The Changing Face of Network Strategy

Simplicity of application access and ease of use are changing the workplace at a pace that’s unprecedented in our industry. This is largely due to cloud-based, multitenant applications being so easy to adopt.
Modern applications often integrate with and use multiple modes of communications. In many cases, IT departments are challenged to provide the infrastructure to support and manage this application evolution. New application use models are introducing new challenges with security, capacity, quality of service (QoS), authentication, monitoring, data governance, and availability. Network architects need to design local- and wide-area networks with an application-first strategy.

Don’t Surrender in the Fight for IT Talent

It comes as no surprise that the war for talent is raging on throughout the U.S. Reports out this week warn of the increasingly widening gap between employers and job seekers, with the highest number of job openings available against a historically low number of potential recruits… with no relief in sight.
While multiple business segments are reporting labor shortages, nowhere is the war for talent more evident than in the data center halls of large and medium enterprises. With the rapid (and rabid) hunger for cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) technology advancement, signs indicate that finding skilled -- leading, bleeding-edge workers -- is only going to become more difficult.

How Does AI Fit into Your Long-Term Strategy? by Melissa Swartz

Artificial intelligence (AI) was undoubtedly a hot topic at Enterprise Connect 2019 in March. While we can debate about how much of the talk was hype, and how much was really machine learning instead of true AI, the fact remains that AI is now part of our industry. AI already is in use to predict behavior and offer assistance to contact center agents, and in transcribing and translating speech in real time.
In his book, “AI Superpowers,” author Kai-Fu Lee points out that the very nature of AI is based on data. An AI system is trained using data. The accuracy of the results is directly related to the quantity of the data used to train the AI.

The Search for a Cloud-Based Telephony System - Part 2 by Time Proctor

As we discussed in the first of this series, finding the right cloud-based telephony system is a multistep process. In the initial post, we provided details on the first five steps:
  • Step 1 – Evaluate Your Needs
  • Step 2 – Decide on Cloud vs. Premises-Based Telephony System
  • Step 3 – Agree on Your Decision Criteria
  • Step 4 – Narrow Down Providers
  • Step 5 – Issue a Request for Quotation (RFQ)
To review Part 1 in more detail, including lessons we learned in helping our Gulf Coast client plan for a migration from a traditional IP PBX to a cloud-based telephony system, click here.
Continuing forward…

2 Big Myths of UC, Debunked by J.R. Simmons

Considering the expression “a camel is a horse designed by a committee,” perhaps the perfect UC tool is a unicorn -- a completely mythical product designed by marketing committees.
Wikipedia uses 73 words to define unified communications and lists 18 communications functions that are integrated under UC. Despite this, many UC vendors continue to tell us that they have the one-and-only communications and collaboration tool required, because this tool will meet all user needs. Although UC&C tools can improve productivity and sometimes even be transformative, the current products and the state of the industry prevents UC from living up to the definition of making communications “uniform or whole.”

FirstNet: The $18 Billion Experiment That Must Succeed by Dan Aylward

FirstNet is a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders, being built and deployed through a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership between the federal government and AT&T.
During mission-critical situations, first responders who are on different wireless frequencies aren’t able to communicate with each other, such as the experience during the 9/11 tragedies. In addition, emergency responders don’t have prioritization on the wireless spectrum over other wireless callers. FirstNet was created to solve these problems.
The First Responder Network Authority, an independent entity within the U.S. Department of Commerce, was created by Congress in 2012. Its mission is to develop, build, and operate a nationwide broadband network for first responders’ use in saving lives and protecting U.S. communities.

Goldilocks and the 3 UC Solutions by Elizabeth English

Over the past few years, we’ve assisted a number of clients who are upgrading from an older telephony platform to a more modern unified communications solution. When choosing between cloud and premises-based solutions, most of our clients face the same dilemma. There are advantages and disadvantage of each, with neither being a perfect fit. Just like with Goldilocks, one is too “cloudy,” the other is too “premisey,” while the third “just right” option is hard to find.
Advantages of Premises or Private Cloud Solution
For the purposes of discussion, we are generally referring to premises-based solutions or those privately hosted in the customer data center that are typically leased or purchased under a Capex model. Most vendor contracts for Capex solutions allow for refinement and customization to support specific requirements, including those covered by an RFP.

Smart Meetings: It's Time to Rethink How We Meet by David Mailer

Advancements in communications and collaboration technology have been changing the ways in which modern meetings are carried out. Today, we’re witnessing live video feeds, screen sharing, remote dial-ins, and a whole host of other features challenging the meaning of the word “meeting,” with a group of people no longer having to be in the same room in order to meet.
Generally speaking, meeting technology has developed down three unique paths: audio (telephone conferencing), room-based video conferencing, and desk-based audio and telephone conferencing. So far, integration of these three siloes has been limited. It may be possible, for example, to join multi-room video conferences by telephone, but doing so isn’t always easy or intuitive for users.

Collaboration Anywhere: A Cloud Migration Story by Scott Murphy

For the last 20 years, I have been part of a boutique consulting firm and the last two years have seen dramatic changes. We had an office, but the objective was never to be there – as a consultant, your objective was to be at a client site, to be chargeable.
I spent time working while on planes, trains, automobiles, client sites, airports, and coffee shops. I was always challenged to stay connected with other members of our team. Phone calls, remote access, Skype, file shares, and a plethora of other tools were used to keep track of things and to share information with one another. We had email in the Office 365 cloud and some basic replication capabilities with OneDrive, but that was not scalable, nor collaborative. Collaboration was never easy and rarely authentic.
In 2017, we started looking at procuring better collaboration tools. We investigated several tools including Microsoft Teams (release March 2017), but they only had pieces of the solution we were looking for. We replaced more expensive video conferencing with Skype for Business Online, for some decent video conferencing capabilities, and added cloud-based UC from another third-party provider to improve our access to voice communications. This was better than what we started with, but not yet the solution we needed – too many point tools and not enough integration or workflow.

Is Your Head in the Clouds? by Diane Halliwell

If you listen to the vendor and much of the analyst communities today, it seems that all you hear about is the cloud: “We want to be a cloud company.” “The cloud is where you need to be.” “You need to move to the cloud.” But what if your organization already has an operational on-premises contact center solution and is about to make a replacement decision? You may be scratching your head, wondering if you are archaic to even be considering non-cloud, premises-based solutions.
Over the course of the next two articles, I’d like to explore the cloud decision and migration journey. Today’s post provides some summary background information on the decision-making criteria for moving to the cloud, specifically addressing whether a move to the cloud is the right direction for your organization. I’ll also provide some insight into how to select the right cloud solution provider, should you decide cloud is the proper model for your organization. Part two will continue with addressing the pitfalls to avoid and best practices to adopt as your enterprise migrates to your selected cloud solution.

Avoiding Entropy in Technology Projects By Elizabeth English

Entropy is defined as a lack of order or predictability, or, in this context, the natural tendency of things to go from a state of order to a state of disorder.

The exponential growth of technology has companies scrambling to move to new services with the hope that VOIP, or UC, or WebRTC, or the latest flavor of BYOD will solve their communications problems. In the old days the scramble had companies moving from Centrex to PBX, to private networks, to remote modules, to TEM packages ... well, you get the idea.

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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Replacing Your Telephone System By Melissa Swartz

Voice services have, historically, had a high level of reliability. This has led many who are not familiar with the technology to assume that because voice services are reliable, they must therefore be simple. This leads to a further assumption: Because it's simple, anyone can do it.

Well, maybe not.

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5 Tips for Successfully Installing a New Telephony Solution By Melissa Swartz

While deciding which new telephony solution to acquire can be a daunting task (see my previous article 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Replacing Your Telephone System), getting it installed properly is a different challenge. During the sales process, our clients are often told that the vendor will take care of everything and the installation process will be easy. If only...

As consultants, we have acted as project managers on behalf of our clients and have been involved in hundreds of installation projects. While each project is unique, here are some tips for avoiding issues that we see most often.

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Do You Really Need an RFP? Because It's Really a Pain... By Melissa Swartz

It's true--a Request For Proposal (RFP) process can take a lot of time and effort. So when does it make sense to go through the effort?

1. When you are making a complex purchase, an RFP will help you organize both yourself and the vendors who are bidding the products and/or services you plan to obtain. Putting your requirements in writing up front helps you to decide what capabilities are essential and what is optional.

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Avoid These Pitfalls When Responding to an RFP By Melissa Swartz

Many organizations use a Request for Proposal (RFP) process for procuring goods and services. As an independent consultant, I have written many RFPs and evaluated even more responses (see "Do You Really Need an RFP? Because It's Really a Pain..."). The process offers a mechanism for providing large amounts of information that, when done properly, helps the buyers to evaluate and compare options. It is, in effect, a job interview.

Responding to an RFP can require a significant amount of effort from a vendor; sadly, we see proposals in response to RFPs that guarantee immediate elimination from consideration. Here are some of the biggest mistakes to avoid when responding to an RFP:

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Contract Negotiation Tips from a Non-Legal Perspective By Melissa Swartz

Many managers rate managing and negotiating contracts on the same level as getting a root canal or walking barefoot over hot embers. I don't remember meeting anyone who has said "Contracts--my favorite thing!" But they are a definite fact of life, so here are a few thoughts on things to be aware of when dealing with contracts.

Part 1: Managing Existing Contracts
You should have a way of tracking your existing contracts so that you are not caught by surprise when they expire. Contracts for services can have murky start dates. Sometimes they are based on when the vendor countersigns the contract; other times they may begin when service is delivered or when it is first billed. Often, vendors can't produce a copy of your contract, so if you don't have a copy of the countersigned document, the contract expiration date can't always be determined. Sometimes vendors tell customers what the expiration date is, but when pressed for documentation they have no way to prove the accuracy of their assertions.

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Contract Negotiation Tips from a Non-Legal Perspective Part 2: Negotiating New Contracts By Melissa Swartz

Selecting a new product or service and its supplier can be a long process: A lot of information is exchanged, items are negotiated, and promises are made. The agreement is finalized through a contract, and this is a time where there is a relatively high risk that these customizations may be lost.

Almost every contract contains a phrase that says, in effect, "The only language that is legally binding is contained within this agreement. Previous discussions, writings, and promises are void." If you sign the vendor's standard contract, without making changes, you may give up a lot of leverage and a lot of previous effort.

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Which System is the Best? By Melissa Swartz

As a consultant, I am often asked, "Which system is the best?"

That's kind of like asking "Which automobile is the best?" The answer, of course, depends on what you need it to do. Do you need great gas mileage, or to carry a lot of stuff (covered or uncovered?), or hold a lot of people? Will you be driving off-road? Do you need speed? The list goes on.

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Hidden Costs of UC Solutions By Melissa Swartz

Any organization that is considering a change in technology takes into account the cost of the new solution in comparison to the cost of the current solution. It is easy to identify the costs associated with the new technology (either the upfront purchase cost or the monthly cost of the service). But there are other costs that are often not recognized up front. Here are some areas that you should consider when deploying a new solution:

Communications technology goes way beyond the desk phone.
As you deploy new capabilities, you may be supporting mobile devices--both phones and tablets. You may have to provide resources to address security issues and support for these devices, as well as the billing for them. Unified messaging (voice mails in email) can impact the storage of your email application. In addition, voice mail messages that reside in email could become part of legal discovery and must be addressed by a message retention policy. New applications such as presence must be supported, which may involve additional training for users. Collaboration tools such as conferencing and document sharing must be managed and supported like any other resource. Video is moving to the individual devices such as desktops and tablets; as this traffic increases, it could impact LAN capacity.

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Hosted Services - Dangerous Waters Ahead? By Melissa Swartz

The growth predictions and enthusiasm of today's hosted services marketplace reminds me of the CLEC (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier) environment in the late 1990s. New companies were springing up everywhere, offering local and long distance services as a result of the deregulation mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The legislation had the goal "... to let anyone enter any communications business -- to let any communications business compete in any market against any other."

New offerings hit the market, and the landscape became cluttered as new and existing companies competed for customers. Many companies began putting fiber in the ground and hardware in Central Offices to build their own networks. Sound familiar? Today I did a Google search on "Hosted VOIP" and there were over 9 million results.

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