The Ultimate UC Management and Provisioning Automation Guide for CTOs and IT Managers
The Future of Unified Communications is Automation
As hybrid work goes mainstream and the adoption of modern communication tools accelerates, enterprise organizations and managed service providers are turning to Unified Communications (UC) Management and Provisioning platforms to automate the lifecycle of enterprise communications services and the voice network infrastructures that support them.
Automating internal operations has a significant impact on the IT Admin experience, in addition to reducing operating costs, increasing efficiency and productivity, and boosting end-user satisfaction. It frees up IT teams from carrying out time-consuming, mundane tasks and helps them focus on more rewarding aspects of their roles.
Organizations that do it right will realize gains across employee happiness, productivity, inclusion, and innovation.
About this Guide
This guide provides an overview of the benefits and demand for UC Management and Provisioning Automation and the positive impact it has on IT productivity in a hybrid world and the employee experience as a whole. It explores what we mean by UC Management and lists the must-have capabilities to look for in a provider. Finally, we outline how to implement a UC Management and Provisioning solution and measure its success.
What is Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC)?
Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) is the collection of technology and software integrated to optimize business processes, improve connectivity and increase user productivity.
Unified Communications and Collaboration includes components such as voice, voicemail, unified messaging, presence tracking, web and video conferencing, meeting rooms, collaboration, document sharing, live chat, email, and a host of other services spanning both synchronous and asynchronous communication methods. Some of the most common platforms include Avaya, Microsoft Teams, Webex by Cisco and Zoom, among others.
What is Unified Communications (UC) Automation?
Automation offers a substantial transformation in the way that Unified Communications solutions are deployed and managed within a company.
UC automation significantly simplifies the complexity of UC environments for a large organization, enabling tangible productivity gains for IT by automating repetitive and complex operations and multi-step workflow processes. This improves administration efficiency, while at the same time lowering operational costs (TCO).
The benefits are multi-faceted. Automation and delegation reduce the skill levels required to handle UC administration, freeing up highly skilled engineers to focus on more value-adding tasks, improving job satisfaction. These capabilities also enhance the user experience and generally optimize resource utilization. End-user configuration changes, for example, can be addressed with more immediacy and lead to much higher SLAs.
This all results in a major return on investment for UC automation.
What is a UC Management and Provisioning Automation Platform?
UC Management refers to software platforms and services that organizations employ to command, control, and automate the provisioning and deprovisioning of UC services across their employee base. It includes, but is not limited to, apps for meetings, voice, messaging, and presence, as well as other critical business tools such as directories, voice recording, or auto-attendant applications.
A UC Management platform centralizes and streamlines UC administration tasks from a single pane of glass, offering a clear view across the entire organization. This leads to:
- Higher productivity, often by an order of magnitude in terms of time to value
- Cost- and time-savings, as more tasks get automated and delegated to non-technical administrators
- Fewer human errors, as repeatable tasks are executed by automation workflows
- A better employee experience for all, with more job satisfaction and higher retention rates
A UC Management and Provisioning Automation platform can support organizations throughout the lifecycle of a UC service:
- Through the design and building of the UC platform
- Through migration or deployment of devices and UC applications onto the platform
- Through day-to-day administration and operations
- As the platform needs to be upgraded, scaled to a larger size, or to accommodate mergers and acquisitions
Why do Organizations Need a UC Management Platform?
Although they may not formally refer to them as UC Management, the majority of organizations today have some form of the core functionality in place already. Most frequently these are in-house solutions that have been pieced together and developed over time with the deployment of critical IT infrastructure.
When an organization reaches a certain size however, the reasons for deploying a formal UC Management platform become much clearer. Once an organization exceeds a headcount of 1000 employees, the firm will start to realize a positive ROI on the investment in such a solution.
Taking a unified approach to UC Management in today’s hybrid environments is more important than ever. The global unified communications market is expected to have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20% percent between 2021 and 2028, underscoring their utility and that these tools are here to stay.
What are the key business drivers for deploying a UC Management platform?
ROI is a crucial consideration when assessing the advantages of most business applications, but it is not the only metric for quantifying UC efficiency. Deploying a UC Management platform can result in cost reductions that can help enterprises in real ways. Organizations can integrate a variety of services that IT or end users may have deployed by implementing a single platform which can help lower associated subscription or management costs.
UC Management provides a single platform to help drive efficiency, optimization of resources, user experience, and productivity — and, at the same time, lower operational costs.
IT and communications ecosystems are for the most part highly fragmented in terms of the suppliers and vendor systems in use. Any organization that has been operating for more than a few years will be managing a broad spectrum of critical and legacy applications. The proliferation and ease of use of SaaS offerings in recent years can make it challenging for IT departments to keep track of the tools being used by employees on a daily basis.
Multi-vendor environments can be the temporary result of a management decision to move from one technology vendor to another, but it can also be the result of mergers and acquisitions. Regardless of cause, many IT managers who are experts in one technology may lack the skills to manage be another vendor’s solution, creating inefficiencies and bottlenecks.
A UC Management platform provides enterprises with the opportunity to save time and boost productivity. Whether an organization has UC applications from Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, or Zoom, they will benefit from a user-centric software solution that is easy to use, readily configurable, and ultra-scalable, leading to a more efficient use of IT resources and more empowered teams.
On-premises, Cloud or Hybrid Environments
The advent and increasingly widespread availability and adoption of cloud technologies has driven the migration of UC from on-premises environments to the cloud, often as part of a UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) solution.
In much the same way that IT teams must navigate a fragmented landscape of applications from different vendors, they also find themselves managing a hybrid of on-premises and cloud environments. Administration across these hybrid environments can be a challenge.
There is no right or wrong approach here—each approach has its pros and cons. While on-premises solutions arguably provide greater levels of security and control, they require the expertise of in-house IT professionals that only adds to their relatively larger upfront cost.
However, on-premises systems lack the agility and scalability of more modern products and infrastructures. Adding new features or applications to on-premises systems can be time-consuming and resource-hungry tasks.
UCaaS provides organizations with significant advantages over on-premises systems. In addition to being more flexible, organizations can reduce capital expenses on upfront hardware and move to a more predictable, subscription-based operating model where they buy what they need when they need it.
UC Management platforms, with their agility and extensibility, provide a way to cope with on-prem, cloud, and hybrid architectures from a centralized point of control. This gives resource-strapped IT teams an advantage in that they can use the platform to provision users, endpoints, or resources easily, regardless of location or technology.
Endpoints and Device Management
IT teams today are responsible for managing an increasing number of endpoints and devices as well as a growing diversity of devices as more and more softphone applications proliferate. According to some estimates the average enterprise needs to handle up to 135,000 endpoint devices.
BYOD, with or without company approval, continues to be a challenge in terms of end point device management. The pandemic saw a huge uptick in the number of personal devices being used to connect to corporate systems. UC Management platforms can provide a hub or single pane of glass view of an ever-evolving ecosystem, keeping control of access where it belongs—with IT.
Interoperability Between UC Platforms and ITSM and HRIS Systems
The long-term success of UC depends on interoperability. Organizations need it to concentrate on adding value rather than trying to fix issues that happen when IT systems don’t communicate well with one another.
To ensure that IT services fulfill the demands placed upon them now and in the future, many organizations have implemented structured IT Service Management (ITSM) approaches. Automation of service delivery and management, frequently through the use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA), is a significant component of ITSM. RPA makes it possible to use programmed bots in place of manual, repetitive operations.
Interoperability with ITSM and Human Resource Information System (HRIS) software platforms are used to simplify the management of employees, business processes, and data. For organizations running various UC platforms, integrating UC administration with ITSM and HR platforms for provisioning and continuing management minimizes staff time needed for operational management and maintenance activities as well as the possibility of misconfiguration.
IT Productivity and Job Satisfaction
The ability to effectively manage a variety of communications applications from a single platform frees up IT teams to concentrate on how they can deliver value to the business, rather than spending their time providing help desk support. It also prevents employees from looking for communications tools that are not under IT control.
For instance, employees using their own devices are often a source of concern for IT security teams. End users who gain access to network resources via unprotected devices expose the entire organization to malware threats and data loss. UC Management platforms offer more flexibility and transparency by letting users choose the communications tool they want to use without creating security vulnerabilities.
In addition, with the time savings gained, highly trained and qualified IT staff can turn to more strategic and satisfying work, increasing job satisfaction and improving retention rates.
How does UC Management Affect the Employee Experience?
The employee experience is everything, and in a remote or hybrid working world it is harder than ever to engender a positive experience. Retention has less to do today with money and job security than with job satisfaction and well-being.
Putting aside the very clear business drivers for seamless onboarding that enable employees to get up to speed and productive as soon as possible on day one, when it comes to the employee experience first impressions are everything and a seamless onboarding process is a key part of that process.
Every organization will have a different approach to onboarding. An employee’s team or manager will have a set of business priorities, HR will play a key role in the onboarding, as will IT and possibly the accounts team. Even in today’s automated world, at many organizations the steps in an onboarding process remain paper-based or have very manual processes. For other organizations, the process will take place in a fragmented landscape of disparate and disjointed systems. The right UC Management platform can deliver workflow automation to provides seamless onboarding across this terrain.
Providing employees with the option to use a self-service portal to solve day-to-day issues on their own lightens the load for IT and HR while empowering the employee. They no longer need to remember which department or individual is responsible for different applications and aspects of their role. A self-service portal can help deliver a more personalized and customizable experience.
Self-service portals also help reduce email traffic and minimize inbox clutter for individual employees, helping them prioritize and action communications more efficiently. If and when an employee raises a ticket, the portal can also provide greater transparency in terms of how any issue is being resolved, as opposed to leaving a voice message or sending an email to an admin alias.
Make Technology Invisible, Focus on the Job at Hand
Technology should be an enabler rather than a barrier. One of the most common complaints in the workplace revolves around how an application slows an employee or business down. Whether it is an HR system used for booking paid time off, an accounts system used for reclaiming expenses, or a business process tool used to carry out day-to-day work.
Technology should be simple and intuitive. The less an employee needs to worry about whether the technology will work or whether they’re using tech correctly, the more they can focus on adding value to the business, and the more fulfilled they will feel.
Hybrid work is here to stay and is becoming more crucial than ever for businesses to “future-proof” the UC technologies they invest in. Working from home, virtual catchups, and hybrid meetings are now well-embedded in our daily routine: according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics 85% of employees prefer the work-from-anywhere model. Employee expectations are changing, and organizations need to adapt to these changes if they want to retain staff.
The more flexible an organization can be in terms of where, when, and how its employees can work, the better it will be in terms of improving employee happiness. A UC Management platform can take the pain out of using HR and IT systems, it can put control directly into the hands of employees and it can do this while maintaining organizational control and security.
Key Features of a UC Management Platform
- A Single pane of glass for multiple UC interfaces. UC Management tools consolidate the administration of the growing array of UC applications, unify day to day operations from a single pane of glass, simplify complex IT workflows, and eliminate the need to learn and manage different vendor portals. This reduces the time taken to perform the tasks and the risk of errors.
- Enables access to IT tickets from the same interface. Integrating a single pane of glass with an IT service management (ITSM) solution such as ServiceNow, enables IT admins to see tickets from a centralized place, reducing the risk of missing them if they were to sit in a different user interface.
- Automates provisioning to drive efficiency and reduce errors. Automation can drive high-level efficiency in user provisioning by automating repetitive tasks and designing packages that correspond to the needs and permissions of different user segments. Automating provisioning can drive efficiency by minimizing or eliminating manual intervention for validation of service-level access and updating changes in employee profiles in the different UC systems in an enterprise.
- Eliminates repetitive tasks. The same principle applies to “moves, adds, changes, and deletions” (MACDs), as IT admins can save time by performing the tasks from a centralized place instead of using different interfaces and vendor portals.
- Zero-touch provisioning. Increasing automation has given rise to the concept of zero-touch provisioning, or the need for no manual intervention when provisioning users. Vendors have increased the level of automation to minimize human intervention, making the process simpler, more efficient, and less error prone. Automating the provisioning process involves integrating with companies’ active directories, which enables IT admins to seek validation for service-level access through a centralized interface — eliminating the need to repeat the process for each service.
- Reduces manual intervention in longer template forms. As UC features grow and become more complex, ser profile templates have become correspondingly longer. For example, in addition to assigning numbers and basic calling features, employees may be entitled to single number reach (SNR) to divert calls to mobile phones when they are unable to take calls on desk phones. For employees who hot-desk, admins will need to activate extension mobility by adding the relevant configurations to the device’s profile. Manually filling out a long template with many fields could be tedious, time consuming, and error prone.
- Makes it easy to allocate numbers. Provisioning of phone numbers is an important feature in UC Management solutions. This involves generating a list of unused numbers when a phone number is being assigned to a new user. This is achieved by integrating the UC Management platform with the company’s phone number inventory. When filling in the relevant field, a dropdown menu brings up a list of unused numbers for the IT admin to choose from. There are options to see reserved numbers that are free but cannot be assigned and numbers that were recently in use to prevent calls meant for the previous user. IT admins can also pre-set the date when the number should go live.
- Bulk administration. Bulk administration and provisioning features easily enable Admins to create or delete multiple users and devices from a single file, with no scripting necessary. This capability significantly reduces the time and effort that would otherwise be required, particularly when the need arises to provision hundreds or even thousands of users and devices.
- Efficient migration. There are different scenarios in which migration can take place, but a good solution needs to support multiple data sources so that the right data is extracted from various sources, software versions, and data formats. The system needs to reduce errors and risk by implementing a set of rules to map and transform data from a standard library of rules, while providing the option to add advanced rules to accommodate the more demanding migration scenarios. It’s important to evaluate how flexible the system is to cater to a wide range of customer-specific scenarios and requirements, integrate with existing business processes and approvals, and enable the new and old system to co-exist for a required time on the same administrative platform for a smoother transition.
- Delegation/role-based access control/self-service to reduce pressure on IT resources. Role-based access control, as the name implies, enables only access to or visibility of IT administrative features necessary for the designated job functions. For example, an admin responsible for administering IT operations in the U.S. can be set to see only the users based in that country. Role-based access can come at two levels — non-technical IT administrators and end users through self-services with the same underlying principles of using pre-set templates and limited access to only the features necessary for their specific jobs.
- End-user portal to offload IT support. End-user portals are designed to delegate user provisioning and service activation to employees. They enable end users to create their own UC profile by selecting services such as call forward management, password reset, and phone remote control using a set template. This frees up time for IT teams by resolving lower-priority issues, enabling enterprises to operate with a smaller helpdesk team, which in turn helps them save costs and time.
- Greater security and control for a hybrid workplace. Securing your UC environment in today’s operating climate is crucial as one small mistake can mean immediate failure. UC Management tools ensure that IT teams can provision each user with their exact technology needs every time.
- Analytics/audit trail to help fix errors and drive accountability. An audit trail provides documentary evidence of activities that have taken place in UC Management processes. It’s important to have an audit trail to identify and fix errors by going back to the steps or tasks that were undertaken to perform a certain job. This feature also enforces accountability, as it provides transparency into which jobs were done.
Reference: This section appeared in the Kurmi sponsored IDC report, The IT Admin Guide for the Digital Workplace.
What to Look for in a UC Management Provider
There are a wide range of UC Management providers in the market, and choosing the best solution can be a daunting task. The following key criteria should be considered:
Customization to match customer processes. The solution needs to be able to adapt to customers’ business rules, integrate northbound APIs with third-party applications and a software developer toolkit to self- develop specific features.
Suitable for multivendor environments. Solutions compatible with a wider array of Unified Communications and Collaboration vendors should be given precedence, given that the UC stack in many organizations can involve technologies from a large number of providers. Additionally, as UC vendors consolidate their portfolios to align with the shifting market, it’s likely that enterprises may consider migrating from one vendor to another. A UC Management solution that can support a wider array of UC vendors will avoid the need to change the UC Management solution.
Connecting with contemporary directory services and easy integration with spreadsheets. This is an integral part of UC Management solutions as the automation of provisioning rests on the underlying active directory supported by Windows Server and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) or Azure Active Directory. Excel is used extensively as the input for employee information, and easy integration with it is key to choosing a provider for UC Management solutions.
Efficiency in provisioning users (total time taken in provisioning). An important consideration is the actual time taken for user provisioning: some solutions can take longer than others. Another aspect to consider is how easy it is to delegate provisioning to non- technical people, both helpdesk and end users, and if the templates are intuitive and easy to use. Some vendors link more UC features to self-service portals in which employees can perform more actions to create their own UC profile. In terms of role-based access, it’s important to assess how easy it is to limit the capabilities and how well it works.
The extent of automation/AI capabilities. The key benchmark for automation is how close it is to zero-touch provisioning — in other words, the number of touchpoints associated with configuration. Although all providers claim to provide automation, some systems involve more manual steps than others. Another aspect to consider is the robustness of the claims to zero-touch provisioning. In practice, the system could have glitches that require IT personnel to go to each individual vendor portal to perform the necessary provisioning.
Detailed features for migration. Migration is a complex process involving large databases from various sources and mapping them into a different system. Even with automation, this process is complex, so the selection criteria should be based on who provides the best automation without compromising output quality. Having the option to set up an administrative portal before migration is important, as it can ensure the same level of support and can start with best practices and rules in the target environment.
Extent of open architecture to support integration. This is a given, and the value of an open architecture is that it enables more integration with vendors, active directories, and third-party players. The need for UC Management solutions results from the complexity of managing multiple UC and cloud vendors. The extent to which the backend architecture supports integration with other systems determines the robustness of the solution.
Supports all types of deployments. Given an enterprise communication environment comprises cloud, hybrid, and on-prem architecture, UC Management solutions need to support all kinds of deployment to provide a full range of services required by enterprises.
Easy to use/intuitive UI. All systems require training, but some systems may be harder to understand due to a difficult user interface. Enterprises need to assess how intuitive is the interface, as an intuitive interface makes training easy and effective.
Provides support to IT admins. This is a key element in the selection of a UC Management solution. If IT admins discover glitches, they should be able to get support as and when necessary. Some providers offer better support than others, and this needs to be factored into the selection criteria.
Offers strong security measures. The platform used for UC Management needs to have the right security measures given that it involves connecting with enterprise data and confidential information that could be leaked, hacked, or damaged, at a heavy cost to the enterprise.
Monitoring and reverting actions. Being able to monitor operations performed by a team and revert any action in one click when necessary is an important feature as it helps to easily undo actions and guards against data loss.
Advanced RBAC features. Advanced RBAC features are important for managing administrator profiles and delegating operations with no compromise to security.
Reference: This section appeared in in the Kurmi sponsored IDC report, The IT Admin Guide for the Digital Workplace.
How to Implement a UC Management Platform
The key requirements for a successful management strategy, whether on-premises, in the cloud, or hybrid, require leveraging specialty management tools that enable automation of day-to-day administrative tasks. Organizations should focus on the following 10 steps for success:
- Identify which UC systems are currently deployed and which ones are impacted when managing users.
Objective: to identify the necessary connectors.
- Identify migration projects or new UC systems that may be deployed in the future. Objective: to validate that the UC Management solution selected will meet future requirements.
- Identify existing directories and/or ITSM tools and determine if integration is desired.
Objective: Enable zero-touch provisioning and simplify the onboarding process
- Identify the most repetitive tasks or the most common issues submitted as tickets: password reset, phone change request, location change, etc.
Objective: to identify what needs to be automated or simplified (don’t try to automate everything).
- Check if there are already clearly defined procedures for creating a user.
Objective: to validate that these procedures can be automated via the UC Management tool.
- Group users by type.
Objective: to define typical user profiles and validate that they can be implemented in the UC Management tool.
- Consider who should be able to perform these actions. What are the parameters of their responsibility?
Objective: to define the needs in terms of RBAC.
- Assess authentication requirements to the platform.
Objective: to validate if SSO or other authentication methods are needed.
- Assess policy constraints and security requirements.
Objective: to validate that the administrator has all the required information and/or associated certifications.
- Choose an on-prem or cloud deployment.
Objective: Determine how you prefer to budget and maintain the installation.
Which Solution is Right for You?
Kurmi Provisioning Suite for Enterprises
A single-pane-of glass to manage Unified Communications, Collaboration and Contact Center solutions, creating a powerful and seamless IT admin experience.
Kurmi Provisioning Suite for MSPs
Designed for the needs of MSPs and Service Providers, this edition offers powerful multi-tenant capabilities to handle many end customer instances all from one unified interface.