I’m really excited that Microsoft has virtually completed the “port” of its Skype for Business telephony features over to Teams. I’m excited that Teams-based telephony is here. But I want to make sure that organizations get the Teams Calling Details right before they roll out a Teams Phone System.
I need to balance the “Caution!” tone of this post with some reasons for excitement.
- A Teams Phone System brings telephony into your organization’s Teams-based collaboration toolset.
- We’ve reached a point where it’s feasible to let a cloud provider like Microsoft handle the availability of your phone system.
Check out the Sway below for an overview of Teams Phone System. And if you prefer to call it Skype for Business Phone System, that’s fine.
Audio is Easy. Voice is Hard.
When I worked at Nortel designing and implementing communication systems, we had this saying: “audio is easy, voice is hard.” We came up with it to help people understand that just because someone could take audio and put it into packets on a data network, that didn’t remove the complexity from how voice communication systems operate.
And when, after an evening of wining and dining in Redmond, I asked the Microsoft people why they wanted CGNET to sign on as a Teams (then Skype for Business) Phone System partner, they responded this way. “You guys are one of the few partners around that understand telephony. We have lots of partners that understand servers. But finding partners with telephony experience is much harder.”
Yes, there’s complexity here. But it’s not nearly as complex as planning out a phone system used to be. Take my hand; we’ll get through this.
Our Starting Point
This blog post presumes that we’re talking about a US-based organization with simple telephony requirements. The post also presumes that the organization is replacing its existing phone system with Teams Online. There are a lot of other phone system configurations that are possible, so your starting point will affect some of the planning I’m going to describe. Your mileage will vary, as they say.
And with that, here is the list of planning steps to take. This will help get the Teams calling details right.
- Plan for a pilot
- Examine what calling features are in use
- Get an inventory of your phone numbers
- Figure out where people are calling
- Decide how you want to handle audio conferencing
- Decide what devices you will use with your phone system
- Evaluate your network for its ability to support telephony
- Figure out if you need a dial plan
- Collect emergency location information
From there, you’re ready to configure, test and deploy. The planning sounds daunting, but it’s really a matter of collecting the information so you have it ready when you get to the configuration part of the project.
Plan for a Pilot
Plan on conducting a pilot test. The pilot is where you want to make sure everything is in order before you roll the system out the entire organization. If things are going to go sideways, the impact is smaller in a pilot vs. across the entire organization.
Pick a small number of users who will act as surrogates for the rest of the organization. Who should be in the pilot test group? Select your pilot participants based on two criteria:
- Who will give you a cross-section of the key calling scenarios in the organization?
- Who will help you champion the Phone System with the rest of the organization?
You’ll notice I did not say, “Get one representative from each department.” Running a pilot program by committee will likely not get you the results you want.
Examine Your Features in Use
One key thing that will determine if users are happy with your phone system is this: can I do the things I used to do? Answering this question comes down to two questions.
- What features are enabled for each user or class of users?
- Are equivalent features available in the Teams Phone System? (And if not, are those features on a roadmap for delivery?)
- Are there any features we can get rid of?
OK, that was three (or four) questions, but you get the idea.
I’ve talked about features here, but really you want to focus on “use cases.” A use case is Product Manager lingo for a scenario where a user does something, causing a result. Here are some example use cases.
- User A can initiate a call outside of the organization (e.g., to the pizza parlor).
- User A receives a call, puts the call on hold while they talk with User B, and then transfers the call to User B.
- A call comes in for User A and is answered by User A’s executive assistant.
Go around and talk to users about how they use their phones, so you understand what they are going to expect of the new system. Document these use cases, because they will later form the basis for your system testing.
Look at that, the first of your Teams calling details is complete!
Get an Inventory of Numbers
You’ll want to pull together a listing of all the phone numbers in use. Don’t overlook numbers that are used for fax machines or copiers, main numbers, and the like. In Teams these are called “service numbers.”
Likely you’ll want to “port” your existing phone numbers to your new system. It’s important to have the full list, since there’s some paperwork to complete for the number porting process, and you’re dealing with telephone companies that will have very specific steps that have to be followed for a successful result. You don’t have to port all your numbers at once, but this step can take considerable time, so you want to get the mechanics of it right.
Also, you’ll have to decide if you’re going to port the existing numbers of your pilot group. I would recommend not porting their numbers. You can use a number supplied by Microsoft and forward their extension to the new number, so they can make and receive calls. Plus, if there are any issues during the pilot you don’t have to port their number back to your current provider.
Figure Out Where People are Calling
Microsoft offers two calling plans: domestic (naturally) and international (ditto.) “Domestic” in our case means “North America” (Canada, US, Mexico). And “international” means “domestic plus everywhere else.” These calling plans are like your mobile phone plan. Each user gets an allocation of minutes for the month. The minutes are pooled, so that Chatty Charlie can go over his allocation and dip into unused minutes from Silent Sabrina and others.
Find out if there are any users that frequently call outside North America. Maybe you work with a partner in the UK as an example. This will help you decide who needs which calling plan. And just to make it more fun, you can also purchase Communication Credits, which basically represent a pay-per-minute option for calling outside your normal plan.
Decide How to Handle Audio Conferencing
You can interface your phone system to an existing audio conferencing service or use the one Microsoft offers. Think about cost differences, as well as how much audio conferencing is used and how accustomated people are to the numbers and methods for your current service. These factors will help you make the decision. You can add audio conferencing at a later time as well.
Decide What Devices to Use
Picking out devices is one of the more important Teams calling details, because of the potential lead time to purchase and acquire devices. Determine what type of phone device people use now and if they’d like to continue using that kind of device in the future. For instance, do users have telephone sets they use today? Do they want to continue using them? Or are they thinking about using the Teams client app?
You will have to get telephone sets and speakerphones that are compatible with the Teams Phone System. Go here to see what your choices are. You can bet on the fact that your “IP compatible phone” will not be compatible with this IP phone system. See me for my private rant on this topic.
Be aware that the handset vs. Teams app decision is not binary; users can use both. Also, know that most people will say they want to use what they’ve always used, and a good number of these people will then decide that using the Teams app is way easier. Lastly, there is a Teams app for smartphones and tablets, which people may really like.
Evaluate Your Network
You must make sure your network is ready to handle the data load of an IP-based phone system. If you’re using an IP-based phone system now, you’re probably OK, but it’s still a good idea to check. Remember that you need to look at
- The connection to the internet, in both directions
- Bandwidth on the LAN within your building
- Compatibility of computer devices
Fortunately, there’s a tool that will help with this (see our offer below).
Do You Need a Dial Plan?
No, a dial plan is not the same as a Calling Plan. A dial plan is a set of rules that decides how to modify a user’s inputs to match the intended format for a calling number. For instance, if users are accustomed to entering a local number without the area code, you can set up a dial plan to insert the area code before sending the call request to the Internet.
Teams Phone System comes with a pre-configured dial plan, which may be enough. Unless you know you’ve set up a dial plan in your current phone system, this may be one of the Teams calling details you can skip for now.
Emergency Location Information
This is one of the critical Teams calling details. In the pre-Internet days, a phone was a physical thing with an assigned phone number. It lived in a specific physical location and didn’t move around. These things made it possible for public safety folks to set up a database that associated your phone number with your location.
In the virtual world of IP-based phone systems, there’s a need to associate a caller with a physical location. That way, when someone calls 911, the Public Safety Answering Point knows where to send help. At a minimum, you’ll set up information that associates your numbers with the physical location of your building. If you have more than one building, you’ll need to be clear about what numbers belong with which buildings. You can also go beyond this and let the emergency responders know that a set of numbers are associated with the second floor of the building, as an example.
Get Your Licensing Straight
To make all this work, you must purchase and assign the proper Microsoft licenses. Here are the two most common licensing scenarios.
- You discontinue your current Enterprise E1 or E3 license, and purchase an Enterprise E5 license, as well as a Domestic or International Calling Plan license.
- You keep your existing Enterprise E1 or E3 license, and add a Phone System license, along with a Domestic or International Calling Plan license.
The one benefit of getting all the Teams calling details completed is that it will make the subsequent steps much smoother to accomplish.
- Configure the Phone System and the pilot users.
- Deploy the service to the pilot group, and test to make sure everything works as expected. Remember when I talked about “use cases” earlier? Now is the time to pull those out. You want to make sure that all the calling scenarios you identified earlier get a run-through.
- Deploy the service to the rest of the organization.
Of course, I’m glossing over a lot of things here (remember number porting?) and not speaking to adoption activities. But my point is that once you’ve done this “heavy lifting” it will make the eventual deployment go more smoothly. Which is what you want.
Our Smoking Hot Offer
Earlier I talked about performing a network assessment. Yes, Virginia, there’s a tool for that. If you bring CGNET in to help implement a Teams Phone System, we’ll run that tool and report out the results. But as my way of saying “thanks!” for reading all the way to here, I’m offering to run this test for you… for free. Just get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell me you’d like a test. I’ll take it from there. No obligation, as they say.