The Great Tech Thaw: Are You Ready?

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Signs of invigorated business spending in 2014 are evident in double-digit CapEx growth predictions by leading global asset managers. Many IT managers, having seen budgets frozen since the 2008 recession, are also experiencing anxiety stemming from having underspent on technology and communications since the recession and desperately need to leapfrog a generation of technology.

For some businesses, the decision of what to take on themselves and when to tap outside resources to help can prove perplexing.

While it may seem unusual to see a topic related to upgrades on a services-related blog, there is a tremendous downside to sweating assets incorrectly, and a services organization is often left to help pick up the pieces when things go wrong. In some cases, sweating assets can be a savvy financial strategy, but it can also backfire.

Generally, any technology solution that is more than 8 years old will likely be in some level of “extended support, ” which only provides ‘best effort’ services if something goes down. Bug fixes are usually no longer being developed for these old solutions.

Parts are likely being sourced from the gray market, leading to quality issues and long acquisition times. On average, these “new” old parts are up to 4 times more likely to be dead on arrival. The next stop on the support lifecycle is end of support, which only increases exposure to risk.

According to IDC, downtime costs for mid-size businesses can average $70,000 per hour. If the part that you need is available in Australia, how many hours of downtime are you going to be forced to endure? What would 3 or 4 days of downtime do to customer satisfaction?

What if this downtime happened during a busy season? What would happen to the IT department if it was forced to do an unplanned, hasty upgrade? Is the asset sweating worth the costs to customers, partners and employees? The benefits of sweating assets need to be very carefully weighed against the business risks of letting a technology solution age.

How do you make the best decision at this inflection point? Many IT leaders leverage new money to make revolutionary, versus evolutionary changes. Traditional upgrade paths normally lead to an on-premise, CapEx-based solution, but today’s cloud-based options might be the best path forward.

Many early cloud initiatives were tactical in nature, as businesses tested the water on new technology consumption models. But cloud solutions have now advanced to the point that they can provide the communications foundation for IT organizations to shift from being producers of technology to consumers of it.

Also providing a support option for IT managers are managed services companies that can handle legacy systems while enabling the Business IT organization to invest resources in next generation technology and consumption models that provide rapid access to the latest application benefits.

Applications are transforming how organizations deploy and capitalize on technology. While this innovation can help boost business growth and improve efficiency, new solutions can further burden IT organizations that are already being compelled to handle growing service demand with shrinking staff resources.

New applications may also require skill sets beyond those of existing staff. This imbalance between requirements and resources can prompt organizations to explore staff augmentation options beyond the typical “manage my switch” arrangements.

With companies waking up from the thaw and deciding how to minimize the issues associated with sweating legacy systems and catching up to new apps and technologies in the market, there has never been a more critical time to consider getting expert advice to help define a business IT roadmap.

Are you seeing a thaw in budgets?
Who do you rely on guidance to help define your roadmap?
What are your biggest concerns given your 2014 investment goals?

Follow me on Twitter: @Pat_Patterson_V

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Maximizing value from your support services investment

Commitment to 5 core practices will lead to peace of mind and growth.

In the world of support services we are always striving to reach that nirvana state where everything is perfect, and that requires keeping networks running at peak performance while contending with the onslaught of new employee technologies, cloud applications and mobile solutions.

As the leader of a global support services organization, I am constantly striving to reach this stable state for our customers. We are dedicated to harnessing the latest communications technology and processes to deliver an award-winning omnichannel support experience and help IT managers achieve the best benefits of automation while avoiding unforeseen problems.

Here are five actions that IT departments can take to gain the most value from their communications support services coverage:

1.       Take full advantage of automation. Automating remote diagnostics, alarm monitoring, and issue isolation and resolution can reduce preventable outages dramatically. In our experience, such tools can auto-resolve 90% of alarms requiring service requests without human intervention, while lowering outage risk by nearly three-quarters. If the systems are unable to resolve a problem, they automatically forward relevant information to a technician. By taking advantage of these advanced diagnostic capabilities, your organization can equip itself for proactive prevention, rapid resolution, and continual optimization of communications systems.

2.       Establish healthy connectivity. Realizing automation’s substantial benefits requires reliable access to remotely provided tools and services. Solid connectivity is vital to ongoing monitoring, accurate measurement and fast issue resolution. Adopting a standard remote connectivity methodology can help enhance security and enable more effective use of end-user and administrative controls, make for smoother and more reliable alarm validation and clearing functionality, and allow for more detailed logging and audit trails.

3.       Prevent and predict network issues onsite. User-controllable diagnostic tools can speed diagnostics while reducing costs and equipment requirements. Intelligent software agents continually collect relevant data and detect potential problems before they impact service. The tools equip system operators and their vendors to better diagnose, analyze, and address incidents remotely without compromising system stability. Based on individual Avaya and customer experiences, diagnostic tools can help resolve issues up to 50% faster.

4.       Tackle the outage top 5. The major causes of communications outages are no surprise. The surprise comes in not knowing which one will pop up, and when. According to our research, depending on the specific cause, one-third to three-quarters of reported outages could have been avoided by using industry-leading outage prevention practices:

  • Power outages: Regularly scheduled audits can help determine if facilities and uninterruptible power supply systems are capable of meeting power demands and warding off problems, with particular attention given to hardware that is approaching the end of manufacturer support (EoMS).
  • Lack of routine maintenance: Proactive health checks, disciplined system monitoring, and observed maintenance schedules can help IT departments catch the telltale signals equipment emits when a problem is approaching.
  • Software bugs: A sound patching strategy and proactive approach to patching to eliminate known issues can help maintain software performance and avoid software-related outages.
  • Hardware failures: Proactive upgrades of equipment approaching EoMS, audits to verify system redundancy, system health checks, and failover strategies for critical systems can help reduce hardware-based outages.
  • Network issues: A simple audit of the organization’s underlying network can often help identify where certain performance issues, such as jitter, delay and latency, exist. A network diagram can prove indispensable in isolating an outage, while rigorous configuration control processes can help keep system changes and refinements from inadvertently triggering outages and other problems.

5.       Confirm that your records are accurate. Support services providers can address issues faster if they know what systems they are dealing with and whether those solutions are up to date. If you have a disciplined process for accurately registering equipment, you can facilitate ongoing remote maintenance support, improve the accuracy of contract renewal price quotes, and help your support vendor update hardware inventory records and test device connectivity and alarming.

Achieving nirvana in the chaotic world of IT with its many moving parts, increasing productivity goals, and the ever-growing world of cloud applications requires a continuous commitment to these top five practices. But once achieved, nirvana can be sustained. It can lead to happier customers, more productive employees who are able to focus on initiatives that will move the business forward, and for IT managers, peace and stability.

Six Questions to Help Non-Profit IT Managers Pick the Right Partner

Every organization knows the importance of stretching each dollar. That’s especially true of a non-profit trying to keep operating costs at a minimum. They must keep their IT system investment running at peak performance, ensuring constant communication with members and achieving the organization’s underlying goals.

According to the recent 9th Annual Non-Profit Technology Staffing and Investments Report, IT staffs at national non-profits are falling into four categories:

  • Struggling:

    “We are struggling; we have a failing infrastructure, and our technology time and budget generally go towards creating workarounds, repairing old equipment, and duplicating tasks.”

  • Functioning:

    “We keep the lights on; we have basic systems in place to meet immediate needs. Leadership makes technology decisions based on efficiencies, with little to no input from staff/consultant.”

  • Operating:

    “We keep up; we have stable infrastructure and a set of technology policies and practices. Leadership makes technology decisions based on standard levels according to industry/sector information and gathers input from technology staff/consultant before making a final decision.”

  • Leading:

    “We’re innovators; we recognize that technology is an investment in our mission, and leadership integrates technology decisions with organizational strategy. Technology-responsible staff is involved in overall strategic planning.”

More than half of the surveyed organizations reported that they were at “Operating” level when it comes to technology adoption. The report also found that “Leading” organizations are nearly twice more likely to include technology in their strategic plans than” Struggling” organizations.

Large Charity’s Challenge: Support 100+ Sites with Lean IT Team

Recently, one of the leading organizations, with 125 locations in the U.S. and an array of business communications solutions, faced their own three challenges:

  • Small IT staff overseeing large number of locations
  • Support required for multivendor environment
  • Insufficient tools to troubleshoot end user business communications problems

“I run an extremely lean staff,” says the telecom manager at one of the US’s top 25 non-profit organizations. “We do 25-50 major projects a year. Opening new locations, upgrading existing locations—all on top of day-to-day business. For us, it’s imperative that we operate as efficiently as possible with the tight resources we have.”

To overcome these challenges while boosting stability and allowing IT to focus on high value projects, the IT Manager looked for answers to six critical questions for a potential support services partner and their systems:

  1. Does the partner have the experience and resources to keep systems up and running while allowing the team to focus on high priority projects?

  2. Does the partner have the skills necessary to work in a collaborative multivendor environment?

  3. How does the partner optimize the performance of the current business environment while proactively preventing problems before they become outages? Do they use self-healing automated intelligent systems or is it manual?

  4. Does the partner have a continuum of services to support an evolving environment from maintenance to proactive support to managed to private cloud?

  5. How quickly can the provider restore systems during a disaster or emergency scenario?

  6. Can the partner provide an easy-to-use tool that helps diagnose reported intermittent network issues?

 

What are some of the questions that you are asking partners?

 

Interview: What is Knowledge-Centered Support, and Why Is It the Future?

While Avaya is well known as the #1 contact center vendor for 15 years, what is less known is the best-in-class contact center that Avaya runs in its own support organization. Today, I’ve invited Russ Brookes, Director of Knowledge Management at Avaya, to talk about a key aspect of how Avaya delivers support to our customers, our knowledge base.

Carl: Welcome to the Avaya blog, Russ. Can you please do a level set for our readers on knowledge management and KCS?
Russ: Knowledge Management, as the name implies, is about managing knowledge. It’s about efficient ways to create and manage that knowledge. It’s about reusing that knowledge for maximum effectiveness. I like to think of it as a way to coordinate the creativity, imagination, and diversity of a large group of people to work essentially as one mind. It shifts the paradigm from “collectively being as strong as your weakest link,” to “collectively being as strong as your strongest link.” KCS, or Knowledge-Centered Support, is a specific set of practices regarding implementing knowledge management in a support or service environment.

Carl: Before we get into how you and the Avaya team have implemented a best-in-class KCS solution, can you elaborate on how this solution benefits our customers, partners, and our own support organization?
Russ: At Avaya, our interest is in making our customers, and our customers’ customers successful by providing them with communication and collaboration technologies and supporting them in deriving maximum value from those products and services. With our KCS system, customers and partners are able to get answers to their questions and resolutions to their problems at any time (and anyplace) via access to our knowledge via desktop or mobile access to our information.

Carl: I know you and your team have worked very hard to make this knowledge database so valuable; what would you say is the biggest change you made that led to its success?
Russ: We made many changes… I would say our move to “direct publishing” was the biggest. In this mode of operation, our support staff members are able to easily publish answers and solutions to problems in near real-time. As they encounter the need to provide an answer, they generate the answer, and publish it for other customers to see and use. By the time a service request is closed, the article has been published–available to customers as soon as the search engines have finished their indexing. This gets information out in the world in minutes or hours, not days and weeks.

Carl: Isn’t that risky? Don’t you need other experts to look things over and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed before you make it public? Aren’t you in danger of publishing poor quality information?
Russ: That is many people’s first reaction. Here’s our take on it: Everyday, all day long, our support agents provide customers with answers and solutions. These are trained, knowledgeable people–we didn’t need someone reviewing everything they say before they say it to a customer, and then relaying it on only if it was “OK.” We trust them to do this directly every day, so why not trust them to do the same with their written articles?

There is much more to say on this topic. KCS helps address the shelf life of knowledge and the importance of making it available quickly, confirming accuracy by virtue of the fact that the information just solved a problem, closed-loop quality systems that allow for constant improving of information, the fact that information is never perfect (we used to think the world was flat), the number of people the information is going to, the speed with which feedback and correction happens in a networked world with many consumers of the information, and lots of other things that we don’t have time to delve into here. Net result is that we found direct publishing by our trained support agents didn’t degrade quality, it improved it–and also improved its timeliness.

Carl: How does your team benchmark Avaya’s implementation against other companies and industry best practices?
Russ: We are members of the Consortium for Service Innovation. This organization developed the knowledge-centered support practices used by many companies around the world. The practices are developed through sharing best practices, pitfalls and ideas. The Consortium, with members’ permission, publishes case studies of KCS implementations, which include things like business impact, metrics such as customer satisfaction, speed of resolution, productivity, best practices, and challenges.

As Greg Oxton, Executive Director of the Consortium says, ‘Avaya is the best KCS study we have showing the benefits that can be realized through implementing KCS.’ That’s high praise, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the KCS practices the Consortium published that we then used as the basis for our KCS system design. As members of the Consortium, we, along with other members, participate in continuing to develop these knowledge-centered support practices, collectively adding what works.

Carl: What other best practices has Avaya implemented based on guidance from the Consortium?
Russ: Well let me be clear: Some of the things we implemented were not considered best practices at the time. That’s the way the Consortium member companies work–we each try things that we thing will work for us, and test those practices in the real world. Once somebody has success with something, the Consortium then looks to others who have had success with it, and once enough members have found it works for them too, then the members decide to incorporate it as a best practice. Direct publishing was one such innovation: At the time we decided to try it, there were quite a few raised eyebrows, and, “Really? Are you sure you really want to do that?” Now, with the success we’ve had, other member companies have starting to do the same. Although that seemed a radical change, it was built on the other best practices of the consortium–the double KCS loop of “Solve and Evolve,” don’t overly rely on measuring “activities,” as that can cause a system to fail, coaching systems, and many others.

Carl: From my own experience, years ago, of writing KB articles, can you explain how important your team takes the feedback we get on the articles and how we handle it?
Russ: Organizationally we take it very seriously–it is a core component of our closed-loop quality system. We have invested in a number of systems to ensure the feedback gets to the right person quickly, and that they act upon it to close the loop with the rater. We don’t want people to think their feedback on an article went into a black hole–we want them to experience ‘Hey, somebody heard me and my feedback resulted in a change.’ I also know that it gets mindshare among the people who create content.

The other day I was in a meeting, not about Knowledge Management, and somebody spontaneously blurted out ‘Hey, I just got 5 stars!’ On the flip side, I’ve had people reach out to me because they haven’t been happy about some poor feedback they have received–it bothers them–they don’t like it when what they have written isn’t perceived as great. But the feedback is what it is. “The customer is always right.”

Carl: What is your next big opportunity to tackle to further improve our users’ support experience?
Russ: People become known through the content they create; that’s why they’re bothered by getting a low star rating, because they know that doesn’t reflect well on them. As they start to gain a good reputation in a particular subject area, more people seek them out, they get challenged more, and they get even better.

I find this isn’t limited to just our employees and the knowledge they create. Look at online support communities–stackexchange.com is a good example of this–people become known through their work. It improves their marketability and their opportunities. Our next big opportunity is to give the experts out there in the world, those who know a lot about Avaya products, or similar technologies, a place to shine. And to that end, we have invested in the Avaya Support Forums a place where all these people, not just Avayans, can ask questions and provide answers to questions. A place where they can build their reputation. A place where they can shine in their industry. At support.avaya.com/forums, people can participate in the conversation and develop their reputation, both through the questions they ask, and the answers they provide.

Carl: If readers would like to learn more about Avaya’s implementation of knowledge management and/or KCS in general, where can they go for more information?
Russ: There are a number of case studies and presentations published. I’d recommend the following:

http://www.serviceinnovation.org/included/docs/AvayaTransformingCE.pdf
http://www.serviceinnovation.org/included/docs/EveryoneCanPublish.pdf

Also if people are interested in more, or have questions, feel free to email me at rbrookes@avaya.com.