A Closer Look at Reducing Unified Communications Costs

As a Cisco provisioning software maker in the Cisco unified communications space, Akkadian Labs is in the unique position of seeing trends, especially related to unified communications ROI. As a business development executive, I spend a lot of time speaking with Cisco unified communications (UC) practice managers, solution architects and account managers at value-added resellers, integrators, and service providers across the country. We also engage with CTOs, IT managers, and network engineers from SMB to large enterprises. And what we’re seeing across the board with Cisco UC deployments is a desire to simplify unnecessarily complex tasks while boosting user and feature adoption rates. Akkadian Labs has identified one area of Cisco UC administration where companies may be able to reduce their total cost of ownership (TCO), and that is in the provisioning of users and devices. Cisco Call Manager cost of administration is generally a potential area of improvement. Provisioning – the process of setting up employee phones, voicemail and other devices, within the Cisco UC environment – requires expertise and time, both of which are costly. Reducing time spent on provisioning will undoubtedly reduce a company’s TCO. And given that the average expectancy of a new Cisco UC deployment is about 5-6 years, I would argue that any idea or business solution that cuts annual Cisco UC system operating costs over the expected term of deployment is worth listening to. The high levels of Cisco Call Manager pricing should encourage UC engineers to consider operational productivity improvements.

A Look at Companies Using Cisco UC

Cisco UC Provisioning Challenges

A large financial services firm in Milwaukee is growing rapidly and is looking to streamline the new hire onboarding process. A major healthcare facility in Boston wants to transition daily provisioning tasks from highly-skilled Cisco certified engineers to their help desk in order to free up their engineers to work on higher priority tasks. A law firm in New York needs to protect its Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM, also commonly referred to as Call Manager) after an attempt to provision a new user in CUCM wiped out an entire office’s user data. A global retailer with US and European headquarters wants to enable their regional offices to perform some of the more straightforward provisioning tasks such as voicemail PIN resets and name changes. What do all of these companies have in common? They are all struggling with the inconsistencies and complexities of day-to-day provisioning in Cisco – the moves, adds, changes and deletes or MAC-Ds – that seemingly eat up the cycles of highly-paid resources while threatening to burden help desk and IT administrators of companies large and small.

What is Cisco Unified Communications Provisioning?

Making Moves, Adds, Changes and Deletes

Phone service changes associated with an employee (new extension, new device, etc) require a MAC-D order. Some examples of MAC-D work include:
  • Adding a new hire into your network
  • Provisioning any one (or all) of the following:
    • Hard phone (i.e Cisco IP phone 7965)
    • Soft phone (i.e Cisco IP Communicator)
    • Mobile devices including iPhone, iPad and Android
    • Jabber client
  • Adding a conference room or lobby phone into the network
  • Deploying new phones as part of a CUCM upgrade or new Cisco UC deployment

Saving Time and Money

Simplifying the MAC-D Process

Along with being known as one of the top unified communications platforms, Cisco UC deployments are also known for its complexity and lack of streamlined, user-friendly functionality. Not surprisingly, the MAC-D processes are not simple and require expertise to perform. Moreover, Cisco-certified engineers and administrators enjoy higher salaries than their UC engineer peers. If a company is able to reduce the time highly-skilled engineers spend performing MAC-D tasks within its Cisco UC environment, then the company may reduce its TCO. Furthermore, UC service providers would be more competitive and support reduced Cisco HCS pricing with automation tools.

Costs Per MAC-D

Comparing Salary Costs to Time Spent on Provisioning

Studies indicate that across all major UC platforms (Cisco, Microsoft, ShoreTel and Avaya), the average number of MAC-D orders per phone is about 0.14, with each MAC-D requiring 15 minutes per service order. (Note that Cisco and Microsoft come in a little higher at 17 and 18 minutes, respectively.) In an independent study by Akkadian Labs, which was focused on Cisco UC deployments, we see large enterprises (25,000 users) with multiple provisioners and support staff, all full time, doing about .9 MAC-Ds per user. In one case, we saw a company with 10,000 users doing 400 MAC-Ds per month, averaging about 2.1 MAC-D orders per user, per year. What is significant about this is that Cisco engineers make on average about $85,000-$110,000 annual salary, thereby driving the operational costs of these MAC-Ds significantly above the averages. (In traditional telephony environments, MAC-D orders are more likely to be completed by operational staff or non-specialized technicians. Cisco and Microsoft deployments are more likely to require certified skill sets, leading to the higher compensation, thus higher operating costs.) For any companies often involved with mergers and acquisitions, streamlining this process is a no-brainer.

Time to Perform MAC-Ds

Provisioning Tools Reduce Time To Perform MAC-D Actions

0.145.4517 minutes< 1 minute
Average MAC-D orders per phone*Dedicated MAC-D Resources per 1,000 phonesTime to complete MAC-D order in CUCMTime to complete MAC-D order with Akkadian Provisioning Manager
Sources: Aberdeen Group, January 2012 and Akkadian Labs, 2015 *Study was done per phone, not per user. Average devices being provisioned in today’s Cisco UC deployment can vary from 1-7 per user. For this study, we used an average of 3 devices (i.e hard phone, soft phone, mobile phone) per user. We are also seeing an average of about 1.5 MAC-Ds per user per year as per our independent study, which is notably higher than the Aberdeen Group study. Using the data in the table above, and applying Akkadian Labs’ updated research from September and October 2015, a company with 5,000 users deployed in a Cisco UC environment is doing 7,500 MAC-Ds per year. Assuming a $100,000 salary, or $48/hr, let’s compare provisioning in CUCM versus provisioning using a MAC-D tool such as Akkadian Provisioning Manager (APM). Companies using APM saw savings in two areas: time spent provisioning, as well as dollars saved on salaries. Because APM is easy to learn and easy to use, resources without Cisco certifications and credentials are able to perform MAC-D orders. Accordingly, the annual salary of the resources doing the MAC-Ds won’t be at the same level. In the example below, we used a $75,000 salary, or $36/hr.
# UsersAve # of MAC-Ds/yrProvisioning time: CUCMProvisioning cost: CUCMProvisioning time: APMProvisioning cost: APMTime/Cost Savings
1,0001,500425 hrs$20,40025 hrs$90094% / 96%
5,0007,5002,125 hrs$102,000125 hrs$4,50094% / 96%
10,00015,0004,250 hrs$204,000250 hrs$9,00094% / 96%
25,00037,50010,625 hrs$510,000625 hrs$22,50094% / 96%
*Factoring in the perpetual licensing and maintenance cost of APM, the ROI in every one of these cases is less than 1yr.

ROI of Cisco UC Provisioning Tools

Why businesses of all sizes should consider implementing APM

Small Business (1-100 employees, annual revenue less than $50M) – Our partners report that in smaller installations, companies utilize Cisco’s Business Edition 6000 or 7000. In most cases, one or two network administrators are supporting the company’s entire communications infrastructure. With IT team members wearing so many hats, a tool such as Akkadian Provisioning Manager would serve to bring simplicity and consistency to otherwise complex, time-consuming tasks. Midsize Enterprise (101-1,000 employees, annual revenue between $50M and $1B) – If your company is growing, perhaps you’re looking to free-up your top-tier engineers to focus more on mission-critical activities. Consideration should be given to offloading MAC-Ds to lower-tier help desk personnel. APM gives you peace-of-mind when handing over provisioning powers to non-Cisco certified resources. With a user-friendly interface, repeatable action templates, and built-in security (you only need to log into APM, which is fully-integrated with CUCM), you can enable less technical team members to perform MAC-D work while protecting your Call Manager. Large Enterprise (over 1,000 employees, annual revenue over $1B) – You’re doing over 100 MAC-D’s per day/week, with a dedicated team of 10/20+ provisioners, and a solution that can cut your time spent provisioning by over 90% just makes sense. If your company is looking into deploying a Cisco UC solution, or already has, there are many facets of TCO to evaluate, especially the Cisco Unified Communications Manager price and the Cisco maintenance cost . Rather than simply considering the initial price tag, think about how a third-party solution such as Akkadian Provisioning Manager can help cut costs by streamlining processes and giving back valuable time to your network engineers.

Time is Money

Simplify. Save Time. Save Money.

The benefits of using a provisioning tool to simplify MAC-D orders include quicker ticket turnaround times, consistency, less training requirements, virtual elimination of human error – all of which have a direct impact a company’s bottom line. Considering the high Cisco Call Manager price, it pays to investigate operational productivity improvements. And so if you closely analyze the operational costs your company will incur over the solution’s intended lifespan, it seems that the ROI argument shifts from “Why should we buy?” to “Why shouldn’t we buy?”

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