Business-Ready Skype Tools Slash VOIP Costs

VoIP (voice over IP) calls cost less than traditional phone systems, while adding additional features. Skype says that about 35 percent of its customers are using the service at work, so the company has tailored features to help that audience manage Skype and save money. Especially with the recent iPhone and BlackBerry clients, Skype could cut your business costs.

Skype for Business mainly differs from a consumer account because IT departments can deploy the software across an office. Features can be activated or disabled by your administrators, such as file transfers or sharing peer-to-peer Skype traffic. Group policy templates let you modify these features for several people at once.

Upcoming Skype for Business tools will connect to SIP phone systems, so you can make SkypeOut calls through SIP, while incoming SIP can be routed to your Skype account. Similar support for Asterisk is also planned. Both are being tested now, with pricing to be determined.

Otherwise, most of the Skype for Business features overlap with consumer Skype, such as video calls and instant messaging. But you still might know know about other business-ready tools that are available in either case.

The Business Control Panel manages multiple Skype accounts, such as those of your employees. You can buy Skype credits for outgoing calls or phone numbers for incoming connections, with the Control Panel making allocations across your network. Also, if one person's balance runs low, the software can automatically usher in new funds from your central cache.

Several add-ons can make the rest of your PC Skype-aware. Tools for Outlook, Office, Explorer, and Firefox enable you to instantly dial phone numbers from within those applications. Just click to call. Current and upcoming tools from Salesforce.com and Lotus Live add similar features.

Skype is still adding more business-specific features. But its basic tools--and management options--already make it a cost-saving consideration for a small office.

Zack Stern is a freelance writer and editor based in San Francisco.

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