Skype going after more business users

Skype and 3's Skypephone

Skype is more than just a consumer service, and the company is trying hard to promote its business credentials.

Following eBay's acquisition of Skype for $2.6 billion (1.3 billion) in 2005 and an embarrassing write-down of $900 million (450 million) on its investment last year, many have been left wondering where the growth in Skype's revenue would come from.

Far from continuing as a consumer-focused operation, Skype has been busy expanding the capabilities of its product, as well as signing up numerous partners to integrate its combined instant messaging, audio and video communications software with other devices and platforms.

As well as sanctioning the development of a Symbian version of the Skype client for mobile phones, the company has worked with mobile operator 3 to release the Skypephone, a bespoke mobile phone with Skype client that was a surprise hit last Christmas thanks to its low price tag and good-looking design. The two companies are now taking that consumer experience and that phone into the enterprise with the announcement that Skype support will be added to a number of 3 business price plans.

Skype is also working with a number of partners to develop integration solutions for existing phone systems, as well as adding basic PBX-like functionality to the main product to allow calls to be transferred between Skype users and to support 25-way conference calls.

This, plus the availability of a business dashboard to centrally manage Skype users and their spending makes for a tempting proposition for any company looking to cut call costs and mobilise their staff.

"Around 30 per cent of our customers use Skype for business, an 62 per cent of them use it for customer facing communications," Ian Robin, Skype Business director told IT PRO

The Skype Business Control Panel allows the IT department to monitor use, allocate Skype call credit and create calling groups. Inbound numbers can also be assigned to individual users from the control panel, and recycled as people leave or move within the business.

The company is also pushing the web integration abilities of Skype as a means to improve lead generation from web pages. By including a Skype Call Me' button on a page, you can not only steer incoming calls into the business via a free IP-based Skype-to-Skype call, but also steer calls to specific departments and users based on what page the call was initiated from.

Video conferencing at the desktop has so far failed to take off in any great way, despite several attempts by both software and hardware vendors to push the technology. However, with most modern laptops featuring built-in webcams that produce good images and widespread availability of good, cheap broadband, video calling is finally viable, something which Skype is trying to capitalise on as an options for time and cost-conscious business users.

"Skype has been critical to the success of our business, allowing us to pull together a workforce that is spread around the world, as well as deliver a high quality of service to customers," said Karen Hollands, a director of language tuition service Toniks.

The company is a heavy business user of Skype, using the service as both an internal communications tool between management and tutors based around the world, as well as a delivery platform for tuition to paying customers. Language students talk to their tutor and receive lessons via a Skype video call, making use of both the audio comms capability as well as improvements in webcam technology to deliver decent video.

The remote worker role for Skype was echoed by Emma Jones, a director of home business website Enterprise Nation and a best-selling author on running a small business from home.

"We've used Skype not only for keeping in contact with employees who are also working at home or in remote locations, but we even use it for recording podcasts" said Jones.

Whether this will be enough to establish Skype in the enterprise remains to be seen. For now, the company has modest expectations for its business push.

"Of course Skype has a role to play inside large enterprises," said Robin. "For now though our main business user focus is on remote workers and workgroup communications".