Can you Talk the Talk? Finding the Best Communication Tools for BizStream’s Office

When you are a tech company you play with tech. BizStream is no exception we love tech. We love trying new tech, we love retooling old tech, we just love tech!

Downfalls of Too Much Tech

Recently we decided we needed a better, unified communication setup. Because we like our tech so much we didn’t really have a single tool that everyone was using. This meant that if I wanted to talk with Josh, our QA guy that I would use Google Hangouts, if I wanted to talk to any of our Front End developers I had to use Slack as they had dived in as a team, or if I wanted to talk to anyone in Sales I would Skype them. We looked around a little and realized that we were using most of the major options out there already in one form or another. After a bit of discussion, we thought we should try and consolidate all of these tools into one tool across the company both for internal conversations and meeting and for external sales and service. We thought “why not give Skype for Business a try” as we had already made the investment into Office 365 and it’s the best, right? 

Skype_for_Business_logo-transparent-background-(1).png Skype for Business (formerly Lync) has been around for a while. I would consider it a solid enterprise option for a company as heavily invested in Microsoft as BizStream. I had installed and configured Lync in the past so I was game to see what the online version might hold. It has many of the features you would want in a Unified Communications platform and has some nice integrations both with SIP trunks, traditional on premises telecom and client side software like Office and Internet Explorer. The configuration was fairly straight forward and I had it up and running in about an hour, give or take a coffee break.

We did some tests and it seemed to work so we told the staff that it was available. The nice thing was because we already had Office 365 we just upgraded our plan, configured it, and it was ready for download. It didn’t take long to find some issues. The primary one was that if you used Skype for Business to instant message your history was not saved. That meant if I had a conversation with a team member about a client and they closed out the window that entire thread was lost to the ether. I was floored, I couldn’t find this in any of the documentation. It turns out that if you want all the features of Skype for Business you need to be all in with Microsoft. 

google-hangouts-logo-(1).jpgBizStream is a Google Apps shop, we have been almost since the day it was first publically available. Microsoft is typically a good second option in our office. In order to gain full functionality with Skype for Business you must have your email in Exchange Online and honestly your best bet is to use Outlook as a client. This was just not going to fly at BizStream. Most of us have been using Gmail or Google Apps for so long to transition all of our rules, integrations, and history would be a massive undertaking--not to mention the general loathing of Outlook. It just wasn’t going to work. We found that in our situation you actually had more options from an end user experience with the traditional consumer version of Skype.

With all that context you are probably yelling at the screen saying “You use and love Gmail why are you not using Hangouts?” This did seem like a no-brainer but the major drawback to Hangouts is it's hard to get a customer meeting together if the customer does not have a Google work account.

Communication Requirements

At this point, we took a step back and asked some important questions. Why were there so many tools? Why did it seem that each team was using something different? Each team had a specific need or niche that they were trying to fill with the technology. So after talking it through with our teams we narrowed down the list of needs and requirements: 

Sales: Easy for the customer to use, a dial in option, a way to share desktops for demos or troubleshooting.

Development: Quick way to ask a question, share a code snippet, video conference when working from home, along with history, search, and context.

Let me tell you, that is a very tall order to encompass in one piece of software. We dug around for a while and we just couldn’t find anything that we all really liked.  So we changed our approach. We added something that was lacking: structure. We looked at all the tools we had already been using and decided that if we selected the most widely used and just framed the use for each they could all be used more effectively and with less confusion. This is what we did.

Tool Consolidation

slack.pngWe decided that Slack would be our primary internal chat client. It’s fresh take on an older technology is awesome and they have lots of enhancements planned in the pipeline. Additionally, it has a TON of integrations you can add on or build yourself. We love to modify software to work the way we want it too (we are a software development shop after all) and Slack gives us that. Slack gives us an easy way of being able to share code snippets to be reviewed or help each other if we are stuck on a solution. Slack has the ability to create channels (think old school chat rooms) that allow us to segment our conversations based on customer project, interest, internal project, or anything we can dream up. Channels can be either public (anyone at BizStream) or private (you have to be invited). It also allows for direct chat or instant group chat.

We decided for people who are working from home and need to have an internal video meeting we would use Google Hangouts. This allows us to quickly jump on and not have to worry about getting a customer connected. Slack has video conferencing in its pipeline, once rolled out it may replace Hangouts just for the convenience of one less tool.

Image result for join.me logoFor sales and support calls we chose Join.me. It is a nice product that allows a customer to either click a link or go to the website and enter a conference ID and password and they are in. A one time small download is also needed but it’s fast and doesn’t require much in the way of resources. We can share desktops and you can call in if you don’t have a stable internet connection.

Final Thoughts

You might consider choosing three, separate communication systems a failure, but determining there is no perfect one-tool-fits all solution and instead picking the best tool for each requirement is a success. Having lots of tools that seem redundant isn’t necessarily a bad thing; you have to get your team(s) to agree to a framework or reason for using those tools in a specific way. This is not necessarily an easy task. It takes meetings, it takes encouragement, and it takes leadership. Can I say that no one uses Skype in our office? Nope, if the customer says “this is how I prefer to communicate” we will do our best to accommodate, but at least we know that our internal communications have some structure and we know what tool to turn to for a given scenario.

Have you had to consolidate tools in your environment? Tell us about it!


 

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Photo of the author, Blair Compston

About the author

Blair has been playing with computers as long as he can remember. He has worked in companies both big and small and in every position from helpdesk through manager, and now he brings his knowledge of all things IT to BizStream. As our IT and DevOps guy, he keeps our servers running, networks in line, and clouds fluffy. Outside of work, this family guy can be found spending some QT with his wife and four kids or tackling yet another home renovation project.

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