Microsoft has made their vision of universal communications very clear: anybody should be able to talk to anyone else using the device of their choosing. While this is a compelling concept, it can become a challenge in actual practice. Microsoft is bringing their vision to fruition by moving the end user's entire workload into the cloud. It began with IM, chat and internal PC to PC calling. Now they're starting to roll out full PSTN connectivity with Skype for Business.
By embracing this all-encompassing vision, Microsoft is effectively becoming a carrier in the marketplace. Microsoft's existing user base of over 300 million can currently obtain a phone number within Skype. In the near future, business users will be able to use Skype for Business to obtain a phone number as well. This move will provide businesses with a single location they can turn to for all forms of communication. All collaboration throughout an entire organization will be able to take place in the Microsoft cloud.
Imagine a situation where a large organization wishes to sell to hundreds or thousands of small businesses. This task previously required having traditional phone-to-phone telephone conversations. There was no available video communication, screen sharing, or enhanced collaboration features. Now, if the large organization uses Skype for Business and the smaller business utilizes Skype, they have a seamless communication path to perform video chat, collaboration with screen sharing, IM, and audio calls.
Microsoft's cloud services allow the enterprise to bring together their supply chain and their customers. Some of the communication is driven from on-premises activity, while another portion is driven from the cloud. The barriers are broken down to the point that communication is nearly seamless. Users will begin to see the value of being able to collaborate over a single platform with Skype and Skype for Business.
Along with making a cloud-based workload available to a wide array of end-users, Microsoft aims for their cloud services to be ubiquitous on all hardware platforms. I was recently at the Microsoft campus, they spoke about their cross-platform strategy to drive adoption. Currently, Microsoft doesn't command a large portion of the smartphone market, comprising a mere 3% of global smartphones (although I am a very proud Windows Phone user myself)
To bridge the gap across platforms, both iOS and Android devices now have native Skype and Skype for Business clients. Unlike the Windows desktop where Microsoft owns the hardware and the OS, Microsoft is quite happy to provide their collaboration tools on competing mobile devices. This is almost the polar opposite of the strategy they employed to become successful in their earlier days.
Microsoft isn't new to introducing futuristic ideas that are way ahead of their time. Even though a first release may not be perfect, they will iterate regularly until they own the market. Once they select an area to pursue, they put immense resources and muscle behind the effort until their vision is achieved. This has been the case with The Lync Communication Server, as it transitioned into Skype for Business and Microsoft Communication Server, as it became Office Communication Server. Over time, their products will eventually reach maturity in terms of features and polish.
Microsoft has made great strides recently - they were just named a leader in in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for unified communications and corporate telephony. Over the next couple of years, they are likely to fully deliver on their vision of universal communications. This raises the question, is Skype for Business a great business communication tool, or is it Microsoft's play at world domination? Perhaps it's a little bit of both.
Author: Eric Bauer, Head of Product Marketing