ABM is one of the largest facility solutions companies in the United States, with more than 300 offices and tens of thousands of customers. The company wanted to improve its communications capabilities among employees and partners and provide a more unified and comprehensive solution. It upgraded its Microsoft Lync Server 2013 environment to Skype for Business Server 2015 and has experienced increased employee adoption, improved mobile capabilities, better call quality, and a wider reach in contacts.
ABM started in 1909 as a small window washing company in San Francisco. Today, ABM is a leading facility solutions company based in New York, NY, that provides specialized solutions to thousands of commercial, industrial, government, and retail customers. The company’s comprehensive capabilities include energy solutions, electrical, facilities engineering, HVAC and mechanical, janitorial, landscaping and turf, parking, and security. With more than US$5 billion in revenue and 118,000 employees throughout the United States and in 30 other countries, ABM delivers custom facility solutions to meet the unique customer requirements of multiple industries.
With such varied and geographically dispersed operations, comprehensive communications are essential to ABM. “Our business is so spread out that it’s critical to be able to find subject matter experts and other employees who are knowledgeable in key areas,” says Andre Garcia, Assistant Vice President of Global Infrastructure Services at ABM.
The company’s different-sized offices used a mix of communications tools. ABM lacked a companywide unified voice infrastructure—some of its offices used Cisco voice solutions, while others used private branch exchange (PBX) systems.
In 2012, ABM deployed Microsoft Lync Server 2013 and started to embrace enhanced video, mobile, and connectivity features. Employees used a range of Lync Server 2013 functionalities that helped ABM meet the diverse needs of its offices, but it wanted to increase companywide adoption in order to further standardize its communications.
ABM employees were becoming increasingly mobile, and the company hoped to make it easier for them to join meetings remotely using mobile devices. It also wanted to improve overall call quality—with clearer sound and more reliable connections—and allow employees to find contacts more easily and federate with partners.
To help standardize the communications tools used across the company, ABM decided to participate in a Microsoft Technology Adoption Program (TAP) for Skype for Business Server 2015. By joining the TAP, the company gained access to the newest software and was able to offer cutting-edge tools as early as possible to its employees.
“One of the major reasons we participated in the TAP is that Microsoft was using the familiar Skype consumer interface with the Lync communications platform,” says Garcia. “It made perfect sense when we saw it.”
“Our video calls and conferences have improved dramatically with Skype for Business, especially with the HD video gallery. Video and audio are clearer. My calls are clear 99 percent of the time.”
-Andre Garcia, ABM, Assistant Vice President of Global Infrastructure Services
ABM started its upgrade to Skype for Business Server in September of 2014. Even though it’s possible to do an in-place upgrade from Lync Server 2013, ABM decided to build a new environment. It used Hyper-V virtualization technology in the Windows Server 2012 R2 operating system to virtualize the Skype for Business deployment, which helped ABM avoid unnecessary hardware expenses.
The company took a hands-on approach to the deployment so that the IT team had a clear understanding of the back end. “We opted to start from the beginning to give our architects the opportunity to see the whole stack and remove any mystery about it,” says Patrick Murphy, an Enterprise Architect at ABM.
Adds Jim Mancuso, a Systems Engineer in the Global Infrastructure Services department at ABM, “It was easy—we spun up our machines in Hyper-V, installed the bits, built the new pool next to the old pool, migrated the users, and that was it. Everything went smoothly, and we didn’t have any problems going from build to build.”
Learning and testing through deployment
The IT team worked together to make sure the build went smoothly and the server was stable. As of June 2015, ABM has added nearly 12,000 employees to the Skype for Business server pools; some were migrated from Lync Server 2013 and some were new employees. ABM changed its provisioning process so that new employees are set up directly in Skype for Business. Even though Skype for Business was still in development during the TAP, ABM saw the value of provisioning employees directly on the new servers so that they could use the new client, instead of spending time in a test environment.
“That provisioning is how we ended up with 2,000 employees initially in our Skype for Business server pool,” says Murphy. “As part of the TAP, we wanted to dive right in.”
Following a best practice: built-in backup
The IT team used Microsoft SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn to help ensure that the Skype for Business Server had no single point of failure. AlwaysOn provides this additional backup by ensuring that servers are configured as replicas of each another. “We’re now using AlwaysOn behind our production server pools, and we have a failover pool, which is something that we didn’t have before,” says Murphy.
Looking toward the future
Next, ABM wants to add more video capabilities. “We’re working on connecting Skype for Business to our existing Cisco conference room solutions so users will be able to join meetings with colleagues in our conference rooms, and vice versa,” says Murphy.
The Skype for Business Server implementation was so seamless that ABM moved the remaining 10,000 users to Skype for Business over a weekend. All ABM Lync users are now on Skype for Business. Historically, only employees in specific job roles used Lync, but the company is exploring the potential value in changing that approach with Skype for Business. “As a company, we are looking at leveraging the integration between consumer-grade Skype and Skype for Business to increase communications and collaboration across all 120,000 employees and ABM customers,” says Garcia.
ABM is already experiencing positive outcomes since it began its upgrade to Skype for Business, including increased employee adoption, improved mobile capabilities, and better call quality.
Increased employee adoption
The IT team sees the move to Skype for Business as a logical next step for employees who already enjoy using Lync. The team also anticipates that the similarities between the Skype for Business client and consumer Skype client will prompt further employee adoption. “Our employees who have used Lync 2013 were already enthusiastic, and the migration to Skype for Business has been a positive experience,” says Murphy.
This is partly due to the Skype consumer interface, which is familiar to employees. Murphy continues, “We don’t have to explain how to use the new client—for employees who haven’t used Lync before, all we have to say is ‘Skype,’ and they know what to expect. It’s easy for them to start using Skype for Business—the brand recognition is definitely helpful.”
Improved mobile capabilities
Since deploying Skype for Business, more ABM employees are joining meetings from their mobile devices. Employees report that the mobile client works well for their needs and is easy to use from any type of device.
“We’ve noticed very little difference between joining a meeting from a web browser using the Skype for Business Web App and joining from the desktop client,” says Mancuso. “The video, audio, and screen sharing all work the same.”
Better call quality and monitoring
ABM has seen online meetings improve in terms of sound and video quality, connection reliability, and mobile accessibility. “Our video calls and conferences have improved dramatically with Skype for Business, especially with the HD video gallery,” says Garcia. “Video and audio are clearer. My calls are clear 99 percent of the time.”
Since participating in the TAP, ABM started using the Call Quality Dashboard (CQD) in Skype for Business Server 2015, which offers quick and easy access to aggregated call quality information for on-premises deployments. The company’s messaging experts had used the CQD in Lync Server 2013, but the wider IT team lacked visibility into the number of calls being made or each unique conference maker. “We’ve found using the CQD to be completely eye opening—it shows information that we’ve never seen before,” says Garcia.
The team will rely on the CQD as it continues to roll out Skype for Business to more employees, using it to monitor adoption rates and other data over time. “We can use the CQD to help us validate what we’re doing,” says Murphy. “We can know how many employees we still need to move, make sure we’re accomplishing our goals, and identify trouble or deficiencies.”
The dashboard is an effective way to spot problems, respond quickly, and keep things running smoothly. “By using the CQD for troubleshooting, we’ll be able to see if there are multiple employees having problems and determine what might be affecting a whole office and what issues the employees have in common,” says Garcia.
Skype for Business Server offers the same security features that ABM used with Lync Sever 2013, such as monitoring user traffic with an enterprise-grade solution. “The fact that we own the communications protocol and it’s encrypted with our certificates is a plus,” says Murphy.
With Lync Server 2013, it was possible to connect with any Skype user and add those users as contacts. However, not all ABM employees realized that this was an option, which hindered collaboration among colleagues and partners. With the expanded connectivity capabilities in Skype for Business, the company anticipates that the familiar “Skype” name and interface will remind employees that they can contact Skype consumer users—including employees in different offices and partners outside of ABM—which results in better and faster collaboration.
“The Skype for Business interface makes it more natural for employees to draw the conclusion that they can readily communicate with Skype consumer users,” says Garcia. “I don’t think it was as obvious to them that they had that capability with Lync 2013,” says Garcia.
Skype for Business
Skype for Business is a communications and collaboration platform that brings together the familiar experience and user love of Skype with the security, compliance, and control that you’ve come to expect from Microsoft.
Our ambition is simple: to create the most loved and trusted communications platform for doing things together.
For more information about Skype for Business, go to: