Planning a Migration From Avaya to Skype for Business


At a recent Microsoft Ignite 2017 session about migrating to Skype for Business, a show of hands in the audience was requested for attendees who are planning to move from Avaya to Skype for Business. Of the several hundred attendees, more than 75% of the hands were raised. As I saw this high level of interest and watched the presentation, I thought it would be helpful to provide additional information in a blog about this topic.

Whether you have already made the decision to move from your existing Avaya PBX environment to Skype for Business or are still evaluating, I have written this blog to provide topics to think about on your journey. This is by no means a complete list of items to consider, but rather topics to assist you in the research of your existing environment and ideas for how to move forward with planning and implementation. A migration of telecom services is often complex and takes experience to perform, regardless of the manufacturer. Telecom services are the lifeline of business, so a migration must be done right the first time.

Evaluate the Existing Environment

To determine how best to use the features of Skype for Business in Office 365 to replace your telecom environment, you need to inventory and thoroughly understand several key components of the existing environment. Below is a list of the questions to ask about your environment. This is not an exhaustive list, but the questions here will prompt more questions to research. Document all research, continue to ask questions throughout the project, and challenge answers that are not understood. The existing PBX should provide reporting to help answer some of the questions below.

  • How many DIDs are in your environment that are assigned to individuals?
    • Of these, how active are the users with voice calls? Can you categorize them into several categories such as lite, medium, or heavy phone users?
    • What percentage of the calls are internal (desk user to desk user) as well as external?
    • Are the majority of external calls in or outbound?
    • How many minutes are used per month by each user in received calls? Are the received calls using local service numbers or are they used with toll-free numbers?
    • How many service numbers are in the existing environment? Service Numbers are office numbers, 800 numbers, etc. that reach an office receptionist or auto-attendant.
      • Does each office have a unique service number? List each office location, telephone number and how they are used.
      • How many incoming minutes are consumed each month on each service number in your organization?
      • What/who answers the call (a real person or auto attendant) and what are the common actions taken on each of the calls?
      • What is the average and maximum number of call sessions on each service number?
      • Do you have tracking capabilities for the current number of calls in a queue, how many of these calls were dropped, why they were dropped, etc.?
  • What are the current calling plans and associated costs being invoiced each month to your organization?
    • Research calling plans associated with all service numbers.
    • Research calling plans associated with each user with a dedicated number.
    • Research calling plans associated with lobby or common area phones.
    • The more detailed information you discover, the better this data will help with planning.
  • Does your organization operate one or more complex call centers, help desks, etc.?
    • Evaluate the call center features being used.
    • How many agents are supported during low, medium, and peak calling periods?
    • Are reports on call traffic, call queues, wait times, agent performance, etc. being generated?
    • Is there data that a call center administrator would like to see, but currently has no access to? When researching a new system, try to meet requests for more features and additional insight.
  • What is the voicemail system used today?
    • Does each person have a voicemail account setup?
    • What is the average voicemail length and storage being used?
    • Who is the highest user of voicemail storage?
    • What is the average voicemail storage space and number of voicemails saved?
    • Can you track growth trends to help predict future capacity needs?
    • How do users access their voicemail? Is this by simply pressing a voicemail button on a desk phone? Is there an access code required to the voicemail account? Is each voicemail transcribed to text and sent to the recipient as well as the recording?
  • Information about existing desk phones
    • What desk phone model phone(s) are used in the environment and what is the price point of each?
    • What is the failure rate of each phone? Is there a repair charge vs the price of new phone?
    • Is there an increase in phone failure rate because of the age of the current system?
    • Are headsets used today in the environment by some users?
    • What is the management overhead of these phones to deploy them and keep them updated?
    • How often is each phone used? Is there an opportunity to replace phones with a lower cost headset? For phones that are never used, do they even need replaced?
  • Existing contracts and warranties
    • When do existing PBX support warranties or contracts expire?
    • Are you under a contract with a local telecom or SIP trunk provider? Consider any early termination fees.

Persona Development

With the information gathered from the various research points above, you should now have data to begin development of different persona groups that represent your environment. To help calculate bandwidth, you will need to understand the usage of internal and external calling habits of your users in each office. This will also help determine the types of desk phones you may want to purchase and/or replace with headsets as well as potential bandwidth impact and remediation that may be needed. Additionally, a full persona development will be needed to evaluate the number of Instant Messages sent/received per user, video conferencing usage, etc. To assist with persona development as well as bandwidth predictions, Microsoft has developed the Bandwidth Calculator found here. This download contains the tool and user guide.

Designing the New Environment

Evaluate the existing telecom environment using the data collection suggestions above and begin to evaluate how it can be designed to work in Skype for Business. I do not recommend you do a feature by feature comparison. Remember, you are undergoing a digital transformation where some processes used in an environment may have been in place for 20 years. These older features may need to be re-thought on a new system to utilize an expanded set of collaborative tools. This is where you may want to engage a Microsoft Partner who has extensive understanding of competitor PBX systems and know how to implement required business features within the Skype for Business.

Migration Software

As talked about in the Microsoft Ignite 2017 presentation about a migration from Avaya to Skype for Business, you may want to consider using software to help with the migration from an Avaya or other PBX to Skype for Business. This is a great option to consider when developing your migration project plan. The software will analyze existing PBX configurations, setup number normalization, and provide settings to implement in Skype for Business. Using this software may help reduce deployment costs and increase the speed of the implementation.

It was also stated in the presentation, "Microsoft recently extended the IT Pro Certification Program to include migration tools." There are currently (as of September 28, 2017) two products that have completed or are still undergoing testing as part of this program. For more information on these products as well as demonstrations, visit these links: Univonix and Unimax.

Contact Center and Attendant Console Applications

While Microsoft Skype for Business in Office 365 has a vast amount of capabilities, there are technical features your organization may need that the product does not natively offer. As an example, some customers may need a Call Attendant Console or full call center capabilities. These are areas where Microsoft Partners have developed robust and feature rich services that work seamlessly with Skype for Business in Office 365, on-premises, or in a hybrid configuration.  These partner solutions are listed on the Skype for Business Partner Solutions Catalog.

Develop a Cost Analysis

When looking to move from one technical environment to another, there are many things to consider such as features, ease of use, deployment, scalability, etc. But one of the most important considerations is the cost. A cost analysis is important not just for the factual information it provides, but also to help break through company politics, people, emotions, etc. For someone who has administered a specific PBX system for many years, changing to a new system may or may not be a welcome idea. Having a well written cost analysis removes any non-objectivity, enabling everyone to see the facts and benefits of a new system.

To develop an impactful cost analysis, you must be genuine with yourself and with your organization. You need to uncover costs that can be referenced with past purchase orders, invoices, monthly telecom bills, etc. The analysis being presented may be challenged, so make sure it can stand on its own with plenty of references. There are several ways to develop a cost analysis that I outlined in an earlier blog called Developing an Office 365 Skype for Business Cost Analysis. In addition, there are multiple Return On Investment (ROI) calculators available such as this one from Univonix.

Migration Techniques

When considering how best to migrate from an existing PBX to Skype for Business, you must keep the user experience positive. There are many technical areas to spend time researching such as a network assessment and implementing Quality of Service (QOS), but there is the human element as well. You want to make sure your transition from Avaya to Skype for Business is as smooth as possible for your end user environment. Below are several common areas to consider:

  • Communicate (a lot) with your user environment about the new Skype for Business system. Get them excited about all of the new collaborative features coming!
  • Develop a list of numbers to port from an existing telecom to Office 365 (if this is part of your plan) and consider how to minimize any impact on the users. This includes service numbers for offices and DID numbers for users.
  • If extension dialing is used in your environment today, consider users who may have been using this format for 20 years in the office. Removing this feature would most likely be a point of contention with users. While extension dialing is not needed in a Skype for Business environment, it is a supported feature that can be easily configured and is something to consider implementing to minimize user impact. See this blog.
  • Migrate users first. Organize them by boss/admin relationships, by department, or office location. Afterwards, migrate the infrastructure services such as fax lines, etc.

Develop Your Book of Dreams

While an understanding of Office 365 capabilities are important, make sure everyone understands your vision as part of the organization's digital transformation. To understand where you are going, you have to know where you've been. My advice is to write a document that outlines the current status of your telecom infrastructure as well as other technical areas such as the capabilities of your email, file sharing, and security systems as well as recent problems/outages. Then, describe your vision of the new environment as part of your digital transformation. Get your audience excited, inspire them to join you on this journey, to see your vision in how an environment can collaborate and work more efficiently in Office 365. The flexibility a user will have to take their office number anywhere - from the office, to a home, to a hotel, or anywhere in between using the Skype for Business mobile application is revolutionary.

Contact a Microsoft Partner Who Specializes in Avaya Migrations

Microsoft has a large number of partners certified to implement Skype for Business Cloud Voice services under the Skype Operations Framework (SOF). Many of these partners specialize in migrations of Avaya to Microsoft Skype for Business. If you are not familiar with this process, please do not underestimate the research, planning, methodology, implementation, and continuous monitoring required for a move to any new telecom system. This is not a matter of evaluating settings from one system and implementing them on another. As stated earlier, the topic areas above are only ideas to get you thinking, researching, and questioning about what is involved with a migration and how to align people with your dream for a digital transformation.

For a list of partners who are experts in this field, please see the Skype for Business Partners site.

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