Cover Story

A Brief Case of Why More Organizations Are Buying Skype for Business

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  February 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of Unified Communications Magazine

Skype (News - Alert) got its start as a consumer service, but over time more and more businesses have begun to leverage the company’s services as well. Understanding this reality, and realizing that there’s been a blurring of lines between the technology and communications tools people use in their personal and work lives, Skype has been expanding its efforts to reach out to the business community. And last year was an important one for Skype in terms of its efforts to appeal to such customers.

In January of 2010, the company hired David Gurle to lead the Skype for Business charge. He’s the new general manager and vice president of the unit. Then, in May, the company launched Skype Manager, a web-based management tool for businesses. Three months later a SIP trunking service called Skype Connect 1.0 became commercially available. And in the early fall, Skype established a channel sales program to bring partners into the fold in an effort to better reach and serve business customers.

“Since its inception, Skype has been used by many businesses wanting to reduce communications costs,” says Gurle. “In fact, based on internal research, in the first quarter of 2010, approximately 37 percent of Skype users reported that they use Skype for some business or business-related purposes. Our team's goal is to empower businesses of all sizes and types with rich communications tools to unleash their productivity, while reducing their telecommunications costs."

The New Leadership

Gurle has a distinguished track record. He previously worked at Thomson Reuters, where he was global head of collaboration services and was in charge of the company’s largest business in Asia, the sales & trading business division. In that post, he created the team that managed all the business and product development and support functions of Thomson Reuters' Collaboration Services business and turned Reuters Messaging into what Skype calls “the de-facto collaboration service used by the financial services community.”

Prior to that, Gurle founded and for three years ran Microsoft's Real Time Communications business, during which time he oversaw the development of NetMeeting, Windows Messenger, Exchange IM, Exchange Conferencing Server, Live Communications Server and Office Communications Server, and Microsoft's acquisition of PlaceWare. He also was a corporate VP at VocalTec, one of the early IP telephony players.

More on Skype Manager

The Skype Manager solution that Gurle’s team introduced last year was developed to enable small and mid-size businesses to organize Skype usage among employees. Gurle explains that it helps businesses provision users and user features on Skype; lets businesses make payments for Skype; and enables businesses create user groups and track individual and group use of the service.

 “We looked at how Skype is being used in the workplace and specifically designed Skype Manager to make it easier for businesses to centrally manage how Skype is used, managed and paid for by an organization,” Gurle says. “We want to empower businesses to exploit the full power and value of Skype so they receive all the benefits of enhanced collaboration and cost savings.”

He adds that Skype has also rolled out customer support for business customers.

Businesses also can leverage Skype Manager to provision and manage Skype Connect, a solution for connecting existing SIP-enabled PBXs, or (with certified gateways) TDM PBXs or key systems, to Skype.

Making Connections

Skype Connect 1.0, formerly known as Skype for SIP, enables businesses to make outbound calls from desktop phones to landlines and mobiles worldwide billed at Skype's standard per-minute calling rates; receive inbound calls from Skype connected users worldwide by placing Skype's Click & Call buttons on their web sites; receive calls from landlines or mobile phones in the corporate PBX (News - Alert) using Skype's online numbers that have been purchased separately; and manage Skype calls using existing PBX or UC systems' features such as call routing, automatic call distribution, conferencing, auto attendant, voicemail, call recording and logging.

The service, which has more than 2,400 active global customers, is certified to work with PBX and UC products from Avaya, Cisco, SIPfoundry, ShoreTel (News - Alert) and other OEMs.  In fact, in September, Skype announced a strategic agreement with Avaya. That relationship gives Avaya’s U.S. customers access to Skype Connect and, starting in the second half of this year, the two companies will deliver integrated unified communications and collaboration solutions for enterprises within the U.S. This will involve the creation of “federation” between Avaya Aura and Skype platforms and users so their presence, instant messaging, voice and video solutions work together seamlessly.

“Our relationship with Avaya is expected to expand the footprint for Skype Connect into more enterprises in the U.S. market, while allowing us to help Avaya’s customers benefit from Skype’s cost savings and access to Skype’s global user base,” says Gurle.

As noted above, Skype Connect also works with TDM PBXs or key systems, which can support Skype through gateways from AudioCodes, Grandstream and VoSKY (News - Alert).

Skype Connect is available for a monthly channel fee (based on the number of concurrent calls being made or received) of $6.95 per line.

 The Go-To-Market

Skype this fall also introduced Skype Channel Partner Program, and its first 20 partners under this effort, to reach business customers.

As part of the program, Skype offers qualified value-added resellers and systems integrators training, sales and marketing collaterals, customer tracking and reporting tools, and support and account management.

Skype notes that selling through VARs is helpful because these partners can help Skype customers to do things like manage the Skype Business Client on their desktops and mobile phones via business accounts, or connect their existing PBXs or unified communications systems to Skype.

Patrick Carley, CEO of Precedent Technologies, one of Skype’s channel partners, says: "Skype is a well-known brand, and I've used it personally for years. I believe Skype's business solutions appeal to our diverse client base – be it smaller companies that are just getting started and need to watch their infrastructure costs closely or larger companies who may be interested in using Skype to supplement their international communications."

Why Skype?

Gurle says Skype’s offer is unique in its ability to bridge communications affordability, easily and extensively both within and among businesses, as well as between businesses and their customers.

“People are spending a lot of money on their communications,” says Gurle, “and they don’t want to do that, they want to save money.”

Skype’s voice and video services allow them to avoid spending big bucks on things like long-distance charges, termination rates and pricey videoconferencing systems and related training, he says.

That extends both to one-to-one communications as well a multi-party interactions.

“So we have been asked by customers to help with group collaboration,” he says, noting that Skype already offers various multi-party services, including multi-party chat. Several thousand customers are trialing Skype’s group video calling, he adds, and Skype expects that offer to be very successful as it ramps it up this year.

All this, and the fact that Skype is available on virtually any platform, have make the company’s services popular across multiple business verticals – including consulting, high tech, hospitality, transportation and others – and in types of business environments, from the SOHO to the enterprise, says Gurle.

“We power this nervous system by enabling the connectivity across many, many different [endpoints],” he says. “We are not only on Windows or only on Mac or only on iPhone. We are on all devices people are using today, and that really works to the advantage of our customers because they don’t have to make a choice.”

Indeed, and at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, it was announced that Skype mobile with video will be available on the Verizon 4G LTE Mobile Broadband Network by the middle of this year. Skype also moved forward its video aspirations with the recent acquisition of Qik, which it expected to close last month.

Qik, of Redwood City, Calif., is available for more than 200 mobile phones based on Android, BlackBerry (News - Alert), iPhone, Symbian and Windows Mobile platforms. The video software also comes pre-loaded on many mobile handsets.

"Skype’s software enables an estimated 25 percent of the world’s international long-distance voice calling minutes, and approximately 40 percent of those Skype-to-Skype calls are happening over video,” says Skype CEO Tony Bates. “Qik’s deep engineering capabilities and strong mobile relationships will be an impressive complementary fit with Skype.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi