Solution Providers To Microsoft: Don't Mess With Skype

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Nadeem Ahmad, global technology director for Dimension Data, one of the world's largest systems integrators headquartered in Joahannesburg, South Africa, said from a consumer perspective, Microsoft’s Skype buy makers perfect sense, but the enterprise implications are not immediately clear. “They know everyone in the consumer world is using Skype,” he said. “They’re seeing an opportunity to corner that market on the conferencing side.”

Ahmad said the Skype acquisition works with Microsoft’s bid to dominate in both the home and the office and Skype also plays into its mobility story, where it can be used as a de facto voice/conferencing service for tablets.

Sean Connolly, general manager and vice president of network integration at Dimension Data, says the acquisition gives Microsoft the ability to strike on the merging of consumer and business IT. “It enables Microsoft to seize that opportunity,” Connolly said.

Microsoft responded to requests by CRN for additional comment on the channel integration by referring CRN to Microsoft's Skype acquisition press Web site.

Glen Coffield, president of Smart Guys Computers, a Lake Mary, Fla. system builder and computer retailer, said Microsoft needs to provide a compelling monthly recurring revenue services opportunity for partners with Skype. Coffield's advice for Microsoft: give system builders that preinstall Skype recurring revenue for as long as the customer maintains that Skype subscription.

"Right now vendors want to give you a small activation fee with no recurring revenue," he said. "They'll kiss you one time but there is no relationship. If you want to keep the channel healthy you have to go for hearts and minds with margin. You have to show us respect and stop throwing us bread crumbs.

"The big question for Microsoft with the channel is: how do I make money with it?" Coffield added. "Where is the margin?"

As Microsoft expands into new markets, Coffield cautioned that there is also the threat of the software giant becoming a "jack of all trades and a master of none."

Alan Weinberger, chairman and CEO of The ASCII Group, a Bethesda, Md.-based organization that provides business-building tools to thousands of VARs, said Microsoft will need to make clear to partners how Skype will be integrated and how much it will restrict Skype integration with non-Microsoft solutions.

"Is Microsoft going to discriminate against a VAR if they decide to use Skype from somebody else? Will it be unbundled from Microsoft?" Weinberger asked.

Weinberger and ASCII held several meetings with Skype shortly after Skype launched its formal partner program in September. While there was a lot of initial interest in Skype as a channel player, Weinberger said, it was hard for VARs to understand how they'd make money selling Skype.

There was some discussion, Weinberger said, but Skype retrenched a few months later and a lot that discussion petered out. Like Coffield, Weinberger said that for VARs, money making opportunities will be top of mind.

"Obviously the VARs would like to make a buck on it," Weinberger said. "So we'll have to hear how Microsoft is going to integrate this."

Andrew R. Hickey Contributed To This Story

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