Although virtualization has the potential to bring down the cost of video conferencing in the enterprise, HD-quality telepresence solutions are still outside the budgets of many small-to-medium-size businesses. So what are SMBs to do as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile and global? Well, for starters, they could take a closer look at Voice over IP services like Skype.
Connected Workforce, Marketplace
Services Skype and OneVoice have opened more of the communications topology to digital technologies that enable computer-assisted communications for multi-format information transfer between callers. Skype, now owned by Microsoft, continues to provide leading edge solutions. A lot of people were upset, but Microsoft in my view is doing a good job. There … I said it.
Millions of business people around our little blue planet embraced Skype for low-cost business and personal communications, but it always felt unsteady. That’s why it has been a gradual and natural set of steps leading us to the point where Skype can become a primary tool in communications.
While others have led technologically, OneVoice being a good example, Skype’s business management tools and increasingly robust network and features are game-changing for SMB telecom. For users, Skype offers a plethora of features to entice:
- screen sharing
- ad hoc teleconferencing
- phone numbers for rent
- file sharing
- call forwarding
Skype is useful for organizations that need to connect far-flung employees, keep travel expenses down without losing face time, and that also have complex telecom relationships that they want to simplify. If you are managing up to a few hundred users, the Skype Manager will be effective. But beyond that, role-based administration and directory services become a critical management factor.
I do think that Skype’s feature-set allows it to claim a spot as a serious SMB-computing environment rather than simply a communications service. For SMB users, multiple account management, provisioning, and PBX integration now enables Skype to begin to replace existing infrastructure.
Glitch-free panacea? No
Personally, I’ve found much of the implementation of Skype applications to be a little haphazard: new features popping up with no explanation; features included but impossible to find; a windowing method that often left important chat communications buried during a call, etc. However, I happily admit that Skype now largely exhibits a maturity that makes it a serious player in business communications.
Although I still experience dropped calls on the service due to problems with ISPs in Tennessee and elsewhere, the service has improved to a point where I’m not bothered. (It would be smart for Skype to put both calls on hold and attempt to reconnect automatically.)
Skype’s API, which allows developers to add value, has created something of a marketplace for peripheral services that allow the environment to be customized without damaging its high level of integration.
What we don’t see yet is integration with Active Directory and other enterprise APIs. Let me say that this is a sine qua non for many network managers. If Skype really wants to replace landline oligopolies, it’s going to have to support AD and enterprise management in a big way. After all, Skype is just a SaaS platform with clients on all sides, just like many enterprise apps. But I hasten to add that things are moving in a nice direction, given Microsoft’s serious enterprise expertise.
In the meantime, I’d suggest running pilots in the enterprise for situations where existing infrastructure face plants and you have sufficient connectivity speeds. Offer the Skype button on your website for customer support calls and use forwarding. I think it’s time for IT to get on a first name basis with Skype.
Kelly Mackin writes for Ziff Davis.