Helping Customers Migrate to Teams Without Compromising on Telephony
by: Jon Arnold
The UCaaS market is a crowded space, and for good reason. Cloud has emerged as the deployment model of choice for many communications applications, and the SaaS business model has found favor as Opex has become easier to support financially than Capex when adopting fast-changing technology. With so many businesses ready for cloud migration, there has been a lot of opportunity for UCaaS providers to enter the market.
Growth prospects remain strong, and many UCaaS providers have enjoyed success deploying a full suite of cloud-based integrated communications, including telephony, video, and text. However, the market has become more challenging in recent times, as Microsoft Teams has established a dominant position that builds on its ubiquitous installed base of desktop applications. Increasingly, UCaaS providers must now accommodate customers who want to standardize around Teams as they migrate to the cloud.
How Can UCaaS Providers Support Teams Customers?
While this aligns well with what customers want, the business value shifts more towards Microsoft and away from the UCaaS solutions that UCaaS providers have built their success around. Since Microsoft lacks native desktop telephony, there is opportunity for UCaaS providers to address this piece and retain some degree of customer ownership, but only if they take the right approach.
Microsoft by its nature wants to maximize its penetration with business customers, and Part 1 of this blog series examined how Phone System is one approach they have taken. In that post, I reviewed how Teams and Phone System are different but also complementary, as well as addressing the latter’s shortcomings as a cloud-based telephony solution.
Despite these shortcomings, some businesses will want to be all-in with Microsoft, as their priority is to have a seamless migration to the cloud, where everything is tightly integrated. For UCaaS providers to grow in this environment, they need to show these customers that the telephony they’re already using as part of their UCaaS platform can integrate seamlessly with Teams.
These customers may not be aware of such options, and may believe that Teams and Phone System together makes for a good solution. To counter that, when partnering with a vendor like TeamMate, UCaaS providers can give them a better telephony alternative to Phone System. Not only will these customers will spend less, and get more reliable phone service, but they will also retain the rich calling features from their PBX. Aside from getting all this, your customer still gets what they want in terms of making Teams part of their cloud migration plans.
As with Phone System, Direct Routing and Operator Connect are path-of-least-resistance offerings that provide PSTN connectivity to integrate telephony with Teams. This is a great way for Microsoft to gain end-to-end customer ownership – but it leaves less for UCaaS providers compared to other approaches to telephony.
With either Direct Routing or Operator Connect, UCaaS providers are essentially selling SIP trunks for PSTN connectivity to support Phone System. While this does generate ongoing revenues, UCaaS providers get at least 2X revenue selling UCaaS seat licenses. Aside from being better for the top line, UCaaS seats are stickier than selling connectivity, offering better opportunities to sell add-on services.
Whether they know it going in – or discover after-the-fact – an all-Microsoft approach to integrating telephony with Teams may not be ideal for most businesses, especially pertaining to the cost and the calling features. PBX was the business telephony gold standard because it delivered incredibly reliable service along with a rich feature set that set the bar high for workplace productivity. Being desktop-focused, Microsoft has never had that pedigree, so there will be some trade-offs when businesses take that path.
Registration – the TeamMate Approach to Integrating Telephony with Teams
For businesses going with Teams, UCaaS providers can bring new value by offering them a best of both worlds solution with TeamMate. Not only will customers get all the good things that come with Teams – especially integrating with everything else Microsoft-based that they’re using – but they won’t have to compromise on telephony when migrating to the cloud.
TeamMate has taken a distinct approach to help businesses maintain the great calling experience from their PBX when going with Teams – and hence the name of the company. They have developed a purpose-built solution around this need, anchored by a proprietary back-to-back user agent (B2BUA) that maps each user to a specific SIP extension.
In order to access the full PBX feature set, each endpoint – whether a hard phone or a soft phone – must be registered with the PBX, which can be operated by a separate entity from the PSTN carrier. The Registration approach taken by TeamMate is not the only solution to this important problem set, but it’s one that UCaaS providers should feel comfortable using once they learn about it – and is the only approach that can support the full PBX feature set.
While the two other approaches may be better-known – namely Twinning and Cross Launch – each has its drawbacks. With Cross Launch, calls are not routed inside the Teams application, so it’s not a fully integrated telephony solution for Teams; plus, it does not support mobile calling, which has now become a must-have for collaboration. These are all core reasons for adopting Teams, so when it comes to integrating telephony, Cross Launch is not the best choice.
Twinning can support a fuller feature set for calling (but not as full as with Registration), but both implementation and maintenance are complex, not just for initial setup, but ongoing – as when provisioning new SIP trunks. Aside from driving up costs, this complexity is not a strong selling point when migrating to the cloud, especially for mission-critical applications like real-time communications.
Conclusion – Takeaway for UCaaS Providers
For UCaaS providers, the value-add opportunity here is to help customers think more carefully about Teams, especially in terms of making unplanned compromises around telephony. Cost and reliability concerns aside, many businesses still value the rich calling features they have long-been accustomed to.
Prime examples include call queuing, call park/transfer, call routing, auto attendant, message waiting indicator, and busy lamp field – all of which are easily taken for granted, and their absence will quickly be noticed if not part of the cloud migration. Once you know a customer has chosen to go with Teams, this is where your next conversation with them needs to go.
While they can get a rich feature set with Phone System, the costs will be higher and service reliability won’t be as good as what you’re already providing for telephony. On a more practical level, Microsoft isn’t in the telephony business, and won’t be the ideal partner when help is needed for deployment or support, as well as providing the integrations for Phone System that you’re already able to do with the PBX. The business opportunity here for UCaaS providers is to add value in ways your customers may not be expecting. Telephony remains central to everyday business communications, and your customers should not have to compromise when deciding to make Teams part of their cloud migration plans. At minimum, they should be aware of the three approaches outlined above, and after careful consideration, the merits of the Registration approach taken by TeamMate should become apparent.
Jon Arnold is Principal of J Arnold & Associates, an independent analyst practice providing thought leadership and go-to-market counsel, with a focus on the business-level impact of digital transformation on the future of work.