Cloud, consumers give Skype enterprise boost

Cloud computing revolution and consumers driving IT adoption provide opportunity for VoIP player to shake off non-enterprise grade label, says Asia-Pacific exec.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

SINGAPORE--The cloud computing revolution and momentum consumers have driven toward technology adoption are helping consumer- or Web-based businesses such as Skype, earn "business-grade" accolades, according to a company executive.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia Thursday on the sidelines of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) SME Summit held here, Dan Neary, Skype's Asia-Pacific vice president and general manager, pointed out that consumer or online applications were in the past "judged as not being business grade".

"Today, what's fascinating is the Web has simply been rebranded as cloud computing," he noted. "And now suddenly it is not only business grade, it has become...secure enough that you trust [it with] your user information, confidential business aspects--you're trusting that to online applications."

Having spent most of its six years geared toward the consumer space with limited business interactions, Skype recently took steps to meet the needs of enterprise users, said Neary. It built configuration capabilities into its enterprise offering for IT managers, particularly to cater to various levels of security controls--for instance, the option to disable file sharing. Another area of enhancement was in the area of billing, providing unified credits for allocation to employees instead of having users file expense claims for their individual SkypeOut credits.

The company also supports SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), currently still in beta, which allows businesses to use their existing IP-based (Internet Protocol) phones to make Skype calls. The service, he noted, is compatible with products from Cisco Systems, Nortel and ShoreTel.

A Skype survey, which polled its users, found that 35 percent used the Internet telephony service for business-related purposes. While the company has attracted mainly small and midsize businesses (SMBs) attempting to keep overheads low, Neary noted that midsize and larger businesses tended to question Skype's compatibility with their existing telephony system or integrator. These enterprises also wanted to know what kind of customer support Skype was able to provide.

"That whole side of the equation is relatively new for us, and we're spending a lot of time in the beta period [for the SIP support] building that out," he said. "And currently, we're building up our customer service organization to better service the businesses."

User-driven IT
Another trend rolling in Skype's favor is enterprise ICT adoption driven by consumers, said Neary. There are now more tech-savvy individuals in SMEs and larger enterprises, and organizations increasingly need to move faster and save money to wrestle a competitive edge. Consumer-targeted applications are also getting more robust and geared toward enterprise use, he noted.

Dave Girouard, Google's president for enterprise, noted that there has been an increasing number of small businesses in Silicon Valley that have stopped buying corporate equipment such as PCs and phones.

A speaker at the APEC SME summit, Girouard explained that if he had to set up a company, he would pay his employees a sum of money every month so they can use their own computer and mobile phone for work. These user PCs would then be installed with the required applications, and tweaked to be compliant with corporate policies and regulations.

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