MySkypeOffice: Transforming Skype into a business phone system.

This new product, under development by PhoneFusion, provides all the traditional PBX bells and whistles.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Apr 29, 2011
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There's a pretty good chance that you use Skype in your business communications—at least from time to time.

Skype is a cheap and generally reliable way to make international calls—with wonderful sound quality—but it's really not set up to be a core business phone system. Sure, it will do limited call forwarding and take voicemail messages, but these are extras. And let's face it, Skype is pretty short on PBX functionality—such as customized greetings, auto attendant, or automatic call distribution.

Enter a product in the works—MySkypeOffice from PhoneFusion—that covers all these bases, and appears to cover them well.

MySkypeOffice is unique among small business phone systems, in that it does use Skype's call transport system, but adds an overlay of the kind of business functionality—again, extensive automatic call forwarding, voicemail to email, conferencing (different from Skype's; we'll get back to that), auto attendant, dial by name directory, call recording, etc.—that's missing from Skype.

Understand that MySkypeOffice is a work in progress; it is being offered for testing on an invitation-only basis and it is definitely in beta development—not the kind of beta we're used to these days, where the product is being given its final polishing.

Enterprise VoIPplanet had the opportunity, recently, to speak with PhoneFusion founder Jonathan Hollander to get details on MySkypeOffice.

"MySkypeOffice came about because there was an obvious need," Hollander told ~Enterprise VoIPplanet@. "Although at Skype they talk a lot about wanting to provide services to small businesses, they seem to be gearing their offerings a lot more to either enterprises or individuals." In other words, there seemed to be an unfilled need for small businesses and MySkypeOffice was invented to fill it.

In fact the customer profile around which the project was designed was that of the customers for the company's own PhoneFusion One product. "They generally seem to be small businesses that have one or more phone numbers, and they want to be available wherever they are—using what we call our Find me/Follow me/Hide me service."

And, indeed, that functionality is at the core of MySkypeOffice; it will forward unanswered calls made to your personal incoming number to as many as six other phones—simultaneously or sequentially. By default, it delivers a polite "Please wait while we try to locate your party. Who may we say is calling?" Like most of the product's 200-plus features, this can be turned off or modified.

Beyond the personal stuff, MySkypeOffice can be set up for a business, with an auto attendant that directs calls by extension or dial-by-name directory. Greetings can be customized in a myriad of ways—day of the week, business hours, etc., just like a premise-based PBX.

The system takes voicemail messages, of course, and transcribes them (very accurately in our experience). It will then retain the transcriptions or immediately e-mail them to the address you've set up—along with the MP3 recording. You can, naturally, access them in your MySkypeOffice desktop client.

It handles outbound and inbound faxes. In addition to being sent to your MySkypeOffice desktop client, inbound faxes can be forwarded to another fax number, even e-mailed as PDFs to the account you specify.

"You can do meet-me conferencing on this," Hollander explained, "which is different to Skype's conferencing, inasmuch participants dial your MySkypeOffice phone number, then press 9 and then input a conference ID, and then everyone will be in a conference that can be recorded if you want and e-mailed to you at the end." You don't have to be sitting in front of your Skype client; you dial in from whatever phone is convenient.

But, according to Hollander, the situation in which MySkypeOffice shines brightest is with a small company that's highly distributed.

"Let's look at a scenario," he said. "Imagine the XYZ Company, with headquarters in the U.S.—where tech support is in India, and manufacturing is in China. People are dialing in and they want to be able to reach these different departments. Calls get routed over Skype to wherever it is."

This piece of MySkypeOffice utilizes automatic call distribution, whereby you set up a list of people in each department and the system then routes calls to each list member in turn, so one person doesn't get all the calls.

Hollander hastened to point out that business hours for each department could be customized for time zone, local custom, whatever. Greetings can be customized, and the like.

So MySkypeOffice makes the functionality of a sophisticated PBX available virtually for free. (Pricing hasn't been worked out yet, but it will likely be a low monthly subscription.) And with this software solution, "You don't need to buy a VoIP infrastructure;" Hollander commented. "You're riding over the top of what's already there on Skype."

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