Microsoft Teams Calling is a powerful way to use voice communications to stay connected. Conversations that used to happen in the workplace, now must take place digitally. According to Microsoft, Teams users placed over 650 million calls in October 2021, up 11 fold from March 2020. Microsoft Operator Connect is a new operator-managed service that brings PSTN calling to Teams.
What is Operator Connect?
Microsoft Operator Connect provides easy access to telephony services and provides facilities to select and connect with an operator (Service Provider) and get telephone numbers, all directly from within the Microsoft Teams admin center.
It unlocks several important benefits:
Leverage existing operator contracts: Keep your preferred operator and contracts, while enabling a modern calling experience in Teams
Simple and quick to deploy: It can take just minutes to connect to your operator and assign phone numbers to users, all from the Teams admin center.
Operator-managed infrastructure: PSTN calling services and Session Border Controllers (SBCs) are managed by operators, saving on hardware purchase and management
Enhanced support and reliability: Operators provide tech support and shared service level agreements to improve support service
VOSS for Operator Connect
Operator Connect is a great option, but it raises the question as to how an operator can service this efficiently via the Operator Connect API.
Automation will be important to deliver a dynamic customer self-service experience and keep costs down but what else needs consideration?
Here are a few thoughts for the operator community:
Automation to streamline the service – Multi-step workflows for provisioning At the heart of this are multi-step workflows that automate the provisioning process, hiding the underlying complexity in the process and reducing the need for manual touch-points – as the underlying components that make up the service (Direct Routing, SBCs, PSTN break-out) are configured in turn.
Keeping control – with RBAC, audit logs and rollback Comprehensive access controls, data visibility and audit logs are vital to ensuring that the integration interface is secure and robust. Do not forget to ask about a rollback facility if a particular request goes astray and for detail in the transaction/audit log to track changes.
Managing the number inventory The number inventory plays a key role, and workflows are required to manage and allocate numbers and configure the dial plan into the underlying service, along with possibly integrating with adjacent systems to initiate activities such as porting.
Reporting and accurate charging of services consumed Whenever services are consumed, accurate information must be fed into reporting and billing, to track service usage and raise appropriate charges. This may be real-time notifications or overnight jobs to reconcile systems.
Flexibility to configure and optimize for future requirements Planning for the future – all systems evolve and mature, and so too will the calling options in Microsoft Teams. Any solution must respond dynamically and without the need to revert to traditional software development and testing. Make sure that the system can be easily adapted and extended through system configuration.
VOSS for Operator Connect Demo
This video gives a brief insight into the calling capabilities and options for Microsoft Teams, following Microsoft’s recent 2021 Ignite conference, where they introduced new features around the calling experience.
At the event, Microsoft announced a new telephony option called Operator Connect that sits alongside calling plans and direct routing.
Let’s start with a quick recap. This is the Microsoft Teams client, with menu options down the side to allow you to chat with colleagues and collaborate on Teams channels. There are a range of channels where groups of people participate, collaborate, share ideas, and documents.
Importantly, this is the calls option - click on the calls menu item to contact internal colleagues. And, if you have a suitable license for Teams calling telephony or Enterprise Voice, you can make telephony calls using the dial pad. This gives the option to dial out to an external number and also to receive calls from the public telephone network as well.
Key takeaways from this are that Microsoft Teams telephony is an important topic area for Microsoft, and they continue to invest quite heavily. Some partners and enterprise organizations commit extensively to the Microsoft suite and therefore these environments can be quite complex. This opens up the conversation with VOSS to help manage this complexity and scale, and help introduce automation to make efficiencies.
In the VOSS portfolio we offer help with migration and onboarding administration, and UC operations management automation through to UC assurance and reporting. So, across the UC lifecycle there are opportunities for VOSS to support you.
Here is a short video to give you a quick run through on options for Microsoft Teams Telephony and Microsoft Teams Voice, which have the power to foster relationships and build understanding of Microsoft Teams Calling, which can help restore connections and create new ones with colleagues and customers.
Every organization is different so Microsoft Teams Calling offers a variety of options to suit every need. Microsoft Teams Calling plans are a simple managed option from Microsoft to equip your organization with phone numbers now available in even more locations.
Operator Connect allows you to bring your own operator to Teams with a fully managed and integrated experience. This integration provides shared technical support and quality service level agreements as well as direct peering for enhanced network resilience.
Deploy Microsoft Teams Calling with confidence, directly from the Team's admin center, and of course Direct Routing provides a powerful option to use your own operator and existing on-prem or hosted infrastructure to implement a tailored Calling solution to Teams.
Let’s unpack this a little, to give an insight into what this looks like under the hood.
These are the three options that were introduced on the video; let's go through them in turn.
Microsoft Teams calling plans - they really are out the box so when you subscribe to these they're on a per user or licensed basis. They are available in domestic options or domestic and international calling, so two types of plans. Typically, they cost $12 per user per month for the domestic option, and $24 if you've got an international bundle.
If you if you look at these in a little bit more detail they tend to be a bit more expensive than typical rates that organizations are paying. They're not available everywhere so I'll show you the regional footprint in a moment. SLAs are somewhat constrained; typical Microsoft Teams SLAs are 99.9%, so maybe not what you'd normally expect on an enterprise voice platform. But, they are out of the box and if you want a quick and easy route into Teams telephony without too much hassle or aggravation, then a calling plan is an option, most suited to SMEs.
If we quickly switch onto this slide here, you can see this is the regional footprint where calling plans are available so they're in certain regions, but certainly not everywhere. See mostly if I take out North America, Western Europe, and a little bit in APAC, but certainly not widespread.
Let’s come back here to Direct Routing. This is mostly what we've been talking about over the last 12 months, and it gives the option for a partner or an enterprise organization themselves if they want to take this on to really bring the backend enterprise voice infrastructure numbers and plug that into a Microsoft Teams cloud to provide PSDN and telephony enterprise voice and services off the back of that. This is what's been most popular with enterprise organizations if you look at the activity over the last 12 months or so.
So, let’s look at hybrid solutions whereby you've got an existing enterprise voice platform here, which is extended out to Microsoft Teams. So, the Team's clients’ users with the Teams client can participate in an enterprise voice service and break out onto the public network here, and the connection between the two is a Direct Routing link which links directly into the enterprise voice platform here. So, that's what we call our hybrid solution.
On the left here the other one we're investing in now and rolling out with early opportunities, is what we call Microsoft-only, and that's really where an organization or a partner wants to go Microsoft-only and run Teams and Teams Cloud with the Direct Routing and backing infrastructure breaking out on the public network with the VOSS management platform wrapped around that to provide control management and automation.
So, these are the two deployment options in our portfolio that both leverage Direct Routing as the underlying Microsoft technology to connect to the Teams cloud.
Let’s move forward and talk a little around Operator Connect. Now, this is new and it's come out of Microsoft Ignite. Essentially, what Microsoft are doing here is providing easier access to telephony services in Microsoft Teams and the the new piece about this is you can now log in to the Teams’ admin center and connect with a preferred operator or telecom provider, and through that route subscribe to numbers and telephony services. Essentially, managed services being provided by the operator in this context but it's all administered and acquired by an enterprise organization through the Teams’ admin center. The gist of this is that Microsoft is trying to make that easy as opposed to having to deal with an operator directly. It’s launched in Q2 so not available yet, but coming soon.
There are some early partners engaged on the program so that's a third option for providing telephony into a Microsoft Team service. If we just jump onto this next slide here, in terms of what that means for us, I've taken a graphic from a partner here so you see that this is the Microsoft Team service. The administration portal comes in here so you can finally connect with the provider who manages your numbers, and you put those back on to users and then use telephony services. It connects back into the service provider themselves. There's an API in here, so when you are connecting with the provider you are asking for numbers for a service that's linked back in here.
When a request comes back into the service provider it doesn't really want to be manned and on a service desk, when the rest of the system through Microsoft Teams is automated and running off a self-service interface at the front end. So, there's a good opportunity here for us to front this with a service provider or partner, and connect into this Operator Connect API. Then, automate the whole back end of the provisioning number management, delivering what we normally do back out onto the service. That's the opportunity for us in that context; you can see we connect and intercept in here, on these Operator Connect APIS, to manage this all in some nice workflows here. Then we provision this out onto the back end.
So, those are the three options - plenty of opportunity for VOSS and Microsoft who are investing heavily in Teams, Teams telephony, and across the suite. Once we get into partners' enterprise connections there are some good opportunities across the suite for migration and onboarding automation and administration and finally assurance and reporting.
I hope that's helpful for you any questions please just drop me an email.