Only Using the Rear View is a Dangerous Way to Drive

About 18 months ago, in my Getting “Real” About Functionality – Getting Precise about the Capabilities of IT Pro Tools blog post, I first got on my soapbox about precision in language.  Today, I point my punctilious lexical lens at “reporting”.

With the popularity of buzzwords like “analytics” and “big data”, every company claims they can do “reporting”; just look at the banner of any booth in any UC Expo Hall.  I do not have an issue with companies claiming they can do reporting because reporting is fairly straightforward.  I take exception with those companies that equate reporting with the more complicated, sophisticated functions of monitoring and diagnostics.  Xerox has become synonymous with photocopying, but just because a company can build copiers doesn’t mean they can do the advanced document management that Xerox can do.  Google has become synonymous with online search, but just because you make a search engine people could use to “google”, does not mean that you can also claim to make self-driving cars.

Reporting is the most fundamental workload in UC performance management today.  It  provides a high-level view of the environment, but does not actively monitor environmental health, nor provide the correlated diagnostics to help identify and remediate active issues.

The Annual Report – State of the Business

Microsoft’s fiscal year ended last week and in about 3 months they will issue their 2018 annual report.  The timing seemed like a good excuse for a relevant reporting analogy. The annual report is a consolidated presentation of key financial information from a company’s prior fiscal year.  The data is consolidated and organized into a presentation of narratives, tables, and graphs that is meaningful to current and potential investors.  It represents a discrete point in time or multiple historical discrete moments in time.

Reporting is good and valuable when data is presented in a useful manner, but it only tells you what is happening at a discrete moment in time.  An annual report captures the state of the business at the end of their fiscal year. In the moment, a report of data is only important if something is clearly out of whack or if what you are reporting on has a discrete threshold (an annual report of negative profit can be a clear indicator something is wrong).

Historical reporting can tell you what has happened over several discrete periods of time.  Most annual reports include financial highlights from the previous 3-5 fiscal years.  If you know what you’re looking for, historical reporting can highlight trends over time.  Knowing that Microsoft had $89.9B in revenue in FY17 seems fairly significant, but knowing that it actually had $93.5B in FY15 tells a slightly different story.

What Reporting Is

At its most basic, reporting is the organized presentation of data.  This presentation can be any combination of narratives, graphs or tables.  It can be distinct moments in time or show trends over various periods of time. Reporting is valuable for presenting to management the success of a project.  For example, adoption reporting shows the CIO how many users within their enterprise are embracing a new technology roll-out.  Trend reporting can show how that adoption has changed over time.

Reporting can also highlight intermittent issues.  Seeing a single bad UC call that happens to be over Wi-Fi does not necessarily communicate anything.  However, if ¾ of all poor UC calls by users within a certain wireless zone is  over Wi-Fi, then it may be time to do an audit of your Wi-Fi coverage.

What Makes for Good Reporting

Anyone can build a table and graph in Excel.  The keys to building an effective reporting tool are knowing 1) what data is valuable and 2) how to organize the data in a way that is meaningful to your intended audience.

The Right Data

To build an effective UC monitoring solution, a company must have a deep understanding of the data coming from the UC environment.  Further, they must understand which data components actually matter to the enterprise.  Although not an insurmountable barrier to entry, domain knowledge is a key requirement for any effective reporting solution.  Our investment bank is very good at making compelling graphs about financial performance, but I would not trust them to build reports on the impact of non-supported Bluetooth headsets on call quality.

Presented the Right Way

Having identified the proper data to present is not enough for an effective reporting solution.  To deliver value, the reporting solution must present that data in a way that is digestible, actionable, and valuable to the target audience.  Try giving your CIO a 100,000 row spreadsheet of call history and see how that goes.  The user interface and presentation of the data is a not a domain-specific requirement, but any reporting solution must employ someone who can make that data meaningful to any targeted audience. The best reporting solutions intelligently extract the data from the UC environment and present it in a way that is valuable to anyone who interfaces with the data from the end user to the CIO.

What Reporting is Not

Reporting tells you what happened.  What happened can be valuable, but it is reacting to an incumbent condition. If all you are interested in is what is in the rear-view mirror, please continue to evaluate any number of UC “reporting” vendors. If you also want to know what is happening right now and how it could impact performance, you may want to expand your search to include monitoring vendors. If you want to be able to correlate various data points and diagnose want went wrong with particular poor UC calls or broader outages, you should definitely expand your search to diagnostics vendors.

If you are looking to ease the comprehensive management of a UC environment, contact us today to help refine your search to a tool that can provide reporting, monitoring, and correlated diagnostics.