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UC Round Table: Service Management

#Table #Service #Management

Unified communications service management has always been a complex task. Successfully overseeing the administration, monitoring, and optimisation of (very often) several communications and collaboration platforms that encompass voice, video, messaging, and more within a business takes a Herculean effort and great expertise. The dramatic proliferation of AI and automation products further complicates service management, as empowering as many of their features will be for business users.

As the technology that underpins UC services becomes more advanced and elaborate, new challenges are created just as more antiquated ones are addressed. However, organisations can introduce various measures and tools for a more streamlined approach to service management.

With our latest Round Table subject, “Service Management“, we spoke with experts and executives from Unimax, Nuwave and VOSS Analytics about the key challenges organisations face in managing UC services and how to overcome them, the most effective service management tools, and what role AI and automation will play in UC service management.

What are the key challenges organisations face when managing unified communications (UC) services, and how can these challenges be effectively addressed?

David Spears
David Spears

David Spears, Chief Product Officer at Nuwave

Spears acknowledges that integrating and managing UC services has become a complex venture for organisations. “The promise of UC lies in its ability to integrate communication tools seamlessly, but organisations often grapple with challenges that hinder optimal utilisation,” Spears said.

Spears listed several critical challenges in managing UC services in 2023, including visibility, where “organisations often struggle to gain a comprehensive view of their UC services, making it difficult to ensure optimal service quality, manage users, and configure settings”.

Spears also noted the problem of MACD (Move, Add, Change, Delete), where regular changes within the organisation can make it challenging to keep the UC system updated and functioning smoothly. Additionally, monitoring and analysing network traffic can be essential to guarantee good service, which requires “proper tools”.

Carrier response times are also critical, as delays from carriers can impact the efficiency and effectiveness of UC services. Meanwhile, accurate and timely reporting is crucial to evaluate and improve the cloud UC system’s performance and voice service use for budgeting. Another challenge is that merging UC services with third-party solutions can create compatibility and functionality issues.

Other challenges that Spears included are growth without infrastructure investment, OSS/BBs integrations, unique integration requirements, cost and go-to-market efficiency, and programme alignment.

Phil Moen, President and CEO at Unimax

Moen asserted that a significant management challenge companies will face over time is the increase in systems, endpoints, licenses, and system functionality, particularly as UCaaS systems become more sophisticated.

The number of channels and modalities will only grow over time, and companies will be more likely than ever to have multiple communication system vendors in their environment. To address these challenges, companies should invest early in a multi-vendor management platform which can automate workflows with triggers, templates, and adaptable user-based databases.”

Moen also suggested that having a single UC service management platform allows the organisation to push the solution closer to the problem by “enabling help desk engineers to make otherwise complicated changes for end-users simply and, indeed, all the way to the end users themselves through self-service”.

“These capabilities reduce overall management costs, ensure SLAs are met and often beaten, and increase user adoption when allowed to tweak their own user experience,” Moen continued.

Bill Dellara, Chief Product Officer at VOSS

Dellara cited three common hurdles that VOSS’s customers face, the first being complexity.

“Navigating multiple UC systems and portals to gain a comprehensive view of all components that support and potentially affect their UC experience is a common hurdle,” Dellara explained. “They need to implement management and performance tools that include UC apps, end-user devices, networks, Internet connections, remote work environments, and more.”

Dellara’s second common problem is balancing cost and value, where managing expenses and maximising RoI is crucial. “This involves efficiently handling licenses, optimising investments in assets such as meeting rooms and end-user devices and addressing operational costs and the scarcity of skilled resources,” he added.

Dellara’s final common issue is meeting end-user and business expectations. As UC and collaboration tools become increasingly critical to business strategy, user and business demands have grown accordingly. “This includes ensuring that the right capabilities are in place, promoting user adoption and utilisation of these tools, and staying agile by transitioning between solutions to meet changing business needs, both in terms of functionality and cost-effectiveness,” Dellara said.

How can service management tools help large organisations running multiple UC platforms or perhaps migrating from one to another?

Bill Dellara
Bill Dellara

Bill Dellara, Chief Product Officer at VOSS

Dellara highlighted that, in 2023, more and more businesses will operate in constant transition.

“Even when attempting to maintain a single UC platform as a foundation, it’s inevitable that additional vendors will be involved, including end-user devices, session border controllers (SBCs), customer experience solutions, and more,” he continued. “Consequently, even routine UC deployments take on a multi-platform nature from an operational standpoint. And the larger the organisation, the more complex the UC platform.”

Dellara stressed that the most effective service management tools are vendor-agnostic and purpose-built to streamline the management and integration of these multi-vendor solutions, allowing businesses to unify their service delivery, optimise resources, and manage it all from a single point of control.

For instance, helpdesk agents can efficiently handle requests for all solutions, eliminating the need for separate teams or specialised training in various vendor interfaces and technologies. This unified perspective across the entire infrastructure simplifies the process of assessing the current estate and automating the transition of services and solutions as necessary to align with evolving business objectives.”

David Spears, Chief Product Officer at Nuwave

Spears noted multiple service management tools that have become the cornerstone for businesses running UC platforms, including unified vendor management. “These tools can help organisations manage multiple vendors, carriers, and third-party solutions seamlessly through automation, orchestration, and provisioning of many services like voice, cloud platform or 3rd party services with required integration,” Spears said.

Spears also highlighted that migration support can help transition between platforms or integrate multiple platforms to become more manageable with dedicated migration tools. Meanwhile, tools like iPILOT offer platform flexibility: “Organisations can switch between various platforms like Microsoft, Zoom, and Cisco or even integrate them”.

Spears underlined that modern tools enable voice between cloud and legacy systems and support extension dialling for legacy integration. In contrast, organisations can allow users on multiple platforms while maintaining efficient management through a single pane of glass.

Phil Moen, President and CEO at Unimax

Moen said that service management tools assist in various issues originating from running multiple UC platforms in one environment. “A single management UI layer over such vendors allows visibility otherwise impossible, such as seeing and modifying user settings on multiple vendors simultaneously,” Moen explained.

“Additionally, provisioning becomes much easier when adding new users across multiple vendors with one workflow or even automatically triggered through a directory change or from a service catalogue inside an ITSM system,” Moen continued. “Major benefits are provided with a single platform during system adds (think adding a collaboration tool like Teams) or even same-vendor migrations (think Cisco UCM to Webex Calling).”

Moen elaborated that deep analytics should help before migrations can occur as they can remove unwanted chaff from the legacy environment to help produce a cleaner future database or a new utility that was previously unavailable. “A service management tool would be able to rapidly find, sort and filter this data so, as an example, migration groups can be formed when there is a communication relationship between parties,” Moen said.

“An example is moving a Hunt Group on an Avaya Communication Manager into a new Team’s Response Group. To preserve the business use case, these users must move together.”

Finally, Moen mentioned that migrations involve environments that house both a legacy system and a future system while groups are migrated. “It is essential that the company be able to draw on legacy settings and data as users move between the systems, which for some companies can last a year or more,” he added. “A centralised management platform can be utilised to see and move those users between systems and critically provide necessary user data to enable a seamless transition.”

What role does (or will) artificial intelligence and automation play in UC service management, and how can organisations leverage these technologies to streamline operations and enhance the overall UC user experience?

Phil Moen
Phil Moen

Phil Moen, President and CEO at Unimax

For Moen, AI and automation can be incredibly useful in managing UC systems. However, for AI to be effective, there must be a significant collection of data across users and systems.

“Since management platforms naturally collect this data, machine learning becomes possible, and behavioural patterns can be found along with useful recommendations about how to improve the business case or the user experience,” Moen said.

For automation, UC service management tools offer different ways to remove the human from the function. “A trigger can occur in one system, be found, and cause a ripple of dozens of automated actions, saving the company vast cost savings with fewer human-caused errors,” Moen explained. “In addition, the speed at which these users have changes made for them.”

“Consider provisioning a Cisco user with a phone, two lines, and membership in a group along with a Teams user with select channel membership added based on role and the time that would be saved if that user provisioning was fully automated,” Moen continued. “The user would be able to begin utilising their assets in a fraction of the time that it would take a work ticket to find its way to an engineer and for that engineer to perform the functions across multiple platforms.”

David Spears, Chief Product Officer at Nuwave

For Spears, AI and automation will revolutionise UC service management, firstly through efficiency, as automation can streamline operations. Automation can also “handle reminders and catalogue tasks, ensuring nothing slips through the cracks”.

Spears also underscored that voice activation and speech recognition can simplify tasks and enhance user experience, while AI can help reduce support times to improve efficiency.

Spears underlined that AI “can optimise operations, leading to a reduction in overhead costs”, as well as expediting the training process to make it easier to onboard new personnel.

Bill Dellara, Chief Product Officer at VOSS

Dellara argued that automation plays a critical role in UC service management as it can unlock substantial benefits in cost reduction and ensuring maximum value from the UC platforms.

“Service management tools excel in providing automation across various facets of UC solutions, including configuration management (e.g., user onboarding), troubleshooting, and service validation,” Dellara expanded. “These capabilities significantly enhance service delivery efficiency, leading to cost savings and improving critical metrics like user experience. Ultimately, this helps organisations drive greater business success and value from their UC estate.”

Dellara outlined that integrating AI and machine learning adds even more significant potential for automation, especially in areas such as troubleshooting, service enhancement, and compliance. “These models rely on data, and service management tools acting as consolidation points are ideally positioned to harness the power of these technologies,” Dellara said.

“This integration promises enhanced issue predictions, further optimisation of actions, and intelligent automated issue resolution. However, it is essential to address key considerations like security and cost while exploring the exciting potential of these technologies.”