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December 27, 2013

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Predicting the Future of IT, One Customer at a Time

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As 2013 comes to a close, it’s natural to think about what the coming year will bring for the dynamic technology industry. Industry analysts release their predictions this time of year, and it’s interesting to see what the experts believe will be in store for IT in the near future.

International Data Corp.’s predictions for 2014 were heavily influenced by what it calls the “Third Platform” — a symbiosis of mobile computing, cloud services, big data analytics and social networking. IDC analysts coined the term “Third Platform” in reference to the mainframe and PC platforms that preceded it, and describe it as “the industry’s emerging platform for growth and innovation.”

Gartner analysts refer to the trend as the “Nexus of Forces” while the IEEE Computer Society prefers the term “Mobile Cloud.” But all seem to agree that this new model will dominate the technology landscape in the foreseeable future and drive technology investments in 2014 and beyond.

IDC predicts that the mobile device onslaught will continue in 2014, with sales of tablets expected to grow by 18 percent and smartphones by 12 percent. Cloud spending, including cloud services and the technology to enable those services, will surge by 25 percent in 2014, reaching more than $100 billion.

Social technologies will become increasingly integrated into existing business applications over the next 12 to 18 months. In addition to being a strategic component in virtually all customer engagement and marketing strategies, data from social applications will feed the product and service development process.

Developers will be vying to create the cloud-based applications and solutions that will fuel the market’s growth. The Third Platform will deliver the next generation of apps and services that will significantly disrupt market leaders in virtually every industry.

What does all this mean to your business? At ICG, we believe that the Third Platform (or whatever you choose to call it) will be boon to many of our SMB customers, further leveling the playing field and providing competitive advantage. That’s why we have developed a comprehensive suite of cloud-based offerings and offer expert application development services to help you streamline and mobilize your workflows.

But in the end it all depends upon your specific needs and goals. While industry predictions make for interesting reading, they are of little practical value without a solid understanding of your business.

At ICG, we prefer to make our predictions one customer at a time. As your technology partner, ICG is here to help you make sense of these trends and develop a technology strategy that will help drive your business forward in 2014 and beyond.

December 20, 2013

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Happy Holidays!

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December 18, 2013

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Putting Tablet Devices to Work

Worldwide shipments of tablet devices will reach 142.8 million units in 2013 and 222.1 units by 2016, according to IDC. The market research firm sees increasing interest from commercial buyers, and Gartner anticipates that business sales of media tablets will account for about 35 percent of total tablet sales in 2015.

Gartner says tablet devices present a variety of new opportunities for businesses by supplementing traditional uses of laptops and smartphones. As a result, Gartner analysts recommend that businesses begin experimenting with tablet devices without delay.

“Some companies have issued them to business and IT leaders in the spirit of exploration. Others see areas in which they can use media tablets to bring computing into settings that were not practical or were too cumbersome to use traditional approaches,” said David Willis, research vice president at Gartner. “IT organizations are finding new places where tablets can deliver information and media in new ways.”

At the same time, Gartner has long maintained that tablets are neither “better laptops” nor “better smartphones” but complement both. ICG agrees — tablets are an additional tool that businesses can use to meet specific user needs.

“A lot of people try to replace their PC with a tablet and are hit immediately by the drawbacks rather than the benefits,” said Luigi Catanzaro, Application Development Manager, ICG. “If instead you exploit the strengths of tablet devices, they can become very powerful additions to your company.”

An Additional Tool

When compared with laptops, tablet devices activate instantly, allowing a user to get right to what he or she needs without long and frustrating startup times. They also have exceptional battery life and are responsive, tactile and inviting.

“The high-resolution screens and longer battery life make tablets ideal for sales — you can definitely showcase your products,” Catanzaro said. “And  if  you  want somebody to fill out an application or order form, tablets are very powerful for that.

“Really, they are perfect for anything that’s visual. That’s why they are seeing so much use in the medical field. Radiologists are not waiting for film to be developed — they’re getting their FDA-approved images on their tablet devices. Doctors can access patient medical records that are as real-time as they can possibly be.”

However, in a common mobile-worker scenario, employees may travel with a media tablet during the day but return to their laptops in the evening for heads-down data entry or content creation.

“It takes careful planning to get the most from tablets,” said Catanzaro. “You have to consider what each group of users is trying to accomplish and set the right expectations.”

The Time Is Now

Just as media tablets won’t replace PCs, Gartner does not believe that they will replace mobile phones as voice devices, even in the smaller form factors. Nevertheless media tablets still have enormous potential in the workplace and present a variety of new opportunities for businesses.

At the same time, tablet devices require a new set of policies, technologies and skills. ICG’s Catanzaro recommends that organizations standardize on a particular tablet and data carrier insofar as possible to make it easier to manage application updates. A mobile device management solution is also critical.

“Tablets and other devices are very powerful — sometimes too powerful,” Catanzaro said. “You have to consider a mobile device management solution that can help you track mobile devices, restrict access to sensitive applications and data, and enforce policies.”

This is especially true if your company supports a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program. BYOD brings a number of challenges that few companies are ready to handle.

“Employees are coming in with their own mobile devices and they expect to connect to the company net- work,” said Catanzaro. “But they have a lot of third-party software that can be risky to the network. In addition, they are accessing and sharing a lot of company information using their mobile devices. If the employee loses the device, it could expose that data. Mobile device management can help reduce these risks but you have to be sure to integrate it into your mobility solution.”

December 9, 2013

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7 Reasons Why You Should Outsource Your Help Desk

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You depend upon your computer systems to boost productivity and enhance customer service, but when they’re not working properly business grinds to a halt. Your IT team’s productivity takes a hit as well.

From assistance with a seldom-used application to recovery from a full-blown system crash, end-users require IT support from time to time. And when they need it, they want it fast. That means your IT team must redirect their efforts from strategic projects to providing help desk support.

Few organizations have the luxury of a fully staffed help desk devoted to end-user needs. Many small to midsize business (SMBs) have very small IT support teams who have a hard time keeping up with day-to-day tasks — much less individual end-user crises. In some cases a lone tech may handle everything from the network to the desktop. More serious issues may be kept waiting while the technician helps end-users — or vice-versa.

That’s why help desk outsourcing makes sense for many organizations. By outsourcing at least some end-user support requests to a managed services provider such as ICG, you can get more rapid end-user support while reducing IT costs.

Instead of paying the salaries of enough IT staff to handle spikes in activity, you pay only for the support you need when you need it. And you gain the knowledge, experience and disciplined processes of the managed services provider’s team, ensuring that support requests are handled efficiently and accurately.

Help desk outsourcing is ideal for SMBs that don’t have in-house IT support — it enables these organizations to get the support they need with no capital outlays or hiring costs. But it can deliver key benefits to organizations of all sizes, with or without IT staff.

7 Benefits of Help Desk Outsourcing

  • Ensure consistent, timely support — forget about staffing challenges, sick leave and vacation
  • Tap into the expertise and methodologies of a dedicated support team to resolve issues more quickly
  • Improve end-user productivity by reducing downtime and frustration
  • Eliminate the “shoulder-tap” support requests that can distract other staff from their core functions
  • Gain faster support for mobile users and teleworkers through the service provider’s “remote control” technology
  • Smooth out support costs
  • Enable in-house IT staff to focus on critical systems and strategic initiatives

ICG’s Virtual Service Desk enables you to enjoy these benefits. Our skilled technicians will take your first-tier support calls — the most common end-user requests, such as desktop, Microsoft Office and connectivity issues — and use the latest web-based remote control tools to quickly resolve most problems on the first call. If needed, problems can be seamlessly escalated to a Level 2 or Level 3 engineer, but only if you approve the additional cost.

IT support is critical to your organization. Running a help desk isn’t. ICG’s Virtual Service Desk gives you access to highly qualified technicians to supplement or replace in-house support. Outsourcing help desk support can relieve the strain on existing IT resources, and improve productivity by providing users with faster problem resolution.