Unified Communications and Collaboration

March 13, 2017

Make True Collaboration a Reality with UCC

The “office” is getting smaller, and the “workplace” is growing virtually limitless.  Employers need to find a way to keep their teams connected.

Offices don’t need to accommodate as many people as they did 10 years ago. The Workplace of the Future: a global market research report from Citrix explains that office space is decreasing in size, and office real estate as a whole may be as much as 17% smaller by 2020 than it was in 2010.  The reason: more knowledge workers are choosing to work remotely and are embracing mobile workstyles.

Mobility trends have a variety of benefits for employers, including lower real estate costs and an edge when recruiting talent, especially among younger workers that prefer the freedom to work remotely. There is one major challenge to overcome; however, employers must still find a way to enable their teams to work together.

While office space may be shrinking, the number of mobile devices knowledge workers use is growing. Each mobile worker currently uses on average almost six devices including smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers to link to the corporate network.

The Solution: UCC

As the name implies, unified communications and collaboration (UCC) unifies all communications. UCC is more than video conferencing or conference calling. It provides your team with the ability to connect through phone, video screen sharing, always-on messaging, email and other collaboration tools. It allows your employees to access messages on any of the devices they are using — whether on the office desktop computer, a smartphone while traveling, or a laptop or tablet at home. UCC keeps your team connected to the information and applications they need to do their jobs — and connected to each other.

Keys to Making UCC Work

Nearly every knowledge worker has experienced the frustration caused by communication and collaboration tools that are less than unified. Employees using different applications can’t share calendar invitations, meetings are delayed when a team member struggles to call in or can’t enable video or audio, and remote team members can’t review the data the rest of the team can see when they can’t access a business application.

There are a few keys required for a successful UCC implementation, including:

  1. Integrate UCC into business practices. UCC isn’t just for remote workers or team members on the road. It’s for everyone. Look for a UCC platform that integrates with the business applications you’ve already invested in, such as Microsoft Exchange. Make UCC tools a part of the processes your team uses on a daily basis. Also, consider whether the UCC platform you are considering has an open API so you can develop your own applications or integrations to address specific needs.
  2. Equip remote workers with the tools they need. This is more than handing an employee a laptop. Make sure your workers are trained in how to use UCC tools to do their jobs most effectively and productively, wherever they are. This includes training on security best practices and BYOD policies.
  3. Enable true anytime, anywhere access. A cloud-based system will enable your employees to collaborate and access mission-critical information with any Internet-connected device. Cisco Spark , for example, allows subscribers to access all the features of their office workstations from any devices they choose, without having to download software. All Spark meetings have video capabilities, so members of your team don’t have to make special arrangements when they require video or screen sharing, and employees can switch between devices during conferences without having to log in and out, avoiding disrupting collaboration or workflows. Because users access Spark through the cloud, they never have to worry about software updates or patches — the software is always up to date and secure.

The ROI of a Truly Collaborative System

Consolidating communication and collaboration tools into one platform can significantly reduce infrastructure and maintenance costs, but the payoff in the form of efficiency and team productivity may prove to be even more valuable.

Evaluate your current communications and collaboration platforms and consider how UCC could enable your team to work faster and smarter to help you control costs and make the most of your resources.

Adam Davis, CEO, Next Dimension Inc.

Secure Mobility

October 14, 2016

Secure Mobility—the new must for IT infrastructures

The realities of today’s BYOD environment and the dramatic increase in worker mobility are having a huge impact on corporate IT—forcing organizations to figure out how best to support it all efficiently and cost effectively.

Companies have made a huge investment in network and security infrastructures to provide employees with remote connectivity. While VPNs used to constitute a big part of this investment—enabling laptops to become the mobility devices of choice—this has changed with the increasing dominance of smartphones and tablets.

The challenge today is how to keep up with the rapid changes brought about by the mobile explosion, while maintaining control over a network infrastructure that keeps extending every time a new mobile device is added to the mix. And with cybersecurity threats increasing by the day, how does corporate IT ensure security when more and more people are working remotely and with their own mobile devices?

With the need for companies to adapt quickly to the proliferation of new mobile platforms, Strategy Analytics, a research and strategy analytics firm specializing in emerging technologies, predicts that the enterprise mobility management market will grow exponentially to $3.2 billion by 2020.

Specifically, companies are looking for mobile management solutions that provide users with:

  • Easy access to applications and data
  • A secure environment, where endpoints are protected from threats and corporate access policies are enforced
  • The flexibility to use any device—laptop, smartphone or tablet—they choose

The Cisco AnyConnect Security Mobility Solution

Cisco has developed a solution that allows employees to work from anywhere—on corporate laptops as well as personal mobile devices—with the necessary security to ensure that an organization’s data is safe and protected.

Cisco AnyConnect is a unified agent that delivers multiple security services. It provides the visibility and control needed to identify who and what is accessing the extended enterprise—before, during and after an attack. It also offers a comprehensive endpoint security platform, providing VPN access through Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) and IPsec IKEv2 as well as enhanced security through various built-in modules.

AnyConnect is available across a broad set of platforms, including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Google Chrome—giving users a myriad choice of devices they can use.

The first level of protection against device loss

Losing a smartphone or tablet—or having a device stolen—can be devastating to the person who owns it. But the operational challenges and potential legal ramifications are much worse for the user’s employer. For example, the loss and potential misuse of the sensitive data stored on the device—and the potential for the device to be used to gain access to critical business information—can end up costing the company thousands, if not millions, of dollars on measures to mitigate the potential risks.

Security policy enforcement

To provide a first level of protection if a mobile device is lost, Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Solution supports the use of digital certificates, which can be revoked immediately when a device is lost to deny access to the network. And the ability to establish policies like PIN lock and device encryption also help secure a device and reduce any potential risks.

With AnyConnect’s broad device support for a variety of brands of laptops, smartphones and tablets, secure policy enforcement can be easily implemented and always on.

What this all means for you

Mobility is here to stay. Now it’s up to your IT department to figure out the best way to enforce security while giving users flexibility in the mobile devices they can use.

With solutions like Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility, you can leverage your existing infrastructure and processes while providing access to anyone, at any time, from any device.

Let us help implement secure mobility within your organization. Talk to us at Next Dimensions about the next steps you need to take.

Virtual CIO Service

October 3, 2016

The value of a virtual CIO service

Employers today, in all industries, know that good employees are hard to find. This is especially true in corporate IT. Qualified, experienced IT managers are in demand, and they can be expensive to hire. That’s why many companies have opted to go the virtual CIO (vCIO) route—and have been successful with this model.

What’s the role of a vCIO?

A chief information officer (CIO) is the person in an organization responsible for managing information technology and computer systems. The person also develops strategic plans for how to use technology to fuel a business’ growth and ensures that business processes and the technology that enables these processes are functioning properly. The CIO is not a “mister fixit” type role. It is usually higher level and more strategic in nature and involves assessment, planning and even system design.

A vCIO is an outside contractor or company that serves as the CIO of an organization. He or she performs the same basic functions as an inhouse CIO would—advising the client’s IT department, formulating strategic IT goals, planning IT budgets, analyzing business processes and implementing technology changes. The scope of these duties may vary depending on the size of the company—and whether or not it has internal IT people on staff and how many.

A vCIO generally charges by the hour or a flat fee (usually on a monthly basis), and pricing varies. Some managed services providers offer vCIO services and so do some IT consulting firms, resellers and solution providers that may bundle vCIO services with others that they offer.

What are the advantages of using a vCIO?

Since small and midsize businesses typically can’t afford to hire a CIO, vCIOs are most common in these organizations.

While saving money is one important benefit of a vCIO, there are others:

  • It’s a time-consuming and expensive process to vet and hire a CIO.
  • A vCIO can be available 24/7, since the company fulfilling that role usually has multiple consultants serving in the vCIO capacity.
  • A vCIO, not being a staff employee, is not subject to internal politics and can be more objective regarding assessments and recommendations. As a result, relationships with internal employees, IT and otherwise, tend to remain professional and nonconfrontational.

How do you assess vCIO candidates?

Obviously, it’s important to have confidence in the party you’re hiring to fulfill the role. Here are some qualities to look for:

  • Strategic insight: the ability to understand the relationship between IT systems and business objectives
  • Technical expertise: knowledge of the latest technology trends and how they may impact your company
  • Proof of skills in IT project planning and management
  • Proven experience in IT budgeting

Is a vCIO right for you?

Talk to us at Next Dimensions. We’ll help you assess the pros and cons—and will be happy to offer our services. Hiring a vCIO may be an important next step in your business growth, and you want to make sure you do it right.

Managed Security Services

September 29, 2016

Managed security services—partnering for network security

Security is probably the single biggest concern of IT today. With threats continuing to evolve, as cybercriminals become more and more sophisticated with their tactics, companies and organizations of all sizes need to be concerned about protecting their valuable assets.

The situation is complicated by the growing complexity of e-business models. The more companies expand their mission-critical networks with new intranet, extranet, and e-commerce solutions in an effort to support a growing mobile workforce, the more vital it becomes for them to implement network security technologies.

What are the security challenges for your organization?

They’re numerous and keep growing in complexity:

The increase in security threats as remote access grows: The industries that are most at risk of cyberattacks—financial services, healthcare, real estate, medical and professional services—tend to have a large number of mobile workers who require secure access to home networks.

  • The increase in malicious attacks from malware, spyware, new multi-vector “turbo” worms and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks
  • The rise in spam: Almost 60% of all e-mail sent is now spam.
  • The threat of impersonation: The rapid growth in wireless communications and networking has increased the likelihood that a cyber intruder can gain access to vital network resources and data by assuming the identity of an authorized user.
  • Continually evolving e-business models: As more business is conducted over the internet, the types of services and information that are exchanged are increasingly complex and vulnerable to attack.
  • Customer concerns regarding security and privacy: Guarding the privacy of your customers’ personal information is of critical importance to keeping their business—and maintain their loyalty. And establishing trust in safeguarding customer privacy is important for your company’s reputation.
  • Compliance regulations: Government regulations, such as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLB), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the Government Information Security Reform Act (GISRA), require organizations to take measures to protect end users. HIPAA, for example, requires end-to-end encryption of data traveling between medical locations.

The advantages of working with a managed security provider

With IT staffs already working at maximum capacity, organizations are looking to outside resources for help with network security.

Given the high risk and cost of security breaches—and the daunting challenges of staying current on the latest in security threat prevention—managed services providers now offer advanced network security services and consultation. These services can range from simple equipment monitoring to comprehensive security management and remote site support.

The common services provided by a managed security services provider (MSSP) falls under three categories or lines of defense: prevention, detection and response.

Prevention services, such as managed firewalls, are designed to keep intrusions out. Service providers may also offer web portals for reporting, 24-hour-per-day monitoring, service-level agreements (SLAs), high-availability options and customer network management.

Detection services identify when an intrusion is occurring or has occurred on the network. The service provider will monitor normal and suspicious network activities and alert you when a real attack is in progress—saving your organization time, money and heartache.

Response services take action to defend against potential intrusion when it is detected. For example, service provider emergency response teams can provide forensic analysis when attacks occur and when vulnerabilities are assessed.

A key advantage of working with a managed security provider is that they often have the staffing flexibility to scale their services to meet your security requirements. They can also extend your IT staff’s capabilities when your team is busy with other projects. Another advantage is that you stay current on the latest cybersecurity technology and best practices and can provide your team with education and training in that area.

Is the managed security option right for you?

Talk to us at Next Dimension. We can help you decide if it’s the best way to go. We’re also here to help you take the next important steps in safeguarding your organization. Cyberthreats aren’t going away. It’s important that you’re protected.

Unified Communication Systems

September 12, 2016

Evaluating unified communication systems

Investing in unified communications may help improve productivity and efficiency in your organization—and may actually end up reducing your IT costs.

The integration of voice, video and data communications around a shared IP-based infrastructure makes it easy for your users to make a call, send an email or instant message, or join an audio or videoconference any time. This improves collaboration among your team and responsiveness to your customers.

If you’re thinking of implementing a unified communications solution for your company, you should consider several factors before making a decision.

Protect your existing IT investment

Chances are you’ve already made a major investment in office software for email, calendar and document sharing. Make sure any unified communications solution you implement can work with what you already have so you don’t have to start from scratch. You want the communications solution you implement to add complementary value to what you already have in place.

For example, choose an offering like the Cisco Unified Communications Solution, which was designed to work well with Microsoft Exchange, Outlook, and SharePoint as well as with Google Apps.

The unified communications solution you implement should also allow IT to offer higher service levels to your business without disrupting current options. For example, a single call-control architecture for voice, video and conferencing can reduce your operational overhead in contrast to separate call structures for each function. Also, a comprehensive managed solution for all communications functions can accelerate site rollouts and ongoing maintenance while lowering operating expenses and improving the user experience.

Your unified communication solution should also accommodate the latest mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as existing desktops and office phones. And it should not disrupt any existing directory structure and sign-on policies you already have in place.

Industry standards are important to consider

Look for a unified communications solution with open architecture that will support all relevant industry-standard protocols, codecs and interfaces. That way you’ll ensure compatibility with technology you already have installed as well as those devices and systems you will want to install in the future.

Make sure your users have a consistent experience across all delivery models

A unified communications solution should not require you to choose between elastic (cloud-based) and inelastic (fixed capacity) delivery. The functions and user experience should be equivalent regardless of where the unified communications applications are hosted, and the solution you implement should give you the option to use either or both. The Cisco solution, for example, provides a range of hosting options—from wholly on-premises to fully hosted, “as a service” or a hybrid of the two. But in each case, the quality of the communications function is identical. The communication solution you invest in should also be adaptable to any environment. Whether an employee is dialing into a video conference from a remote site or your conference room, the experience should be consistent in quality.

Unified communications can improve your customers’ experience

Studies show that giving your customers more and richer ways to interact with your business improves sales and instills customer loyalty. According to Forrester Research, better customer experience can deliver more than $1 billion in revenue growth.

That’s why you should strongly consider having a contact center solution as part of your overall unified communications solution. When your customers need expert help, for example, you can provide them with personal assistance remotely through video. Video contact with a “remote expert” can help them feel a greater connection to your brand and more comfortable with your product.

In addition, with the growing importance of social media engagement with respect to customer relations, make sure the unified communications solution you’re considering can support proactive customer interaction with social media posts on Facebook and Twitter. This will allow you to address customer satisfaction issues in real time as well crowd-source new product ideas.

As with all IT implementations today, security and service are paramount

Another advantage of offerings like the Cisco solution is that it employs a comprehensive “defense-in-depth” security framework that allows safe information sharing without overly restrictive security policies that can limit user engagement.

When considering your unified communications alternatives, take a look at the solution’s survivability—in the event your server is temporarily crippled by a worm or virus attack. The Cisco solution employs an end-to-end approach that encompasses both the network and the entire telephony system to guarantee a dial tone even in worst-case denial-of-service (DoS) scenarios.

Finally, make sure the unified communications vendor you choose offers 24/7 support. After all, doing business globally requires the need to communicate at all times, day or night, and you never know when you may need troubleshooting or technical support.

Are you ready to implement unified communications in your company?

Contact us. We can help you choose and implement the right solution based on the considerations we have outlined above. It’s a big step. We can help ensure that you do it right.