Remembering just exactly what the role of IT was pre-COVID can, at times, be hard to pull into focus. Wasn’t that the time when “everything” was served up from on-premises vs the cloud? Support expectations for anything that was not officially oriented to the office, was a big unknown. The way that any given organization handled supporting WFH employees varied widely. Oftentimes much of the responsibility for figuring things out was pushed down to the individual end-user. This March proved to be a booming month for unified communications (UC) and collaboration platforms, and other cloud-based services. Large adjustments were made from what we used to understand as the digital workplace. Gone was the norm of the in-person meeting. Here to stay was the Zoom or Teams call. The net result? New and unforeseen pressures on IT.
It has not only been the end-user who has had to adapt and learn something new thanks to COVID. Successful IT management of the UC and Collaboration Platform utilized by WFH-based users is the new game in town. Many factors contribute to favorable, efficient, and proactive management. In 2020 (and beyond) we must look at managing these platforms with the perspective of remote work in mind. Based on our set of best practices gleaned from our hugely successful Managed Services division, we have curated a list of our 5 secrets of successful IT management of UC.
1. On-Prem is Finally Dead
Remote workers used to be considered a VPN extension to the office network. Now, with UCaaS being fully embraced, that narrative has changed. All but the most conservative organizations are doing complete business model renovations to move to the cloud. The IT job description evolves from supporting and patching of servers, to a focus on different hardware types — like SBCs, endpoint devices. The IT job description (as it relates to IT) changes; it’s a completely different way of working. With internet traffic going straight to the cloud, the management and troubleshooting focus becomes much more client-facing. Software tools which can provide guidance as well as technical details related to Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and which go beyond the “out-of-the-box” standard reporting from the platform vendors, are the secret sauce of successful management.
2. Radical End-User Focus
Jumping from a secured, high-speed office network to one that is shared by multiple family members, all working from home, makes support challenging. Back when it was a choice to ditch the office and work from a living room couch, there was much less focus applied to the end-user. Last-mile support was an afterthought option, not because there wasn’t the capability, but because the WFH persona was in the minority. The IT stance was that home networks were at best unreliable and at worst, untrustworthy.
Since the pandemic started, we have had to adjust our orientation for end-user support. Overnight support for and understanding of the home network has become job #1. Identifying a software tool (in our case our industry-leading PowerSuite product), we can gain valuable detailed insights into an individual employee’s Wi-Fi networks, device configurations, usage patterns, etc. IT is then able to subsequently work with the user to make a myriad of adjustments to dial in a great UC experience. PowerSuite data provides meaningful insights to effectively connect users with support so that working from home is effective and managing their communications platforms is easy.
Prior to COVID-19, the challenge of supporting the WFH user was exacerbated by the non-WFH IT professional. Many of us enjoyed working from the office and appreciated the traditional approach; it guaranteed a strong work ethic, time management, and a way to oversee employee operations. Now, being able to directly experience ALL of the WFH challenges and scenarios creates at worst a better empathy factor. At best it allows IT, or a managed services provider, to design both monitoring and troubleshooting scenarios with remote users.
The evolved IT service organization has changed the way they see and define user adoption and support. Pre-COVID and pre-UCaaS it was all about on-premises hardware and large projects. The new orientation is much less machine-centric and increasingly user-centric, focused on end-user satisfaction and well-being. A great example of a support mechanism to enable this orientation is the increased adoption of Workplace from Facebook by many Fortune 500 organizations. The workplace is unique concerning its social orientation, allowing technical questions that apply to organizations to be posted by users and then easily addressed by IT.
3. End to End XLA’s
Experience Level Agreements (XLA) are increasingly emerging as the new de-facto standard of measurement for Cloud Applications. XLA’s allow a SaaS service provider (or a managed services provider who is administering the SaaS service) to correctly connect the business value important of a UC or Collaboration platform to the satisfaction of the end-user. Gone are the days of guaranteeing the status of a server. With everyone working from everywhere, successful performance, and end-to-end support of collaboration tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Skype for Business is all about the employee experience.
Even more important is to understand that a particular Cloud App service is no longer an isolated entity. In 2020 the world has become increasingly flat and interdependent. So too is the case with technology. What would seem to be an isolated high-tech issue, is closely interconnected with all manner of other SaaS services and hardware. Most SaaS SLAs (service level agreements) still only guarantee service levels related to their well-defined and limited surface area. The successful management stance is to guarantees more — a complete end to end experience. In the same way that a corporate IT department is on the hook for fixing EVERYTHING, so too must a managed service be able to create and XLA with an umbrella outlook. A well-defined XLA is key for positive and customer-oriented UC management.
4. Screen Sharing vs Voice Quality Importance
Back in March, “I think you’re muted” was an everyday conference call phrase as we all adjusted to the ins and outs of Zoom and Microsoft Teams. As months have passed, so too has the perceived importance of voice quality. Pre-COVID the industry orientation in UC focused strongly on voice. Now, however, the industry and most importantly, end-users, have become more accepting of sometimes spotty voice calls. Instead, users are placing more focus and value on reliable screen sharing apps and confidently using video when needed.
Our recently updated PowerSuite Helpdesk dashboard provides insights on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype for Business call analytics. Of course, voice quality is still of importance, but the emerging key value is drill-downs on video and screen sharing analytics. The ability for IT to troubleshoot screen share and video quality and then hand-hold remote workers more effectively through any necessary fixes is now greatly simplified.
5. IT Expertise Consolidation
Before the UCaaS transformation, IT support systems were multifaceted for UC management. Certain issues (and the way that they were supported) were handled by a unique networking team, other issues were passed to the telephony team, conference room issues were handled by facilities, and still, other issues were owned by the desktop app team. Now, the UC and Collaboration orientation for success has changed. End-user experience satisfaction, XLA speed requirements, cost issues, and changing delivery models have forced consolidation. The successful IT department will source a single service provider, such as Unify Square, who has the skills and expertise to be the proverbial single throat to choke.
It’s hard to predict what the digital workplace will look like in 5 months, let alone 5 years. What we do know is what works now for IT success with UC and Collaboration platforms. Continuing to adapt to the remote work collaboration culture is essential for businesses. Providing managed services support for IT, as well as IT support for end-users are equally important and increasingly necessary.