Optimize and Automate Unified Communications Operations
In this article
Of all the segments present in the technology lifecycle for Unified Communications, it's the post-deployment phase that heavily shapes the ROI. The employee EX and IT operational experience from this phase is directly proportional to your investment's longevity. Organizations that have the best functioning UC operations tools and processes are better placed to orchestrate this experience, and therefore can bring those pre-purchase promises to life.
In response to digital transformation, most facets of the technology farm have been welcoming new tools. The realm of Unified Communications poses no exception to this trend. As a matter of fact, the set of rules that once defined the traditional boundaries of UC have undergone a paradigm shift. We now see even the physical aspects of an enterprise, such as environmental conditions, real estate, desks etc., entering the tall list that a UC operations team need to own.
These new boundaries are cause for rising complexity, new challenges and new goals. To best address all of this, it'd be wise to first take a good look at the roots of UC operations.
Status quo of Unified Communication Operations (UC Ops)
Glimpses into the evolution
When we look back at the history of UC Operations, or UC Ops, it's hard not to acknowledge the reasons behind the complexities that have been inherited. Each of the core systems that formed the IP telephony domain (which became the UC world) exhibited the appetite to continuously improve its monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities in an individual/siloed fashion, be it an IP-PABX, video conferencing engine, voicemail system or even a contact center. These systems had their own management engine that allowed for reasonable Day-2 operations. Of course, this was when UC was still a young and emerging concept.
As the enterprise began realizing transformational benefits linked to broader goals, such as increased productivity and enhanced digital employee experience, the concept of Unified Communications expanded into "Collaboration," and then "Collaboration" evolved into the more comprehensive term we use today: "Digital Workspace."
At this point, the scope and boundaries of UC started getting wider and more promising. There became a higher emphasis on ensuring the following: UC system uptime, better end user experience, shift from reactive to proactive care, heightened focus on call and video quality and so forth. More importantly, there was an uptick in multi-vendor management platforms for UC Ops, which naturally drew in a need for dedicated discipline, practice, and skillsets to operate these engines.
As these platforms evolved, apart from monitoring and troubleshooting features, other parameters such as reporting, migration capabilities, utilization of UC resources, etc., were starting to come into play. This would soon result in an increasing need to merge these digital capacities with relative physical aspects. When hybrid work emerged onto the scene, it gave an entirely new, unprecedented spin on every tool and rule in the UC playbook.
Compounded, these factors raised the bar of expectations to new heights, giving way to new benchmarks, and, in turn, boosted the momentum for further advancement in the UC Ops domain.
Forward-looking goals for UC Ops
Getting too attached to the way things are now will lead you straight into irrelevancy. So, it's best to take an adaptable and flexible approach. Here is a short list of future goals to keep in mind:
- Ability to narrate the story on a single pane about current employee technology experience (for UC), technology utilization, performance, user experience.
- Function as a navigation compass for digital workspace investments.
- Provide insights on space utilization and people behavior for hybrid work to facilities and resource management groups.
- Proactive UC care for catching outages and brownout scenarios even before they occur, aiding UX, and therefore employee experience EX.
Boundary marker for the ever-expanding scope
To make sense of the crowded tool landscape, let's categorize the key target elements by whose data needs mining and where actions/changes need to be delivered. These can be bucketed into two broad categories: digital workspace and physical workplace.
Workspace: on-premises and cloud variants of the digital employee experience:
- Call control
- Persistent chat
- Border elements such as Voice gateway, SBC and associated circuits from TDM and IP world
- Meeting platforms
- Contact center and adjunct systems
- Integration touch points that belong to CEBP (communication-enabled business processes)
- Emergency notifications
Workplace: physical + digital elements for on-site workforce and visitors:
- Meeting rooms
- Endpoints (on-prem and remote)
- Scheduling and reservation systems
- Digital signage
- Video walls
- Office hoteling
Impediments for new goals
Now that we know the goals and the target environment, the long term plan would be to cautiously abandon the old methods from your operations in favor of the new ones. As your team tries to set and strengthen the new UC Ops methods, it would be considerate of existing barriers such as,
- Status of your UC Ops output.
- Do you see more cycles on building reports for a typical day?
- Is your everyday effort on mundane tasks labor intensive?
- Is reporting, troubleshooting and root cause analysis the most prominent part of your UC Ops work?
- Limited shelf life for your integrations before being graded as obsolete.
- Blind spots in the media path, missing hops, uncontrolled segments not helping conclude RCA.
- Too many tribal UC Ops skill/tool sets that are counterproductive and cost prohibitive.
- Training new age operations is burdensome.
Six UC features to power today's hybrid workforce model
We recommend sustainably incorporating the following capabilities:
- Real time monitoring and diagnostics for hybrid UC: The UC Ops estate should have the ability to ingest, normalize, manage data from a vast, multi-vendor hybrid UC landscape, so that you get an all-in-one view on a single pane. The refined insights should allow you to: answer queries, address media health challenges, provide options for filters and metrics to track deep media quality, group calls by wired/Wi-Fi, client version, network type, location etc., so users can see exactly where issues might be aggregated and present sophisticated alert configuration options to facilitate the move towards proactive UC care.
- Actions driven by utilization insights: Underutilization of technology and real estate space across your environment should be readily available as part of your operations toolkit. Less than optimal conference room and space utilization means wasted money. Look for capabilities that can leverage on existing technology and environment sensors within your environment to further educate you on how technologies are being adopted internally and help identify avenues to improve usability.
- Hyper focus on your remote workforce: Percentage of remote worker population has surged after the pandemic and is expected to stay high into future. Hybrid network usage and disjointed service causes inability to effectively monitor the remote worker experience. We recommend finding a solution that provides comprehensive visibility across your remote endpoint, edge network, and the ISP. A map interface can accurately pinpoint the geographical area of a user with an affected ISP and alerts can be programmed for daily or hourly monitoring, which preserves user experience and alleviates strain on the UC Ops team.
- Proactive monitoring of licensing and capacity: With an exhaustive list of features and subscription licenses needing regular monitoring, it's best to find a solution with feature modules that allow the UC admins to swiftly track and throttle licensing and capacity to meet rapidly evolving needs.
- Level of ease in reporting: When it comes to UC, data-driven decision-making is needed for operational efficiency and quality employee experience. The majority of time should not be spent collecting and cleansing data. We recommend finding a solution with advanced analytics that tracks and reports employee experience in the form of a metric in a heterogenous environment.
- Automating everything that matters: MACDs are extremely resource-intensive. Per a recent survey, 73% of respondents spend as much as half of their week on end-user MACDs, and as many as 84% believe that more comprehensive automation of MACD would increase productivity. Only 5% of organizations describe themselves as automated. We suggest finding a solution that brings down the MACD load and provides other useful features like automated alerts that trigger ITSM tickets and predictive insights mined from UC data piles.
Three phases to improve UC Ops
The operational UC tools have grown from being siloed to being able to function as a robust infrastructure. But such a comprehensive infrastructure comes with some challenges, wherein by offering a great user experience, measuring that experience and realizing ROI appears becomes fiercely complicated. We recommend addressing this matter with a multiphase approach.
Phase 1: Strategize. Start with understanding the various elements in the overall technology and workspace landscape. Build a coverage map to ensure all current and upcoming elements are covered in your UC Ops.
- Address current white spaces in the map, especially those that don't support a telemetry feed, by introducing a new feature module in your present portfolio or via custom integrations or by even bringing in a new tool.
- Organize dashboards by defined roles and create a single pane for the most utilized features or inputs such as UC ticket history.
Phase 2: Read the state. The UC Ops landscape can become quite entangled and could benefit from data integration, data normalization between various tools and trimming of unneeded data. An effective application monitoring/digital experience platform will help you read into the states of UC and other workspace element and provide useful signals and scientific insights as opposed to risky assumptions.
Phase 3: Operational care. Having completed the other phases, it's time to filter out any mundane or inefficient components of your UC Ops approach until you are left with only a strategically effective UC Ops landscape, and for the rest, apply automation wherever possible.
WWT's Digital Workspace Practice team can help you along your journey towards Unified Communications operational maturity. We support some of the world's largest organizations achieve UC Ops transformation; this includes helping their teams understand available tools and solutions, conducting product bake-offs and proof-of-concept testing and conducting customized adoption and training programs to enable administrators and end users on new solutions.