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September 1, 2015

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ICG-cloud-mobility

Why SMBs are Using the Cloud to Leverage Mobility

One of the core drivers behind the emergence of cloud-based services for small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) is flexibility. Having the flexibility to access applications, data and infrastructure anytime, from anywhere, leads to faster decision-making, improved customer service and responsiveness, greater productivity, more collaboration and more innovation.

 

In fact, a recent study found that 91 percent of organizations using the cloud have at least one employee working remotely. Nearly one in five companies say the majority of their workforce works remotely.

 

SMBs are increasingly turning to an Infrastructure-as-a-Service model in which applications, hardware, software, storage and other tools and services are hosted by a third-party service provider and accessed on virtually any Internet-connected device. These resources can be scaled on demand and shift the financial burden of IT procurement, management and maintenance to the provider.

 

Of course, another big reason for the popularity of the cloud is the popularity of smartphones and tablets. Mobility and the cloud are speeding forward side by side as employees demand the highest levels of performance and reliability when accessing the corporate network from their favorite mobile devices. To meet this demand, organizations are making investments in mobile-friendly infrastructure and ensuring that devices, applications and data are running in the cloud.

 

The cloud fills a very basic need for the mobile workforce – the ability to remotely access files and applications. Documents can be reviewed, edited, stored and sent from any device. Manager approvals no longer require a trip back to the office.

 

Unified communications and collaboration tools allow employees to use a variety of channels to seamlessly communicate with colleagues and customers. Videoconferencing no longer requires high-tech conference rooms and complex planning. All an employee needs is a smartphone or tablet and login information.

 

The key advantage of the cloud – anytime, anywhere access to network resources – also creates a downside. Organizations that rely upon the cloud to support mobility are also relying upon mobile employees to establish and manage their own Internet connectivity. This can lead to service degradation, which prevents users from taking full advantage of a flexible working arrangement. The cost of access to cloud resources, if not monitored and controlled, can quickly wipe out any financial gains of cloud computing. Finally, security can be compromised by users who visit questionable websites, download malicious software, utilize unsecure networks, or fall prey to phishing scams.

 

Mobile policy management (MPM) can overcome these issues by establishing and automatically enforcing policies that provide greater control over how the cloud is used. Networks used to connect to the Internet are prioritized and selection is controlled by policy. This can significantly reduce support costs and optimize data usage while simplifying the user process for accessing cloud resources. From a security standpoint, MPM protects corporate data and applications by preventing the use of rogue networks that are often labeled as “free Wi-Fi.” It also allows users to roam between networks without security or compliance issues.

 

ICG’s IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS) solution is focused on making businesses more flexible and agile. It includes virtualized server infrastructure, hosted email, automated and managed backup, Microsoft Office licensing, remote desktops, and a comprehensive suite of security tools. Let ICG show you how our cloud services can help you take full advantage of mobility and flexible working.

July 6, 2015

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ICG-Business-Continuity-UC

Improving Business Continuity with Unified Communications

Many organizations take their on-premises phone system for granted, not realizing how vulnerable it is when a hurricane, flood, fire or some other disaster strikes. However, it doesn’t take a major disaster to shut down a building. A simple water leak or electrical issue could easily render a workplace unusable.

 

Regardless of the severity of the event that causes the outage, essential communications and business tools are lost, and you may have no choice but to wait until power is restored and the building becomes accessible before you can use your on-premises system. Setting up a redundant phone system at another location is one solution to this problem, but it can be very expensive and complex to deploy and maintain a separate system.

 

Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) provides reliable business continuity by moving communications and collaboration tools to the cloud. Employees can access the organization’s UC system from any device with an Internet connection. Disaster recovery and business continuity are the responsibility of the service provider, who houses equipment in an enterprise-class data center and has failover capabilities to prevent downtime.

 

Most organizations adopt UCaaS for reasons other than business continuity. Like most cloud services, UCaaS eliminates the expense of purchasing, deploying and maintaining an on-premises system. UCaaS can also be quickly deployed and centrally managed through an online interface.

 

Although disaster recovery is rarely a primary driver of UCaaS adoption, the disaster-related benefits should not be underestimated. Organizations concerned about cost should consider the capital and operational expenses of building and maintaining a redundant UC infrastructure to be used only in an emergency.

 

Of course, the cost of downtime could be far more significant in terms of lost revenue, lost customers and a damaged reputation. Effective communication can mean the difference between weathering a disaster and closing your doors. UCaaS makes that possible.

 

With UCaaS, employees continue to use the same communications applications and services during a disaster that they use every day, without compromising performance, reliability or availability. Employees can remotely access UC tools from home, a satellite office or a temporary office on any Internet-connected desktop or mobile device. It may take some time for the physical structure to recover from a disaster, but the ability to communicate and conduct business is never lost.

 

ICG can help you take advantage of a turnkey UCaaS solution that combines enterprise-class voice communications with carrier-grade reliability, security and interoperability. Our scalable, pay-as-you-grow system makes it easy to measure ROI while reducing the trial-and-error and high costs that typically come with UC deployment. Each user will have a single phone number to allow for instant collaboration, and our system can be integrated with users’ mobile devices.

 

Let us help you develop a strategic plan for migrating from legacy communications systems to our UCaaS solution to ensure seamless business continuity.

April 10, 2015

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ICG-mobile-collaboration

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 12, 2014

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Calculating Total Cost of Ownership for VoIP/Unified Communications

ICG-calculating-TCO

 

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.