Examining how Skype for Business telephony stacks up as a cloud-based service raises the question: What exactly is enterprise telephony these days?
In the past, the answer to this question would have been a telephony system like a PBX or IP PBX. While these services may still dominate the landscape, they're in terminal decline, as telephony moves to the cloud. This new and fundamental shift has spawned cloud-based telephony services, such as Microsoft's Skype for Business Online.
Telephony has long been the missing link for Microsoft to become the hub for all communications and workflows. As telephony hardware becomes less important, cloud-based Skype for Business telephony can fill Microsoft's missing link.
Since the concept of enterprise telephony is so fluid now, IT decision-makers must understand the spectrum of products available. A feature-rich IP PBX is one option, for example, while cloud-based telephony is another option with many variants.
In terms of stacking up, it's not fair to compare Skype for Business -- or any cloud-based telephony service -- directly against an IP PBX. One is a system and one is a hosted service, and tradeoffs certainly exist.
Microsoft integration strong, telephony features limited
Skype for Business telephony definitely has strong selling points. As a cloud-based service, the economics are attractive. Ease of use and ease of provisioning are also appealing for end users and IT.
Full integration with the Skype for Business unified communications suite and Office 365 makes telephony a native application for all forms of collaboration. As long as end users are comfortable without their desk phones, the familiarity of Microsoft on the desktop should make Skype for Business easy to use.
However, the features have been limited, compared with other telephony services. In March, Microsoft just introduced auto attendant and call queues to the Skype for Business cloud PBX. And if you need technical support for a workaround, it won't be easy outside of online resources. Skype has never had live customer support, and that hasn't changed since becoming part of Microsoft.
Additionally, as a web-based service, E911 support is limited. While the lack of E911 support applies to all forms of voice over IP, it can be a bigger issue for enterprises considering a full-scale Skype for Business deployment.
In short, Skype for Business telephony can address basic needs, but it's not really a viable replacement for an IP PBX. Microsoft would like to shift call control to the desktop, but IT decision-makers may be better off considering Skype for Business telephony as a complement to what they have in place now.
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