Microsoft & Skype – What's Behind the Obvious?
The acquisition of Skype could have enormous implications for Microsoft. If everything works out well, Microsoft gains access to about 600 million potential users globally. What it can do with those users is up to Microsoft, but the possibilities are almost infinite.
Even without any integration or service adjustments, Skype brings close to $860 million in revenues, even though they come at a loss. With the recent service enhancements (for instance, multi-party video, enterprise voice functionality) the existing (and rapidly growing) customer base can be further monetized for revenue growth and greater profitability.
But no one expects Microsoft to pay a premium (which the $8.5 billion appears to be) to just leverage the status quo. Microsoft is likely to seek to connect businesses using its own business software and services (from Office to Outlook, Lync, SharePoint, Office 365, etc.) to all the consumers and businesses using Skype’s VoIP and collaboration services. With Microsoft’s big push into enterprise communications and collaboration with the OCS and Lync platforms, Skype nicely complements its portfolio with cloud communications capabilities – including the app, the network, DIDs, mobility, and federation with other apps and networks. Potentially, this could help Microsoft customers enhance sales and marketing reach or create new options for economic and effective collaboration between office locations and teleworkers.
Skype’s capabilities can help Microsoft re-enter the SMB voice space, which it pretty much deserted after it chose to discontinue Response Point. OCS and Lync are fairly expensive for this customer segment. Skype can also help add inexpensive VoIP alternatives for Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 packages.
Certainly, Microsoft can leverage this acquisition in the consumer space by linking the Skype customer base with its Windows Mobile and Xbox 360 and Kinect users or simply integrating Skype services into its gaming and mobile products. But the bigger opportunity is in bridging the consumer and business worlds. The lines between the two are blurring as the prosumer segment grows both in number of users and in terms of application and devices used for both personal and business purposes, leading to increasing consumerization of enterprise IT. Prosumers expect familiar, intuitive interfaces in their business environments and access to inexpensive communications and collaboration tools anywhere, anytime. Skype can help Microsoft deliver some of these capabilities to its business customers.
This is also a big defensive move for Microsoft – against Google as well as against the enterprise communications vendors. It is not clear how Skype’s partnerships with enterprise vendors will fare after the acquisition, but regardless of whether they survive or not, Microsoft will limit the options for others, while expanding its own. If Microsoft pushes for greater federation, this will be beneficial to everyone, both on the supply and demand side. But it will mostly help Microsoft, the new kid on the block, make friends with the existing leaders, to be able to survive and thrive. It is a little hard to believe, but it is possible that Microsoft can use Skype as the common network for all its business customers (not just those using OCS or Lync for voice) to communicate and collaborate “on-net” among each other. Imagine free calls with your suppliers, partners and customers. Of course, businesses can use Skype to do that today, but having Skype integrated into Microsoft applications is going to make the value proposition a lot more compelling. The ability to get its foot in the door with businesses using competitors’ communications systems with a service that provides clear benefits and does not require a significant capital outlay, can open tremendous opportunities for Microsoft. It will have the disruptive impact that other communications solutions and cloud-based communications services have not been able to accomplish yet.
One of the biggest questions is how Microsoft will deal with the various challenges that the merger presents. Certainly, the two cultures are very different. Also, as an Internet-based, primarily consumer service, Skype does not offer the type of SLAs businesses require. The quality of Skype communications is only as good as the available bandwidth, the quality of the access network and the processing power of the devices it’s running on. If Microsoft plans to penetrate the enterprise space with Skype communications and collaboration capabilities, it will have to make sure it only promises what it can deliver or else customer disappointment will have an irreversible negative impact on future adoption. Also, Microsoft will need to learn about managing phone numbers and handling regulatory issues related to voice services in various countries. So the bottom-line question is – with all its ambitions to leverage the cloud and to grow its real-time communications business, is Microsoft prepared to be a voice services provider?