There are a number of things to consideration when reviewing your technology solution options. Over time we’ve tried to outline some of the key elements to explore as you take stock of what’s right for you. If nothing else, the content on these pages should give you better insight into how West thinks about these issues.
More business is being done from home or remote sites – WorldatWork estimates that about 44 million people work at home at least once a year. And research from IDC shows that by 2013, there will be 10 million telecommuters in the U.S. While enterprises are realizing cost efficiencies through this model, it also presents a share of challenges.
For a manager with a mobile workforce, it can often be a challenge to keep track of your remote employees like you can your intra-office workers. Aside from monitoring productivity, managers may also deal with issues for remote workers such as network security, data transmission issues, remote support and variance in local broadband service.
However, with the right set of technology tools, remote workers can function as effectively as workers sitting in the office – and you can manage them as such. Here are three tools to equip your remote workforce with that will make everyone’s job easier and more productive.
Secure VPN Connectivity
Virtual Private Networking (VPN) grants secure remote access to corporate data resources, such as e-mail, applications, databases and file stores from remote locations. All you need is your own Broadband internet access and an enterprise communication system the supports VPN connectivity.
Fixed to Mobile Convergence applications
Fixed to mobile convergence essentially means that your mobile phone becomes your desktop phone, and can access all of the features that your PBX can provide. This means that no matter where they happen to be at the time, remote workers can access and delete voicemail, receive calls as a member of hunt groups or queues and place local, long distance and four-digit extension calls, through their mobile phone.
Since remote workers can’t be physically present in meetings and working sessions, they’ll need the tools to make it easy to collaborate and interact with your team. Essential to this is a online meeting center application, preferably one tied to your enterprise communications platform that requires no calls to third party numbers and no pre-call setup. Personal Conference Lines also boost productivity, allowing your employees to collaborate easily over the phone in groups of two or more.
Despite the growing popularity and technical advances of the cloud, there still exists a gap between enterprise stakeholders when it comes to cloud adoption. While business units are generally excited about cloud, IT still has its reservations, which are largely tied to cloud security. Especially when it comes to cloud-based communications, security can make or break an IT department, which is why choosing the right provider is one of the most important decisions to make. Here we examine the gap between the two groups and how to build IT confidence that they are getting the security they need in the cloud.
Mind the gap
The good news for cloud is that its popularity is growing so much that it has business units excited about benefits of a cloud initiative, especially those tied to financial gains and savings. And rightfully so, as many of those cost benefits will end up making them look good.
However, many IT groups don’t feel the same way – the use of cloud means loss of control, increased risk for them and an aggressive shift in strategy. Also, should any security or privacy problems arise; the responsibility likely will fall back on the IT department.
A new study from Accenture and the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Outsourcing Unit called “Cloud and the Future of Business; From Costs to Innovation” shows that IT still sees issues like security and privacy as a barrier to cloud adoption.
“One of the very interesting findings was there was a clear gap between business people and IT people,” said Andrew Greenway, global cloud programme leader for Accenture. Business people said they didn’t see security and privacy as an issue around cloud. IT people conversely saw data privacy, lock-in and security as much more of a problem.
What does it mean to be secure in the cloud?
Whether you are a member of the business unit looking to sway IT or in the IT department itself, this truth is good to hear: There is such thing as security in the cloud. Since much of the security responsibility in the cloud falls on the provider, the selection process becomes crucial.
According to Gartner, smart IT departments are the ones who ask the tough questions of cloud providers during the selection process. In order to establish confidence that you will be working with a trusted cloud provider, Gartner suggests asking about the following security issues in an article on InfoWorld.
- Privileged user access.
“Ask providers to supply specific information on the hiring and oversight of privileged administrators, and the controls over their access,” Gartner says.
- Regulatory compliance.
Service providers are subjected to external audits and security certifications, such as SAS70. Does your provider readily provide this information?
- Data location.
Will your provider give you the specific location of your data or applications make a contractual commitment to obey local privacy requirements?
- Data segregation.
“Find out what is done to segregate data at rest,” Gartner advises. Is their encryption and security audited by outside specialists? “Encryption accidents can make data totally unusable, and even normal encryption can complicate availability,” Gartner says.
- Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery.
“Any offering that does not replicate the data and application infrastructure across multiple sites is vulnerable to a total failure,” Gartner says. Ask your provider if it has “the ability to do a complete restoration, and how long it will take.”
- Investigative support.
Does your cloud platform allow for investigation and auditing? Gartner warns that cloud services are especially difficult to investigate because of the use of multiple users and data centers. Can the provider give you a contractual commitment, because logging and data for multiple customers may be co-located and may also be spread across an ever-changing set of hosts and data centers. If you cannot get a contractual commitment to support specific forms of investigation, along with evidence that the vendor has already successfully supported such activities, then you’re only safe assumption is that investigation and discovery requests will be impossible.”
- Long-term viability.
Ideally, your cloud computing provider will never go broke. But you must be sure your data will remain available even after such an event. “Ask potential providers how you would get your data back and if it would be in a format that you could import into a replacement application,” Gartner says.
Today’s typical enterprise network has been built piecemeal over several years, resulting in a lack of an over-arching architecture or coherent plan. This makes it extremely difficult and time-consuming to manage.
As enterprises look to move more of their applications to the cloud, they’re finding that their networks simply aren’t prepared to handle the increase in network traffic. And not just in terms of bandwidth, but also in their ability to prioritize the heavier volume and different types of traffic.
So how did it come to this? One reason is business’ reliance on a managed router approach based on a Service Level Agreement (SLAs) with a single telecom carrier. Often times, carriers will make the initial sell by promising companies a managed router – where they have the ability to make adjustments to the router as they see fit from a remote location.
But in today’s world of MPLS networks designed to transport both voice and data with variable Quality of Service (QoS), just having the router being managed isn’t enough. Companies not only give up a lot of control, but they also lose the ability to customize their network to fit their needs. That’s why in order to ensure top performance of enterprise voice, video, data and cloud applications, companies need a managed network.
Managed network, managed router…what’s the difference?
Today, carriers simply provide a network service, and very little else. For instance, they do not provide the proactive monitoring and support services – including security monitoring – that many enterprises seek today for their networks. Carriers will mostly wait until circuits are down to start any kind of proactive management of service issues – meaning companies run the risk of losing significant network availability while circuits are being repaired.
In addition, carriers only provide a router with a single IOS and little custom configuration – something that is crucial for keeping up with the dynamic evolution of today’s cloud-based business applications. And since much of the equipment is on-premise, the company is responsible for the cost of hardware upgrades and replacements.
On the other hand, with a cloud-based managed network approach, companies can prioritize and manage critical business applications from the router and switch all the way to the core network. This can enhance a company’s efficiency, execution and agility by allowing it to be much more involved in the overall network strategy – including how to design, manage and monitor the network, as opposed to just focusing on pushing packets through the pipe.
Let’s look at some of the top benefits that a cloud-based managed network approach provides to customers today:
- Fully customizable QoS. With the emergence of MPLS, companies can now easily incorporate voice, video and data onto a converged network, eliminating the need for separate voice and data network circuits. (The move to a converged network can result in cost savings of anywhere between 20 and 40 percent.) Companies are also able to prioritize the QoS for each application to meet their specific business needs. This way last night’s ESPN highlights aren’t interrupting voice traffic or Salesforce.com access, for example.
- Personalized customer approach from certified engineers. Companies are relying on cloud-based managed service providers today because they have the certified network design engineers that can minimize the technical, implementation and investment risks – risks that they would face if they tried to design the network themselves, or if they tried to get a carrier to adapt their services to the company’s network design. This managed service approach also includes 24/7/365 proactive monitoring, so problems are often identified and fixed before companies even know they happened.
- Remote router monitoring and activity logging (TACACS). Just because a managed network is fully managed by the service provider doesn’t mean a company doesn’t have control over its routers. Under a managed network framework, companies can feel free to make any changes they feel are necessary without fear. The service provider’s Terminal Access Controller Access-Control System (TACACS) keeps keystroke logs of any router activity and they can easily revert routers back to a previous setting in case a mistake is made.
- A cohesive network approach. A managed network provider will leverage the power of multiple Tier 1 providers under one cohesive network, but to the customer it functions as one network, significantly reducing the time and cost of managing multiple vendors. In addition, to address business continuity concerns, multiple networks are used with multiple failovers, providing greater redundancy and survivability. A cohesive network approach enables a managed network service provider to leverage the power of the underlying infrastructures to ensure the best delivery of service to the customer.
- Automatic QoS tagging. Managed network providers first consult with the customer on how its data needs to be tagged and which applications need to be prioritized – all based on business needs. In most cases, companies are running applications over their networks that aren’t prioritized or tagged at all. By setting up an automatic QoS configuration based on business rules, companies take the guesswork out of prioritizing traffic.
- Multiple direct peering. While a managed router approach will seek to connect to the Internet connection it can find the quickest, a managed network provider can use multiple direct peering to identify the highest quality Internet connection available across all of its Tier 1 providers at that time. They can also provide QoS through an MPLS network directly into cloud-based apps such as SalesForce.com and NetSuite for better performance.
- Network monitoring and support. The protection provided through network monitoring and support services is crucial in today’s business world. Not only do companies now have unprecedented visibility into their network all the way to the application level, but they can also benefit from historic trending analysis provided regarding network performance. In addition, application QoS tagging is shown on the network layer to confirm that traffic is being properly marked, prioritized and delivered across the network for the highest performance levels.
A managed network provider will also tag global domestic Internet and general Internet traffic differently as it comes into the network. Rules can also be set up on routers and switches that only allow certain types of traffic to flow through those devices. For instance, international traffic most likely doesn’t need to be on the routers, so it can be blocked, providing a huge security benefit against unwanted intrusions from spammers and malware based overseas.
Imagine your worst IT nightmares – a natural disaster hits your area, causing a complete outage of your communications system, network and infrastructure for several hours. When the smoke clears (hopefully only figuratively) you’re left responsible for thousands of dollars worth of lost data and uptime, and lost business as a result. Or imagine you come to work tomorrow morning and the company has undergone a merger – and it’s your responsibility to expand your communications infrastructure to suit hundreds of new employees. Your hands sweating yet?
IT personnel are responsible for the performance of their enterprise communication systems, which is why it is important to be prepared for the unpredictable costs associated with IT. Fortunately, the growth of cloud applications is giving IT personnel tools to handle even the most critical situations by allowing them to be flexible and scale the applications as they need to, saving time and money in the process.
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery
Disaster Recovery is one area where unpredictable costs for IT departments can stack up quickly. In the event of an outage, whether from a temporary disruption of calls due to a local carrier, circuit outage, power outage, network failure or a full-scale catastrophic disaster, enterprises stand to lose valuable data but from a communications standpoint. And worse, downtime means lost business.
Just how much is there to lose? International Data Corp. estimates that companies lose an average of $84,000 for every hour of downtime. According to Strategic Research, the cost of downtime is estimated at close to $90,000 per hour. And more than 80 percent of companies who suffer a disaster can expect to go out of business within 18 months as a consequence, according to Survive.
Having a business continuity/disaster recovery system based in the cloud means if your communication infrastructure goes down, you won’t have to lose business as a result. Your cloud-based communications system will automatically route calls to other numbers and/or locations should the system be unable to complete those calls as originally dialed and then have the original call routing rules automatically resume as soon as the local equipment is back up and running. Additionally, you can enable a secondary MPLS for SIP Trunking, Data, and Internet redundancy.
And better yet, cloud-based disaster recovery is a planned cost as part of your communications infrastructure, meaning you won’t be surprised with costs to execute the plan in the event of a surprise disaster. According to a Symantec report, 93 percent of organizations have had to execute their disaster recovery plans and the average cost of implementing DR plans for each downtime incident is $287,000.
Bursting with growth
But what about the good kinds of unpredictable costs – those resulting from your company doing well and growing? While positive in nature, growing pains can often be hardest on the IT department, which has to deal with outfitting the expanding locations and workforces with the appropriate communications tools and extending the communications infrastructure.
Using a cloud-based communication system allows IT departments to virtually scale their communications, making it easy to accommodate personnel or office changes, whether good or bad.
Here are some business drivers where cloud-based communication can benefit the IT department and the enterprise as a whole:
- Merger or acquisition – After a merger or acquisition, it is common for an enterprise to be faced with uniting multiple legacy networks and systems. In most cases, the sheer cost of bringing all of that disparate and heterogeneous hardware onto one network is reason enough to look towards a cloud-based communications solution. Cloud can offer you a single, flexible communications infrastructure that can meet the communications needs of each location and scale to accommodate future expansion.
- New hires and personnel changes – New employees mean you need to update and assign new DIDs and extensions – a process that can be cumbersome for the IT department, especially on large scale. Cloud-based communications gives you the flexibility to add and delete extensions simply through a call to a NOC and without separate service charges. It also eases the ongoing management, maintenance and replacement costs.
- A growing remote workforce – As enterprises grow, they are taking advantage of remote workforces but struggling to extend their communications network to individual employees around the country. Often times it is difficult to find a single carrier that can reach all remote business locations, leading to unnecessary internal corporate expenses and limited service at some locations. Cloud allows easy implementation of communication tools to remote workers via secure IP and accommodates them if they are on the move.
- High volume periods – Enterprises, especially those that maintain contact centers, are often hindered by the limitations of traditional communications technology – their call volume is capped, their abandon rate is high and their bottom line is affected. Whether it’s for a contact center or regular business communications, cloud can allow your system to burst when needed – accommodating peaks without artificial constraints or service degradation, giving you the capability to adjust based on actual demand, intelligently responding to traffic on a moment to moment basis.
Are you ready for a change?
While data storage in the cloud gets most of the headlines, many enterprises ms today are also embracing cloud-based unified communications platforms as IT administrators and executives alike realize the value of these hosted communication platforms.
But why is a cloud-based approach to Unified Communications so appealing to larger, dispersed companies? Regardless of what field you’re in, communication is essential to success and revenue growth, it provides employees with the tools they need to work efficiently – while also empowering them to communicate, collaborate and securely access applications wherever and whenever they need.
But how does an enterprise know if it is ready for cloud-based Unified Communications? While no two companies are identical, the transition to a cloud-based unified communications approach typically makes the most economic and operational sense if a company is experiencing one or more of the following business events:
- Staffing shortages
The recession took a toll on many companies and we’re still slowly rebounding. Staff cuts, attrition and skills gaps are having a profound impact on an enterprise’s ability to maintain quality of service through voice, data and video when a company is struggling to maintain multiple technology platforms, manage multiple vendors and deploy disparate communications services, the move to cloud-based Unified Communications can make sense by providing highly elastic, expert capacity on an as-needed basis to supplement the in-house team.
- Adding or changing office locations or experiencing a merger
Opening a new location or moving into new offices often creates a perfect opportunity to step back and take a closer look at the existing communications infrastructure. With the right cloud-based Unified Communications solution, enterprises can avoid potential expenses, like interoffice communication charges, while delivering a consistent set of services across the enterprise.
- Hiring or moving staff
As the economy rebounds and enterprises begin to hire new associates, IT teams are being tasked with administrative duties related to the communications system – duties known as moves, adds and changes (MACs). These can be costly and quickly add up, but cloud-based Unified Communications allows the provider to handle these duties quickly and reliably, often at no additional charge.
- Need for enhanced call management tools to deliver excellent customer service
Whether billing on a contingency fee basis or at an hourly rate, all expenses and revenue generating opportunities must be tracked. Records of telephone calls and billable time can be lost due to complex and inefficient tracking and accounting procedures.
- Cloud-based Unified Communications providers can empower firms with transparent call management platforms that give complete visibility into call traffic and can also integrate with a firm’s CRM and tracking systems.
- Trouble managing heavy call volume
Organizations that maintain contact centers are often hindered by the limitations of traditional communications technology – their call volume is capped, their abandon rate is high and their bottom line is affected. The capabilities provided by a cloud -based communication solution provide a scalable, powerful infrastructure that removes those limitations. Look for a contact center application that intelligently routes calls to reduce holding times and provides levels of monitoring, recording and analysis unavailable in traditional systems.
- Multiple service provider contracts
Managing and maintaining multiple service provider contracts can be a drain on IT resources. When one or more contracts are due to expire – or you simply wish to simplify your carrier relationships – it’s a perfect time to make the move to cloud-based Unified Communications. This move will provide great cost savings by consolidating local, long distance, and even internet access costs into a single monthly charge.
- Offices and clients spread across the country
Some enterprises find that they desire a cloud-based Unified Communications solution, but struggle to find a single carrier that can connect all of their remote business locations with customers spread across the country. This can lead to unnecessary corporate expenses and limited service at some locations. A cloud-based provider can help an enterprise to bring together the top networks in the country so that no remote location is too remote.
- A business continuity and disaster recovery plan
Cloud-based Unified Communications provides redundancy and failover capabilities unavailable in traditional on-site PBX systems. Enterprises should work with providers to create a solid business continuity/disaster recovery plan, which can restore and protect critical enterprise communications capability should a disaster occur.
No longer do enterprises have to burden valuable IT resources with the responsibility of managing complex communications infrastructures and applications. These organizations are able to reduce the costs of their basic communication services, while also improving the quality of the performance of their critical business applications. The availability of scalable, on-demand services enables even the fastest-growing companies to dial up services when needed, and scale them back when they are not – eliminating a lot of the cost and risk that comes along with installed, on-premise communications infrastructure along the way.
IT Bill of Rights
IT Bill of Rights
As the communications industry continues to evolve and become more advanced, the true beneficiary is you, the customer. From innovation to ongoing service, service providers have never been more equipped to give you a great customer experience.
So why do so many communication companies still continue to experience customer churn? Shoddy processes, overhyped technology and poor communication within the company often leave service providers lacking true “service.” As an IT manager responsible for spending thousands, or even millions of your company’s dollars, you are entitled to the best service and solutions possible. Here are is the IT Bill of Rights granted to you, the buyer:
- You have the right to complete visibility of your infrastructure
As enterprises make the shift to cloud-based applications, the reliance on a high quality voice and data transmission is more important than ever. But IT departments need more from their service providers than just monthly or weekly reports. They deserve and should expect real-time visibility and control with proactive monitoring and status alerts.
- You have the right to simplicity when dealing with service providers
With the convergence of communications in the cloud, there is no longer a need for operations teams to handle multiple service providers and accounting departments to have to deal with multiple invoices. This can all be consolidated in a “one provider, one bill” format.
- You have the right to your questions answered by certified technicians on the first call
Carrier satisfaction rates suffer because of the runaround customer service they provide. When an issue arises, you should be able to reach certified support staff and talk to a human being right away. Most issues should be resolved in a single phone call.
- You have the right to a full suite of products that work together
With the workforce more on the move than ever, collaboration is necessary and having the right tools that work together is critical. Whether it’s messaging, presence or web/ audio conferencing, you have the right to experience seamless consistency and for them to work the first time, every time.
- You have the right to the best network connection in your area
Carriers aren’t omnipotent, which is why there are network solutions that combine multiple carrier networks in order to provide you the best possible connection in your area, regardless of your location.
- You have the right to true solutions, not empty promises
It’s easy for a company to say “we can do that.” But can they actually deliver, or are they just hiding costs and presenting half-truths? You have the right to a provider that won’t fill your ear with empty promises during the sales cycle, only to renege on them once you’ve signed a contract.
- You have the right to crystal clear voice service
MPLS networks have provided the ability to provide flawless voice service over IP. Combine that with the fact that there are rate centers that can access nearly every U.S. city and you have no excuse for low quality voice over IP service.
- You have the right to improve your customer service
Everyone wants to improve their customer’s experience, but not all take advantage of the tools needed to do so. If you have a contact center, you have the right to tools that enable call routing, monitoring and administration while being flexible enough burst to accommodate heavy traffic periods.
- You have the right to protection from the public internet
Spam, viruses, and inappropriate content – It has no place in a corporate setting, nor can you afford it to. Off the shelf network security isn’t enough for the enterprise, so as fraudsters and hackers are getting smarter, you have the right to a security solution that evolves with the current threat level.
- You have the right to complete visibility into a hosted solution
Through a hosted provider which leverages the cloud, day to day management of the network infrastructure becomes their responsibility, leaving you and your team to focus on more strategic initiatives. You also have the right to stay in the loop with visibility and access into your network and communications platform at any time through provided tools.
It seems like everyone and his brother have written about cloud computing over the last few years – and with good reason. Organizations are embracing the technology and discovering new ways they can leverage the cloud to reduce costs and increase efficiencies.
Cloud technology has grown out of its infancy. No longer a curiosity, business leaders have stopped asking what cloud computing is, and are now asking for their IT departments to incorporate it in to their organizational strategies. The one thing that is distinguishing 2012 in the unified communications (UC) market – more than new products – is the move of UC to the cloud.
There are a number of market drivers for adoption of cloud-based UC, but first and foremost is the fact that organizations have reduced layoffs and other cost-cutting measures. They are now shifting their focus to ways in which they can increase productivity.
In addition, the global market continues to expand. More and more, organizations are working with clients all over the world, and they are opening offices in various international regions to serve these clients. Collaboration and communication between these offices are critical to organizational success.
Time also is on the side of UC. Telecom systems built on aging Private Branch Exchange (PBX) infrastructures are reaching the end of their useful lives. Rather than installing old technology, businesses are looking to move to UC and take advantage of its enhanced capabilities.
In fact, research from the Radicati Group projects that the worldwide UC market will grow 17 percent in 2012 to nearly $4.8 billion, and by 2015, the firm expects the market to expand to $7.7 billion.
The cloud makes UC communication easier, too, because the service provider owns, manages and hosts the UC infrastructure in its own facilities. That reduces the costs for organizations because they don’t have to deploy infrastructures on their own premises and don’t have to absorb the commensurate costs associated with those deployments. Moreover, cloud-based UC is a hedge against technologies purchased from vendors that exit the market or go out-of-business.
In a recent report on Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), market research firm Gartner asserted that cloud unified communications “continue to gain customer mind share as the technology matures” and reported a significant uptake in UCaaS inquiries. It also asserted that “the psychological barriers of moving UC to the cloud are eroding now that businesses have moved other IT functions to the cloud (such as customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and data storage).”
Some other key drivers for organizations making the move to UC include:
- Continued evolution of mobile technology and lifestyle
- Shift from single-use communications appliances
- Need for companies to focus on their core businesses and to find “fast-to-benefit” solutions
- Tightening integration with a wide variety of business results
Perceived challenges of moving to UC
While the market is ripe for cloud-based UC solutions, the integration is not going to come without challenges. Those challenges for companies don’t lie so much with the technology, but rather with understanding the complexity of managing the shift from the traditional platform.
Besides that, the issue of security has been brought up as a concern among organizations that have expressed hesitation when considering a move of their communications functions to the cloud. In reality, though, any quality UC service provider offers the same level of security measures for cloud-based solutions as there are for on-premises solutions.
These service providers have to remain compliant with the same number of industry certifications as there are for on-premise alternatives. Additionally, any organization that is on its own private Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) network brings robust security to its platform.
The continued emergence of a cloud-based approach to doing business can provide significant benefits. Companies looking to gain an edge in a competitive landscape are finding they can jettison older, on-premises infrastructures in favor of cloud-based, fully managed networks that will save them time and money, and result in better overall performance.