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Skype, a collaboration mindset and its Star Trek business plan

Today at UC Expo I sat down with Andrew Sinclair, GM of Skype for Business at Microsoft, to discuss the future of communication and collaboration in the workplace.

Digital transformation is affecting all areas within businesses at the moment, and the way in which employees work together is no exception. Skype has very much been leading the charge in this domain, with its consumer product instantly recognisable to hundreds of millions of people around the world, but it’s the business side where things are really starting to gain momentum.

“We’re seeing a huge shift in the way teams collaborate,” says Andrew. “Teams are becoming more dynamic, more agile and more networked,” all of which is driving change within business. This is partly down to the fact that the business world – especially for technology companies – has become much more global, with employees frequently being dotted across the world. Companies are now spreading out to where the talent is, rather than bringing the talent to them, which means an effective collaboration strategy is essential.

And a changing mindset is having as much of an impact as the technology itself, as the modern workforce now “expects to be able to collaborate” and “we’ve moved from a me culture to a we culture.” Companies are now driving collaboration as part of their overall strategy rather than an afterthought, simply because “millennials are coming in and demanding it.” As Andrew explains, “you can’t just create technology and expect people to use it. They have to want it. We’ve got to a point where the culture is very collaborative and technology is enabling that.”

But Andrew is quick to point out that it’s not all down to millennials as, although they may have been the ones leading the charge, “everybody else has come kicking and screaming along with them.” The consumerisation of IT has meant that the workforce as a whole is now more comfortable using different types of technology in their daily lives and, coupled with the simplified user experiences available today, everyone is right there at the same level.

As you would expect, the growing accessibility of cloud computing has been one of the main drivers for this emphasis shift. With everything now being available to everyone through the cloud, businesses are spending less time thinking about the infrastructure and more time focusing on the collaboration itself. One way in which Skype is leveraging the power of the cloud is through its Meeting Broadcast service, which has capacity for up to 10,000 people. But what really sets it apart is the real-time transcription – described by Andrew as “freaking awesome” – which enables international meetings to take place without the need of third party translators.

He says “when we launched on consumer people thought it was pure Star Trek, but the real application is in the business world. In fact, our entire business plan is based on Star Trek. We’ve made what was completely unimaginable available to everybody.”

But what about the future? Video has already become mainstream – making up 45 per cent of Skype’s 50 billion audio and video minutes per month – but Andrew expects its influence to continue growing.

He also mentions the “tremendous applications in augmented reality” and calls for increased integration so that “communication and collaboration is part of everything.” One thing’s for sure, enterprise collaboration is here to live long and prosper.

Image source: Shutterstock/Bacho