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Future Decoded and that little announcement of Microsoft Teams

Before I dash to Seattle for my first MVP summit, I decided to warm up by going to Future Decoded at London ExCel. Future Decoded isn’t a UC conference, in fact there was pretty much zero a UC geek would have picked up that they didn’t already know. However, it gave us chance to broaden our horizons and look forward to the future and see what it has to offer us. Firstly, Future Decoded is all about the “future” durr.. So this means the conference is about the “art of the possible” or “the cutting edge of technology”. The focus this year from Microsoft was all about Machine Learning and Augmented Reality (shocker!).

I wanted to share with you my key takeaways and where I think certain technology may or may not play a relevant role in my life as well as maybe yours. I have to say the Morning Keynote was really enjoyable, using AI and Machine learning to predict outcomes you think of these as complex mathematic equations that only universities really care about. But what you don’t see is how those outcomes help humanity in cases where you traditionally think is down to personal expertise and a good slice of luck. For instance, Joesph Sirosh CVP in Data Group for Microsoft spoke about how machine learning helps predict the chance of an eye operation (Lasik surgery) being successful based on data collected over similar cases with the added influence of the patient’s personal cirumstantial influence as data. Microsoft’s Machine Learning engine is able to process such vast amounts of data it can provide accurate predictions on your chances of success.

Whilst this is an amazing feat and no doubt helps doctors choose the “right” course of treatment for the patient, there are those that believe, machines cannot account for the “human factor” and that they should not be denied treatment based on what a few bits of silicon and solder says they can. And I have to agree with them, we should all be given the same chance of survival, no matter our backgrounds.

However, what Machine Learning helps us with is the unbiased and unemotional truth of a situation based on facts and probability and allow professionals to make professional judgements based on the stark situation rather than on emotional plea. The emotion bit is optional and rather personal to the people in that situation. So it’s a good thing, and could be the difference between say open heart surgery or a keyhole procedure that allows the patient to leave hospital and get healthier sooner! But medicine is not the only use for Machine Learning, it can be applied to millions of situations for the better. Imagine machine learning in Sat Navs for instance, planning your route based on traffic movement data, allowing you to choose the “real” quickest route, but also to route only a number of vehicles down that particular route can support, so the roads become more efficient. How many times has your Sat Nav told you to go down the M6, then then TMS popup to re-route you based on accident / delay announcements, only to find everyone else is going the same way, so you end up queuing for longer (probably).

The darker side of Machine Learning is that potentially jobs can be replaced by outputs from Machine Learning. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to hit the poorest paid jobs first, and that leaves the question of what do these people do then? Where else can they go? Are they going to be dependent on the state for benefits?

But for us techies, imagine machine learning taking our jobs? It’s possible. Imagine a customer wanting to use Skype for Business or Cisco, but doesn’t quite know which. Machine Learning will be able to tell them which system to use to get the best solution that meets their business requirements. Not only that but outputs the design, and can we go as far as build it for them?!?! certainly possible in the future.

But what does this mean for us as a race? Will we may start to loose intelligence and become to slaves to machines (Matrix)? At somepoint will become victims of our own successes. We seem to be fixated by being able to reproduce a human brain digitally that we risk technology overtaking our intelligence, and when AI finds out that it is limited by humans….. Skynet…

The next speaker Abe Davis completely changed my perception of video and sound. His talk made my jaw drop and I still cannot believe what I saw. I am not going to pretend I know, but at least will try to explain why.  Abe is an MIT grad and has been working with dynamic video and passive recovery of sound. What he has been able to do is beyond belief and really opens the doors to all kinds of new technology.

Firstly, dynamic video. What this does is allow you to record a very short video, let say of an object such as shrub moving under influence and then apply dynamic video over the top of that recording to allow you to interact with it. What do I mean by that? Well, imagine you wanted to know what reaction the shrub would have if you pulled on a leaf? Dynamic video allows you to visualise that by using mouse clicks and drags. Going beyond this and adding in some augmented reality, what would happen if a bird decided to pirch on the shrub? Add in a bird to the dynamic video using AR and Abe can show the reaction!

If that didn’t get you to say “WOW” then passive recovery of sound using silent video will!

Now imagine you are watching a CCTV recording of a situation. You can see whats going on and expressions but with the lack of sound you can’t determine the context of the actions you are seeing. Instead, you fill in the gaps with your own assumptions. Imagine if there was someway to hear what was said and how it was said?

Abe has been working on this obviously for many years. By monitoring the vibrations and reactions of objects when influenced by sound waves he has been able to detect microscopic movements and convert them into the audio spectrum. What this means is that using his algorithm he is able to replay sound just from watching how an object reacts. What is truly staggering here is that he was able to take a silent video of a ear buds connected to a laptop while a song was being played. Using his algorithm he was able to recover this sound and play it. Not staggering enough…? He was then able to Shazam his recording and Shazam was able to find the song!

OK, this was done using a slow motion camera to capture the silent video. But using a normal camera you can buy from Walmart he was able to recover the sound again, albeit more distorted, but you could definately pick out the nursery rhyme of “Mary had a little Lamb”.

Watch here: https://www.ted.com/talks/abe_davis_new_video_technology_that_reveals_an_object_s_hidden_properties?language=en

And here is his early work http://people.csail.mit.edu/mrub/VisualMic/

That was really it from Future Decoded that I really enjoyed. After watching that the rest of the day felt rather tame and old fashioned. I only managed to get to one breakout session, which I found too high level for me to gain anything from it.

Now for Microsoft Teams

So while I was in the breakout session, Microsoft announced their best unkept secret Microsoft Teams. Now twitter and fellow MVP blogs have lit up with guides and introductions to this new toolset in Office 365. So if you want to see what it is all about check out these blogs

Richard Brynteson: http://masteringlync.com/2016/11/02/microsoft-teams-a-not-so-brief-review/

Matt Landis: http://windowspbx.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/first-sighting-microsoft-teams.html

Tom Arbuthnot: http://tomtalks.uk/2016/11/enable-microsoft-teams-preview-office-365/

Josh Blalock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiPeX08JrAg

Rather than go into details of Teams and rehash much of what is already be written, I wanted to give a vision of where I see Teams in the world of cloud UC. Now the first comment I had was that’s the end of Skype for Business. Well to be quite blunt about it, no that is not true. The second, was “Oh it’s pchat in the cloud”. Guys we have had pchat in the cloud for over a year, its called Office 365 groups!

No, its neither of these things on their own, but a pane of glass, or layer above all these functions to provide a different collaboration experience. It goes back to what I have been saying months and years ago, in that we will forget the core applications that make this happen such as Skype for Business, Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive etc and we will just access these through an umbrella application that delivers the overarching capability.

But that said, Teams is a direct compete with Slack, there is no secret to that. But it has UC consultants quaking because in Teams you can do:

  • IM
  • Presence
  • Group Chat
  • Web Meetings
  • P2P Audio and Video

All these things that you can do with Skype for Business is in there, except enterprise features such as:

  • PSTN Calling
  • Cloud Connector
  • PSTN Conferencing
  • Boss/Admin
  • Federation (soon to be fixed I believe)

Microsoft Teams, takes the workloads of SharePoint, Office 365 Groups, Skype (ish), Exchange (ish) and merges them together to make a focussed collaboration experience for groups of people within the organisation. It allows us to access common data and information on topics quickly and effectively without having to enter different applications such as sharepoint to share a file, Skype to send an IM, One Note to add something etc. This has been the biggest downside to Office 365 for sometime. I hate the fact that my data and collaboration is split between multiple cloud platforms. I just want it in one place that I can access whenever I want.

So Teams is a massive improvement to the cloud collaboration platform, and will be loved by many who are working on projects involving hundreds of people around the world who need to keep track of all shared information.

The use case for Team is very much that nature, the ability to coauth or collaborate together in a dedicate cloud space so that information is not spread over different cloud platforms, or user mailboxes, USB sticks etc. This will reduce go to market time for businesses for sure. But the UC space where Skype for Business sits is different to that of Teams. For sure there will be some smaller companies or even sub departments within a large corp that Teams will be enough for what they need, but SfB is still required for the enterprise voice world.

What seems to be taking place here is the dissolution or divergence of what we have associated Unified Communications to be. Legacy VoIP was lacking IM&P, P2P and conferencing so the shift was more toward unification to make UC which has been the catalyst for Skype for Business and other platforms to take prescedence over traditional VoIP.

But now instant messaging, collaborative conferences and P2P communication is becoming more valuable to a business than VoIP in many cases, and it appears that tying UC together may be hampering to evolution of these modalities. I did raise some eyebrows when Microsoft released Cloud PBX. Not because of what is does, but why they chose to call it “PBX” after all, we have been trying to get rid of PBXs and replace them with UC Platforms?

So are we going back to VoIP and Collaboration as two separate workloads now? Microsoft have always been a disruptive company, that’s how they change concepts and ways in which we do things. I just think that the layering has changed, and with Teams, its added a layer that allows the development of collaboration to accelerate faster than if it was tied closely to VoIP. Which means a better experience for the end user.

But this latest toolset does leave them open to questioning their own products. For now I see these use cases

  • Voice platform = Skype for Business (cloud or on-premises)
  • Internal IM and P with AV = Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business
  • Web Conferencing (adhoc and external) = Skype for Business
  • Web Conferencing (internal collaboration) = Microsoft Teams
  • PSTN Conferencing = Skype for Business
  • Group Collaboration = Microsoft Teams

Now this is a new service, and the biggest thing here is that to access Teams and Skype for Business, you need two clients. This is poor, but as the Teams client looks almost identical to the Skype for Mac client, can we assume that Teams is going to be the new front of house for both Teams and Skype for Business?

What is also strange is that Teams Skype functionality seems to be built using Skype consumer technology rather than business, which leads to another question as to whether PSTN and MCU from the business world will merge? The presence and AV engines are different and it needs federation in order to talk between SfB and Teams, so they aren’t the same architecturally. Merging PSTN and in particular MCUs will not be that straightforward.

Also Microsoft are offering this in preview for free (Teams) – Pricing has yet to be announced and could be a deciding factor?

So if Teams does become the new front door to Office 365 for end users, does that spark the end of Skype for Business? I don’t think so, even if they do merge to tech, we are still going to have to design and configure the back end voice platform with CCEs or hybrids, its just the end user experience changes. I for one would be glad to see the back of the SfB client (especially the 2016 drop).

So I am approaching teams with a positive attitude, it is going to be the next level of UC. The cloud allows us to push new ideas in ways we previously could not perform on-premises. Teams is the strongest sign yet that on-premises applications are on borrowed time.

Let’s see what 2017 holds….

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