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Are There Still Desk Phones in the Enterprise?

Twelve years ago, when I was hired by a large entertainment venue for a complete 'technology refresh'. I became one of the first IT consultants to completely decommission endpoints for a large venue. Here's my story of how I noticed the demise of desk phones and why they are no longer a must-have for enterprise communications today.

I First Saw the Demise of Desk Phones in 2011

While I was doing all the data gathering for the new project, the CIO looked at me and said, "I don't want you writing an RFP for a PBX, I want you to find us the '"right collaboration tools'." Keep in mind, in 2011, "collaboration tools" wasn't a common term in communications technology. But that phrasing helped me understand what the client wanted. I changed directions, bound and determined to find them the right "tools." Eventually, we selected Microsoft Lync, and after discovering how complex it was to integrate

MS Lync with the client's in-house Nortel C-1000 Option 61 PBX, which was in place for up to 1,000 users. So, we got rid of the phone system all together and went with 100% Lync. In 2015, Lync was renamed Microsoft Skype for Business, then in 2017, Microsoft began positioning Microsoft Teams as the successor to Skype for Business.

I Talked About the Demise of Desk Phones in 2017

In 2017, I spoke on the Enterprise Connect panel, "The Demise of the Desk Phone." Enterprise users were just warming up to the idea of possibly no desk phones, even as vendors on the panel were pushing their latest and greatest desk phones and other panelists were pushing their headsets to replace the desk phone. At this point in time corporations were using five different devices for user endpoints: a smartphone, a desk phone, a laptop computer, a headset, and an iPad or other tablet device.

The 2017 Enterprise Connect exhibit floor showed vendors touting bright and shiny desk phones that had these large, beautiful color screens. However, enterprise users just weren't buying in on desk phones, because their PCs and laptop computers also had large, beautiful color screens -- and software allowing them to place calls, send instant messages, and communicate with anyone. From the enterprise IT perspective, it made sense to start shedding desk phones: If your users have the same endpoint communication features on their laptops, why invest all that money on a new desktop endpoint?

"Are Millennials Even Using Desk Phones in Corporate America?"

My answer to this question when it was asked five years ago was "absolutely not," and it is still true today. My early-millennial son has not touched a hard phone on his desk at his company; they all use Teams, and he uses his headset for calls.

Who makes phone calls anymore anyway? Very few of us. I love picking up the phone and calling colleagues, but now I feel that I must text them first, asking for their time that works best for them to have a 'quick call.'

Six Years Later, An Update on the Demise of Desk Phones in 2023 and the Porting process

In 2022, my company project-managed a large food distributor enterprise client with 4,000 end users. We decommissioned their Avaya and Cisco Systems, and they went with a 98% MS Teams deployment, only a handful of Teams Native phones went in. Did we have to port over all 4,000 numbers over to Microsoft? Surprisingly – no, we did not. We found out that they hardly even used their DID numbers. So, we ported over a handful of numbers that were published and assigned new numbers to the rest. Easy peasy! (Whenever you can get away from porting numbers to another carrier, the moreso the better. Trust me, it can be a nightmare. Another whole article can be written around the porting process.)

Over 270 million users are now on Teams, with 91 out of 100 Fortune 100 companies as customers. They also mentioned that 91% of all Fortune 100 companies use Teams.

When I polled some of our SCTC Consultants if they are seeing their clients removing desk phones, below are some of the responses I received:

  • "I'm seeing users from almost every persona wanting to get away from having a physical phone. The only ones that want a device are situations where the phone is used for a position instead of a user. For example, I was working with a utility where their field workers call in to the control center to report issues. The control center is staffed 24x7 by different people, but the phone number is always the same regardless of who is sitting there taking the calls. In those situations, the users want a physical phone that anyone can answer."
  • "Yes, we had a deployment of warehouses that also had staff on a 24x7 shift, those users wanted a physical phone that anyone can answer, without logging into a laptop with credentials."
  • "I am seeing the same thing. Many organizations see the physical phone as another point of failure and prefer to have either a soft phone or no phone at all. In some cases, a person will have a DID number that goes right to voicemail and an email is sent with the transcription. The end user can deal with the caller as they like."

Other companies I have worked with are only purchasing, at most, about half of the number of physical telephones that are currently in place on the old legacy platform.

In a poll conducted at one company, many employees preferred to go with the client on their wireless devices as well as on their desktop/laptop. When they are on the go, they still get their calls.

Now when we walk the Enterprise Connect showroom floor this year, we are going to see an abundance of "Teams native" phones that will live on the network as a hardware endpoint in conference rooms, common areas of an office, or in warehouses.

In 2023, the headset manufacturers are really stepping up the features on the headset devices. Some contact center environments are deploying new headset technology with features that will automatically cancel out the dog barking in the background, or automatically cancel out the noise in the contact center from the agent talking to loud in the cubicle next door, without the contact center agent having to 'mute' out so the caller doesn't hear the noise.

Use Cases for Who Gets Which Endpoint

So now the question gets asked: How do you determine which user gets which device? Well, to take a phrase from fellow No Jitter contributor Martha Buyer, "It depends!" Sometimes the CEO dictates specific device policies. The deployment that we did with no desk phones came from the CIO, then the CEO became a champion, eliminating his own desk phone, and then the CEO became a champion. The CEO did without his desk phone and then everyone else followed suit.

It's worth noting that end users are more amenable to office-based desk phone changes because they're being forced to embrace phone behavior changes thanks to their personal smartphones. The smartphones do so many things -- and we're so used to them doing everything -- then we get to the office, and we look at our hard phone and we want all the features of our smartphones now on our endpoint devices. We want to see all the missed calls we've had, and we want to know who dialed us last, etc. and so vendors are starting to come out with the features endpoint users are already using on any one of their other, non-desk phone devices.

How Should an Enterprise Budget for Endpoints

From a monetary point of view: With so many choices and types of devices out there, how should an enterprise budget for endpoints? The shelf life on phones is becoming shorter and shorter, especially if they're Teams Compatible devices; we had one client change out two endpoints in less than 12 months because Microsoft was phasing the 'compatible' ones out and going with "Teams native" phones. So, the budgeting process does become difficult because there are so many different devices out there. As far as budgeting for endpoint devices, it's still going to be a wash between that hard phone versus softphone licenses or headsets.

In Conclusion

I think to sum up, we all know that there will always be a need for an 'audio endpoint' but based on my experience and observations, the hard desk phone is going away fast. It is up to the corporation to determine which endpoint makes the best sense for their use case.