Microsoft spent $8.5 billion to acquire Skype back in 2011.

Since then, it's done a lot of work under the hood, molding it into something that fitted its own enterprise productivity ambitions and creating Skype for Business — arguably the most significant related development in the past five years.

Skype And Enterprise Collaboration

But the Microsoft's Skype ambitions still seem far from finished. Over the past week alone, the company has made multiple announcements around Skype. All of them are designed to catapult the IP telephony service provider into the heart of the enterprise and make it a key, must-have productivity tool.

Enterprise collaboration is the common theme connecting all of last week’s announcements. It hasn’t always been easy to create a collaboration environment with Skype either because not all Skype plans come will all the functionality needed to run a business, or because the functionality did not justify the price.

But now Microsoft said it has made Skype meetings easier and a lot cheaper. With the introduction the new free Skype Meetings tool, it provides small businesses real-time audio and HD video conferencing, as well as collaboration features like the ability to share screens and content during meetings.

Even better, users don’t have to be Office 365 subscribers. Once you sign up, you can set up a free account which allows you to invite up to 10 people to meetings for the first 60 days and up to three people after that.

It's a potentially welcome gift for small businesses that aren't Office 365 subscribers, who generally receive similar capabilities as part of their paid plans.

Oh Those Millennials Again

This is not just a way of pushing Office 365 deeper into the small-to-medium business (SMB) space. The release responds to millennial workers, according to Dennis Collins, senior director of marketing at Chicago-based West Unified Communications, a Microsoft partner.

“Free samples are a staple of many industries, so it’s no surprise that Microsoft is following this path to stimulate trial. As a conferencing services provider, we have been actively engaged in this migration from audio to video and feel that the tipping point is arriving due to multiple factors,” he told CMSWire. The millennial workforce has a pre-disposition to use video, he explained. 

Video webcasting will become a core part of enterprise communications strategy for everything from internal training, sales calls and interaction with customers, West Unified Communications predicts.

Skype Document Collaboration

Microsoft also introduced file sharing through Skype, which enables users to share photos, videos and documents up to 300MB in size, even if they are offline.

Users can also access those files on any number of devices, make changes to the files and save those changes, then access those changes on a different device if necessary.

Microsoft already has its file sharing application in the shape of OneDrive, but OneDrive can be burdensome for those that are just trying to share files during a conference call or for those that just want something fast and agile for sharing.

“Microsoft is integrating Skype further into its Office productivity tools because it’s recognized that group collaboration often occurs remotely and around documents," Rebecca Wettemann, research vice president at Nucleus Research told CMSWire.

“The cost and lag time associated with setting up web conferences have long challenged groups who want to meet quickly to collaborate. This will speed up meeting times and open the capabilities to more business users. This will also likely create pricing pressure on other premium web conferencing tools.

Skype Bots

Just after the dust had settled on these announcements, Microsoft unveiled new Skype Bot developer updates.

Released at the Build conference in March, the Skype Bot Platform has attracted more than 30,000 developers, Microsoft said. It just released a number of improvements, including enabling bots to respond to group conversations.

Learning Opportunities

Microsoft has also pulled the Skype Bot Platform and the Microsoft Bot Framework together into one framework called Microsoft Bot Framework V3. This will enable users to develop bots that use new Skype platform features and publish to multiple channels from one place.

In a speech at the Build conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pointed developers in the direction of virtual assistants and intelligent chatbots for home and work.

The practical application of this is wider simultaneous access to customers.

Microsoft and Google Again

Microsoft is under pressure to build-up and use Skype as competition builds in the VoIP market. Everyone’s doing it, including Microsoft's productivity rival, Google.

In June, Google forged a partnership with Microsoft VoIP partner RingCentral to target enterprises using Office 365 with Skype for Business and launched RingCentral Office Google Edition.

The new offering provides an integrated solution for enterprises. For $30 per user per month, the it included Google Apps Unlimited with unlimited storage and a new edition of RingCentral Office that integrates with Google Apps, Hangouts, Gmail, Drive, Chrome, and Android.