Microsoft Targets Office Phones with Skype for Business Upgrades

With the latest Skype for Business upgrades Microsoft borrows features found in sophisticated office phone systems for its cloud-based communications platform.

Microsoft Skype for Business, Macs

Microsoft is making every effort to turn its Skype for Business enterprise video and voice communications software platform into a replacement for the office phone.

During the Enterprise Connect unified communications (UC) conference in Orlando, Fla. on Monday, the company announced several new updates and enhancements that support complex call management functions.

"This week, we're releasing Auto Attendant and Call Queues, two new advanced calling features in Skype for Business Cloud PBX," said Ron Markezich, corporate vice president for Office 365 Marketing at Microsoft, in a March 27 announcement.

Skype for Business Cloud PBX encompasses a suite of advanced private branch exchange (PBX) capabilities typically used in office environments and call centers. In the summer of 2015, the company took a major step in challenging traditional business phone systems with the addition of public switched telephone network (PSTN) calling support.

"Auto Attendant provides an automated system to answer and route inbound calls using dial pad inputs and speech recognition," continued Markezich. "Call Queues enable incoming calls to be routed to the next available live attendant in the order they are received."

For customers seeking more visibility into their calling activity for support purposes, Microsoft also announced a Skype for Business Online Call Analytics preview. Appearing as a new dashboard within the Office 365 administration console, it offers users insights into problems that may affect users' ability to conduct calls, like network or headset issues.

Microsoft is also tightening security on Skype for Business Online. New capabilities include certificate-based authentication, custom policies affecting mobile device use and client conferencing, as well as multi-factor authentication for PowerShell administration and management.

During the event, partner companies also introduced new services that integrate with Skype for Business.

Known for its SoundStation conference room speakerphones, Polycom introduced RealConnect for Office 365, a cloud-based service that links an organization's existing videoconferencing gear with Skype for Business Online.

Commercial audio, video and conferencing specialist Crestron introduced its SR for Skype Rooms System. Compatible with Crestron's audio-video and control systems, the integrated solution supports audio calls, high-definition video conferencing, content sharing and quick-join meeting features for remote attendees.

Unified communications management vendor IR added support for Microsoft Skype for Business Online to its Prognosis for UC product. IR Prognosis for UC is used by businesses and contact centers to monitor the performance of their communications environments and troubleshoot issues that may affect call quality and the overall user experience. It can be used to manage multi-vendor environments that include solutions from Cisco and Avaya.

A poor or inconsistent UC experience can stymie user adoption and slow down an organization's digital transformation efforts, asserted Kevin Ryder, chief marketing officer at IR, in a statement. "Ensuring end-to-end visibility across an entire UC ecosystem is critical and by extending Prognosis capabilities into Skype for Business Online, our customers gain valuable insights to identify and remediate issues quickly regardless if they exist on-premises or in the cloud."

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...