Microsoft is shaking up how it supports UM. Here's how to keep customers communicating.

October 4, 2018

4 Min Read
Change Ahead


Tom Minifie

By Tom Minifie, General Manager, XMedius

Microsoft’s recent announcements about how Exchange will handle Unified Messaging moving forward have handed sales channels a golden opportunity to interact with their customers.

Unified Messaging has been a critical component to communications for decades. We’re seeing organizations all over the country pick up the phone and call enterprise communications providers for help as they look to adapt their current systems to accommodate Microsoft’s road map.

Here are the details of the Microsoft announcements to help channel sales representatives make the most of these opportunities.

Change 1: Ending SBC Support

Microsoft has announced it will soon end Session Border Controller (SBC) support to connect third-party PBX systems to Exchange Online Unified Messaging (UM). That means customers relying on an SBC to act as a bridge from an on-premises PBX to Exchange Online UM will need to seek an alternative Unified Messaging solution.

The original deadline was set for July 2018; however, based on market feedback, Microsoft recently extended the deadline to Dec. 1, 2019. Despite the extension, this announcement still looms large for organizations looking to continue using their on-premises PBXes.

Who will this impact? Any customer using a Cisco, Avaya, NEC, Mitel or any other on-premises PBX that connects to Exchange Online UM will be affected.

For organizations that are disrupted by this change, Microsoft has provided three ways channel partners can help keep their UM/voicemail architectures alive past the deadline:

  • Office 365Complete migration from third-party on-premises PBX to Office 365 – Skype for Business Online.

    • Given change No. 2 discussed later in this article, Microsoft will soon move the voicemail functionality over to Cloud Voicemail rather than Exchange UM.

  • Skype for Business Server
    Complete migration from third-party on-premises PBX to Skype for Business Server.

    • Same comment as above.

  • Third Party Voicemail SystemFor customers with no Skype for Business Server deployment or for whom the solutions above are not appropriate, implement a third-party voicemail system that can replace the Unified Messaging functionality currently provided by Exchange Online.

Each of these options provides different advantages. If an organization is planning on migrating to Office 365 anyway, this may be the impetus they need. If a rip-and-replace of their PBX is too costly and involved, adding a third-party voicemail system is a much simpler, cost-effective option.

Change 2: Exchange Server 2019 Drops UM Entirely

You read that right. Microsoft has announced that Exchange Server 2019 will completely omit UM functionality.

Because Exchange Server 2016 will continue to work, that gives this change a more complicated deadline that is partially based on an organization’s road map. Depending on when customers plan to upgrade to Exchange Server 2019, the deadline is in their hands. If they plan on sticking with Exchange Server 2016, they will have until October 2020, when the 2016 edition reaches end of mainstream support by Microsoft.

Who will this impact? Organizations will need to find a new UM solution if they use …

… Exchange Server for UM connected to a PBX and plan to upgrade to Exchange Server 2019 in the future; or Skype for Business Server and want to continue to use UM on-premises.

  • How to seize this opportunity. Educating sales staff about these changes and their solutions can help them find new customers and target existing accounts for essential upgrades to their IT infrastructures.

  • Help them solve an impending problem. Organizations that have built their voice communications around Unified Messaging functionality stand to lose a great deal if these changes break their systems. This is the perfect opportunity for partners to serve as a resource for their customers — you’re not cold-calling looking for upgrade sales, you’re informing them and presenting options to help them protect this critical tool.

  • Evoke a sense of urgency. Reach out to accounts via email blasts, webinar invites or calling campaigns to let them know what they stand to lose. Emphasize the upcoming deadlines, and lay out possible solutions. There’s still time for them to arrange a budget and get help, but it’s important to get the ball rolling now.

  • Remind them that these are Improvements, not bandages. Another strategic selling point is that while each of these options requires expenditures to resolve the problem, they typically bring additional benefits (expanded functionality, reliability improvements) along for the ride. While this might not be the timing the customer would have preferred, these are forced upgrades rather than troublesome repairs.

We’ve seen partners having a lot of success using these revelations to get decision makers on the phone and contracts signed. Now is the time to put them to work for you; don’t wait until it is too late.

With more than 35 years’ experience in the high-tech sector, Tom Minifie oversees all activities related to the unified-communications software solutions of the voice business unit within XMedius. He previously served as the chief technology officer and vice president of product management for AVST and has held, throughout his career, a variety of executive-level positions in business development and marketing.

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