The COVID-19 pandemic indisputably changed the way people work, with video conferencing and team collaboration application adoption skyrocketing as IT leaders looked for ways to keep users connected and productive from home. As the pandemic wanes and a new era of hybrid work dawns, many experts predict organizations will continue to rely on apps such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom to support a fluid mix of on-site and remote staff.
More than just a meeting application, a collaboration platform can serve as a centralized hub housing virtually all of a company's workflows, from meetings, chats and trainings to project management, expense approvals and customer service. But, as employees increasingly depend on team collaboration suites to do their work, it becomes more important that the apps themselves consistently work as they should. And, in complex hybrid environments, traditional IT monitoring tools may not be up to the challenge.
That's where digital experience monitoring (DEM) enters the chat. Sometimes referred to as end-user experience management, DEM is a relatively new approach that involves correlating data from across on-premises infrastructure, cloud infrastructure, applications and endpoints. DEM tech, from vendors such as 1E, Aternity, Catchpoint and others, then considers all of that information contextually to proactively find, flag and resolve problems that threaten UX. Gartner has predicted 70% of enterprises will adopt DEM technology by 2025, up from just 15% in 2020.
TechTarget is recognizing a notable new DEM platform, Vantage DX from Martello Technologies, as the latest winner of our Network Innovation Award for its impressive Microsoft Teams end-user experience monitoring capabilities. The Vantage DX suite combines call quality analytics and network path analysis to help enterprises find not just where problems exist, but also what's causing them and how to fix them. The platform also boasts virtual robots that mimic Microsoft 365 end-user activity -- sending messages, making calls, scheduling meetings and more, around the clock -- to proactively optimize Teams performance and uncover new issues in real time.
SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke to Rob Doucette, vice president of product management at Martello Technologies, based in Ottawa, to learn more about the Vantage DX DEM platform and how it can help Teams users.
Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What problem does Vantage DX address?
Rob Doucette: Vantage DX allows organizations to prioritize where they should put their efforts -- by identifying where there might be poorly performing Teams calls, for example -- and then provides IT with the data and insights they need to resolve problems once they're identified. Lastly, it continues to optimize the environment through proactive monitoring.
We see our value in the breadth of data that we collect to help explain why there might be problems with the Microsoft 365 user experience. We have Teams call quality analytics. We've got diagnostic probes that can get IT the visibility they need to pinpoint a problem. Then, we've got a virtual robot that acts as if it's a user, so the next time you have a problem, the robot finds it first.
We can also correlate data from third-party systems. A lot of enterprises already have tools in place -- whether that's Microsoft System Center, SolarWinds, Nagios, AppDynamics or others -- that sometimes have very useful information. If there's a bunch of network equipment in my office and that network equipment isn't operating effectively, for example, then it could also be to blame for my poor Teams experience. That's data we can gather from something like SolarWinds and say, 'Rob's having a bad day on Teams, and he's in the Ottawa office. Oh, look, we have performance degradation in the network in Ottawa.'
Tell me more about the Teams call quality analytics piece. Why is that important?
Doucette: We have organizations coming to us and saying, 'We know lots of people are having problems with Teams, but we have no idea who, where, what or how we're going to fix it.' And that's rooted in a few behaviors. One is that people typically don't create tickets or call IT when they have a bad Teams call. They'll either ignore it and hope it doesn't happen again, they'll try to fix it themselves or they'll lean on peers for help. Ultimately, all of those behaviors just sap productivity. So, first, IT needs to get their arms around the scope of the problem in their organization.
The beauty of this step is there's absolutely nothing the customer needs to deploy because Vantage DX is a cloud-hosted application. They log in and configure their Microsoft 365 tenant credentials, and we pull in all the data we need to assess their environment. We give them a breakdown of the Teams problems happening at each location, and they immediately know what's going on in their organization.
OK, so IT now knows where the issues are. What's the next step?
Doucette: We might see, 'Oh, there are a lot of issues happening in southern France, or in the Dallas office, or wherever it might be.' Maybe there are particular users at home that are having problems. Here's where we can deploy diagnostic probes into those environments. If you're at home and having a bad Teams call experience, is it your laptop? Is it your home network? Do you have other people competing on your local network for bandwidth? Is it your ISP or Microsoft? There are a lot of variables that IT does not have any visibility into, especially if people are not in the office.
Our diagnostics probe provides that visibility, with a hop-by-hop analysis of the whole network route between a user and the Microsoft cloud data centers. If you're having a problem, we'll not only be able to tell you what that problem is -- we'll tell you who's to blame and how to fix it. If your ISP is the problem, maybe you can get more bandwidth, for example.
Is there a gap between what a typical user thinks the problem is and what the Vantage DX diagnostics find it actually is?
Doucette: It's a huge gap. Internally, we jokingly call this 'the blame game.' If you have a Zoom call that was really choppy, you might leave it and say, 'Wow, Zoom really sucks.' But the reality is the Zoom servers were probably just fine. Maybe there was something running on your laptop that was hogging bandwidth or something was going on with your local network, or there's a problem with your ISP.
In the case of Teams, Microsoft might have a couple big outages that get a lot of attention in the news. But the reality is, most of the time, the service works really well -- it's all the other stuff that's in between you and Microsoft that's to blame. We're just providing that visibility so IT can understand if there is a pattern.
Where does the Vantage DX 'robot user' come into play?
Doucette: Let's say you have an issue in your Dallas office, which we identity and fix. We would then recommend putting a robot in the Dallas office so that, next time there's a problem, the robot will notify you before the users even notice. It really acts just as if it's a real user for all the workloads within Microsoft 365 -- sending emails, measuring how long it takes to send those emails, checking calendar availability, booking meetings, navigating SharePoint, uploading and downloading content into OneDrive.
On the Teams side, the robot holds audio and video calls, creates new channels, posts content in those channels and measures the user experience for all those actions. That gives you a baseline so you know, over time, if anomalies are popping up.
If your house is on fire but you don't know where, we first help you identify where the fire is. Then, we give you the fire extinguisher so you can put out the fire. The robots are the smoke detectors, so next time there's a fire, you're not relying on people in the house to find it. You have a smoke detector to tell you that there's something going on.
Do the robots run 24/7?
Doucette: They are looking for problems every few minutes, 24/7. The benefit of that is: Imagine a typical Monday morning, with people coming in at nine o'clock to discover there has been an issue lurking over the weekend. Well, the robot will have already found that and given IT a heads-up that, 'Hey, there's an issue you've got to solve before everyone comes back online Monday morning.'
How does deployment of a Vantage DX robot work?
Doucette: There's a small on-premises component, a Windows application, that is deployed either in a user's device or an office server. Typically, we recommend deploying them based on what we find in the Teams user analytics -- in your Dallas and Paris offices, if those offices are having problems, for example.
Now, there is a pretty good case for putting robots wherever there are clusters of users, even if you aren't having problems in those offices, to give you an early warning system. Even if you don't have problems today, something might creep up, or Microsoft might have an outage.
That's a use case that we've heard from some of our larger enterprise customers: The robots have typically found outages 30 to 40 minutes before Microsoft even informed their customers. And, in a really large enterprise with 150,000 users, a lot can happen in 30 minutes. If even a small percentage of those people decide to create tickets or call support, it can overwhelm IT.
On the flip side, as soon as that service becomes available again, the robot will notify you that things are working.
How does Vantage DX fit into the post-pandemic world of hybrid work, as more users trickle back to their offices?
Doucette: Teams use has just exploded in the past 18 months or so. During the pandemic, people's lives started to revolve around these video experiences, whether through Zoom, Teams, Webex or whatever. And now they're carrying those behaviors back into their offices. But we're seeing a lot of organizations whose offices weren't designed to support a few hundred people all having Teams calls all day, so they're seeing performance problems. By putting a robot into an office, you can measure the user experience as you sort of ramp up that migration back to the office. The robot is going to give that heartbeat of how well Teams video calls are performing over time.
We did a survey a while back and found that the longer Teams is adopted into an organization, the more it becomes entrenched into the business. It's not just a chat platform; you have approval workflows and finance workflows and people start to embed their business into Teams.
Once that happens, the business has no choice but to then say, 'If this tool is entrenched into our business, how do we make sure that it's actually working the way it should be?' And, because Teams is a cloud-delivered service, traditional tools just do not provide IT with the visibility they need to understand where and when there are problems happening.