UC is a multi-vendor world
Though today’s UC environments vary in their use of the cloud, they also differ in which UC solutions they leverage. Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya hold the lion’s share of UC deployments globally.
While Cisco and Avaya are long-time players, Microsoft has drastically disrupted the market in the past few years with the introduction of Skype for Business. One of the challenges with UC systems management is interoperability between these multiple vendors.
For instance, a company might have Cisco in its contact center and use Microsoft Skype for Business in other parts of the organization for real-time communications, raising interoperability concerns and adding expense, time and complexity. Here are the non-negotiables you need in a multi-vendor environment.
Multi-vendor UC visibility
Using one tool that has visibility into all vendors, applications, servers, endpoints and network devices will give you a comprehensive view of your entire environment.
Deep UC troubleshooting capability
The ability to identify and resolve issues in a timely manner is crucial. Like with visibility, you need the ability to troubleshoot across the entire ecosystem, not just for one vendor. Having a tool that spans multiple systems and can troubleshoot across vendors can save a great deal of time and trouble by helping IT quickly find the root cause of a problem.
Are you in the UC cloud?
As discussed, the UC industry is moving inexorably to the cloud. A hybrid approach adds complexity and introduces questions about who owns what. Does a call fail due to an on-premises application or is it a problem in the cloud? Proactive performance management is more important than ever in a hybrid environment, because you need to know about potential problems immediately to maintain a productive workforce and a positive user experience.
Leveraging expert partner advice
Expert partners can help your organization minimize multi-vendor headaches and increase delivery speed by conducting thorough analysis and planning. Customers may for example spend millions on a Skype for Business rollout, then cut corners with low-end, uncertified headsets that result in poor call quality and an awful user experience. A good partner will ensure the best decisions are made and the user experience is top of mind.
01 | Deploying Skype for Business with confidence
When Microsoft announced in 2015 that Skype for Business would replace Lync, many wondered how the consumer brand Skype would take off in the enterprise space. It is now seen as a leader in enterprise UC with phenomenal growth, disrupting the UC market like we have not previously seen.
Adoption and consumption
For a communications tool to be widely adopted, it needs to be part of the communications culture within an organization. A successful project is one embraced company-wide, where the technology melds in the foreground and delivers greater reach, fosters deeper relationships with partners and supply chain, and achieves ROI.
With a software-based solution like Skype for Business, adoption challenges can arise. Are people willing to walk away from a phone on their desk? Is the software user interface easy to use? Consumption is the key driver behind successful adoption of new technology.
Monitoring drives adoption
By design, Skype for Business relies on the performance of other software and hardware. The performance of SBCs, the network and endpoints (PC, headset and phones) is critical for Skype for Business success.
To ensure quality of service, you need to monitor the environment and have real visibility into not just network performance, but more importantly, the user experience. What is the voice quality like? Is there a delay or an echo? Are calls dropping out?
End-to-end monitoring enables the IT department to see what the user is experiencing and provide insight into whether the experience is good or bad. It can pinpoint problems quickly for faster resolution. IT can spend its energy on solving the problem rather than identifying where it is. After all, it’s too late when a disgruntled user rings IT to say they’ve had a bad experience. In many cases, the employee will abandon the platform and be resistant to further change.
Ignore the network at your peril. Companies that roll out Skype for Business conferencing capabilities may quickly find network capacity is a problem. If many employees start using high-definition (HD) video conferencing, then you need to consider what it will do to your network and thus your call quality.
A network assessment is mandatory in Microsoft’s FastTrack program (previously Skype Operations Framework) for all deployments moving forward. IR’s UC Assessor, which is certified by Microsoft, is an automated network readiness assessment and testing solution for Skype for Business. It provides the ability to evaluate, troubleshoot and prepare the network for Skype for Business performance. Its capabilities enable IT to identify and resolve network capacity and capability problems in the test environment prior to deployment at scale.
As of early 2017, 21.8% of Microsoft Skype for Business customers now use it for telephony. In addition, of the 43% of companies consolidating all UC features onto a single vendor platform or ecosystem, 54% are doing so on Microsoft.
Rolling out Skype for Business
Select your pilots with caution
Identify and select a contingent pilot group carefully. This group will determine whether you can achieve the adoption you require. Your pilot group should include:
- Tech-savvy users
- Employees most likely to benefit from being early adopters
- Mobile staff working on the road
- Remote staff working from home
If you choose a pilot group and three months later they’ve made zero Skype for Business calls, then you’ve got an adoption issue.
Bring influencers onboard
In the early stages of the rollout, focus on identifying champions to promote Skype for Business and become evangelists for adoption in your company. Leverage the power users to coach other employees on how to use the platform to their benefit. If employees can see value in the platform and how it can help them be more efficient, then they are more likely to adopt the technology.
The power of education
Employees have come to expect high availability and exceptional performance from their communications systems. They don’t care about the technology; they simply want to be able to connect anytime and enjoy a positive experience. Any delays, dropouts or degradation in call quality, and users are quick to complain to IT.
Plan, plan, plan
When rolling out Skype for Business, plan for explosive growth, even at the pilot stage. Assume the feature you’re deploying, whether it’s peer-to-peer calling or external conferencing, is going to be successful and take off. Then plan accordingly. A small pilot can grow organically and if you haven’t planned for this growth, the infrastructure may not be able to manage it. The negative effects can be costly.
Microsoft continues to expand on its UC vision by announcing that it’s adding Skype for Business capabilities to Microsoft Teams. Microsoft’s product roadmap also includes the next Skype for Business Server release occurring in late 2018.
Teams is designed as a collaboration tool. Like Slack, it brings together people in workspaces where they can have conversations, share content, and collaborate in real time. It is also integrated with familiar Office applications, so instead of forcing you to move your SharePoint document libraries, OneNote notes, OneDrive files, or other Office 365 content, Teams allows you to just point to it from within the team channel – and likewise for content accessed through third-party applications like Asana for project and task management.
This means employees will be able to start voice and video meetings, as well as work with Microsoft Office documents, directly within the Microsoft Teams workspace. You can easily move from one collaboration tool to another, preserving the context of the conversations
and ability to share with others.
While working in collaborative spaces on projects can help drive productivity, it won’t take away the underlying requirement for people to ‘jump on a quick call’. Teams can offer a different experience to Skype for Business, but the enterprise communications focus of Skype for Business Server will continue to drive its uptake and adoption for some time.
The expert view
What factors are most important to you when considering UC Management tools for your clients?
First and foremost, tools selected need to be Microsoft certified. This lets us know that the tool has been reviewed and fully ratified by Microsoft to add value to a UC deployment. Ease of procurement and deployment are also important factors, as is how much time it takes us to transfer key skills to clients to make them self-sufficient once we’ve finalized deployment.
How do you compare Prognosis monitoring and troubleshooting capability with other providers?
Whilst we work with a range of UC vendors, Insync Technology is primarily a Microsoft shop, so it’s important that the tools we use align closely with the Microsoft stack. In this environment, Prognosis provides more information, and in a more accessible format, than any alternative we are aware of. Right now, Microsoft UC is in a transitional state: Microsoft Teams will eventually be replacing Skype for Business Online. Using Prognosis ensures that the tools we use today for monitoring and troubleshooting Skype for Business will continue to be the tool we use in a Microsoft Teams centric world.
02 | Moving the dial with Cisco
Most large enterprises have Cisco products in one form or another. The UC giant is considered stable and reliable, and has an extensive product reach. Like Avaya, Cisco is on the road to transitioning from a traditional hardware outfit to a software, cloud and services provider. Cisco has continued to innovate and combined with the company’s acquisition of dominant UC disrupters, most recently BroadSoft, they have a robust offering.
Optimizing your Cisco environment
Cisco deployments scale from SMB environments right up to enterprise, multisite global ecosystems. Regardless of the size of the organization or the number of users, optimizing the ecosystem to provide a great user experience is an important goal for IT/UC teams, yet still presents challenges. Through our experience in working with the largest Cisco deployments across the globe, optimizing your Cisco deployment requires critical considerations.
Managing network bandwidth and performance
As organizations scale and introduce new collaboration tools such as whiteboarding and video calling, network requirements change. A good user experience is key to driving adoption, which in turn increases the ROI of any investments. However, these tools can dramatically impact network performance. Setting network bandwidth alerts can advise teams when systems are reaching their limits, triggering increased resources to avoid any issues. In addition, tracking bandwidth growth over time, by location, can help plan for network expansions where needed most.
Maximizing license usage
Unused software licenses are more common than you think. We have seen organizations with up to 30% of their licenses unused because an office moved or closed and they failed to reassign licenses. Managing end points that will never be used and paying for the licensing that could be deployed elsewhere wastes valuable resources.
Migrating from on-premises to hybrid to cloud
As organizations seek to move their UC workload to the cloud, it is critical to have visibility across both the on-premises and cloud-based solutions. Knowing what on-premises equipment is located where – and being used by whom – is important when managing a cloud migration. Switching off a certain desk phone that looks unused may look great on paper, but if this is the handset servicing the CEO’s remote office, the UC team will hear about it. Visibility also allows organizations to extract maximum return from existing on-premises assets as the migration takes place.
Reducing routing costs
Looking at an organization’s global gateways and their usage allows teams to deliver the best route patterns to take advantage of call cost savings. This may not sound like a big deal, but these insights can save tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the organization.
While Cisco provides a stable and robust environment, issues can arise. Problems often result when changes are made to the UC environment, for example, software updates or the introduction of new hardware such as video endpoints. Change can break things, so the ability to see who made the change, and where and when, is critical to resolution.
Teams managing a Cisco deployment must be able to quickly identify where issues are occurring, with the capability to drill down to the root cause. Contextual data on any issues, provided by a performance management tool, empowers teams to quickly troubleshoot any issues. Knowing an issue exists is the first step, but the contextual data explaining why a certain router is down, or why a particular SBC dropped a call, is the power that allows L0 and L1 engineers to troubleshoot more complex issues. This frees up L2, L3 and L4 engineers to focus on more complex issues and business transformation initiatives.
Spark the future
Cisco Spark, the company’s UCaaS solution, is an app-centric service that connects endpoints to the cloud. Delivered entirely from the Cisco Collaboration Cloud, it helps teams collaborate more effectively, in real time. Connecting meetings, messaging and calling, Spark offers a full cloud-based collaboration tool.
Cisco understands not all organizations will move completely to the cloud, and those that plan to will need time to contend with their existing on-premises investments. Therefore, hybrid deployments will be commonplace for some time yet.
To support organizations running a hybrid environment, Cisco has developed a Spark Hybrid model allowing CUCM, Business Edition 6000 and 7000 and HCS to connect with Cisco Spark for a single integrated user experience.
Change can break things, so the ability to see who made the change, and where and when, is critical to resolution.
03 | Getting the most from your Avaya solution
The new Avaya
When Avaya entered Chapter 11 back in January 2017, many wondered what this would mean for the organization and its thousands of customers across the globe. Over the course of almost a year, the company restructured, selling off non-core parts of the business to allow a more laser focus on the UC and Contact Center offerings. With a new Board and leadership team, the company has openly stated they will transform to become a software, services and cloud solutions provider.
Optimizing Avaya ecosystems
Most organizations running Avaya as their core UC solution will have a mixture of technologies across their ecosystem. While Avaya has developed an extensive suite of in-house collaboration solutions such as video conferencing, many companies still choose to go with channel-specific vendors such as WebEx and Polycom for collaboration.
Getting visibility across this complex multi-vendor environment can prove a challenge. When optimizing your Avaya deployments, consider the following:
As the adoption of services like video increases, how can the organization ensure bandwidth issues are avoided? The last thing the CEO wants is to have issues on a video call with a key customer or investor. Adequate planning on usage and supporting equipment is critical to ensure this type of issue doesn’t happen. Setting alerts for when bandwidth thresholds are met is key.
For organizations running multiple Avaya installations across the globe, including contact centers, it is critical to ensure all licenses paid for are fully utilized. We have seen time and time again, when running audits, customers paying for thousands of licenses that are simply not used. You can also set licensing thresholds, so if the number of available licenses are about to reach a critical level, teams can receive alerts to ensure more are made available.
Will your organization move with Avaya to the cloud, or another provider? And, how will you manage this migration? In this move, it is important to have a clear understanding of the entire ecosystem – what hardware is located where and what can be decommissioned in line with the technology refresh timelines. This extracts maximum value from existing investments, while delivering a smoother experience to the end user.
As mentioned, most Avaya deployments will have a mixture of technology vendors. Therefore, it is critical to provide the teams responsible for managing these deployments with the necessary tools to quickly identify and rectify issues.
Isolating an issue outside the Avaya ecosystem is one thing, but if it is caused by a Polycom video end point, teams may struggle to prove and resolve these issues.
If a certain end point is experiencing poor voice quality, how does this get isolated to the root cause? Is it the SBC, the router, the headset, the Wi-Fi network – the list of potential culprits can be long and tiresome to troubleshoot. This is where a third-party performance and monitoring tool can assist. By providing a holistic view across the entire ecosystem, L0 and L1 engineers can quickly troubleshoot issues, enabling faster resolution. This also frees up L2+ engineers to focus on more complex projects.
04 | Vendor versus third-party monitoring tools
IT leaders rely on UC performance management tools for multiple functions: reporting, performance monitoring, analytics, problem resolution, uptime, event monitoring, auditing, root cause analysis and fault management.
By preventing or shortening outages or slowdowns, companies experience less downtime and fewer related problems such as lost sales and diminished productivity. They can also reduce IT staffing requirements and other operational costs to operate a UCC infrastructure.
According to Nemertes Research (2017) UC performance management tools themselves save more than they cost. Since many IT leaders cite not having budget as a reason to not invest in UC management tools it’s clear there is a gap in awareness. The report found that when organizations use specialty management and monitoring tools, their operational costs are substantially lower than for those who do not use such tools. In addition to lower operational costs, the use of performance management tools has shown to increase user adoption., the use of performance management tools has shown to increase user adoption.
The difference between third-party and vendor monitoring tools
Vendor monitoring tools are made specifically for certain equipment; they monitor only the solutions of the supporting vendor. When it comes to third-party monitoring tools, you get much more. Third-party UC monitoring and troubleshooting tools generally have a multi-vendor capability. Third-party performance management tools have a wider view of the equipment and environment they monitor and manage.
Eliminate silos and connect the dots
If numerous people from various teams are trying to troubleshoot the same issue but from their respective areas, it’s best to have all systems joined together to eliminate silos and see the bigger picture. It’s easier to connect the dots when you can see all the dots on the same page.
Swap finger pointing for evidence-based insights
Have you ever been in a situation where you need information from other teams (network, desktop, network or security) to troubleshoot a current issue? Third-party monitoring tools provide you with deep factual insights. You can use this evidence to drive actions with your vendors or across internal teams, where the issued occurred. You can start resolving the issue faster, rather than wasting time finger pointing.
The downside of out of the box
First-party vendor tools lack customization features, so what you see is what you get. The static nature of out-of-the-box solutions common in first-party vendor monitoring solutions means there is limited depth to available metrics.
It’s key to have vendor-certified solutions in house. This will give you the confidence that the tool is going to work with the equipment you are going to monitor.
05 | Keeping your finger on the pulse
Share with your network
Online communities are a terrific way to get the best tips and advice from peers; whether it’s for a hobby, an industry or a tool you use every day in work. You can share ideas, get advice and receive support all in one place. It’s great for quickly finding answers to everyday queries. There are plenty of UC related online communities from vendor owned e.g. Skype for Business Community to more general like TMC. And good news – IR are relaunching our online Prognosis Community soon!
Access more relevant information
Access helpful tips, videos and resources on the IR Community based on your Prognosis preferences. You can get anything from lines of code from fellow engineers to sneak peeks into customized dashboards and instructions on how to build these out. Find answers, accepted solutions, product documentation, learning and development, support and inspiration from other Prognosis members.
Unified Communications helps enhance communication within your company to better support collaboration and productivity. To read more about UC and how it can work for your business, read the rest of this series: