Skype for Business – Any Business

Updated: August 31, 2010

Starting with today, Skype Connect is an important step forward for businesses of all sizes to bring Skype into their circle. Many enterprise networks block Skype for a variety of reasons, but beyond that, Skype is widely used as an everyday online communications tool. Skype Connect is an updated launch of their Skype for SIP program, and most importantly, offers integration that goes beyond the desktop. SIP support offers an important bridge between the proprietary nature of Skype and existing telephone systems, even those that are TDM-based.

With support for virtually all types of phone systems, Skype now becomes a viable - and valuable - solution for all types of businesses. Starting at the top, for enterprises, Skype Connect supports the major IP PBX vendors, such as Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, ShoreTel, and even open source-based sipXecs. TDM-based PBXs and Key Systems will work as well, thanks to support via PBX gateway vendors, namely AudioCodes and Grandstream. As such, Skype Connect can benefit both SMBs and enterprises without requiring any equipment upgrades.

Making free calls on the Web is one thing, but making near-free calls over your phone system is something else altogether. This capability can deliver cost savings for virtually any business, but there's more to consider here. Businesses can also receive Skype-originated calls on their phone systems that are made from the desktop. This means that customers - or prospects - can use click-to-call from the Web to dial into your phone system and reach extensions just as they normally would from a landline. With so many communications modes available today, companies want to be as easy to reach as possible, and this level of convenience could help make you easier to do business with than your competitors.

Another important aspect of Skype Connect is management control, which really takes Skype beyond being a personal use tool. There's nothing wrong with using Skype as an adjunct to everyday business applications, but there is no integration with the business, and IT has no control over its use or content. By routing calls over the phone system, Skype becomes much richer than PC-based calls. Now these calls have a broader range of calling features, and can connect to a wider universe of callers. Aside from standard features such as voicemail or conferencing, Skype Connect calls can be logged, recorded and re-routed using ACD. Complementing this is Skype Manager, the administrative interface that allows IT to manage Skype calls and end users, as well as issue Skype credits to control costs. These features make Skype much more network-friendly, and should lead businesses to look at Skype in a different light.

Video is another area where Skype is adding value for businesses. Desktop video calling has become very common among Skype users, and can be attractive for SMBs, especially those without a video conferencing system. While one-to-one video calls are the norm, multi-party video is a recent focus for Skype, as this can be a great way to launch ad hoc conference sessions and virtual meetings. It's also important to note that Skype is doing this now not just at the desktop, but on the big screen as well. Earlier this year, Skype TV was launched, with an interface to support HD video using Skype on flat screen TVs. This can be a very affordable alternative to telepresence, bringing high quality videoconferencing to a much broader range of the business market.

When you add all these pieces up, today's buzz about a possible Cisco acquisition of Skype doesn't seem so far-fetched. This may just end up being idle speculation, but in the wake of Skype's IPO announcement, all the major players are taking a closer look at where the company is going. Skype has had a very good run, but the long term prospects for their core revenue base are challenging. The business market is their best course for getting to the next level, and Skype Connect will definitely help them get there. On one level, Google is their strongest competitor, and that alone would explain Cisco's interest - if in fact, there is substance to these stories. On another level, Skype and Avaya share common investors, and again, Cisco would have good reason to take something away from their strongest competitor in the telephony and UC space. There are certainly other angles worth exploring here, but only if/when there is some hard news to back up all of this buzz.

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