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Microsoft turned a few heads when they purchased Skype in October 2011. It was however a move that made plenty of sense as the globally renowned communications tool was considerably more mature than any comparable Microsoft product at the time. Several years later, the world has been introduced to Skype for Business.

For those that aren’t familiar with the “Business” version of Skype, it bulks up the features of ‘consumer’ Skype to Enterprise level. The most important ‘at a glance’ features include:

  • Increasing the maximum headcount from 25 to 250 for audio / visual calls
  • Integration with AD and Outlook for easier management and selection of calls
  • Easier securing and management of accounts

There is more to the Skype for Business than this however, and in today’s post we’re going to explore some of the recent announcements (such as broadcasting meetings, pre-loaded meeting attachments and in-call co-authoring) and how they might be of use to in the enterprise context.

Pre-loaded meeting attachments & co-authoring

Have you ever, at any point, had to endure the frustration of wasting blocks of time at the start of a call making sure that everyone had the same attachments or files? Theoretically this should a simple procedure but in practice can often become very frustrating.

Skype for Business has greater integration with the rest of the Office 365 experience built into its core, and this includes OneDrive. It will now be possible to store all call-related files within an appropriately permissioned section within OneDrive. The updated Skype for Business app UI means that both presentable files and relevant attachments can be managed, shared, saved and uploaded all to the one area.

The benefits here should be immediately clear. Not only does this allow the call organizer more power in arranging their conferences, they’ll no longer fear losing time to errant file distribution.  On its own, this is simple but powerful. We feel that when this is coupled with the co-authoring capabilities that are going to be added to Office 2016 desktop applications (multiple editors with full visibility of each other’s movements) workers will be afforded a great deal of freedom and flexibility in how they prepare and manage their documents.

Broadcast Meetings

It’s worth pointing out that Skype for Business also ships as a server-side product. It’s the successor to Microsoft’s Lync product and has many of the same features. One addition to note however, is the new ability to broadcast meetings.  Skype for Business now allows a meeting to be broadcast to an audience of 250-1000 (as per the licensed headcount and server load) or upwards to 10,000 when streamed in a specifically reserved Office 365 area. The underlying technology here is Azure’s Content Distribution network and Azure Media Services.

Any link that you want to distribute can be limited to anyone on the tenant, anyone at all or a small list of specifically invited people. Furthermore, this video content can be consumed on pretty much any device, including smartphones and iPads. As the Azure media services are the point of distribution, other content such as PowerPoint decks can also be distributed. Lastly, other services like Yammer and Bing can be wrapped up in the live broadcast.

Once the session has finished, a fully recorded video will be available for addition to the Office 365 video portal with a collection of statistics. This is a powerful and impressive set of ‘inter-app’ features that should help remove the burden of trying to arrange and distribute events such as town halls, quarterly updates and so forth.

 A new era for apps?

The addition of Skype for Business to Office 365 experiences promises great things for business users when they eventually arrive. As with most Microsoft tools however, they do take some time to get ready for deployment.

To truly experience a contextually-integrated user experience between all the Office 365 toosk, you need Mobile. By linking the various Office 365 components into one holistic experience, Mobile users realize the most cutting edge and streamlined collaboration experience, with the Microsoft tools they already own.

David Lavenda
Chief Product Officer