Since naming Satya Nadella as its CEO a year ago, Microsoft has thrown a series of interesting surprises our way. First, Redmond announced a partnership with Salesforce.com in which Microsoft Office 365 would support the popular customer relationship management platform; Salesforce.com, in turn, would release versions of its mobile app for Windows and Windows Phone. Later in the year, Microsoft released free Microsoft Office apps for iOS and Android devices, finally signaling that it understood what industry analysts had known for some time: desktop usage was quickly giving ground to mobile adoption. As 2014 drew to a close, the software giant previewed near–real-time translation capabilities within Skype, a powerful feature that could enable conversations across the globe in a way that was previously imaginable only on Star Trek.
Each of these developments is intriguing, but businesses took even greater note of the news, announced in November, that Microsoft Lync would be rebranded as Skype for Business in the first half of 2015. As you may remember, Microsoft acquired Skype back in 2011 and has been working on integrating it with Lync since that time. The two services were made interoperable in early 2013, allowing Skype and Lync users to connect with one another via voice calls and instant messaging. Around the same time that this was going on, Lync began to take off as a popular private branch exchange solution for businesses—particularly those that had strong mobile operations. Now the Skype–Lync integration appears to be entering its final stages, with interesting implications for how businesses will use Microsoft’s rebranded successor product in the coming year.
A Streamlined, Familiar Interface
Skype for Business has a streamlined and simplified user interface that is far more reminiscent of Skype than it is Lync. You can automatically access both Lync and Skype contact lists within Skype for Business, but the experience and look are solidly Skype-centric. Call handling icons will mirror those currently used in Skype, while the background architecture will remain based on the Lync framework. This approach taps into the strengths of both platforms and how they have been used most successfully over the past few years.
Lync stands out in business users’ minds for its enterprise security and rich collaboration capabilities, while Skype won its dominant place in the consumer market largely thanks to its intuitive design. Lync adoption was initially a bit slow among businesses using Office 365, even the many companies that received it for no extra fee as part of their overall licensing package. This may be because Lync was a bit ahead of the unified communications (UC) trend and business collaboration boom at the time of its release and rebranding from the prior name, Microsoft Office Communicator, in 2011. However, adoption was also likely affected by the complexity and depth of the feature sets in Lync: there was a learning curve for employees who wanted to become proficient in the software, and that made it challenging to reach a critical mass of users collaborating in Lync.
The landscape of business communications has significantly changed in the years since Lync first arrived. Collaboration has taken off in a big way as mobile adoption has skyrocketed and telecommuting has become more commonplace, raising awareness among business users of the benefits that a product like Lync can deliver. In Skype for Business, Microsoft hopes to leverage the simplicity of Skype with the advanced collaboration tools in Lync to deliver a product that is both powerful in its capabilities and easy to use.
Access to the Universe of Skype Users
In Skype for Business, users will have the ability to communicate with the more than 550 million users currently registered on Skype. This ability will boost the value of Skype for Business among companies that want to collaborate more easily with customers, business partners, and other outside contacts. Considering the massive popularity Skype enjoys among its consumer base, this will be an advantage for businesses considering a UC solution. If the technology they adopt is already widely used and well understood, it will be easier for external partners to have a smooth and familiar experience joining video calls and collaboration sessions from outside the company.
As consumer technology has evolved, the dividing lines between what’s corporate and what’s personal—as well as what’s internal and what’s external—have blurred. Microsoft seems to be acknowledging this sea change in how we use technology, making it a bit easier for us to connect with one another regardless of our platform or role. As the launch of Skype for Business nears, it will be interesting to see how this change in approach affects businesses’ ability to stay competitive.
Are you currently using Lync at your business? If so, how do you think Skype for Business will affect collaboration where you work? Feel free to share your perspective in the comments section below.
By Rose de Fremery