Why Service Providers Need Continuous Testing to Support Microsoft Teams

By Jon Arnold

As enterprises continue migrating to the cloud, the importance of reliable connectivity only grows, placing the onus on service providers on multiple levels. On the most basic level, broadband must have high availability with enough capacity to support today’s data-rich applications. Add to that the emergence of hybrid working, where home-based workers will have a variety of connectivity scenarios, not all of which are ideal for maintaining productivity.

Beyond basic connectivity, more applications and platforms are now cloud-based, and when it comes to both personal and team-based productivity, supporting UCaaS is critical. Not only are the capabilities of UCaaS continually expanding, but two of the core applications – telephony and video – are real-time. Ongoing adoption and usage of UCaaS depend heavily on the user experience (UX), and if service reliability is not enterprise-grade, UX will suffer.

When it comes to UCaaS adoption, nothing is more ubiquitous than Microsoft Teams, and for service providers to best serve enterprise customers as they migrate to the cloud, supporting Teams is also essential.  While service providers must also support other UCaaS platforms, Microsoft is so dominant on the desktop, that the requirements for Teams become especially important.

There’s more to consider here beyond Teams being so widely used. With enterprises being reliant on many Microsoft platforms aside from Teams – Office 365, Outlook, SharePoint, Dynamics, etc. – there are ongoing software updates to manage, along with new features constantly coming onstream. Then there is the ever-expanding mix of applications that must integrate not just with Teams, but across the whole Microsoft ecosystem. Add to that all the connected hardware and endpoints, and service providers clearly have a lot of moving parts to support.

As such, it’s not enough for service providers to support Teams on a standalone basis; rather, the UX is very much determined by how well Teams applications perform when using all those endpoints. Not being a hardware vendor, Microsoft products must integrate with an entire ecosystem of endpoints that are made by other vendors. When Teams introduces updates, they need to work seamlessly across all those endpoints, each of which has its own independent sets of updates from the hardware vendors.

While this sounds unwieldy and complex – and it is – the Microsoft world has operated this way for years, and so, much of this will sound familiar to IT leaders. However, what is new is the rapid pace of innovation in the UCaaS space, where new features are constantly being added. This makes it hard for service providers to keep up with the latest changes from Microsoft.

Not only is this happening because it’s a crowded, highly competitive market, but also because cloud platforms are by nature conducive to innovation. The advent of APIs and no/low code programming makes innovation much easier, faster, and cheaper than with legacy technologies, and this is a new wrinkle for service providers.

This is a different environment from selling trunking and turnkey hosted platforms, and service providers may not fully recognize how challenging this can be. All of the complexities outlined herein must be transparent to both enterprises and end users, as their expectations are that Teams should work all the time, and work equally well regardless of what endpoint is being used. To help service providers better understand what this entails, tekVizion recently ran a webinar led by Kevin Kieller, one of my colleagues at BCStrategies.

The webinar addressed the ever-changing face of Teams, and why continuous testing is so important for helping service providers ensure a great UX. I’m now going to amplify two themes from the webinar that will help service providers better support Teams with their enterprise customers.

  1. Microsoft Teams is Everywhere

The slide below is from Kevin’s webinar, and it provides several telling metrics that support the position of this article. With over 345 million paid seats globally for Office, Microsoft has the largest footprint for workplace productivity software. Of greater interest is the fact that almost 80% of these are regular Teams users – some 270 million users. While it’s unlikely that all Office users will become Teams users, the critical mass is there now.

Since telephony is core to the testing services provided by vendors like tekVizion, the next important data point here is that some 30% of Teams users are active Teams phone users. While less than 25% are licensed for PSTN, the number in absolute terms – 12 million – is quite large. Given that the remaining installed base of PBXs remains large – and spread across a variety of telephony vendors – that represents a substantive base of PSTN callers that are connected to Teams.

For service providers, the implication is clear. When selling managed services, there’s a very high likelihood that enterprise customers will be using Teams. The ability to properly support Teams – and especially those 12 million phones connected to Teams – will be a key measuring stick as to whether enterprises will subscribe to other managed services. Furthermore, if service providers cannot do that, they’ll be fielding technical support calls from those enterprises, which adds cost at their end and hurts UX at the customer’s end.

  1. Understanding the Dynamic Nature of the Teams Environment

Aside from the fact the UCaaS will never be a finished product, the Microsoft ecosystem is in a constant state of upgrades, updates, and additions. This combination means that Teams will never be in stasis, and that service providers must be in a constant state of readiness to support enterprise customers.

To further contextualize this dynamic, consider the following data points that were cited during Kevin’s webinar:

  • 450 new Teams features in the last year
  • Over 30 updates monthly
  • 69 updates in the development
  • 70 updates are being rolled out

For Teams Phones consider the types of updates and new features recently added, such as:

  • Expanding Calling Plan coverage to over 30 countries now
  • Operator Connect conferencing
  • Contact center integrations, with 8 certified and 12 in the certification process
  • Branch office survivability
  • End-to-end encryption (E2EE)
  • 1:1 call transcription
  • Dynamic E911
  • New calling experiences, such as enhanced UI with a dial pad, custom music on hold, dial by name

The sheer number and breadth alone here are enough to keep service providers on edge, but there’s also the matter of consistency for how these updates come to market. They are not always shared with everyone at the same time, with the same level of completeness, and in the same manner. Similarly, update rollouts will vary by the type of Teams license held, and the same holds when new device types and device vendors are added to the Microsoft ecosystem.

For telephony, there’s even more complexity where firmware updates from the hardware vendors don’t synch with the Teams software updates. Sometimes the Teams updates propagate seamlessly, but in other cases, they may cause system crashes or disable handset features. To some extent this has been compounded by recent supply chain issues for semiconductor chips, resulting in some desk phones running on outdated chipsets that cannot support current Teams features.

Conclusion – The Case for Continuous Testing

Microsoft Teams is just one example of the cloud migration story that all IT leaders are adapting to, and as digital transformation progresses, the aspirations for “smart enterprises” will become more real. This is a world where offices – as well as contact centers – will rely on real-time reporting, real-time diagnostics, and real-time fixes. Automation is at the heart of smart enterprises, and when it comes to testing, service providers have been looking to robotic process automation (RPA) as the answer. In theory, RPA may someday be able to manage all of this, but for now, there are too many subtleties – and incongruities – that only human expertise can address.

That said, service providers are not set up to fully manage all the testing requirements needed – for UCaaS in general, and Teams in particular. This is not a core competence for service providers, and at best, they can only support testing on a reactive basis. Today’s UX demands real-time responsiveness, always-on uptime, and proactive alerts that mitigate issues before they proliferate.

Just as service providers partner with Teams to provide a complete collaboration solution for enterprise customers, they should also be thinking the same way about having testing done on a continuous, managed basis. This is especially true for Teams, where the challenges are complex, both for the scale of updates that need testing, as well as the need to integrate updates between a software platform and a myriad of hardware devices.

About the Author

Jon Arnold is an independent technology analyst, and his practice, J Arnold & Associates has been closely following the collaboration space since 2005. Along with fellow BC Experts Blair Pleasant and Kevin Kieller, Jon has authored this article as part of an ongoing thought leadership program tekVizion has partnered with BCStrategies on. To date, Kevin has authored this article for tekVizion, and Blair moderated this webinar that ran on June 21, 2022.


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