Deploying Microsoft Teams Voice

Competing in the commercial real estate market takes constant communication and 24×7 availability. For InSite Real Estate, L.L.C., Microsoft Teams is providing reliable phone and collaboration services from the cloud. As a leading commercial real estate and industrial developer, InSite buys, custom-develops, and then operates income-producing real estate. InSite owns over 11 million square feet of industrial, retail, and office space housing over 250 tenants like Chipotle, Borders, Starbucks, Advance Auto, and Petco. InSite’s customers are big, but its IT team is not. Director of IT Operations Kevin Duffy manages the entire infrastructure of the firm, from connectivity to telecom, servers, storage, and all the networks in between. Kevin has no time to scramble after unreliable systems, nor explain if they’re not working.

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InSite Moves from Skype to Teams Voice

Challenging the Status Quo

InSite had been using Skype for Business for dial tone since 2013. “We’re a company who likes to embrace new technologies,” began Duffy, who could sense change was coming. “We know Microsoft is moving away from Skype, and we see the money they invest in Teams. Since we were already in Office 365, it made sense for us to retire what we could on-premises and shift calling to the cloud.” For guidance, InSite turned to eGroup Enabling Technologies, their technology partner since 2014. Recalling that introduction, Duffy said “We had integrated Skype for Business just prior to me joining InSite. We had noticed that eGroup Enabling Technologies was Microsoft’s Communications Partner of the Year, which was very attractive to us.” eGroup Enabling Technologies evaluated InSite’s deployment and suggested improvements, “Once eGroup Enabling Technologies understood our Skype environment, we developed our partnership, and haven’t looked back since.” InSite’s journey to Office 365 began with Exchange Online. “eGroup Enabling Technologies came in and helped us transition from on-prem to Exchange in Office 365. Once there, we then focused on migrating to SharePoint Online. Our people got interested in OneDrive for Business, particularly our construction group who wanted to share large files. Dropbox had that ability, but they said, ‘Why should I go buy this when we already have licenses for OneDrive?’ Everything together gave people better productivity, and that synergy led us to Teams Calling.” Part of what kept the majority of InSite’s users on the Skype Servers on-premises was a laser focus on high availability. “The most important part of communications for our company is having uptime and the ability to reach people, regardless of location,” stated Duffy. While there were no significant issues with Skype on-premises, Kevin felt, “By putting our voice platform in the cloud, we were going to have better resiliency. Microsoft’s investment level far supersedes our team of three at InSite. Not to take anything away from our team, but having that level of resiliency, failover, and redundancy in the Microsoft cloud is immeasurable.” The Market Search group was excited to be the first to move onto Teams, “They were glad to go back and have the collaboration capability,” affirmed Duffy.

“I'm shocked how much instant messaging is taking place in the company! It’s far more than I had measured and sharing files under a single pane of glass with Teams, the value is through the roof. We knew that we had to get this group back over, and they couldn't come over fast enough.”

Value of Teams in Your Pocket

Having Teams on smartphones and tablets has been impactful. InSite’s work entails people out on the road researching locations. When they get a critical IM or email from management or legal, and they’ve shared a document in Teams, they’re able to pull it up from their phone or tablet without pulling over to access their laptop. “Plus, once you put the Teams app on your mobile,” explained Duffy, “anybody who’s calling your desk line is going to reach you right away. Our guys have 24/7 access to their customers and the content they need on the fly. Having that capability in their pocket is super powerful.”

The user reaction has been extremely positive, especially from management’s perspective. “Teams allowed us to seamlessly transition to a work from home environment,” outlined Duffy. “People easily acclimated as if they were sitting at their desk, still receiving calls, and having constant dial tone. Couple that with heavy levels of resiliency and cloud-embedded failover from Microsoft, the adoption of Teams has been very, very positive.” Quality of service hasn’t been a concern for InSite. “Some of our people are heavy callers and even when they go out of the country, we see the call quality is excellent,” Kevin stated. “Nobody wants to be talking to a client when your cell phone is cutting out. Having good voice quality coupled with the accessibility from your pocket or laptop has been very valuable for us to conduct business successfully.”

Clear ROI Compound with Better Security

InSite did increase cloud spend for the Teams Calling Plans, but because they eliminated contracts on hardware, redundant Internet circuits and routers, and maintenance of on-premises servers, those costs evened out. “When you consider the need to upgrade equipment in the long run,” asserted Duffy, “it’s cheaper to go with Teams. It made sense to save some costs and shrink our digital footprint.” Having trusted Microsoft’s security within Office 365, InSite had no concerns about moving to Teams. “Another big factor for us to move was because our security operations center was noticing attempted attacks on our voice trunks,” Kevin explained. Attackers sought to gain access to Skype servers, then jump through different ports. “It’s of paramount importance for us as an organization to maintain integrity. By moving our entire voice platform to Teams, we closed the door to those vulnerabilities.”

Preparing for a Painless Transition

“A piece of advice for anybody looking at Teams is to get an understanding of your user base,” advised Duffy. “While that may sound trite, people work differently, some people like to have headsets, some like a handset, and some like a speaker phone. Have an intimate understanding of your people and communicate in advance about how you’re going to make a change to their voice service.” Much like how InSite provides its customers choices of locations, designs, and terms, Duffy felt providing users a choice of devices was important. “We wanted to give people the option because we never wanted anybody to come back and say, ‘I couldn’t get something done because of this device you gave me.’ For us it meant going by department by department and understanding how they work, how mobile they are, and how often are they in conference calls.” Location is everything in real estate, but with cloud software, it’s all about adoption. InSite realized the importance of an internal campaign to drum up interest, rather than surprising people with a significant change. “We wanted to outline some of the benefits of Teams that really shine,” Kevin explained, “and not just random things about how great Teams is. We wanted them to know that there were specific things that can help serve you or your customers a little bit better. We would send messages six to eight months out explaining how Teams can specifically help them.”

Just like InSite updates their buildings, keeping users updated on new features and techniques is a priority. A Seinfeld fan, Duffy likens InSite’s approach to the ‘Festivus for the Restivus,’ where the Costanza’s aired its family grievances. “We host meetings where people can come to us and tell us their pain points,” explained Duffy (seriously). “We then offer suggestions, ease some stress, show how things can be done better, all in an open forum.” These refresher courses last about 30 minutes and exemplify how InSite follows best practices. 

Avoiding Porting and e911 Problems

Early Planning Saves Time Later

One big concern for InSite was porting numbers to Microsoft’s Calling Plans. “InSite has been around for 30 years and we couldn’t lose those numbers or disrupt service,” Kevin confided. “eGroup Enabling Technologies did a great job working with Microsoft to push our provider to ensure safe porting of our numbers. I cannot tell you how important that was for us. It’s of paramount importance and not easy.” InSite’s headquarters is in Illinois, one of the first states to mandate e911. “We consider e911 critical,” asserted Duffy. “Some of our management team works in three locations, so if somebody calls 911, we need their call routed to the right emergency center. It was brilliant in the way that we carved out different VLANs and different addresses, and at the same time had the flexibility to add more later. After having gone through it with the eGroup Enabling Technologies team when we were migrating, we knew what we needed to do on our own. When we added another floor to our building, we configured e911 ourselves. That training and knowledge was very, very helpful.”

InSite has developed PremiSys™—a proprietary transaction and project management platform – to properly plan sales and real estate development projects. Similar attention to planning was embraced by eGroup Enabling Technologies, who took time to sit down and understand how InSite really runs its business. “eGroup Enabling Technologies had a level of patience that I really don’t think I’ve ever seen from a vendor before,” Kevin recalled. “They had an intimate understanding of how each department worked. From there, we catered specific solutions and communications for individual departments. For instance, we were able to build in a higher level of auto-attendants and call queues that are much easier to manage now.”

Kevin believes planning saved mistakes and time later. “eGroup Enabling Technologies really helped us open the door for us,” he said, “and has done a fantastic job holding our hands. There would have been a tremendous number of things that probably would have slipped through the cracks that we didn’t think about. We had an extra pair of eyes and that’s where eGroup Enabling Technologies’ value came in and really helped us.”

Final Advice

Duffy realizes changing telephony service is not trivial. “Take a look at your current telecom solution and make a list of everything that you require, and what you can transfer over to Teams. Then ask, ‘What more can Teams do for me?’ and really explore that with eGroup Enabling Technologies. They are going to show you ways of working that you may not even know existed.”

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