Unified communications (UC) federation is not a novel idea. Users want it, and vendors have been slowly making strides towards deeper UC integration and interoperability of their products for years.
Microsoft is pushing UC federation forward, unveiling new Office 2013 integration. Microsoft Lync -- an enterprise-grade UC tool for IM, presence, voice and video -- will now connect with users on Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk and AOL Instant Messenger.
And what about Skype? The company has remained tight-lipped about Skype's exact role in Office 2013, but the video conferencing application acquired by Microsoft last year will be federated with Lync eventually. Users will be able to connect with Skype contacts via voice and IMs, and share presence status.
"Integrating Skype across the Microsoft portfolio is an ambitious effort and a long-term investment, and we think these integration steps are exciting," Microsoft said in an email response, noting that business users will also be able to video chat via Skype in future Lync releases.
Enterprises believe UC federation is essential to making UC tools easier to use. They want to give users the ability to swiftly communicate and collaborate with outside business partners and clients without a variety of logins to bypass, and hoops to jump through. UC federation is a way of getting there.
Microsoft UC federation strategy: Skype now included
Skype's integration with Lync was an expected move on Microsoft's part and will be similar to the IBM Lotus Notes and LinkedIn integration -- a plug-in connecting the two applications that allows LinkedIn contact information to be pulled into Lotus Notes, according to Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc.
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"[Users] will be able to see someone's Skype information if they are in their Lync address book, and then be able to click-to-call that user," he said. This basic functionality will be a "starting point" for further Skype integration into the Microsoft portfolio, he added.
While Skype was originally perceived as a potential threat to enterprise security, the application is moving away from its consumer tool roots and has become increasingly accepted as a business-conferencing tool -- especially for smaller companies. Yet even larger enterprises are embracing it.
By federating Skype with Lync or any other internal IM client, enterprises could impose controls for tracking communication among users. Regulated companies could gain better visibility into user communication and even be able to block certain transfers of data and files, Lazar said.
"Everyone has a Skype account today, so for a company that wants to collaborate both internally and externally, Skype is really the de facto standard for communication right now," Lazar said.
Can further Skype integrations give UC federation a boost?
While UC vendors have been working toward interoperability with one another, interoperability with Skype has been slow to materialize, said Melanie Turek, vice president of research at Frost & Sullivan Inc. And yet, Skype is much more accessible to users.
"Users don't have to get permission from IT to use Skype," she said, noting that many enterprise users are turning to Skype to get their work done. The more Skype can be integrated into existing UC tools sanctioned by IT like Microsoft Office and Lync, the better, she said.
Turek predicts more interesting Skype uses and further integrations of the application into the Microsoft portfolio -- both in enterprise and consumer products.
"Microsoft now owns arguably the largest IM client in the world," she said. "[Skype] has a huge footprint in the universe and it really includes everyone. Any Skype integration will be very valuable for enterprise users," she said.