Enable calling in Microsoft Teams using Direct Routing as a Service

With Microsoft Teams there are a number of ways to light up the telephony functionality and get call flows in/out.

Because I don’t purport to be as knowledgeable as some of my learned colleagues in the field, I’m not going to attempt to explain the technology and process behind it. So if you came here for PowerShell scripts or great visuals – stop reading now. What I am going to describe is the experience as an end customer who wants simple telephony in their environment.

As I explained in an earlier post, it is possible to use Microsoft Teams without the teamwork functionality. This effectively leaves the application in a state where it primarily offers chat, voice/video communications, meetings, and some apps. This is a simple first step for many, and an easy way to uplift from Skype for Business. Where the telephony aspect comes into it, is that it’s also a good way to migrate away from a legacy PABX environment. What I’m referring to is Direct Routing.

If your organisation doesn’t need complex telephony requirements beyond what Microsoft Teams can deliver ‘out of the box’, this is most likely the path you’ll want to pursue. It’s also a potential path if Microsoft does not offer its own calling capabilities in your country (you can see the full list here).

In order for Direct Routing to work you will need several things such as a SIP trunk provider, calling plan, Session Border Controller (this can be in Azure), and some knowledge of how to configure it all.

In my case, I have no desire for any of that so instead I opted for the Direct Routing as a Service model – where a service provider offers an end to end service and I sit back and wait for the phone to ring (literally). Locally in Australia I opted for CommsChoice who offer the ‘as a Service’ model that suits me.

The process as an end customer was very simple:

The entire process was completed in under two hours from start to finish (most of it was waiting time, and sometimes it may take longer due to propagation delays in DNS or the Microsoft environment).

As a bonus the provider was able to configure the service so that calls would appear to be from my mobile. Because my mobile number has been the only number people have had for a long time, I didn’t want to introduce a new “land line” for when I called them from Microsoft Teams. While I do have the Microsoft Teams mobile app installed, at the end of the day I still don’t want to have two different numbers people can reach me on.

The Direct Routing as a Service model is already starting to blossom, so for those organisations looking to replace their legacy telephony platform, having a complete cloud-hosted solution based on Microsoft Teams may be the way to go.

Microsoft Teams without… teams!?

Virtually every organisation I talk to wants to deploy Microsoft Teams. When I ask why, often they aren’t able to come up with a good reason other than Microsoft said so.

Many organisations are still trying to find their feet when it comes to the governance and lifecycle of Microsoft Teams, and truth be told I’m yet to meet one that has a good solution (not that good solutions aren’t out there). I generally see either one of two extremes: IT has locked down who can create a Team and all requests come through them, or on the other hand anyone can create a Team and they have a considerable amount of sprawl. I recently worked with an organisation whose users numbered in the thousands, where there was virtually one Team per person.

Sometimes organisations are simply wanting to transition away from Skype for Business on their own terms, before one day Microsoft starts shutting down services. Others want to move to Microsoft Teams for the better chat, meeting and calling experiences.

The challenge is that many organisations, IT departments, managers, and users are not ready for the teamwork aspect of Microsoft Teams. What I also see is where Microsoft Teams is used for channel conversations and files, but the organisation still has file shares as their primary storage system. Or where they use Microsoft Teams to collaborate without using the voice and meeting capabilities, and so and and so forth. Or where Microsoft Teams was thrust upon the users with virtually no training. Trust me, I’ve seen a lot of bad scenarios and continue to on an almost daily basis.

The other end of the spectrum is the organisation that wants to move to Microsoft Teams and wants to do it thoroughly. They want to migrate files to SharePoint and OneDrive. They want to use Microsoft Teams for voice and video-based meetings. They want Microsoft Teams to replace their phone system. They see Microsoft Teams as a way to improve how they collaborate on a daily basis both internally and externally.

And while I’m a big fan of doing it once, doing it right – the problem with the latter approach is that it takes time, and potentially a lot of money and resources. But more so the time. While the organisation tries to do things right they hold back from giving staff access to Microsoft Teams.

A while back I started floating the concept of deploying Microsoft Teams without the teamwork aspect; effectively separating the client application from the service behind it. What do I mean by this?

Well, the reality is that Microsoft Teams without the teamwork functionality is in short; a better version of Skype for Business. The chat is better, the mobile experience is better, the voice and video experience is better, the meetings are better.

So how can we give people this functionality without giving them access to the core Microsoft Teams functionality? Simple: don’t add users to any Teams.

Here’s what a normal user of Microsoft Teams will see when they are the member of a Team:

And here’s what the same user will see when they are not a member:

By not making the user a member of a Team, and by restricting who can create Teams – you have effectively restricted the Microsoft Teams application to be the reincarnated version of Skype for Business.

What this allows you to do is to give people access to the application, improve how they communicate, how they have meetings, etc.

Then when you’re ready you can start adding people to a Team where they will at least be already partially familiar with the user interface.

Sure, this doesn’t drive the metrics that some people would want (or actually shows more “adoption” of Teams than exists in reality), but it’s a good way to dip the toe in the water and start the journey.

It also addresses the whole “we need to upgrade from Skype for Business” challenge by allowing organisations to do it sooner rather than later, and without all the challenges around migration, governance, lifecycle, sprawl, etc.