The current rapid adoption of digital transformation and work-from-anywhere environments have combined to make the use of SaaS applications to connect employees, contractors, vendors and other associates and partners rise on a similarly swift pace across the enterprise space.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the unified communications (UC) space, where we see climbing rates of deployment – if not activation – of unified communications as-a-service (UCaaS) solutions to support interaction and collaboration between and among employees, clients, vendors and others on a global scale. Of the various UCaaS streams—IM, video, meetings, etc.—telephony plans are emerging as a significant area of incurred cost and, if not managed properly, a potential source of waste.
Major UCaaS providers that include telephony options in their offerings include Zoom, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Cisco Webex, and others. Of note is the trend for traditional, mainstream telecom system providers to incorporate a cloud telephony solution as part of their services. The integration of RingCentral with Avaya and Mitel is one example.
Telephony is essentially moving away from systems based around customer premises equipment (CPE) and management towards a virtual cloud environment, eliminating many hardware and even discrete soft client download requirements, into being bundled into the UCaaS solution. If an organization uses more than one of these services, such as when Zoom and MS Teams are implemented alongside each other to support different use cases, it expands the problems tied to both deployment and management.
As enterprises deploy MS Teams across their user bases, the biggest potential for mistakes lurks within three primary areas. Careful management of these elements is key to avoiding waste and driving cost avoidance.
1. Signing Up for Calling Plans Without Understanding Usage and Consumption
It’s crucial that your business understands its existing telephony environment before migrating to a cloud solution. That means conducting an analysis around the number of calls (capacity) and calling patterns (domestic versus international calling plans) that are typical for the organization. In legacy environments, this may be challenging unless a call accounting solution is in place that can provide reporting and visibility into outbound and inbound calls, time of day load and other metrics. Calling plans are often contracted using simple headcount data and broad decisions to support domestic or international calling, both of which result in oversized (and overpriced) plans. It’s vital that your organization have the data necessary to negotiate the size and cost of these contracts from a position of knowledge.
2. Choosing a PTSN Calling Plan or Direct Routing Plan (Bring-Your-Own-Carrier) Without Evaluating Cost for the Various Options Based on Needs
The two flavors broadly rely on either the UCaaS native calling plans or connecting to another provider or your own CPE via an SBC gateway. Without a thorough deep analysis of the options against your firm’s use cases, it’s extremely difficult to evaluate the comparative cost of, for example, a user on a native calling plan with unlimited domestic calling versus calls from the carrier connected through the SBC gateway. Without knowing average metrics for the number of calls, call durations, termination numbers and other data, identifying the most cost-effective option will be a challenge.
3. Executing an Enterprise Level Agreement (ELA) or Term Agreement Without Provisions to Enable Optimization Changes
Many enterprises incurred hefty overage charges in the pandemic’s early days, largely brought about by the forced rapid deployment of UCaaS solutions to support work-from-home. The sticker shock triggered the implementation of ELAs to provide some relief through broad allowances for varying usage categories such as calling minutes and the number of meetings. Now term agreements are becoming more commonplace – often pre-paid and multi-year – to lock clients into plans at negotiated rates. However, this creates problems as there are often no true-up cycles to adjust costs as the organization optimizes its usage or users. If an enterprise discovers through analysis that 10% of its phone licenses sit unused, there’s no adjusting the contract or benefiting from savings opportunities, especially if everything has been pre-paid.
Where to Begin to Strategize
To avoid these mistakes during your Teams or other UCaaS deployment, a few key elements should be part of your overall strategy. The right steps will enable you to take advantage of all the benefits UCaaS and cloud telephony have to offer while ensuring your services are configured with the knowledge and flexibility to optimize cost and usage on a continuous basis to keep pace with your evolving needs.
✅Always negotiate any agreement with regular true-up cycles, with the option to down- or up-size subscriptions or licenses based on usage patterns.
✅Define a process for pre-paid subscriptions that allow for some method to receive credit for licenses returned.
✅Analyze at least one full year of historical usage for an accurate picture of consumption at the user level, if possible. This is instrumental in negotiating allowances or licenses for the various UCaaS services.
✅Conduct a detailed level of usage analysis. This makes it much easier to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the anticipated costs for native calling plans versus using existing CPE or outside equipment. Of course, the cost to maintain and operate CPE must be factored into the estimates for a true picture.
An experienced SaaS/UCaaS expense management provider can help load and analyze CDRs, whether from native APIs or as a carrier feed. The right partner will also bring the capability to identify optimization potential at the user level. The new paradigm shift from CPE-based solutions to cloud-based, highly digitized platforms—though highly efficient—still needs to be managed carefully to ensure you reap the maximum benefits and have confidence you're receiving optimal pricing.