not pair with the iPhone. I had to turn Bluetooth off/on, and then hold down the Call Controls button. Then I got it to pair. Calls worked fine from then on, with the same sound quality as in Skype.

Plantronics offers an app for desktops, iOS and Android for its headsets. It’s called Plantronics Hub (you’ll find it in the App Store). It’s not required to use the Voyager 5200, but it’s a nice add-on.


As with all things, sometimes I run across a couple issues. While the Voyager 5200 is undoubtedly a great headset, here are the issues I came up with from it.

  • The Call Controls button is not as easy to use as Jabra’s Motion Office headset. It’s close, but the location and color make it less visible (as noted above).
  • The included USB cable is very short (less than 5 feet long, I believe). This limits where you can put its cradle. It’s standard mini-USB though; no problem replacing it. I used a 6-foot generic cable and it worked fine.
  • The eartips are not the most comfortable. I tried all three, and the middle one works best in my ear. However, even that doesn’t seat too well in my ear. Feels like there’s still a space between the eartip and my ear. If I don’t get it exactly right, people sound like they’re talking at me through a breeze.

Voyager 5200 Eartips

The Verdict: My New On-the-Go Headset

Thanks to its sturdy case, I can put the Plantronics 5200 UC in my laptop bag and not worry about it. It comes with me to customer sites, and sets up in seconds for Skype calls. Sound quality is excellent.

I can even leave it on for long periods and not have a sore ear afterward!

When I’m in the office I’ll continue to use my Jabra, since it has its nice cradle with a tiny screen. But when I’m on the go, I’ve got my Plantronics 5200 UC.

What headset do you use with Skype for Business? Please comment or email your responses. If you have your own experience with the Plantronics Voyager 5200 UC bundle, we’d love to hear those too.

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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.


  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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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


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!


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.


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 IT Consulting Website V4, 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!


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 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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