The transformation of Lync into Skype for Business with an interface that’s already familiar to 300 million people has never been more exciting. Microsoft is also introducing Skype for Business Online, a cloud-based version of the service.
Microsoft rebranded its Lync 2013 unified communication products as Skype for Business this year. The company hopes to leverage the familiarity users already enjoy using Skype to help it build a sense of familiarity and confidence in using it for voice, video, chat, meetings and sharing. This should provide productivity advantages for enterprise users. The software also retains the original features that made Lync 2013 popular, such as instant messaging, presence, audio, video, and Web conferencing, along with enterprise voice, and Office compatibility.
The attraction of Skype for Business is its integration with Office 365. This means users can access instant messaging, voice and video features directly from within Outlook. In use this enables us to initiate a conversation or diary a meeting simply by clicking a contact in our Outlook address book, for example. Meeting history can be archived with relevant contacts. Collaborative features include screen sharing from within established Office productivity applications such as PowerPoint – there is no need to leave PowerPoint to share the screen.
The consumer version of Skype uses AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) to encrypt messages. The enterprise edition improves this with TLS, (Transport Layer Security). This security standard ensures no third party can eavesdrop or tamper with messages. Skype for Business also raises the bar by giving IT departments powerful account administrator rights – one way these work is to make it possible to assign different levels of application access to different users, helping protect meeting assets or other enterprise data.
Bigger online conferences
While the consumer version of Skype allows 25 people to join a conference simultaneously, Skype for Business supports up to 1,000 people, making it an attractive tool for live webinars and corporate presentations.
Microsoft has also introduced Skype Meeting Broadcast, which is available to eligible Office 365 customers worldwide. The solution lets users broadcast Skype for Business Online meetings on the Internet allowing up to 10,000 attendees to join a meeting from anywhere, on any device. This makes it easy to produce and host an meeting or event. It also includes Yammer integration, to enable attendees to chat during the broadcast, and Bing Pulse, for real-time polling and sentiment tracking.
Designed for customers using collaborative conference rooms, Skype Room Systems provide Skype for Business tools for large conference rooms. Microsoft Surface Hub goes beyond video conferencing to transform the meeting experience for groups. Put simply, Surface Hub lets attendees join Skype for Business meetings with a single touch in order to start sharing content effortlessly. The conference-focused system also lets participants and organizers easily share and capture meeting notes and other content to progress meeting outcomes. Polycom is developing a series of purpose-built video collaboration solutions for Skype for Business. These will include a solution for huddle rooms for teams to collaborate using voice, video and content simply by logging into their Skype for Business account. Existing Lync Room Systems can also be upgraded to Skype Room systems.
Microsoft previewed a new feature called PSTN Conferencing within Skype for Business Online. Scheduled for December availability, this feature will enable users to connect to conferences by dialing in from a conventional mobile phone or land line.
Replacing the PBX
Skype for Business can integrate with an existing PBX system enabling enterprises to make or receive calls on their Skype for Business client or existing phones. You can also replace a PBX with Skype for Business Enterprise Voice. Microsoft is now adapting this capability in a new service called Cloud PBX with Skype for Business Online. PBX features are being made available in two phases, with a subset of basic features available this year. This allows small and medium size businesses to use Skype for Business Online as their phone system, in addition to its uses for instant messaging and virtual meetings. Additional features will be added in 2016.
PSTN Calling (available only in the US until 2016) allows traditional calls to the PSTN to be made and received using the Skype for Business client. Enterprise clients in search of a global voice solution with a full Enterprise Voice feature set and integration capabilities, and a gradual migration for legacy systems must use Skype for Business on premise or work with a Microsoft partner. On the roadmap for future introduction, the Call Quality Dashboard will show aggregated quality information for calls and meetings.
Apple in the enterprise
Available now, Microsoft’s Skype iOS app allows users to conference call and chat using voice, full-screen video and instant messaging. It also includes business features such as enhanced security and integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory.
Through its Office 365 service, IT departments can configure multi-factor authentication for Skype for Business on iOS using Active Directory Authentication Library (ADAL)-based authentication.
The Skype for Business iOS app will automatically update Lync apps that were previously installed on users’ iPhones and iPads. An Android version of the app is in development and currently available in Tech Preview.
Skype, the business tool
We are all familiar with using the free consumer version of Skype service for calls, but Skype for Business and Skype for Business Online are a whole different ball game. They provide hefty business features that will benefit diverse business environments.
Microsoft named Orange as an original Skype for Business Elite launch partner. Orange was one of very few companies selected for this initiative. The status means Orange had to meet very strict criteria, including its proven track record of high volume Lync deployments (including a minimum of 100,000 Enterprise Voice seats), and a solid support system that is now backed by Premier Support for Skype for Business.
Giovanni Mezgec, Microsoft GM of Skype for Business explains: "As a Skype for Business elite launch partner, Orange has demonstrated the highest level of experience, training and commitment to the Skype for Business platform, and is able to deliver on a global scale. They are prepared to assist enterprises:
• address any or all aspects of the planning, deployment, operations and adoption life-cycle
• optimize hybrid cloud deployments with Office 365 and Server-based environments
• develop an end-to-end solution with other devices, applications and infrastructure."
Learn more about Skype for Business.
Ann Strachan is a Senior Product Manager at Orange Business Services, where she is responsible for Unified Communication and Collaboration solutions in the international domain.
Ann has over 19 years of international business and marketing communications experience in the IT industry. She is passionate about the power of collaboration and product and service innovation covering business, technology and user experience for the digital enterprise.