Melissa Swartz Ι February 16, 2022
While many organizations have already migrated to the cloud, a significant number of phone systems remain on-premises.
Moving from a premises-based phone system to a unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) solution can be a significant change and potentially a significant investment. While many factors are involved, most of them reside in one of these three areas: features, reliability, and costs.
As a consultant, I’ve worked with many organizations that have made the move. Below, I share considerations for these three factors.
UCaaS solutions have come a long way and have increased their feature depth considerably over the past five years. However, you can’t just assume that these solutions will have feature parity with your existing premise system; it depends.
In most organizations, 80% of their users have relatively routine communication requirements that can likely be met by most UCaaS providers. The other 20% of users often have business processes that center on specific communication flows or coverage scenarios.
For example, I have one client whose management placed a high priority on answering phone calls quickly and with a live person. Various departments within the organization developed their own procedures to accomplish this. In one area, if a call wasn’t answered quickly enough, the group of people who could pick up the call would expand until the call was ultimately picked up. Other areas rotated the “coverage position” assignments daily, while some had a small group designated to handle calls quickly.
Understanding these scenarios was critical to ensuring that a new solution would meet their needs. It’s important to identify these groups within your organization and spend the time needed to identify their specific requirements and understand why these users operate in this way. In some cases, better options may be available. “We’ve always done it this way” doesn’t always mean that’s how things should be done, especially when technological advances can offer new options.
The reliability of the solution will depend on several variables:
- The reliability of your internal data network
- The reliability of your connection to the UCaaS provider
- The UCaaS provider’s architecture in their data center(s)
Service level agreements (SLAs) can vary significantly among providers. A solution that guarantees 99.9% uptime allows for almost nine hours of downtime per year, whereas a 99.999% service level allows for just over five minutes of downtime per year.
Other SLA aspects should be considered. What is actually covered? Where does the service provider’s responsibility end?
Also, pay attention to the definitions in the SLA; these can be used to limit the provider’s coverage. For example, the Microsoft Teams – Voice Quality SLA
, contains this definition:
“Eligible Call” is a Microsoft Teams placed call (within a subscription) that meets both conditions below:
- The call was placed from a Microsoft Teams Certified IP Desk phones on wired Ethernet
- Packet Loss, Jitter and Latency issues on the call were due to networks managed by Microsoft.
By definition, calls made from wireless devices, or phones not certified by Microsoft to work with Teams, are excluded. There are certainly reasons for these definitions, and other providers have restrictions as well. However, these provisions will provide insight into the reliability you can expect from the provider.
Beyond the SLA, it’s important to understand the service provider’s architecture. How much redundancy is configured within their data center(s)? Does the redundancy include carrier connectivity?
Many providers have multiple data centers, which can be used for failover if necessary. This sounds great, but recent outages by large cloud providers have shown that it doesn’t happen very often. Many years ago, my office phones were on a cloud system that had a known “bad cluster” that provided our service. We had multiple outages, and when we asked the provider why we didn’t failover, they said they weren’t going to failover an entire data center due to a problem in one “small” section.
Digging into the failover policy of your solution provider may provide useful insight into the reliability of the solution.
Most services are available for a monthly cost per user and vary based on the license type. This is pretty straightforward, and it seems simple to forecast your actual costs. However, all kinds of additional costs may not be apparent in advance, including:
- Usage costs for local and/or long-distance calling
- Charges for applications such as auto-attendant or IVR
- Access/connectivity charges
- Implementation and set up fees
- Number porting fees
- Taxes, fees, surcharges (up to 30% of the bill)
- Compliance and admin cost recovery fee
- DID numbers (in use or not in use)
It’s difficult to anticipate many of these charges in advance. Many times, the salesperson you are working with has never seen an actual customer bill and may not even know that additional charges will occur.
The best way to identify potential billing surprises in advance is to ask for a copy of an actual customer invoice with the identifying information removed. This will allow you to see any additional charges in advance and create an accurate budget for the new solution.