Clients      Employees

March 26, 2014

No Comments

Texting Etiquette for Professionals



The notion that texting is a way teenagers carry on “conversations” about last night’s date, this weekend’s plans or the horrible outfit worn to the dance is a dated stereotype. Forget about LOLs and OMGs. Texting has proven to be a legitimate and very valuable business tool.

From a marketing standpoint, we all read text messages, and because our smartphones are rarely more than an arm’s length away, we read them immediately. Various studies have shown a 97 percent or higher open rate for text marketing messages, and 90 percent are read within three minutes. This allows organizations to develop cost-effective, time-sensitive campaigns and connect with customers in a very personal, intimate setting. (Just be careful not to run afoul of legal requirements – you can only send marketing texts to customers who have affirmatively opted in.)

The immediacy and brevity of text messaging also enhances customer service. Texting allows you to notify customers with important information right away without interrupting them. Need to send a document to a customer right now? Take a photo of the document with your smartphone and instantly text it. Texting is also commonly used to send product alerts, reminders and confirmations of service.

Texting is becoming an important component of unified communications. With the emergence of the bring-your-own-device culture, and smartphones and tablets becoming the hub of communication, texting is playing a more prominent role in cultivating relationships and moving business forward. Instead of playing phone tag, organizations are texting to communicate on a more personal level and get business done. It’s simple, direct and efficient.

In order to fully leverage the business benefits of texting, there are six rules of texting etiquette that should be followed.

1)    Know your boundaries. Some people don’t like to be contacted after certain times or on the weekend. Get permission before texting people outside of business hours. Also, you may think you and the person you’re texting are best buddies, but they may think differently. Keep personal messages to a minimum.

2)    Respect the environment. Texting during a meeting, a meal or right in the middle of a conversation can be considered rude and disrespectful. If it’s that important, excuse yourself and text privately.

3)    Abbreviate with caution. Spell out entire words and phrases, especially if you’re texting with someone for the first time, whether it’s your boss, a co-worker or a customer. Abbreviations could be interpreted as unprofessional shortcuts, so only abbreviate after you’ve established a relationship with an individual and they find abbreviating acceptable.

4)    Check for autocorrect mistakes. Conduct an online search for “autocorrect mistakes” and you’ll see how autocorrect can lead to messages that are inaccurate, embarrassing or even offensive. Always proofread texts before sending.

5)    Be conscious of tone. Just like emails can be misinterpreted as abrasive, harsh, rude or insensitive, texting creates an even higher risk because we often text on the go or while we’re doing other things. Full sentences and proper word choices can go a long way towards avoiding hard feelings.

6)    Place a call when the news is bad or urgent. Whether you’re running late for a meeting, a major deal fell through, or the answer you’re giving a client isn’t the one they wanted, give the person the courtesy of a phone call. This enables you to smooth things over without the perceived abruptness of a text.

March 20, 2014

No Comments

Choosing a Productivity Suite: Options and Considerations



Microsoft Office is the most well-known and widely used productivity suite, used by more than 90 percent of organizations according to a study from Forrester Research. Office costs more than other solutions and most users don’t utilize the vast majority of its features. Still, the familiarity people have with Microsoft Office, along with file and browser compatibility, has helped make it the most popular productivity suite in the workplace.

In addition to its traditional Office product, Microsoft offers Office 365, a cloud-based version of Office that can be accessed from desktop and mobile devices. At its recent SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft announced several upcoming enhancements to Office 365, including social sharing and artificial intelligence capabilities.

As dominant as Microsoft continues to be in the workplace, other productivity suites from Google and Apple continue to grow in popularity. Google Apps for Business is a cloud-based productivity suite that utilizes popular Google apps such as Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Sheets and Slides. There are several key differences between Google Apps and Office 365:

  • Google Apps offers a simpler pricing plan – one monthly or yearly rate – compared to Office 365’s variety of plans based on the number of users and features.
  • Google can use your information for advertising, while Microsoft will not scan or share your data.
  • Microsoft provides 50GB of storage space and data backup, while Google Apps provides 30GB of storage and does not back up data by default.
  • Office 365 offers desktop apps for core programs in some plans, while Google Apps is strictly browser-based.

Another alternative is Apple iWork, which comes free with every new Mac, iPad and iPhone. Programs can also be purchased for $9.99 on existing devices and require no monthly fees – a major difference between iWork and Office and Google Apps. Unveiled in October 2013, the newest version of iWork brings together Apple productivity apps such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote and enables collaboration through iCloud, even if you’re using a PC.

Early reviews point to compatibility complexities when importing Office documents, particularly formatting issues with Word documents in Pages. Although it offers important features that most users will utilize, iWork did remove certain functionality to build a more compatible productivity suite, which has ruffled the feathers of many long-time Apple users.

Before you choose a productivity suite, assess your existing software, programs and applications. What is working well? What is lacking? What features are used most and least often? For example, modern collaboration tools enable real-time communication, including the exchange and editing of files, and could be used to speed decision-making and customer service. If your employees are spending more time working remotely, it may be time to switch to a cloud-based solution. Again, you’ll need to evaluate your existing infrastructure to make sure it will support cloud services.

Finally, pay attention to the rumblings from Microsoft. Microsoft is reportedly considering unbundling Office components to appeal to those who don’t want to pay for the entire suite of programs and services. Also, a new, lower-cost Office 365 subscription plan could be a sign that an iPad version is in the works, and efforts are underway to make the product “smarter” with a learning application that will provide insights about how Office 365 is used.

March 12, 2014

No Comments

Calculating Total Cost of Ownership for VoIP/Unified Communications



It’s human nature to gravitate towards the lowest price, whether we’re shopping for home electronics, a major appliance or a new laptop. The problem with this approach is that the price tag only shows the upfront capital investment for the product, not the total cost of ownership (TCO).

The same applies to IP telephony and unified communications (UC) systems, which are far too complex to choose based upon the lowest vendor price. Failing to evaluate all costs over the course of the product lifecycle, which is about six years, can cause organizations to choose a system with limited system capabilities and performance and make it cost-prohibitive to add new services as business needs evolve. A holistic understanding of TCO enables organizations to accurately evaluate and compare the solutions of multiple vendors and providers.

TCO is a combination of capital costs, implementation costs and operational costs.

  • Capital costs cover new and upgraded equipment, including servers and other data center hardware, software licenses, desk phones and cabling costs.
  • Implementation costs cover the installation, initial configuration and deployment of the system, as well as initial administrator training.
  • Operational costs cover ongoing management, maintenance, training, support, planned downtime for patches and updates, and moves, adds and changes.

Organizations must not only evaluate these three categories, but the individual metrics within the categories.  For example, new phones may cost more with a particular vendor, but the lower management, maintenance and administrator training costs may offset the higher capital investment. Also, capital and implementation costs can vary significantly, depending upon the complexity of the existing infrastructure, its compatibility with a vendor’s IP telephony and UC solutions, and the types of business services and applications being deployed.

There are a number of questions that must be answered when calculating TCO.

How difficult will it be to integrate and manage new technology? Will new hardware need to be purchased and installed? What applications are built in? For organizations with multiple branches, can IT resources be centralized and better utilized? How will mobility be supported, and what will be the cost of mobile communication?

What job functions will be enhanced and how will productivity be improved? How are these improvements and enhancements measured? How will IP telephony and UC change certain business processes? How will these changes affect operations immediately following implementation and for the next five years? Is the solution flexible enough to allow for expansion and respond effectively to changing market conditions, and what will changes cost?

According to the 2013 Nemertes Research benchmarking study of IP telephony TCO, ShoreTel UC solutions offer low first-year costs and low operational costs compared to other vendors. One reason why ShoreTel can keep TCO low is because ShoreTel offers more services and functionality in its core product, unlike many competitors who require additional purchases for critical business features. ShoreTel solutions also have less unplanned downtime than any other vendor, according to a study by Aberdeen Group.

ICG is a ShoreTel partner who specializes in developing and implementing cost-effective IP telephony and UC systems. Let us help you calculate TCO and choose a solution that enhances and improves business processes.

March 7, 2014

No Comments

The Business Case for Virtualization for SMBs



A new nationwide survey of IT managers, directors and CIOs in small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) revealed that 77 percent of organizations with 500 or fewer employees are using virtualization. Unfortunately, 40 percent of respondents had never even heard of virtualization.

So what exactly is virtualization?

Virtualization typically refers to server virtualization, which utilizes software to allow a single physical server to host a number of virtual servers. Each virtual server is capable of handling different operating systems, workloads and applications. In a traditional IT environment, there would be one server for each application or task, making the infrastructure inefficient, complex and expensive to update, manage and maintain.

Now, back to the survey…

95 percent of SMBs using some form of virtualization claim it immediately led to greater efficiency and cost savings. By consolidating server hardware, capital costs are reduced. From an operational standpoint, power, cooling and physical space requirements are reduced. Because virtualization enables SMBs to better utilize IT resources and simplify the process of adding new applications and services, ongoing management and maintenance are less expensive.

61 percent of respondents pointed to scalability as the most important advantage of virtualization. Server capacity can be added quickly and easily as organizations grow and business needs change. Whether virtual servers are onsite or in the cloud, virtualization enables organizations to upgrade and expand without the expense of hardware refresh cycles, while cloud-based virtualization reduces the need to purchase new equipment.

96 percent of SMBs using some form of virtualization believe it gives them a competitive advantage. Personnel, time and money can be reallocated from the management of a larger, more complex infrastructure to strategic business initiatives. Virtualization also provides the agility and flexibility to automatically shift workloads between servers to optimize performance and user productivity and minimize downtime.

Other major benefits of virtualization for SMBs include:

  • Centralized management of physical and virtual servers through one management console
  • Improved data backup, disaster preparedness and business continuity
  • Improved server availability and uptime

The benefits of virtualization have led many SMBs to extend virtualization beyond the server environment to other parts of their IT infrastructure. Research from SpiceWorks indicates that 80 percent of surveyed SMBs are using virtualizing IT services such as storage and printing, 56 percent are virtualizing business applications, and 49 percent are utilizing virtualization for content publishing.

In order to take full advantage of virtualization, SMBs need to strategically plan virtualization deployments. Organizations can reduce the risk of going over budget and reduce total cost of ownership by figuring out how to leverage existing investments, understanding technological and deployment costs, and making sure the solutions they choose are aligned with business processes and goals. Avoid the temptation to implement a virtualization solution if you don’t have in-house expertise, and be wary of to-good-to-be-true price points.

Let ICG assess your existing IT infrastructure and help you determine how your organization can use virtualization to reduce costs and gain an edge over your competition.