With Microsoft getting deeper into telephony with the Cloud PBX feature of its Office 365 offering, customers need to assess how the new features fit into their IT and unified communications plans. In so doing, they need to essentially conduct an audit of the various use cases their employees have for tools such as Skype for Business and let that drive how they take advantage of cloud telephony offerings – or not.
This advice comes from Tom Arbuthnot, Principal Solutions Architect with Modality Systems, a UC consulting firm that specializes in Skype for Business. Arbuthnot is a Microsoft Certified Master and MVP in UC who has helped lots of companies implement Skype for Business (and its predecessor Lync).
Conduct Use Case Audit to get a Handle on Cloud-eligible Employees
One of the keys to success with Skype for Business is gaining a thorough understanding of your user base and their requirements before jumping in, he says. With respect to voice services, that’s more important now than ever because once you port a phone number to Microsoft’s cloud service, it won’t be easy getting it back should you decide the service isn’t cutting it.
That makes a use case audit a critical step, agrees Justin Stevens, Director of North American Channels for Sonus Networks. Sonus makes session border controllers and other devices that play a key role in connecting the Cloud PBX to premise based equipment, PSTN and securing the environment for proper performance of UC applications.
The issue is that the Cloud PBX feature doesn’t support all of the telephony features that some users may need, such as call recording, automatic call distribution and hunt groups. “You need to understand use cases to definitively determine which users can go to the cloud and which can’t,” Stevens says.
One customer he worked with ported to Cloud PBX phone numbers for some employees who needed those more advanced features. “Moving them back was not an easy task,” he says. Anyone who’s ever had to port a number from one carrier to another can likely relate; it’s a process that involves a leap of faith and, probably, holding of breath.
Creating a Business RFP for S4B
To avoid such a fate, Arbuthnot conducts what he calls a business request for proposal (RFP) with clients. It involves delving into what the business is trying to accomplish and mapping out its overall goals. Maybe the company is trying to get better at customer service, or get in shape for an acquisition.
Only after the business goals are well understood does the RFP proceed to map out a corporate IT strategy. With the business goals in hand, it becomes easier to determine which employees need various applications and services.
“The business requirements will often point you in one direction or another,” he says. “If a user needs to record calls, Cloud PBX won’t work for them. There’s no arguing about that.”
As a result, many customers will end up implementing a hybrid strategy, with some users employing cloud-based telephony and Skype for Business functions while others who need additional functions use the premises-based versions.
Implementing a Hybrid Skype for Business Environment
Then the job becomes effectively connecting the premises and cloud implementations such that they work together seamlessly. That entails installing infrastructure such as an SBC to provide security as well as functions including interworking between incompatible services, such as analog phone calls and IP-based voice calls.
Customers often need help with such details, especially on the voice end, Arbuthnot notes. “We definitely get called in when deployments go bad,” he says. “With Skype for Business, people roll it out and it works fine for maybe 100 people. But then they start scaling up and encounter unusual use cases or find the network can’t support it. It’s not something you can do in-house without real expertise.” Most companies would never try to deploy a Cisco or Avaya IP-PBX on their own, he notes; as you get into voice, the same rules apply to Skype for Business.
A network assessment should definitely be apart of the migration plan, he said. Understanding the stress on the network that real-time applications present is key, especially in a hybrid environment where the loads will be split between the cloud and user premises. “Plan and measure. That’s a key part of the migration path,” he says.
It’s better to spend the time and money up front and deliver a good user experience out of the gate, Arbuthnot notes. “It’s hard to recover from negative experience. Regaining trust is tough.”