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September 30, 2015

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Why CYOD Is Picking Up Steam

Many organizations first resisted the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model in which employees use their personal laptops, smartphones, tablets and other devices in the workplace. IT managers were concerned about device and data security, supporting and managing a wide variety of devices and applications, and a general lack of IT control in a BYOD environment.

However, as employees have continued to push to use their own devices at work, many IT managers have relented and even embraced the BYOD model. Proponents say BYOD boosts productivity and employee satisfaction, enables greater flexibility, and reduces technology costs. In fact, Gartner predicts that nearly four in 10 organizations will stop issuing company devices and rely exclusively upon BYOD by 2016. By 2020, 85 percent of companies will have a BYOD policy of some kind.

While BYOD has garnered much of the attention, the choose-your-own-device (CYOD) model has experienced slow, stealth-like growth. Somewhat of a compromise between BYOD and the traditional model, CYOD requires employees to choose from a group of company-approved devices. The desire to corral BYOD, eliminate management and security complexity, and create a more standard corporate IT environment led IDC to predict in 2013 that CYOD would render BYOD obsolete.

That hasn’t happened. BYOD is doing just fine. Cloud services have become more widely used, and employees can access cloud resources from their own devices without going through the corporate network. Organizations are relying more upon temporary and contract workers, and it doesn’t make sense to supply each of these individuals with a company-owned device. In some cases, BYOD is used on a limited basis for certain departments. For example, a simple change in phone number could affect a salesperson’s relationships with industry contacts.

But CYOD is growing, too. As data breaches continue to occur at an alarming rate, organizations and employees are becoming more sensitive to the issue of cybersecurity. CYOD enables IT to simplify device management and control how devices are used. Devices are preconfigured and security software is preinstalled. Also, concerns about employee satisfaction are overblown at times, as employees will typically end up with a device that makes them happy when CYOD is properly implemented.

Many organizations turn to CYOD because of the legal complications of BYOD. How do you differentiate work time from personal time and compensate employees accordingly? Where do you draw the privacy line between personal data and company data? Does your BYOD policy hold water with various state, federal and industry regulations?

When deciding between BYOD, CYOD and a hybrid approach, start by analyzing how employees use their mobile devices. Find out what applications are most popular with your employees and how these tools help them perform their job functions. If you don’t have employee buy-in, your model won’t work.

Once you choose a model, make sure you develop a security strategy that will protect your data inside and outside of the workplace, and create an incident response plan to minimize the impact of a breach. All of these decisions involve more than IT, so include legal, human resources and finance from the planning phase through implementation.

ICG understands pros and cons of CYOD and BYOD as they relate to the unique needs of small businesses and their employees. Let us help you devise a plan that prioritizes security and strikes the right balance between productivity, cost efficiency and employee satisfaction.

September 23, 2015

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Focusing on the App instead of the Device

The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon has spawned an array of new product categories that promise to help IT cope with the onslaught of user-owned devices. In our last post we talked about mobile device management (MDM), which focuses on provisioning, supporting, securing and controlling the mobile devices themselves.

 

Mobile application management (MAM) provides a somewhat different set of functions, including enterprise application delivery, security, configuration, licensing and maintenance, along with usage tracking, reporting and policy enforcement. MAM enables IT to control which applications are provisioned to which devices, based upon device type, user, role and other criteria.

 

There is some overlap in functionality between MDM and MAM but the viewpoint is different. Instead of deciding which devices can access which corporate resources, IT is deciding which applications can be pushed out or downloaded to each device and securing those applications.

 

MAM also reflects the shift in how enterprise applications are provisioned and used. Traditionally, IT supplied and managed both the endpoint device and a set of enterprise applications the employee was allowed to use. The user experience was limited to those devices and apps. Today, end-users bring not only their own devices but their own apps, including apps downloaded from public app stores. Because IT does not have complete control over the device or app, a new application management strategy is needed.

 

Locking down the entire device does not address the security concerns associated with third-party apps. Changing usage patterns warrant a more granular approach to security in which authentication, encryption and remote wipe take place selectively, at the application level.

 

So-called “app wrapping” forces third-party apps to use multifactor authentication or a VPN, and ”geofencing” limits app usage based upon the user’s location or the time of day. IT should enforce passcode policy compliance across all app types and maintain control over organizational data. MAM enables IT to do all that instead of tinkering with the user’s device.

 

MAM also facilitates a transition toward a device-agnostic paradigm. This is increasingly important as mobile technology evolves. Organizations are beginning to manage tablets as well as smartphones and each has its own application management requirements. The number and type of devices is only going to escalate, making device-agnostic management imperative.

 

Google just announced that its MAM solution is now supported on iOS as well as Android. The solution allows Apple device users to separate personal and business apps, gain single sign-on capabilities across Google Apps for Business, and download and install approved iOS apps from Google’s Device Policy.

 

As BYOD continues to grow and evolve, a number of experts have debated whether it makes more sense to manage the applications accessed by mobile devices or the devices themselves. Some contend that MDM is still needed to provide end-to-end enterprise mobility management. However, end-users often balk at giving IT controller over their personally owned devices. MAM shifts the focus from managing devices to securing the applications and data the devices access.

 

If your employees are using their own devices for work, you need to take steps to protect sensitive applications and data. Contact ICG to discuss the best approach for your mobile device strategy.

April 16, 2015

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How Mobile Is Taking Videoconferencing Mainstream

In our last post we discussed how mobile devices have become essential tools for real-time collaboration. This is especially true when it comes to videoconferencing, which has emerged from the boardroom to become an everyday application at everyone’s fingertips.

 

No longer a hardware-centric solution, videoconferencing is now software-based, browser-based and cloud-based. This has enabled more use cases for video and makes the technology easier and less expensive to implement and manage across the organization.

 

In many cases, videoconferencing investments can be recovered by the ability to conduct meetings with geographically dispersed workforces. While videoconferencing significantly reduces travel costs, the benefits go far beyond airfare and hotels. Video improves the quality of collaboration and decision making and reduces the lead time required for meetings. Organizations can create competitive advantages by accelerating the pace of business and introducing new products and services more quickly. Video also tends to keep meeting participants more focused and accountable, which improves productivity and shortens meetings.

 

Companies that use videoconferencing for hiring can speed the interview process and include more people in the process if necessary. Retention rates are often improved because video allows for greater flexibility and work-life balance without sacrificing face-to-face interactions. Videoconferencing enables salespeople to meet with more customers, and customer relationships and loyalty are strengthened when phone calls and emails are replaced with videoconferencing.

 

The emergence of mobility in the workplace is driving more widespread acceptance and usage of videoconferencing, which is leading to even higher ROI. People use mobile video outside of the office and are now embracing mobile videoconferencing at work. As the name suggests, mobile videoconferencing involves the use of smartphones and tablets to access and participate in videoconferences. You don’t need a desktop computer or elaborate video system. Because mobile videoconferencing is so simple to use from anywhere on any device, it takes flexibility, collaboration, speed and productivity to whole new levels.

 

Consumer-grade products may be familiar to employees, but enterprise-grade products offer the functionality, interoperability and security required in the workplace. For example, your mobile videoconferencing solution should be able to support a company-wide meeting with hundreds of people using a wide variety of devices, as well as a small department meeting with five people using the same type of device. Even if everyone in your organization uses the same devices and applications, you need to be able to support customers and business partners who use different technology. This will enable all users to customize and optimize the experience.

 

ICG has been helping customers take advantage of mobile for many years. Our specialists can help ensure your Wi-Fi network has adequate bandwidth and performance, and design and implement a mobile videoconferencing solution that maximizes ROI and improves the quality and flexibility of collaboration. Let us evaluate the readiness of your network and show you how to use mobile videoconferencing as part of your day-to-day business operations.

April 10, 2015

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Why You Can’t Fully Leverage Collaboration without Mobile

Employees are bringing more and more mobile devices into the workplace — the so-called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon. Organizations that encourage the use of smartphones and tablets for real-time, mobile collaboration are seeing measurable lifts in productivity, teamwork and innovation. No longer “nice to haves,” the right mobile devices and strategy are now essential to effective collaboration.

 

Today’s smartphones and tablets offer many of the same capabilities as desktop computers without tying users to a physical office. Larger mobile touchscreens, simpler user interfaces, more reliable Internet connections, and better video and voice over IP (VoIP) features are enabling more effective communication, faster decision-making, greater flexibility and easy content sharing.

 

While a fragmentation of options and a lack of standardization have held back mobile collaboration to a degree, Gartner analysts say most collaboration applications will be equally available on desktops and mobile devices by 2016. The emergence of BYOD, cloud file-sharing capabilities, and readily available mobile applications are expected to drive more widespread adoption of mobile collaboration, according to Gartner.

 

The Shift from Web-Centric to App-Centric Mobility

 

The previously web-centric mobile environment has moved to an app-centric model as mobile applications have become the primary portal for accessing information and performing specialized tasks. This model has extended to the business world, where enterprises are developing apps designed to enhance specific job functions as well as support their customers.

 

Research from Forrester shows that 60 percent of organizations are updating their infrastructure to support mobile applications. Employees are demanding anytime, anywhere access to video and web conferencing, content and screen sharing, instant messaging and presence.

 

In the past these features were underutilized on smartphones and tablets due to a less-than-optimal user experience. However, design and functionality improvements are now enabling organizations to fully leverage mobile collaboration.

 

Choosing the Right Mobile Collaboration Apps

 

Before any discussion about applications begins, you need to assess how your organization collaborates and what tools are being used. Identify strengths and weaknesses, and understand the advantages and risks of utilizing your existing investments. Analyze your most basic business requirements and what capabilities are lacking. Determine how specific mobile collaboration apps will support and enhance specific areas of your business operations. While mobile collaboration can dramatically improve how you do business, a poorly planned implementation will create more problems than it solves.

 

The Future of Mobile Collaboration

 

The next generation of mobile collaboration is being driven by user experience and flexible workflows. Users expect to be able to seamlessly multitask on different devices. They want to create a document on their tablet, and edit and email it from their smartphone. Hardware- and software-based security features such as encryption and fingerprint scanning will become more sophisticated, but not at the expense of user experience and flexibility.

 

ICG can transform your employees’ smartphones and tablets into powerful business communications platforms, and create custom mobile apps that enhance customer service and streamline workflows. Let us help you take full advantage of mobile collaboration.

March 2, 2015

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The Latest Wi-Fi Standard, Part 1: What 802.11ac Brings to the Table

A reliable wireless LAN (WLAN) has become as important to the day-to-day operations of the enterprise as the telephone and fax machine were 25 years ago. More than a convenience, Wi-Fi enables greater flexibility, agility, efficiency, productivity and customer service, all of which contribute to a bigger bottom line.

 

A reliable WLAN makes it possible to implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy so employees can have anytime, anywhere access to business applications and data from their favorite devices. Everything employees need to perform their jobs is within arm’s reach. They may leave the office, but the office never leaves them.

 

Now, simply having WLAN isn’t enough. There’s a constant demand to improve the speed, reliability, coverage and capacity of Wi-Fi. Users expect to be able to use bandwidth-intensive business applications and collaboration tools such as videoconferencing without compromising performance.

 

The growing demand and importance of WLAN has spurred the development of the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), 802.11ac builds upon the technology of its predecessor, the 802.11n standard, delivering a number of performance-boosting enhancements.

 

The most notable improvements in the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard include:

 

More horsepower. 802.11ac is capable of tripling the speed of 802.11n with a theoretical maximum rate of up to 1.3Gbps. An even faster version has been tested at speeds of 7Gbps.

 

Wider roads, less traveled. 802.11ac exits the busy 2.4GHz spectrum and its 40Mhz channels for the more spacious 5GHz band, where less traffic and wide 80MHz and 160MHz channels allow for faster speeds, higher throughput and less interference.

 

Smarter spectrum allocation to support more users. A major upgrade from 802.11n’s single-user multiple input, multiple output (SU MIMO), 802.11ac’s multiple user (MU) MIMO uses smart antenna technology to support up to four simultaneous user transmissions on each spatial stream. The standard also doubles the number of spatial streams from four to eight, resulting in much higher capacity and lower latency.

 

Increased data rate. 802.11ac uses a higher order modulation, 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), to boost the data rate by 33 percent. This data rate is then doubled, thanks to the increase in spatial streams mentioned previously.

 

What do these improvements to the Wi-Fi standard mean for your organization?

802.11ac take the speed and performance of the WLAN to a whole new level. New users and mobile devices are constantly being added to enterprise networks, and 802.11ac is much better-equipped to handle a higher density wireless environment. Employees can access and share large amounts of data and utilize real-time, streaming media applications with a much smaller risk of bandwidth bottlenecks. And because 802.11ac operates on a band unused by most mobile devices, minimal interference and greater reliability contribute to a better user experience.

 

In Part 2 of this post, we’ll explains the two “waves” of 802.11ac products and discuss adoption trends and strategies. Meanwhile, contact ICG if you’re ready to take advantage of faster Wi-Fi in your business.

January 22, 2015

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7 Tips for Keeping Your Smartphone Secure

Your smartphone is no longer just a phone — it’s a high-tech communication device and computer. While mobile malware is still relatively rare, smartphones are increasingly vulnerable to malicious software. According to mobile security firm Lookout, mobile malware increased 75 percent in the U.S. in 2014, with ransomware dominating the threat list.

Far more significant is the risk that a mobile device will be lost or stolen — along with the data stored on it. Given the increased use of personal mobile devices for business purposes, this creates significant potential for a security breach.

Yet users remain surprisingly cavalier about mobile device security. According to a study by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and McAfee, 72 percent of Americans have never installed data protection applications or security software on their smartphones.

Regardless of the brand or operating system, there are a number of basic security measures you should take to ensure the safety of valuable information:

  • Set up the screen-lock function. This feature locks the smartphone after it’s been sitting inactive for a period of time, and requires you to enter a password or PIN to unlock it. This is one of the easiest functions to set up yet it can prevent people from easily accessing personal data if the phone is lost or stolen.
  • Download a remote location/lock/wipe application. These apps can remotely locate, lock or wipe a device if it is lost or stolen. Remote locking ensures that anyone who finds or steals the phone won’t be able to access anything inside without the proper PIN or password. In a worst-case scenario, remote wiping clears all the data so private information won’t fall into the wrong hands.
  • Back up data. This can be done with a product or application, a cloud service or simply by copying contacts, documents, pictures and personal information to your computer.
  • Install an antivirus app. Consider using mobile security antivirus software — especially with Google’s Android OS. As the market-leading mobile OS, Android has become the biggest target for cybercriminals. Some security experts estimate that as many as one-third of all Android apps contain some form of malware.
  • Download apps from reputable sources. It is safer to use application marketplaces provided by the carrier or phone vendor than to download apps directly from the web. Some sites have hosted repackaged versions of popular mobile apps that include spyware. Malware and spyware can still sneak into marketplaces, however, so be careful, especially with applications from unknown developers that have poor ratings or low download numbers.
  • Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when unneeded. Wi-Fi hotspots and Bluetooth create avenues for public attacks. Turning off these features not only improves security but conserves battery life. When Bluetooth is used, make sure it is in “non-discoverable” mode. When using Wi-Fi, try to use an encrypted network or VPN to prevent hackers from “sniffing” data out of the air.
  • Keep the OS up to date. As with a computer, a smartphone’s operating system must be kept up to date. Although updates sometimes include features that may seem unnecessary, it is still a good idea to install them because they typically include security patches or improvements.

At ICG, we’re concerned about keeping all of your devices and data secure. Let us help you develop a security and data protection strategy to safeguard critical business information.

December 10, 2014

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Overcoming the Challenges of Mobile Software Development

In previous posts, we discussed why you should outsource software development and what factors to consider when evaluating development firms. Perhaps the biggest driver behind the increased focus on software development is the need for mobile business applications. If mobility is driving your software development initiative, there are additional factors to consider.

 

It may seem logical to simply mobilize existing enterprise applications, but it can be difficult to scale these applications to the degree that would be required. Also, the user experience on mobile may fall short of user expectations and business demands.

 

Native applications often deliver the best user experience because they are built for a specific mobile device and operating system. Developers must create a separate version of the app for each device to be used because the application is installed directly on the device. Because these applications are highly specialized, they require developers with expertise in the particular mobile platform.

 

On the other hand, mobile web applications are accessed through a browser and can be deployed on multiple devices and operating systems. Using an HTML5 development approach, applications can often be built faster than native apps, and specialized platform expertise isn’t required. A hybrid application combines the user experience of native with the simplicity of mobile web. Most organizations will use all three approaches at some point, depending on what is required in specific use cases.

 

Whatever approach you choose, mobile software development is particularly challenging for a number of reasons. The primary challenge is delivering a user experience that enables people to do their job better or that meets a specific business or customer need. This means the application must work well on screens that can range from three to 10 inches. How do you make the best use of screen real estate? Will the application’s functionality and layout be equally effective on a smartphone and large tablet? Will it sap the device’s memory or battery life? Is it simple and easy to use?

 

Security is always a major concern with any mobile-related initiative because various device and operating system architectures require different approaches to security. Encryption is a critical component of security, and IT should be able to remotely wipe application data if devices are lost or stolen. Software developers also must balance user authentication requirements with the users’ general distaste for multiple usernames and passwords. Again, delivering the best possible user experience must be considered during every phase of development.

 

Another challenge of mobile software development is that new tools, platforms, devices and languages are constantly being introduced. Most IT teams just don’t have the bandwidth to learn and then utilize the latest advancements and products effectively. This is why outsourcing makes so much sense.

 

ICG’s history with mobile software development dates back to the PDA days, when people poked PalmPilots and similar devices with a stylus. Our developers have a proven track record of success creating customized, strategic business applications that enable more efficient operations and competitive advantages while delivering an optimal user experience. Let us design and implement mobile applications that will help your organization succeed.

June 25, 2014

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7 Steps to Help You Get the Most from BYOD

 

ICG-BYOD

Users are bringing their personal mobile devices to the workplace – and that might seem like a blessing to a small to midsize business (SMB). And it can be. A Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy can increase productivity and flexibility while enabling workers to use the devices they’re most familiar with. Plus, the company doesn’t have to purchase the technology.

 

But BYOD can also be fraught with pitfalls for the unwary. Most companies have designed their IT infrastructure to support desktops. Many policies and procedures have been thoroughly planned and implemented – but few of these older policies account for the requirements of employees’ personally owned mobile devices.

 

Security is a primary concern with any BYOD initiative. When employees are accessing and storing data on their mobile devices, your company’s sensitive information is at risk. Mobile devices can easily be lost or stolen, and an unsecure device can introduce malware that compromises your entire network.

May 22, 2014

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Poor Security Habits Put Your Business at Risk

 

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As the reliance on centralized offices shifts to distributed business models and remote and mobile workforces, lines are blurring between work life and personal life. The proliferation of devices such as smartphones and tablets along with collaboration tools, video and social media are driving this operational shift, enabling employees to become far more mobile than previously possible. Unfortunately, this also allows employees to engage in behaviors that can place company networks and data at risk.

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.