Don't Be Blindsided by Phone Number Mismanagement
If you're still using Excel to manage your phone numbers, you're likely headed for a world of hurt.
Phone number management might not be the sexiest topic around, but boy, can passions rise when things go wrong.
I know I sure wouldn't want to be the enterprise communications manager in charge of phone number management when the CEO can't dial in to a conference call with potential investors or when headquarters goes silent because of numbering snafus. Would you?
Certainly your answer is an emphatic, "No." But I fear I can say with as much certainty that you haven't given phone number management the attention it needs to assure such situations don't happen at your company.
Trends and technologies such as unified communications (UC), mobility, number portability and click to call have pushed phone number management beyond what an enterprise communications manager can reasonably do within Excel, today's default. Yet, as presenters during Wednesday's Unimax-sponsored No Jitter/Enterprise Connect webinar on automated phone number management noted, most haven't shifted away from it yet. (The webinar, "Automated Phone Number Management Builds ROI for Lync, Avaya, Cisco Deployments," is now available on demand.)
The situation can get particularly dicey within enterprises that have multiple UC platforms. On the telephony side of the house, the folks responsible for managing the organization's Avaya or Cisco PBX might be well enough on top of number management. But, as presenter Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, pointed out, the idea of number management might never cross the minds of the application or messaging team members deploying Lync with voice. And even if everybody recognizes the need to manage numbers and is on the same page in doing so, Excel no longer suffices -- or if it does now it won't for long if your communications environment is getting as complex as many are.
"Excel is an awesome tool, but it becomes very, very difficult in a spreadsheet to deal with discontiguous number ranges and certainly over time the quality of data goes down ... and they'll have a whole bunch of problems with that," Kieller said.
Reliability is one problem. Assigning one number to two devices can wreak all sorts of havoc, such as either of the scenarios I described above. This can be particularly troublesome for UC deployments, given the challenge many enterprises have with user adoption. "Users' faith in a system can be greatly degraded by a simple typing mistake," Kieller noted.
Equally, or perhaps even more, problematic is what happens when an enterprise loses track of numbers that are available for reassignment but never make it back into the pool of available numbers. As Phil Edholm, president and founder of PKE Consulting and a second presenter noted, this wasn't a problem in the old days when reassigning a hard-wired office phone line from the old to new employee was an essential to-do for office staff. Such transparency disappears with VoIP, as devices can move about the network and are no longer tied to a specific location corresponding to their number; numbers get lost along the way, he said.
That's bad news for the communications budget because in the IP world numbers equate to licenses -- and licenses cost, Edholm said.
The cost for a typical communications system breaks down roughly into thirds -- the initial purchase; ongoing support and maintenance, which is tied to the number of lines assigned to an organization; and internal administration and operations, he explained. Say 30% of your assigned lines aren't actually being used any longer, but you've failed to notice that via your Excel-based, manual management processes. "So 30% of 33% is in fact 10% of your total cost ... may be being spent on things you've lost track of." Ouch.
Another number management issue with which enterprises must contend is the disconnect between the data in the spreadsheet and the data in the native system reports, added Teresa Dixon, director of product management at Unimax. The fix, she said, comes when enterprises have an organized, end-to-end view of all purchased numbers that automatically aligns with the managed systems themselves. With such an approach, "anyone who needs a number can confidently and quickly find that information."
Unimax's NumberPro, a Web-based number inventory database, is an enabler of that enterprise-wide view. NumberPro simplifies phone number management, including in multivendor environments, by:
• Automatically synchronizing with managed systems to insure accuracy
• Providing the next available number in a range
• Providing numbers in the native system format while keeping track of the underlying number
• Issuing a notification when any given range is running low on numbers
• Protecting against erroneous number reuse
And, from the all-important budget perspective, NumberPro can help ensure that an organization isn't buying more numbers than it needs.
Dixon suggested that virtually any business needing to manage phone numbers -- ahem, that's every company -- could benefit from NumberPro. But most certainly any organization with more than 3,000 numbers is a prime target, she added.
At $5,000, including installation, NumberPro may very well be worth a close look. Unless you like living with the fear of your CEO's wrath.
(Again, you can check out the webinar replay on demand here.)
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