UC Migration Automisation and Standardization

Automating work flows is an ongoing labour-intensive activity that requires highly skilled resources, that understand the end-to-end process and technologies used.  In addition, detailed knowledge of the specific implementation for requirements gathering, process development, testing and supporting is required.

Managing UC shouldn't be hard nor should it lock you into a specific vendor or a specific way of doing it

Reasons for Automation

The most common criteria for evaluating if automation should be invested in are

  • Improve Quality
  • Reduce Cost
  • Reduce Delivery Lead Times
  • Increase Consistency 

Reducing Resource Requirements

One of the main reasons and criteria for deciding if a highly repetitive process should be automated, is based directly on costs savings, with return on investment based on 12 – 24 months often attached to a reduction in head count.

This is the easiest method to determine the direct cost saving for specific and discrete repeatable tasks. This can be extended when interdependent processes are taken into consideration

Lead Time Reduction

Delivery timelines can be reduced with the use of process and build automation, as highly manual tasks are automated, reducing manual input. For build automation, tasks that often took many hours can be reduced to a few minutes. For process automation, orders can be automatically submitted when the required information is available, again reducing delivery lead times

These criteria require a detailed analysis of internal processes and should be undertaken to identify processes that are regularly blocking a deployment and/or are causing delays.

Error Reduction

Often errors or mistakes make their way into a solution during delivery and are only found when a customer reports an issue, often after a system has gone live. Build and test automation can be used to ensure that these errors are identified and resolved before customers are impacted.

These criteria are difficult to quantify unless detailed and accurate information is captured. Analysis of CRM systems can be used to look for cases of configuration error, but often it is not practical to extract this insight, so should be assessed as a subjective quality metric.

Standardisation and Accountability

There are significant benefits to standardising configuration of systems. By doing so, standardisation makes support and lifecycle activities simpler as there is limited customisation between deployments, which allows for templating and additional automation of these activities.

These criteria are much harder to deterministically quantify costs and return on investment as these costs are indirect and often cross functional between the various teams involved with HCS, such as pre-sales, deployment, project management and assurance.

Process Insight

Use of automation can provide a high degree of insight into business process that can provide a bird’s eye view of the whole system. Highly accurate data can be collected throughout the process that can then be used for future analysis and improvements

Automation of Onboarding

Many of the tasks in building and onboarding a customer in HCS are repeated between customers,

Data Collection

Tooling can be used to assist with automating and standardising data collection, throughout the on-boarding process

  • Pre-sales - requirements gathering, where the ability to easily and accurately collect data from existing systems or by use of structured data collection templates and processes, ensures that an appropriate scope for delivery is defined.
  • Post-sales - accurate and efficient data collection with automated validation techniques greatly improves the time taken for a deployment and reduces the level of day 1 support issues due to the higher quality of data loaded.

UC Application Build

Build automation for UC applications can be achieved using the Cisco Voice Operating System (VOS) touchless installation process and the Answer File Generator (AFG) combined with an orchestration platform. This can achieve the following

  • Reduce the time taken for deployments, using automation and templating that reduces the number of inputs required by the operator
  • Increase the quality of the build process where standards and templates are used, rather than manual configuration that is error prone and where best practice can be overlooked.
  • Automated build verification and automated generation of as-built documents to facilitate operational handover of systems.
  • Implementation of automated documentation generation such as pre-filled High-Level Design (HLD) documents.
  • Enables the use of test automation for pre-commissioning testing to ensure that the systems that have been automatically built, are functioning correctly and to ensure that there are no pre-existing issues that would normally be discovered during customer deployment or support activities.
  • Optimization of compute infrastructure using the most resource efficient allocation methods and enforcement of resource allocation standards. 
  • Adherence to build and design standards and requirements that the customer or partner may have.

Process and Document Management

Integrated process and documentation management with the use of automation can lead to significant reductions in lead time for ordering and engagement with internal teams and end customers.

  • Requirements collection templates or web portals for use by the customer and the partner design teams, assist greatly with requirements discovery and to reduce deployment lead times, as less discussions and workshops are required.
It is recommended that these documents are written in a manner that makes them accessible to IT staff including those without a telephony background, or have sufficient background collateral. 
  • Document templating can greatly reduce delivery lead times for a deployment. This can include internal order and engagement documents or design and as built documents. Automation can be used for document creation with the required meta-data, data extraction from ordering, provisioning, build or CMDB systems, which greatly reduces the risk of transcription error.
  • Order lodgement for internal and external services is an often, manual and complex process, typically requiring specific knowledge for each process. Automation can be used for:
    • Pre-filling of orders documents with data extracted from a variety of systems ensure accurate information
    • Validation of orders reduces the likelihood of an order being rejected, as often the engagement SLA clock restarts with resubmission
    • Automated order lodgement reduces the level of specific knowledge required for placing an order and can be assisted with an automated end-to-end process
    • Order tracking integration with project management provides accurate information and can provide visibility if the expected deliver date will impact migration activities
  • Data Collection (Detailing) for “Greenfields” deployments requires significant manual data entry often with multiple revisions before being approved by the customer and then loaded by the partner.
The use of a centralised data collection repository with version controlling and potentially customer portal access can help facilitate and improve this process.

Data Validation

The use of automated data validation collected during a deployment can be applied to improve deployment lead times and ensure the quality of data collected. This can be done by

  • Providing an easy way for end users or customers to validate data and provided feedback in a simple and managed way.
  • Correlate data between multiple sources and highlight any discrepancies and notify the appropriate teams for further attention
  • Enforcement of product guideline design standards

 

Lifecycle Implication of Automation

There are several significant implications of automation that should be taken into consideration, as the increased integration with additional systems comes with the hidden cost of updating the process when components in the automation workflow change or are upgraded. This can include:

  • Additional system inputs can require additional user inputs that will require redesign of the user interfaces, or system inputs that require extraction of data from other systems or new business logic
  • Interface changes that can include when an API requires a new security policy or when an API is deprecated and replaced.
  • Business logic changes can be required when new features and services are added to the underlying system and new components are introduced
When evaluating automation, ensure that the solution is flexible to support changes (if the partner is managing it directly or otherwise supported by the vendor) so that new features and services can be adopted in a timely and cost manner.

Testing

The use of test automation during migrations can reduce time taken for a deployment, increase the quality of the deployment and reduce the number of day 1 issues, as it provides the capability to fully test the solution. Depending on the rigour of the test requirements, this can also reduce the test resource requirements and often provide test capabilities that cannot be practically done with personnel. There are several stages throughout the deployment where testing can and should be done

  • Pre-commissioning testing should be done after the UC build is complete and before the migration begins. This testing includes ensuring that the system built meets build standards, there are no connectivity issues between components, the systems do not have any issues or alarms and basic functionality is validated.
  • Site Assessments should be performed well before a migration to ensure that the network and supporting services are working and there is sufficient capacity, these include connectivity, bandwidth, QOS and DNS
  • System Acceptance Testing should be performed once the UC infrastructure is configured, such as testing that trunking and integration into other systems are completed. This is often used as gate before starting deployments and includes testing of
    • Telephony features and service
    • Connectivity to other systems
    • Load testing
    • Trunking
    • Stress testing
    • Resiliency 
  • Migration testing is focused on ensuring that the specific services used by that site are functioning correctly such as
    • Number range testing (porting)
    • Media services
    • Connectivity
    • Site specific telephony features
    Zane England