CBR spoke to Curtis Johnstone, Senior UC Product Architect, Microsoft MVP, Dell Software, to find out more about what Dell is doing in the unified communications space.
CBR: What does Dell do in the UC market?
CJ: I work in Dell software on the R&D side of the fence, specialising in unified communications (UC) and specifically Microsoft Lync. We make solutions for Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory and help companies manage and get the most value out of those systems.
One of the biggest trends we’re finding is that enterprises have multiple UC systems deployed for their users. This typically takes the form of a legacy PBX like Cisco Call Manager with one or more UC systems like Microsoft Lync.
So much time and effort and focus and investment have gone into deploying these systems, managing them and keeping them up and running that there hasn’t been enough attention paid to whether companies are getting value from them. They can be quite expensive to deploy and keep running. We’re finding that enterprises have a really hard time quantifying whether they’re getting the expected value from them.
One of the best practices we encourage is not only having access to data but the right data insights, insights that match the goals that you expected to achieve from implementing a UC system. Those data insights need to be tailored to your organisation, so you know which departments, offices and groups specifically are using the different real-time media features of the UC system.
The thing with UC is it’s also very demanding from an infrastructure perspective. Specifically the network eats up a lot of bandwidth. You really want to know how the UC system is being used in your organisation in a way that allows you to compare it across all communication systems to know that you’re getting the expected value out of those investments.
We commissioned a survey last year from a firm called Dimensional Research. 81 percent of enterprises that deployed UC did so with the expectation of increasing communication. 83 percent wanted to improve employee collaboration. In the cost savings bracket, 53 percent had the goal of saving on travel costs. However, 69 percent didn’t know if they were meeting the goals that they had set out. So we really champion having the right data insight to know if you’re meeting your UC goals and getting the most out of that investment.
CBR: Does more attention need to be paid to the network?
CJ: This network issue, having the network the right size, is one of the biggest pain points in UC right now. UC vendors like Microsoft and Cisco have been investing substantially in this area. So you’re seeing more focus on quality of service and how to do that on your network. There’s also the rise of software-defined networking (SDN).
Microsoft has done a good job in the last two years developing its SDN story. The hope is that applications that require real-time quality on the network will be able to tell the routers and switches on the network what their requirements are and then the routers can make intelligent decisions on that information to ensure a higher quality experience.
Practically until we get there the biggest thing enterprises need to know today is whether there is a quality experience that is degraded because of the network, as well as where that is on the network. Networks are dispersed, complicated infrastructure that’s out there in different forms. A typical call will go across many networks.
One of the things our tool does with all of that quality of experience data is actually tell you which subset is the problem. It’s not a network assessment tool. But from a usage standpoint you can correlate low usage with a specific subnet and you can actually see latency and jitter on the network, so at least you know if you have a problem.
CBR: Does the business model of UC need an update?
There need to be some tools and measures and criteria in place to quantify the value you’re getting out of these systems. I talked about having the data tailored to your organisation. One of the most basic things is that you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars deploying something like Microsoft Lync.
There are some basic questions: is your business adopting it and how much are they using it? How much are they using Lync Audio versus a legacy PBX investment that you have? You really need to do a department-by-department comparison of legacy PBX usage trended over time with your Lync Audio usage.
If you deployed Microsoft Lync with the expectation of increasing customer support, allowing employees to do video or desktop sharing with your customers, you really need to be able to drill down and see the desktop sharing usage in the support group with those external customers.
How are companies using Dell’s approach?
One of our customers is a big telecom company in Europe. This is a great example of a company that deployed Microsoft Lync with the expectation of reducing existing telecom costs, specifically long-distance telecoms calls and costs associated with dial-in conferencing – the audio bridge scenario.
We have a solution called Unified Communication Command Suite. It’s an analytics tool that allows you to dive in and slice and dice the data to give you those insights, which is integrated with your active directory so you can roll the data up by department, group or office.
The telecom company really wanted to assign a cost to their existing Lync usage of enterprise voice, which is the public phone feature that allows you to audio bridge facilities and long-distance calling. They deployed Microsoft Lync and they really didn’t have a handle on how much, from a call accounting perspective, they should assign to that Lync usage so that they could compare it to their existing telecom costs.
We allowed them to specify specific costs for specific call routes in Microsoft Lync. The solution then runs all the aggregate data and gives you a cost value that they can compare to their existing telephony costs.
CBR: Are people realising the benefits they want from UC yet?
CJ: UC is sexy. I remember that when I first used it, I got quite a thrill from making a public phone system call through my computer. The immediate benefits to users are really noticeable. From a business standpoint, however, you have to drill a bit deeper and quantify how much value your business is getting from a UC deployment.
UC has got a lot of attention and a lot of traction because of those highly visible features and the increased collaboration and communication abilities that it offers users, such as the one-click desktop share or the ability to know someone’s presence and availability.
I think there’s a maturing cycle here and businesses have to get a bit better at quantifying the value they are getting from these tools. I talked about cost-savings. A lot of companies have an expectation that they will roll out a UC system and then save on travel expenses. You need to be able to look at the adoption of media features among members of your organisation that travel a lot, trended over time to see if that’s a reality or not.
CBR: Do you think the fact that some of the gains of UC are intangible presents an issue to assessing the ROI?
CJ: There are a couple of things you can do there. One of the biggest barriers to adopting UC real-time features like audio and video is the quality problem. UC requires that the network is the right size and capable of supporting audio and video.
One of the things we do in our solution is bring in all of the quality of experience data from Microsoft Lync. It’s all integrated and available with the usage statistics. You can quickly drill in and look at the quality of the experience data for a specific group or individual where the adoption and activity is low, or lower than you expected.
That allows you to start to get a handle on whether there’s a poor quality situation going on when they’re consuming services that you’ve invested in. No-one wants to use a voice call when the quality is bad. This is a good way to try and quantify the intangible.
Another good example is the remote working trend. Our solution allows you to go in and see which parts of your business are working remotely. You can tell from a Microsoft Lync perspective whether they’re connecting and how much of a specific media feature they’re using. I mention that because being able to work from anywhere has been tied to employee satisfaction. At least you know whether the system you invested in is enabling that.