Spotlight on Next Gen Communications | TelecomDrive.com
At a time when the ongoing pandemic situation has rapidly accelerated the process of digital transformation for telecoms as well as enterprise communities – Microsoft Teams has emerged as a great enabler in this space.
Ribbon Communications is driving a lot of innovation in this space by supporting service providers, partners and enterprise Teams deployments with the help of its Teams calling solutions and SBC offerings.
Greg Zweig Director of Solutions Marketing at Ribbon Communications speaks with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com about the company’s strategy on Teams deployment and how Ribbon is driving innovation here.
We have seen a lot of activity happening around the Teams portfolio. Ribbon and others are quite keenly positioning their solutions in this space. As an organisation, how do you look at this space? What are some of the big innovations that Ribbon is driving here?
I look at it from a historical perspective, because I started my career in the traditional PBX space right back in the 90s. I was very involved in the late 90s in Voice over IP and now to see everything moving to the cloud. Clearly, it’s been a fascinating year because Coronavirus has dramatically accelerated digital transformation.
Someone said to me the other day, “Covid has done what no CIO could do”. A terrible thing to say, but it’s true. From that perspective, it’s been very interesting to watch.
The migration to Teams is something that has been spoken about for a very long time. There’s always been a belief that Microsoft’s control over the desktop operating system would eventually pay dividends. They made a couple of runs at it and struggled. But with Teams, I think they’ve finally hit the right mark. This is because they grabbed the collaboration side.
Customers have spent the time to become Teams-capable and they know how to use it. CIOs in 2021 and 2022 are going to be looking at how to extend its value. They have the infrastructure. It’s fully operational. Why not just leverage it?
For calling, why continue to run a separate infrastructure from an Avaya, Cisco and Mitel? And since Teams is part of the 365 portfolio, it is relatively frictionless to get started.
Teams calling, the Microsoft PBX offering is also an addition. You do pay a monthly premium for that, but it’s a reasonable enough cost and it’s a simple enough ask from a CIO perspective that we see enterprises have widely adopted.
From our perspective, there’s really two parts to it. One is from the carrier side and then there is the service provider side. We have thousands of service providers out there that use our solutions to create SIP trunks. We need to enable those SIP trunks. Our job from the service provider side is to make sure that they have the right tool setting their network to make it easy for customers to connect to their carrier networks. If the customer says hey, I want to make the move to teams, carriers easily enable that.
On the enterprise side, because Teams with direct routing requires an enterprise SBC, we want to have both. We want to have the hardware and software or now more recently, we introduced a full managed service that will enable an enterprise to connect. Most have the SBC functionality to move forward.
When looking at the enterprise community, what challenges are there? Do you think interoperability is an issue there? And if it is, then how do you overcome that?
We see that as a big requirement. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why we introduced our Ribbon Connect offer is because it has a deeper level of PBX interoperability and makes it easier for customers to migrate because there are a lot of enterprises out there that have a good reason as to why they have to keep some portion of their existing PBX.
It may be integrated into a business process. It may be a cost issue; if you are a hospital you have thousands of analogue phones in rooms. It’s not easy to disassemble all that and connected to the cloud. At the same time, we see a lot of those customers saying, “I have this part of my business. It’s not really where I want to put my focus on Teams, but I have knowledge workers, I have executives, I’ve salespeople.” For them Teams is ideal.
Mobile app is also good, they would just want to be able to work from anywhere. Having the traditional PBX phone isn’t really all that helpful to. We’ve created the ability for customers to have both at the same time so they can use Teams for some of their users and the traditional PBX for others, so we have that mixed environment that’s still very rational.
Our traditional SBCs, like our small hardware products, have lots of interoperability tools. They have analogue lines at PRI. If you have an existing contact centre and you need to keep that operational, they make that easy. That’s a big part of our business.
Today, if you look at your different lines of business within Ribbon, how important is Teams as a business opportunity and what is the way forward? What kind of growth are you looking at from this?
It is very important because it impacts both our enterprise business and our service provider business. We work very hard to make sure that existing customers are supported by our portfolio. This is an effort that requires a physical product for SIP Trunking, and education around it. To make sure that they understand the opportunity, this is an educational effort and an evangelization effort.
Absolutely. In fact, education is very important for partner communities, right?
Yes, absolutely. And then on the partner side obviously, it’s an area of growth and innovation for us and an area where we’ve put a lot of effort over the last several years to create new solutions for them in this space.
You have seen releases, we announced in the fall of things like our new SBA function Survival Branch appliance for teams, and we’ve been steadily introducing new releases and new products in that portfolio.
Moving forward, what more can we expect from Ribbon in this space in terms of adding new capabilities or new innovations?
You’ll continue to see us make enhancements to products in our portfolio. I can’t talk about things that aren’t released yet, but you’ll see over the next few months new iterations and new generations of products that that all fit into this space. We also have some architectural changes that we’re doing across the portfolio as well.
We recently had an announcement on Microsoft Operator Connect, which is very interesting, because it’s going to create another way that that customers can acquire connectivity for Teams.
Today if they want to use direct routing, they can talk to a service provider, but in many cases, they have to connect with an enterprise reseller. Operator Connect creates a tighter relationship between Microsoft and service providers.
If a customer wants, they’ll be able to go up to the Microsoft 365 portal, the Team’s administrative centre/admin centre and acquire their dial tone right from the admin centre. The analogy I keep using is almost a little bit like the App Store for mobile.
People will be able to log into the team’s admin centre and if they have an existing relationship, they can go up there and do things like add telephone numbers or move numbers. If they don’t have a relationship, they can go up there and sign up for a relationship with a carrier.
Can you share some information on some of the unexplored verticals within the enterprise community where you think there is great potential?
I think that what we’ll see in 2021 and 2022 is a lot more multinational, very large customers move to Teams.
If you look at Teams today, they’ve had strong adoption with small customers, but their bread and butter has been that mid-sized customer because with those customers you can have a very tight group of people.
I think what we’ll see in 2021 and 2022 is these really big companies that have traditionally used a Cisco or a BI, I think we’ll see them make the move to Teams, post pandemic.
And you’re also going to really see them peeling away the PBX infrastructure. Verticals such as education, healthcare, government will be important here and we’re seeing a lot of traction in government environments as well.
Are there any challenges that you see in this space? We just briefly discussed about interoperability as one of the challenges, but are there any other challenges which you think should be addressed?
Feature functionality is always a challenge. The traditional PBX market has a lot of legacy services and you know it’s like Microsoft Word. People say that nobody needs all those features. But the problem is that the features you use, the features I use – are ever so slightly different and so the question always comes back well which one? Which one do you not use?
The challenge always for something like Teams is, there’s always a legacy experience that someone wants to emulate and so that will continue for a very long time and some of those things will preclude someone from making a move because that legacy experience is important to their business process or it’s too much effort to train people to learn something new so it’s easier to leave something in place.
Zia Askari works as the Editor for TelecomDrive.com and carries over 18 years of experience in technology writing, branding, communications and digital marketing. Over these years, Zia has worked with Cyber Media and Grey Head on the content side and RAD Data Communications, Huawei Telecommunications and Shyam Networks on the branding and marketing side.