WebEx or Skype for Business – what’s the difference?

Sei Mani insight

WebEx or Skype for Business – what’s the difference? by James Porter, 15th January 2017

Find our updated take on Skype for Business vs Webex Meetings vs Zoom.

This year we’re publishing a series of articles about how to choose between WebEx and Skype For Business and crucially when it’s perfectly acceptable for both of them to co-exist. This is the first in the series describing the key differences of the technologies at a high level.

Microsoft’s speed of development has accelerated over recent years as they work to convince businesses that Skype for Business (SFB) is ready to compete with the traditional leaders in web conferencing. Cisco has been busy too, cloud-enabling its Unified Communications (UC) propositions along and launching Spark as a messaging ecosystem at the centre of its collaboration universe enabling endpoint devices from different vendor platforms to talk to each other.

But is comparing WebEx directly with SFB even valid?  They have similarities and differences, but they’re not ‘like for like’ products. Pure WebEx, for example, has no built-in IM facility and is a multiway platform, capable of scaling to very large numbers of meeting participants, and designed to sit alongside other synchronous applications. SFB has evolved from an IM platform – where video sessions are often the end result of instant messaging conversations.

Approaching this as a ‘bake-off’ between Cisco and Microsoft, and their respective UC portfolios – what should organisations really focus on after peeling back the marketing hype?

Existing infrastructure and services

Most organisations are familiar with Microsoft business applications and to some, there’s a strong logic of keeping it in the family – particularly if collaboration is managed in that way. Conversely, a company with Cisco infrastructure and services will naturally lean towards Cisco’s collaboration portfolio, knowing that integration and management will be simpler.  The individual preferences and career backgrounds of key decision makers also influence the choice of technology; people from an IT background are likely to favour Microsoft, and people with a communications and networking background, will prefer Cisco.

We think CIO’s and senior decision makers will finally be buying into the user experience and not the technology, and we’ll write about this in more detail later this year, but here are some technical and feature related factors that should be considered when choosing between WebEx and Skype For Business.

Access on the move

As people increasingly embrace video as the de facto method of communicating, ease of access to the call or meeting is crucial. Most attendees are usually on-line, but there’ll always be some who are out and about – and who need to join remotely by either dialling in or a dial-out option.

On-premise and cloud-based WebEx has both dial-in and dial-out options, along with direct computer-based IP access. Cloud based SFB does have telephony access, but this isn’t a standard feature and comes with additional license and cost implications. It’s also accessed through the Microsoft telephony service, so organisations can’t use their preferred calling plans and communications infrastructure. SFB on-premise can link to telephony services via enterprise SIP trunks.

Presence and messaging through to video

We know that SFB has evolved from the original instant messaging application, and now provides wider video and collaboration services. An Enterprise-class UC service (including contact centre), is available from Microsoft – though it’s heavily reliant on an eco-system of other vendor partners.

There’s no instant messaging and presence option within native WebEx – it’s always been a ‘go to’ service for pre-planned calls and events. The linking of WebEx and Spark does provide a feature rich messaging and presence environment, and in the same way that an Android mobile can call an iPhone – Cisco’s interoperability play means every endpoint will connect with any other standards-based endpoint from any other vendor, hard or soft. So it would seem that for Enterprise requirements, Cisco still leads the way.

It’s ease of adoption that really makes the difference 

Technology will only be seen as a worthwhile investment if it’s widely adopted by employees. And with 80% of collaboration projects failing to meet business objectives, the human side of technology is the most crucial. Whether one system has the edge over the other is only a question of time, in that the big vendors catch up with each other on features and user experience. Ultimately people want a tool that’s easy to use, simple to understand and helps them work more efficiently and flexibly and evolves over time to their changing ways of working.

Many people agree that comparing WebEx and Skype for Business is like comparing apples and pears, or even The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They’re all a bit tasty but which one is for you depends very much on the culture, circumstances and leader preferences of your organisation at the time the choice is being made.

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