Skype Certification: Delivering End User Confidence to Partner Products

Tiit Paananen: Certification Session at eBay DevConProviding an outline and overview of the full Skype Certification program in action, including both the technology and business aspects, was the goal of Tiit Paananen’s presentation at the eBay/Skype Developer Conference last month. The full slide presentation is here but I will add some comments that came out of the session.

From the Skype perspective, the certification process can become a “chicken-and-egg” problem in that both parties (Skype and the partner) must have a common visualization of what the end user product is and how it can bring value-add to the Skype ecosystem. As a result Skype has established a multi-phase process that facilitates preparation and communication while minimizing the number of steps to achieve Skype certification. Establishing this process involved:

  • gathering requirements for the program
  • establishing Skype’s criteria for acceptance
  • determining the pre-certification activity required to prepare for testing
  • facilitating iterative listing of products as they change once certified.

The business objectives of Skype certification are:

  • help sales of partners’ products
  • ensure a positive user experience
  • establish quality control criteria and processes
  • avoid technical issues once a product comes to market

To date Skype has the most experience with hardware certification (33 categories and counting) while they are still learning the processes and criteria required for software certification where they are still defining categories. A complete set of certification documentation (by category) is available on the website. As general guidance for software they look for:

  • Solutions that make Skype better (Pamela)
  • Solutions that Skype makes better (Salesforce.com)

Certification is a geographically distributed activity with most testing performed in Talinn complemented by a second test facility in Beijing while business development is managed out of London. This can create triage issues when determining the priorities for testing various submissions as partner proposals are evaluated also against Skype’s ongoing business goals.

Certification ProcessTiit then reviewed the certification process as highlighted in the attached slide. Some of his comments:

  • The submission process does not only include the product itself but also proposed packaging and documentation.
  • In working through the review criteria they find:
    • a new hardware category is created monthly
    • with software each case is unique and forms an individual category
    • the toughest question to resolve is “does the solution add value?”
  • Certification fees for hardware are $800 per test round or $8,000 for a one year subscription to test. Currently there are no fees for software testing but this may change once additional experience has been developed. These fees are due prior to commencement of review and testing.

Going forward Skype is developing a “harmonized” test environment incorporating Windows, Linx and Mac OS X platforms. While there is a degree of subjectivity to some of their criteria, one goal of the new environment is to introduce more objectivity into their testing activity. In support of this goal Skype is also opening a complete audio/video laboratory which will facilitate testing of the full solution being offered:

  • Documentation
  • Packaging
  • Installation
  • Ergonomics
  • Functionality.

Final comments and questions:

  • Certification is version specific; individual versions of each solution must be certified
  • Only 40% of devices submitted to date have passed; where minor modifications are required there is a fail/troubleshoot/pass process.
  • Allow up to six weeks for testing once a submission meeting all the basic requirements have been met.
  • Skype version changes must be backward compatible to certified products. (At the time there were some version 2.5 beta issues being resolved but 2.5 went “gold” immediately after the conference)
  • Some certifications may expire as time passes depending on the nature of the product
  • Sound device issues have now been elevated to becoming a priority 1 issue such that products cannot arbitrarily conflict with other audio applications such as Windows Media Player and SlingBox as well as with other Skype solutions
  • A significant portion of failures relate to ease-of-use issues
  • The number of solutions in a category is market driven

Certification has become one of the key differentiators of Skype from other VoIP communications products and services. We are starting to see hardware, such as VoIPvoice’s Cyberphone series of handsets and Multi-Link’s TeleVoIP Stick, that provide the user with a familiar user interface – i.e. a keypad-based handset – to access Skype services (sometimes transparently). The certification process is a key infrastructure component to driving mass consumer adoption of Skype as an enhanced communications service. Tiit’s presentation brought a lot of the mystique associated with Skype certification out into the open and hopefully can serve as guidance to partners considering participating in the Skype ecosystem.

And, while I will not name any names, I can attest to the fact that several uncertified products have significant ease-of-use issues. Appropriately managed and enforced Skype’s process has the potential to filter out “proof-of-concept” technology from true value-added products such that:

  • Installation is smooth and straight forward; introduces no conflicts with users’ prior configurations, especially Windows Audio Devices
  • The user interface is user friendly to the non-technical consumer, consistent with legacy telephony operation where feasible and intuitive in learning.
  • Documentation provides clear and adequate guidance in (i) the use of the hardware and/or (ii) installation, configuration and operation of the software.
  • Packaging provides both a clear overview of the product’s functionality and uses Skype’ certification branding appropriately.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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