The Future of Real-time Communications in Office 365

If you’ve been observing coverage of Office 365 in the media and on Twitter in the last few days, you’ll have noticed that Microsoft appear to be preparing to rename Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX to “Microsoft’s Phone System” and PSTN Calling to “Calling Plan” based on details of a Microsoft Ignite 2017 session to be delivered by super-smart UC industry stalwart Albert Kooiman. Another indication of how the broader messaging may be changing to Real-time Communications can be observed in another session described as “introducing our newly created Networking Portal – an essential piece of Planning and Operating any Real Time Communications environment, whether running Teams, Skype for Business or both”.

A lot of the speculation and commentary around this so far has been mixed, but I personally think this is a great move by Microsoft. Focusing on clear business terms supports Microsoft’s modern workplace solution area, which will deliver the Empower Your Employees digital transformation outcome. In my view, it breaks down like this: Digital transformation -> Empower your Employees –> Modern Workplace –> Real-time Communications.

When Microsoft launched Teams in November 2016, Satya Nadella called Office 365 “the universal toolkit” with Teams providing a chat-based workspace alongside SharePoint, Yammer, Skype for Business and Office 365 Groups. The features Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business provide (chat, calling, meetings, document sharing, etc) are becoming the real-time communications surfaces of the Office 365 universal toolkit. Office 365 is now a portfolio of complimentary capabilities an employee can utilise depending on who they work with and how they need to work. I believe it’s far clearer for a broad audience with no PBX, UC or technical background to understand these capabilities as part of the Office 365 universal toolkit, rather than trying to work out each disparate product silo.

The future of real-time communications in Office 365 is fuelled by Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams; and each will have their strengths depending on what someone needs to achieve. Whether someone uses one or the other will depend on how they need to communicate and with who e.g. an individual, a defined functional department, a short-term project team, etc.

Oh, and for “near real-time” company-wide communication and large live broadcast events, I think your old mates Yammer and Skype Meeting Broadcast will still be there in the toolkit. 😊

Why your email should be in Office 365 already

I get that for some organisations there are certain security and governance reasons why email stays on-premises (they’re using a specific product for secure mobile access, legacy archiving or document management, etc), but I really think the majority of organisations could eliminate a ton of headaches and unlock flexibility by just putting their email in the cloud already. Here’s my view on why.

A relief for IT

Smart people working in IT shouldn’t be fighting fires. They could be working on so many more important things that deliver value to the business. Moving your mail to Exchange Online means messaging admins don’t have to worry about things like:

  • Keeping servers running or adding additional capacity
  • How much storage is available and if it’s performing properly (“do we need to upgrade the SAN next year?”)
  • If the Client Access Server is securely published to the internet and hasn’t been compromised, or an update the reverse proxy/HLB is going to take down mobile access
  • Going into damage control when someone sends a 120 MB file to 2000 people (this happened to a customer this week and it crippled email for all 7000 staff)
  • Maintaining a highly available and secure email ingress/egress

Better for Skype for Business Online 

Skype for Business Online does work with Exchange Server on-premises, but it’s not without issues. Gremlins in your legacy Exchange environment can cause complications with authentication such as being prompted for credentials after sign-in, playing havoc with your Skype for Business experience.

Are you thinking about Cloud PBX?

If you’re looking at getting rid of your old PABX for the new Cloud PBX voice features in Office 365, you should really have your email in Exchange Online to use the automatically enabled voicemail features. Exchange Server 2013 CU12 is supported, but I’m finding a lot of companies that are a few CU’s behind, so it makes more sense just to move to Office 365.

Email is just better in Office 365

The rich experience you get in Office 365 Groups, Teams, Planner, Delve, MyAnalytics and SharePoint when mailboxes are in Exchange Online sends productivity into overdrive. Not to mention that you never have to upgrade or patch your email systems anymore, meaning when Microsoft add a new feature to Outlook Web App, you see it straight away and don’t have to submit an RFC to the CAB to patch your 15 Exchange servers. Evergreen service, low overhead, what’s not to love?

Also – 99 GB mailboxes. Need I say more? 🙂

What’s Stopping You?

I’ve seen IT teams in modern companies go from looking at Solarwinds dashboards every 10 minutes to make sure the mail queue doesn’t go red (“let me just log into Gmail and send a test message to my work account… ok we’re good”), to thinking longer term about how IT can benefit the business, and that I feel is a huge career enabler.

I know I’m likely preaching to the choir here, but if your email is still on-premises, I’m genuinely intrigued to know what’s stopping you from moving it to the cloud.

How can APAC customers leverage Office 365 Cloud PBX today?

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

After 6+ months of availability, I want to share what Modality are seeing in the APAC market and dispel some of the myths and hearsay around what is and isn’t available in Skype for Business Online in APAC right now.

A lot of people I speak to say “yes but Cloud PBX isn’t in Australia/Singapore/other APAC country yet” – which isn’t quite true. We have customers deploying Cloud PBX in Singapore and Australia right now. In this post, I’ll talk about how you can deploy and what the considerations are.

What’s available?

Cloud PBX is the product name for Skype for Business calling features in Office 365 e.g. make/receive calls, hold/transfer/send to voicemail, team-call groups, music on hold etc – full list of features here. Don’t think about it in the context of how calls are made to/from the PSTN.

PSTN calling isn’t available just yet in APAC. This is what most of the market considers “Cloud PBX in Office 365”. It means Microsoft providing your connectivity to the PSTN, porting your existing phone numbers/buying new ones directly from Microsoft and having no on-premises infrastructure. It’s available in the US and in the UK in preview right now.

Your ability to buy PSTN calling is defined by where you pay for Office 365 and where you tenant – your “sell-to country”. As more countries are enabled for PSTN calling, your tenant will get access to numbers in those countries. E.g if you pay for O365 in the US, once PSTN calling in the UK reaches general availability, you’ll be able to assign UK numbers to users straight away.

We’ve been trialling this with our US tenant in Modality since it was released and the ability to give new staff a phone number in the state they live in instantly makes on-boarding so simple.

What can I do without PSTN calling?

Just because PSTN calling isn’t available in APAC doesn’t stop you from deploying Cloud PBX. Using your existing on-premises PSTN connectivity with Cloud PBX allows you to start using those features now rather than having to wait until general availability is announced. To do this, you can deploy Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) in your DMZ and connect it to the ISDN or SIP trunk service from your current carrier. Alternatively you can setup a hybrid environment with your existing Skype for Business Server deployment and Office 365.

On-premises PSTN connectivity provides a phased migration approach

Plugging Cloud PBX into your ISDN/SIP service means users keep their phone numbers in the cloud and teams/offices can be migrated at their own pace. It also allows your to maintain a period of coexistence with the current phone system if a big-bang approach isn’t your cup of tea.

Real world reference – two of our customers are centralising their Australian PSTN connectivity with SIP trunks in two data centres on the eastern seaboard and then migrating each capital city office to Cloud PBX as they roll out Office 365 Pro Plus.

Assess your telephony requirements

Think about what your staff have today and what they’ll need tomorrow. Most of our customers keep a few phones on desks but deploy a majority of headsets along with Skype meeting room devices. Consider components like reception consoles, hunt group wallboards/reporting, fax machines, UPS/security modems, contact centres and call recording requirements. If you have some of these requirements, a hybrid approach might be right for you.

Think about where your organisation is going – are your teams crying out for ways to be better connected anywhere and on any device? A common request we hear is staff don’t want to be chained to their desk to make calls to customers and partners. Get people excited by showing them how easy it is to use a Bluetooth headset with Skype for Business on your PC and on your mobile to join meetings and make calls.

Develop a road map

Once you decide on the features and functionality, determine the right approach and architecture for roll out. Where are your current ISDN/SIP services terminating and where is your DMZ? Are your mailboxes already in Exchange Online? The answers to these questions will help define your timeline and architecture for Cloud PBX.

Cloud Connector Edition (CCE) gives you a lightweight way of bringing Office 365 on-premises to connect to the PSTN, and it’s the path we’re seeing most customers already using Office 365 take to deploy Cloud PBX now.

Final thoughts

Organisations across APAC are embracing Cloud PBX as part of their Office 365 strategy. They’re getting away from crumbling phone systems (a common email I get is “the phone system went down again, how soon can we get on Cloud PBX?”) and allowing their staff to communicate from anywhere, anytime and collaborate on any device they have.

How to balance the adoption of Unified Communications

This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn

With the continuing juggernaut of Microsoft UC (Lync or Skype for Business, depending on where in the journey you’re at) adoption in the market, I never stop discovering new approaches to get users using things faster – be that from our own internal thinking, customer ideas or feedback from users.

Recently I’ve seen a few user scenarios that call for balance. That there is a valid reason to accommodate some of the status quo when it comes to UC adoption, but also ongoing value to push forward with a new way of working.

Continue reading

Skype for Business – Microsoft’s master stroke

I first published this post over on LinkedIn.

The launch of Skype for Business is the last piece in the puzzle that will have users excited about Microsoft’s enterprise communications software. It’s going to change the conversation from “well, it’s this app that integrates with Office and you can use it to chat and make phone calls” to a simple statement of “you know Skype? It’s that, but for business”.

Here’s why I think come end of April/start of May, Microsoft will be set up to win in the business productivity space, leave competitors for dead and ultimately enable tons of enterprises worldwide to simply get stuff done easier and faster. Continue reading

Calls from Lync to Nortel CS1000 over ISDN don’t display caller ID on handset

During a recent Lync 2013 Enterprise Voice roll-out I was configuring interoperability with the legacy Nortel CS1000 PBX. For this, we’d deployed a pair of Sonus SBC 1000 gateways with 2x ISDN PRI ports each. In each gateway, one PRI port was connected to the PSTN and the other PRI port was connected to the CS1000, so these gateways were deployed in an upstream model in front of the PBX.

Calls to all destinations (Lync, the CS1000 and the PSTN) were connecting fine with no media problems, but we did observe that calls from Lync to legacy PBX phones were not displaying the calling number (or caller ID, or CLI, take your pick) on the handset. Tracing this using Sonus LX found that the gateway was configured to pass through the calling and called numbers correctly, so the problem wasn’t immediately apparent: Continue reading

Speaking at TechEd Australia 2014 in Melbourne and Sydney

Having moved back to Australia 2 months ago, I’m stoked to announce that I’ll be presenting at TechEd Australia next month in Melbourne on October 7th/8th and Sydney on October 27th/28th!

Speaking both

I’ll be presenting 10 keys to ensuring the success of your Lync deployment in the Office Servers and Services track where I’ll cover the important technical and business considerations you need to watch out for to ensure users love their new communications solution. Make sure you also check out Microsoft’s Vakhtang Assatrian’s session on Addressing Lync 2013 Security Aspects.

I’m looking forward to seeing folks interested in Lync from all over Australia, look forward to seeing you in Melbourne and Sydney next month!

Lync MVPs descend on TechEd North America 2014

Last week a bunch of us MVPs had the pleasure of flying the Lync flag at TechEd North America 2014 in Houston, Texas. I’d successfully landed a session in the Office Servers and Services track and was accompanied by a slew of fellow Lync MVPs from Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, UK, USA and Canada in delivering content in the track. This was my second TechEd North America after last year in New Orleans and I was pumped to visit Texas, eat some great food and see both new and familiar faces again. Continue reading

Speaking at TechEd North America 2014

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be speaking about Lync at TechEd North America again this year!


I’ll be presenting my Understanding How Microsoft Lync Server 2013 Leverages the Complete Microsoft Infrastructure Ecosystem session from Lync Conference 2014 in Houston as part of the 20 other Lync sessions in the Office Servers and Services track.

I’m looking forward to seeing folks interested in Lync from all over Canada and the USA again, and in addition to my breakout session I’ll be working the Microsoft Lync booth and at the Ask the Experts event.

I’ll also be joined by other MVPs like Stale Hansen, Brian Ricks, Johan Delimon, Tommy Clarke, Bhargav Shukla, Paul Robichaux, Ken Lasko and Adam Gent along with Microsoft folks, so there will also be someone on hand to answer your questions or help you whiteboard a solution. I’ll be on the hunt for some good Texas BBQ also. 🙂

See you there!