Industry News

Skype for Business Retirement: Are You Ready?

Mio offers expert insights and reactions from industry specialists and Microsoft MVPs on the retirement of Skype for Business, offering a comprehensive look at what this change means for IT Managers and the implications for migrating to Microsoft Teams.
Dominic Kent
Dominic Kent is a content marketer specializing in unified communications and contact centers.
Skype for Business retirement

In Summer 2020, Microsoft announced Skype for Business retirement. Only July 31st, 2021, Microsoft confirmed it will no longer support Skype for Business Online deployments.

Read on for insights from industry experts and Microsoft MVPs to see what Skype for Business retirement means to them, and what it should mean to you.

Firstly, should the announcement cause mass panic?

My first port of call was Patrick Watson, Analyst at Cavell Group. He covered the news and was quick to assemble a podcast with Microsoft MVP, Tom Arbuthnot.

Skype for Business retirement podcast

I asked Patrick how the Skype for Business retirement announcement would change IT Manager's day-to-day lives.

"The Skype for Business retirement date doesn’t change anything at all for Skype for Business Online customers."

Patrick was to the point, rather than fluffy and dancing around Microsoft's communications.

"Admins should already be working on their migration strategies."

He also said, "Managers should have known this was coming as Microsoft has been clear about its progression path from Skype for Business to Teams generally."

What has been the immediate reaction to Skype for Business retirement in the MVP community?

I asked Tom Arbuthnot for his take on the feeling in the Microsoft MVP community. His sentiment echoed Patrick's.

"The MVP community is, by definition, on the pulse of what Microsoft is doing, so the end of life of Skype for Business Online in favour of Microsoft Teams was unsurprising."

Tom went on to suggest that the MVP community is in favor of Microsoft's decision: "Microsoft Teams use is growing massively and Microsoft is putting all its efforts into their cloud-native UC and Collab proposition, which makes sense."

Will the Skype for Business retirement announcement cause mass panic?

Another Microsoft MVP, Joel Oleson, was keen to point out in his blog that IT Managers need to act sooner rather than later.

"Prepare Now: Don’t Just Mark Your Calendars: July 31, 2021."

It seems fair to say that the Microsoft community was ready and waiting for the retirement announcement but there is still work to be done in IT.

The timing was just before Gartner named Microsoft leaders in UCaaS, does this change anything?

Each year, Gartner publishes a Magic Quadrant for the UCaaS industry.

This year, Microsoft was named a leader and appeared in the desirable top right-hand corner.

Microsoft named a leader in UCaaS, but does Skype for Business retirement impact their position?

The timing of the Skype for Business Online retirement announcement was only a week after Gartner named Microsoft as a leader.

One question raised on Twitter was whether the removal of Skype for Business Online removed the UCaaS element to Microsoft's offering.

I reached out to collaboration expert, Chris Isak, Founder and Journalist at TechAcute to get his thoughts on the matter:

"I don't think Gartner relied on Skype for Business in Office 365 for their judgement too much."

Chris added that Microsoft will still deliver Unified Comms-as-a-Service - just not through a Skype body.

He justified his remarks with a counterquestion to me:

What is there that Skype can do that Microsoft Teams cannot do?

My immediate answer was the lack of federation and the guest access alternative. But, overall it's not lacking much in the way of functionality.

For a breakdown of the differences between the two platforms, this post compares Skype for Business vs Microsoft Teams.

I also reached out to Gartner to see if they had any insider info on the matter before releasing the 2019 Magic Quadrant but they suggested they do not reveal their research process to the public.

Should end users be going to Microsoft or partners for help with Skype to Teams migrations?

Our recent Unified Comms influencers list didn't include any direct employees of Microsoft.

It did, however, include many partners, resellers, and managed service providers that are fully qualified Microsoft MVPs.

I asked one influencer, Randy Chapman, Modern Workplace Architect at Symity, for his take on where IT Managers should start with migrations.

He suggested if a company does want to migrate to Teams, whether from Skype for Business Online or Server, they should engage a partner that can help.

"A partner can help them understand the features and benefits and also the implications of moving to Teams. They can also help with governance, change management and user adoption."

Sticking with the theme of change management, Kristof Maes at Xylos suggested the main reason for organizations not already adopting Teams is the change & adoption requirements to move to Microsoft Teams as a complete Workstream Collaboration tool.

Randy also mentioned that there isn’t a certified Teams migration partner directory.

It's a sought after tool that IT Managers would love to get their hands on.

He said: "Gold level partners and those with a track record with Skype for Business are a great place to start. Although not all will have jumped in with both feet for Teams."

What are the major differences IT Managers need to be aware of?

While feature parity is the ultimate goal for Microsoft Teams, there are some differences between the platforms.

Microsoft Teams vs Skype for Business
Click for a Microsoft Teams vs Skype for Business comparison

The most requested feature on the Microsoft community forum is guest access.

Users of Skype for Business will be familiar with the external federation access, where users from one company can Skype another company.

This is yet to be made quite as straight forward in Microsoft Teams.

As we move from instant messaging to team collaboration, the key difference between the two platforms is not being able to chat with external users.

Does Skype for Business retirement mean I have to move to Microsoft Teams?

The simple answer here is no.

There are tons of Skype for Business alternatives.

Does Skype for Business Online retirement mean on-premises version will be retired soon too?

Microsoft has committed to supporting Skype for Business Server to at least 2024.

While it's not clear when the plan to retire Skype for Business in its entirety is, Chris Isak suggested there is nothing to worry about just yet.

"Skype For Business may well run for another decade on-prem."

There will be some careful decisions that need to be made when assessing whether to stick or twist with Skype for Business.

Skype for Business retirement

Ultimately, only the folks at Microsoft know the answer to this question.

And they may not have decided yet.

I use Skype for Business with other apps, what happens when I move to Microsoft Teams?

Firstly, you are not alone.

In fact, 63% of companies using Microsoft apps are using Slack in parallel.

There are a few ways to remedy this conundrum...

Firstly, the Microsoft app store has a whole host of integrations ready to install out of the box.

So, for apps like Trello and Zoom, your experience will likely become more streamlined.

For other messaging apps, like Slack and Cisco Webex Teams, Microsoft Teams opens the door to complete messaging interoperability.

Check out what is possible in this video...

Further outreach a year on

This post has now been updated one year after Microsoft announced the retirement of Skype for Business. I reached out to two more Microsoft MVPs - one customer and one vendor.

Craig Chiffers, Teams SME at Microsoft, said there were three key things he's learned since the announcement.

"One of the things I see often is customers remaining on Skype for Business due to their reliance on it to work with their existing call centre software."

Microsoft’s recent announcements around call centre integration within Teams should be good news for those who have been waiting.

Next, Craig says not to fear the move to Teams but to ensure that user adoption isn’t left out or an afterthought. Often IT and project teams treat Skype to Teams as an upgrade. When in reality, it's a new technology that needs training and support.

"Keeping everyone across what is happening and why is critical to success."

Adam Fowler, IT Operations Manager, gave me his insight as a customer of both Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

"The upcoming retirement of Skype for Business Online should make current users get a plan ready to go.

Trying to line up the migration just before the plug is pulled (and in reality, there's a decent chance Microsoft will extend it out, or leave it running for a while longer with zero support) is a big risk in many ways.

These include finding a partner who has available resources to do so when they're helping everyone else get off the platform at the last minute too.

There might be other catches you find in the migration - do your phones work with Teams?

It also means you need to be ready for Teams which is a big undertaking in itself. It's not just a phone platform, so do the other parts of the product meet your requirements around security?"

What is Cisco's take on Skype for Business retirement?

Recognizing the high volume of mixed messaging environments in the workplace, I reached out to Jono Luk, former Director of Product Management for Cisco Webex, to see what Skype for Business Online retiring meant to Cisco.

Jono said: “At Cisco Webex, we believe in providing the best possible collaborative experiences for our customers, even when they’re using other platforms too.

The retirement of Skype for Business Online is an opportunity to offer our customers what we believe to be a richer collaboration experience with Webex, but at the same time a call to ensure that whatever they decide."

"We’ll support their choice and continue to allow their users to work across platforms with the help of partners like Mio."

Ultimately, Cisco is more than open to interoperability.

Cisco is building bridges to interoperability with Microsoft Teams

Contrary to recent history, collaboration vendors now realize that they must coexist and that one-size-does-not-fit-all.

If you are one of the 91% that use at least 2 messaging apps, and will continue to do so when you move to Teams, try out Mio for free here.

Common FAQs

Is Skype for Business being retired?

Microsoft has confirmed that Skype for Business Online is being retired July 31st 2021. There is no formal communication regarding on-premises versions of Skype for Business.

Is Microsoft phasing out Skype for Business?

Microsoft has announced that Microsoft Teams has reached feature parity with Skype for Business. Furthermore, Skype for Business Online will be retired on July 31st 2021.

Will Teams replace Skype for Business?

Microsoft has announced that Microsoft Teams has reached feature parity with Skype for Business. Furthermore, Skype for Business Online will be retired on July 31st 2021.

Is Skype being discontinued?

Skype is not being discontinued. Skype for Business Online will be retired on July 31st 2021. There is a distinction between Skype (consumer) and Skype for Business (business).

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