Skype’s long-awaited march into the business community has taken another step. Microsoft has announced the launch of Skype in the workspace (SITW), following a six month beta trial that involved 500 businesses. 

The new SITW is designed as an online community for small businesses to connect with potential customers, partners and suppliers. Microsoft already offers Lync collaboration tools, but that service is positioned toward large enterprises.

Huge Pool

Users of SITW can offer or respond to opportunities, send IMs, hold conference calls or make online demonstrations, all with the intent of expanding their community or deepening their relationship with existing contacts.

Ural Cebeci, head of SMB Marketing for Skype, noted that Skype’s community consists of over 280 million users – a huge pool of potential customers and partners. By taking advantage of this shared network, Cebeci said, “businesses can develop the range of tools they need to grow.”

The company cited such possible use cases as a designer in San Francisco needing to find textile suppliers in Thailand, or a London consultant trying to connect with clients in Milan.

Standalone, No Tie-Ins

Users join the community through their current Skype or LinkedIn logon, and create offers or opportunities to connect with community members. First contact is through email, but it can escalate to remote live sessions where services or products can be demonstrated. Appointments can be booked with prospects, there’s a meeting notification service, and satisfied customers can provide testimonials about the product or service.

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At the moment, though, the new Skype service is standalone, with no clear tie-in to other Microsoft services, such as productivity tools SharePoint or Outlook. However, integration with the larger Microsoft family of products and services is expected, and one of the first may well be interoperability between Lync users and SITW ones.

The current SITW is fairly low-end in how it connects users to users, a kind of bulletin board without much in the way of reputation validation, qualification of opportunities by how big they might be, filtering by interest or experience, or other tools that could help ensure busy small businesses don’t waste their valuable time. There are curated opportunities, a rudimentary search, and users can present their opportunities, but not much more beyond that.