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 Privacy Risks in Skype for Business-to-Skype Conversations

Security, Skype for Business

“Can I use my regular Skype now?”

A customer asked us following their Skype for Business install the other day. She meant her consumer Skype, or Skype-C account. She wanted to use that account in Skype for Business. We explained that she needed to use her new Skype for Business account. She in turn asked if she could add all her existing Skype contacts to her Skype for Business account.

Rather than just say, “No, that’s a bad idea,” let’s explain why. It has to do with privacy.

How Private is Skype? Not Very.

You can add Skype contacts in Skype for Business. It’s one of the much-trumpeted features Microsoft added when they made the update from Lync Server. However, that doesn’t mean Skype-to-Skype4B conversations are private.

Why? Simple. You (the Skype for Business admin) control the Business accounts. You don’t control the Skype-C accounts.

The Privacy Danger: You Can’t Secure the Other Person’s Side of the Conversation

Microsoft runs the Skype servers. Now, they do incorporate a set of legal privacy terms, laying out protections for Skype users and detailing how they use consumer information.

But right there is one privacy concern. We’ve known Microsoft monitors your activity for a while now. They gather data and use it to improve services & work with partners. (Yes, and show us ads.) But in 2013, bloggers discovered that Microsoft computers accessed previously-unseen webpages transmitted via Skype. Something they shouldn’t be able to do.

Now, let’s say you’re having a conversation on a new project. You’re using Skype for Business; another person (we’ll call them Frank) is on Skype-C. You send Frank a message with a staging link in it.

“Frank, here’s the current staging link for the XYZ project. Don’t share it around, it’s got proprietary information on it. Just have a look through and let me know what you think.”

Surprise. The privacy you thought you had? Microsoft itself just compromised it.

Open computer at coffee shop

“Uhh, Sir? You left your computer up…”

Don’t Forget the “Oops!”

Even if you avoid sending links, you’re still open for an accidental information leak.

What if Frank leaves his Skype window open and goes to the bathroom without locking his PC? Worse, what if he does this when he’s in a coffee shop? Anyone can just stop and take a peek!

Accidental leaks are just that…accidents. People don’t mean any harm. But the simple fact does remain that any side of a conversation – especially if one side is an unmanaged, unsecured Skype-C account – can accidentally display or share Intellectual Property.

Essentially, the moment you allow Skype for Business users to talk with Skype-C accounts within your work environment? It’s the moment you start bleeding business information out of your work environment’s safeguards.

Technical Risks to Skype’s Privacy

Skype-C has been around for many years. Many people have written add-ons and plugins for the software. Some good, some great, some…not so good.

I’m thinking in particular of malware. Several malware apps exist which record Skype calls & conversations. Palo Alto Networks discovered a new one, T9000, back in February. Guess what it does? It records your Skype calls—without your knowledge!

Obviously, malware can get to a Windows Server inside your network too (if you’re not careful!). But you can monitor for that. Can you monitor the computers of all the Skype contacts out there, talking with your Skype for Business users? Didn’t think so.

Which means every Skype-C/Skype4B conversation can contain a privacy hole.

What Can You Do to Protect Privacy? Policy and Awareness

There’s only a few things you can do on the technical side to protect privacy in Skype for Business. Your best approach is awareness and policy limitations.

I have some advice here. We give these recommendations to our new Skype for Business customers during their user training.

  1. Limit the Skype-C contacts your employees add. Can they make a business case for Contact A? Then they get to add Contact A.
  2. Stay familiar with Skype for Business privacy relationships. From the Skype for Business Privacy Supplement:

    “Note: By default all external contacts, either personal or federated, will be assigned the External Contacts privacy relationship, which will share your name, title, email address, company, and picture. These contacts will not be able to view your Presence Note. Assigning external contacts to other privacy relationships, for example Work Group, Friends and Family, and so on, will allow them to see your Presence Note and could inadvertently share information that should not be disclosed to them.”

  3. If your users need to talk with Skype-C contacts, have those contacts beef up their Skype privacy. You can send those contacts this link: Use These Skype Privacy Settings to Secure Your Account – MakeUseOf.com.
    And install Malwarebytes too!
  4. Inform the C-level execs of the privacy concerns. That way they can update corporate policy (if it’s needed) regarding sharing of Intellectual Property and links.

The Privacy Spectre Lurks in the Background. Don’t Forget it’s There!

We advised the customer to limit the number of Skype-C contacts she adds to her Skype for Business. Trusted business associates only…and always use caution about what you send them. To her credit, she understood right away what we meant about privacy.

Having the ability to add Skype-C contacts in Skype for Business is a big help. But, just because you “can” doesn’t mean you “should”!

What are your biggest Skype for Business privacy concerns? Please comment or email. If you’ve had a Skype privacy issue, please share what happened (and I’m sorry you had to deal with it!).

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Skype for Business iOS Evaluation: Testing Results

Skype for Business, Skype for Business Mobile

Last month I mentioned that I hadn’t received a download for the Skype for Business iOS Mobile Evaluation client. When I did, I’d test it out like I did for the Mac Preview Meetings client.

I received the download link two days after posting. Onto my phone went the iOS evaluation client, and testing began!

I quickly discovered something important though. The Mac Preview client is meant for staged development releases. Allowing users to test one set of features, before adding another. The iOS evaluation client is different.

Client Setup

I installed the evaluation client according to the instructions. You must use the TestFlight app to download the evaluation client.
 
TestFlight app, Skype for Business

(I had the existing Skype4B iOS client already installed on this phone. I was able to keep it, and even run it when the evaluation client wasn’t signed in.)

You must enter your Skype number on sign-in. I saw an error window after doing this – “Saving phone number disabled due to the server policy.”

 

Saving Phone Number Issue

However, the client did save my number, and we have no server policy in place to block number saves on phones. Hmm, an issue appears!

Features & Similarities to Standard Client

The standard Skype for Business mobile features are available:

  • View Meetings
  • Make calls
  • Hear Voicemails
  • IM Contacts
  • Add Video to Conversations
  • Join Meetings

The evaluation client UI is near-identical to the standard iOS client. So much so that at first I thought the only difference was Conversation History. On the login screen of the Standard Skype4B iOS client, you get recent phone-based Conversation History.

I thought at first that the evaluation client would either not have Conversation History at all, or it would link to the Skype for Business Server (like it’s supposed to!). Testing revealed however, that the evaluation client behaves just like the standard client. Conversation History shows up under “recent” on the login screen.

The TestFlight install screen does call attention to one additional function: Skype intelligently detects meetings on non-federated domains and auto-joins them as a guest user for you. Saves you a step.

The Real Value: Microsoft’s Ear

When checking the Settings screen, I noticed an additional line in the options list: “dogfood feedback”

 

Skype4B Dogfood Feedback

As we’re a dog-themed IT company, I rather like that!

The term refers to the phrase, “eating your own dog food.” It means you use your own product to test and promote the same product. We’ve used the term for years now on our website. Every time Microsoft releases new software, we test it out in our datacenter before installing it for any customer. That way we know the software’s ins and outs beforehand, and can confidently say whether it will solve a customer’s problem.

In this case, Microsoft is asking all its preview users to submit “dogfood feedback.” I found the option under Settings, and in the options menu for each contact.

Why? Because Microsoft wants more feedback. And they’re offering their ear in exchange…a valuable opportunity.

Here’s what the Feedback Submission screen looks like.

 

Skype for Business iOS Feedback Form

 

I filled in a dummy example here, to show what kind of information Microsoft collects. I did submit feedback on the “Saving phone number” issue mentioned earlier.

Development Status: Further than Mac Preview, Not 100% Yet

Microsoft has not placed iOS Evaluation documentation on their Skype Preview website, www.skypepreview.com. As such I’m not sure the full extent of available or limited features in this client. We’re all waiting on more information, Microsoft!

Development on the iOS client is further along than the Mac Preview client we reviewed last time.  I suspect Microsoft solicits feedback with the iOS client to help bolster other client updates, like Android Mobile.

Have an Issue with Skype for Business on iOS? Here’s Your Chance to Speak!

As far as I can tell, the iOS evaluation client does not have significant new features. The Meetings join functionality is nice, but it’s just an automation of existing processes.

What it does have is a built-in feedback mechanism for gathering user data. Microsoft is polling its users for more data it can crunch, informing future updates from the results.

While I was hoping for more features to test, this is good too!

If you have an issue with Skype for Business on iOS, here’s your chance to be heard. Join the iOS Mobile Evaluation at www.skypepreview.com, download the evaluation client, and select “dogfood feedback” wherever you experience the issue. Even if you experienced the issue with the standard Skype for Business client, that’s still valuable feedback. Send it in!

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Record Your Skype for Business Calls with Atmos

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

A few weeks back, I got an email. It was from Ryan at CallCabinet, a call recording solution provider in Florida.
Ryan told me about Atmos, one of their products, made for recording Skype for Business voice calls.

He’d seen my prior reviews of Skype-related products, and asked if I’d like to try out Atmos. Great idea! I’m always happy to try out new software.

Ryan kindly set me up with a full demo account. Last week, I installed the Atmos app on my laptop & conducted a week-long test. Here are my findings.

What Atmos Does

Atmos records voice calls. It has three integrations right now – for Asterisk, mobile, and Skype for Business (also supports Office 365). No server access is required to run Atmos, and you don’t need any additional hardware.

It works by running a small app in the background, which performs the recording & transmits it to your CallCabinet account on their cloud servers. Recordings are not stored on your local computer.

Installation process is a little more involved than, “download this app & run it.” You must create a new CallCabinet account, which generates two numbers: a Customer ID and Site ID. These connect your desktop Atmos client to your CallCabinet account.

Nice way of doing it, I think. Avoids the need to configure servers. (It works through a VPN too!)

Once the Atmos app is installed, it quietly does its job without bothering you. No popup notifications.

Atmos Popup Notifier

The CallCabinet Recordings Dashboard

The Atmos app is only half of the solution. The other is the web-based dashboard where your call recordings are stored. To access that, you’ll log into your CallCabinet account.

Atmos CallCabinet Site Login

Once logged in, you see a Homepage with statistics on your recent calls. Switch to the Calls window…and there’s the list of your call recordings.

Call Recording List in Atmos

From here you can play back the recording (the Play icon to the left, blue square), or download an MP3 (the Download icon on the right, red square).

I’ve played every recording on this list back. The clarity is great–no echo, only one instance of voice glitch, and the recordings captured every second of the call.

Atmos Features I Like

The Atmos solution is focused on one thing only: call recording. I always like it when software does one job and does it well. Atmos definitely does it well.

They do have some backend features I like too. Features useful for maintaining an office’s safety, like:

  • Recordings are stored using 256-bit encryption
  • Atmos dashboard is compliant with regulatory legislation
  • Redundant backups

When I talked with Ryan, he mentioned upcoming features like screen capture, analytics, and reporting. I’m curious about the analytics & reporting myself. Always like looking at the numbers!

Results: A Clean Solution if You Need to Record Your Calls

One of the terms I like to use when describing software is “clean.” To me, “clean” software is focused on its goal both in content and in visuals. Its UX is easy to figure out. The feature set isn’t overloaded.

Based on this demo, I can say that CallCabinet’s Atmos Skype4B Recorder is definitely “clean.” Setup is fast, no server configuration required. The dashboard uses HTML5, which makes for high-contrast, easy-to-read windows. The pricing is very reasonable for what you get (rates as low as $18 per user per month for 1,000 hours, with unlimited storage for up to 5 years).

Atmos Call Recording Software – CallCabinet.com

Do you record your calls? With what software? Please comment or email your app of choice. I still have a little time on this demo; if we have a few other contenders, I’m happy to do a compare-and-contrast!

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