10 Demands for UC Management
Here are 10 rights that every enterprise should be demanding from their UC management vendors.
As No Jitter posted late last month, Cisco has created a "WAN Bill of Rights" to articulate 10 principles for next-generation enterprise networking. Compiling these ideas in a single document is not only a good idea but also a repeatable one. In fact, I've applied the Bill of Rights concept to the area of UC management.
As any good American knows, the Bill of Rights comprises the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, giving us those inalienable privileges like freedom of speech and due process. (Granted, should Donald Trump be elected president, this could change, but for now as Americans we expect these things and almost take them for granted.) In UC management, also known as business communications operations management (BCOM), no such list of rights exists today.
BCOM is pretty much mandatory for UC-as-a-service (UCaaS) providers today. They understand the difficulty of managing sophisticated UC platforms without automation, and have invested heavily in this area. For the enterprise, most UC vendors have begun offering management tools as well, aiming to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for customers. However, UC vendors really do not understand management. As a result, you will find most vendor-based management tools fall short of achieving the sort of operational efficiencies that UCaaS providers can deliver.
Frankly, it's a free for all, with each vendor providing what it thinks you need to manage its environment -- the primary objective being to lock you into its technology, of course. With this in mind, I've crafted 10 rights that every enterprise should be demanding from BCOM vendors.
1. A genuine lower TCO. Every vendor says it lowers TCO, but most of the time that's about as real as The Donald's hair. To truly lower TCO, a BCOM vendor must be able to do each of the following:
- Implement changes faster by reducing the time taken to perform moves, adds, and changes
- Simplify move, add, change, delete processes so even non-technical administrators can run day-to-day operations, allowing highly skilled, highly paid engineers to focus elsewhere
- Make change processes repeatable and predictable to eliminate errors. The system needs to be intuitive, and data needs to be easily accessible by anyone using the system
2. User-centric service management with business-relevant service profiles. Communication systems are typically device- and line-centric. However, from a business perspective, companies want to know which services and devices their users have, not the other way around. BCOM tools should be able to overlay underlying technical systems with a user-centric view.
3. Centralized and distributed control. A BCOM tool should allow for centralized control of the entire communications system while providing regional business units or subagencies with secure access, ideally through a Web-based portal. You should be able to remove complexity by allowing:
- Horizontal access - that is, expose only the subunit's users, services, and devices, but at multiple levels or roles
- Vertical access - limit administration rights to a subset of simple tasks based on user role with the flexibility to redefine multiple roles, each with its own rights
- Full flexibility -- no limit placed on the number of horizontal or vertical levels
- Self-service capabilities for the end-user role
4. Adaptivity. The management solution must be able to adapt to meet the needs of any organization's business processes or IT systems. Enterprises too often must modify their processes to fit tools, and this can have a disruptive effect. The BCOM software should be adaptable, without requiring a major recoding effort and without affecting the level of effort to maintain it. For example, customizing features shouldn't cost a fortune in consulting fees. Some examples of features I have seen that increase the level of adaptability are GUI display policies, integrated knowledge systems, and wizard-based interfaces for multistep processes.
5. Extensibility, and future-proofing for transformative work styles. The system should support the full range of UC applications (voice, video, messaging, collaboration, mobility, presence, customer care), as well as the gamut of end-user devices (deskphones, softphones, smartphones, tablets). BCOM tools should support many of the trends that are transforming the workplace and the way people work. Examples include: teleworking, cloud-based collaboration, bring your own device, application integration, and user self-service capabilities.
6. Multivendor management. This separates many of the BCOM tools from the third-party platforms. Despite what UC vendors will tell you, no solutions provider stands out as best in class across all UC tools -- and that means multivendor deployments will be the norm. BCOM platforms must support multivendor environments, giving companies the flexibility to choose whichever vendors they want to use. In addition, it's not enough to just manage the UC applications; BCOM tools must manage the interconnection between vendors, migration from one vendor to another, and a phone number inventory across vendors.
7. An abstracted and virtualized control plane. As I discussed in my recent post, "Software-Defined UC: Way Overdue, BCOM needs to abstract all of the key configuration variables away from the infrastructure and centralize the policy and rules into a virtual control plane. This then allows for the central management and configuration of all of the key variables, so that they no longer need to be configured directly on each and every infrastructure element, including areas such as: device profiles, service configuration templates, number plans and inventory, and dial plan call flow rules.
8. Multidimensional UC orchestration and API interface. BCOM tools need to provide orchestration of the complete UC lifecycle (design, build, deploy, operate, and optimize), the entire voice network (PSTN gateways, analog gateways, SIP trunks, session management controllers, and session border controllers). Ideally, the tools would integrate with internal HR, CRM, trouble-ticket and other IT systems. The key to orchestration and integration is a rich set of APIs with the following attributes:
- Full feature parity for all commands
- Support for notification APIs (i.e., event-based triggers)
- Stability (i.e., a new feature/version of the underlying UC vendor should not mean a change to the API calls)
- Advanced and standardized (e.g., REST APIs)
9. Business analytics. One of the most critical requirements for BCOM tools is the ability to analyze and report on business events. Only by measuring something can improvements be made. Areas of importance include:
- General reporting, by business unit or agency
- License consumption, by unit
- Inventory management
- Adoption rates (i.e., to review whether services are being used effectively)
10. A dynamic, not disruptive, system. Businesses are not static, but rather they change all the time. BCOM systems must be able to keep pace with operational change or diversification, without disruption. Areas of importance include:
- Ability to add new UC services as needed
- Seamless initial migration, with low incident rates
- Scalability and resiliency
- Secure architecture design (ask to see penetration testing results)
- Global support and services organization
When you are looking to implement BCOM (and you should be), insist on these 10 "rights." And don't just accept your primary UC vendor's packaged toolset ( just as you should be questioning Mr. Trump's suitability for president).