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Microsoft drives the Universal Communications revolution

Universal Communications tools are essential for any enterprise and in even the largest organizations their effectiveness is often measured by how well they meet the needs of individual users as much as by how they serve the business overall. The arrival of Universal Communications signals the beginning of the convergence of VoIP telephony (which provides the ability to route telephone calls through the Internet), email, instant messaging, mobile communications, and audio and video Web conferencing into a single platform that shares a common directory and common developer tools. Microsoft is delivering a powerful set of universal communications capabilities that provide the framework for person-centric communications across locations and devices. Microsoft Lync is an end-to-end solution that provides seamless communication through instant messaging, video conferencing, online messaging and voice calls across multiple platforms and devices, allowing organizations to unify all communications with their business applications and processes, and to streamline how people connect and communicate by leveraging the investments made by enterprises in a single identity and directory service.

Google+ Hangouts is Google’s attempt at a Universal Communications solution, but is designed primarily for consumers rather than information workers. It relies on third-party applications for many key voice capabilities, and has other significant limitations that make it a poor choice for business. Lync, which is easy to use and easy to manage, offers the flexible yet comprehensive UC solution that both enterprises and end users need—a solution that Google can’t match.

Key areas in which Lync excels in comparison to Google+ Hangouts include:

Key areas in which Lync excels in comparison to Google+

Consumer and Enterprise Grade services

At Microsoft, we offer our customers enterprise-class services. Skype, for instance, has one of the largest communities on the planet with more than 300 million connected users. Lync Online, as part of Office 365, is a communication service that responds to the security, compliance, and communication needs of large organizations worldwide. Microsoft introduced Lync-Skype connectivity in May 2013 to give Lync users the ability to communicate with hundreds of millions of Skype users around the globe, including customers, partners and suppliers, while still relying on the enterprise capabilities and richness of Lync. Customers have now registered over 10,000 Lync Server domains for this service. Moreover, users can communicate using Microsoft solutions from the device of their choice. To demonstrate its commitment to enable users to be productive on the go, Microsoft is continuing to innovate and add new capabilities to Lync mobile.

Google offers a single consumer-grade communication service, Google+ Hangouts, which lacks the enterprise features most businesses require. The Hangouts features most frequently mentioned are easy photo sharing and the emoticons (“emoji”) that “make conversations more fun.” Hangouts currently is not covered by either the Google Apps support guidelines or the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for core services, and, in an effort to try and appeal to Enterprise customers, Google has started to offer Google Apps administrators 24/7 phone support for Hangouts.

Recently, Google has looked for ways to close their product gap by adding capabilities intended to address business meetings, including the UberConference- app that allows 10 users to dial in to Hangouts for free. They have also partnered with Vidyo to launch Vidyo H2O for Google+ Hangouts  that connects existing business voice and video solutions to Hangouts sessions. Clearly, Hangouts continues to rely heavily on third-party solutions for many of its key capabilities, and enterprise customers will need to figure out and procure those additional solutions as a separate process — increasing the real cost of the service and creating a complex support model.

User Experience from IM to voice calls to meetings

With Lync, user presence is integrated throughout the experience including within office files and apps, SharePoint, and the intranet. Anywhere a name appears, you can instantly see someone’s availability, initiate an IM conversation and add voice, video or content to the sharing experience.

Lync enables you to view the online presence of other users to see whether they are free, busy or in a meeting, based their calendar. This can help you decide whether to reach out with instant messaging or not at all. You can also view the “out of office” message, custom note and location in the contact card. Lync also lets you search for people across your address book and to search for them according to their skills. You can modify your contact list by adding individuals to various groups, and then sort your contacts based on groups, relationships and status.

These capabilities are not available in Hangouts because there is no integration with the address book. You cannot search for people based on their skills and capabilities, there is no ability to sort contacts, and you cannot create any groups within the list.

Enterprise Voice Services

Lync Server provides telephony services, Enterprise Voice and Online Services, which can be a replacement for traditional PBX systems and desk phones saving companies the cost of upgrading and maintaining that infrastructure.

Although Hangouts allows you to make phone calls from your computer and from the Hangouts app for iPad and Android 4.4, it does not provide enterprise telephony and cannot replace traditional PBX system or desk phones.

Enhanced video conferencing

Lync provides enhanced conferencing support. As the conference organizer, you can include up to 250 participants and share a link to the conference directly in the calendar invite. Users can dial in from anywhere. Further, Microsoft partners offer dial-in conferencing for Lync Online, provide local numbers in multiple countries, and typically set prices based on total usage rather than per user. With Lync, customers can bring all conferencing in-house to greatly lessen per-minute and per-user charges. Microsoft IT estimates that it saved the company nearly $8 million in audio conferencing costs alone by using Lync Server.

Hangouts provides limited conferencing capabilities and, once again, users have to partner with other service providers to enable it. Google recently has partnered with UberConference to build a third-party app that, once installed in Hangouts, will allow users to dial in, but it is a paid service for more than 10 participants and gives only limited control to the organizer and attendees, who can only hear through the call and not view any content shared in the meeting, in stark contrast to the Lync 2013 app for smartphones

Native sharing tools

From meetings and gatherings to conversations, and sharing rich content in real-time, only Microsoft has created the assets to fuel the next major step-change in productivity along this path to universal communications. Lync has great built-in sharing tools such as desktop and PowerPoint sharing. Hangouts requires you to install separate applications in order to use various meeting tools.

Works seamlessly with Office

Microsoft Office is the most preferred productivity suite in the corporate world and is the market leader in commercial productivity. Microsoft is committed to bring Office to every platform including the cloud, and recently launched Office on iPad that hit the number one spot on Apple’s app store after just 12 hours.

For a UC solution to be effective it is important for it to meet the needs of both individual users and the business overall. A communication solution must work seamlessly with Office, the best productivity solution in the industry, to allow users to work on important documents in parallel. Lync provides tight integration with Office and enables note taking, viewing contact information including people skills, and it integrates well with the Outlook calendar to enable scheduling and join meetings using Lync.

Hangouts does not integrate with Office and does not enable document editing by way of Office editing capabilities. There is no easy way to enable document sharing in Hangouts. In Hangouts, if the user wants to share a file they must use Hangouts extras and the file has to actually be uploaded to Google Docs, which converts it to a Google Docs format by default.

On-premises, cloud or hybrid deployment

IDC predicts that 70% of CIOs will embrace a cloud-first strategy in 2016. To get there, organizations will move at their own pace over a number of years, with many living in a hybrid environment for quite some time. That flexibility – to operate both on-premise and with cloud-based capabilities (even within a cloud-first strategy) — is non-negotiable. With Lync, organizations can choose if they want their UC solution on-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid deployment. Hangouts is cloud-based only and cannot be used by companies that are on-premise or seeking hybrid deployment.

Single identity and presence across workloads

Lync capitalizes on the single identity provided by directory services such as Microsoft Active Directory by letting users see presence and initiate ad-hoc collaboration from an Office document, a site, an email or a social post. This is for all Office 365 services and the on-premise Office suite.

Hangouts has its separate identity that requires a Google account and is not pervasive across the Enterprise. Enterprises will need to first create the user identity in Google+ and use additional tools to synchronize user information to the directory services customers are using, requiring further investments and administration to make the presence available.

The Universal Communications revolution is well underway, and Microsoft is leading both end-users and their organizations to new and improved, seamless, flexible technology solutions.  Stay tuned for more developments on this front, we’re working hard to advance further and faster!

Arushi Agrawal @arushiMSFT

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