Friday, December 23, 2011

‘Tis the Season for Snow Days … Will you stay Productive?

The season is upon us, in my part of the world, for “unexpected” snow storms and massive traffic jams, both of which lead inevitably to big-girl and big-boy Snow Days!  Woohoo!


I don’t know about you, but it’s been awhile since it was OK for a Snow Day to mean all-day TV and video games and no work for me.  Even though school does, business doesn’t stop for weather, or at least business owners certainly can’t afford it to.


So this means that Snow Days, and more specifically having employees stay home and not work, has a big impact on business.  Organizations can lose a lot in lost productivity.  Outages are common, such as for vacations, but those are staggered and there are usually backup resources in place.  On a Snow Day, an unusually large number of employees are all off work at the same time.

Microsoft Lync to the Rescue

I am fortunate to be equipped with the tools and capabilities of Microsoft Lync to do my job.  And this means that a Snow Day for me is just another day at the office, figuratively speaking of course.

A Day in the Life

For me, with Lync at my command, here’s what my Snow Days are going to look like this year.  Images are representative only…I’m not quite that handsome.

9:00 AM

I strap on my trusty wireless headset and initiate and accept high-quality phone calls with my Customers using my corporate phone number.  No need for my customers to know my home number, just because I happen to be working from home today.  I need a top-up of coffee – I go downstairs and fill up mid-call, without skipping a beat.


10:00 AM

I offer assistance to a Colleague after noticing via my Lync Activity Feed that she is working on something I can help with.  I notice she is Available because of the green status bar so I click to send an Instant Message to offer my 2 cents, for what it’s worth, which she suggests is closer to 3 cents.  Nice.



11:00 AM

I share a PowerPoint presentation in real-time with another Colleague, with rich Audio and Video, to review content for an upcoming Customer presentation.  With cool annotation tools we are able to communicate and collaborate effectively and in real-time.



12:00 PM

I’m hungry.  I always eat this healthy, I promise.



1:00 PM

I play a recently received voicemail, click-to-call to action it, and dial a number using the easily accessible Lync dial pad … the number is written on a piece of paper, that’s the only reason I don’t click!



2:00 PM

I am deep in thought, but accept an incoming call, knowing what it is about before answering because the topic is displayed on the toast.  I can read people’s minds!



3:00 PM

I receive an important file from a Partner for review, who simply dragged and dropped it into his conversation window in Lync.  We have real-time access via Lync Federation providing end-to-end secure communications and collaboration between his company and mine.



4:00 PM

The snow isn’t letting up so I schedule a Lync Online Meeting with a single-click where I will be able to present to my Customer, with my Colleague and Partner on audio and video, the PowerPoint presentation we created.  No need to put people in harm’s way on these roads.


5:00 PM

I reflect on the day, and how my activities are oddly timed exactly to the top of the hour, and I write a blog post about it.


So on my Snow Days, from home, with no additional preparation, and with only an internet connection and my notebook, I create secure, powerful connections with Customers, Colleagues, and Partners and remain as productive as if I was in the office … maybe even more so because I don’t have chocolate milk in my fridge.

Will you be this productive during your next Snow Day?

At my company this is how we work. I find it useful to stop and think about how spoiled we are by the tools we have at our disposal, and how easy it is to forget what life is like without them.

If you don’t have Lync, ask your boss why not.  And if you do have Lync, I’m guessing you have similar stories to share so please do in the comments section below.

Here’s to a safe and happy Winter Season filled with many productive Snow Days!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tip: Stop sharing your desktop for PowerPoint presentations

A very common scenario today is for a person to present a PowerPoint presentation to one or more remote attendees using some sort of web conferencing tool such as Live Meeting or Lync or Lync Online.

As a presenter, a quick and easy way show your presentations to participants is to just share your desktop…


Please don’t do this!  (For PowerPoint presentations, anyway)

Why Not?

I’ll address that, but first let me introduce the (better) alternative.  Now your tool of choice may not have this option, and sharing your desktop may be all you have, but with Lync you can upload the PowerPoint presentation into the meeting space…


Nice, but again, why not share my desktop?

OK, OK.  There are a number of reasons why I think sharing your desktop for PowerPoint presentations is not the best approach:

Privacy – Email alerts and Instant Message popups are all on display for the world to see when you simply share your desktop.  You may inadvertently reveal confidential information, or at best be embarrassed by something becoming public that was otherwise meant to be private such as “Hi Pumpkin-face, I miss you,” or the like.

Unprofessional Presentations – We often need to refer to other material or switch to different slides during the course of a presentation.  When your desktop is on display, these efforts are viewable to all.  As you drop back out of Presentation mode attendees see your slides and possibly speaker notes.  They see you browsing your file system looking for something.  You’re on display and feeling exposed so invariably it takes longer than it otherwise would and your mouse is hovering directly over the file in question but you can’t see it – everyone online is quietly pointing out the obvious and politely waiting for you to catch up.


Scrolling, Scrolling, Scrolling – When you share your desktop your screen resolution may not match those of the participants and therefore, without you realizing it, they have to constantly scroll to see your presentation.  This is very annoying and altogether unnecessary, as you’ll see later.


These are just a few of my thoughts on the experience of sharing your desktop for presentations.

So give me a better way!

Happy to.  With Lync, for example, if you upload the presentation instead of sharing your desktop you not only solve the problems noted above but now also enjoy the following benefits:

Annotations – Lync allows you (and optionally participants) to annotate the presentation adding a whole new dimension of real-time collaboration to your session.  You simply can’t do that if you are sharing your desktop.


Thumbnails – Need to jump ahead in your slides?  Instead of advancing through them in sequence or stepping out of Presentation mode, as you would have to do if you were sharing your desktop, you can see the list of thumbnails during your presentation and simply advance to the exact slide you want – the participants only see the slides you wish to share and don’t know if you are skipping slides or not.


Speaker Notes – What if you had speaker notes with important points to share?  Well, you could print them out or use some split-screen technology to hide them.  But with Lync it’s much easier as your speaker notes are available to you right on screen, and again, the participants do not see this.


Other Rich Content alongside your Slides – With a tool as powerful as Lync your online meetings may often include more than just a slide-sharing session.  If you share your desktop you must show only the presentation.  If you use the uploaded PowerPoint method you can continue to have access to the Instant Messaging conversation, Video, and the Visual Roster of participants.



So all in all you have a more controlled and feature rich experience as a presenter when you upload your PowerPoint presentations instead of sharing your desktop, and your participants enjoy a more professional and streamlined presentation.

Don’t get me wrong – sharing your desktop, or specific applications, is a powerful feature and should absolutely be used to its fullest potential but not, in my opinion, for presenting PowerPoint presentations.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lync Management and Operations: Monitoring and Troubleshooting Lync Calls

I’d like to call your attention to a very useful set of videos covering Monitoring and Troubleshooting in Lync Server 2010, posted by our friends over at NextHop.

Unified Communications, by definition, brings together a number of different communications tools and applications which can make nailing down issues a very daunting task indeed.

Lync Server 2010 includes intuitive and powerful monitoring and reporting capabilities to help make this easier, and Microsoft has released some very useful videos to guide you through it.


First of all, you should know about the Monitoring Server role in Lync Server 2010.  From TechNet

Monitoring Server collects data about the quality of your network media, in both Enterprise Voice calls and A/V conferences. This information can help you provide the best possible media experience for your users. It also collects call error records (CERs), which you can use to troubleshoot failed calls. Additionally, it collects usage information in the form of call detail records (CDRs) about various Lync Server features so that you can calculate return on investment of your deployment, and plan the future growth of your deployment.  For details, see Planning for Monitoring in the Planning documentation.

Lync Server 2010 also ships with ready-to-go SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) Reports that help make understanding the health of your Lync environment that much easier.

The videos go into great detail on each of System-wide Troubleshooting: Lync Call Connectivity, Help Desk Troubleshooting: Lync Call Issues, and Monitoring and Managing Jitter for VoIP, but for this post I wanted to call out a few things that I really like.


The base Lync Server 2010 Monitoring Server report is actually a list of available reports…


…and clicking into a particular report gets you to the goods…


Now, nice glossy reports that show me what I want are great, but invariably I’ll want to ask that next question … “OK, here’s the list of things I wanted, but I want more details on this one and that one!”

In this example, clicking on one of the columns in the chart on the right gets me to the underlying detail for that data.


You can continue to click-through and get more details as you continue your troubleshooting.  Very easy and very intuitive!


Reports that show lots of information are great, but sometimes they show too much information, or by their very nature can’t show everything.  In the interest of readability and consumption, headings and titles must be used to lay out the data.

But what if you don’t know what the headings mean exactly?  To have to leave the report and go consult a guide or website is counter-productive and time-consuming.  A lethal combination when users are complaining.

In Lync Server 2010, the headings are built with handy tool tips … just mouse over the heading and get a full description of what that data and/or value means!



So we’ve got the ability to get to the data easily and we have handy descriptions of what certain data sets are capturing.  But, and this is a big BUT, how do we know what the values mean?  Is a big number good or bad?  Same thing with small numbers.

You will build your expertise over time, but until then, Lync Server 2010 reports actually bring your attention to important data automatically by highlighting the data in the report!


To really take it over the top, mouse over the value and get a full description of, in the case below, the Diagnostic ID value that came back from the voice gateway…


Below you see another example of a report with lots of valuable data and the handy highlighting to help you focus on the most pertinent values to help you in your troubleshooting.  In this case, Lync Server 2010 is telling us that a value of 4% for Avg. concealed samples ratio is something that should be looked at further.



Lync Server 2010 Monitoring Server Reports include handy out-of-the-box features such as Drill-down, Tool Tips, and Highlighting that help make troubleshooting your Lync environment easier and more fun!  (As if troubleshooting wasn’t already fun, right!?)

So please do take a look at these videos as they give great return for a very short amount of time investment.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: Plantronics Blackwire C435-M

This is the first device review I have done for this blog, and my inspiration comes from the great posts over at VoIPNorm’s blog.  Thanks, Chris!

Also, please note, since my last post I have joined the wonderful team at Microsoft Canada.  Please take a quick peek at the Disclaimer in the side bar of this blog.

Get on with it, man!

OK, OK, so I recently acquired the new Plantronics Blackwire C435-M and it really is the headset I’ve been waiting for.

First off, this is a corded headset optimized for Microsoft Lync, which immediately makes it awesome.  But why do I like it so much?  First of all, it provides an over-the-ear wearing experience, either one ear or two, with a very light feel and an extended boom microphone for great pick-up.  Second, it comes with a sturdy and also light carrying case.

So I don’t have to worry about a headband messing up my stylish (!) hair and I get a great always-on experience (as opposed to potential dead time if a wireless headset isn’t charged when you need it).

The Details

Let me take you for a tour around this great headset.


First of all, it’s optimized for Microsoft Lync so it’s plug and play via USB.  You’ll notice a handy Velcro wrap to keep the cord tidy.  Further along the cord you’ll find the call control buttons including answer/hang-up, volume up and down, and mute microphone.  I tend to use the desktop controls on my PC, but it’s handy to have these nonetheless.

You’ll see the two ear buds, but as you look along the cord you first come to a very nice feature – a clip.  I have found this to be very useful to take the (albeit minimal) load off my ears and onto my shirt, again increasing the comfort of long-term wear.

Finally, you see the two ear buds, one with the extended microphone and one with just the earpiece.  These can be worn on either ear and there are multiple ear bud styles and sizes included to fit your ear.

Finally, below is a picture of the very handy, sturdy and lightweight carrying case which is really important in my opinion.  This is where shortcuts are often made but Plantronics has thankfully not succumbed to the temptation.



So great job, Plantronics, and I think you will find a good market for this particular device at it’s price point of around $99.  Microsoft Lync allows for partners to create unique solutions for many use cases, and here is another great example IMHO.  Comments are most welcome.

From Plantronics

Meet the first corded headset designed for Unified Communications that’s as discreet as it is professionally sound. The headset’s modular over-the-ear design can be worn with two ear buds for stereo, or converted to one ear bud for mono use depending on the user’s preference. The ultra-discreet design and superior audio quality you’ve come to expect from Plantronics make this headset ideal for video conferencing, PC telephony and multi-media applications. Even more, it comes with a rugged protective carrying case so you can easily take it with you. With the Blackwire 435, you don’t have to compromise between style and sound quality.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quit staring at that conference phone and change the dynamic of your meetings

Have you ever been involved in a conference call where one or more participants are in a meeting room and one or more participants are not?  Those of you in the room were likely sitting around a conference phone that looks something like this…

Those of you who were not in the meeting, dialled into an audio conference bridge.  Perhaps you called from the car.  More likely you called while sitting next to a PC (more on that later).

Whether you were in the room or not, chances are you experienced some challenges.

Challenges while in the room

When you’re in the room, you tend to forget there is someone “on the line”.  You remember when one of them finally tries to get a word in edgewise.

When someone does speak who is not in the room, you struggle to first identify who is speaking and then to fully comprehend what they are saying.  This becomes more of a challenge if the person speaks softly or with an accent with which you are not familiar.
You try to overcome these challenges by looking really hard at the conference phone on the table.  A quick glance reveals that everybody else in the room is doing the same.

Oddly, this does not seem to help.

Challenges while not in the room

If you are not in the room, and have dialed in using a phone, you face a similar challenge identifying the speaker, but the problem is often much worse because there are usually more people in the room.  You have no idea to whom comments are directed – it may be that the speaker is targeting someone directly with what he/she is saying, but you have no way of knowing this.

You have a lot to’ve got something brilliant to put up your hand! 

Nobody notices.

You wait patiently to jump in, but in the end, you can’t help it.  You go against everything your parents ever taught you about manners – you cut in.  It’s the only way, sorry, Mom.

The Problem

The fundamental problem in this scenario is not being able to see who is speaking.  Right now you don’t have much of a choice, though, do you?  People can’t always be in the same room at the same time.  There are geographic boundaries to consider and management has cut business travel spending to combat the economic downturn and to reduce your company’s carbon footprint.  Talk to me, you say, when that phone magically allows me to see everyone on the call as well as hear them.

OK, let’s talk.

The Solution

I’d like to introduce you to the Polycom CX5000, powered by Microsoft Lync Server 2010.

This wonderfully futuristic device takes the audio conference to the next level by adding immersive video to the experience.  The bottom circular platform is similar to your existing conference phone with an integrated dial pad and directional microphones and speakers.

The stem holds on its top 5 cameras arranged in a circle.  These cameras collect a real-time 360 degree panoramic view of the room.  It looks like this…


This view allows participants to see everybody in the room, and the dynamics between them.  Now we can see if someone is directing his/her comments to someone in particular!

The CX5000 also takes care of automatically displaying the current speaker.  So while you always see the full panoramic view, you also get to see the person currently speaking.

No more trying to figure it out based on what you hear, and with the visual you have a much better chance of understanding what is being said.  One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. (More)

D630I mentioned earlier that most of the time, those who are joining from outside the room are sitting at their PC, be it a desktop in an office or more likely a notebook computer while on the road at a customer site or in a hotel room.  This is where the game really changes, because again most of the time you are gathering on this call to review something tangible such as a budget spreadsheet or design layout.  You need to look at a document or screen during the session.

Add Microsoft Lync to the equation and we have finally reached utopia!

Turn a basic conference call into an Online Meeting

Microsoft Lync Online Meetings provide the rich collaborative experience you’ve been looking for, including a real-time view of the active speaker whether they are in the room or not, a full view of the people in the meetings rooms involved, and an integrated document and screen sharing environment . When you pull it all together it looks like this…

This is all accomplished with a single client on the desktop (Microsoft Lync) and a combination of standard webcams and Polycom CX5000 devices.  And you can join from anywhere in the world with a standard internet connection – no Virtual Private Network (VPN) required!


Microsoft Lync Server 2010 and the Polycom CX5000 combine to provide an immersive and empowered collaboration experience.  Gone are the days of struggling to understand what someone is saying on a call and emailing around documents, or worse, printing multiple copies for participants to review in a meeting.

Warning!  There is no turning back from this experience.  Once you’ve lived the good life, you will find yourself asking “where’s the video” and “show me your screen”.
Please feel free to add your own stories and comments, and if you’re interested in learning more, drop me a line!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Tip: View your Lync Contacts in a 1-line View

Lync 2010 introduces a more informative view of each contact in your buddy list, including Name, Availability Status, Personal Note, and Contact Photo.  It looks like this…


But what if you want to streamline your view a bit, and see only your contacts’ Name and Availability Status, similar to what you may have had using Office Communicator 2007 R2?

The trick is to change the display to Name View


Your buddy list will no longer show Contact Photos, and instead switches to a 1-line view.


You can toggle between these views by clicking the Display Options icon, or click on the down-arrow at the right-hand side of the icon to see more Layout Options.


Enjoy!  Smile