Skype for Business in the Cloud2018-04-12T17:37:55-06:00

Is the Cloud Ready to Support your Voice?

A guide to voice services in the cloud

The cloud has the power to transform. Over the past 5 years, the cloud has enabled IT departments to offload the burden of infrastructure and system management. Meanwhile, rapid development cycles have allowed service providers to deliver more features and value to their customers. We’ve seen this play out with email, document collaboration, web conferencing, CRM systems, and other line of business utilities. What about voice services?

Recent updates to Microsoft’s Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX has made voice in the cloud more attractive to many businesses (more information below). In this guide, we’ll evaluate the capabilities of Skype for Business Cloud PBX and hybrid. Armed with this information, you should be able to determine if the cloud is a fit for your voice needs.

What’s in a modern phone system?

To begin, let’s look at what you should expect from a modern phone system. Phone systems have evolved far beyond basic calling and call management features. Employees require access from more places and devices than ever before. Further, organizations require more than just voice functions – video, instant messaging, presence, and screen sharing are now core collaboration features expected from a unified communications platform. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll separate the voice and conferencing features.

Voice

What voice capabilities should you expect out of a modern phone system?

Conferencing

The focus of this guide is voice capabilities; however, conferencing functions play a large role in the value of a voice solution. Increasingly, phone systems have become multi-media communication channels. Presence, instant messaging, video, desktop sharing, and even file sharing have made their way into your phone system. So, what might you expect out of a modern conferencing solution?

What can the Cloud do?

Now that we’ve covered the expectations you might have, let’s turn our eyes to the cloud. Can Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX support the features that your business needs? Again, we’re going to separate the conferencing and multi-media functions from the voice functions.

Voice

You’ll recall our definition of a modern phone system from earlier in this article; we’re going to use that as the basis for evaluating the voice capabilities of Skype for Business Online. So, what can Skype for Business Online do?

Conferencing

Now let’s look at the Skype for Business Online features that you might be most familiar with, the conferencing capabilities.

An Integrated Experience

How does this integrate with your day-to-day work? One of the strengths of the Skype for Business solution is its single-application interface and integration with other Microsoft solutions. Users can use the same application for Instant Messaging, Calling, and Conferencing – no need to juggle different windows for these purposes. On the integration front, Skype for Business Presence is visible in SharePoint, Outlook, Office applications, Dynamics, and others. That means that when I want to IM the person that just emailed me with an urgent request, I can do so from Outlook – I see that they are available, hover over their name, click IM and start the conversation. This is modern communication.

What’s new?

Last month, Microsoft added several new features to Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX. These updates demonstrate that Microsoft is starting to close the gaps (which we’ll review below). The key feature additions are:

  • Auto Attendant

  • Call Queues

  • Skype for Business Call Analytics

Auto Attendant is a simple automated response system. This represents a big step for Microsoft’s cloud phone system. Those that have advanced call routing needs will want to explore the hybrid options below. Call Queues provide another piece of the call routing puzzle – allowing calls to be routed to the next available person. If you need skills-based or other intelligence, a hybrid solution will help to expand the feature set. Lastly, the preview of Skype for Business Call Analytics is an improvement upon the call reporting capabilities of Skype for Business Online. This new feature makes it easier for administrators to judge the quality of their voice communications and troubleshoot issues.

Where are the gaps?

While Microsoft has developed their online-only offering, there are still gaps. Fortunately, these gaps can be filled by a hybrid solution. In many ways, a hybrid solution is the best of both worlds – you get to offload many of the infrastructure and management requirements of an on-premises solution without sacrificing the features that you rely on.

There are a few different definitions for a hybrid environment with Skype for Business Online. For the purposes of this guide, we’ll focus on integrating with an on-premises implementation of Skype for Business and third-party solutions.

Hybrid with On-Premises Skype for Business

Integrating with an existing Skype for Business implementation can help to fill in feature gaps that still exist in Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX. Additionally, Microsoft released a Cloud Connector Edition of Skype for Business to reduce the infrastructure footprint. This model can be an effective way of transitioning your organization to cloud voice. Some of the top reasons that an organization would opt for a hybrid model with Skype for Business Server on-premises are:

  • Integration with Common Area Phones

  • Integration with existing PSTN circuits

  • Integration with analog devices (PA, Fax Machines, etc)

Hybrid with Third-Party Solutions

Third-party solutions can greatly enhance Skype for Business Online or on-premises. There are several software providers that offer integration with Skype for Business Online. Some common reasons that we see organizations implement a third-party hybrid solution are:

  • Call Center needs

  • Server-side Call Recording

  • Advanced Call Reporting

Bringing it all together

Skype for Business

Where do I go from here?

At this point, you should have a good understanding of the capabilities of an all-cloud and hybrid Skype for Business implementation. Now would be an appropriate time to pose the question, “Is the cloud ready to support my voice needs?” Whether it’s hybrid or all-cloud, there’s a good chance that the answer is “yes.”

Here are some suggested next steps that can help:

  • Experience – We can deliver a virtual or on-site immersion experience. This hands-on session allows you and other stakeholders to see what it’s like to work with Skype for Business Online and Cloud PBX. Email info@peters.com or call (630) 832- 0075 to schedule.

  • Assess – Is your business and your infrastructure ready for cloud voice? We can provide a cloud voice assessment to determine your readiness and help you prepare to pilot voice in the cloud. Email info@peters.com or call (630) 832- 0075 to get started.

  • Prove it Out – Ready to roll with a proof of concept or pilot? We can help get you started. Email info@peters.com or call (630) 832- 0075 to schedule a scoping conversation.

Still not convinced that the cloud is right for your voice needs yet? As we mentioned at the top of this guide, the cloud evolves rapidly. Microsoft is continuing to develop their solution to meet the voice needs of more organizations. If you’re looking for a specific feature, let us know at info@peters.com. We’re tracking the Microsoft roadmap and can provide updates as changes are announced.

If you have any questions about this guide, please reach out to us. We’re happy to help.

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