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5 best practices for a Microsoft Teams telephony migration

When planning a migration to Microsoft Teams telephony, organizations should follow five key best practices that address technical requirements and end-user adoption.

Many organizations used Microsoft Teams for internal company calling during the pandemic. Now, organizations are starting to evaluate Teams as their primary phone system.

According to Microsoft, more than 650 million Teams calls were made in October 2020 -- 11 times the calls placed when people first started working from home in March 2020. Organizations are now taking a closer look at Microsoft Teams telephony as they evaluate how to address the hybrid workplace and return to office environments.

"Now, we're really in the situation where organizations are looking to be more strategic," said Kevin Kieller, co-founder of Microsoft consulting firm EnableUC. But organizations can't just activate the phone system license and expect companywide adoption. To get the most out of Teams telephony, organizations must prepare.

Kieller and other industry experts spoke at an Enterprise Connect virtual summit on how to make Microsoft Teams into a phone system. In particular, organizations can follow five best practices to achieve success when migrating to a Teams phone system, said Jason Sloan, senior director at LoopUp, a cloud communications provider and Microsoft Teams partner.

1. Readiness assessment

Organizations must review their network needs before migrating to Microsoft Teams telephony. Because Teams is a cloud-based phone system, organizations should determine their routing and connection requirements.

Organizations need to make sure they don't have any configuration to their internet that could slow or interrupt phone system traffic, such as Secure Sockets Layer decryption or WAN optimizers, Sloan said.

Organizations should also avoid the common mistake of requiring Teams to match every feature in their current PBX. Most companies don't use every PBX feature and shouldn't request features if they aren't mandatory, Kieller said.

"That's not a path to success because you weren't using all of those features," he said.

2. Design and planning

The next step for organizations is to plan the phone system configuration for various sites, including Enhanced 911 (E911), dial plans and voice routing features. IT should document network topology, site configuration, custom IP and subnets.

"Spend time learning network topology to make sure you have the best results moving forward," Sloan said.

Organizations should also talk with end users to help them understand why they are moving to Microsoft Teams telephony. Having these conversations early in the process can ensure a smoother transition as sites start to migrate, he said.

Organizations must also decide if they want to connect Teams to the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and how, Kieller said. Microsoft currently offers two paths to PSTN. Calling Plan makes Microsoft the carrier for all Teams telephony, while Direct Routing enables organizations to integrate their PBX with Teams and maintain carrier contracts. Later this year, Microsoft plans to launch Operator Connect, which is a telecom operator-managed service.

3. Configuring the environment

Creating test sites is an important part of preparing for a Teams phone system migration. At this step, a pilot site with four or five users and fake numbers can test phone system functionality and ensure capabilities, like E911, are properly configured, Sloan said. It's essential to ensure a site is properly configured and tested before porting phone numbers because it's a headache to port numbers back if problems occur.

"Make sure the groundwork gets done," he said.

This is also when organizations need to start training end users because they don't want to create a situation where users feel forced onto a new and unfamiliar phone system, he said.

Organizations should also take advantage of the built-in analytics available in Teams to ensure proper configuration and performance, Kieller said. The Teams admin center offers analytics around platform reliability. A separate call quality dashboard offers details on wired and wireless calls, various network segments and subnets, he said.

4. Migrating users

Next, organizations need to plan how they want to migrate users to the new phone system.

"The perfect scenario is cutting over everyone in one shot, but that's the exception, not the norm," Sloan said. A rolling approach to migration is preferable for most organizations, starting with users who are tied to a main number.

Also, organizations should not be in "coexistence mode" for too long with the old phone system and new Teams phone system running alongside each other, Sloan said.

5. User check-ins

Organizations can have a smooth migration with all the technical aspects, but if users are not prepared or happy, the migration won't be a success, Kieller said. User satisfaction is important as usage and adoption are the leading indicators of quality problems and technical issues.

"If the users are satisfied even if the quality is a little lower, that's a good thing," he said. " If the users are dissatisfied and the reports say quality is fantastic, that's a difficult argument to make."

If an organization chooses not to pilot the phone system before a rollout, IT should speak with users who were migrated early in the process to address any concerns, Sloan said. This will prevent support teams from being overwhelmed by help desk requests if issues are not addressed.

By taking the time early on to ensure a migration is successful from an end-user perspective and proactively address any concerns, organizations can move users to the new system more quickly.

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