The company says Teams has become more robust in the last three years.

Claudia Adrien

May 30, 2023

10 Min Read
Microsoft Teams, Fusion Connect partnership
Ink Drop/Shutterstock

Mario DeRiggi, chief revenue officer at Fusion Connect, says his company is doubling down on its relationship with Microsoft, specifically with Teams via Operator Connect. Currently, Fusion Connect clients can make calls to mobile devices and landlines directly through Microsoft Teams with dedicated local phone numbers that can be accessed on any device, including PCs, smartphones, tablets and Teams-enabled desk phones. With Operator Connect, employees can make these calls seamlessly, directly through Microsoft Teams and administered through Microsoft Teams as well.


Fusion Connect’s Mario DeRiggi

Historically, people – including DeRiggi – were often concerned about the stability of Teams. But Microsoft has resolved a lot of those initial technical issues that made Teams go down, especially during the pandemic. It’s that course correction that gives DeRiggi confidence in Microsoft and Operator Connect as a collaboration tool. In this interview with Channel Futures, DeRiggi talks about the path Fusion Connect is taking with Microsoft and what it means for partner opportunity.

Channel Futures: Fusion Connect is heavily invested in Microsoft. How do you continue to drive value in that ecosystem?

Mario DeRiggi: For [Fusion Connect], really everything and anything that we’ve been focused on is around Microsoft. We’ve always been a Microsoft CSP. So, we did a lot of licensing. We were a direct routing partner in the past. We did calling services using direct routing. We have recently become one of the top Operator Connect certified partners for Microsoft. So when you look at the Microsoft ecosystem, M365 is an application suite that is widely used across the midmarket enterprise space and even SMB.

As you know, Teams is an application within M365 that comes along with it for free. Over the last few years, the Teams application has gotten so much more robust and stable to the point now it is the leader in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. For us, it’s how do we take advantage of that? And how do we continue to develop internal solutions that help optimize business solutions for midmarket and enterprise that are using Microsoft 365? We recently became certified in Operator Connect. We are considered one of the top companies in growth with Microsoft and Operator Connect globally. And it’s continued to drive the feature set to not only meet the business outcomes for the midmarket and enterprise, but how do we continue to drive and optimize how they use the solution so they can optimize their workforce?

For us, we have what I believe is an industry-leading service guarantee. We have 100% SLA, so when you buy our Operator Connect, we are guaranteed 100% uptime. And the second thing is we are guaranteeing install intervals that are mutually agreed upon. One of the biggest issues we’re hearing when people try to move to calling services in Microsoft is the inability for people to deliver on timelines that they are committed to.

We are also expanding globally. We are currently in 17 countries, mostly European. We just launched in South Africa and that was all customer-driven by the way. We have a bunch of countries in Asia Pacific that’ll be coming up in the next 30-60 days. And global coverage is important for us because when we want to go midmarket enterprise, they have global offices. For us, to have the ability to go out and consolidate those into one tenant for them, is a real differentiator for us. It’s actually driven more Microsoft opportunities to us, because we’re one of the few people that could do it.

And then it’s the feature set. How do we continue to drive features and make our solution feature rich? How do we continue to drive more feature set within the Microsoft ecosystem to allow us to provide a better solution that helps our enterprise customers meet their business outcomes? The other big thing for us is we are a [cloud solution provider]. We are a direct CSP with Microsoft. We could actually provide the entire solution end-to-end … licensing, professional services and the calling services, and then adding global coverage, our service guarantee, as well our feature set that we’re investing in. We are a full tech stack company. But our focus today is everything and anything around Microsoft Teams.

CF: When it comes to optimization, what do customers find most appealing?

MD: What we have found is that a lot of organizations were using Teams for their …

… internal communications and somebody else for external — a RingCentral, 8×8, you name it. This is because a lot of these organizations didn’t understand back then the availability of quality services within Teams. It wasn’t ingrained into the marketplace where today it is. I mean, you talk to anybody and all they’re talking about is Microsoft and how they can connect into Microsoft Teams.

What we’re finding is that people are now looking into why they need two solutions. And I hate to say it, it’s hard to compete with free when M365 offers Teams for free. I think they’re also realizing that Teams has been optimized so much that it truly is a robust collaboration suite now. It’s consolidating to one platform for internal and external, the ability to drive other feature sets in there, and then the ability to consolidate their locations globally under one provider who could also provide their licensing.

CF: Do you think the selling point is the fact that the service is free? Is that the primary driver?

MD: I don’t know if that’s a selling point. It’s just a fact that they pay for it already. What I think is the benefit is how robust Teams has become over the last three years. And more importantly, the ability now to drive all the quality services and features.

You know, this pandemic is about three-years-old now. When COVID first hit us, a lot of our enterprise organizations were out there just looking to see what they could do immediately to provide work from home solutions so they could keep the lights on for companies. Teams was not what companies looked at because there weren’t a lot of the features, call services. So, companies went to the Zooms and the Rings. And most of those did three-year agreements because that’s basically what the standard was.

We’re seeing now that a lot of those three- year agreements are coming up with their providers. And these are organizations that are all taking a heavy look at Microsoft. I’ve had a lot of conversations with partners and all they want to talk about is what the strategy is with Microsoft. Even in the partner community, people are seeing it because they’re talking to their customers and that’s what they’re being asked. And I tell people all the time, if you’re not talking to your customer about the ability and functionality of Teams, somebody else is. I think even the partner community is seeing the huge opportunity to help optimize their customers that are using Microsoft.

CF: What does that mean for a RingCentral? How are they responding to this kind of shift?

MD: They all have interoperability, which means most of it is through direct routing. I’m an ex-Vonage guy, formerly the senior vice president of channel sales and business development. They use a form of direct routing and a lot of them use an intermediary company where all they do is help these other carrier collaboration organizations connected their service to Teams. But if I look a lot of these companies, if all I’m doing is connecting to Teams, I’m basically becoming a phone company for them. Is that really their strong suit? If I’m a RingCentral, I spent a lot of time money and investment in developing my collaboration suite. And really all I’m doing is stripping that out and saying, “All right, I’m basically just going to be a calling service provider into the Team’s environment.” I think it’s a mindshift for them. I think it is a strategic shift for them. I wouldn’t consider any of them to be a core player in the telephony business.

CF: How is Fusion Connect integrating this focus on Teams into the programs that you offer partners?

MD: We do a lot of podcasts. We do a lot of webinars. We do a lot of partner academies. We are out in front of our customers enabling around the Microsoft ecosystem and what that means, what the solutions are. It’s not like we have to really push to do this. They all want it. They all want to have these conversations. It’s really about …

… enablement. How do we continue to enable our partners around the feature functionality and benefits of our calling services? It’s working great. Operator Connect has been our single biggest growth and pipeline of any solution we’ve had.

The other big difference around Operator Connect is it is an actual certification with Microsoft. We have a two-way SLA with Microsoft because we have direct connect into our SPCs to provide the service. Direct routing doesn’t give you a two-way SLA. Only Operator Connect does and you have to go through a pretty stringent certification process with Microsoft to get it. The other big thing about it is the ease of use that people want from it. People want things that are easy, right? What Operator Connect does is automates and simplifies the administration of current systems services within Teams and a fully automated portal.

CF: Why should customers use Fusion Connect for these Microsoft Teams services? What is Fusion Connect offering that some other company can’t offer?

MD: We’re in the top 10% of providers. When it comes to the service guarantee, we absolutely have an industry-leading service guarantee. I don’t know anybody out there that says “we’re 100% SLA.” It just doesn’t exist. Also, the integration of our features within Teams. There are plenty of people or other providers out there that provide Operator Connect, but they are feature-light. The other piece is we provide a suite of professional services for our customers, and not only with the licensing piece. We provide a full suite of professional services to help them bring up their tenant and Operator Connect.

CF: At the beginning of the pandemic, everybody looked to Zoom. But then there was a shift at Microsoft. What did you notice from the company regarding when this shift to advance and update their collaboration offerings occurred? You can’t say Microsoft was exactly behind during the pandemic but there was competition in that market.

MD: There was strict competition, but I can’t answer what changed at Microsoft. I don’t know them well enough internally. I can tell you what I’ve seen change first and foremost. They’re investing in Teams to bring it to a much more stable and functional environment. Three years ago, Teams was having issues. I think their ability to go out and bring it to the point where it is the leader in the Magic Quadrant because of the features is one thing. The second thing, more importantly, is them allowing people to partner on the feature set to integrate into Teams. Direct routing has been out there for years. People didn’t like it because it honestly is just difficult to install. It’s difficult to manage. It doesn’t give you the full feature set that you would want. When they came out with Operator Connect, that changed radically.

I’m actually hiring a Microsoft alliance manager to do nothing but focus on our Microsoft relationship and go deep and wide with them so that we could always stay ahead of what’s out there. There’s so much other stuff that they’re providing that we probably haven’t even started on because we’re just not deep enough with them ourselves to understand what those new features and functions are coming out. That’s why we’re going all in.

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Claudia Adrien or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About the Author(s)

Claudia Adrien

Claudia Adrien is a reporter for Channel Futures where she covers breaking news. Prior to Informa, she wrote about biosecurity and infectious disease for a national publication. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and resides in Tampa.

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