Skype for Business – Cloud PBX – Real world use

Microsoft will soon be driving that Cloud PBX marketing juggernaut harder than ever, Cloud PBX will be the “Thing that you need”, the answer to all your enterprise voice needs. The best solution, reliable, cost effective and ease of use….. Or so we will be led to believe.

However, while some of this may be true, a lot of it will be marketing hype and perhaps the solution will not live up to what you thought. At least in the short term anyway. Don’t get me wrong, Cloud PBX is a good idea. But we’ve been here before. However, this time, Microsoft have put the investments into their real time media network to now make it happen rather than just doing a global “lab” attempt at it as they did with Lync hybrid voice for instance. Microsoft are proud of their Cloud PBX solution, and so they should be. Being market leaders in UC, and changing the scope and direction of telephony from the front, leading by example and dogfooding their own solutions. Not everyone agrees with them, they don’t always get it right. There have been some very public failures along the way (ahem Windows ME, Vista…). But that’s Microsoft, it’s what they do. It’s the reason you love or hate them. But you cannot deny, their willingness to try new ideas at scale is second to none.

Cloud PBX is the new thing, the new kid on the block, the thing to have this Christmas for any Microsoft techie. And that’s also the point. Whilst it is a great idea, it’s still a new idea, it’s still untested in the real world and we don’t quite know how it’s going to perform. I have made my views on this publically known, in that I do not consider Cloud PBX as an enterprise voice solution, unless you invest in Express Route. Without Express Route, you don’t have enterprise voice, you have hosted voice. With hosted voice you get Skype consumer grade audio quality. You have to accept that some calls will be good, some will be terrible and some will be somewhere in between. Anyone who has used a hosted voice solution in this way will have experienced this, and it’s probably the main reason why so many have migrated back to on-premises voice. Let’s not forget that Lync Hybrid Voice failed for this exact reason, so what makes Cloud PBX any different? Nothing, unless you have Express Route.

However, Cloud PBX does give us some immediate and interesting use cases. Imagine a business, they have 3 offices, the main office that holds 1,000 employees and is the base of their entire organisation. Here they have their call center, and line of business apps such as CRM. They have an office 2 miles down the road holds 500 employees and connected to the main office by a 10GB fibre WAN. The third office is in the middle of the countryside that holds 20 employees and has a 1MBps WAN but a 10MBps local internet connection. They also have home-based sales people dotted around the country who are agile, constantly on the move.

Here Cloud PBX could be of an advantage to this company in a hybrid scenario. Cloud PBX will be a perfect fit for that remote office in the country because they have a better internet connection than WAN link to the main office. Ok you don’t have Express Route here, but at least you can provide a better calling experience to these employees than you could over your WAN. You also give them the ability to use some rich media such as video, multi-party conferencing and app sharing with more capacity.

The sales people who are on the road, Cloud PBX is a great fit for these employees. The company doesn’t have to worry about their connectivity to on-premises Skype for Business, they can just consume telephony straight from Office 365.

Both these uses for Cloud PBX reduces company risk to service availability and performance, meaning that you are able to deliver services to those employees at farthest tip of your reach in confidence. No other system / cloud / network in the world has the same coverage and availability like Office 365.

The main office would not be a great fit for Cloud PBX, why? Mainly down to limitations of what Cloud PBX can do right now. But other than them, the company doesn’t have to invest in Express Route, they don’t have to limit their UC offerings to align with restrictions and they get the best experience possible out of the system without having to redesign their offering. We don’t have to move everyone into the cloud just for the sake of it.

Another area / use case Cloud PBX would be a good fit is the SMB sector. Those 10 to 50 employee shops that don’t have the budget to hosts a UC platform like Skype for Business on-premises, but who would absolutely benefit from the collaboration this platform could provide. These businesses would also accept the risk of running voice over the internet because to them, it is more important to close the sale, than to have perfect voice quality all the time. The SMBs I speak to would rather fall back to their company mobile and accept the disruption, than spend the enormous amount of money Express Route costs on a guaranteed delivery network.

I am sure in the coming months, a lot of businesses will be playing with Cloud PBX, trying things out and evaluating their business strategies to align with the offerings. However, just bear in mind, that cloud only is not the only option, it can benefit you yes, but in moderation and in certain circumstances.

The next few years are going to be interesting for us all.

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