Service providers are moving ahead to an ICT (Information and Computing Technology) services model, dropping the old labels of “phone” and “network.” A broader range of services, beyond connectivity and bandwidth, includes unified communications applications for robust collaboration, presence, high-quality voice and video. And these applications are made to reach users wherever they may be, from home to airport to office to ... anywhere, with support for a wide variety of devices. This a fundamental shift in focus, away from network infrastructure and toward the end user experience.
In this new paradigm, service providers must manage both network and the applications, both the devices themselves and the end user experience on them. This is necessary to provide proactive support, preventing problems from impacting the users' UC experience, especially in the case of high-quality voice and video services.
This requires a change to the service management approach. The days of having support resources just waiting for problems to be logged by users are now gone, especially in the case of real-time voice and video service delivery. IT teams now must work proactively, monitoring service levels in real time and taking corrective action before issues become service-affecting. This drives customer satisfaction, but it also saves tremendous cost by streamlining support and reducing incidents.
Consider a desktop VoIP user that complains of voice distortion on their inbound calls, or a mobile enterprise VoIP user who can't hear the other party while roaming because the speech volume is changing. These are typical examples of problems that impact users today, and, in turn, impact the profit on delivery of these services. Standard network tools and old processes are not suitable for real-time communications and the increasing environment of multiple media types, vendors, and devices.
Customers often complain of call distortion, echo and noise when they experience voice quality problems, despite pre- and post-deployment VoIP network testing. In fact, the majority of IP telephony and network management software vendors offer only Quality of Service (QoS)-based management as their solution for UC. But QoS will miss most of the problems likely to affect the end user.
The ability to measure actual user experience – Quality of Experience (QoE) – as well as network-related QoS is a fundamental requirement in order to deliver and manage a consistent and acceptable UC user experience, and tie that delivery to an acceptable service level. It is the combination of QoS and QoE monitoring and reporting that makes for a good UC applications performance management strategy.
What's more, vendors and managed service providers (MSPs) need to recognize that Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are evolving around UC. Businesses demand more than availability-based agreements. They require usability-based agreements. And these new SLAs must be based on visible, measurable, enforceable metrics. A program of consistently measuring all facets of quality in UC, end to end, should be an integral part of any service management program today.
Mark Hemmert is the Vice President of Sales and Operations for Psytechnics. Hemmert joined the company in November 2007.