Skype Technologies SA is to announce its first product aimed squarely at the business market.
The application, called Skype Groups, targets SMEs that seek to centralize the management of pre-paid Skype services among employees and third parties, such as suppliers and customers.
A big thing people in business kept asking us… was to provision premium services from a central management consol to multiple people, said Saul Klein, VP of marketing. We think that there is a huge market out there with these micro and small enterprises.
Skype Groups is a software dashboard that enables an IT administrator to make a single large credit purchase from Skype and then distribute credits to an unlimited number of callers. The administrator can manage Skype credit transfers and provisioning of services. The administrator can also add and remove users, bringing its suppliers and customers into the system. This is not just a closed PBX universe, Klein said.
The administrator also can purchase Skype-In numbers, which enable traditional telephony and cell phone users to dial into. A company can purchase Skype-In numbers with local area codes in different regions so its customers are charged for a local call, Klein said. In effect, your phone number can be a gateway to a virtual office. The administrator also would provision Skype-In numbers.
Skype Groups also has a multi-chat feature, in response to its research that showed more than 62% of business users created Skype group chats. Essentially, this is an ad hoc group in which invitees can create IM sessions or share documents online. Think of them as virtual water coolers, Klein said.
Three CRM companies are working to integrate Skype Groups’ functionality into their systems, including Salesforce.com and Columbus CRM, Klein said.
Skype Groups is a pay-as-you-go service. People hate to be locked into monthly and annual contracts, Klein said. I think we’re seeing a rebellion against customer packages.
Currently, nearly 30% of the 61 million users that have registered with Skype use the service for business, Klein said. The company is seeing about 170,000 new registered users per day, in 225 countries and territories, he added.
A Skype application for larger enterprises is not currently on Skype’s short-term radar, Klein said.
While Klein downplayed the company’s targeting of the business market, reiterating that Skype Groups was borne in response to customer demand, Skype recently quietly released its first third-party security review of its technology. The review of Skype’s encryption technology, in particular, was favorable. The overall positive report identified two weaknesses that may have resulted in a denial of services attack, but Skype said it already had corrected both issues.
The white paper comes at a time of growing scrutiny of IP telephony’s security, a key sticking point for enterprise adoption.
Klein said the company also is working on but not necessarily with businesses in mind on beefed-up security for Skype calls that connect with traditional telephony systems, known as Skype Out and Skype In.
Skype also recently launched a toolbar for Microsoft Outlook that enables users to initiate calls or IM chats from Outlook contacts, e-mails and meetings.
Skype PC-to-PC calls are free, while in- and out-bound calls to traditional and mobile phones costs vary by region (Skype charges 2 cents per minute for overseas calls to traditional phones in about 25 countries.)
The $2.6bn purchase of Skype by online marketplace eBay Inc had absolutely nothing to do with the development or launch of Skype Groups or its beta testing, Klein said. Skype is an independent business within the eBay family, with an independent brand, he said.
At some future point, however, Klein said Skype may look to use eBay and its PayPal subsidiary as a marketing vehicle for Skype Groups.
We see a massive opportunity with eBay and with PayPal, who both reach out on a global basis to the SME market, to really sort of promote these Skype Group services to those markets, Klein said.
Skype Groups had been in beta with roughly 2,000 companies for the past month or so. Of those beta users, about 16% were US-based, Klein said.