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Are Telephony strategies as useful as paper clip strategies?

It's a "brave new voice world", where the way we collaborate and communicate in our working lives is being transformed by cloud technology. If you're only looking at the features and benefits of phone usage by staff, then you're missing out on an array of communications tools to advance the way people work.

As Microsoft's Modern Workplace Lead, I'm often asked by customers what their telephony strategy should look like. My response is, "Frankly, a telephony strategy is about as relevant as a paperclip strategy".

After working in the telecommunications and IT industry for over 15 years, I've seen the market go through some dramatic changes. Back in the late 1990s to the early 2000s, we saw organisations make a big move from analogue phone systems to voice over internet protocol (VoIP).

The VoIP movement took off at different speeds, in different regions. Australia was quite a fast adopter of the technology and people moved off traditional analogue telephone systems to VoIP.

This was driven by two main factors:

1. The increase in user experience with VoIP. For instance, users were able to use a centralised phone book instead of directories.

2. The second was cost reduction. If you work on the basis that 80+ percent of non-contact centre traffic is internal, running telephony over their WAN infrastructure was revolutionary for many businesses in terms of cost reduction.

Those two big elements sawa massive telephony migration to VOIP with 220m enterprise users leveraging the technology. However, realistically this all came to a halt in around 2012 where migrations had taken place but there was no real, new compelling event to update further. Since then, the reality of the marketplace has been a big question of what's next.

Organisations are going through a technology renaissance with the advent of cloud technology. Customers have told us that moving voice to the cloud didn't always make sense, because the physical dial tone didn't change. The user experience didn't change and the integration into broader workflows wasn't there -- or they were but it was the same as it always was when it was on-premises VoIP.

The foundations of the first "what-next" statement came through the integration of Enterprise Telephony, Conferencing and Instant Messaging with platforms such as Skype for Business. These platforms enabled customers to treat telephony capability as a feature of a broader, integrated messaging, presence, and content sharing experience, regardless of the number of parties you wanted to communicate with. This optimised user experience and could reduce cost versus multiple telephony, conferencing and messaging platforms

Even with these benefits however the reality is that voice did not undertake the same migration step change to these new platforms that it did with the move to VOIP. The net result of which is that many customers today are having to manage ageing and end of life voice platforms.

So what is the compelling event to transform VOIP?

If you look at the old voice world, telephony was separate to unified communications tools and strategies. Then we brought voice together with UC and collaboration with Skype for Business -- where you were able to bring in messaging, meetingsand calling to one hub.However, this still requires a separation between how users create, co-create and collaborate on content with their UC environment, the workflow still requires moving from one environment to another if you wish to communicate.

This is where Microsoft Teams changes everything. Microsoft Teams is bringing complete workflow from native Microsoft and 3rd party tools and integrating it within messaging, calling, and meeting capabilities, so customers effectively have one single hub for teamwork in their environment. As a result of that, it all sits in the cloud and leverages the deep intelligence of Microsoft Graph. This provides a unique experience for users and produces some intuitive insights, as well asaccelerates their productivity through a unified hub for true team work.

We've also recentlyannounced that Microsoft hasadded feature rich PBX capability (with Phone System) and cloud calling capabilities for customers, allowing them to have their entire collaboration estate in the cloud. This gives themthe ability to leverage that platform to significantly increase their user experience andtransform their legacy ageing/or end-of-life estate.

It gives organisations the ability to de-risk that environment and ensure greater agility in that space, ensuring the platform is evergreen. It also helps to increase organisational productivity, while reducing cost, by creating a predictable per-user-per-month model -- as they would be used to in cloud environments. Vitally, this is also integrated into the customer's existing Microsoft licensing construct with Teams being integrated into Business Premium, E1, E3 and E5 licensing and Phone System being delivered either integrated into E5 or as an add-on to E1 or E3. For calling plans in Australia there are 2 routes to delivering calling capability:

- Telstra Calling for Office 365: A unique relationship between Telstra and Microsoft to provide an interconnected calling experience between Microsoft's Phone System in Teams with Telstra's national PSTN capability

- Direct Routing for Teams: Direct Routing provides organisations with platforms such as VOIP, Contact Centres and even analogue telephony platforms to integrate their calling capability with Microsoft Phone System.

Coming back to my proposition at the start (telephony strategies are as useful as paperclip strategies), I say this not because telephony isn't an important part of an organisation's strategy -- it's a crucial part -- but only a part of an overall comms strategy. With cloud technology adding voice into the cloud, it means so much more than dialing numbers.

Don't get rid of the physical phone, get rid of old strategies and mindsets. Communications is so much more than picking up the phone.

In my next blog, I will speak about how organisations are using cloud calling to switch on users in the cloud.

In the meantime, read more on Microsoft's voice in the cloud capabilities.