AVST Answers the Call for Microsoft Exchange UM
Unified messaging (UM) had its heyday in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and many workers still rely on it today. Last week, Microsoft announced that starting in July 2018, they will no longer support the use of Session Border Controllers (SBC) to connect third-party PBX systems to Exchange Online Unified Messaging (UM). This means that many Microsoft customers will be seeking an alternative Unified Messaging solution.
AVST has long been a Microsoft technology partner, and introduced an option for businesses that will be impacted by Microsoft’s move. I spoke with Tom Minifie, CTO at AVST, to discuss Microsoft’s announcement, and how AVST intends to help organizations that will be affected.
Blair: Tom, what does Microsoft’s announcement mean for customers, and which customers will be affected by this?
Tom: It means that Office 365 customers will no longer be able to directly connect third-party PBX systems with Exchange Online UM and will have to implement an alternative approach in order to provide voicemail or unified messaging to their users.
This impacts two types of customers:
- Office 365 customers that currently integrate their third-party PBX with Exchange Online Unified Messaging.
- Customers that are looking to move to Exchange Online Unified Messaging and integrate to a third-party PBX.
Blair: Microsoft suggested some alternative solutions for impacted customers. What are these options?
Tom: Microsoft has identified four options for these customers, one or more of which must be implemented prior to July 2018:
- Option 1 – Complete migration from third-party on-premises PBX to Office 365 Cloud PBX.
- Option 2 – Complete migration from third-party on-premises PBX to Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice on-premises.
- Option 3 – For customers with a mixed deployment of third-party PBX and Skype for Business for voice applications, connect the PBX to Skype for Business Server using a connector from a Microsoft partner, and continue using Exchange Online UM through that connector.
- Option 4 – For customers with no Skype for Business deployment or no Skype for Business Enterprise Voice deployment, implement a third-party voicemail/unified messaging system.
Blair: I know that AVST offers a third-party UM system, so I’m assuming that you’re recommending Option 4. Tell me about what AVST is offering for Exchange UM and providing to help these customers.
Tom: We took our flagship CX-E UM product and added some features to support customers transitioning from Exchange Online UM. We designed a special integration that allows Exchange UM users to continue to use the Outlook forms they already have installed. CX-E is a tried and true product that integrates with hundreds of PBX systems and Office 365 to provide voicemail, unified messaging, automated attendant, personal assistant, call center and IVR applications.
Blair: What do customers need to do to deploy this solution?
Tom: CX-E drops in the middle of the customer’s PBX and Office 365 service. There are four main tasks to the deployment:
- Assuming an on-premises deployment, provide a virtual machine running Windows Server OS to install CX-E.
- CX-E will integrate to the PBX using one of several integration options – SIP, analog, T1, digital station emulation, etc. The customer will need to provide a resource off of their PBX to use for integration, typically the same integration resource utilized by Exchange UM.
- Provision a Domain User account on Office 365 for CX-E to use as a service account to deposit and retrieve messages.
- Set up users on CX-E.
Blair: Do customers need to buy anything new?
Tom: The customer will need to purchase a CX-E license. A limited time incentive is being offered by AVST to ease the economic impact of this UM challenge for enterprises.
Blair: It’s a little confusing about what AVST provides or controls versus what Microsoft provides or controls as part of this solution. Can you clarify?
Tom: Sure. CX-E will control anything involving a telephone – recording of names, greetings and messages over the telephone, playback of audio over a telephone, call transfers, speech recognition, message waiting indication, etc. Exchange will continue to store the messages and make them available via whatever client application the customer uses to access Exchange.
Blair: What are the benefits to customers who choose the AVST option?
Tom: First and foremost, customers can keep their current third-party PBX in place and continue to enjoy the benefits of unified messaging. CX-E will integrate with the customer's PBX, deliver messages into Exchange Online, and allow customers to continue to use the Outlook UM forms that are already installed.
Secondly, customers get performance benefits with the AVST solution with configuration options that minimize network bandwidth usage. With CX-E, call routing, playing of personal greetings, and recording of messages are all activities executed on the CX-E server rather than on the Exchange Online server. With Exchange Online UM, an average call forwarded to Exchange Online generates 90 kbps of traffic for the entire duration of the call (typically 30 to 45 seconds or so – ringing, playing greeting, recording message, setting options, etc.). An average message left on CX-E and moved to Exchange Online is only about 500 kb in total. The savings is even more dramatic when a user accesses their messages over the telephone; with Exchange UM this is again 90kbps for the entire time they are in their mailbox. With CX-E, a user logging in and playing messages generates almost no traffic due to the use of our message cache.
Thirdly, the CX-E platform provides more than just voicemail and unified messaging. CX-E supports an advanced automated attendant with interactive voice response capabilities, TeamQ®, an informal call center solution, virtual personal assistant, mobile client and fax.
Blair: Are there any downsides to this approach for customers?
Tom: The main downside is that the customer will experience some change. CX-E is a new application for the customer that will need to be managed and maintained. Users will also experience some change because CX-E is not identical to the Exchange UM solution. However, all the options described above will involve change. It really comes down to whether the customer prefers to change their phone system or change the UM system.
Blair: Voice mail has been getting a bad rap recently, and there are people that may want to move away from voicemail. How do you address that?
Tom: I get that, we live in an instant gratification, real-time communication world. The reason someone picks up the phone to call someone in the first place is because they have an urgent or complex conversation that needs immediate attention. The last thing a caller wants to do is go to voicemail. Through AVST’s intelligent call routing, we do everything we can to increase first-time call completion. But when calls simply cannot be answered, CX-E provides incoming callers with the information they need to decide how best to proceed. So calls aren’t simply just going to voicemail, but they are getting a response back if that caller is busy. For example, “Denny Michael is in a meeting and will be back at 3 p.m. Please say ‘Leave a Message,’ ‘Try Another Person’, or Operator.’” We like to say, it’s not just voicemail – it’s voicemail 2.0 all grown up!
Blair: For customers that want to move to the cloud eventually but not yet, does this provide a migration path?
Tom: Absolutely. CX-E can be deployed on premises or in the cloud – same product, different deployment model. In addition, the beauty of the CX-E platform is that it supports multiple integrations and can easily integrate with a premise-based PBX today, a cloud-based PBX tomorrow, or both simultaneously, letting customers migrate from one to another at their own pace.
Blair: What questions should customers be asking themselves and the resellers or VARs that they work with to know how to best move forward?
Tom: Many of the questions above are good questions that customers should consider for all of Microsoft’s suggested options. In addition, customers should consider:
- Does the proposed solution require new telecom services like new trunking? If yes, what are the costs?
- What are the network bandwidth requirements?
- What skills do my IT staff need to manage the solution?
Blair: Clearly customers impacted by this will have to make some decisions in the coming months. Thanks for providing your insights, Tom.