Lync

Meet Microsoft's new (old) head of Lync and Skype

February 17, 2014: 7:47 PM ET

Fortune talks to Gurdeep Singh Pall, who will lead Microsoft's Lync team once again as the company's comms competition stiffens.

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FORTUNE -- Chief executive officer Satya Nadella isn't the only Microsoft (MSFT) exec with a new role. Gurdeep Singh Pall, also a longtime company insider, was recently named head of the Skype and Lync communications products. He makes his public debut later this week at the Lync Conference in Las Vegas.

It's a homecoming of sorts. Pall was tasked with leading the Lync engineering team and launching the Windows Messenger replacement back in 2010. The following year, he worked on the Skype acquisition and its early integration efforts. Most recently, Pall took on a new role at Microsoft -- corporate VP of information platform and experience -- where he worked on building out an artificial intelligence platform.

Now he's back to run the company's communications business. Consumer-focused Skype has about 300 million users, but it has a growing pool of rivals. (Just this week, the competing messaging app Viber was acquired by Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer, for $900 million.) And enterprise-focused Lync remains a top player in the unified communications space, but it trails Cisco (CSCO) in market share, according to Forrester Research analyst Art Schoeller.

Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done, foremost in integrating the two platforms. To find out more about his vision for both products and his thoughts on the competition (and Microsoft's new CEO), we caught up with Pall ahead of his keynote speech at the upcoming Lync Conference.

Fortune: So, you're moving to London!

Pall: Yes, I'm in the process of moving to London. I spend every other week there now and will move there in a few months. I feel very connected to Redmond and all the teams here. If you look at Skype, though, the development team in particular is in London.

What's your vision for Skype and Lync?

When I look at Skype, it's used by over 300 million users around the world. It's a word people know. We want to build on that familiarity. The same tools you use at home, you want to use at work. People have no patience for things that look odd. Users don't want to configure something for half an hour. And the fact that it's in the cloud opens up all sorts of machine learning predictive capabilities. For example, when I'm on a conference call my phone should automatically go silent [and not ring when other calls come through].

How has the competition changed since you got started in unified communications?

Ten years ago, when we talked about unified communications, you found a lot of old-school players. They're still around, but they are starting to struggle. The old model doesn't work anymore. It's more about the cloud, and moving between work and life. We have a unique position in this industry.

What about some of the recent efforts Google (GOOG) has made in this space?

Google has found a very effective way of innovating where they take a hundred things and throw them on the wall and see what sticks. We don't think that's really a credible approach. We don't think any enterprise will want to adopt something that can slide off the wall.

What are your thoughts on your new chief executive, Satya Nadella?

Satya is highly technical, and a very driven, very focused leader. I've known him for almost 22 years. I couldn't be more excited. He's leading on innovation. This industry doesn't favor tradition. It favors innovation. I didn't come back to this [Lync and Skype] team and say, "Let me just sit back and soak in how well we've done on communication." It's about what is the next thing we have to do. That's the kind of tone that Satya is setting.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly used the term "exclusive" for the news of Pall's appointment. He was named publicly to the post in October 2013.

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