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Modern Workplace Dec 18, 2019

Truly unrestricted communication with Microsoft Teams, Cisco and Zoom.

“Microsoft lets you communicate without restriction—in principle!” This statement is how I used to begin most of my workshops on the modern way to communicate and work using Microsoft 365. But what exactly does the qualifier “in principle” mean when countless solutions and providers have made it easier than ever to send messages and information? And why am I looking forward to soon omitting it from my introductory sentence altogether, thanks to a recently announced partnership between two communications heavyweights?

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A quick look back to set the stage: the introduction of Lync and Skype for Business laid the initial foundation for change as they nudged e-mail, phone calls and text messages (still rather expensive at the time) out of the communications spotlight. Then, just shy of three years ago, Microsoft announced Microsoft Teams, which has become increasingly popular, spurred on by a rapid expansion of innovative features and functions.

 

In the process, unrestricted communication with Microsoft became even more of a reality. Using Teams as a central communications hub makes it easier than ever to share knowledge, content and information quickly and productively. In principle, your end device or network doesn’t really matter anymore. In principle.

 

Strategic partnership.

In addition to Microsoft, companies like Cisco and Zoom also saw the great potential of business communications, an area that had almost been completely taken for granted. Although no exact figures are available, it is estimated that both Zoom and Cisco are used by a total of more than 120 million people every month. And this number is growing daily. Unfortunately, this inevitably leads to a significant issue, which Ilya Bukshteyn, Head of Product and Partner Director for Microsoft Teams Devices, laid out:

 


[…] even if my company has fully standardised on Microsoft Teams meetings, one of our partners or customers may still send us an occasional invite for a WebEx or Zoom meeting, and rather than join that meeting on my laptop or mobile device, I’d like to use all of the rich audio and video capabilities of my Microsoft Teams Rooms to also join that meeting.


Given the prevailing market situation and the fierce competition for users, no communications provider had wanted to give rivals any insight into its interfaces or enable them native access to its users—until a few weeks ago. That’s why Microsoft’s announcement at its Ignite 2019 event, uttered almost as an afterthought, came as such a surprise: both Cisco and Zoom would become the software giant’s strategic partners for meetings and communications starting in 2020.

 

Entering a new era with Cisco collaboration

 

But what does this mean for Microsoft Teams, and what will change for users? It used to be that employees using a Cisco WebEx Room solution had to rely on complex, expensive third-party gateway solutions to quickly and easily participate in meetings with people using a Teams Rooms system (and vice versa). In future, this will no longer be the case—and it will require no additional effort from users.


While the native meetings experience on each of these room systems will always remain richer and more full featured, we all agree that having the ability to easily and simply join the occasional non-native meeting on our room systems is a great thing for our customers.


Everyday work is further simplified.

Let me break things down to the actual feature at hand. From 2020, the web standard WebRTC will enable users of all current Teams Rooms system devices and recent Cisco room solutions to natively take part in meetings with users of the other solution—while enjoying native, direct access to their own platform’s features and benefits without the help of a third-party solution. The meeting invitation sent by the other provider will be processed directly, regardless of the endpoint, and displayed in calendars and meeting lists. This will ensure that one-touch join and other features available through direct usage will be available.

 

6 steps to a Modern Digital Workplace

 

As a Microsoft and Modern Workplace Consultant, I found this announcement mind-blowing. Until now, these options were only possible through expensive, complex third-party solutions that were not always easy to use. My own daily routine will be impacted and simplified by this new development. Bechtle, a multi-vendor solutions provider for nearly all areas of IT, uses both Cisco WebEx for its meetings and Microsoft Teams as its collaboration hub. This means I have to work in both environments.

 

If I receive an invitation to a WebEx meeting from a Bechtle colleague, I’m currently able only to participate using my WebEx client. A colleague who doesn’t yet use Teams can only participate in my meetings as a guest user, using web access. And the situation becomes even more complex if we work in rooms with Surface Hubs and Cisco Boards. But these problems will become a thing of the past starting in 2020, thanks to the announced partnership. Users will be able to participate in meetings directly and natively, no matter which room or solution. One thing is certain: Microsoft has truly removed the barriers of communication.

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Florian Vees
Junior Consultant Microsoft