Ian full length colourFirstly some background, Downs Microsystem’s celebrates its 30 year anniversary this year and business is booming! It has been hard to put a finger on it until now but looking at it today there are some clear reasons behind it.

As systems Integrators (SI’s), we have a number of vendor alliances and as a business it takes some effort to deviate from that path. Our key alliances are with HP, Telstra, Citrix, Polycom, NEC, AVAYA and a few others. Microsoft has always been a part of our lives but for one reason or another the relationship goes from strong to weak and back to strong again depending on how our Partner Account Manager engages with us. Given our regional location, we have had to be very self-sufficient in what we do and are very fortunate to have a number of very passionate, qualified and talented engineers on staff. As a company we employ about 35 staff.

Our services are demanded from Cairns down to Tassie,  our project teams cover anything from audits, consultancy services, complete refreshes and emergency response when system security is at risk. For the last 5 or so years it has been steady as she goes, installing a very cookie cut model of centralised environments run of Citrix based terminal servers to thousands of regional and remote users. Today we find that the same regional customers are looking for better and smarter ways to communicate and collaborate and this is where our focus turned to Lync, where we were able to demonstrate the capabilities of what we knew to our client base.

As do many SI’s, we attend the Australian Partner Conference each year. Some years it is for a well-earned break (thanks Microsoft) but for 2012 there was a level of excitement building around the new product releases. We had recently been assigned a new Partner Account Manager and he had been doing a great job of promoting it, keeping us up to date and generally hyping up the event. As a Gold Competency Partner we were offered two tickets so our MD took one with a clear objective to find out more about what was on offer to support our “Cloud” business. But for me, I was focused on learning all I could about Lync, Unified Communications and what the possibilities were for our business. Our Partner Account Manager secured me a last minute ticket to the CIE (Customer Immersion Experience) demonstration, that I was anxious to see. I am not sure why, I guess it sounded cool, but I was not expecting to see what I did.

Microsoft in my eyes for the last few years had been stagnant. We were deploying things that we had done for years and years but there had not really been much that excited us or our clients, the promise of Windows 8 , Office 2013 and loads of other products had changed that. With the market really changing to almost a consumer device driven world, we were all interested in what Microsoft was going to offer. We had been dabbling with Lync through our Telstra Office 365 business having deployed to a number of business. This had given us more exposure to products like SharePoint and CRM as we were setting up these products with a base set of templates and could see more and more what their capabilities were.

When I sat down at CIE conference, what I did not expect to see was and Outlook / Exchange based system that acted as a single entry point to all my systems. These were all separate products in my mind but with the glue that is Lync, tying them all together, everything was so seamless. Everyone I speak to about Lync loves it and adopts it so fast, being able to show them why CRM is better than SalesForce because of its Lync integration,  showing them how they can create workflow and document management with Lync integration, showing them how store, index, search and find not only documents and product information but also to find it again and the relevant product experts that authored or work in this space and who can talk to me right this second based on Lync, was just awe inspiring! More I learnt about enterprise voice, Exchange UC plug in and all the things that really tie all business process together to make stuff just work and it was something I could adopt there and then. I left that session with not one but two I LOVE CIE stickers Smile

So what happened next, well my boss couldn’t shut me up….  I have since been hounding anyone I could to make sure I could get to the first round of Brisbane CIE sessions with my customers and I am pleased that this is happening now. I had a number of clients that were looking at things like SalesForce over CRM, SAP over Dynamics AX, even Skype over Lync. Every single one of them was excited by what I had to tell them and committed to attending a CIE session as part of their product due diligence.

Internally I have sort of adopted the idea of CIE but given we don’t have the CIE kit / Application yet, I ran my own versions. Showing clients a snippet of what could be done.  We use Lync with internal voice and video, Skydrive allows me to share a document for co-authoring, I can share OneNote to a colleague and let him add notes and then hover over his name and IM, Call or video call him. The results are excellent. We are going into deals competing for new business with solutions twice as expensive but with so much more value and we are closing them fast! Customers are loving it.

Since the CIE session we have partnered with supporting vendors such as Polycom and Dialogic. We have deployed Lync systems with HD Polycom integration. We have a 15 site Lync deployment to go live in November with full enterprise voice functionality. We have meetings staked up each week based on word of mouth to talk to businesses about this stuff and it is all driven by user excitement.

A couple of observations and things I have heard from clients.

An observation from me, We had the opportunity to work with a business that was a start-up but would employ some 60 staff on day one. These don’t come along often as you can imagine but we had free reign to given them everything we thought they needed. As SI’s we handled everything from the servers, storage, networking, telecommunications and of course Lync. What I noticed was, there was nothing really special about the guts of that solution. Everyone expected it to work, they all knew what outlook looked like, most had worked through Citrix and new they cold log in remotely. What won the day was the ability for them to all see who was in the office, out of the office, in a meeting etc. Lync connected all their offices (4 offices on day one) so they all felt part of the family. As I walked around their office a week or so later, seeing almost everyone either in Chat, Video or voice call through Lync, I knew it was a success. Adoption is key but because it is the same look and feel as the rest of the Outlook worked, it was easy. If someone else had installed the video component of that project, they would have been heralded the innovative group. In this case it was us!

Something a client said to me after CIE yesterday. “You truly don’t know the value of a Microsoft license until you attend something like this”  He went on to say that it was so refreshing to attend 3 hour session like this just to show them how much more they could do with what they owned already. He was very impressed.

Finally, I think CIE can only be a success if it is delivered by someone who is passionate about it.