Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses to close their offices, the popularity of remote work and digitalization of the modern workplace was on an incremental rise, making it crucial for organizations to deploy platforms that enable seamless collaboration. Traditional unified communications (UC) on-premise systems have become obsolete for many modern enterprises. As organizations continue to replace old systems with new, scalable cloud services and software as a service (SaaS) solutions, the next collaboration trend on the horizon is the growing demand for cloud phone services.
The implementation of cloud phone systems is challenging due to the complexities of integrating legacy telephony features and equipment into a cloud framework. To address this, market leaders like Zoom Phone and phone systems for Microsoft Teams have taken a “premises peering” approach, which enables their cloud systems to extend into an enterprise or carrier telephony environment. Given the arms race among video conferencing and collaboration application platforms during this pandemic, the cloud phone has taken a backseat. But as we slowly reinstate back to a new normal, the cloud phone space will start heating up.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom Meetings and Meetings in Teams services have skyrocketed. Phone systems for Microsoft Teams have been the dominant player in cloud telephony for years, giving it a head start in the race, while Zoom Phone is still very much in its infancy. However, Zoom’s success in the Meetings space has earned it an unexpected boost in credibility with its recent Zoom Phone offering. It’s now a legitimate contender in the competition against enterprise leader, Microsoft.
When it comes time to make a purchasing decision, many companies lean on traditional UC providers like Microsoft vs. nontraditional UC as a service (UCaaS) providers like Zoom, due to comfortability and existing relationships. By doing so, enterprises may be missing out on offerings that they didn’t know were available.
If you’re struggling to decide between the tried and true vs. the shiny and new, here are some key considerations to help you determine which cloud phone service is right for your enterprise:
Microsoft has been bundling its services for several years, and now several 365 application services are integrated with its phone system. That’s a great option if you’re already using other Microsoft 365 services like chat, meetings, etc. If you aren’t using them yet but are planning to incorporate one or more of these services in the near future, opting for the bundle makes the most financial sense. The consistency between solutions, all supported by the same provider, can be a huge benefit and driver in decision making. However, if your enterprise is already using numerous solutions, e.g., Slack for chat, and Zoom Meetings for video calls, etc., you’re likely paying for more than one solution serving the same purpose.
Zoom’s bundling works a bit differently, as it wants to be viewed as an all-encompassing collaboration solution by empowering users to expand their use of its product, especially through its phone offering. Ultimately, each company is leveraging different bundling strategies to lure customers into their phone solution. A customer’s current solution usage will have a substantial bearing on which vendor’s phone solution is easiest to absorb, from an implementation and adoption change management perspective.
Cost is undoubtedly one of the most influential factors in determining which cloud phone service is best for your enterprise. When it comes to choosing a service provider, underlying cost factors aren’t always prepared [changed from past to present tense] clearly. One of these is the device (i.e., room systems, headsets, etc.) support. Does the service provider offer legacy device support, or do you need to factor in the cost of purchasing and deploying new devices on top of the services?
Zoom offers greater legacy device support, which means it will support more of your existing devices. That can be a cost saver as you ramp up your phone system and aim to get the most out of the device investments your enterprise has already made. Alternatively, Microsoft offers more limited legacy device support, as a play to encourage customers to use new devices based on the Microsoft Teams code base. If you don’t have existing devices at your enterprise, this isn’t necessarily a downside because you’ll need to purchase devices anyway. If your enterprise already has existing telecoms or other devices, you’ll be required to replace them with new Microsoft certified devices, which can be a costly investment.
Overall implementation costs are perhaps even a more substantial part of the cost equation. The steps to configure, test, and deploy a new phone system is generously equivalent. So is the set up for Microsoft Direct Routing and Zoom BYOC because it’s very straightforward for users. The complexity comes in managing all of the legacy system’s requirements and infrastructure, whether it’s the elevator phone unit or a PBX that configures with an outdated TDM protocol. Before IT can even get to the step of assigning a phone number, the additional planning and meticulous transformation of connecting systems often make the difference between a successful vs. a train-wreck new deployment.
Additionally, operational cost components are a critical consideration when selecting a cloud phone service. It’s important to take the costs in account beyond your traditional device support, such as the monitoring and management of your platform. It may increase your overall expenditure by spending more on IT staffing, user training, and maintenance of equipment, but it will set your business up for long-term success.
Because the UC market brings together several different disparate technologies, it faces unique security challenges. According to a recent study by Ribbon Communications, 62%of large companies have fallen victim to IP-based attacks, including robocalling and toll fraud. Security must be a top priority when adopting a cloud phone or any new UC service. Over the past 18 months (not just during the COVID-19 time period) all of the major UC players have experienced different security shortfalls and negative backlash. It’s a delicate balancing act to equalize end-user feature development with security and governance. Determining which platform is the best fit for your organization’s security needs depends in part on your internal IT security infrastructure.
No matter which service you choose, it’s crucial to have InfoSec teams set up best practices during integration and to enforce user responsibility as technology alone can’t bridge the gap between user error. Governing users for phone integration require a different approach than overseeing other UC-like messaging. Because data is coming from real-time conversations, and not file sharing, for example, organizations typically don’t invest as much in securing this medium, which is a common oversight.
Microsoft Teams and Zoom both can’t wait to be king in the UCaaS phone category. Both come with unique benefits and drawbacks. The key to choosing the right provider for your organization is in evaluating the finer details of deploying these platforms (bundling options, underlying costs, security, and support) and aligning those with your infrastructure, budget, and user needs.
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