Skype for Business Online retires in July 2021: seven tips for your upgrade to MS Teams

In the Summer of 2019 Microsoft announced the retirement of Skype for Business Online giving organisations two years to upgrade to Microsoft Teams by 31st July 2021 at the very latest when the service was being switched off. Meanwhile new Office 365 customers go directly onto MS Teams.

The forced switch to Teams is not a huge surprise. MS Teams has been a huge success for Microsoft and in our experiences most users (once they get used to it) seem favourable and adoption levels are good. Microsoft continue to expand and add to MS Teams and it seems like it will be at the centre of many digital workplaces for the next few years.

While Skype for Business formerly Lync has been a mainstay of Microsofts enterprise software for a while, and has been a critical tool in the digital workplace landscape driving instant messaging, video calls and voice calls, it makes sense for these capabilities to sit alongside the enhanced collaboration features of Teams.

Six months have passed since the announcement. The clock is still very much ticking, and you now have almost exactly eighteen months to get over to Teams, and obviously less if youre reading this after January 2020.

If you havent migrated yet we would recommend you start planning it now, particularly if you are a large or complex organisation with many users. The good news is that when you have upgraded, Teams can prove to be an excellent product to drive collaboration and communication across your organisation. But an implementation (and therefore a switch over from Skype for Business) does come with some challenges. In this article well look at some tips and approaches you need to consider in order to prepare for the big switch.

1. Dont leave it to the last minute

If youre reading this in January 2020 then you have eighteen months, but in terms of IT planning thats not actually that long for a major change like the upgrade to Teams. And every day that period is getting less and less. Larger organisations may need to go for some kind of phased approach due to resourcing to roll-out Teams. Dont leave the switch to the day before Microsoft turn off Skype for Business for good.

2. Get familiar with Microsofts upgrade framework

Microsoft have created a detailed upgrade framework that takes organisations through the multiple steps to retire Skype For Business and introduce Teams. From Get started through to Implement your upgrade and Operate, adopt and optimize the framework covers the technical, strategic and change management steps required. It also provides plenty of resources and a downloadable toolkit including templates covering project plans, testing and preparing users for the change. Do make sure you are familiar with the upgrade framework before planning your upgrade project.

3. Be wary of a long transition period

In most large organisations we know the roll-out of Microsoft Teams has been phased. This is mainly due to logistics, but it can also be down to more than one licensing agreement being in place (particularly where companies have been acquired and are still on different Microsoft plans). In a long transition period this can bring some confusion for users as to what tool to use to communicate with others. The Microsoft upgrade framework has steps in place to allow the outgoing Skype for Business and incoming Teams to overlap but with two options everybody has the option to use one or the other or select bits of capability are available in one tool and not the other. In terms of a smooth change, while a transition period will be necessary, one that is too long may cause issues.

4. Have a strategy for Teams

MS Teams is a potentially pivotal technology for the digital workplace that is the linchpin for team collaboration and communication. Its not something you just roll out without thought you need to have a properly scoped out strategy that will help to define, among other things:

  • ownership and responsibilities
  • any technical aspects and issues
  • purpose and objectives
  • usage
  • user support
  • the relationship with other applications that have an overlap in functionality
  • configuration Teams can be configured with lots of integrations, feeds and more (for example a Wizdom intranet can be viewed through Teams)
  • site lifecycle (provisioning through to archive)
  • change management
  • And more!

A strategy also needs to be cross-functional with input from both IT, support functions and the business. In our view launching Teams is big its not a typical IT implementation.

5. Get your change management ducks in a row

Microsoft are right when they say Upgrading from Skype for Business to Teams is more than a technical migration. It represents a transformation in how users communicate and collaborate, and change is not always easy.

MS Teams is a complex environment that can be confusing even for more confident users. You absolutely need to invest in a change management approach that both addresses the specifics about moving over from Skype for Business but also the new possibilities with Teams. Using a Champions Network for peer to peer support and communications is a good option here, perhaps also addressing other digital workplace options to put Teams into full context.

6. Set up Teams site provisioning from the get-go

Because employees use Teams for chat and calls it means that on the surface the adoption of the tool is not necessarily an issue. Weve also found that the setting up of Teams spaces can take off surprisingly quickly. Initially you may be delighted with this, but its amazing how quickly the environment can spin out of control with duplicate Teams spaces, unused spaces, high risk uses and badly named spaces that are impossible to find.

Rather than wait a year and then have a clean-up exercise, it can be worth putting in a simple site provisioning process with approval workflow to keep the environment tidy and on-point. Wizdom, for example, has a great provisioning tool that also allows you to configure different templates for Teams.

7. Speak to others or get external advice

If youre planning your switch over its always worth speaking to your peers from other organisations to hear about their experiences. Hearing those tips and tricks and little pitfalls to avoid can be gold dust. If youre looking for more support, there is always the option of getting external advice that covers technical and strategic aspects. Do get in touch with us if youd like advice on switching over from Skype for Business or if youre rolling out Teams.

Start your planning now!

Organisation and your users will benefit hugely from the upgrade to Teams, but you need the right strategy in place and adequate planning. If you havent started your planning for the switch, you should do so now. This is a significant change act now.

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