If you haven’t taken a look yet at Skype for Business , it’s well worth reviewing for your organization’s needs.
In April of 2015, Microsoft’s popular business communications platform Lync was rebranded as Skype for Business, with a new user interface and features based on the wildly popular Skype experience for consumers.
Skype for Business is specifically optimized for use by businesses of all sizes, including small businesses. And Microsoft has been enhancing the existing Skype for Business experience , with additional innovation plans in the works. It now offers business users some distinct benefits that Skype for consumers does not have.
Skype: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going
To understand Skype for Business and the potential for your business, it’s important to understand a little of the product’s history. . .and the vision for where it’s going.
The Skype for consumer version has been around for more than a decade. The popular video calling and messaging app now generates over 50 billion minutes of traffic per month, Microsoft reports . That’s a lot of brand equity to leverage.
Microsoft purchased Skype in 2011. While the app continued to grow in popularity post acquisition, including among small businesses, Skype wasn’t optimized for business use. It was designed originally for use by individuals. Business-specific features were few and far between — until now.
Under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, who took the helm of Microsoft in 2014, we’re starting to see the vision for Skype as a business tool.
Essentially, Skype for Business is a “marriage” of the Skype user experience with enterprise features of Lync.
“And now, we’re bringing it all together — the familiar experience of Skype that people have come to know and love, with the trusted platform in Lync that businesses around the world count on,” Zig Serafin, corporate vice president for Skype for Business, noted in an April launch announcement.
What’s the advantage to small businesses of combining the two products into Skype for Business?
First, Microsoft has a proven communications platform in Lync, with features created specifically for business use. Over 100 million professionals already used Lync at the time the transition began.
Second, small business users who are familiar with Skype, don’t have to learn an entirely new interface. When it comes to introducing Skype for Business to your employees, who sometimes are intimidated by having to learn a new software application, this familiarity can be an advantage.
According to Microsoft officials, the Skype for Business product we see today is just the beginning. We can expect more product enhancement over time.
Difference Between Skype and “Skype for Business”
Skype for Business offers several features and product advantages over Skype for consumers, but here are the three main differences that the majority of small businesses will be most interested in:
1) Administrator role with differentiated permission levels
Skype for Business is designed for use by a company, versus the individual. It includes an administrator role. The administrator can assign permissions, such as who has access to which features.
For example, small businesses could limit the ability to make international calls. Jamie Stark, product manager for Skype, told Small Business Trends, “Salespeople might have permission to call international numbers,” Stark said. “Support people don’t need this capability. The admin can control this.”
There’s also the ability to record calls in Skype, and, says Stark, “One of the handy things is you get this ability of role playing.” The admin can assign who has rights to access the recorded discussion, as well as who can rewind and fast forward.
If a person leaves the company, the administrator can deny access. This gives you greater security over your confidential and sensitive company communications.
Skype for Business allows the admin to verify who is using the program’s features. That way, you can be sure you’re maximizing the benefits of your investment. “Especially in the case of small businesses, you want to make sure if you license [Skype for Business] that your employees use it. This allows you to do that” by monitoring, via Outlook, who is using it and who is not, added Stark.
2) Larger conference calls and meetings
Skype for Business allows up to 250 people on a single meeting or conference call. This makes it better for one-to-many presentations such as webinars, as well as full company meetings where you have more than 25 people. Skype for consumers is limited to 25 people on the meeting or call at one time.
These meetings can include people who are not on Skype for Business, as long as they can access a phone or internet connection. Additional charges may apply for dialing in.
3) Deeper Integration with Outlook and Office 365
Skype for consumers offers a free Outlook.com plugin  that gives you limited integration with Outlook. From within your Outlook inbox, you can send a Skype instant message, start a free Skype-to-Skype call, or call a mobile or landline. The integration also features a contact’s online status, contact information and mood message on Outlook contact cards.
Skype for Business is more deeply integrated with Outlook and Office 365 , Microsoft’s cloud productivity suite, which includes the core Office apps like Word, PowerPoint and Excel, as well as email, cloud storage, and other collaboration tools. This makes it easy to send an IM or start a voice or video call from directly within a Word or PowerPoint document, for example.
Skype for Business can display each employee’s availability, such as if they’re free, busy, in a meeting or offline. According to Stark, “Right next to their name in Outlook I see whether they are participating or are out of the office. If I have a question for someone in engineering, I can see if they are out of the office. If I need an answer now, I can go into Skype for Business and see if anyone in engineering is involved in a meeting and ask the question if I don’t want to wait until the other person returns.”
Skype for Business meetings can be scheduled within Outlook, and launched instantly with one click.
You can present documents, share your screen and even grant permission for someone else to remotely control your desktop from within Skype for Business — and do much more, depending on which Skype for Business plan you choose.
Also, Microsoft rolled out iOS and Windows Phone apps for Skype for Business  with the Android app coming before end of the year. So Skype for Business can be used by just about any kind of mobile device.
Who Should Adopt Skype for Business
The Skype landscape for business users can be a bit confusing at first glance, so let’s break it down for you.
There are really three different levels of Skype currently.
There’s the Skype for consumer version — plus three ways to get Skype for Business.
With the free Skype for consumer version, you can make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls. You can receive and make calls to mobile and landline numbers (for an added fee). You can hold conferences with up to 25 people at one time. You can do video or voice calls, or text chat. Sharing screens is easy, as is sending files through Skype — and much more.
Very small businesses that use Skype sporadically or for limited purposes may want to stick with Skype for consumer experience now.
While Skype and Skype for Business are two different products, you can call anyone with a Skype ID from within Skype for Business.
The small businesses that should seriously consider using Skype for Business are those looking to drive internal efficiencies through deeper integration with Office 365, or those wanting more control and security over their company communications, or those looking to hold larger meetings with more than 25 participants or with more advanced capabilities that enable webinars or large group presentations.
For those looking to upgrade, here the different ways to buy Skype for Business:
First, there’s Skype for Business Plan 1, at $2 per user per month. This gives some basic features.
There’s also Skype for Business Plan 2, for $5.50 per user per month. For that modest extra monthly fee, you get many more features and benefits, including the ability to record video and audio, and the ability to transfer files in IM.
Or you can buy Skype for Business as part of an Office 365 plans for small businesses – Office 365 Business Essentials at $5.00 per user per month, or Office 365 Business Premium at $12.50 per user per month. Both give you Skype for Business as well as the broader Office suite so you can get the value of having Skype integrated with Office.
Finally, there’s Skype for Business Server which is mostly likely to be used by larger organizations.
Apparel Designer Uncovers Key Mobile Benefits
So, who’s using Skype for Business?
Dakine, a sports apparel designer, found Skype for Business’s mobile options to be a major asset for the company, as noted on Microsoft’s Customer Story site.
With one-third of its employees usually out of the office, visiting any of the thousands of retailers that sell its products, for example, Skype for Business is a great way for everyone to keep in touch.
“We leverage the video and audio conferencing tools of Skype for Business to better collaborate and stay in real-time contact with our teams around the world,” said Nic Richards, the company’s IT Manager.