woman on a phone
Microsoft has long loved the sound of the human voice. PHOTO: Breakingpics

Microsoft is beefing up Skype for Business in Office 365 with advanced call features, meeting room solutions and call analytics.

The enhancements and partner solutions are aimed at making Skype for Business "the backbone for enterprise voice and video meetings in Office 365," Ron Markezich, corporate vice president for Office 365 Marketing, noted in a blog post.

Markezich announced the changes during a keynote he delivered yesterday at Enterprise Connect, UBM's conference for enterprise IP telephony, converged networks and unified communications. The conference runs through Thursday at the Gaylord Palms Convention Center in Orlando.

Microsoft also announced it's bringing its intelligent personal assistant, Cortana, to the lock screen of Android devices. The move should make the service more accessible and more competitive with Google’s voice assistant

Focused on Voice

Microsoft has long loved the sound of the human voice. In fact, last October, it announced its speech recognition is as accurate as humans. Lauded as a historic achievement by Microsoft, the study detailed a new speech recognition technology that’s able to transcribe conversational speech as well as professional human transcriptionists.

With Skype now firmly embedded within Office 365, more customers "are turning to Skype for Business in Office 365 for all of their conferencing and calling needs," Markezich wrote.

“Through integration with Outlook for email, SharePoint for intelligent content management, Yammer for networking across the organization, and Microsoft Teams for high-velocity, chat-based teamwork — Skype for Business is the backbone for enterprise voice and video meetings in Office 365,” he wrote.

Microsoft wants Skype for Business to become the core voice-based communication app in the enterprise — ultimately using it as a substitute for desk phones.

Markezich said there were more than a billion meetings on the Skype network last year, and said the use of Skype for Business Online has doubled year-over-year.

Skype For Business Upgrades

The latest upgrades "advance our goal of putting communication at the heart of productivity with Skype," Markezich wrote. The improvements include two advanced calling features, Auto Attendant and Call Queue.

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

Microsoft is also offering new meeting room solutions from its partners, including Polycom RealConnect for Office 365, which enables customers to connect existing video conferencing devices to Skype for Business Online meetings; and Crestron SR for Skype Room Systems, which integrates with the Crestron control and AV systems.

It's also revealed a preview of the new Skype for Business Call Analytics dashboard, which provides IT admins with greater visibility to identify and address call issues, and availability of Enghouse Interactive’s TouchPoint Attendant, an attendant console for Skype for Business Online.

Microsoft is working to differentiate itself in the competitive enterprise collaboration space. Google recently boosted its collaboration play with two new enterprise-focused services — Hangouts Meet and Hangouts Chat to make both more enterprise friendly,

Cisco is also at Enterprise Connect to grow interest in Cisco Spark, an app-centric, cloud-based service that provides a complete collaboration suite for teams to create, meet, message, call, whiteboard and share anytime from anywhere.

Amazon last month unveiled Chime, a communications platform that’s ready to battle it out with the likes of Skype, Hangouts, GoToMeeting and WebEx.

The competition extends to the virtual personal assistant space. The Cortana lock screen integration, which was rolled out earlier this month, is now widely available, Microsoft said. During the beta trial, users had to go into the Cortana settings menu and turn on the lock screen integration, which enabled them to open it with a swipe.

Now users can access Cortana from the lock screen, which means you can talk to Cortana even when your phone is locked.