Manage your telephony the easy way with Microsoft Cloud Voice, with Teams integration
"Remember the days when we thought that no business could function without a fax machine? It took many years for some companies to finally find the courage to ditch them. I firmly believe that sometime soon, we’ll be looking back on today’s telephony solutions in the same way. VoIP phones on every desk and all those old-fashioned switchboards - they’re relics of an era that is slowly fading into the past. We don’t need them any more. Everything is going into the cloud. And by everything, I don’t just mean our regular office tools – telephone switchboards and complex call centres can easily be set up online too."
In this interview we look at the unprecedented opportunities of Microsoft Cloud Voice and how telephony can be integrated into Teams. Marcel Besteman doesn’t beat about the bush: in his view, the majority of traditional (VoIP) telephony is completely redundant and organizations would do well to take a good look at how their approach to telephony.
Marcel, this is a subject that you feel quite strongly about. Can you tell us why that is?
“Actually it’s a case of my own personal frustration. For so many decades now, telephony has been a key element in business and in our private lives. People need to be able to call each other, period. But in recent years, so much has changed in the way people do that. And many companies don’t seem to have noticed that yet.
At Transition Experts, we were often confronted with the limitations for our own office environment. Our old telephone system wasn’t particularly complicated – a block of 100 telephone numbers, a few landlines, some general numbers and some special settings for public holidays and so on. But whenever we wanted to make any minor change, it was always such a chore!
Maybe we had a new colleague joining the office, someone was away on holiday, or unexpectedly there was nobody at the office for a while… Well, we could either fool around with call-forwarding ourselves, or contact our service provider and get them to deal with it – and charge us for an hour’s work. So any minor change took an unnecessary amount of time – and money – to arrange. And yet we’re all pretty handy ourselves when it comes to technology! The systems behind any old-fashioned switchboard is unnecessarily complex and so it’s simply not accessible to end users – and rightly so, of course, given that complexity.
So to cut a long story short, we wanted to try something different and we made the switch last year. After doing some research, I ported all our numbers to Microsoft and said goodbye to our old telephony provider. Now I can manage all the settings myself, in a user-friendly way. And with a little analytical insight, anyone else could be doing the same thing.”
The interview continues below the picture
“So we could all be getting rid of all our VOIP phones. It’s wonderful – so much extra space on your desk! Phone calls come in directly through Teams, so I always keep my headset within reach, and that’s it. I can take calls on my laptop, my tablet and my smartphone, whatever I happen to be using. It doesn’t matter if I’m working at home, in the office or in the car. I’m always reachable, whenever I want – and if not, it will be taken care of.
Nobody at the office on a particular day? Our customers don’t notice a thing. A new colleague in the team? No problem – just create a new user with his or her own number and they’ll be added to the right call groups automatically. And handling calls in Teams is so convenient. It’s easy to use, and I never need to miss a call again. Since we made this switch, it’s even more surprising to me that so many companies are still doing things the old-fashioned way.”
How does Microsoft Cloud Voice work?
“We’ve already talked extensively about Microsoft 365, about Microsoft Teams, Advanced Productivity and Power Platform. Cloud Voice is also part of MS-365, and it enables you to run your entire telephony system through Microsoft Teams. Incoming calls, outgoing calls, voicemail, everything.
That means that you’re always reachable by phone, no matter where you are or which device you happen to be using. As long as you’re logged in to Teams, you’ll receive calls. At the office, at home, in the car, at the coffee machine, desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. No more hassle with logging into and out of the telephone system, or remembering to add days off or holidays.
You can synch your availability automatically with your diary. Whenever you’re available, you can be contacted, no matter where you are. And if you’re not available, you can easily arrange for calls to be forwarded elsewhere. Or you can have callers leave you a voicemail message, which ends up neatly in your email.
Cloud Voice is a particularly good solution for companies where staff regularly work from home. It allows you to work in a decentralized way, without your customers even noticing. And users like the fact that everything comes in through one portal: meetings, video, phone calls. That makes it easier to work efficiently, and it makes staff more productive.
This solution also makes it easier to manage your telephony system – that’s such a major difference with an old-fashioned telephone switchboard. No more hassle with administration and maintenance. You no longer depend on your service provider, and you have full control over your own systems.”
What about the business side?
“This is a very neat way to get rid of your legacy system. It’s the ultimate digital transformation. Enabling – and even encouraging – decentralized working will be a key aspect of IT organization in the next few years. During the coronavirus outbreak of recent months, we’ve seen how quickly that shift can be made. It’s too late now, but good implementation of Microsoft Teams and Cloud Voice would have enabled companies to stay fully reachable during that first week of lockdown.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s safe to say that traditional telephony is heading the way of the dinosaurs. More and more, it belongs in the past. Why are companies still investing in it? This set-up allows you to move from CAPEX, an investment model, to OPEX – operational costs. It’s scalable and because Microsoft manages the system in the cloud, you’ll always have the latest technical options and updates.
I’m not saying that it will always necessarily work out cheaper. It can be cheaper, but that depends entirely on how you set it up. One organization might save 60%, while in another one it may work out more expensive. But it’s more than just a matter of reducing costs, you also need to consider the value you’ll be adding in terms of productivity.”
Is Cloud Voice the right solution for every organization?
“No, not always. There are a few points that I always look at in any initial exploration. Microsoft hasn’t yet rolled out this service everywhere in the world. Making and receiving calls directly in the Microsoft Phone System requires a calling plan license, and currently that’s only available in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the USA.
So you can’t register locations in India or Singapore, for example. But the expectation is that the number of regions covered will grow steadily. And of course, you can still use a hybrid system and integrate Teams telephony through direct routing.
Another point to consider is: are all your users in the cloud yet, and do they all have a stable, reliable internet connection? If not, Cloud Voice would not be my first suggestion. And there can also be limitations with very specific installations. But of course, we would screen thoroughly for all of that in advance.
There are still some analogue systems in use, such as telephones in factories or locations where digital connections are not reliable enough. And there are also millions of pagers still in use around the world – in hospitals, for example. Those are usually analogue, so they can’t be integrated into a digital system. But there is always the option of a hybrid system.”
What does that involve, in technical terms?
“I’ll go into the technical details in the next interview. But what I’ll say already is that there are various ways of integrating telephony in Teams. You can transfer your telephony to Microsoft entirely, or you can opt for direct routing and retaining your old PBX (in part). That’s what we mean when we say a hybrid system. There are also options for integrating Skype for Business.
We have an extensive migration plan which covers all these aspects, and all the lessons learned so far. But we’ll get into that in our next interview!”
Are you excited about the possibilities, and curious to learn more about the technical aspects of this story? The second part of this interview will be published next week. If you’d like to receive these interviews in your mailbox automatically, you can sign up for our newsletter.
Would you like to know more about Microsoft Cloud Voice?
We’ll be happy to give you a free one-hour consultancy session to demonstrate what Microsoft Cloud Voice could mean for your organization, with no obligations. For more information, a demo, or to make an (online) appointment, why not get in touch with Gert Veldhuis at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +31 (0)85 – 487 29 01.
About the expert: Microsoft Cloud Voice
Introduction: Marcel Besteman, experienced transition and programme manager, and a familiar face for many, as one of the partners at Transition Experts. He previously worked for big names such as Imtech, Capgemini and Ernst & Young. He has founded several companies and was one of the founders of Transition Experts ten years ago. With 25+ years of experience, he continues to be enthusiastic about IT transitions and transformations.
About this series of interviews
This is the eighth part of a series of interviews on Modular Digital Transformation (MDT). MDT is our way of making digital transformation more tagible: we split up into smaller themes, such as blockchain, big data and RPA. These stand-alone modules allow you to focus very specifically on one aspect of digital transformation.
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