Troubleshooting Tools Are Not Enough

Until recently, managing IP telephony (IPT) has been mostly focused on a break/fix philosophy. As IPT products have matured and the enterprise has implemented increasingly large-scale deployments, the need for voice communications service delivery reporting has developed.

For years the telecom department viewed voice as a service and was mostly concerned with moves, adds, changes and billing. As more and more enterprises move to IPT operating over data networks, the issues involved with user satisfaction for voice quality and availability have increased. In addition, the present economic climate will put more pressure on IT staff to reduce communications costs while continuing to maintain adequate and acceptable service levels.

I first discussed these service quality issues in the Voicecon webinar “Service Level Reporting: Driving IPT Success” here.

A more detailed presentation of this subject is now available in the white paper, “IP Telephony Service Delivery; Visibility, Reporting and User Satisfaction” here.

Those who manage IPT need to adopt more than just a break/fix philosophy. They also need a high level view of the entire IPT environment.

The data technician is usually only called in when there is a failure. A failure equals something broken or mis-configured that the data technician needs to repair or modify. The technician has a set of troubleshooting tools for diagnosing the problem so it can be fixed.

This all happens at a very detailed level and not necessarily at a level that satisfies the needs of the CIO/IT Manager. The CIO/IT manager needs to know how all the components are working together and whether they are delivering overall satisfactory service levels. Service level reporting therefore must correlate the IPT service quality with the IP network operation and cost. In addition to break/fix, degrade/improve performance issues must also be considered. Troubleshooting failures will still continue and tools for break/fix will always be required, but only a service level reporting system can deal with the degrade/improve performance issues.

When an enterprise encounters economic limitations and there is reduced revenue (and therefore funding), the CFO will call in the IPT management to report on the cost and benefits of the IPT operation. The CFO will most likely ask these questions:

  • Can the network capacity be reduced and achieve cost-savings, without affecting IPT service levels?
  • How much growth capacity is available in the present IPT design and is it really required?
  • If another enterprise was acquired, can present service levels be maintained?
  • Is there any excessive or abusive use of the IPT service by individuals or departments?

The enterprise management has goals above and beyond fixing problems and providing available services. Some of the goals are qualitative and hard to measure; user satisfaction with voice services is one of them. The common management goals are:

  • Deliver the service in the most cost effective manner
  • Provide proactive, not reactive management
  • Deliver a high level of user satisfaction
  • Ensure that the delivery promises are delivered
  • Provide a global view of the environment, not just a detailed view of a problem
  • Reduce management time relating to performance issues

On the other hand, IP telephony departments, responsible for managing their organization’s IPT environment, have a twofold requirement for this type of reporting:

  1. To substantiate success and measure the performance of IPT delivered to their organization (service levels and voice quality) and validating the IPT deployment
  2. To optimize the delivery of IPT to their organization (capacity and analytics), while correlating faults across multiple operational domains and minimizing support calls

Each department within an organization may differ in the way it wants to group these elements so a flexible reporting solution is essential. The technical management will focus on service level and voice quality reporting. Business management will use the capacity planning and IPT analytics reports to ensure that there is room for traffic growth while controlling the budget.

  • Service level reports should provide an ‘at a glance’ view of overall device availability as well as for configurable time periods. Key indicators advise if devices such as IP trunks, PSTN trunks and route patterns were impacted, degraded or down.
  • Voice quality reports need to provide an ‘at a glance’ view of overall daily and weekly voice quality. In this way, managers can see instantly if they have met the service levels for agreed quality. If there is degradation, they can focus specifically on these occurrences and see what network causes may be responsible.
  • Capacity planning reports should provide visibility for optimizing infrastructure, reducing costs and planning for the future. Comparing utilization to available capacity means that designers and architects can ensure sufficient future capacity to respond to changing business environments as well as decommission excess bandwidth and trunk capacity.
  • IPT analytics reports should produce data for capacity planning, PBX consolidation and failover contingency planning. Analyzing the use of the telephony infrastructure will enable enterprises to create efficiencies and plan for contingencies.

The ability to size the network to the required service level is the result of analyzing the capacity planning reports that provide data for optimizing infrastructure and help identify ways to reduce costs and plan for the future. For example, comparing trunk utilization with available capacity ensures sufficient growth potential so the organization can respond to changing business environments. This form of capacity planning results in providing what is needed without excessive over provisioning.

Whatever your management need, either technical or business level visibility, if you are responsible for the delivery of IPT services in the enterprise it is in your best interests to start looking at the value of service level reporting. It will not only assist in maintaining acceptable service delivery, the reports can also save communications dollars.

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