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On Skype-Lync Tenterhooks

September 11, 2012

Since I spend so much of my time thinking about federation, I have to say that I am sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the impending announcement from Microsoft on the integration of Skype with their product set and, in particular, Lync.  In a recent post I highlighted Lync as one of the two leading UC products and the news last year that Microsoft was purchasing Skype was probably the biggest announcement related to UC federation since Cisco (the other UC leader) announced their Intercompany Media Engine federation solution in 2010.

The Office 2013 announcements to date have highlighted the integration of Skype features with the Office suite, particularly Outlook.  While that is a useful feature and would greatly facilitate communications between individuals, IMHO it doesn’t do enough to integrate with enterprise communications.

The great thing about UC is that there is a single address for all modalities for a given business contact.  By adding to your contact list, you can see if I am busy, away, on the phone, in a meeting, etc. and, if both you and I deem it appropriate, you can invite me to a call or IM chat and I will be able to accept that invitation on the device of my choosing.  If we are in the same company, this feature is a native part of the UC feature set.  If we are in different companies but both use the same UC system (currently only supported for multi-media by Cisco and Microsoft), this feature is enabled by the UC vendor’s federation feature.  If we are in different companies and use different UC systems, your only hope is NextPlane…!

The problem with a simple Skype integration with Office is that this would be a b2b, b2c or c2c solution (where b=small business and c=consumer) but not a B2b or B2c solution (where B=large business/enterprise).  For enterprises that have already deployed a UC system, this introduces yet another UC technology and namespace (i.e. a list of unique user aliases) into the business communications mix.  If someone who is also a Lync user hasn’t launched their Skype client, then they will be unreachable from the Skype namespace.  So what is required, and what I have yet to hear details about, is how a Lync user can integrate Skype users into their Lync contact list and vice versa (aka Skype-Lync federation).  Clearly this would drive a lot of businesses to choose Lync over competing products that have no access to free ‘public cloud multimedia communications’.

So, I fully expect to hear in the next few weeks or so more details about the Skype-Lync federation feature.  However, there are some potential pit-falls there for Microsoft, which is maybe why they are being so reticent.  The main issue will be the extent to which they close or open access to the Skype network to other UC systems (including NextPlane).  Last February, Cisco petitioned the EU court to overturn their approval of the Microsoft acquisition of Skype.  I can’t imagine why it took Cisco nearly a year to understand the value of Skype integration for the Microsoft product set.  However, if Microsoft can restrict access to Skype from only within its own applications, then that will be a set-back for the cause of global UC.

Any experience of or publicity for UC Federation among the general population is going to be a good thing because I believe that a rising tide will lift all boats.  Clearly there is a lot at stake here – which is why I am sitting on the edge of my seat.

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