Skype good enough for business?

commentary Has Skype reached the point where it can be used as a replacement telephony solution for businesses?That's the question that sprang to mind when your writer read this article, penned by journalist Angus Kidman, reporting for ZDNet Australia from San Francisco.

commentary Has Skype reached the point where it can be used as a replacement telephony solution for businesses?

Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
That's the question that sprang to mind when your writer read this article, penned by journalist Angus Kidman, reporting for ZDNet Australia from San Francisco.

Kidman was in the land of the free last week attending a conference held by on-demand CRM vendor Salesforce.com.

Although Skype is typically considered a consumer-grade Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solution, the eBay subsidiary also had some staff at the conference plugging a new version of its plugin software that allows calls to be made directly from Salesforce.com to contacts with Skype addresses.

"Since it was acquired by eBay in October [2005] for US$2.6 billion, Skype has increasingly sought to emphasise its potential for business users," Kidman wrote.

My colleague was completely correct -- even a quick look at Skype's Web site will back up the VoIP vendor's interest in the business market. Like any good business technology vendor, Skype even had case studies of users on its site, including videos of happy customers. US-based fruit company owner Jerald Downs says:

"I run my own produce export company, Premier Pac, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We specialise in the distribution of berries, table grapes, asparagus, cherries, and avocados to the US and Canada. We export from Mexico, Chile and Argentina."

"In the past all my business was done by e-mail. Now I use Skype a lot to keep in touch with my growers -- it increases the lucidity and trust between us and it's clearer than any landline."

Downs says he also uses Skype from wireless hot spots in Chile when he visits his growers down South.

Now the economics of calling between Skype-enabled businesses is hard to ignore for Australian companies -- after all there's no price better than free. And with the Australian launch of SkypeIn in April (a service giving Skype users a normal telephone number that can be dialled from any phone), the case for businesses to experiment with a service like Skype is growing.

However it's impossible to forget about the other side of the coin -- every technology has its down side.

The problem with VoIP technology -- even enterprise-grade hardware provided by vendors like Cisco or Avaya -- is that it's only as good as the data network that it runs on.

Your writer makes hundreds of calls to businesses each week, and it's often easy to tell when the receiving party is using a VoIP solution. By now we're all familiar with the clicks, whistles, gaps and general bad sound quality that poorly implemented VoIP systems can generate.

Often your writer has been forced to halt an interview halfway through with the simple request -- "can you call back from another line?"

The moral of this story is that Skype is definitely worth investigating as an additional or replacement telephony option for your business. But make sure you trial the technology extensively first and know what you're getting into.

Do you use Skype or another VoIP solution in your business? More hassle than it's worth or a great way to cut costs? Drop me a line at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au or post some comments below this article.

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