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The Yin and Yang of Unified Communications

In Chinese philosophy, the concept of yin and yang describes how contrary forces are, in reality, complementary. The idea is that opposites -- such as light and dark, fire and water -- are actually interconnected and interdependent on one another for their existence. In order to have one, you must also have the other.

Much like the dualities that exist in nature, the flexibility and versatility that make unified communications (UC) so powerful and compelling are also what make UC deployments so complex and difficult to execute and manage. Today's workforce connects via a multitude of multi-purpose devices, over a wide range of networks and locations, using a variety of modalities. When an issue arises during a call, there are any number of unique combinations that could have resulted in the call's poor quality.

Pinpointing the root cause of the issue without the appropriate resources in place would be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. It's here that enterprises struggle the most. How can companies operationally get a handle on managing their UC environments, particularly when it comes to voice quality, service availability and end-user satisfaction? The answer to this question is two-part: (1) implement the right level of instrumentation, and (2) leverage the proper expertise. By taking these steps, enterprises can dramatically improve overall UC incident management, and significantly increase user adoption.

All too often when enterprises begin to engineer their UC infrastructure, they do so without considering the associated technologies needed to make an end-to-end UC solution. UC ecosystems are highly dependent on an array of technologies -- including data networks, telephony gateways and TDM services -- that are typically outside the purview of the IT team in charge of UC. If an issue arises in any one of these areas, it could significantly impact end-user satisfaction with the UC network. Without the ability to monitor all of these domains, IT is severely handicapped in its capacity to identify the root cause of problems impacting call quality. As a result, incident escalation rises, time to resolution lengthens, and user adoption suffers, because IT is forced to function in a reactive mode.

Successful UC management doesn't happen overnight, but with the right tools in place IT can dramatically shift the odds in its favor. Synthetic monitoring solutions enable enterprises to monitor UC service availability from the perspective of the end user. They allow IT to take into account all the infrastructure dependencies that impact call quality, and continuously monitor performance across the entire ecosystem. When outages occur within the environment, IT can quickly identify big problems, as well as see intermittent issues that can then be proactively addressed to minimize, and often times prevent, impact to end users. From this vantage point, companies have the level of visibility they need to effectively manage their UC environments.

In a nutshell, the right UC management solution:

Employing the right management solution is a good start, but it's only half the answer to the UC management equation. If IT doesn't have the necessary expertise to address issues once they've been identified, then the software itself isn't very useful. When enterprises find themselves in this position, leveraging a remote managed services team can be a game changer.

Enlisting a third-party, managed services provider to run your UC environment has many tangible benefits. First and foremost, managed services teams specialize in the knowledge needed to run a successful UC environment. Not only do they have the expertise to handle the complexity of UC, but they also have years of collective experience running UC environments across multiple customers, allowing the team to apply real-world learnings across the board. With their unique skills set, UC managed services providers can unburden enterprises of the four biggest IT headaches related to UC services: system health and stability, personnel and training costs, IT expertise and bandwidth, and end-user productivity. By freeing itself of the UC management workload, IT can then focus on other forward-looking strategies, and manage mission-critical operations areas to deliver on core business functions.

A key point to remember when using a remote managed services provider is to make sure that the right software is in place to automate the monitoring and analysis of your UC environment. A strong software automation platform provides huge value by increasing management efficiency and lowering costs to the managed services provider. The added upside of this cost savings is that it can ultimately be passed through to you, the customer.

In the end, the opposing, yet complementary, forces behind unified communications are ultimately what make the system so compelling. Where else in technology can people be brought together by giving them the freedom to choose how, when, and where they want to communicate? To enable this level of boundary-less communication, enterprises need to understand the yin and yang of UC, and embrace the interrelational elements that must interact to form a dynamic system. By combining subject matter expertise with end-to-end, automated monitoring, enterprises can entrust the management of their UC environments to the experts, and effortlessly balance the duality of UC to experience high-quality, integrated, real-time communications.

Here more from Alan on this subject at Enterprise Connect, where he will be leading the session, "Skype for Business Open Forum: Tactical Tips & Strategic Guidance," on Wednesday, March 9, from 1:30 - 2:15.

Learn more about management and security trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2016, March 7 to 10, in Orlando, Fla. View the Management and Security track sessions; register now using the code NJPOST to receive $200 off the current conference price.

Alan Shen leads the Unify Square Consulting and Success Services practice, and brings over 10 years of Microsoft experience as a senior program manager in the Mobility, Networking and Office Communications Server groups. Alan is a regular speaker at Microsoft Skype for Business technical events, including Microsoft Ignite, TechReady, Enterprise Connect and TechEd. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering and an M.S. in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Washington.