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 in the 90s. I was very involved in the late 90s in Voice over IP and its quite incredible to see everything moving to the cloud. Clearly, it’s been a fascinating year with COVID-19 dramatically accelerating digital transformation across a variety of industries.
Someone said to me the other day, “COVID has done what no CIO could do”. That’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. Purely from a technology perspective, it’s been very interesting to watch.
The migration to Teams is something that’s been discussed for a 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 captured the collaboration side of the opportunity and are now adding voice services.
End users have invested the time to become Teams-capable, they know how to use it. CIOs in 2021 and 2022 are going to be looking at how to extend Teams’ value. They have the infrastructure, it’s fully operational, so why not leverage it?
For calling, why continue to run separate infrastructure from Avaya, Cisco and Mitel? And since Teams is part of the 365 portfolio, it is relatively frictionless to get started.
Teams Phone System, the Microsoft PBX offering, simply becomes an additional bonus. While it does require a monthly premium, it’s a simple enough ask from a CIO perspective and as a result we’re seen wide adoption by enterprises.
From our perspective, there are really two sides to this space. One is the carrier/service provider and the other the enterprise.
There are thousands of service providers out there that use our solutions to create SIP trunks and for those service providers, our job is to enable their SIP trunks. It’s crucial that service providers have the appropriate tools in their network to simplify the process of onboarding customers. If the customer wants to move to Teams, then the carrier should be ready to easily enable that.
On the enterprise side, Teams Direct Routing requires an enterprise SBC, we need to offer the hardware or software required for that SBC. Our recent introduction of Ribbon Connect offers enterprises a monthly service that incorporates the SBC functionality they need to migrate to Teams.
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 interoperability as a big requirement. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons we introduced our Ribbon Connect offer is because it has a deeper level of PBX interoperability and simplifies customer migration. This is crucial as there are many enterprises that have good reason to keep some portion of their existing PBX.
The customer’s existing PBX may be integrated into a business process, or the customer might not be able to afford to migrate all of their employees to Teams calling immediately. As an example, if you are a hospital, you have thousands of analogue phones in rooms. It’s not easy to disassemble that existing environment and connect to the cloud. We see situations where customers have a mix of needs, in one part of their business they don’t see a driver to focus on migrating to Teams, but they have knowledge workers, executives, and salespeople, for them, Teams is ideal.
The Teams mobile app is also beneficial in enabling employees to work from anywhere. A traditional PBX phone isn’t really all that helpful outside the office. What we’ve done with Ribbon Connect is create the ability for customers to have both traditional PX services and Teams calling services at the same time. This mixed model allows customers to use Teams for some of their users and the traditional PBX for others, creating a mixed environment that’s still very rational.
In addition, our traditional hardware SBCs, have a number of interoperability tools. That includes support for analogue lines and PRI. If you have an existing contact centre and you need to keep that operational, these connectivity options make that easy. That remains 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?
Teams 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 both software development and physical products for SIP Trunking, and education around it.
Absolutely. In fact, education is very important for partner communities, right?
Yes, absolutely. For our partners it is an area of growth and service innovation. We’ve expended significant effort over the last several years to create new solutions for them in this space.
You have seen releases we announced in the fall for 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 all fit into this space. We also have some architectural changes that we’re implementing 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 means for customers to acquire connectivity for Teams.
Today, if customers want to use Direct Routing, they may talk to a service provider, but in many cases, they have to engage with an enterprise reseller. Operator Connect creates a tighter relationship between Microsoft and service providers. Moving forward customers will have the option to go to the Microsoft 365 portal and acquire their dial tone 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 easily add telephone numbers or move numbers. If they don’t have a relationship, they can go there to create 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 in 2021 and 2022 we’ll see more multinationals and other very large customers, moving to Teams. Teams already has strong adoption within small enterprises, and their bread and butter has been that mid-sized enterprise where there are a large number of knowledge workers that work very closely.
I also think we’ll see really big companies that have traditionally used a Cisco or Avaya BI, make the move to Teams, post pandemic.
That includes verticals such as education, healthcare, and government. We’re seeing Teams gain a lot of traction in government environments.
Are there any challenges that you see in this space? We just briefly discussed 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. In guess in some ways, it’s a bit like using Microsoft Word. People say that nobody needs all those features, but the problem is that the features you use in Word and the features I use Word – are ever so slightly different. So the question remains, which features are OK to drop?
The challenge for a new offer like Teams is that there are legacy experiences that users want to emulate. Those will remain for a very long time and some of those experiences are important enough that their absence will preclude someone from Migrating to a new platform such as Teams. For those users their 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 the old solution in place.