Wednesday, 10 June 2015 13:59

Skype is now for serious business too

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Microsoft has launched of Skype for Business in Australia. Its message - to several hundred enthusiasts - was communicate and collaborate.

The name Skype for Business (SfB) is both clever and perhaps not so. Most people will immediately think of the free peer-to-peer voice app that uses the internet to keep up with the kids and grandparents. On that count, Microsoft is clever because (a) Skype has high recognisability and brand and (b) at the heart of the Business version is the same Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) principle – but that is the end of the comparison. Consumer Skype is not Business Skype.

The perhaps not so clever thing is that to use it fully you need a lot of infrastructure – Active Directory, Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, an internal network optimised for voice (Quality of Service) and sufficient bandwidth and quality of Internet to deliver all it promises. Although to be fair, a lot of the solution can be hosted via Office 365 in the cloud but it i(SfB)ting up SfB confident e. One vendor (asked not to be nanmed)isco, Avaya, Mitel, Unify, IBM., rface hub.s really best to have a dedicated Skype server and a business partner to implement and support it.

I spoke to several vendors at the launch and asked at what sized business does SfB become viable. Most said it was ideal for multi-branch sites and several hundred [thousand] users - describing Australian top 500 companies. One said that it could come down to as few as a dozen handsets but I suspect that would not be a viable model – at this time. Plans are compared here.

All said it was an enabler – and perhaps that is the next step Unified Communications needs to take.

So what is it?

At its base level, it is simply rebranded Lync that was formerly Microsoft Office Communicator – a unified communications system that involves bringing the world of VoiP together with (optionally) traditional PABX services but throwing in instant messaging, conferencing (voice and video) and collaboration (document and screen sharing). All this is dependent on Microsoft Exchange Server (and the desktop client Outlook) to manage things like the phone list and bring ‘presence’ (where you all are) to the mix.

Because the endpoints (devices) are largely computers and mobile, it works with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Windows Phone (soon to be renamed Windows 10 Mobile) and a huge range of SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) handsets and devices. Analogue voice becomes digital via SIP trunks (replaces ISDN and analogue PSTN lines).

In order to use Skype for Business you actually should explore this new communications ecosystem and throw challenges at it. How do I engage with clients? What is my mobile strategy? How do I encourage then harness the benefits of collaboration? How can I blur the lines between work and leisure – improve productivity via telecommuting and more.

Microsoft suggested that the office of today is at best wasteful. “How much of it is occupied on Friday afternoon?” said Microsoft’s Steven Miller of its Application and Services Group. The answer was a staggering 60% waste of space because work can now be done on the fly (literally), from home or a coffee shop.

In fact, Microsoft is planning a new global Wi-Fi offering called Microsoft WiFi that enables Skype users to log on to millions of Skype WiFi hotspots around the world - including several hundred spread across Australian capitals and regional centres - and pay for Internet connections using their Skype credit. It will also be available [presumably free] to staff at organisations that use Skype for Business.

So its another Microsoft product. That means:

  • Tight integration with Office products like Outlook (Exchange) and its address book, calendar and collaboration capabilities
  • Office software collaboration from within Skype (and visa versa) including OneDrive for file distribution
  • Access to Skype’s automatic translation initially for English, Spanish, Italian and Mandarin speakers, as well as over 50 written languages
  • Use of its notification features on all Windows 10 devices from mobile to the giant Surface hub
  • Windows Update to maintain the latest software

Gartner placed Microsoft in the leadership position in the UC space and Skype for Business is poised to disrupt the telephony market. This is unusual for a relative new comer to seriously edge out Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, Unify, IBM, NEC, Alcatel-Lucent and more. “The Lync (Skype for Business) partner ecosystem expanded at a rapid pace; however, more importantly, the partners' skill level and experience in complex deployments that include voice and video also improved significantly year over year.”

Opinion

Apart from collaboration and integration into the Microsoft ecosystem it is winning in the traditional PBX/PSTN world too. One vendor (asked not to be named) said they were now confident in putting up SfB against the major PBX players and win by offering so much more.

No Jitter reported, “ … respondents who have started deploying Enterprise Voice intend to continue ramping up those deployments, though at a fairly orderly pace. A total of 28% of those who have begun deploying Enterprise Voice reported having displaced legacy systems with SfB (Lync) for more than three-quarters of their end users today; within two years, 51% say they'll have exceeded the three-quarters-deployed threshold.”


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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