Once synonymous with consumer-grade voice-over-IP and a target for the ire of network managers everywhere, Skype is changing tack. It now wants to attract more business users, and its plans for doing that include new tools for managing groups of users - plus the claim that it is "unified communications made simple."

The company says that according to its own research, 30 percent of its 300 million or so users already use it for business. Of course, many of those probably come from its viral spread into the business traveller segment - workers who installed Skype to stay in touch with home while travelling, and then realised they could use it to call colleagues too.

So now it is working to enhance its business appeal. It has plug-ins that let you make calls from a web browser or from Microsoft Outlook, for instance, plus a click-to-call tool for websites, and a management console that lets you manage a group of user accounts - allocating Skype-out call credit and so on.

Agile no longer?

And where once Skype aimed to make its application 'agile' to help it get around blocks such as firewalls, it has now reversed direction. It is working with traffic-control specialist Facetime to enable network managers to lock out features that they don't want their users to have, such as file transfers.

Ian Robin, who runs the company's Skype for Business programme in the UK, says that it's small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are the main target, not enterprises. He adds though that, world-wide, Skype has 17 customers with over 2000 users under management, and two - which he won't name, saying only that they're in Asia - with over 10,000.

However, there are limits on how far Skype is willing to go to accommodate enterprise needs. Robin says that it won't compromise on voice encryption, for instance, meaning that calls can't easily be recorded within the network.

"In some ways we're too secure," he says. "You can't monitor calls and for some organisations, such as financial services, that's a problem."