Dean Manzoori, our Chief Technology Officer, recently sat down for a podcast interview with Telecom Reseller’s Doug Green to discuss how UniVoIP’s cloud-native direct routing services make it easier for organizations to voice-enable Microsoft Teams.
In the podcast, Dean and Doug discuss the challenges businesses face when adopting a Microsoft Teams phone system, as well as how UniVoIP’s automated onboarding workflow solves these issues. Read on for the interview transcription:
First of all, what is UniVoIP?
UniVoIP is a hosted PBX company that started back in 2005, and it’s evolved. About three years ago, with the expansion of unified communications into places like Microsoft and other business applications, we decided that going back to our roots and providing voice was the way to go. At the time, voice was the center of the universe, and everything else was just added on to create the unified communications experience – voicemails, emails, chat – that’s what our idea of unified communications was. But today, that’s changed with products like Microsoft Teams. So we’ve pivoted into becoming a Voice as a Feature company. We provide voice to business applications in the way that the application requires it. In addition to our other services, we provide Voice as a Feature for applications such as Microsoft Teams.
For people that are still thinking about it, why should I use Teams as a phone system? What are the benefits of this shift?
Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft Teams has a very feature-rich phone system. In my previous life, we competed against Microsoft, and without really understanding everything, we believed that the phone system functionality wasn’t up to par. And perhaps it wasn’t five years ago in the form of Skype for Business. But now, as I’ve been involved in multiple deployments, I do see that the Microsoft Teams phone system has evolved and matured to a point where it’s on par with, if not better, than most other phone systems that I’ve worked with.
Now, if that’s the case, why is there such slow adoption of Teams calling plans? You can look at different reports: anywhere from 50-60% of enterprise users are using Microsoft Teams in one way or another, but telephony adoption is about 10%. So if you’ve got that many people using Teams but not using the telephony feature or the PBX feature, that means there’s a huge market for companies like us to come in and get our share. Anything that we develop is based around making it easy for those 60% of users who are already using Teams to migrate and adopt the Microsoft phone system.
So how can I best use Teams as a phone system?
I think it’s just a challenge for most IT managers to start using Teams as their voice platform. From what I’ve seen in the market, many of these enterprises are hesitant to move to a Microsoft Teams phone system for a number of reasons. The calling plans offered by Microsoft have their limitations and the onboarding process is a little daunting for most, so what we decided to do is make that process as easy as possible.
The challenge we’ve heard from our partners who offer 365 to their customers is the unknown of Microsoft’s calling plan being connected to their Teams environment. So we stepped back and thought: how do we make that process easier? We have created a fully automated workflow for leveraging direct routing which eases the process of the user or administrator ever having to do anything with PowerShell script. You create your voice path and everything is done automatically in the background. Our platform is automatically connected to the Microsoft Teams tenant for that customer in as little as 30 minutes.
The whole process is done by pointing and clicking on an automated workflow that we’ve created. You then add telephone numbers, which you can do in real time, or request to port out the numbers and assign them to users and addresses before finally testing them to make sure they’re working. That entire process – what used to take weeks if not months to complete – we can do in one sitting in as little as a half-hour.
We’ve made it easy for partners to help their clients migrate to Microsoft Teams. You’re taking all of that ambiguity out and it’s really just a few clicks. You can invite your global admin into the process and be up and running in no time. And after you’ve completed the onboarding, it allows you to manage everything through a single pane of glass – change numbers, add numbers, add users. If you disable a user in your 365 environment, we automatically recognize and disassociate the number from the user based on a predefined policy. It makes the whole onboarding and data management of your calling plan that much easier.
What do I need to know or have in place beforehand in order to use Teams as a phone system?
Well, you need to have the proper licensing from Microsoft, and that licensing is changing today. Each re-license, for example, can add what’s called a phone standard license for the PBX functionality. And then we provide the calling plan, and that’s all you need. Everything is delivered from the cloud. You only really need the licenses – and headphones, right?
Is there anything else you need to do on the customer end to set up Teams?
Nothing else really. You do have to understand and define what you want in terms of inbound calls. How do you want to treat inbound calls? You have options within your auto attendant, such as routing to a call queue that distributes the calls amongst the internal folks. So really, you just have to understand your own environment and figure out exactly what your outcome is in terms of auto attendants, call queues, and policies that you might want.
We introduce these concepts to our customers during the onboarding process, but the important point is that the IT managers are in control of doing this setup and it is entirely easy to set things up before you go live. You can set up auto attendants and call queues, or assign telephone numbers to users and resource accounts – you do all of that work without having to commit to anything.
We provide proof of concept for our customers so they can go in there and experience it. Setting up auto attendants, call queues – it’s made in a way that IT managers and the telephone support organization can be all in the same department. They’re totally capable of setting up the different call routes and policies within the Teams admin center.
A lot of our readers and listeners have mixed networks and a multi vendor platform. If I’m adopting Teams, I’m going to probably have a lot of sites that are not Teams. How do I organize that? How do I pull that together?
If you have multiple sites or multiple providers at each office and you want to port telephone numbers for each one of these offices, we have built provisions where we can help you manage the porting process of each separate office as part of our onboarding workflow. So it doesn’t have to be an upgrade for the entire organization – we can do it office by office and work at the comfort level of the IT teams.
Most of the time, the challenge is making sure the users are comfortable using their new phone system, whether it’s through a headset and their PC or it’s a purpose-built device. In general, if the IT department can introduce Teams calling to their organization ahead of time, the issues typically have to do with the user’s environment. If users are comfortable making calls and using Teams the way it was meant to be used to give you the full productivity of the solution, then, by all means, it’s a great solution. You don’t have to do a corporate upgrade. You can do it in stages. And before you rule it out, you should let your users actually use it.
Connected to that, in some organizations, you’re still dealing with moving a lot of legacy devices. 80 million people have moved on to work from anywhere or work from home, but there are still a lot of environments – warehouses, testing centers, education, government, security, and so on – that have to be done on site. A lot of those places often have legacy devices too, such as fax machines.
We support fax machines through the same platform. We have virtual fax that allows you to fax PDF attachments via email. Outbound faxing is also available, and you can have a fax terminal adapter that is connected to your legacy fax machine. We also support analog devices and common-area phones from our server.
In terms of our direct dialing service with Microsoft, it’s completely native. We’re not introducing another server to compete for your attention. I know there are many traditional voice app companies that will tell you they integrate with Microsoft Teams, but they’re really telling you that they’re using their own feature server for connecting to the PBX. So the user experience is diminished and the IT team’s work is doubled because now they have to support two different clients on the same workstation. They have a Teams client and this other client which is used for calling. There’s all kinds of magic that allows you to start a call from Teams, but what it really does is fires up your other, separate client. And that takes away, in my view, from the user experience.
I think using Microsoft Teams the way it was meant to be will give you 100% of the productivity that you set out to get in the beginning when you started the project. We’re not adding any other clients – it’s just a truly embedded solution, native within Microsoft Teams.
How can I port existing numbers to Teams?
We have included a porting workflow that is semi-automated, where a porting manager handles the entire process to make sure that your current users are ready and completely trained before the actual number is ported. And for those situations where you’ve got multiple offices, we’ll track every one of those groups of numbers separately through the porting at the customer’s desired timetable.
Is there cost savings associated with this migration?
There are definitely cost savings. Our pricing is very competitive in terms of Microsoft Teams calling plans. And if you’re using a direct routing solution that uses another feature server someplace, that might be costing you more. Especially if you’re using a traditional UCaaS with integration, you really pay the costs of having the user account in that environment. So there are definitely cost savings when you go to a Microsoft phone system from your traditional UCaaS. Also, the level of support and features we can add to your deployment in terms of fax machines, analog devices, paging systems, or solutions that you might need to integrate, and in terms of making sure the porting process is smooth – all of those things make our solution very attractive and at significant cost savings.
What does the migration project team look like?
We have a customer advocate that is a single point of contact during the process, but the workflow is designed in a way that the customer is in control of when and how they want to migrate and provision their users. This is all integrated into your directory via the app we’ve created, and that app allows you to have complete connectivity to your tenant in terms of which phones have a phone standard license and which phones don’t.
An IT manager can go through the entire process without the need for a project manager because they can just add the users as they want. Of course, they’ll always have a single point of contact; but by and large, IT departments are in control and can onboard on their own timetable, add their own users, and manage their own users – all through an automated app. You don’t need to call somebody else to move users around because all of that is visible and the IT managers can take care of those types of things on an ongoing basis.
I remember when engineers had to be involved in projects, but all of that engineering work has been put into creating the onboarding tool. So IT managers are in control and can make all of those onboarding decisions and changes for the license for the lifecycle of using the product.
What type of support is available post-migration?
We have a dedicated team that provides 24/7 ongoing support for customers. The advocate is still in the loop even after the onboarding is complete, but after onboarding, we have a dedicated support team that’s available by phone call, email, chat – even by SMS.
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