Microsoft this month will make available globally its Office 365 E5 plan, which includes the Cloud PBX feature Microsoft unveiled back in July. As I wrote at the time, this puts Microsoft in the telephony provider business in a significant way. It’s one of those inflection points that gets people thinking about their telephony infrastructure and how it fits with the rest of their IT and unified communications environment – or at least, it should get them thinking.
Like other Office 365 plans, the E5 suite includes Skype for Business and all the unified communications features that entails, including presence, instant messaging, audio and video conferencing and more. It likewise includes all the usual Office applications plus security features, storage and more, as we previously reported.
But E5 also adds Cloud PBX, which when coupled with the PSTN calling option provides the ability to make and receive PSTN calls from the Skype for Business software client or IP phones, with features such as hold, forward and transfer. Microsoft is also offering a PSTN conferencing feature that enables callers using traditional landlines or mobile phones to dial into Skype for Business conferences.
Companies that fit into one of the following three scenarios may find that with the new Cloud PBX features, Office 365 makes for a compelling package.
Pulling Together a Disjointed UC Environment
One scenario is companies that have a somewhat disjointed UC environment, with bits and pieces cobbled together from various vendors. Adding PBX capabilities to all of the UC functions inherent in Skype for Business enables companies to bring the entire UC environment under one roof, with the same user interface.
Pricing for E5 is attractive vs. the cost of deploying and managing all the individual components on their own, says 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. “There’s about an eight-fold cost differential vs. buying all them separately, so there’s substantial return on investment,” Stevens says.
Merging Platforms after Mergers and Acquisitions
Another scenario is when a company undergoes a number of mergers or acquisitions that leaves it with different UC implementations that don’t work well together.
One aerospace company Stevens worked with had just such a scenario. As a result of a merger, the company had one UC solution at its headquarters and a different vendor’s UC packages at satellite sites, with multiple IT teams aligned to each business unit running it all. That is, until a new CIO came along and put a stop to it by migrating to a single solution under a single IT team, providing significant organizational optimization.
“That company is now saving almost $30 million per year through consolidation and conferencing savings,” Stevens says.
Those kind of savings may well be worth the short-term pain of migrating users to a new solution.
Skype for Business: A Big Step Up from Traditional VoIP
In other cases, companies may have implemented an IP-PBX and voice-over-IP (VoIP), but never really installed a full-blown UC solution.
“They’ve been thinking about UC, but haven’t implemented it in full,” Stevens says. It’s been a few years now and maybe some equipment is functioning under expired maintenance contracts. “They’ve kicked the can down the road about as far as possible, but now they’re on borrowed time with sporadic service interruptions or limited functionality reducing competitive advantage. It’s decision time.”
These same sorts of companies are also missing out on capabilities that their employees likely take for granted in their personal lives, like the ability to do a videoconference from their tablets and smart phones, says Tom Arbuthnot, Principal Solutions Architect with Modality Systems, a UC consulting firm that specializes in Skype for Business.
“A big driver is the work anywhere user experience,” he says. “And a hard ROI around flexible working and working from home.”
Office 365 E5 and the Cloud PBX feature provide a relatively simple path forward and, in many cases, a compelling ROI that will enable companies to save money and reinvest it elsewhere, he says.
That’s always welcome in the “do more with less” IT environment we’ve come to know so well.