The on-premises version of Skype for Business (previously called Lync Server) is a fully functional enterprise-grade telephony replacement and VoIP product. The online version? Not so much.
But that is steadily changing with time. The recent E5 plan announcements introduced an Office 365 plan that includes Skype for Business features such as PSTN Conferencing, PSTN Calling, Skype Meeting Broadcast, and Cloud PBX, all of which help Skype for Business work more like -- or with -- an enterprise digital phone system.
Although welcome, these new features aren't enough for some users. They want to see even more in Skype for Business.
Microsoft is thus acquiring companies for technology to do exactly that. It recently acquired management and analytics reporting technology from Event Zero. For Microsoft, Event Zero’s technology plugs a gap in reporting and analytics for online audio, videoconferencing, and media streams -- and buying that technology means it'll take less time to bring the functionality to enterprise buyers.
Microsoft has also updated Outlook for iOS and Android to improve scheduling and group chat calls with the personal version of Skype; an update for Skype for Business is promised soon. Sadly, we’re not seeing the same efforts to improve Skype on Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform (the new name for Windows Phone).
Despite its cloud and mobile focus, Microsoft hasn’t completely given up on the on-premises telephony game. It recently released the Skype for Business Server 2015 (the upgrade to Lync Server 2013) with a variety of improvements.
For example, you can perform an in-place upgrade of your Lync Server to the new Skype Server, something we haven’t seen in the Exchange world for quite some time. This makes for an easier and more cost-effective deployment.
The new Skype server also has Control Panel improvements to better support hybrid configurations, especially for moving users between on-premises Skype and Skype for Business Online, to ease coexistence between the two.
Still, Skype for Business is not compelling enough to to drive enterprises to adopt Office 365 -- the value of Exchange Online is the key driver for Office 365 at most businesses. Still, as Skype for Business continues to improve, I can certainly see it being a solid second reason after Exchange (and ahead of SharePoint Online, which continues to trail behind SharePoint Server in terms of functionality) to adopt an Office 365 enterprise plan.
Two good reasons is better than one!