Skype Tackles Business Market

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, Skype chief strategy officer Christopher Dean will deliver a joint keynote address to both the VON Conference & Expo and the Channel Partners audiences. VON editor Richard Martin caught up with Dean, via e-mail, to preview his speech and discuss the industry landscape heading into VON.

VON: What made you decide to speak at VON? Can you comment on where you see the industry (advanced IP services including VoIP) at this point, and what needs to happen to move the industry forward in the next 6-12 months?

Christopher Dean: The VON Conference has always been where major shifts in the telecommunications industry have appeared first. Over the years, Skype has played a very active role at the VON conferences, and this year will be no different.

The telecommunications industry worldwide is at an important inflection point, especially with regards to the adoption of voice over IP technology by businesses. More and more companies are looking to VoIP and there are a number of reasons for this.

First, the economy has forced many organizations to finally realize that they can save money by switching to VoIP. But even more importantly, they are increasingly trying to leverage this technology to enhance collaboration among their employees, business partners and customers. One good example is the increasing use of audio conferencing and screen sharing to enable parties in multiple locations to work together on projects.

We hear this all the time at Skype, as companies are looking for ways to save time, become more nimble in business and to break down communications barriers, be these time- or location-based. This really demonstrates the global economy that we’ve become.

VON: Where is Skype in terms of its efforts in approaching the business market? What has the company been able to achieve in the last 12 months, and what do you hope to achieve in terms of enterprise-grade services in the next 12?

CD: Skype sees rapid adoption in the SMB space. It has also seen adoption “within” the large enterprise, but not always “by” the enterprise as a corporate-wide strategy. This is changing, especially due to the current state of the economy, as large companies are increasingly looking to reduce their costs.

For example, in a Skype user study of 4,000 users in the US, UK and China conducted in March 2008, approximately 35 percent of respondents said they were using Skype for business purposes. The feedback we received from business users was that cost and time savings, simplicity and increased productivity have made Skype a great business communications tool. This same survey showed that:

  • Ninety-five percent of respondents were saving money with Skype; over a third of these users cut their phone bills by more than half;
  • Almost 80 percent had seen an increase in productivity and were working closer with their co-workers as a result of using Skype;
  • Over 70 percent of business travelers use Skype to stay in touch with work colleagues friends and family while on the road; and
  • Sixty-two percent were using Skype to better communicate with customers.

But the amazing thing is that all this was achieved without a formalized approach to delivering Skype to business users. Over the last 12 months, we’ve taken steps to change this so that we can be more engaged with this type of user. To this end, we have set up the foundation for an organization to sell and support companies using Skype in their business. We have defined the “Skype for Business” sub-brand and are working to give business users the tools they need to manage and support Skype across their organization’s network. Two examples of this are the Skype Business Control Panel, a Web-based portal that allows businesses to manage, administrate and report on its use of Skype, as well as the Administrators Guide to Skype, which we’ve recently refreshed.

Furthermore, we’ve introduced Skype for Asterisk together with Digium, so that those businesses already using an Asterisk-based phone system can save money by adding Skype as a complementary form of communications. And we’ve launched Skype for SIP in Beta so that companies can direct outbound calls from their SIP-enabled PBXs via Skype, while also receiving inbound voice calls from the more than 400 million registered Skype users around the world.

VON: What’s the key message you plan to deliver at VON?

CD: There are a lot of trends occurring right now which are impacting companies in the telecoms and IT sectors. And these are creating lots of opportunities for companies like Skype, as well as for those smart businesses that are watching the trends and figuring out ways to make them work for them.

Some of these trends which I’ll be highlighting in my keynote relate to the spread of smartphones and broadband, the deployment of 4G wireless networks, the growing opportunities of mobile VoIP and fixed mobile convergence, as well as the increasing interest by businesses in unified communications and cloud computing. I’ll also be looking at the ever-changing regulatory environments around the world in which both wireline and wireless service providers are operating.

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