According to a November 30, 2015, announcement, Microsoft is adding some noteworthy features to Skype for Business. The kind of features that could make Skype for Business the predominant way physically dispersed employees within an enterprise communicate. This is especially true if the enterprise has deployed Office 365.
Skype for Business
In 2011, when it was first announced that Microsoft was buying Skype from eBay, the general consensus was that Microsoft would create a business version of Skype. However, few of us, including me, saw the full potential.
With the inclusion of these latest features, Skype for Business has grown into the primary communication management application for any enterprise using Office 365. The three main new features highlighted in the announcement are PSTN Conferencing, Skype Meeting Broadcast, and Cloud PBX.
- PSTN Conferencing allows employees to attend meetings using a standard traditional telephone.
- Skype Meeting Broadcast provides the tools necessary to plan and produce large virtual meetings for up to 10,000 attendees.
- Cloud PBX enables enterprises to retire their old PBX systems and transition to the cloud, where Office 365 can handle all of the communication management duties.
Personally, Skype Meeting Broadcast is the feature that most intrigues me. In years past, I was required to attend "all hands" meetings that used awful outdated broadcast technologies. Most of the time you could not hear what was being said, attendees would drop in and out beeping every time, and there was no useful way to ask questions or make comments. I'm sure most of us have experienced the bad conference call meeting syndrome.
The broadcast tools found in Skype for Business simplify and democratize the running of a meeting. Employees with something to communicate to a large audience can set up a meeting, plan the presentation, and broadcast it without having to involve IT or public relations. Whether these capabilities mean we'll have more bad meetings, or fewer, is yet to be determined.
Obviously, Skype for Business is a key component of Microsoft's vision of a modern collaborative enterprise workforce. Empowering employees with tools that simplify planning and attending virtual meetings could prove to be very productive for enterprises. But there is one caveat.
To take full advantage of Skype for Business, enterprises will have to commit to the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem.
That doesn't mean employees can't use Skype for Business to collaborate on a project being created with Adobe Photoshop—sharing a desktop is sharing a desktop. However, everything else that goes into setting up such a meeting is going to be much easier with Office 365.
Of course, committing to Skype for Business as the primary meeting-facilitating application for an enterprise has its benefits too. With Skype for Business deployed, an enterprise can get a cloud-based phone system, including dial tone, and a meetings application that offers audio, video, and content sharing for as little as $2 per user per month or as part of an Office 365 subscription. That sounds like a pretty good deal.
The modern enterprise workforce, especially in larger companies, is global, mobile, and spread out. Whether team members are in different buildings or different countries, they have to be able to communicate with each other effectively. Skype for Business can give those dispersed employees the collaboration tools they need to make their meetings more productive.
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Has your enterprise adopted video conferencing yet? Are you still using the old telephone-based conferencing systems? Why?
Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to BreakingModern.com, aNewDomain.net, and TechRepublic.