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Making the business case to migrate to Microsoft Teams PBX

Replacing an on-premises PBX with Microsoft Teams Phone System offers organizations flexibility with pricing, hardware and collaboration capabilities but does have limitations.

Microsoft Teams Phone System enables organizations to replace their on-premises PBXs with a cloud-based system. Because of its tight integration with Microsoft 365, a Microsoft Teams PBX also provides capabilities organizations wouldn't ordinarily get from traditional PBXs.

With the surge of employees working from home in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the decision for these companies to move to Teams highlights even more benefits than just replacing functionality seen in PBX systems, and these are things that IT managers and unified communications (UC) buyers cannot ignore.

The COVID-19 pandemic fueled a dramatic shift in the number of employees working from home. Companies that were still relying on a traditional PBX foundation were forced to examine ways to address how they could still connect their workers to features -- among them video conferencing capabilities and chat functionality -- that PBXs couldn't fully deliver.

Today's modern UC platforms fill those gaps, providing employees with tools that make collaboration more efficient for those working remotely.

Among those platforms is Microsoft Teams, which has beefed up its menu of collaboration features. Beyond its core set of audio and video communications services, Teams has won increasing attention for its nontelephony features as well. Microsoft has employed a variety of tactics to market Teams.

1. Bundling Microsoft Teams with other Microsoft services for better pricing. Companies transitioning to a new UC platform face significant upfront costs to acquire software and hardware. Vendors such as 8x8 and RingCentral offer subscription pricing models, but even these plans are higher than what Microsoft would charge -- just over $8 per user per month -- for cloud-based telephony. Microsoft includes Phone System in its Microsoft 365 and Office 365 E5 plans, making a Microsoft Teams PBX option attractive for companies that may be looking to replace their legacy PBX platforms.

Teams offers a variety of communications features -- among them conferencing, chat, and audio and video calls -- that go beyond those offered by traditional PBX systems to provide a single UI for all communications needs.

Phone System capabilities include auto attendant, call queues, extension dialing and call escalation from a one-on-one call to a group call with screen sharing and video. Direct Routing enables organizations to connect Phone System to a session border controller to configure public switched telephone network connectivity.

2. A new generation of UC that goes beyond chat, video and audio. PBXs have transformed from just systems to facilitate voice calls to ones that support video calls, IM and presence. Teams delivers more capabilities than many other UC products, and its integration with SharePoint services, interactive bots, OneDrive for Business and third-party apps makes the platform more attractive to users who want an expansive -- and focused -- set of tools to get their work done.

3. Hardware choices provide more flexibility. Unlike some other UC platforms that require proprietary hardware, Microsoft Teams can be used with a variety of components and devices. This makes it possible for buyers to select the hardware vendor that fits their budgets and meets their requirements.

Third-party vendors that offer devices certified for Microsoft Teams telephony include AudioCodes, Crestron, Poly and Yealink.

4. One tool for all communications needs. Employees are using several different ways to communicate with their clients or co-workers today. Teams offers a variety of communications features -- among them conferencing, chat, and audio and video calls -- that go beyond those offered by traditional PBX systems to provide a single UI for all communications needs.

Unlike other platforms where collaboration tools are separate from communications and enterprise content applications, Teams provides support for seamless integration between collaboration and content at its source. While other platforms, like Webex and Zoom, do support content collaboration using screen sharing, they simply don't offer direct interactions with content and lack point-to-point communication that is available from PBX capabilities that Microsoft Teams offers natively.

Microsoft Teams PBX has its limitations

While Microsoft Teams can address collaboration and communications needs for enterprise clients, the platform still has some limitations around certain capabilities that some organizations see as a miss by Microsoft. For example, the lack of support for call center features, such as call monitoring, call recording and advanced call center call routing. Some of these features have generally been available from other voice over IP vendors, including Cisco and Avaya, but Microsoft's strategy focuses on using third-party vendors to provide ad hoc services that can bolt into Teams to support that functionality.

Another limitation that could be a concern for large organizations is around reporting capabilities. Companies such as law and accounting firms rely on their call system reports to account for time spent with clients as part of their call accounting review and oversight. As it stands, much of the data around call activities is generated on demand and is not directly accessible via APIs. This makes it more challenging for IT departments to mine that information easily, forcing them to download the data and manipulate it manually.

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