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Demystifying Microsoft Operator Connect

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Microsoft Teams is at the forefront of the transition to hybrid work. The platform continues to roll out new features that enhance productivity and communication capabilities. As a result, IT decision-makers can optimize their technology stacks to better support distributed employees.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced advancements to its Teams calling options. Before this change, Teams users needed to use Direct Routing or a Microsoft Calling Plan to access PSTN calling. Now there’s a third option: Operator Connect.
It’s important to acknowledge that the initial rollout of Operator Connect caused some confusion in the industry. The naming of the feature, paired with the existing calling options from Microsoft, made some individuals unclear about Operator Connect’s utility and value.
Here, I’ve outlined a guide to clear confusion about the new feature and detail its potential as an add-on tool that can unify calling and collaboration.
What Is Operator Connect?
In simple terms, Operator Connect is an evolution of Direct Routing that makes it even easier for businesses to add PSTN connectivity into Teams. Operator Connect enables PSTN calls so that team members can stay connected to people outside their organization, including customers, prospects, suppliers, and other business partners.
The solution is a carrier-managed service that lets companies use outside carriers, or in Microsoft’s case, “operator,” to power calling in Teams. (For reference, Microsoft defines “operators” as third-party PSTN carriers). The feature also includes a conferencing capability, which uses the same administrator interface as Operator Connect and allows businesses to add dial-in numbers to a Microsoft Audio Conferencing bridge.
Operator Connect Benefits
Initial confusion around Operator Connect shouldn’t diminish the benefits the solution offers to businesses looking to enhance communication and productivity with Teams. Below are four leading benefits of Operator Connect and clarification on how IT teams can optimize its use:
1. Flexibility to Choose Between Existing Carriers or a New Operator
With Operator Connect for Teams, businesses can choose their telephony provider. This flexibility means there’s no need for any telephony expertise or carrier negotiations. If a company already has a relationship with one of Microsoft’s many Operator Connect partners, it can maintain that relationship or choose a new operator from Microsoft’s pre-approved list. As a result, IT decision-makers can maintain deep carrier relationships or begin a new relationship with a new carrier that Microsoft has thoroughly vetted. Regardless of which direction the company takes, they have the flexibility to decide what’s best for their team.
2. Hassle-Free Operator-Managed Infrastructure
Operator Connect removes the burden of managing infrastructure from users. Because operators manage PSTN calling services and session border controllers (SBCs), companies can save money on hardware and upkeep. Users can rest easy knowing the carrier is safeguarding the system and mitigating any issues that might arise. This level of protection and back-end support allows companies to focus on maximizing team productivity through Teams.
3. Fast, Easy Deployment
When updating or migrating their phone system, downtime—which potentially results in a loss of revenue, customer faith, reputation, and productivity—is a major concern. However, decision-makers can avoid this headache with Operator Connect. Companies experience minimal (if any) disruption to calling and other UC functions during the migration process to Teams. Organizations can quickly connect to their operator and assign phone numbers to users, all within the Teams Admin Center. Further, provisioning numbers requires little to no technical expertise, which means anyone with admin permissions can set up the solution. With simple provisioning, organizations can upgrade their communications capabilities with little to no hassle.
4. Enhanced Support and Reliability
Operator Connect enables operators to provide technical support and shared service level agreements to improve support service and optimize Teams’ use. As noted above, Microsoft vets carriers to ensure high-quality support, which leads to greater productivity and efficiency for businesses. Additionally, direct peering via Microsoft Azure—which Operator Connect provides—ensures a 1:1 network connection for greater reliability. This reliability positively correlates to business continuity. In the event of an outage or other disruption, users have disaster recovery options and confidence their communications will stay online.
Operator Connect Drives the Evolution of Enterprise Collaboration
Businesses and employees need agile tools to support their hybrid work settings and effectively connect their remote teams.
Microsoft created Operator Connect to help businesses build on the productivity tools of Office 365 with PSTN calling. Because Teams has calling capabilities through Operator Connect, companies can simplify their tech stack without cutting back on the features they offer to their employees and customers. Decision-makers can combine collaboration tools and access to global voice services in one application.
Any early confusion around the branding of Operator Connect and its capabilities shouldn’t stop remote and in-person teams from exploring and deploying the solution. It’s a simplified and consolidated communications approach, driving the evolution of enterprise collaboration. More specifically, it’s the next stepping stone empowering businesses to create a truly unified, cloud-based communications experience.