Managing Cisco Unified Communications from a user-focused perspective is like building a house then managing the people in it. How you ask?
First, let us start by putting aside the technical complexity of Cisco Unified Communications (UC) environments, there is little doubt that managing these environments once they are in place, presents a significant challenge. What years of involvement in Cisco managed services has taught me is, if you thought getting Cisco applications implemented was the hard part, then you have got another thing coming. Think of it as building a house; step one, putting up the structure. With the right expertise, this is a usually a one time job and one that is handed off to properly skilled individuals to complete. Next is the ongoing maintenance and needs management of the people who live in the house; this is a completely different challenge altogether. Cisco UC is exactly the same; you can always engage a skilled Cisco services partner to deploy Unified Communications Manager, Unity Connection, Jabber, UCCX, UCCE and the underlying network infrastructure. Once the components of the UC environment are in place, that is when the real job starts. What happens with employee turnover? What happens with dial plan changes? Services Changes? Upgrades? Hardware changes? Provider integrations? On a positive note, it is never a bad time to begin thinking about your management approach. Lets go through some of the things you need to think about and answer in planning your user focused Unified Communications management approach.
The first question to ask ourselves is, do we really want this to be my problem or someone else’s? In other words, do I want to pay for a qualified managed services company to administer the environment or do I want to resource the support myself? There are also hybrid models that may provide a best of breed option, but may be more difficult to govern overall. The path you choose really does come down to a question of budget and risk tolerance. If you have a high operations budget and a low tolerance for risk with a complex environment, then there is little doubt that getting a third party to manage the environment is a good option. If you are budget conscious and have a reasonable tolerance for risk with an environment that is easier to maintain, resourcing internally may be the less expensive option. The state we really want to get to is managing complex environments with low risk while developing an internally resourced strategy that is effective.
So let’s assume we are planning with that strategy in mind and let’s get back to our house; I know in our house, the first step in maintaining the household is always deciding who will do what? Who has the skill, willingness, and capacity to handle which set of tasks? In the world of Cisco UC, this is no different. Who will manage CUCM, Unity Connection, Jabber, and UCCX/E ? The Cisco native interfaces require such a specialized skill level, that the answer to whom will handle this task is often a one party answer: a highly skilled Cisco trained Telecom team. This is also somewhat inevitable due to the construct of the Cisco UC infrastructure. The infrastructure and the applications are built to be managed as a whole, and not from a user-centric perspective. Therefore, if I get a request to provision a user it is far more about adding devices, lines, voicemail boxes, and agent skills then it is about adding a person and giving them services. On top of that, I need to understand device pools, route partitions, translation patterns, calling search spaces, CSF devices, BOT devices, TCT devices, CTI ports, and all the complexity that the call center brings to the table. So how can I build a cost effective delegated roles strategy, if I always have to rely on a high-cost resource to do that type of change? Typically to implement such a strategy, that is a strategy of managing complex environments with low risk while developing an internally resourced game plan, we need to create tiered support model. For example, a tiered model could be structured where a highly skilled architect group does the architectural and project work, a service desk team does the infrastructure work, a helpdesk team does the user moves, adds, and changes work, and the users themselves have access to a tool that allows them to do basic changes.
So, assuming Cisco won’t drastically change their approach and simplify their platform significantly, how do we get there?
We have to stop thinking about managing Cisco as a group of devices, applications, and servers and start thinking about it as managing users; this is especially true when it comes to moves, adds, changes, and daily operations management. There is a good reason why I am proposing this; it’s how the rest of the organization is structured. No organization, I have ever dealt with, receives ticket requests saying: ” please provision a new MAC address, on port XX, a CSF, with a CTI port to UCCX”. They usually look a lot more like: “please provide our new customer services agent John Smith with a phone”. Perhaps you are lucky enough to work in an organization where more detail is provided, but I am willing to bet that it is still user focused.
I realize that to manage a UC environment this way is not possible using native interfaces; at least not in a straight-forward intuitive manner. We need help. Let’s refer back to our house, if we want someone to help sweep the floor, we should give them a broom, their hand simply will not do. So to be able to manage Cisco UC from a user-focused perspective, we need a better interface, one that supports our above created tier support model and one with an interface that as a first step allows end-users to stop spending their time sending basic requests (think password resets, single number reach destination changes, etc…) and empower them to take immediate action. I know Cisco provides a self-service portal and that may be a fit for some organizations. Ideally, we need an interface that allows our help desk type resources to add/remove user services, provision users, and remove users. The critical factor here is that the interface needs to be intuitive enough for resources without Cisco knowledge, structured enough to enforce consistency, and segregated so it’s not giving users direct administrative access. This structure will alleviate those types of tickets from higher cost resources and minimize the risks enough to make it comfortable. The added benefit would certainly be that assuming the new interface makes these types of tasks simpler, so even the skilled resources should see an increase in their productivity.
Now, like most tools, admission of need is only part of the battle. Similar to needing a vacuum for house-cleaning is obvious, but knowing which one to buy is another issue. There are many tools out there that assist greatly in the management of Cisco UC. In choosing the right solution, there are many things to consider: provisioning, reporting, monitoring, etc… So where do we start? At the sake of being redundant…we need start with a tool that has as its foundation in a user-focused approach. Next, the management platform should not become another platform to manage. Multiple instances of the same tool for each server, site, cluster, or application can become cumbersome. Equally cumbersome is the management of templates or forms for each device or user type. Lastly, the tool should be real-time and not sync. This is the only way to allow for the above-mentioned delegated tiered approach strategy will work while allowing multiple interactions at once. Just think about what happens when someone makes changes in the middle of your LDAP sync with CUCM… Not pretty!
Now with all of these questions answered, it is time to start doing what the rest of the business is doing and asking you for; start managing technology from a user perspective. When you begin managing your approach from this user-centric perspective, not only will you see an increase in customer satisfaction, but also an increase in productivity that will help contribute to the company’s bottom line.
Interested in managing your Cisco Unified Communications from a user management perspective and you would like support in planning your transformation or you would simply like to explore a software solution that can simplify your entire process? Let us know and we would be happy to take you through a demo of our SMACS provisioning tool.
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