There is no shortage of professional unified communications (UC) systems, including Microsoft's Lync, designed for the enterprise. But just as with any consumerization-of-IT issue, there is an elephant in the room that can't be ignored: Skype, also a Microsoft product.
Skype absolutely was not designed for enterprise use. It's more of a rogue intruder on enterprise networks, and it's common for administrators to attempt to banish it. It's easy to see why an administrator in charge of managing systems and networks and ensuring their smooth working order would want to squash Skype like a big hairy bug:
- The protocol is designed to be obscure and impossible to manage.
- The client software is also impossible to manage.
- Clients can be set up as peer-to-peer "supernodes" that hold relay calls between other clients.
- Clients that aren't relays frequently poll the network asking if they should become a supernode.
Once again, right in line with the consumerization mind set, it might be tempting to say, "Skype is probably already on a large number of our client systems; why not take advantage of it?" Skype is, after all, a pretty complete UC client, and it has extensive hardware and software support.
And it's stunningly popular: Typically there are 36 million users on Skype at any time, out of 200 million total users. Over 300 billion minutes were called in 2011. There are DID (Direct-Inward-Dial) connections in 23 countries, which means Skype can make calls with the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). Cost is also compelling: you can get unlimited calls to 40 countries for $13.99 a month.
Microsoft finally released a Skype client for Windows Phone. Read a hands-on review.
So why use Skype in the enterprise? You could use Skype instead of a conventional phone; however, only a very small, cheap organization would do this. You could use it in addition to a regular phone, which is probably pretty common in business, although unsanctioned.
There are also ways for the organization to institutionalize use of Skype in an organized manner. You can connect it to your PBX (known as a SIP--Session Initiation Protocol--trunk) for very low cost. There are thousands of business customers using it and a formal certification process for PBX vendors.
Given the interest it has in pushing Lync and other, more-profitable products, you have to wonder whether Microsoft really wants Skype to be successful, but it seems that it does. In a recent investor call, Microsoft CFO Peter Klein spoke about the future of Skype and was bullish on it. Look for Microsoft to federate Skype and Lync; in other words, let them connect directly across the Internet. Look for Skype connections in Microsoft Office, in Office 365, or in both. Microsoft sees Skype as a cheap way for customers to extend their reach and for Microsoft to extend the reach of its products and services. It could make Microsoft the telco of the cloud.