Published 03rd September 2021 | Business, Cloud Computing, Software

Skype for Business Online Is Being Retired on 31st July 2021: Here’s What You Need to Know

Skype for Business Online (SfBO) is being retired on 31st July this year – as originally announced in 2017.

So if you’re not yet prepared for the end of SfBO, the good news is that it’s not too late. In this article we’ll explain what the retirement of Skype for Business Online means for businesses using it, and what the alternatives are moving forward.

Skype for business

The online conferencing and messaging capabilities of Skype had been around for more than a decade when SfBO was launched in 2015, but it was the business version which was something of a game changer at the time.

It was a business focused platform which, unlike many competitors, offered a range of digital communication features in addition to video calling. These features came into their own during the COVID-19 pandemic, when working from home became the norm for thousands of people, and bosses had to find ways for their distributed teams to work as coherently and effectively as they had when office-based.

Among the features which SfBO combined with video calling were instant chat messaging and audio phone calls via the web, and because SfBO is integrated with Microsoft 365, users could import contacts from Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, and also collaborate – to a degree – on Office documents.

SfB also offered an installable server option – Skype for Business Server – which meant that it could be networked within a business, and the latest version of this was released in 2019. Yet while this appealed to businesses wishing to increase security and lower the risk of external cyber-threats, most preferred to opt for the cloud-based online version.

While Skype for Business Server will continue to work after August 1st 2021 it will only be supported by patches until October 14th 2025, so any security dividend its use might once have delivered will eventually cease to apply.

Why the shift is taking place

From the point of view of Microsoft, the move is being made in an effort to persuade businesses to shift to Teams, a shift which was already underway, if the user figures are a reliable guide.

By March 2020 Skype had 40 million active daily users, 70% higher than a month earlier.

In April, however, Teams was able to boast 75 million daily active users, and the shift was reflected in the fact that Microsoft brought out updates – such as breakout rooms and support for up to 1,000 meeting participants – which only applied to Teams.

Microsoft are taking this move and making it obligatory in an effort to create a single communications and productivity hub.

What the shift means

Any organisation which has yet to start the process of migrating from SfBO to Teams should be reassured by the fact that they won’t be losing anything in terms of functionality, since SfBO was always somewhat limited by being focused on the Skype platform and thus video calls and chat rather than fully integrated digital collaboration.

By shifting users  to Teams, Microsoft are clearly hoping to combine the features which SfBO delivered to a high standard and blend them with the additional features offered by Teams.

These additional features are designed, as a package, to support collaboration across and within siloed teams and projects, with channels for each individual channel supporting chat and post feeds.

Other features include the following:

  • Real-time collaboration on Microsoft Office documents, featuring conversations and commenting
  • Full integration with Microsoft apps such as Whiteboard, To Do, Lists and Forms, as well as third party apps including the likes of Trello and Zoom, enabling businesses to continue working with the full range of tools they’ve come to depend upon above and beyond SfBO.

In simple terms, Teams is optimised for business use in a way which SfBO never was, and a subscription to Microsoft 365, as well as offering access to Teams, provides features such as Office, SharePoint and Exchange which are all useful apps for any business to utilise.

Migrating to Teams

The process of migrating from SfBO to Teams is not particularly straightforward, with Microsoft setting out two alternative methods dubbed the ‘overlapping capabilities method’ and the ‘select capabilities method’.

In simple terms, the overlapping method involves using SfBO and Teams side by side, while gradually shifting to a Teams only approach, while the select capabilities approach involves using SfBO for some functions and Teams for others.

The aim of this approach seems to be to encourage businesses to start using Teams and Skype alongside each other as a means of becoming accustomed to the Teams platform.

The options are as follows:

  • Overlapping capabilities – existing SfBO users are introduced to Teams during a transitional period, during which the functionality of Teams is, in the main, made available.  To complicate matters further this mode is also known as “Islands” and is the default choice for organisations currently using SfBO.
  • Select capabilities – this method involves an Administrator managing the transition of functions such as chat, calls and meetings, and choosing when the move from SfBO to Teams takes place.

To help businesses with the transition – through whichever method – Microsoft publishes a framework which, while undoubtedly helpful, is still fairly rudimentary:

  • Identify project stakeholders
  • Define project needs
  • Assess technical readiness
  • Assess user readiness
  • Carry out deployment and implementation
  • Refine plan to ensure operational excellence.

In reality, making the shift will need a change management plan to be put in place and a communications strategy that aims to deal with questions arising from the fact that the user interface of Teams differs greatly from that of SfBO.

An alternative option: Switching to a dedicated VoIP system

A third alternative is to switch away from SfBO and Teams and instead migrate to a dedicated VoIP system such as 3CX. We’ve written about sourcing the right VoIP system for your business in the past, as well as outlining the advantages that VoIP offers in terms of costs, flexibility and remote working.

In general terms it’s far from being too late to start the process of migrating from SfBO to the solution of your choice, but the process is likely to run much more smoothly if you take advantage of the experience and expertise of the team at Alliance Solutions.

If you’d like to know more about dealing with business communication and collaboration post-SfBO then please get in touch with us today, and we’ll explain how you can make the transition with the minimum of disruption to your business.

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