July 05, 2018
3 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Collaboration Managed Services Provider
Maintaining core functionality should be the focus of any services relationship.
The platforms and tools for managing a collaboration environment have evolved. The days are over of simply monitoring and reporting on a device, whether a server, a gateway or even a simple IP phone. Enterprises should no longer focus on whether a device is operating; instead, they should focus on its core function and whether it is performing adequately. This is the difference between, for example, monitoring a voice gateway by pinging it (to see if it is “up” at some level) and monitoring a voice gateway with a rich variety of tools such as SNMP, REST APIs “Layer 7” tests such as SIP OPTIONS pings, and pulling performance analytics to quantify capacity usage. Toward this goal, you should be able to lean on your managed services provider (MSP) for collaboration.
In this post I will be discussing three key questions to consider when selecting a collaboration MSP. These are questions that, when posed to your MSP, should help keep the focus on the important details of your system: its core functions.
Pingability Isn’t Enough: What Do You Need to Know?
As a technical architect for CDW Managed Services, I am constantly fielding inquiries from our sales groups on behalf of their enterprise customers. The most common questions I hear around collaboration are:
- Can you easily create alerts or displays to help my enterprise customer’s engineers troubleshoot an issue?
- What functionality can you provide our enterprise customers “proactively”?
- Are you able to report on meaningful data that tells my enterprise customer about their collaboration functionality and usage?
UC, Phone Home
Let’s begin with the first question. It is a well-known fact that collaboration issues can appear to be intermittent and finding the root cause can be a challenge. With a good tool and knowledge of how to use the tool you should be able to configure a display or even an alert so you do not need to rely on users reporting the issue to bring it to your attention.
For example, I once had a customer who was experiencing what appeared to be an intermittent voice quality issue at a specific site. I was able to configure a quick display and alert to notify us when a call from a specific location had a poor audio quality issue, which then triggered the behavior of pulling packet captures from the switch and identifying the root cause of the issue. In this case, we were able to quickly find the cause of this issue and not put the burden of reporting it on the users.
MSP on the Spot
With the question of functionality, let’s start by clarifying that it’s very difficult to uncover a problem before a problem occurs (minus the common disk usage, CPU usage, latency issues).
The goal here is to identify the problem quickly before users are aware of it. It is extremely important to select a tool that easily sets up custom “runbook” tasks. You should consider a tool that has features such as synthetic logins to collaboration applications. Unless a tool can do this for you, it is very difficult to alert based on what the user may experience. For example, I created a display and an alert that logs into Cisco Finesse, a Contact Center agent application, and then logs back out. This tests several things: the page responsiveness, the Cisco Finesse server’s functionality, the communication between Cisco Finesse and Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) and whether CUCM can communicate with Microsoft Active Directory to validate credentials. With this in place, you can alert or be made aware of issues, such as an expired certificate that causes logins to fail before users notice.
MSP, What Have You Done for Me Lately?
With the question of reporting, as I stated, no one would find meaningful data in a report that simply displays basic metrics on a call control platform. Instead, you want to get into data such as audio quality from a global viewpoint, details like call disconnect reports, and usage reports from enterprise-wide down through departments, teams and even to individuals. Finally, you will want to have the ability to report key measurements around capacity. With this type of data, you will be able to quickly make reliable strategic decisions rather than waiting weeks or even months for numbers to be gathered and crunched.
I have observed that customers may have a difficult time justifying a tool that doesn’t represent a large device footprint like route/switch or systems, and as a result, they don’t see the value in investing in these tools. While collaboration does not have a large device footprint, it often encompasses the most impactful customer-facing suite of applications, and because its stability is business critical it is always worth the investment.
If you are interested in a managed services provider for collaboration that has solid answers for all the questions stated in this blog, you can reach out to your CDW account manager and inquire about CDW Managed Services for your collaboration environment and we will be happy to answer your questions and assist in solving your business problems.