One of the success stories of recent times has been the adoption of Digital Telephony by all sizes of business. Large businesses have installed their own hardware and software, and small businesses tend to use Cloud PBX implementations, either in-house or hosted.
A more recent development has been the convergence of video conferencing with Cloud PBX implementations. Video calls using applications like WhatsApp and Skype have been around for some time, and have been used over the PSTN and digital telephone networks from both desktop and smart devices. Since Microsoft bought Skype, introduced Skype for Business, and fully integrated it with the Azure cloud environment, it has become a major player in the Cloud PBX landscape.
Skype for Business is Microsoft’s flagship application for integrated communications, in its fullest implementation covering replacement of a physical PBX with Cloud-based software, and providing connectivity with social media and instant messaging. It fully integrates with Office 365 and is included in Office 365 subscriptions. A cloud-based version, Skype for Business Cloud PBX is available.
What are the Ins and Outs of setting up and using Skype for Business in a Cloud PBX environment?
There are two basic options for using Cloud PBX and Skype for Business:
- Invest in a wall-to-wall Microsoft Cloud PBX solution; and
- Integrate Cloud PBX with a third-party application;
What you choose depends on your existing environment and your business needs from the Unified Communications environment.
There are several elements in Skype for Business Cloud PBX:
Skype for Business Server;
The server software is hosted on an inhouse server and provides the full range of services, including PSTN connectivity.
Skype for Business Online;
This cloud-based offering provides full integration with Office 365.
Skype for Business; and
This client works with both the above options, and is available for the full range of operating systems. Where there is no native client, the former Lync client can be used.
This is the Skype we are all familiar with, a free application for personal use.
If we look specifically at a Cloud PBX solution, the question you need to answer if you have an existing VoIP system is quite simply, integrate or replace.
There are undoubted advantages in going for a wall-to-wall Microsoft Cloud PBX solution. Integrating the Skype for Business server with Office 365 provides a full Unified Communications environment. A user can click on the phone button in the contact details, and Skype will dial the call. However, only the full implementation allows calls to be made to landlines. Otherwise it is calls to other Skype users only. You don’t need to manage inter-application interfaces.
In practice this means that if you want full functionality with Office 365 integration you will need to implement both Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online.
The upside of a fully integrated system built around Skype for Business is that it provides all the features you might need, including IM, video and voice calling and screen and document sharing.
The downside is that licencing is complex, based around the Microsoft tiered licencing model, and that the overall operating costs may increase.
That is because the full range of communications features are only available at the most expensive subscription tier. That tier however only provides for calls to other Skype users. Therefore, you will also need a separate PSTN module, at an additional cost if you intend to make calls to landlines. That could result in higher operating costs.
If you intend to integrate with an existing VoIP system, then the situation becomes a little more complex. Skype for Business does not work with all, or indeed many current VoIP and video-conferencing offerings. You will need to find out if your existing supplier offers Skype for business and Office 365 integration. Be aware that current integrations might not work in future with Cloud PBX.
If you have existing facilities for conferencing, some suppliers for example Polycom, provide integration with Skype for Business. Polycom, Mitel and Cisco claim that with the Polycom RealConnect application, you can continue to use your existing room-based Video-Conference equipment seamlessly with Cloud PBX.
One area that requires care is the selection of IP phones. You must use IP phones certified for use with Cloud PBX. Check that any existing IP phones are certified and buy only certified IP phones. In the worst case, an uncertified phone might not register with Cloud PBX. Other features like boss/secretary, tethering and shared and hunting lines might not work as expected.
The advantages of standardising on a Microsoft Cloud PBX environment are clear, as are the benefits of upgrading an existing environment where possible. As always, set out your needs and make sure that any solution meets those expectations at an affordable cost.