In The Briefing Room: Skype for Business

Skype is perceived as a consumer service that lets computer users make inexpensive and/or free calls to friends and family near and far.  It isn’t necessarily a service one would associate with business users; however for the past few years Skype has been moving more and more into that territory.

Josh Silverman, Skype’s president, recently estimated that 35% of its customers use Skype for business purposes in addition to personal use.  Especially in a world where distance is shrinking (along with the economy), having a service that provides local numbers in multiple countries around the world, as well as the ability to call them for pennies if not free, has become a necessity for many knowledge workers.  Business travelers, especially those who travel internationally, are also demanding more sophisticated and less expensive communications alternatives.

This week, Skype launched the beta version of Skype For SIP, a new offering that connects to corporate phone systems that support Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).  SIP is the prevalent open standard for business telephony networks and supports “sessions” in an IP network.  A session could be as simple as a standard phone call between two people or it could be a multimedia, multi-party conference call.

Skype For SIP will allow users of SIP-enabled phone systems to use Skype to make calls from a standard office telephone, instead of requiring the user to plug a headset into a personal computer.  The service supports calls placed to any phone number, be it landline or mobile, and also supports  inbound calling and the establishment of local numbers, available in many regions around the world, that then connect into the corporate telephone system.

Skype clearly recognizes that corporate voice traffic is a serious business where it will compete with traditional carriers as well as newer Voice-over-IP providers.  Along with some strategic rebranding on the Skype for Business Web site (a very serious darker blue and grey color scheme has replaced the bright blue and cloud theme of the consumer site), the SIP integration will open up myriad potential applications for the deployment of Skype in the enterprise.

Skype is already integrated with Digium’s open source Asterisk telephony platform, which allows Asterisk users to make, receive, and transfer Skype calls from within their phone system.  Skype For SIP for business makes it possible for any SIP-based PBX system to integrate with Skype features.

Skype sees SIP for business as a major component of its strategy to attract corporate customers in addition to individual business users.  In order to fully develop this channel, however, Skype will have to form partnerships with telephone system providers in the SMB market.  It plans to certify partners to sell and support Skype business offerings although details on this front have yet to be released.  For the large enterprise space, should Skype choose to solicit business there, the company will need to develop a corporate sales force as well.

Regardless of how it is achieved, support for business users will be crucial and Ian Robin, head of sales and marketing for Skype For SIP for business, told us that, insofar as individual user support is concerned, he is aiming towards being able to support business users in their native languages anywhere in the world quickly and efficiently.  It was only 19 months ago that Skype went dark for two days for almost all of its users  and the company clearly wants to avoid such a repeat performance when it is offering services in the enterprise space.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex. Cody Burke is a Senior Analyst at Basex.

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