By Mitchell Barker, WhichVoIP.co.za
Microsoft Teams has made its name as a collaboration tool, bringing together IM, presence, desktop sharing, audio conferencing, and so on. These features proved vital in allowing a business to continue when the Covid-19 pandemic forced most countries into lockdowns.
An unexpected side effect of the growing popularity of Teams, however, is the push to have it replace the business phone systems currently provided by the many accomplished PABX vendors found in the market today. The Microsoft Teams sales pitch and the proposition is an attractive one indeed – who wouldn’t want a platform which will simplify infrastructure, consolidate suppliers, reduce costs and give users a comprehensive platform for all their telephony needs.
This is, however, problematic for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that replacing a company’s phone system is neither simple, feasible, nor always necessary, and working this is all out is only possible when you have the necessary experience in planning and managing telecoms environments.
A specialised capability
For years, telephony was Operations or IT’s responsibility, however, as technology evolved businesses learned that modern telephony systems could be leveraged in many ways to drive all kinds of efficiencies within the organisation and become the lifeblood to finding and keeping customers.
Now though, it seems like every department head feels empowered enough to promote using Microsoft Teams as a replacement for their desk phone and phone system? And while Microsoft has done a great job at educating users on how to use their product, businesses should not allow these decisions to be made in isolation. Telephony remains a specialised field and that’s why hundreds of companies (such as the ones in our Telecoms Directory) exist today.
On the surface, Teams makes it easy to communicate. Any party using Microsoft Teams can make voice over IP (VoIP) calls to any other person who can connect using the Teams service, but off the bat, you cannot connect your phone lines directly to Teams, and that means that users will not be able to make calls to external numbers, and your Customers will not be able to phone your Teams users. This is because in South Africa, unlike in other regions, Microsoft cannot be your phone operator. Rather, businesses will be expected to leverage the Direct Routing functionality within Teams to connect their own operator.
Connecting your Voice provider is the first step which requires careful planning and consideration. You’ll first need to make sure that your voice operator uses a compatible Session Border Controller which will sit in-between their network and your Teams tenant. Then, you’ll need to work out the best way to design your number plan because each Teams Phone System user requires a unique 10-digit telephone number which may work a bit different for companies who have traditionally only used and advertised one number for incoming and outgoing calls, who will now have to acquire additional numbers which may not follow the same number range as their trigger number.
Where features and functionality meet
Microsoft openly advertises that it supports a handful of features. These may very well suit some businesses, but one should be careful not to assume all their needs can be met by Teams Phone System and be a “complete Phone System replacement”.
Microsoft is aware of the gaps that exist and has worked with various partners which it recommends their customers consider. However, it is unclear how much control or input Microsoft has in terms of quality control and service level agreements between partners. Furthermore, filling these gaps may require customers to contract directly with these third parties, some of whom may not be locally represented.
Based on our experience, we have rounded up a list of the top reasons why we believe Microsoft Teams may not be able to replace your current phone system at this time:
- No Software Operator Console, therefore, switchboard operators may find it difficult to manage busy calling environments which require multi-tasking and management of handling multiple calls at the same time, transfers, recalls, parked calls, taking messages, and more.
- No Call Centre Dashboards, Real-time Reporting or Skills-based Routing. At this stage, Teams is best suited for simpler ring or hunt groups rather than customer-focused interaction centres, especially when there is a requirement for other communication channels, such as email, chat, etc.
- No Compliant Call Recording, which is common in most organisations that financial transactions over the phone or ones which leverage call recording for training or interaction assessment purposes.
- No Telephone Management System capabilities where costs can be allocated to a call – vital for businesses who need to understand usage and costs down to a branch, department, and user level. Also, there is no ability to block users from making calls based on them reaching a quota or budget.
- Common VoIP phones will most likely not work with Teams. Only Microsoft Teams certified phones work with Teams Phone System, and at this stage, there’s only a handful of them. If you recently invested in SIP phones, expecting them to work across vendors, that may not be possible. Assuming businesses are happy to drop physical handsets and go the softphone route, they’ll need to invest in proper headsets but should not overlook the requirements in their conference room, the kitchen, security box, public reception, and any requirement that may have traditional analogue devices like fax machines which need to be connected. We are seeing PABX vendors promote integrating their PABX with Microsoft Teams to serve a hybrid telephony approach, however, businesses must make sure that they fully understand the pros, cons and costs involved in going this route).
- Lastly, there is no specific SLA from Microsoft for Phone System and related PSTN services like Cloud Auto-Attendant and Call Queues.
Calling the future
Despite these drawbacks, we believe Microsoft has done an incredible job in such a short period of time. They have nailed the user experience and have brought an extremely elegant solution to the market. Plus, Microsoft’s agility and investment will be hard to match as they develop to become the de facto and can go head to head against the current UC players.
Our recommendation for any company embarking on this journey is to find a partner who understands both worlds and can help you to navigate through the waters. Every business is different, and so are their telephony needs. As solutions like Teams continue to improve, companies can leverage the expertise of their partners to ensure that they are getting the functionality and flexibility they need, at the price point they want.
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