Skype for Business – Microsoft’s master stroke

I first published this post over on LinkedIn.

The launch of Skype for Business is the last piece in the puzzle that will have users excited about Microsoft’s enterprise communications software. It’s going to change the conversation from “well, it’s this app that integrates with Office and you can use it to chat and make phone calls” to a simple statement of “you know Skype? It’s that, but for business”.

Here’s why I think come end of April/start of May, Microsoft will be set up to win in the business productivity space, leave competitors for dead and ultimately enable tons of enterprises worldwide to simply get stuff done easier and faster.

Skype is a household name

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, the brand here is key. When I lived in London, my friends and I would always have Skype sessions scheduled on a regular basis to friends and family back in Australia. And that notion of “I’ll just Skype you” – that my friends is brand equity. It’s easy to see why Microsoft would want to capitalise on that as much as possible and introduce it into business productivity.

Here’s a real world example. I tried explaining to my Dad at Christmas what Lync is and what his son actually does for work. After a few minutes, both him and I ended up confused and frustrated. But as soon as I said “it’s Skype, but for business” he got it straight away. My Dad lives off the grid (seriously – solar power, water tanks and bottled gas) in a remote part of Australia, so it’s clear to see how strong the Skype brand is.

With this comes the mass user adoption. Both us as solution providers and customers will no longer need to invest so much time, money and effort into communicating to the business what Lync is and why it’ll help them.

When users in the business tell IT they want Skype, IT can now give it to them.

The Best of Skype and Lync

The great thing about all of this is that the underlying technology and architecture hasn’t changed. It’s still the robust, enterprise grade software of Lync underneath with all the policies and configurations required to manage a large, complex user population. It means you keep what you want (with an in-place upgrade from Lync 2013) with minimal new hardware investments.

On the flip side, useful Skype features like the call monitor (that hovers over all other windows) and the familiar user interface have been brought across. It’s these features that will aid in user adoption and enable users to just get it.

I will say, it took me a few hours to get used to the Skype for Business UI, but now I love how fresh it looks, the new emoticons and the new sounds.

Haters gonna hate

The first big reaction we saw to this (both as Modality and within the MVP community) is that enterprise IT will revolt. Skype to them is a dirty word, and some network teams have done a lot of work historically to disable it on their networks. Skype is considered something that is best effort with variable quality.

I think we all need to take a step back and realise this is about making life easier for users, not about how descriptive the name of the software is (see “Office Communications Server 2007 R2”), and how Skype for Business is not consumer grade software. It can still be locked down with group policy. It’s traffic can still be prioritised with quality of service.

Cloud is gaining momentum

Everything’s in the cloud now, but voice and real-time comms is a bit of an on-premises stalwart. When it comes to providing crystal clear quality, having all your conferencing and media processing up in a remote data centre can introduce problems┬ádepending on latency. With Skype for Business, we’re seeing Microsoft make a huge investment to bring voice to Office 365 for those customers that want to go all in on the cloud.

Hybrid will be an approach we’ll see customers take often. They’ll move to the cloud on their terms, and maybe just use Office 365 for mass meetings and users with lighter voice requirements. I still think we’ll see components remain on-premises like call recording, contact centres and compliance software.

Voice and video in the web is here

Another huge element of Skype for Business we’re excited about is the new Skype Web SDK, which allow developers to build voice, video and desktop sharing into websites. This is big for customer interaction, as it means click to chat scenarios and Amazon Mayday type use cases become possible. Customer service agents in the organisation with Skype for Business will be able to answer queries coming in from the public facing website or an intranet. It’s a way we can take the conversation from “how do we make users more productive” to “how can we engage our customers better”.

Engage an Elite Launch Partner

It’s an exciting time to be involved in enterprise communications, but it’ll be important for organisations to get their roll-outs right and ensure all the technical and business requirements are met as part of the change from legacy systems.

Engaging a specialist to help you prepare is important, and as one of Microsoft’s nine worldwide Elite Launch Partners, we have the highest level of experience, training and commitment to Skype for Business along with the ability to deliver on a global scale.

If you’d like to know more about Skype for Business or how we can help your business make the move, feel free to get in touch with us here on my blog.

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