Skype for Business is an easy way for DOTers and customers to stay connected

Tools buttonHow do you connect with your co-workers and customers? Many of us automatically turn to the telephone, email, or Yammer. While these tools are great, the addition of Microsoft Office 365® has provided us with Skype® for Business as a new option with expanded opportunities to collaborate easily and many times, more effectively. For the purposes of this blog, we’re going to refer to this tool simply as Skype.

Just like the other Office 365 applications (e.g., Outlook® and Yammer®), you can set Skype to launch automatically when you log on to your computer. You might be asking why we need another communication tool. Roger Parker, Information Technology Division’s Office of Systems Support director, said, “Skype offers our employees a quicker and more collaborative way to stay connected. New employees coming the Iowa DOT often come from organizations using these collaborative tools every day. To attract and retain great people, we need to up our game. For those of us who have been around awhile and who used the previous instant messenger application, this works very similarly, but it has updated features like video chat and file and screen sharing.”

Interoffice communication

AvailabilityBecause they are integrated in Office 365, your Outlook calendar feeds Skype. So if you launch Skype automatically when you log in, your availability for meetings or a chat is displayed automatically, as does any message you may have set if you are out of the office. You can also manually update your availability. One nice feature is that anytime you connect to a projector or monitor to present, Skype automatically detects that and sets your status to “Do Not Disturb.” This prevents people from sending you a chat while you are presenting.

We frequently hear that people are being overloaded with and frustrated by email clutter. For quick one-to-one or group chats that don’t need to be saved, Skype is an excellent tool to help cut that clutter. Parker said, “We use group chats when we’re troubleshooting issues in IT. We can have people who deal with the network, servers, and applications all chatting and sharing information in the same session. It is also very easy for someone to share their desktop so everyone can see exactly what the situation is and collaborate on solutions.” 

Brad Hofer from the Iowa DOT’s Office of Location and Environment is a big fan of Skype. He said, “It is so easy to set up. When we have employees who are teleworking, we can easily chat online and share computer screens.”

Using Skype for meetings

Need to have a meeting? Skype can help with that. If you’ve used WebEx™ or GoToMeeting™, you’ll appreciate how easy Skype is to use. Whether your meeting with one person or 250, scheduling is as simple as sending an Outlook meeting notice. Meetings can also include videos and presentation of on-screen content. Your meeting can even be recorded for future playback and reference. Parker said, “For the meeting element, you can use a virtual whiteboard, question and answer sessions, participant polling, and other features that lead to a great meeting experience.”

Hofer and his team also use Skype extensively for meetings. “Whether we need to meet with our own folks in the same building or DOTers or consultants in different cities, we can all use Skype for meetings. The video and audio are very clear and there’s no lag time. Using Skype makes it seem like we’re all in the same room without having to travel. If you’ve used other meeting software, it can be a little clunky. Skype is much easier to set up and use.”

Derek Peck, with the Office of Location and Environment, has used the tool to meet with his counterparts in Utah. He said, “It was really easy to set up. The folks on the other end didn’t have Skype, but it wasn’t difficult and they were able to get it going very quickly.”

Cost savings in the future

Having that great meeting experience, Parker, Hofer, and Peck talked about how using Skype can actually end up costing us less than the current conference calling system we currently use through the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). Parker explained that the ICN conferencing center charges users per minute. Using Skype visuals and audio on your computer is included in the Office 365 fees we already pay. Enabling a telephone call-in component adds about $3.50 per month per user. Parker said, “In running some initial estimates we have about 150 people who use the ICN regularly at an annual cost of about $20,000. If we add that to the potential savings of eliminating Citrix GoToMeeting and AdobeConnect, the total is closer to $90,000 per year. Getting these folks to use the Skype alternative could offer significant cost savings.”

Parker said, “We know there are a lot of options out there to keep our people connected, and that might be a little overwhelming. There are online tutorials to help you out if you want to learn more about Skype. Our goal is to offer you the tools you need to effectively and efficiently get the job done.”

For Iowa DOTers who want more information on Skype for Business and other Office 365 applications, we have an Internal Office ­­365 website.  Please note this help site can only be accessed on Iowa DOT computers logged into the agency's network. 

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