Microsoft’s mission to dominate the enterprise market launches a new offensive Monday with Skype for Business for Office 365 enterprise customers, a fee-based replacement for existing phone and video-conferencing systems.
Skype for Business rolls out as part of Microsoft’s Office 365 E5 suite of premium products, and aims to provide a simple way for businesses that already use Office to have their employees stay connected. The system allows callers to dial into a meeting or to an outside number from a traditional phone or with a single click on a connected PC or smartphone, while Skype Meeting Broadcast creates virtual meetings for up to 10,000 attendees joining on myriad devices.
While most companies already contract with existing vendors for such services, Microsoft hopes to offer better pricing and a more familiar user interface as a lure for businesses to switch over.
“Our goal here is to modernize workplace communications, and help companies move off multiple systems and onto one where calls, video, charts and other content sharing are all possible regardless of the device you’re on,” says Zig Serafin, corporate vice president of Skype for Business. (Microsoft bought Skype, the free VOiP service, in 2011 for $8.5 billion).
Serafin says that personal communications have been overhauled many times over in the past few years by social media companies such as Snapchat and WhatsApp. But “there’s been little innovation on corporate telephone and audio conferencing systems front,” he says. “Much like how Apple with the iPhone thoughtfully reinvented the phone as something to use for browsing the web, getting mail, messaging friends and listening to music, we want to reinvent business communications.”
The new Microsoft system is anchored to its Azure Cloud, yet another way CEO Satya Nadella is reimagining his tech company as a mobile- and cloud-first enterprise. Some 4,000 companies have been beta-testing the system, ranging from Kraft and Heinz (which merged earlier this year, and were using two different communications systems) to a prominent Turkish bank (which has saved $700,000 in travel costs by trading business trips for conference calls and videos).
“Modernizing the workplace is a high priority, as large companies everywhere feel they want to be close to their people and their customers,” says Susan Hauser, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Enterprise and Partner Group. “Seeing people allows you to read their body language, and often eliminates the need for costly travel. And as more people work from home, a company’s communications system has to offer flexibility and mobility.”
Date: November 30, 2015