In the past decade, global communication has gone from something once just dreamed about to an everyday reality. With the conception of Skype in 2003, internet-based telephony became an expectation in many households and, with Skype bringing us together in our personal lives, it was natural that a business incarnation would follow suit. It was Microsoft’s purchase of Skype in May 2011 which brought life to Skype for Business.
Video-enabled communication has given rise to a culture of collaboration. Countries and people who may have never had the chance to speak, have the ability now to do so in a meaningful and innovative way. Skype, and later Skype for Business, became the benchmark for global correspondence. But did we love Skype because we as a society were waiting for it to happen? Or did we only realise what we were missing once the option was there?
Who, Where and When?
Skype was first conceived by a group of Swedish and Estonian developers, who had previously developed the backend system for music sharing site Kazaa. Using a similar framework, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis’ platform gave international scope to telephony, for free.
After changes in ownership, including a purchase by eBay, Skype became part of the Microsoft canon following an $8.5billion takeover. It was then announced that Microsoft’s corporate-purpose instant messenger and server, Lync, would combine with Skype for a vastly enhanced business communication tool. What this did for businesses was encourage collaboration where it perhaps was not considered previously. It had worked so well in our personal lives that it seemed a natural step to take in our working lives too.
Skype for Business and the Skype for Business Server create an infrastructure for enterprise instant messaging, VoIP and, of course, video conferencing. The simplicity of the interface and its already prevalent use outside the office made Skype for Business one of the frontrunners for video-enabled meetings. Skype for Business didn’t just provide a new concept for communication in a technical sense, it also played a part in turning disparate employees into productive teams.
For many, it was a shock to find out that Microsoft was purchasing a company that made little to no revenue. However, it was potentially the foresight of knowing where gaps in market lay that led to businesses to re-evaluate their current conferencing capabilities. Whereas previous incantations of video conferencing software often charged users while they suffered with latency and poor quality, Skype and then Skype for Business changed the game completely. Microsoft saw the drawbacks of their own product, and the simplicity with which people adopted the Skype infrastructure, and brought the two together.
A recognisable interface meets a dedicated workflow halfway, allowing employees at all levels to embrace collaboration in a way they are more than familiar with from their own lives. Employees no longer need to focus on the technical aspects of video conferencing, and more on the actual work. It may be that ever-present threat of pitfalls, such as accidental disconnects and other attendees not being able to join, destroys the presenter’s confidence before the call even begins. This, in turn, can affect their articulacy and poise. The Skype for Business interface is comfortable, and this in itself makes it a less frightening platform to use regularly.
Despite the vast array of programs that offer a similar experience, the uptake of Skype for Business has been gargantuan. One of the main reasons is that Skype offered integration with programs that were already being used frequently. This meant that the way businesses already worked could be enhanced, rather than starting from scratch and risking a dip in productivity. In answer to the earlier question of whether we wanted this method or whether we adopted it because it was there – it appears as though the answer to both is yes.
The workplace environment back in 2006, when Skype first added video calling, was on its way to embracing new technology and a new personality of employee. Companies were longing for a way to bring internet-based video conferencing to a global pool. However, it was a lack of functionality and trust in what was on offer that led many to believe it was a waste. Businesses believed their option was spending a great deal of money on video conferencing suites and software that may work internally, but not externally. At this time, Skype was still very much a social tool aimed at bringing families and friends together for free and with ease. Microsoft’s purchase brought together the professionalism and trust companies already had in Lync with the usability and functionality of Skype, thus turning a social tool into one that could be used at work.
Features added for Skype for Business include a new, crisper look, integration with the Skype directory, a call monitor for simple movement between windows or documents, and the same quick access to call controls that was present with Lync. The amalgamation of classic Skype features with the professional aspects of Lync have bred a program that can be a valuable tool for enterprises to better understand their immediate colleagues, and the potential to communicate globally and enhance the way in which business is conducted.
The workplace has changed immeasurably in recent years, and there are many reasons this could be. Whilst Skype has had an effect on how business is conducted, it is the new personality of the workforce that has perhaps encouraged more widespread adoption. We continue to discuss this further in the next blog in the series, Skype for Business and the Office of 2016.
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