Update: Microsoft "graduated" Tenant Dial Plans from Preview to General Availability (GA) on April 20, 2017. The blog post making this announcement (as well as providing the updated training links) can be found here:
As the post states, pretty much everything is the same at GA as it was in Preview, so no real news to announce. The one change that they called out was that External Access Prefix is not supported at the time of GA launch. Best of luck on creating your custom Cloud PBX Dial Plans, but be careful!
For those of you that have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of custom dial plans in Skype for Business Online, your waiting days are narrowing significantly! Tenant Dial Plans have been introduced into Preview, and Microsoft is accepting applications to the preview program from customers that are under NDA and have a Skype for Business Online tenant in Office 365. First, a brief word on Why this is a big deal and what the desired functionality is that is being achieved.
What's the Deal with Tenant Dial Plans
With the ability to customize dial plans and normalization rules built deeply into Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business on-prem, why did Microsoft launch Cloud PBX without this ability from the start. Honestly, I believe the biggest reason is that Microsoft has been trying to change the narrative on how a user should dial their colleagues. With a strengthened unified communications tool homed in the Cloud, Microsoft wants users to start interacting with each by name. For example, when you lookup a user for a chat, or to see their presence, you either go to their contact object in the Skype for Business Contact List, or you start typing their name into the search bar:
If I am being perfectly honest, Microsoft is pushing us in the right direction. This is a much simpler way to manage contacts and interact with them. A single approach to all forms of communication. However, this proved to simply be WAY too much change for end users in many organizations. End users want to keep working the way they always have; change tends to throw them for a loop, and it is often resisted. (It would appear that clicking to call a user is such a massive shift in thinking, that it will need to be phased into most organizations in a slower, gentler, more phased approach.)
"End users Want to keep working the way they always have; change tends to throw them for a loop, and it is often resisted."
This reason is exactly why Microsoft started working on Tenant Dial Plans. The response and feedback on this one area was so great that it became clear that this functionality must follow Skype for Business into Office 365.
Tenant Dial Plans delivers on this need. It allows organizations to create tenant-based Dial Plans, with customized sets of normalization rules, to properly meet the granular dialing needs (wants) of the organizations that have begun adoption of Cloud PBX. In fact, many organizations have held off on adoption, or even exploration, of Cloud PBX due to this feature requirement alone. If an organization needs to have 4-digit-dialing, or 6-digit-dialing, or whatever, they can now achieve that in Office 365 by using Tenant Dial Plans.
Sign Me Up!
Ok, you are convinced. You have been waiting for this, and now want to start testing this out with some pilot users (because you should not be deploying a Preview toolset into Production!). How can you go about getting signed up. To be considered for the Preview, your organization must have a tenant that is currently using Skype for Business Online with Cloud PBX and be under NDA with Microsoft. First go to the Skype Preview website, click on Organization (this is not available to Individuals, check the box next to Tenant Dial Plans, and lastly click Sign Up. You can figure the rest out from there, I think.
Important Points to Remember
There are several important things to remember about using Tenant Dial Plans. I will cover a list of them here in Q/A format, and will also provide a look to a good Skype Academy video in which this information is covered and demoed.
Q: So, how many Normalization Rules can I add to a Dial Plan?
A: Good question! You can add up 25 normalization rules per Dial Plan?
Q: If I create a new "Tenant Dial Plan", will it apply to all of my Cloud PBX users?
A: A Tenant Dial Plan can either be scoped at the Global level, where it will apply to all of your Cloud PBX users, or it can be scoped and assigned at the User level. The below screenshot is from Scott Stubberfield's Skype Academy video demoing Tenant Dial Plans, and lays out the difference between the scopes and types of dial plans nicely:
Q: What about my Cloud PBX users that are in a Hybrid configuration? Do these Tenant Dial Plans apply only to PSTN Calling users, or also to On-Premise PSTN Connectivity and Cloud Connector Edition users?
A: Tenant Dial Plans apply to ALL Cloud PBX users. Regardless of the direction the user's PSTN calls go (Online through Microsoft services, or on-prem through CCE or existing telephony infrastructure), their dialing habits can be supported by Tenant Dial Plans.
Q: Yeah, so I assume that I will be able to manage these Dial Plans and normalization rules in a shiny new GUI, like with Skype for Business Server 2015?
A: Currently, the Preview only provides the ability to create and manage dial plans and normalization rules via remote PowerShell cmdlets; there is no sign of any of this in the Skype for Business Admin Center. Scott Stubberfield mentions a possible distant GUI companion to these cmdlets in the works "down the line" via his tutorial video, but no solid dates or commitments around that at this time.
Q: Do the Dial Plans in Cloud PBX work the same way as they do On-Prem, with the most granularly-scoped Dial Plan taking effect for a user?
A: Actually, no, and this is a good thing. If this were the case, and you assigned a Tenant Dial plan rather than leaving the existing default Service Dial Plan in place, you would have to create normalization rules for all of your user's dialing scenarios. Instead of the most granular dial plan taking effect, Cloud PBX merges the rules for the default Service Dial Plan for the user's location with the rules for any Tenant Dial Plans have been assigned to the user. The benefit to this is that all the normal dialing rules that already apply to Cloud PBX users do not have to be re-created in the new Tenant Dial Plans; instead, the normalization rules in the Tenant Dial Plans can be limited only to the additional dialing scenarios that you want to account for. Brilliant, right?! Below is another screenshot from Scott Stubberfield's demo Skype Academy video shows this concept in a clear and concise format:
In this blog post I have given a brief introduction to what Tenant Dial Plans is, what it currently looks like in Preview, and why it is freakin' awesome. I hope many of you that have been exploring and testing with Cloud PBX are as excited about this as I am! In the next post, we will go over some of the cmdlets that were introduced for the purposes of managing these new Tenant Dial Plans. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Tenant Dial Plans, check out the Skype Operations Framework training via the Skype Academy:
Stay techy, my friends!