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Organizations often have multivendor unified communications deployments. Hybrid setups are also popular, as companies mix on-premises and cloud services. As a result, companies might have complex UC environments that are hard to manage.
Luckily, third-party UC management vendors are here to help to simplify management problems and offer real-time monitoring tools that are not available from UC platform providers.
UC providers, such as Microsoft, offer some monitoring tools out of the box, but it's generally post-call information, said Tom Tuttle, senior vice president of UC strategy and global alliances at Nectar Services Corp., a provider of network management tools in Jericho, N.Y. For example, IT could see a Skype for Business call going through a Cisco endpoint and experiencing call-quality issues. But IT would have to wait until the call ended to evaluate the providers' post-call data to diagnose the issue.
However, a third-party UC management provider can offer real-time monitoring tools to allow organizations to discover and respond to performance issues as they occur.
Hybrid UC -- with some applications in the cloud and some on premises -- could also present performance management challenges for organizations and opportunities for third-party providers. Organizations must monitor how employees use on-premises and cloud services and gain insights into the end-user experience as they join conference calls, for example, Tuttle said.
With these networking complexities, organizations need to consider how many management tools they need and what capabilities they can shift to their cloud service provider, said Robin Gareiss, an analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill.
According to a Nemertes report, 30% of organizations using performance management tools see greater adoption of UC tools than organizations that don't. Organizations using performance management tools also decreased their operating costs by more than half and reduced implementation costs by 19%.
"The challenge becomes not only finding the right tools, but integrating them and finding the source of where the problem is really happening," Gareiss said.
Most third-party UC management vendors are focusing their efforts on Microsoft.
"They've been building their tools for Cisco for a while, but now a lot of focus is on Microsoft," said Robin Gareiss, analyst at Nemertes Research. "Companies are still having a lot of challenges managing Microsoft."
Gareiss said organizations face technical challenges with Microsoft and voice services. Microsoft's decision to transition Skype for Business to Teams has also thrown a wrench into organizations' UC management plans.
Gareiss said companies that don't want to transition to cloud-based Teams will have to find an alternate UC provider, while other companies will deploy a hybrid Microsoft environment through the transition period. The question for organizations becomes how they will manage their UC environment going forward.
"It's a huge opportunity for management vendors," Gareiss said. "Platform providers are worrying about the platform, not management."
Addressing UC management needs
Robin Gareissanalyst at Nemertes Research
According to Nemertes, companies devote 31% more IT staff to managing UC when they don't use performance management and monitoring tools. However, the cloud is affecting how organizations approach UC management, as more companies have the option to push day-to-day UC management and monitoring responsibilities to their cloud service provider. As organizations can choose to push UC management to third-party providers, UC performance management vendors will have to evolve, Gareiss said.
Organizations need more detailed analytics and reporting on how their UC tools, such as team collaboration apps, are used across the company. These analytics can help organizations learn what tools are used by employees, where they're performing well and where performance can improve, she said.
"Just as you see the unified communications and collaboration market transforming, tools are transforming with it," she said. "There is tremendous opportunity for vendors to do more and to service customers better."
Third-party providers offer capabilities
To reflect the market demand for UC performance management services, Nectar recently announced a partnership with Gigamon, a provider of network traffic visibility tools. The partnership integrates Gigamon's traffic monitoring software with Nectar's UC performance management platform and provides real-time data to discover issues quickly.
With the partnership, organizations can monitor UC traffic in real time, as the integrated platform provides startup call information, Tuttle said. IT can use the call information to pinpoint issues in real time.
"It's a holistic view from the source to the destination back to the source," Tuttle said.
IR, another provider of UC management tools, recently launched its network assessment platform as a cloud-based service to reduce assessment setup and remote management. With the new cloud-based Prognosis UC Assessor platform, management can be controlled remotely through a single dashboard.
The platform also added support for Microsoft Teams in addition to Skype for Business, allowing organizations to test their Microsoft environment across locations.