ATLANTA: Microsoft has announced the technical preview of its Skype for Business client.
Skype for Business effectively transforms Microsoft's business communication service Lync into an offering that is very similar to the standard Skype service used by 300 million people worldwide.
This new take on Lync and Skype is integrated directly with Microsoft's Office software portfolio, allowing users to carry out instant messaging, video calls and online meetings within the productivity suite.
Skype for Business also offers enterprise-grade security, compliance standards and control over IT into the communications service.
At Convergence 2015 in Atlanta on Monday, Julia White, general manager of product marketing for Office, announced Skype for Business.
"I can use it to reach anyone across [instant messaging] - I can chat, call, video," she said, demonstrating the communication service in action.
White also explained how Skype for Business is more than just a simple rebrand of Lync.
"It has all the same richness you've come to expect from the business capabilities of Lync, but it is now also connected with Skype," she said.
"So now all the Skype for Business users can connect with Skype; so imagine a sales person connecting with any customer, a doctor connecting with a patient, an employer interviewing someone through Skype - there's so many possibilities with this new experience."
The technical preview of Skype for Business is available for current Lync customers, with Microsoft planning to roll out the full service in April.
Reworking Lync to become Skype for Business is a move by Microsoft to remove some of the confusion of having two communications services under its banner.
This strategy has involved several product announcements, including making its Delve document discovery tool available to all Office 365 users across the world.
Microsoft also revealed the global availability of Power BI, an Azure cloud-powered and browser-based data visualisation tool designed to work with Microsoft's own Dynamics customer relationship management platform, as well as those for other companies such as Salesforce, Workday and Google Analytics.
Power BI is designed to merge various streams of data and produce animated graphs in real-time to ease the process of analytics for business users.
These new products and services all feed into Microsoft's overall "empowerment" strategy, as outlined by Microsoft's chief executive Satya Nadella in his keynote speech.
"We are not in the business of purely building devices, we are in the empowerment business," he said. "Empowering individuals, organisations and industries is going to fundamentally change our business."
This is something Andy Hutchins, director of collaboration at IT consultancy Avanade UK, believes is a shrewd move for Microsoft.
"There's a very clear need for tools that enable businesses to become more productive and collaborative as they move ever closer to becoming digital businesses," he said.
"Services that allow us to do this will give the time and headspace to think and be productive, instead of spending all of our time looking for stuff."
Microsoft also indicated its push to move into the Internet of Things platform arena by revealing its Azure IoT suite at Convergence 15.
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