Across the public sector market, there is growing interest to enable new meeting spaces for video collaboration. Instead of having one VTC room in an office environment, new technology can extend collaboration into many more rooms with simple, low cost solutions. Industry innovation is happening now as organizations are becoming aware of the way people expect to collaborate: in smaller groups, leveraging collaboration technology.

Organizations that want to light up more rooms with collaboration need a low cost solution they can implement at scale, and they need a solution that is simple to install, operate, and manage.  Next, the solution needs to integrate into an organization’s workflow. That means users need to see a familiar interface that they are comfortable in using to ensure adoption. Since so many users are already familiar with Skype for Business, that platform is an intelligent place to start.

At the recent Ignite conference, Polycom and Microsoft announced an extension of the Skype for Business user experience into new and existing voice and video products and services.   At Public Sector View, we were of course eager to learn more, not only about the cloud-based interoperability between Polycom® RealConnectTM and Office 365, but how users in the government, education and healthcare communities can benefit from the new Skype Room System.

We turned to Sean Berg, Vice President, Public Sector at Polycom, to tell us more. He walked us through the details of this new integration and shared some examples of the ways it will benefit public sector customers. Here’s what he had to say:

Public Sector View (PSV): Over the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about the recent announcement that Polycom is now delivering on its cloud-based video interoperability service Polycom® RealConnectTM service for Office 365. What does this mean and how important is this integration specifically for public sector organizations and users?

Sean Berg: What we’re talking about is what was announced at Microsoft Ignite called the Polycom RealConnect Service for Office 365. It’s a little bit of a mouthful, but here’s what the capability is: it allows Skype for Business Online users in Office 365 to host video meetings online with non-Skype for Business, standards based video endpoints…think Polycom, Cisco, Lifesize. This service is hosted in the Microsoft Azure Cloud. The key benefit of the service is that it protects customers’ existing VTC investments by allowing standards-based devices to connect to Skype for Business online meetings for the full voice, video, and content sharing experience. Polycom’s RealConnect Service for Office 365 will be easy to purchase and provision as an add-on service to Office 365.

As we see more public sector organizations move to Office 365 for unified communications (UC) and collaboration, many are looking to protect the investments that they’ve made in standards based video collaboration. Perhaps they’ve built out a sizeable on premise video network and have a lot of conference rooms that are VTC enabled, and therefore want to protect that investment. Public Sector organizations recognize that, as a UC platform, they’re going with Microsoft Skype for Business, so, as they look at migrating to the cloud and Office 365 in particular, this service will be available to bridge those worlds and leverage their existing investments in video, which is really exciting. This migration to Office 365 and Skype for Business online is something that we’re seeing all across the public sector, to include state and local government, education, healthcare and federal, even the Department of Defense is looking to migrate to cloud based UC platforms.

Think about it: budgets are coming down, organizations need to do more with less…this tool enables them to take advantage of what Skype for Business online is, a UC and collaboration tool, while still leveraging their existing investments in standards based VTC.

This new service will be available for public preview later this year and it launches next year in Q1 for the commercial Office 365 environment.  We’ll look to launch a government community cloud (GCC) version later in 2017.

PSV: What impact will this new offering have on public sector customers?

Sean Berg: We’ve all seen that collaboration and unified communications in healthcare, education and government have become mission-critical. It’s how organizations operate, how they communicate, and how they enable collaboration across their environment.  It is also how mission oriented functions like telemedicine in healthcare and distance-learning in education function, and how government agencies connect with constituents.

At a high level, we’re seeing organizations turn to video to increase productivity, decrease costs and enable them to work more intelligently and efficiently.  From what we see, this trend is only going to increase. As millennials move into the workforce, they bring significant experience in leveraging video collaboration. That user trend is growing, and at the same time, public sector customers are looking for more efficient models, like Office365 and all of the capabilities they bring to the table, like unified communications.

Many federal, state and local government, education and healthcare organizations are already leveraging O365 commercial or GCC to deliver Exchange, SharePoint, OneDrive and Skype for Business Instant Messaging and Presence…extending the benefits of cloud based O365 to unified communications through voice and video collaboration has enormous cost, security, and flexibility benefits that public entities can take advantage of.

PSV: Do you have some examples that would give us a feel for the ways the public sector community will use this new integrated solution to deliver service?

Sean Berg: Sure. Let’s start with universities and healthcare institutions. They leverage video telecommunications as a means of delivering their respective services, such as distance learning or telemedicine. At the same time, Microsoft has robust practices in healthcare and education that provides Office 365 and Skype for Business customized for those environments.

For example, in healthcare, Microsoft has thousands of customers that have signed business associate agreements in compliance with HIPAA regulations related to patient information.  These customers leverage video technology as part of the way they do business. Whether its teachers or doctors, organizations are leveraging this technology to deliver services to their patients or students…ultimately changing healthcare or educational outcomes and doing this in a very cost effective and secure manner.

Microsoft, leveraging the scalability, flexibility and economical Office 365 platform, is absolutely expanding their role in these areas, and what RealConnectTM service enables is for organizations to seamlessly integrate and leverage the significant investment in standards based video already made to connect into that Skype for Business online platform.

PSV: Polycom is also extending the native Skype for Business meeting experience with the new Microsoft Skype Room System – the Polycom MSR Series – can you tell us about the room system and what impact you see it having in the public sector?

Sean Berg: This is also very exciting. At Ignite, Polycom announced the Polycom MSR (Microsoft Skype Room System) Series, formerly known as Project Rigel, which was introduced back at Enterprise Connect. The MSR Series brings the Skype for Business room experience with rich HD audio and video, to every room in a convenient lower-cost package.  A Skype Room System consists of a Surface Pro 4 running dedicated Windows 10 Skype Meeting App optimized for center of table touch controller, a dedicated dock that provides connections to front-of-room display, and audio/video devices certified by Microsoft.

If you think about a small huddle space, or a small meeting room, you don’t necessarily want to put in a high end video collaboration solution; if you already leverage Skype for Business and you want a simple solution that’s low cost, very rich in capability to put into those environments, that natively integrates into the Skype for Business experience, the MSR Series might be a good fit.

What we’ve done is created bundles around the MSR Series with a RealPresence Trio conference phone, with our Polycom CX5100 360 degree camera with embedded audio, and RealPresence Medialign solutions. These solutions offer native integration, a simplified Skype for Business int­­­erface that is the same as what they would see on their computer, and certified with Skype for Business Operations Framework.

We have a range of solutions at various price points. The MSR 200, which is based on the Surface Pro 4 with an MSR dock that’s tied to Polycom Trio, providing an exceptional audio quality and has a 1080p electronic pan tilt zoom camera. We have other bundles that give a more enhanced experience, the MSR 300, which comes with the Polycom Trio, as well as a 1080p mechanical pan tilt zoom camera with remote control, and the MSR 400, which, in addition to those products, also incorporates a 360 degree panoramic camera.

For the public sector, we see significant and wide adoption of Skype for Business as the UC platform of choice. As UC has evolved, we’ve seen a proliferation of platforms and capabilities that customers have cobbled together in order to provide the video and content collaboration needed for their environment. That has turned out to be very costly to stand up and maintain over time. Skype for Business gives them a consolidated tool for instant messaging, presence, video and voice collaboration, and web conferencing…all of these types of capabilities in a single platform that integrates well into their business productivity platform (Microsoft Windows and Office).  The MSR series provides a simple, low cost solution that really integrates well into a Skype for Business environment whether on premise, hybrid, or in the cloud.

Another announcement we made relates to traditional group video room systems for larger and integrated rooms. Although there is a long history of native integration into Skype for Business with the Group Series platform, that too will now be able to connect into Office365 in the cloud. So now, Polycom has a portfolio of solutions that will natively work with Skype for Business in an on premise, a hybrid or a cloud environment. In the public sector, we need to bring more collaboration to more spaces, and the MSR and Group series will help Public Sector organizations do this.

PSV: We know Polycom has a 12-year long relationship with Microsoft. From your perspective, how has that impacted your public sector customers, and where do you see it going in the future?

Sean Berg:  Polycom and Microsoft have been working jointly together creating a platform, tools and capabilities to enable simple, low cost, and secure collaboration for public sector customers for over a decade.  Such a long term relationship only works if there is tight engagement and partnership.  This partnership involves deep engineering, integration and joint go-to-market effort that spans every aspect of our portfolio. Polycom helps create solutions for Microsoft that are needed to drive their platform further. The work we do together represents the broadest, most tightly integrated portfolio of voice and video solutions that are native for Skype for Business and it is this deep integration where the magic happens.

As public sector customers increasingly adopt these solutions; they are particularly drawn to the flexibility, low cost and ease of use, all of which drive adoption. The partnership between Polycom and Microsoft also ensures that the technology stays deeply integrated into public sector workflows. Today’s workforce doesn’t want to exit their current workflow, room or tool to enter another in the middle of collaboration.  With workflow integration we are able to provide a tremendous benefit to customers, enhancing collaboration and increasing adoption.

The proof points of what will happen with this partnership in the future can be seen in the MSR series, cloud video interoperability service for Office 365, and native Group Series integration into Skype for Business Online.  It is this tight integration and capabilities that we are jointly bringing to market that enables us to bring significant innovation and value to the platform, the endpoints, and everything in between.

You can learn more about Polycom’s RealConnect Service for Office 365 here.