Microsoft intends to change the name of its Lync solution for real-time communications to Skype for Business sometime in the first half of 2015.
It’s a bit of surprise because:
Lync has enjoyed strong growth in sales and awareness
Customers seem to like Lync
It is already the third name of the product (LCS and OCS preceded it)
It’s a good name – short, simple, and its unique spelling makes it easy to search.
I’ve heard some negative reactions to the change. Many claim that it will confuse buyers because Skype is a free consumer app (and everyone knows consumer apps never get adopted in an enterprise). Skype is indeed a lower quality service than enterprise-grade Lync, but Microsoft isn’t replacing Lync with Skype – this is really more of a rebranding.
Will there be an entirely new client? Yes, just as there was between Lync 2010 and Lync 2013. I suppose the new client will be called Skype for Business 2015, but whatever name they choose – it will effectively be the next generation of what we know as Lync.
Despite these criticisms, I believe rebranding Lync was an ingenious move. For lots of reasons, but I will highlight three.
1. Customer Awareness and Understanding
When you explain Lync (or any UC app for that matter) to someone that still thinks ISDN is cool, it goes something like:
“You know Skype? It’s like that...but for business.”
That’s because people understand (and use) Skype. Microsoft claims 300 million “connected users” (which actually seems a bit low to me – same number for years). Regardless, Skype has a lot more users than Lync does.
The claim that a single brand will confuse users feels weak to me. There are plenty of brands that simultaneously sell both low-end and high-end products. Dell, Chevy, and Airlines to name a few. The brain of the buyer is able to discern things like different models and brands from a single vendor. I pity anyone stuck in the back of a UA plane – but I’m also envious of those traveling United’s International First. Skype and Skype for Business are two separate brands with different offerings.
Not to mention, Skype has the coveted colloquial verb status.
2. Leveraging the Skype Base
More significant than branding is the base. Microsoft will leverage the Skype installed base to strengthen its enterprise solution with B2C multi-modal communications.
In September 2013, Amazon grabbed headlines with its video-enabled customer engagement called Mayday. As much positive and justified attention that Amazon received from Mayday – the company had effectively just shot a fish in a barrel. This miraculous end-to-end video session was only supported on Kindles – a controlled device. Hardly rocket science.
Every contact center vendor said this Mayday-like engagement is the future, but it’s a lot harder when customers have a wide variety of devices that they own and control. There’s a lot of emerging ways to deliver video-capable interactions, including WebRTC. Skype may not have the sizzle of an IETF standard, but it does have a huge, global, installed user base that is interoperable with Lync (today).
Yes, Skype does requires a client, but Microsoft isn’t betting against the browser either. With the ORTC API for WebRTC, we may soon have a Microsoft- and Google-endorsed specification for WebRTC 1.1. This means browser-based communications sans plugin may soon be a reality on Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome… and probably Safari, too.
3. Lync aaS
In addition to B2C communications, there’s also this notable shift Microsoft is making from software vendor to service provider. Lync is primarily and inherently a product, but Skype is primarily and inherently a service. PSTN for Lync Online was previously announced for 2015 – and Skype happens to already offer PSTN near globally. Rather than have Lync Online with clumsy new PSTN services, Microsoft will leverage mature Skype branding as a global provider.
This turn of events creates a unique (and unproven) combination of an enterprise communications premises vendor, a hosted services provider, and a global telecoms provider. It’s a major shift for Microsoft, but consistent with its recent moves that are prioritizing cloud services across the portfolio – Azure, XBox, and Office 365.
This also represents a new twist on consumerization of the enterprise. Rather than pushing consumer services to employees, Microsoft is going to push and pull consumer and enterprise technologies closer together – through communications.
All in all, I think it was a good move. The remaining question: Can the product evolve as well as the marketing?