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Don't get hung up on Office 365 Cloud PBX pitfalls

Office 365 support for full PBX features is a game-changer, but it can be a risk if not planned correctly. See if Microsoft's cloud phone system works for your enterprise.

For IT administrators, the value of Microsoft's Office 365 Cloud PBX service is that it consolidates telephony...

services with email messages and cloud storage in one consumable portal. But make no mistake, this is not plug-and-play.

Admins must be sure their in-house business technology is compatible with the service to get all of its features. Office 365 Cloud PBX with public switched telephone network (PSTN) dialing capabilities enables workers to use Skype for Business Online to:

  • place, receive, transfer and mute calls;
  • click a name in the address book and call the contact; and
  • use mobile devices, a headset with a laptop or PC or an IP phone that works with Skype for Business.

However, the real benefit is that Cloud PBX integrates those features into the Office 365 portal. Admins manage all the Office 365 services, which include mailboxes and licenses, in one place and need only contact one vendor should a problem arise. But like any move to a cloud service, it requires planning and preparation.

Here are some benefits of Office 365 Cloud PBX and tips on how to easily transition to the cloud service.

Office 365 now fully replicates on premises

Many IT admins use the administrative console to handle some of the major applications within Office 365, such as Exchange, SharePoint, licensing and Skype for Business.

But Office 365 didn't fully replace on-premises servers until Microsoft included a PBX service in the E5 subscription plan. Office 365 Cloud PBX includes critical features, such as call queues and an automated attendant, to make the service more comparable -- and, therefore, a full-blown replacement -- to Exchange Server for businesses.

Microsoft catches up on needed features

Businesses expect modern unified communications (UC)  platforms to offer advanced features, such as collaboration tools, mobility, call routing, hunt groups, instant messaging, presence technology, voicemail on the go and portability to take an extension or direct inward dialing anywhere users want. Businesses wish to use these platforms as a service and don't expect to purchase hardware other than the clients' handsets.

However, many admins found that Office 365 E5's early release fell short. The main complaint was that it lacked two essential features: automated attendant functionality and call queues.

Office 365 didn't fully replace on-premises servers until Microsoft included a PBX service in the E5 subscription plan.

Microsoft finally released those capabilities for general Office 365 tenants in April 2017. The company offered Skype for Business Online as a complete, hosted option with enterprise features and functions that are comparable to its on-premises counterpart. This means IT administrators don't deal with the complexities and challenges of an on-premises voice over IP (VoIP) and keep the crucial features that the enterprise needs.

Microsoft will replace Skype for Business Online with Microsoft Teams likely by 2020, a problematic development for companies that rely on the former for telephony services.

IT considerations before a move

The introduction of a cloud-based UC system requires planning and preparation. Consider the following checklist before you bring Office 365 Cloud PBX into the business.

Avoid points of failure: Like an email server, a phone is a critical communication component. Before you install Office 365 Cloud PBX, make sure your system has multiple reliable network connections. For example, a manufacturing firm located in a rural area can't switch its phone system to the cloud without this redundancy.

Look into new handsets: Before an organization replaces its existing VoIP with Skype for Business, IT needs to determine if the legacy handsets work with Office 365 Cloud PBX. Microsoft supports several hardware vendors, but Skype for Business with PSTN might not be compatible with some handsets. Check your firmware requirements.

Consider compliance requirements: Security is always a concern when an enterprise moves data into the cloud. Office 365 provides functionality, such as specific rules and policies, to help enterprises meet compliance obligations in email messages, archives and e-discovery. Skype for Business includes similar capabilities to archive and search for messages and interactions. In addition, admins can access detailed audit trails on communications for security reviews.

Monitor usage to manage costs: IT admins that oversee corporate mobile devices should know how to monitor data usage; it helps them stay on budget, and it identifies which resources each user consumes. Similarly, Skype for Business offers domestic and international plans with a set number of minutes. IT admins should examine several reports to monitor those plans and manage costs.

Next Steps

Survey the entire landscape before an Office 365 move

Vendors struggle with mobile unified communications

Steps to use Skype for Business in your business

This was last published in October 2017

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