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Teaming voice with Office 365

What Microsoft 365 Business Voice means for SMEs

Earlier this month, Microsoft fixed a weakness in its offering with the launch of Microsoft 365 Business Voice, a cloud-based communication and collaboration solution for Office 365 customers with up to 300 employees.

The add-on to Microsoft 365 and Office 365 plans integrates voice services with Office 365, giving users access to calls, chat, meetings, calendars and email through Microsoft Teams, currently used by 13 million people daily and targeted to grow by 275% in 2020.

As well as calls to any number, Microsoft 365 Business Voice enables users to add a dial-in number to meetings; collaborate in Office programs, such as Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint within calls and meetings; turn chats into meetings with one click; start, schedule and join meetings straight from Outlook; and enjoy automatic speech-to-text/text-to-speech conversion for voicemail and chat.

More affordable
For small and medium-sized businesses, Microsoft 365 Business Voice is a simpler, more affordable and more flexible proposition than has been available before.

Previously, to make and take PSTN calls in Office 365 (through its Skype for Business client) customers would have to subscribe to Microsoft’s Phone System and Calling Plans SKUs (previously Cloud PBX and PSTN Calling).

This arrangement had serious drawbacks; it was only available for Enterprise SKUs in Office 365, making it unaffordable for SMEs with Office 365 Business SKUs; and, while such users could integrate Phone System for people that needed it, doing so was complex and expensive.

Craig Gordon, Head of cloud distributor Vuzion, which is helping Microsoft take the product to market, said: “SMB customers were almost treated like second-class citizens. To get the same features as a larger organisation, the cost, in most cases, would not be justifiable. SMBs were either stuck with second-class services or a large amount of funding in order to be able to deliver this type of rich experience.”

Microsoft 365 Business Voice overcomes these limitations. Not only can it be added to the Microsoft 365 Business, Business Essentials and Business Premium SKUs, eliminating the need to move to an Enterprise SKU; it is also available in a choice of bundled SKUs with pricing that, in Gordon’s words, is “absolutely competitive and viable for SMB organisations”.

Choice of bundles
The standard bundle includes Phone System, audio-conferencing and a domestic calling plan for 1,200 minutes per user, per month, with the option of an international calling plan add-on.

There is also the option of Microsoft 365 Business Voice without a calling plan, which, when used with Qunifi Call2Teams, enables businesses to integrate their existing PBX with Microsoft Teams’ telephony functionality, giving them the flexibility to migrate fully to Microsoft at their own pace.

“From a personal perspective I really like the fact that small businesses can now utilise the best of both worlds – joining best of breed voice providers with the best of breed communications platform that Microsoft has. They have the ability to use the power of Teams with existing voice services, should they already have them, or they can purchase some options from Microsoft,” said Gordon.

“The former will be the most common option, as most established businesses in the SMB space probably already have a voice solution. For businesses that don’t have that existing relationship, we can deliver the whole end-to-end communication stack, including voice services.”