Thursday, April 1, 2021

If you Choose Microsoft Teams, Choose Direct Routing with RingCentral

 You have no doubt heard of Microsoft Teams.  For millions of Microsoft365 users, formerly Office365 users, Teams is something you got for free when you needed Outlook, Word, and Excel.  You and your department probably started using it to send messages and conduct meetings.  If your organization used Skype for Business, you were likely told it was the replacement, so you started to use the messaging and meeting capabilities also.  Now as COVID has accelerated the move to the cloud, unified communications migration has become a priority to many organizations.  The ability to receive and make phone calls, and conduct business from home is of paramount importance.  

Bringing Voice to the Cloud

Microsoft Teams is actually 2 distinct pieces.  The first is the Microsoft Teams client, and cloud servers that hold all of your chats, meetings, channels, and the like.  Everyone who uses Teams uses this 1/2.  The other piece is something we call PSTN, this is the part that lets Teams talk to the rest of the world through what you would normally think of as your business phone lines.


This PSTN Connectivity is how Microsoft Teams can replace your legacy business phone system, that is still likely confined to the walls of your office building.  There are 2 ways to enable the PSTN Connectivity with your Microsoft Teams setup.  The first is to buy the phone numbers and lines from Microsoft through something they call a Microsoft Calling Plan.  Less than 15% of organization choose this route, largely due to the limited features, SLA, and relatively short track record for this service.  Instead over 85% of organizations choose to use Direct Routing instead.

What is Direct Routing

Direct Routing is a cloud telephony solution enabling users to make and receive phone calls through the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or PBX or Cloud PBX to and from both landline and mobile numbers. Solutions such as RingCentral Cloud PBX for Microsoft Teams work by connecting your Teams and Microsoft 365 software to the relevant provider. This means that users can then make and receive external calls from any devices running natively via Teams.  Unlike Microsoft Calling Plans, Direct Routing allows organizations to choose bundles or request tailored solutions from providers that meet their carrier and coverage needs. That often means they’re typically cheaper and more flexible than Microsoft’s limited options.

So Why RingCentral Direct Routing?

There are many reasons to choose RingCentral for direct routing, I am going to highlight a few that are common sense, and few you probably haven't considered.  

First SLA is important.  Microsoft lists 99.9% which sounds like those commercials where something is killing germs, good enough right?  Well that does mean 1 entire business day a year you can expect to not have a phone, if that's good enough so be it, but RingCentral's 99.999% means only about 5 minutes year, which causes every good IT person less heartburn.

Secondly, front end flexibility is important.  Every provider will make your Teams client ring, and let you make calls, there is little difference at all.  Where you need to be careful is the front end, while your local phone company can deliver the lines, they aren't going to provide customizable IVR, and Call Queue features every modern business needs.  The same is true, believe it or not, of Microsoft Calling Plans.  Robust call routing is implemented very poorly there, and is one reason most organizations don't even consider it as a viable PSTN option.

Thirdly, geography matters. RingCentral has a global footprint with PSTN in 40+ countries.  Your local PSTN provider is unlikely to be able to fight those regulatory battles, so neither should you, when they are already won.

Finally, the biggest advantage is one near to my heart, and one you likely won't consider until it's too late.  Microsoft Calling Plans have a very limited Voice API for developers.  Honestly it wreaks of the DOA product failure of TAP which they introduced on the Skype For Business Online API side, before quickly killing that off a few years ago.  Worse, it doesn't have the client side controls Skype for Business online offered, which they also killed off.  So Doug, why do I care about any of this?  Without APIs your organization will have little chance of finding flexible solutions for call recording, call reports, attendant console, contact center, CRM plugins, or any of hundreds of other applications that compliment a business phone system.  Without it, you will likely have 0 or at best 1 choice for some of these, and your flexibility gained by the cloud will be all but lost.  RingCentral offers 200+ integrations of their own.  They also have thousands of developer partners like us, Bridge Communications, who contribute to their massive app gallery. 

Bridge Operator Console (below) for RingCentral allows direct routing customers to answers calls, see organization wide availability, and transfer them to end users who can use their native Teams app to answer.


Summary

RingCentral’s Direct Routing offer, Cloud PBX for Microsoft Teams, is a fully managed, carrier-class solution that connects your Teams and Microsoft 365 deployment to PSTN networks. This allows your users to make and receive external phone calls from anywhere on any handset or device running natively in the Teams application.

Direct Routing is a cloud telephony solution enabling users to make and receive phone calls through the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or PBX or Cloud PBX to and from both landline and mobile numbers. Solutions such as RingCentral Cloud PBX for Microsoft Teams work by connecting your Teams and Microsoft 365 software to the relevant provider. This means that users can then make and receive external calls from any devices running natively via Teams.

With cloud telephony, businesses and other organizations are no longer reliant on a physical private branch exchange (PBX) on-premises. This would require a dedicated space and administrators to manage the system. Cloud telephony, on the other hand, sends calls to a cloud PBX where call routing through a succession of switches allows them to reach the intended recipients.

If you are serious about using Microsoft Teams as your voice endpoint, you need to consider all the advantages of doing so in conjunction with RingCentral direct routing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Microsoft Teams Store: A Complete and Utter Disaster

 I won't sugar coat it, the Microsoft Teams store is a new low, even for Microsoft.  Let's face it for years the Microsoft UC strategy has be mismanaged and directionless, this is an understatement.  Products have been killed off with little notice, and without any suitable replacement in site.  Microsoft Teams is largely smoke and mirrors.  Yes there are a lot of Microsoft 365 licenses that come with Teams, and technically millions of users that have it, because it came with what they needed to send and receive email.  Survey the landscape and you'll find a very small few customers who have found it to be a suitable replacement for their UC needs.  I talked to customers every week who are "migrating to Teams" and a shocked and horrified to find out the gaping holes that exist.  The one that is glaring to our organization is the lack of developer support or APIs.  3 years ago we were told not to worry that when the shocking announcement that Skype for Business was a "dead man walking" that all the same tools for developers would land on the new mystery product.  To date they haven't, and there seems to be little appetite from a company that once touted 98% of their sales were attributed to their developer partners.


Enter the snow globe partner approach, where every year they throw away what a few figured out how to navigate, and start from scratch.  Partner Center is the current iteration, where all the pay for Outlook and Teams apps now got stripped, and a few were allowed to migrate to the new store.  Simple enough, we created a Teams wallboard app for monitoring a group of users presence.  Something you really can't do in Teams, though it was and is a basic function in every competing phone system.


Upon completing the app, and a few weeks of testing, it seemed logical to submit it to the Teams store.  The app is simple, reliable, and should have been an easy value prop to fly right into a ghost town of retched store apps.

Problem 1
Microsoft has little to do with the store.  Of course, they farm it out of the low bid Indian firm HCL, who works in the middle of the night if you live in the US only.  They decide if your app has value, having no clue about any business landscape, and shockingly no knowledge of how a contact or call center would work, despite it being a primary source of revenue for them.  The worst part is their hardware, having done a Teams meeting to show the app to them I couldn't believe how bad their connection was.  I haven't seen internet like that since the last 90s.  And of course when it sucks, they fail you because of their garbage environment.


Problem 2
Teams has an App Studio app, which helps generate a manifest.  This is great, and things are fairly logical.  The rub comes with the 3rd party HCL, since they go against the guidelines on the developer site, and contradict several things, that honestly have no effect on the app, but seems to give them busy work to justify whatever low bid revenue they get.  For example if you pick an Accent Color in the App Studio they will reject your app because your icon bordered by the accent color doesn't match your icon.  Seriously.


Problem 3
Let's say you submit your app was we did, and store (HCL 3rd party) rejects it with 1 issue.  You fix the non-issue and resubmit.  Now it comes back with 4 issues, none of which were there the first time.  You repeat the process a few times, and now you have a dozen issues, some of which are beyond stupid, like the outline icon which is supposed to be white, doesn't match the app icon, which is supposed to be color.  They will say the colors don't match.

 

This would fail every Microsoft app as well, as you see the Planner icons above.  It seems the vendor is so bad they are unable to read or comprehend even the most basic instructions they have from Microsoft.  Also any icon that looks like a person or people is instantly rejected because they feel it would be too confusing for users that they would think it was the "Teams" icon despite it's fixed position.


Problem 4
Before you know it, you are up at 3am doing Teams meetings with them, trying to explain the basics of software development, how Teams works etc, to someone who isn't qualified to do anything, and doesn't have access to actual Teams accounts.  It's truly shocking to see how this is being run behind the curtain.

Problem 5
At some point in a crazy scheme to turn a profit you may want a customer to pay you for your app.  Not so fast, despite partner center having a section you fill out about how your app has in app purchases, according to HCL the low bid vendor, you app will be rejected if you try to take payment inside it.  Instead you must write something that exposes a man in the middle attack and threatens you PCI compliance if you want money.  Yeah they are advocating for that!



The Decision
After a month of this you really start to question if you actually want your app in the store.  Frankly, most users probably don't frequent it, because the lack of quality.  The task switching experience in Teams is terrible, it takes us back to the days of DOS.  Luckily you don't really need Teams, since most of the heavy lifting is done by the MS Graph team, you can run your "teams" app better in a web browser.  

Conclusions
Microsoft has hit a new low, and that's impressive given the downward trend of their communications play over the last 5 years.

Don't assume because you got Teams with Outlook your business will survive if you try to use it as your phone system.




Tuesday, June 9, 2020

First Microsoft Teams Attendant Console - With 1 catch.

For years we have been trying to push Microsoft for APIs that would allow for control of the Microsoft Teams audio stream, ideally outside of the Teams application.  Our efforts to date have been very much in vain.  The truly sad part is, everything else is in place for the most part.  Yes there are quite a few issues with MS graph searches, like the ability to search for string contained in, rather than equals and starts with only, but largely the ability to find users and their current presence exists.  To showcase it, we recently added the functionality to our RingCentral attendant console.  If you have a phone call ring to your RC number, you can now see and transfer via PSTN to your MS Teams users.


Hopefully the ability to now use RingCentral as a hybrid attendant console for RingCental and Microsoft Teams hybrid deployments will push Microsoft toward finishing the APIs needed by 3rd parties, to fill in the many gaps Teams has as a PBX replacement.