When does cloud PBX with a few additional extras become fully fledged, all singing, all dancing UCaaS?
According to the oracles at Gartner, 8×8 certainly crosses that line. The American cloud telephony company might still humbly market Virtual Office as a ‘business phone system’, but Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is having none of it, listing the firm as a Leader in the multi-region UCaaS market.
And we could not agree more. Yes, we all know Voice still rules the roost in telecoms, but that does not mean you have to be shy about your other capabilities. As 8×8 itself admits, voice is ‘just the beginning’ when it comes to Virtual Office. As a hosted software service, it also provides a full range of UC functions including video, conferencing, IM, email, collaboration and an impressive range of integrations with leading enterprise platforms.
In this review, we will lay out all of those capabilities, and leave it to you to decide if 8×8 Virtual Office is a cloud based PBX with wings, or whether you agree with Gartner and place it in the UCaaS category.
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How Does It Look?
The appearance of the 8×8 Virtual Office interface changes depending whether you are accessing it as a desktop app, online or as a mobile app.
The desktop app interface makes use of a top ribbon menu to navigate contacts, meetings, phone, fax, history and settings pages, with an additional side bar menu adding options for audio and video, messages and services. All of these different menu options open up different views in the main central window, ranging from dial pad and video chat screens to data analytics views.
The layout is generally clean and clear, set out in easy to scan light grey and blue. Navigation relies on text more than icons. There are a huge number of functions available and each screen tends to be pretty full.
The Virtual Office Online interface does not use the same menu system. Instead, the home page features a series of tabs at the top of the screen, which navigate to different pages for different functions. Space on screen is split between different windows, breaking features and information more visually than the desktop.
The mobile interface is organised around lists. For example, swiping to the user, a pop out list of phone, message and settings appears, while contacts are shown in a list with messaging and call icons next to each. Dial pads, text and video screens pop out when accessed from icons. The softphone available on the desktop app uses a similar set up.
What Can It Do?
If there is a sense that there is an awful lot going on in the various Virtual Office interfaces, that is because there is. When 8×8 describes its product as ‘feature rich’, it isn’t joking.
Let’s start with the standard features. First of all, voice – 8×8 delivers everything you would expect from a business class virtual PBX, with a full range of call management features, voicemail, group pickup and ring group options. Each user gets a direct number and, thanks to the cloud, an extension which can be used to contact them wherever they are located.
In addition, the hosted software service also runs an auto attendant, the equivalent of an automated receptionist. And each user gets their own control over call recording.
There is a virtually unlimited set of directory options thanks to easy integration with Gmail, Lync, Outlook, Office 365 and Exchange contacts, in addition to the inbuilt Virtual Office contact list. You can see the presence status of each contact and IM or email them at the click of button. Virtual Office supports three way conference calls and includes an inbuilt conference bridge, meaning you don’t have to pay for an external platform to host conference calls. Virtual Office Pro also includes Meetings, a separate, powerful conferencing engine with video and collaboration features.
All features can be accessed via a computer or laptop using the softphone app, through a desktop phone or UC terminal, or via a mobile phone. The Virtual Office Mobile app, available for iPhone and Android, gives full access to all features on a mobile, meaning you can take your office communications with you on the move.
There are also a number of powerful optional extras which can be added to the Virtual Office suite. These include the option to select specific phone numbers, whether freephone or virtual local directory numbers, meaning you can eliminate long distance charges for customers even when your office is located in a different region. International toll free and virtual local numbers mean you can make you business accessible by phone at low rates from virtually anywhere in the world.
Other key options are switch-boarding, call queuing and branch office features, which offer contact
centre level call flow management and the ability to segment the network into different groups, whether they are based on actual physical branches or virtual equivalents.
Finally, Virtual Office analytics is available to give organisations detailed analysis of activity on all extensions, starting at active calls, abandoned calls, talk time, ring time, call detail records, and scaling up to real time data on call clarity and quality.
What do we like?
8×8 Virtual Office delves deep into the communications needs of the modern business, from supporting remote working to running virtual local branches, conferencing and collaboration to detailed performance analytics.
But perhaps its best feature is the fact that it integrates with an impressive range of other enterprise software platforms, especially CRM suites. You can use Virtual Office from within the Salesforce, Zendesk and Netsuite platforms, fully integrating your communications with your customer service.
Who is it for?
The beauty of hosted cloud platforms in general is that they offer the flexibility, scalability and, with no capital overheads, the affordability to appeal to businesses of all shapes and sizes. 8×8 positions Virtual Office as a product which can help small businesses ‘project a big company image.’ But the depth of features, especially the optional contact centre extras like branch office configuration and switchboarding, plus data analytics, hint that this is a product intended for the midmarket companies upwards which are seeking a convenient, cost effective way to link multiple sites and a distributed workforce with full UC functionality.
What is it compatible with?
Virtual Office integrates with an impressive range of enterprise software applications including Salesforce, Zendesk, Netsuite, Outlook, Act!, eAgent and SmartOffice, which allow its features to be used from within the host platform.
You don’t earn a Leader rating from Gartner for nothing, and 8×8 is certainly helping to set the standards in the UCaaS market. As more and more businesses turn to the cloud and hosted services for their communications needs, Virtual Office encapsulates all of the strengths of cloud comms – feature rich, flexible, easy to deploy and great value. While not too long ago only the largest enterprises could afford the infrastructure for cross branch management systems and analytics, Virtual Office makes these available on an app for a monthly subscription. And with a long list of enterprise platforms it can plug in to, plus mobile deployment, products like this are helping cloud UC change the way communication happens in the workplace.
Look & Feel
Helping to rewrite the rules on who can access enterprise level communications.