Skype: Ready for business (Part two…)?

Serious business: UC Expo is becoming Europe's most credible unified communications show.

In a recent post, I speculated as to whether Skype were preparing to make a serious play in the unified communications space, following their appointment of David Gurle, the former main man in Microsoft’s unified communications group, as the head of their Skype for Business team. It looks like we are going to get an answer sooner than many would have anticipated, as Mike England has now confirmed that David Gurle has agreed to be a keynote speaker at UC Expo in London on March 11th.

This is a real coup for Mike and the UC Expo team, who are really beginning to craft what was previously a fairly SME-focused VoIP show into the most serious and credible unified communications event in Europe. More importantly though, the mere fact that David Gurle is taking time out of his busy schedule to address a show explicitly and exclusively dedicated to unified communications appears to be a statement of intent. There is no good reason for him to do that (I believe that he is based in Singapore, so it’s hardly his own back yard…), other than to use the opportunity to lay out Skype’s approach to the unified communications market.

Given the many niche efforts that Skype have made to enter the business market over the past few years, it will be interesting to hear David lay out Skype’s new strategy. In particular, I guess that potential customers, partners and competitors will be interested in three main areas:

  • Whether Skype are really committed to the business market? David obviously isn’t going to say that Skype aren’t up for the fight, but how far does their commitment extend? Buyers will be looking for proof that Skype understand the extent to which business users need developments that differ from the standard consumer offering. API definition has been mentioned as one of the areas where Skype could do more, but business users have far wider (and often more basic) requirements. Are Skype prepared to make that commitment?
  • Will they partner with other vendors or go it alone? Skype has a ready-made possible partner in its corporate cousin Avaya. My view is that Skype probably can’t go it alone at this stage for anything beyond the simplest requirements and smaller customers, but it will be interesting to see to what extent the major vendors are prepared to embrace them, given past experiences in partnerships with Microsoft – who eventually went from partner to rival for many of them… Maybe the answer will involve more Skype-driven cooperations with smaller partners.
  • Will they change their go-to-market approach? Will Skype seek to be a market disruptor and follow a Salesforce.com type model of direct sales (via the web, obviously), or will they look to attract more partners and channels to provide more complex solutions that require integration of Skype into other platforms? How Skype go to market will also significantly influence the kind of service that customers could expect (and whether they are viewed as a friend or foe for the traditional UC channel).

Whether or not David will address these issues is questionable: he has only been in the job a few months. But whatever happens on March 11th, it will be fascinating to follow the movements of yet another high profile potential entrant into the unified communications space.

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