Managing mobile devices and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) initiatives is a universal challenge for corporate IT administrators. Analyst firm IDC predicts that by 2019, nearly 2 billion smartphones will ship globally, with about 60% of them being used in a work environment in some fashion.
On the one hand, the trend towards BYOD seems unstoppable. Employees in organizations of all sizes are bringing phones, tablets and personal computers into the business work environment. Moreover, as the workforce continues to be transformed by the influx of Millennial workers, more and more business communications are taking place across applications outside of the traditional corporate IT orbit.
While it is nice for the business in that they typically won’t need to pay for all of the hardware or monthly services associated with personal devices, the security concerns and logistical challenges posed by managing all of these devices are very real. A single data breach can inflict huge costs in terms of both hard dollars and reputational impact.
More and more companies and IT managers are turning to BYOD policies as a way to help manage these competing needs. Roughly fifty percent of organizations today have formalized BYOD policies. A typical policy includes provisions for regular password updates, device timeout standards and lists of approved or prohibited applications for corporate use. Other companies are turning to endpoint security vendors such as Symantec, Intel, Trend Micro, Sophos and Kaspersky Labs to help manage this problem.
Perhaps it is time for your company to implement a BYOD policy.
Companies have been hearing a lot about the benefits of unified communications (UC) over the past several years. But many CTOs, technology leaders and business owners have been left wondering whether all of the touted benefits are actually for real.
A recent study of business and IT decision-makers at over 400 companies published by XO Communications, entitled “The State of Unified Communications,” revealed that 87% of organizations feel the benefits of their UC deployments met or exceeded their expectations. Four out of five respondents said that their UC deployments were helping their organizations become more productive and efficient.
Other study findings included:
- UC technology costs met or, in some cases, were actually lower than anticipated, for 74% of respondents.
- Perceived return on investment (ROI) and cost issues are the primary obstacles to UC adoption.
- Successful UC adopters have stronger C-level support than latecomers.
- Future adopters are much less likely to opt for on-premises UC than current users.
“Businesses are eager to benefit from the collaboration and productivity enhancements that UC has to offer,” Jake Heinz, XO Communications’ senior vice president of marketing and product, said in a prepared statement. “XO believes that businesses profit from understanding that companies using UC services are benefiting significantly from improved collaboration and productivity.”
Understanding our client’s business is more important than talking about the latest feature or device.
Don’t get trapped in the jargon of modern communications. Many professionals in our industry have become so accustomed to following every new technology and feature, which we don’t recognize the gap between what is normal for us IT/communications professionals, and what is readily understandable for everyday people.
At various industry conferences, we see demonstrations of some pretty awesome capabilities that are coming to market or are just over the horizon. But when we are on sales calls and speaking with our customers, we experience something very different: busy business professionals trying to keep up with the ever-changing needs of their day-to-day business. While these people would like to think strategically about the future of their communications needs, in reality, they really are focused on knocking out the next critical business item on their agenda.
As a communications provider offering a range of solutions, it is our job to understand our client’s business well enough to quickly direct them to the types of offerings that will meet their business needs – both today and into the future. We must avoid the temptation to take them into the weeds on new features and technology that is still in the distance, and keep the dialogue at a level that they understand.
The rapidity of technology change only continues to grow. A lot has changed in the last five years alone and many companies have a communications system that is five or 10 years old.
Today, smartphones and tablets are everywhere. Millennials are entering the workforce in droves. When our team is working with clients who are considering a technology upgrade, we spend a lot of time educating them about what new technology can do for them and their business.
While the new stuff is clearly more exciting than the outdated technology we are replacing, we need to remember that our customers are often overwhelmed and confused when we throw too much new stuff at them at once.
Ultimately, technology is intended to address business problems. Many times, it’s not the very newest device or feature that solves the problem. The answer may lie in something that is simply newer than what the client purchased seven years ago.
In a recent survey conducted by Osterman Research, one out of six organizations admitted legacy investment in telephony and related systems was a key factor for not immediately adopting a unified communications (UC) solution.
While interest in UC runs high, many IT and business decision-makers are hesitant to deploy. In many cases for CIOs and technology leaders believe in the promise of UC, but recent outlays of capital for legacy systems and the burden of un-depreciated investments prevents the decision-makers from aggressively pushing for change.
Businesses hear all about the benefits of UC, but they want to know how UC will impact their specific organization. However, they’re right to question this because no enterprise is the same and no UC deployment will be the same. This can be difficult to comprehend because the benefits of UC and time to ROI for each organization depends on so many factors including network configuration, workforce culture, adoption roadblocks and where UC can help each business the most.
While nearly a third of decision-makers agree that a full ROI from legacy technology is preferred before moving to UC, another two-thirds would consider improvements in employee productivity as reason enough to justify the migration.
Fears and hesitation notwithstanding, 71 percent of those surveyed believe there are significant and even enormous benefits to be realized from the deployment of UC. Osterman Research predicts the percentage of users served by UC would jump from 45 percent today to 68 percent in 2017, with some of the boost coming from a remote workforce that is expected to climb from 14 percent to 22 percent in that time.
Don’t be confused by your ISP. Not all bandwidth is created equal, especially as more and more real-time communications move to an over-the-top model utilizing the public Internet.
It’s important to understand the difference between Dedicated Internet Access (DIA) and traditional best-efforts services. For many companies, the typical high-speed Internet connection offered by service providers is on a best-efforts basis using bandwidth that is shared across many different customers. It is often sold and marketed according to the max download speed (say, 30,50 or 100 Mbps) even though actual download speeds can vary greatly depending on how many other people are using the shared bandwidth at any particular point in time. So that 30 Mbps connection you think you have might actually be just a few Mbps when you need it because of some factor beyond your control.
Moreover, upload speeds are often just a fraction of download speeds. This complicates matters when it comes to things like cloud-based telephony and conferencing in which case both upload and download speeds are critical.
As an alternative to traditional broadband, DIA provides symmetrical connectivity for businesses that need high-bandwidth upload capability. DIA offers continuous, protected connectivity between your LAN and the Internet. Most ISPs deliver SLA-based (guaranteed bandwidth) DIA services across networks that are largely distinct from their primary public Internet offering.
The needs of every company are different, but if you are using your Internet for real-time communications like voice or video conferencing in addition to non-real-time applications like CRM, email and data storage—DIA might be for you.
The beginning of 2015 marked a turning point where Millennials became the dominant generation in the American workforce: more than one in three workers is now a Millennial.
This brings a series of opportunities and challenges to companies seeking to hire and retain the best people and effectively grow their businesses.
So who is a Millennial? Millennials are those people who came of age sometime around the year 2000. There are some 75 million people in this country who were born between 1981 and 2000, and they’re rapidly taking over the workplace – like it or not – and changing the way businesses communicate.
Here are three key ways Millennials are impacting the way we work, and the way people communicate within the corporate environment:
#1 WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Millennials are demanding greater work-life balance than past generations of workers. This does not necessarily mean that Millennial employees are working less (although it can) but it is causing more and more companies to permit people to work from home, remote offices, or do work outside of standard business hours. From a communications standpoint, it is helping to drive the adoption of mobile clients and hosted communication systems, which integrate more easily across disparate sites than traditional premise systems.
#2 PROLIFERATION OF SMART DEVICES
The era of keeping work devices separate from personal devices is over. Millennial workers are demanding that ability to do work on their personal smart devices and expect business applications to work across devices from a variety of manufacturers and operating systems. While this can present security threats to your IT department, the upshot it that many employees are willing to foot the cost of their own device, making true BYOD possible for the enterprise.
#3 VIDEO, CHAT AND COLLABORATION
Millennial employees grew up on instant messenger, video games and Skype. They expect to be able to use a range of technologies beyond traditional voice calling, and they expect those applications to be easy to use. Video, especially, is becoming a standard way of communicating in real-time. Workers want the ability to conduct video calls with co-workers and customers, and to the extent enterprises lack a video strategy they risk falling behind or losing out on the best recruits from the new workforce.
#1 PAYMENT METHOD
For many customers, the most apparent difference is the payment model. Traditional premise-based voice systems are typically paid for as up-front capital expenditure, whereas hosted voice systems are almost exclusively paid for on a monthly basis via a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. In some situations, this single factor determines the preferred solution, as many small and medium-sized businesses simply lack the financial resources to pay for an expensive phone system up-front. In other cases, organizations prefer the capital planning expenditure cycle. This is particularly true for many larger organizations, public companies, government entities and healthcare providers.
#2 QUALITY OF SERVICE
Premise-based phone systems operating with dedicated voice lines from local service providers and supported by local technicians have enjoyed a long track record of delivering a high-quality experience to the end user. This is still true today. On the other hand, hosted systems were initially associated with lower call quality and more service issues. This is no longer true. Improvements in bandwidth availability in most markets, coupled with better network assessments pre-deployment, have made cloud voice systems reliable for enterprise communications. One enduring difference is that many hosted providers try to deliver all of their technical support remotely, whereas most premise systems are paired with local service and support.
The biggest determinant here is the size of the deployment. For companies with fewer than fifty or one hundred seats at a given site, the hosted service providers are typically going to be less expensive than their premise alternatives. Cloud providers usually incorporate unlimited local and long-distance calling together with a new phone instrument and robust feature set all for a single monthly fee. However, this paradigm flips as the number of seats at a given site reaches a hundred or more. The costs of purchasing and maintaining an on-site system scale better across many different users than the per-line per month model of most hosted providers.
The era of BYOD (bring your own device) is well underway, and it is here to stay. More and more employees are utilizing their cell phones and tablets in the business environment, and companies are looking for ways to integrate these end-points with their communications infrastructure. Many premise systems have some degree of mobility offering that can certainly enhance the user experience. The hosted providers are at a distinct advantage because of the way they can seamlessly re-route traffic across different networks and devices. This capability makes it easier for hosted providers to offer neat features like push/pull calling, incorporate remote workers and deliver meaningful business continuity.
It is hard to believe, but with Q4 about to begin the 2016 budgeting cycle is already upon us. If your business is typical, budget dollars for capital spending projects and new operating expenses are always at a premium. Good preparation on the front end can ensure that your employees have the technology they need at a price you can afford.
Moreover, the rapid pace of change in communications technology has in recent years caused many companies both large and small to resist making new investments in their communications infrastructure. This phenomenon and the emergence of newer technologies (like hosted UC) has caused an overall decrease in the number of “lines shipped” (end user phones) across the market. Thanks to these conditions, the business customer is experiencing a favorable purchasing environment. Now is the time to be planning your Unified Communications strategy for 2016.
Here are some tips on good planning for your communications system heading into the next year:
Even if you do not anticipate a purchase in the next six months, now is the best time to request budgetary pricing for inclusion within the 2016 budget and planning process. This holds true regardless of whether you are looking at a CAPEX or OPEX model.
Schedule demos this fall to vet your technology choices and evaluate different service providers. Even if you don’t settle on a particular technology or provider, you will, at least, narrow your range of options down to two or three finalists. This will also enable you to see newly released features and functionality that you might not have been thinking about at the outset of your process. You don’t know what you might be missing.
Many organizations have amassed a patchwork of different legacy systems for voice, conferencing, web collaboration, chat and video. To the extent you can consolidate these types of applications on a truly unified communications platform, you will realize both cost and productivity benefits.
More is better. And, as more mission-critical applications ranging from email to CRM to storage and ERP are moved to the cloud, procuring more capacity at a lower price point becomes, even more, important for your business. Speak with your carrier or network agent to make sure you are getting the most bang for your buck. We see the cost of bandwidth dropping and capacity increasing across geographies. New providers like Google Fiber are entering the market.
Create room in your 2016 budget by shopping your network connectivity.
What is SDN, exactly?
Software-defined networking (SDN) is a different approach to designing, building and managing networks. The essence of the SDN approach is decoupling the control of network activity from the underlying physical infrastructure. This permits network administrators to efficiently build and manage networks across equipment from disparate manufacturers.
What does that really mean?
SDN centralizes control of the network by separating the control logic to off-device resources. All SDN models have an SDN Controller, Northbound and Southbound APIs. The controller (or the brains of the network) offers a centralized view of the network and allows administrators to dictate to the underlying network components (switches and routers) how the forwarding plane should handle the traffic. Southbound APIs relay info to the switches and routers “below”. OpenFlow is a particular Southbound API and is one of the most common and most well-understood protocols within SDN. Some people even confuse the terms and mistake OpenFlow and SDN for the same technology. Northbound APIs are used to shape traffic and deploy services. They communicate with the applications and business logic “above.”
What is OpenFlow?
OpenFlow is an open standard for a communications protocol that enables the control plane to interact with the forwarding plane. The argument for SDN.
There are a variety of reasons SDN is gaining traction:
- SDN is directly programmable
- It is very agile, allowing administrators to adjust network-wide traffic flow to meet real-time demands
- SDN is centrally managed. The intelligence is located in SDN controllers that maintain a global view of the network and appears as a single, logical switch
- SDN allows administrators to configure, manage and optimize network resources quickly via automated SDN programs, which can be written in-house because there is no dependence on proprietary software
- The technology is based on vendor-neutral Open Standards. Using open standards, SDN simplifies network design and operation because all instructions are provided by SDN controllers rather than multiple, vendor-specific protocols
Thinking of new business VoIP communications system? Here are five key questions to ask your potential service provider:
#1 Can the service capability grow as my organization grows?
You want to choose a company whose service, delivery capability, and support can scale to the needs of your organization. You should be able to add and remove functionality in a snap. And when you have additional locations or are expanding you should easily be able to add a new location that completely integrates with your other locations.
#2 What are the upfront costs of your system to get started?
Many service providers charge set up fees, activation fees, network design in support the new VoIP system, and hardware. Still others charge for installation. In today’s world, you may need to do some updates on your internal network, but you should not need to spend thousands of dollars to get things set up. In other cases, you shouldn’t expect to pay any upfront expense to get started. Make sure you’re aware of any upfront costs to get started and factor that into your overall costs.
#3 What will my first bill look like, and what about the next bill?
Many companies provide an invoice that is very clear to understand, but there are horror stories as well. Prior to deciding on your VoIP service, ask the provider to show you a sample first invoice and judge for yourself. Are there unexplained fees like an activation fee, a cost recovery fee, or other charges that you don’t understand? Factor these types of fees when you are selecting your service provider. In today’s world, your bill shouldn’t include any additional fees or surcharges that are not fully explained on the front end.
#4 How complicated is the new system to use and who do I call for support?
If you haven’t had a chance for a live demonstration, make sure your VoIP service provider is willing and able to provide you with a full live demonstration of the service at your office. You should look at ease of use, required functionality, and check out some of the advanced functionality like chat, video, and mobility. Whether you need some of these advanced functions or not, your system should easily support these types of functions in the event your organization needs them in the future. As for support, most companies will direct you to self-help portals or email. Make sure your provider not only has these elements but is also easily available by phone to help you through any changes to your system. Most companies today make it very difficult to find a telephone number to call for support. Ask them for their service telephone number and make a call to see how quickly it’s answered and if they have support personnel who can quickly work with you to make those important changes to your system.
#5 How do you measure success?
Ask your potential VoIP provider how they measure success for YOUR organization’s desired results of the new system. Are they ready to stand behind their claims of cost savings, improved functionality, or enhanced services? Are they your partner or are they simply trying to sell you something? There are many factors when evaluating VoIP services. These five steps should ensure you become a delighted client.