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January 28, 2014

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The Case for Custom Mobile Business Apps

 

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Custom Mobile Business Apps Beat Off-the-Shelf, Hands Down

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon isn’t just about people bringing their personal smartphones and laptops to work. They’re also bringing the applications that have helped make mobile devices so popular, leading to another bring-your-own trend – bring-your-own-app (BYOA).

According to research by LogMeIn and Edge Strategies, 70 percent of small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) are using apps introduced by employees, especially apps for cloud sync and storage, collaboration, productivity and social media. In fact, more than two-thirds of social apps and more than half of cloud sync and storage apps used by SMBs were first downloaded and introduced by employees.

Unfortunately, just 22 percent of IT managers say they’re ready to for BYOA, pointing to security issues and management challenges, especially with cloud sync and storage apps that are used to store and share sensitive data.

The Downside of BYOA and Consumer Apps

The emergence of BYOA has sparked a debate about whether organizations are better off developing their own custom mobile apps or leveraging a BYOA strategy using generic, off-the-shelf apps.

The biggest problem with BYOA is fragmentation. When various branches or departments are using different apps, it creates a much more complex IT environment. With fragmentation comes a greater risk of security breaches and data loss, slower resolution of support requests and higher total cost of ownership (TCO). While consumer apps have lower upfront costs, TCO rises because organizations must devote valuable resources and dollars to not only security and support, but also training and upgrades.

Once a long, expensive process, the pace of development and deployment of custom mobile business apps has accelerated in recent years. This process is now measured in weeks, not months, so you can quickly and cost-effectively introduce a custom app that is aligned with your brand and business processes. It can also be modified as business needs evolve, unlike a rigid, off-the-shelf app designed for mass audiences.

Because they’re built for specific, business-related purposes, custom apps help employees become more productive and solve problems faster with minimal support. Custom apps can also automate certain processes to reduce errors and save time. Instead of manually uploading data to the business network, a custom mobile business app allows you to take advantage of anytime, anywhere rich-data capture in real time. By providing greater visibility and enabling faster collaboration and decision making, a custom app can help employees deliver better customer service and close deals quickly.

Getting the Most Value from Custom Mobile Apps

To take full advantage of custom apps, prioritize those apps that deliver the highest value. For example, a collaboration app typically has more value than an app designed to assist with lower-level administrative tasks. Speed, convenience and ease of use are three key benefits of any mobile app, so make sure yours can be modified, updated and deployed quickly and easily on virtually any device. Finally, offer comprehensive training. Apps are only helpful if they’re widely used, and employees will buy in much faster when they see how the app can make their jobs easier.

Let ICG work with you to learn your business needs and processes, formulate a plan to ensure security and scalability, and develop a reliable, custom solution that delivers real business value.

January 24, 2014

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The Cryptolocker Virus and .zip File Attachments

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To our valued customers:

Over the past months, a new virus named “Cryptolocker” has been infecting PCs around the globe. This virus is usually spread through malicious .zip file attachments, and encrypts the contents of network file servers, making files un-openable. Due to emerging techniques used to create the virus, antivirus programs do not pick it up. Although ICG has seen a relatively small number of infections in the past, there has been a noticeable increase in its propagation over the past 24 hours.

Therefore, in order to protect our customers, ICG will be blocking all incoming emails that contain a .zip attachment unless otherwise instructed by you. If legit, these emails can be released to the end user by opening a service desk ticket.

If you have any questions or concerns, please email service@icgi.com.

January 20, 2014

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Is It Time to Ditch Your Desktops?

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In our last post, we talked about the cost and effort associated with traditional desktop maintenance and support. Organizations have long looked for ways to increase efficiency, but a number of issues are driving more organizations to reevaluate their desktop strategies.

One is the impending “sunset” of Windows XP. On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support XP, which has been the foundation of PCs in the workplace for more than a decade. Organizations that are still using XP need to determine how to migrate to Windows 7 or 8, or an alternative such as Apple OS X.

Another factor is the growing use of mobile devices within the workplace. Gartner estimates that sales of tablets grew more than 53 percent in 2013 as the PC market saw a decline of more than 8 percent. Although PCs are still expected to dominate the end-user computing landscape for the next couple of years, organizations are looking for ways to support an increasingly mobile workforce.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) has helped to alleviate these issues, but VDI can be costly and challenging to deploy. Plus, the virtual desktops are still managed through an onsite data center, which requires a significant upfront investment for infrastructure and ongoing maintenance, monitoring and upgrades.

An emerging alternative is Desktop as a Service (DaaS), which is essentially cloud-based VDI. Virtual desktops are hosted, monitored, maintained and delivered by a cloud service provider, eliminating the need for onsite hardware and software. Users can access these desktops on any Internet-connected device.

Because DaaS is so new and definitions are still evolving, there hasn’t been a definitive analysis of the scope of the DaaS market. However, IDC expects the market for Workspace-as-a-Service — which it defines as anytime, anywhere access to end-user applications and data — to reach $661.1 million by 2016.

DaaS and related solutions are increasingly popular because of the unique benefits they bring to the table, including:

  • Reduced implementation and maintenance costs. DaaS allows companies to avoid the upfront capital expenses associated with VDI. The VDI infrastructure – and the costs associated with it – moves offsite to a cloud service provider and is accessed for a monthly fee.
  • Fast, easy deployments. Instead of researching, purchasing and installing in-house IT infrastructure, and finding qualified IT professionals to manage it, companies simply need to find a service provider they trust to deploy, manage and maintain a DaaS solution. Because DaaS is cloud-based, it’s possible to try this type of solution before committing to full implementation.
  • Flexibility and mobility. With DaaS, virtual desktops are hosted in a remote data center, linked to a company network through a private connection, and available from any computer or mobile device – anywhere, anytime. With an increasingly mobile workforce, DaaS helps users stay connected and productive.
  • Simpler maintenance, support and security. Forget about keeping hardware, software and apps up to date, backed up and secure. With DaaS, this burden now lies with the cloud service provider. Updates happen automatically, new desktops are made available quickly, and availability is maximized.

If you’re looking to improve your business model to reduce costs, provide mobile workers with greater flexibility, and simplify the management of IT infrastructure, contact ICG to learn more about our cloud-based DaaS solution.

January 14, 2014

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Controlling Desktop TCO

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As we discussed in our last post, Microsoft will end support for Windows XP in April — and that represents a golden opportunity to reevaluate your desktop computing strategy. Organizations that still have XP machines in their environments should consider whether it’s best to replace them or if an alternative would provide greater value. The total cost of ownership (TCO) of desktop PCs can be substantial yet PCs generally don’t bring any strategic advantage to the organization.

Gartner Group is often credited with coining the term “total cost of ownership” in the late 1980s. When applied to IT, TCO is typically defined as the sum of the acquisition, implementation, management, support and use costs of technology. It acknowledges that purchase price is only one component, and often a very small component, of the cost of a device throughout its lifecycle.

Gartner’s original TCO analysis was designed to calculate how much the typical PC cost the typical enterprise. When the analyst firm came up with an initial value between $7,000 and $13,000 per user, IT and finance departments gasped.

Yes, PC hardware cost more in those days than it does today, but what really adds up are the recurring expenses for staff, infrastructure and maintenance. PCs have to be installed and configured, and end-users have to be trained. There are software licenses, maintenance contracts and other add-ons. Support has to be provided, either formally through the IT department or informally when users attempt to solve problems on their own. And then there is the cost of ensuring that systems are properly patched, updated and protected against security threats.

Streamlining the PC environment is the key to keeping these costs in check. The key is proper planning, deployment and management aimed at delivering maximum functionality at minimum cost. Here are four strategies that can lead to dramatic reductions in TCO while improving productivity and reducing risk:

  • Limit the number of PC models, operating systems and configurations by regularly refreshing desktop hardware and using a standardized “gold image” to install applications based upon the end-user’s profile. This will simplify desktop rollouts, reduce support headaches and ensure that software licenses are purchased only as needed.
  • Evaluate alternatives such as cloud clients for end-users who only need access to the web and cloud-based applications. These devices are smaller, cheaper and use less power than traditional PCs, and are updated automatically. IT is freed from the tasks of patching operating systems, installing and updating applications, and ensuring that data is protected on each and every desktop.
  • For end-users who typically are mobile, consider whether a dedicated desktop PC is needed. A mobile device may be adequate for day-to-day computing tasks, with one or more shared PCs available for occasional use.
  • Turn over administrative and troubleshooting tasks to a managed services provider such as ICG. Because of our streamlined processes and remote management tools, we can reduce the operational costs associated with your desktop environment while improving availability and alleviating headaches.

The experts at ICG can help you analyze the TCO of your desktop PCs and find ways to rein in the capital costs and management issues associated with the traditional desktop environment.

January 6, 2014

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Microsoft End-of-Support: Three Months and Counting

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On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support several of its most widely used desktop and server products, including:

  • Windows XP SP3
  • Office 2003
  • Small Business Server 2003
  • Exchange Server 2003
  • SharePoint Portal Server 2003

End-of-support means that Microsoft will no longer release security patches and updates for these products after their sunset dates. If new security threats emerge, your organization will be vulnerable to attack.

Regulatory compliance is another major concern. For example, a Windows XP machine will not be HIPAA-compliant after support ends, so organizations responsible for protecting sensitive patient data and health information must upgrade. Retailers running point-of-sale and payment systems on XP machines will no longer be PCI compliant.

Using unsupported products simply isn’t worth the risk. But despite the looming deadline, Windows XP remains the second most widely used desktop operating system, with just under 30 percent market share. If you still have XP machines in your IT environment, it’s time to begin enacting a migration plan.

Most organizations are choosing Windows 7 because of the learning curve associated with Windows 8. Windows 7 is now the number one desktop operating system, with about 48 percent of the market, according to Net Market Share. Windows 8 and 8.1 together have about 10 percent. Apple products are becoming more popular in the workplace, although OS X holds less than 3 percent of the market.

End-of-support for Windows XP also offers an opportunity to reevaluate your desktop strategy. We will take up that topic in our next post.

If you’re using Small Business Server 2003, you’ll need to choose an alternative as this popular product is being discontinued. Microsoft is steering small businesses toward Windows Server 2012 Essentials, which enables anytime, anywhere network access on virtually any desktop or mobile device. But Windows Server 2012 Essentials is ideal for fewer than 25 users, whereas Small Business Server supported up to 75 users, so consider your organization’s growth projections when making this decision.

If you’re running Exchange Server 2003, it might be more cost-effective to move your email services to the cloud. SharePoint Portal Server provides an internal, web-based collaboration and file-sharing platform — cloud-based services might prove more efficient here as well.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not include Exchange, so you may determine that you don’t need to keep Exchange in house. In this case, Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office, is a solid option. Still, there are considerations: This pay-as-you-go service includes only the latest version of Office, so there may be compatibility issues if you have other software that integrates with Office.

We understand that this process can be overwhelming, so we are here to help you develop a plan that fits into your budget and minimizes disruption to your business. The experts at ICG can help you determine what IT functions you need, what options are available, and how you can benefit from these end-of-support deadlines.