Aug 24 2015

4 Tips for Launching Skype for Business

Wildly popular for personal-call use, Skype can now take business communications to the next level.

In April, Microsoft rebranded its Lync unified communications product as Skype for Business. Here are four things businesses should know about the product change.

It’s Still Enterprise-Grade

The Lync user interface becomes more Skype-like, which leverages the familiarity that many employees have with the consumer version. That could reduce help desk calls. Under the hood, though, it’s still a business tool.

“The most important thing to know is that it’s not consumer Skype. It’s Lync 2015 if you boil it down,” says Patrick Borka, a Microsoft solutions architect, who helps businesses implement UC and other collaboration technologies. “The Skype moniker is a very powerful brand: a noun that became a verb.”

Watch Out for Interoperability Hurdles

Skype for Business can communicate with consumer Skype for messaging, voice and video. That’s good news for businesses wanting to use it to interact with consumers, such as for customer support.

Interoperability is a bit murkier when it comes to B2B. For example, some Skype for Business tools — such as desktop sharing — currently can’t be extended to participants using consumer Skype, which is popular among small organizations with limited budgets. Expect similar caveats when some participants are using traditional video conferencing systems.

“It doesn’t integrate very well natively,” Borka says. “You’ll see some mentions of the Video Interoperability Server, but it’s really aimed at Cisco and doesn’t do content. There’s a whole bunch of limitations.”

Some third-party solutions try to overcome those issues with a virtual meeting room that Skype and non-Skype users connect to. But those can create challenges around scheduling and managing meetings, and sharing content.

“The only one, I think, that has gotten it right is Polycom’s RealConnect,” Borka says.

Choose from Multiple Upgrade Paths

There are a few important steps to take while successfully implementing Skype for Business. Lync users should have received two updates that remodel their endpoints into Skype for Business, with backward compatibility to Lync Server 2010. Lync Room Systems get a similar makeover.

On the server side, Lync users can do an in-place upgrade. But Borka thinks most will choose to deploy a separate Skype for Business infrastructure and then migrate everyone over.

Don’t Overlook the Human Aspect

Lync is familiar ground for IT staff, so aside from the interoperability caveats, expect many of the same issues with Skype for Business.

“The constant gotchas are around firewalls and certificates,” says Borka, who sees bigger hurdles that have little to do with technology and more with cultural issues.

“Communicate the ‘What’s in it for me?’ to users,” he says. “One of the most important elements for any organization is to understand their business, their use cases and their user culture.”

Rickey Rogers/Reuters