When the ACE pilot network began inside Cisco, it supported a much smaller audience.  In those days we only had around 1000 users, and for the most part these were very technically savvy people.  Mostly they were power users, who could use tools normally provided to our engineering group with ease.  As our ACE “service introduction” network has grown to support over 13,000 users, we are now reaching a much wider audience that still wants to use leading-edge, first-deployment services; yet, with production-level support and ease of use.  To keep up with the needs of our evolving user base, we needed to reduce the amount of time our team was spending on routine provisioning and support tasks – which can take up a lot of time.

AN13153Our solution was to create an online self-service portal – full of software that automates common tasks for provisioning and modifying their UC devices and features.  It is, in essence, an e-store developed using public APIs available for multiple Cisco UC platforms, including Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Cisco Telepresence Video Communications Server.

Enabling this portal shielded our users from the complexity that’s involved in seemingly simple tasks like changing a password or the caller ID display, both of which could span across multiple platforms and result in a series of cascading changes unknown to the user.  This focus on simplicity by narrowing the choices and predetermining defaults also helps to reduce possibility errors and in turn increases the satisfaction of our users.  In addition, supplemental user guides and videos on our portal walk our users through step-by-step processes for our supported devices, such as provisioning a newly connected phone, and for a service, such as booking a videoconference bridge.

Another key feature to every user on the ACE network is access to a set of self-support resources, with a dashboard that receives data through Cisco’s UC APIs. This site provides information on the current network status, troubleshooting advice, and the ability to open an ACE network support case if needed.

These tools, some of which are later adopted for use in our production network, are developed and maintained by a small automation team within the ACE program.  Delivering these automated self-service capabilities brings benefits to users, to Cisco IT, and to the company in the following ways:

  • Our users are empowered to immediately provision and troubleshoot their own devices, giving them instant access to our services instead of wasting the time and effort in opening a case and waiting for action or response.
  • Cisco IT can avoid a significant amount of staffing and costs for user support on both the ACE and production networks. Today, only 6 developers out of the 15 engineers on the ACE team build tools for the 13,000 users on our ACE network. Without these automated tools, we would need a significantly greater support organization for the ACE users.

In short, if you can find repeatable and deterministic tasks that are commonly being performed on your UC infrastructure, then you should be able to use APIs to automate that process and incorporate into any business process.  That’s exactly what we’ve done with ACE and it’s making UC tasks easier for users and our network teams. In future posts, I’ll describe other ways we’ve used the Cisco UC APIs to automate capabilities for ACE network operations and for ACE users.

This post is part of a series about the Cisco ACE Service Introduction Network. You’ll find more information in these related posts: