Microsoft 365 Voice as the Future Business Phone System

Microsoft 365 Why Now and How the Pandemic has Changed How Organizations Communicate

No area of IT changed as much or as swiftly as a result of COVID-19, as telephony. One moment we were living in a world of PRIs (Primary Rate Interface), PBXs (Private Branch Exhange), desktop phones, conference room systems with speaker phones, and face-to-face communication requiring you to get up and walk to whoever it is you want to talk to; and then everything changed as users were forced away from the office and into the world of Teams and Zoom. Now, as the world prepares to head back to the office, and back to the old world of pre-pandemic telephony, the obvious question is whether this is still the right solution for your employees.

 

Changing User Expectations

Professionally dressed man hanging up phone for Microsoft 365 voice meets a variety of business conference needs

 

Even though many organizations are heading back to the office, the reality for most will be a hybrid model with some users splitting time between home and the office. In the last two years, employee expectations have changed. Many people will not want to return, at least not for 5 days a week, and even those who do come into the office will be using communication technologies very differently than how they were before. Personal video conferencing is now the norm, and people are used to high definition audio and clear video of people’s faces.

Therefore, we can’t easily go back to the same old telephony solution. The world has changed and so have the business requirements. If your organization is going through the expense and trouble of getting users back into the office, you’ll want them to be at least as happy and productive as they were when they were at home. Employees now expect these 4 basic requirements when they return to work. Anything less will be a disappointment:

  1. Whether in the office or in your home, by phone or video conference, your phone number needs to travel with you.
  2. Voice is important, but not enough. Users have learned to rely on chat, video conferencing, and file collaboration technologies.
  3. Having access to high-quality video conference technology at the desk is essential because this is where most meetings will occur.
  4. When in the boardroom, the old conferencing systems won’t cut it anymore. Smart face-tracking cameras, multiple high-definition microphones, and Teams/Zoom integration is a must.

 

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How Well does Microsoft 365 Voice (Teams) Fit the Bill?

Microsoft 365 voice allows team members to work from home or on the go

Microsoft 365 Voice fits all the above requirements. It is quick and easy to configure and manage, particularly compared to a traditional PBX. If you’re already an O365/M365 subscriber, it is very affordable. And chances are that your users are already using it for video conferencing and chat, and perhaps file collaboration.

If you currently have a PBX setup or are still considering that as your next option, it’s useful to see how Microsoft 365 Voice compares to a traditional PBX setup.

In short, Microsoft 365 Voice does everything your PBX does, but requires no hardware, no physical phone lines, or 3rd party telecoms providers, and enables a single number for desktop,

 

mobile and computer call out of the box. And, with most organizations having used Microsoft 365 Voice as their primary communication solution throughout the pandemic, it allows for a seamless return to work for employees.

Comparison Table: Microsoft 365 Voice vs Traditional Phone System

Microsoft TeamsTraditional Phone System
Hardware requiredNo. Saves on hardware cost.Phone controller, desktop phones
On-prem deployment requiredNo. Saves on deployment cost

Yes
Licensing requiredNo additional licensing required for calling by O365 user account.

Audio conferencing also no longer requires an add-on license, it is available across both enterprise and business licensing.

However, having a dedicated phone number or making calls to PSTN endpoints requires a Teams Phone System license, which includes a calling plan so no telecom provider is needed
Yes. Per user licensing required for many traditional phone systems
Requires 3rd party telecoms carrierNo. Reduces complexity and cost

Primarily this is a VOIP system, but you can retain PSTN using direct routing with a compatible Session Border Controller, if you’re still unsure about going VOIP all the way. This option will require a 3rd party PSTN carrier, and will add some complexity and cost back in.
Yes, in most cases

For most systems a PRI is required, but SIP trunking available now for some PBX systems if you want to go all VOIP
Compatible with desktop phonesYes, it should work with all SIP phonesYes, depending on protocols supported
Supports video callingYes. Saves on cost.

Video conferencing via the Teams app, so works on all desktop and mobile operating systems
Some do, but usually requires video capable desk phones
Single number for desktop phone, mobile phone, and computer callsYes. Saves on cost and reduces complexity.

Mobile phone and computer calls via the Teams app
No, in most cases,

When available, it usually requires additional licensing and use of proprietary application
Dial-in conference numbers for meetingsYes. Saves on cost.

Audio conferencing is now included across all business and enterprise O365 plans
No, in most cases

Usually requires 3rd party conferencing service
Maximum callersTeams meetings can have up to 1,000 active participants, or 20,000 in View Only mode

Note that turning on break-out rooms limits attendees to 300
External participants are limited by the number of available phonelines you have
Integrates with boardroom conference systemsYes, using SIP. But some conferencing systems may require a specific Teams licenseYes
Can call meeting room conference line from an external numberAccounts used for meeting rooms can be called from external numbers just the same as a regular user account, if you allow itSometimes. It depends on the system
Voicemail features Popular features:

1. Record a greeting from Teams
2. Text to speech greetings
3. Out-of-office greetings (uses Outlook calendar)
4. Voicemail sent to email
5. Encrypted and protected voicemail
6. Prevent voicemail forwarding
Depends on the system, but usually more limited
Supports call queue, hunt groups, ring groupsYesYes
Supports auto-attendant / IVR with both key and voice inputYesYes
Programmable call flowsYes, all done via the Teams Admin Centre GUIYes, but can be complex. Method of programming depends on system
Are numbers portable from your existing carrier?Yes, create request via the Teams Admin Centre and select desired port dateYes, request through new carrier

 

What About the Gotchas?

Team members dealing with issues with headsets, Microsoft 365 Voice helps mnimize the hiccups with adding a new phone system

Well, of course. There are always gotchas.. 

Plan ahead, of course: This is the main one. You need to plan properly and resource the project accordingly, just as you would a PBX rollout. Many people think they can manage it last minute using the already overloaded helpdesk tech, but that’s a recipe for trouble. Yes, it’s Teams, and yes, it’s easier than a PBX rollout, but no, it’s not straight-forward. There are many policies to define, call routes to plan, groups to create, recordings to do, user setup to do, licensing to do, numbers to transfer. You’ll need to think carefully, talk to stakeholders, and get all the required approvals, and then leave enough time to do the configuration. Take the time, money and effort to properly prepare and manage the migration for the best results.

Roll out over a weekend: Teams can take a long time to propagate configurations and policies. In our experience, it can take a good day before all your users are fully up and running. You can mitigate a lot of this by making sure you already have the configurations and policies applied to user accounts before the port happens. But still best to do the migration over a weekend and prepare your users for a little disruption.

Check licensing for hardware: Although Microsoft 365 Voice theoretically supports all SIP devices, in reality some hardware vendors will require an additional M365 license to make it work, so do your research ahead of time and make sure you have all the licenses in place.

Make sure you have the bandwidth: If you’re going from a PRI-based PBX to a fully VOIP Microsoft 365 Voice rollout, then you will be adding traffic to your Internet connection. However, to be fair, this is probably going to be the case even without adding Teams Phone System, since your employees are probably already doing most of their meetings nowadays, even when back in the office, on Teams or Zoom video calls.

Use Exchange Online: Microsoft 365 Voice works so much better if you use Exchange Online. If you’re still rocking an on-prem Exchange server, it might be the time to retire it and embrace the Cloud. For full functionality, at a minimum, you will need to be using a hybrid AD environment using Azure AD Connect. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on features like calendar and contact integration, creating meetings from Teams, and some Teams integrated apps may not work properly.

Check your licensing: Microsoft 365 Voice requires SharePoint online to share files. This doesn’t mean you need to give up your on-prem SharePoint (although you should, for so many other reasons), but you will need SharePoint Online licensing. This is probably a non-issue for most people because you get SharePoint Online across the full range of O365 and M365 business and enterprise licensing, so unless you are only buying Teams licensing, you should be fine.

 

What Does an Implementation Look Like?

 

Team of office workers working on a Microsoft 365 Voice implementation near skyline

A Microsoft 365 Voice migration/implementation requires planning and a thoughtful approach, the same as any business-critical system implementation. Here are some of the key tasks to complete. There will likely be others specific to your organization’s needs. Mindfield can support with a subset or all of these activities, and provide overall project management.

  1. Develop project plan, business case, and project charter.
  2. Take an inventory of user hardware: desk phone, conference system, headsets, etc., and check for compatibility.
  3. Document existing setup, phone numbers, routing, hunt groups, IVR capabilities etc., and use this as the baseline requirements for designing the Microsoft 365 Voice setup and requesting the number port.
  4. Workshop with key stakeholders to confirm/change baseline requirements, and define new requirements such as Teams settings, and meeting and calling policies.
  5. Work with existing/new 3rd party vendors to quote required hardware and licenses.
  6. Update technical documentation, write policies and train documentation.
  7. Develop and implement a change management and adoption plan based on an industry best practice framework
  8. Design and implement end-user training and post-implementation support
  9. Complete technical implementation and rollout
  10. Project close-out

 

How do I Take the First Step?

You have a lot to consider. It’s not an easy decision. But we’re here to help and support you on your journey. And taking that first step couldn’t be easier. Submit a Quick Contact request and someone will reach out to set up a quick intro call.

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    Mindfield Consulting helps organizations refine their Microsoft 365 and Office 365  investments to deliver ease of use, improved security, and effective use of resources for organizations dealing with complexity, evolving needs, and a formidable amount of content, data, and communication modalities. We help organizations identify the right products and provide extended support. We help organizations find the right mix of packaged and custom software from planning service delivery, to remote locations, to global trading systems for precious materials and resources. Mindfield Consulting has over two decades of experience delivering technology that meets every mission. Our clients win when they are empowered with the right technology and the right people for over 22 years across Canada and US. Mindfield specializes in IT Audit, Office365 ServicesSharePoint Intranet Consulting, and SharePoint Migration Service.

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