No doubt you’ve heard of Skype by now, the free phone/IM/video service. It’s likely if you are reading this you’re probably sufficiently interested in communications and collaboration applications that you’ve already taken the time to download Skype and try it out, perhaps with our without your organization’s permission. But is Skype destined to become an enterprise collaboration platform, or will it remain an application that continues to be officially shunned by a large portion of the enterprise market?
Skype, the little phone service that could, has taken the Internet by storm over the last several years, with over 300 million downloads, and somewhere around 6-7 million active users at any given time. But what’s most interesting about Skype is its potential as an enterprise collaboration platform, potentially offering a feature set that matches that which is available from dedicated enterprise platforms, but at a far lower cost.
Our interviews for our upcoming benchmark “Building a Successful Virtual Workplace” have shown some interesting trends with regard to Skype usage in the enterprise. Very few of the organizations we’ve spoken to officially allow the use of Skype, mostly due to concern over lack of management and security controls. But a small number of enterprises have embraced Skype, or are at the very least considering the use of Skype for communications and collaboration. A far larger percentage of organizations are aware of Skype usage by their employees, and are struggling to get their arms around its impact.
As a collaboration platform Skype offers for many their first taste of unified communications, with a single buddy-list-based application supporting voice, instant messaging, video conferencing and presence. Third party applications such as WebDialog’s “Unyte” and Convenos enable Skype users to integrate web conferencing capabilities such as document sharing, polling, and shared whiteboards. (See this site for additional Skype-enabled collaboration tools).
Still, enterprises by and large reject Skype as a supportable communications and collaboration platform. Typical reasons include the aforementioned security and management concerns, but also the inability of the enterprise to guarantee Skype quality. Still, the idea of “free” internal communications, and low cost collaboration capabilities without the need to procure and support dedicated application platforms is compelling. Should Skype sufficiently address enterprise management and security concerns in future releases of its products, it may be able to turn widespread enterprise interest into widespread adoption.