With communications technology becoming increasingly integrated with network infrastructure and IT (some would say indistinguishable), more and more businesses are realizing the importance of being able to centrally monitor and maintain this mission-critical business capability. As communication environments become more complex, so to does the need for visibility into the various aspects of these systems and the ability to cohesively manage them.
Whether it be application performance and availability, voice and video quality monitoring, insight into user activity and system capacity, or keeping users up to date with current software releases and patches, IT managers are looking for ways to automate the process of identifying issues and keeping their communications systems current, secure and effective. Companies like IR, with their Prognosis performance management suite, or Virsae, with their service management platform are delivering solutions to help manage this effort. One related area that has been gathering a lot of attention recently has been device management as more businesses shift from traditional deskphones to Unified Communications solutions and users begin using softphones and headsets. Keeping these devices current and managing them effectively is a challenge many businesses hadn’t counted on, or prepared for.
Managing Device Updates and Policy Remotely
To learn more about how companies are addressing the issue of monitoring, optimizing and maintaining communications endpoints on their network, I spoke with Dennis Majikas, a Service Engineer at headset maker Jabra. “Businesses with large contact centers have been aware of the challenges of device management for years,” says Majikas, “but companies that are moving to a UC or softphone solution suddenly have hundreds or thousands of UC handsets, softphones or professional-grade headsets they need to deploy and maintain.”
Doing so can be a major challenge for businesses without a management software platform. For example, if a new firmware version or device driver for their preferred headsets is released, without a way of remotely updating those devices, IT would need to spend many nights and weekends manually going from system to system updating each device. According to Majikas, this is where a solution like Jabra XPress comes into play by letting businesses deploy software, firmware and settings for USB audio devices remotely. “Companies want to keep their hardware current and in compliance with corporate policy, and by having the ability to push these updates out automatically it can take days worth of labor and cut it down to an hour,” says Majikas.
And it is not just upgrading, but keeping the devices in compliance with corporate standards that is critical. We discussed a company that works in a very high security industry. “This client defined a profile for their softphones and devices that contained certain applications, certain software clients with their appropriate drivers, and firmware versions for their headsets that they had blessed and knew were secure, and they locked it down,” explained Majikas. “There may be newer versions of firmware available, but the older version is all they currently allow. By managing the device profiles centrally even if a new headset with a newer version of firmware is connected to the network, Jabra Xpress will deploy the corporate standard automatically.” In the same vein, if an employee breaks their headset and goes to Staples to buy a new one, as soon as they connect it to their system it will bring itself up to date based on the company’s parameters and policies.
Managing Headset Settings Remotely
When it comes to devices – especially wireless devices like headsets and DECT deskphones – it is not only firmware and drivers that businesses may need to worry about, it is also the environment in which they are deployed. As we’ve covered in this previous post, if companies are packing hundreds of employees in close proximity to each other, they may run out of available wireless channels. Here again, having a software tool managing devices can make all the difference. “Wireless headsets come out of the box configured with normal power settings, which in the case of DECT provides around 300 feet of roaming from the base,” explained Majikas. “Depending on employee density, this can quickly become an issue as only 64 channels are available with DECT. In this instance, IT can perform an update to bring the power settings down to very low power – for all or just some users – which provides 60 feet of roaming and can help eliminate many channel conflict issues.”
Another area of concern to businesses is acoustic shock. If employees have audio above a certain volume level concentrated on their ears for an extended period of time, it can be harmful. By defining corporate standards that set audio levels at prescribed limits, IT teams can be sure that employees are not cranking up the volume to ear damaging levels. “This is of particular interest to IT teams,” says Majikas. “They can set the maximum volume at safe levels and even set a password to protect the sound limit on each device. The software will wake up, update the firmware and the sound parameters, set the password and go back to sleep.” Note: Personally, I would think this would result in a quieter, calmer work environment, as I can’t believe I’m the only one who gets louder and louder when the volume on my call is sky high.
With so many companies migrating away from traditional deskphones and moving towards unified communications solutions that rely on softphone clients and headsets, it is imperative that businesses are ready to effectively manage these new devices. Having centralized management software that allows them to deploy updates, corporate policy and device settings just makes sense. Oh, and the fact that it can save days and days of labor each year is icing on the cake.