Microsoft has officially launched Skype for Business on Tuesday, rolling out the service to Office 365 customers and as part of the April monthly update for Office 365. Microsoft expects the roll out to be complete by the end of May.
Skype for Business is integrated into Office apps so users can start phone calls or send IMs from apps like Word or PowerPoint. According to Microsoft, communications are protected by “strong authentication and encryption” making it a secure solution for business users.
Existing users of Lync Online in Office 365 will see the new Skype for Business user experience in the “coming weeks,” Microsoft said. Admins can switch between Skype for Business and the traditional Lync user interface for the time being. In 2013, Microsoft introduced Lync-Skype connectivity for customers to connect across platforms.
Microsoft’s elite launch partners for its new Skype for Business service include AT&T, Orange, HP and Dimension Data.
For businesses who have already spent money on PBX phones or on-premises equipment, Microsoft says Skype for Business works “with most communications technology, so you can still make and receive calls on PBX phones and join meetings with video teleconferencing systems.”
“You’ll also reduce the cost of supporting multiple services by upgrading to one solution that includes everything – voice, video and online meetings. And you can continue using the on-premises equipment you already have as you gradually move to the cloud.”
Of course, the expectation is that eventually businesses will move their communications solutions to the cloud. A recent report by the FCC showed that only 15.4 percent of businesses use VoIP solutions, but this number is expected to grow significantly over the coming years. By making it easy to integrate with existing Office apps and hardware already owned by businesses, Microsoft may see strong adoption.
Skype for Business could also help close the shadow IT gap. Admins who see employees already using Skype could see value in providing Skype for Business. While a report two years ago found that Skype is relatively low-risk in terms of shadow IT, it is a commonly blocked service.
Microsoft will have to emphasize its authentication and encryption measures in order to see strong adoption as companies in the US and abroad are more concerned about secure and private communications than ever before. With allegations that Microsoft handed over information to the US government about Skype calls a couple of years ago, this worry is not entirely unfounded.
Other service providers are hoping businesses buy into encrypted communications. Recently, Mega launched its answer to Skype, an encrypted video calling service called MegaChat.