Skype for Business – A Unified Communications Tool?
The most “fame” Skype has received is probably from the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” where the cast uses it regularly to communicate. For example, Raj’s parents who live in India are fringe characters in the show and viewers only know them via Raj who is using Skype on his laptop in the USA.
I use the word “fame” in quotes because TV has given Skype a level of notoriety, which most technology just doesn’t reach. The show has to some extent normalized the use of Skype. And note that the word Skype isn’t actually mentioned on the show but we assume that Skype is the program that is being used, as opposed to other system designs.
Skype – the Most Popular Internet Communications Software in the World for Voice and Video
Millions of people use it every day for personal communications.
According to TeleGeography, ”While international phone traffic growth is slowing, traffic from voice and messaging applications like Skype continue to increase at a stunning pace. TeleGeography estimates that cross-border Skype-to-Skype voice and video traffic grew 44 percent in 2012, to 167 billion minutes. This increase of nearly 51 billion minutes is more than twice that achieved by all international carriers in the world, combined.”
And those personal users are extending Skype for business use as well.
Skype is used for a lot more than video. In fact it really started out and is still primarily used for voice calls. Skype offers a full Unified Communication (UC) technology stack, which is pretty powerful, but not as “industrial” as some enterprise UC technology offerings from say, Cisco or Microsoft.
Skype’s full UC capabilities make it a lot more useful than any of the single communications capabilities on its own.
What Are the Core UC Capabilities Required in Order to Qualify as a UC Product?
- Instant Messaging (IM)
Skype’s UC Capabilities
Presence is about knowing the status or availability of the people that are part of your list of contacts in Skype. If you had 25 people that were on your list of Skype contacts, with a quick glance at the list you can determine if they are online, available, busy, etc. Presence is a handy tool to quickly see how your contacts are currently connected into the Skype world.
IM (Instant Messaging)
IM is no technology breakthrough but is very handy as part of a UC suite. IM let’s you send instant messages to your contacts, or create group message forums. This is handy in a number of situations; your contact shows as busy but may answer an IM message still keeping their voice or video call going; when you establish a voice or video call, one of the parties may have their mic on mute. IM allows communication to advise that they can’t hear the muted party; sending messages to one of the parties in a multi-party call as a side bar conversation. Interestingly Microsoft, which owns Skype, recently announced that they will be retiring Windows Live Messenger forcing users to upgrade to Skype.
Here is where Skype really shines. Free calling computer-to-computer anywhere in the world. That is how Skype went viral, established a huge user base and became a household name brand service. Skype’s voice offering capabilities have grown significantly since the early days and includes: Skype to landline; Skype to mobile; and multi-party conferencing calls (can still be dicey), and voicemail. Note: Most of the additional services are chargeable.
Skype video is pretty good for person to person but their multi-party video offering is chargeable, requiring one participant to have a premier account and doesn’t work that well. I have used other products that allow me to conduct a good video to video call with limited bandwidth, where the same call using Skype, has Skype telling me to turn off my video because there is not enough bandwidth.
Skype will likely continue to develop this part of their technology solution. A case in point is that they just recently announced a new Video Messaging service where users (for a fee) can leave video mail messages.
Beyond Unified Communications
Skype also offers features, which go beyond the UC stack, such as: content sharing, files transfer, and SMS messaging. These features make the product more powerful and useful.
Skype also works on lots of devices, PC, Macs, tablets and phones, but typically the full UC suite is not available on all these platforms.
Skype is a powerful communications platform and is getting better all the time. It is not always the best platform for business or for connecting outside participants to meeting rooms.
Time will tell whether this changes as the product continues to develop. Skype’s continued growth and feature enhancement paints a rosy future for it. Skype is a great starter technology for enhanced communications.
But as you start to pay for more Skype features and push the limits of the technology, there are other viable options, which solve some of its limitations and are offered at a comparable price point. Contact us to discuss these alternative options like commercial grade video conferencing solutions like our HybridX.
Conference Room Audio Visual Solutions are an Integral Part of a Well Executed UC&C Platform
Unified Communications (UC) has been around for the last 15 to 20 years, maybe longer.
When I first heard about UC, it was about how IT and Telecom would come together. Fast forward to today and IT & Telecom have come together – in more flavours than most Baskin & Robbins stores carry. There is no single, clear path that every organization can follow to get to a UC platform. In fact, in most organizations there are different paths. It depends on where you are starting from and where you want to go. There will be an upcoming blog article discussing the different paths an organization can follow to implement UC.
More often than not, an organization starts with a patchwork of technologies. To capture the numerous benefits (ROI) from UC, that patchwork has to be transformed into a tapestry.
The benefits of UC are significant and are realized when you focus on solving business problems instead of applying technology.
But you still need the technology. And it is not apparent how rooms systems and conference room design are an integral part of UC and the broader picture UC&C, where the second “C” stands for Collaboration.
The systems that are found in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and other types of corporate meeting spaces were traditionally the realm of the Audio Visual (AV) world and managed by corporate Real Estate Operations. Those rooms have become connected beyond the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) line, and the responsibility for the technology in those rooms has been/is migrating to IT.
Today those rooms need to be connected for 4 types of conferencing:
- Audio conferencing
- Video conferencing
- Web conferencing
- Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) / Smart Board conferencing
Deciding which of these conferencing technologies should be available in a meeting room will determine the level of collaboration that the meeting room is capable of enabling. I will be doing a blog post shortly on conferencing technologies enabling collaboration.
A best practice for implementing UC&C is to identify your user base and group them into User Classes. You should have between 3 and 12 User Classes. A lower number is better, even for very large organizations. Having the defined User Classes lets you move to the next step – mapping the technology each user class requires to do their job – PC (desktop / laptop), telephone (fixed / mobile / soft), tablets and other (headsets, etc).
So, how does UC&C tie into audio visual communication room systems?
The same best practices to implement UC&C hold true for room systems. Meeting rooms and spaces require a clear definition of what collaborative technology is required in the room to support the four different conferencing technologies listed above. But they need to support those technologies in relation to the UC platform deployed. For example, this means that the video in the room system needs to be compatible/integrated with the video used in the UC platform.
Having the ability to connect remote participants into the room technology conferencing modalities to support the level of collaboration required is critical in a UC&C environment. Being able to easily connect workers seamlessly into the room/meeting spaces is paramount to capturing the benefits and ROI that UC&C can bring.
To facilitate the collaboration and innovation in your organization you need to:
- Allow workers to easily connect with their UC technology platform, into the meeting rooms or spaces – UC to C, with all the different UC media types that are used by the workers; voice, video, desktop sharing, IM.
- Make the remote experience as good as being there
The penalty for poor implementation is not taking full advantage of collaborative technology ROI.
People will continue to travel, resulting in lost savings and productivity reduction. Also, real estate reduction benefits will not be realized because the workers will still come into the office. And those lost benefits can be huge.
If there are many meeting rooms in an organization, it makes sense to create room standards for up to a dozen meeting room types and implement those standards throughout the organization. This will make the technology decision for the rooms simpler, consistent and easier to use and support. An upcoming blog post about the benefits of creating room standards for multiple meeting rooms will be coming soon.
The benefits of tying your UC platform seamlessly into your room systems are significant. Doing it right requires proper planning, standards, integration and training. If you have any questions about connecting your room systems to your UC platform, contact us.