The Model for a Successful Enterprise Today Includes Embracing the Cloud

Enterprises gain agility and the ability to scale up and down with an investment in the cloud.Enterprises of the 20th century were accustomed to housing their infrastructure onsite, managing all aspects of IT and navigating changes in the market gradually. As cloud solutions become more widespread, it will help level the playing field and allow smaller, more agile companies to edge out bigger, lumbering enterprises.

CIOs are seeing the benefits of paying a subscription fee rather than investing in a big hardware spend. The frequent updates and advances in software applications mean that cloud solutions make sense for enterprises that want to stay competitive both in efficiency and in the customer experience.

Scalability is leveling the playing field. It used to be that only the biggest enterprises could enjoy the advantages of the best software, but subscriptions make it easy for small- and mid-size companies to access the same tools large enterprises are using. For any size business, subscriptions make a team more agile, able to scale up or down based on changes in the marketplace.

Enterprises — the finance department, in particular — love the subscription model of cloud options because the investment can be categorized as an operational expense, rather than a capital investment. The ability to scale up or down also lowers the fixed costs of the enterprise and makes it easier to adjust spending to accommodate demand.

Everything as a Service (XaaS) is now an option. While Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) have been in use for a long time, the growing service industry is also allowing for the growth of other service areas, including security management and managed services. The XaaS mindset is dominating conversations about digital transformation as executives weigh the benefits of housing more of their IT management with service providers.

The service economy has plenty of room for growth. The market is just entering a shift from “procure and maintain” to a full-service economy. Enterprises are embarking on plans to embrace XaaS models of completing business processes, but there is a lot of opportunity for service providers to capture growth in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data analytics.

The shift to the service economy is evident across a variety of industries. Examples like car-sharing or pay-by-the-hour jet rental can be compared with companies in the financial arena sharing data management services.

If you’d like to capture new opportunities in the service economy, Focal Solutionscan help you. When you choose Focal Solutions as your trusted telecom partner, you are choosing to extend the range and value of your own IT team. Contact us today to learn more.

VoIP Offers Important Back-Office Advantages for IT Team

VoIP offers back-office benefits for your IT team, such as streamlined cable plant design and easy scalability.Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been available for the past 20 years, but it remains somewhat misunderstood. It’s often sold as a set of features that serve the front office and help management meet their cost-saving and efficiency objectives. What’s not stressed is the positive impact that VoIP can have on the back-office processes of the IT team.

The team that installs, supports, and maintains the information systems in the enterprise usually has surprisingly little involvement in telecommunications decisions. The push for a new system often comes from line-of-business managers. Fortunately, many of the benefits that result in a decision to move to VoIP are those impacting IT:

Design advantages: When an enterprise moves into a new facility, one of the first considerations that needs to be addressed by the IT team is the cable plant design. VoIP provides the potential for cost savings in this area because it allows for one line to run to the phone and then a jack in the VoIP phone provides a connection for the computer. This step eliminates half the drops required for the cable plant.

VoIP also offers easy scalability. Adding a new phone to the existing VoIP switch is as simple as plugging it into the network, then completing a quick initialization process. The phone is then ready for use. The addition of new phones can be completed easily by a technician with minimal training and perform multiple additions in a short time period.

Portability advantages: Remote access provides a way to extend the desktop. When VoIP was new, remote access was more difficult to offer, and IT teams spent a lot of time supporting remote users and troubleshooting problems. In most cases, bandwidth is no longer a problem, and current technology allows remote workers to travel with a laptop and a headset. They can conduct business as if they were on-site at a desk in the office.

Remote access and other monitoring tools significantly reduce the amount of time that IT spends helping remote workers manage their communications connectivity.

Promoting advanced technology: Integrating phones and voicemail was one of the first advantages offered by VoIP. Now technology allows for the easy transfer of voicemail to email and text. Hardware costs and conflicts between phone systems and email servers used to create a barrier to this function, but that’s no longer the case. Now IT managers can use these types of advances to promote the adoption of new technology.

The Focal Solutions team is committed to your business’s success in all areas of telecom deployment. Contact us about your goals for your telecom system and we will help you identify the right solution to meet your objectives. 

Security in the Age of the Mobile Workforce

The mobile workforce presents unique security concerns for IT. How can enterprises protect their data?The mobile workforce is a boon for enterprises. No longer constrained by geographical concerns when hiring, corporations are able to attract the best talent and offer them a high level of flexibility and the ability to collaborate with their peers across the globe.

Remote access allows employees to work from wherever they are, and field employees can access all the data and resources they need on their mobile devices. In addition, companies save on travel expenses as their employees enjoy the ability to hold virtual meetings in which collaborative software makes it easy to brainstorm and discuss a project.

Increasing Cloud Migration 

The rise of the mobile workforce wouldn’t be possible without the increasing adoption of cloud technology. These two growth areas are intertwined and present a complex security landscape for IT. Here are a few of the concerns on the minds of CIOs trying to protect their systems and data:

  • Providing a secure and reliable data connection for the mobile workforce
  • The complexity of bring your own device (BYOD) culture
  • Supporting technology for a global team, including syncing time differences and facing infrastructure challenges and language barriers

Security in the Cloud

With so much data flying around the mobile workforce, data centers, and the cloud, there’s a lot of opportunity for security breaches, which can be costly in terms of disaster recovery and from a public relations perspective. Every CIO faces concerns when they consider allowing all of their data to move outside the relative safety of carefully-constructed corporate firewalls.

The good news is that the cloud can be as safe as any corporate environment with the right security tools in place. In addition, disaster recovery tends to be much less costly than it is in an on-premise system. The flooding of a data center in a river valley, for instance, won’t cause an interruption in business processes because the data is stored in the cloud.

Putting out Fires

Many CIOs, confronted by the complexity of security in the age of the mobile workforce, are turning to managed services for a variety of areas, including mobile security. In a changing landscape in which cloud and mobile technology are significantly disrupting the IT industry, CIOs are realizing the value of outsourcing some aspects of security management. It frees them to focus on strategy and innovation, rather than putting out security fires.

The mobile workforce adds a new layer of security concern to an already complicated cloud environment. Talk to your clients about outsourcing their security, with Focal Solutions as your partner. Contact us today to discuss the new challenges in mobile security.

 

The Move from Centralized WAN Design

WANThe design for wide area network (WAN) is currently adapting to new requirements for networks, so the typical hub-and-spoke configuration is making way for other alternatives. There are many factors driving a change in WAN design, but two have had the most impact:

  1. The migration to cloud software for applications and data storage
  2. Software as a Service (SaaS), cloud-based apps, and managed services all require a WAN configuration that reduces latency and improves speed and performance

With the need for quicker connections and better performance, there are currently three main designs for WAN:

  • Centralized internet access (in this case, firewalls, authentication, and other security features are in the single WAN access point)
  • Decentralized internet access (this is known as “every site for itself”)
  • Regionalized internet access

Overall, the trend is moving away from a centralized design, except in those cases where a company is geographically localized and is primarily using on-site software solutions.

The Implications of a Decentralized WAN Design

While it’s easy to understand the desire for a direct connection to the internet for branches to increase speed and efficiency and improve business processes, a decentralized WAN design presents other challenges for IT teams. Managing security and firewalls is more difficult and expensive when there are multiple entry points for accessing the internet.

A centralized WAN design has some benefits when it comes to security, including the requirement for all traffic to back-haul to your centralized network before going out to the internet.

Regionalization

Many enterprises are adopting what’s called regionalized internet access, in which they gain some of the benefits of centralized and decentralized designs. In this model, there are generally two variations used: hub routers in colocation sites or virtual hub routers in the cloud.

One benefit of using hub routers in the colocation sites is that end users appreciate a fast connection to the internet with an inexpensive price tag. The alternative is simply the virtual equivalent of this system, with virtual hub routers in the cloud. There are a few challenges for this method, including limitations in performance, the ability to access inter-cloud provider connections, and potential fees for egress traffic from cloud providers.

With a regional connection, you still have some of the latency that comes with a centralized WAN design, but it’s spread out between multiple locations. As a result, speed is not as big of a problem and performance is reliable.

As comprehensive consultants, Focal Solutions works with you through every step of your technology plan, from choosing a network configuration to determining which applications are best hosted in the cloud. We’ll make sure speed and performance never suffer while reducing your overall IT costs. Give us a call to talk more.

4 Steps You Can Take to Streamline Your Data Analytics

DataThere are challenges in adopting a data analytics strategy, especially in terms of answering the difficult questions every organization tries to tackle with their data in real-time. Interoperability can’t be the sticking point if you’re going to succeed.

Are you trying to decide how to best adopt data analytics strategies while expecting the solution to be simpler than the problem itself? Unfortunately, all workable solutions come with a high degree of research. But it doesn’t have to be one long laborious undertaking – it can be accomplished in steps.

1. Define data goals as they relate to where you want to land. What is your current state and what do you wish it to be after you’ve analyzed the data? Asking this question can give you a more objective look into how you should approach data analytics, simplifying your approach to developing a strategy. You need to place a great deal of importance on plausible elements that are advancing your organization and/or holding it back. Don’t put one over the other – look at the good and bad at the same time.

2. Engage the right stakeholders to see where your current decision-making process is taking you. Which of your wins are the most tangible, and which ones impacted the top line? When you look at data related to this, you can gain a better understanding of why your decision making was effective.

3. Drill down on questions that help create more accurate models. One of the most important strategies you can build within your data analytics process relates to asking questions that can be answered by data analytics models that are built with your outcomes in mind. This process becomes more efficient if it begins with your IT team involved in defining goals.

4. Be willing to recalibrate as needed. You might find that as you’re advancing in your strategy, various goals will change. Be willing to roll with the changes as new ideas and evidence come to light. All data-driven results deserve close observation and a flexibility that will allow your organization to evolve as you learn more about what’s driving change.

At Focal Solutions, we are committed to the success of your business in all areas of telecom deployment. We’ve developed high-performing networks that are vital to the success of any modern business and have helped organizations in a number of industries streamline their services. Providing you with the tools and information you need for maintaining your telecommunications projects, we will partner with you for success. Contact us today to get started.

 

Dynamic, Evolving Solutions to IT Security

ITIn the last year alone, IT security has seen an increase in corporate attention and funding, yet security breaches increase. How could this be?

In short, cybersecurity is not simply a concern you can “throw money at” and expect to go away. The only approach to IT security must be one that is dynamic and ever-evolving. Here are three common mistakes that cause threats to a business’s cybersecurity:

Outdated Defenses

More enterprises now invest in IT security personnel and software than ever before. Yet while IT departments keep an increasing focus on end point defenses, it is imperative to remember that processes that prevent data breaches today will not be effective or relevant forever.

Cyber attackers evolve, and cyber attacks grow more sophisticated. Recent IT security breaches have come from spear phishing e-mail scams, which can compromise an entire corporate network if just one employee is tricked by the scam.

This is why it is important to stay on top of the current threats to a company’s IT security, while also anticipating that new or evolved threats will certainly arise in the future. Anyone who has dealt with a next-generation malware virus knows this: there is nothing more damaging than a malware attack when the antivirus software signatures aren’t available yet.

Tunnel Vision: Compliance Requirements

One marker of IT staff success is compliance with security requirements. But that is only one marker. Too many companies face a crisis after IT security professionals develop tunnel vision, proceeding as if compliance guarantees prevention of data breaches. All too often this is not the case, despite industry periodical CIO’s report that 58% of the companies plan to invest more in meeting compliance in the next year.

This is because cybersecurity threats evolve at a faster rate than compliance standards. The vigilance of a company’s IT team must move beyond compliance. A dynamic cybersecurity strategy goes beyond compliance standards and anticipates the evolving nature of security threats.

Adapting New Tech, Not New Security

Third-party cloud storage sites and file sharing apps can make a business more productive and increase employee communications. That is, as long as these channels are secured. Too often, companies embrace new technologies without first laying the groundwork to protect that data. This can have disastrous consequences after a security breach.

A Dynamic Solution

Moving forward, some strategies to bolster the IT security of a company include:

  • Assess which clouds store company data, and evaluate how secure they are.
  • Embrace encryption-based data security, as well as access controls. This doesn’t just mean on laptops and desktops; every cloud and site of Big Data must be encrypted.
  • Have IT professionals work beyond meeting compliance standards to stay on top of ever-evolving security threats.

 

Altering the IT Costs Dynamic: Making the Case for a Consumption-Based Service Model

The concept of scalable consumption of technologies is growing in popularity. The idea that companies can alter their IT costs dynamic is attractive to businesses where the amount of space and servers employed exceeds the actual usage. Paying for equipment that sits idle translates into waste, and companies that consider IT costs a fixed expense are under pressure to discover a more agile approach. Innovative consumption-based service models offer the solution.

With the advent of Software as a Service (SaaS), CIOs have an opportunity to integrate greater agility into the company by employing a consumption-based (or “as a Service”) IT model. Rather than pre-committing to IT costs based on full-time equivalent employees (FTEs), seats, or tasks, a usage-based approach relies on a data structure where expense directly correlates to consumption. The ability to scale resources based on usage offers organizations the flexibility and savings present in variable costs as opposed to fixed ones.

Transitioning to a cloud-based infrastructure is the foundation of this new cost reduction concept. Whether it is orchestrated through a dependable third-party provider or internally, getting the organization on board with the shift to consumption-based IT requires outlining the benefits of the efficiency and savings it establishes.

Making the Case

To implement consumption-based IT services and move company fixed costs to the variable column, organizations must sketch the advantages of the switch.

  • Agility: The primary reasons for the shift to consumption-based IT services include greater flexibility, quicker time-to-market, and simplified scaling. When work volumes fluctuate, this establishes a major cost reduction.
  • Cost Reduction: This type of IT service offers the ability to synchronize revenue with cost, calculate the benefits of the IT impact on a service or product, and engage new technologies without being saddled with debt or high capital expenditure.
  • Companywide Integration: Rather than focusing on single-point solutions, cloud-based infrastructure enables companywide pricing structure for an overall reduction in IT costs.
  • Ongoing Improvement: Consumption-based IT services allow for ongoing expense assessments. Enterprises have the power to continually review usage and pinpoint services or specific components that can be more efficient, and alter them as needed.

Moving to a consumption-based service model lowers IT costs. By instituting workable flexibility that gives both components and services the ability to evolve, businesses can establish improved performance in a low-cost framework. An agile, cost-efficient infrastructure delivers cutting-edge resources that improve efficiency and productivity throughout the organization.

Information Management: Data Infrastructure Explained

Data InfrastructureMany companies experience communication issues that contribute to measurable losses in the form of mistakes. As a business grows, so does the need for a workable data infrastructure that supports productivity. Innovation in technology has altered the traditional business dynamic, changing the way information is processed, and the result is that a large number of companies are suffering from a poorly designed infrastructure. However, by understanding the elements involved in data infrastructure development, businesses have the ability to increase efficiency and lower operating costs.

Defining Data Infrastructure

Data infrastructure is generally defined as the digital means utilized for the consumption and sharing of information. It can be likened to the physical infrastructure of a state. Large cities employ complex traffic controls and intricate roadways, while smaller towns typically rely on simpler designs and still employ dirt roads in certain areas. The same is true for businesses. Larger companies require formal processes for controlling vital information, while smaller companies are more relaxed. Depending on the organization’s size and mission critical tasks, levels of data infrastructure designs include:

  • Tribal—A small company that relies on word-of-mouth communications. Questions are answered by speaking to the person most likely to know.
  • Enforced—An organization that employs the rudiments of controlled processes. Written procedures and data repositories make information available to a larger number of persons. Spreadsheets and software applications are used to facilitate the workflow.
  • Standardized—At this point, growing companies begin to remove duplicate processes and other wastes by implementing a centralized system, such as an ERP system, as a means of stabilizing and controlling data for improved productivity.
  • Actualized—This is the point where an organization begins to discover ways to utilize data to improve efficiency. Vendor management and customer relations management programs offer increased performance and lowered costs.

Once the infrastructure is in place, it is able to support continued growth and improvements by building a foundation that enhances the methods used to gather, use, and distribute information.

Understanding the Importance of Data Infrastructure

When the infrastructure is developed around the type of data used in an organization, it offers the power to limit operating and capital expenditures while supporting productivity. The elements companies must consider when developing data infrastructure include:

  • Collection Procedures—Organizations can collect data from both internal and external sources. Big data is defined as large amounts of information that can be analyzed to predict trends and patterns relative to behaviors and interactions. Companies can interpret data from sales, financial, logistics, and other internal sources, along with social media and external news sources that guide future endeavors.
  • Storage—The space required to keep all the data collected is another element for consideration. Many companies lack the budget to arrange for in-house servers, but the advent of cloud data storage has solved that problem. As a cost-effective, secure solution, cloud storage offers a useful means for storing and accessing data when required.
  • Analytics—Various software tools and specific engines are able to analyze the information most relevant to an organization. The infrastructure design should include an effective method for drawing conclusions based on company needs.
  • Reporting—This involves transferring analyses into a form that offers easy comprehension for decision makers within the organization. The reporting process is where the data enters and positively affects the actual processes.

Building a data infrastructure that facilitates the way companies collect, apply, and share information enables an environment of growth through efficiency. Understanding the methods of development for a specific organization enhances productivity and lowers costs.

Adopting Policies That Work for BYOD

BYODThe year was 2009 when the mobile phone revolution inspired office workers to begin to break away from their cubes, ushering in freedom from desktops. An emerging trend, bring your own device (BYOD), surfaced across a wide spectrum of industries. While BYOD has since proven to have many benefits, it also has its drawbacks. Here’s a deeper look at the advantages and disadvantages of how portable devices have reshaped IT and the business world.

Costs of Convenience

A significant reason BYOD has become popular is the convenience of workers using their own devices with which they’ve grown comfortable. It’s convenient for management as well, since it frees up the budget for expenses on other needs beyond equipment. At the same time, however, it’s been a nightmare for some IT teams to oversee a wide range of technology that they cannot completely control.

The savings companies enjoy from avoiding desktop purchases are sometimes offset by the processing fees of plan subsidies, greater security risks, and less productivity from workers using their devices for personal use. The fact that employees can take home data that can be compromised by nefarious entities should be cause to look into device management strategies carefully before implementing BYOD.

First, Conduct Sufficient Research

The quickest path to quagmire in the BYOD era is to not bother planning a structured mobile device policy. Thorough research is needed on costs, ease-of-use, platforms, operating systems, models, and security risks. Partial plan policies may look more appealing on the surface than buying devices outright. But management should not overlook processing costs related to employee expense reports, which average around $18 per report, according to a 2013 Aberdeen Group analysis. Each business needs to study its own finances to determine if this model will provide savings.

A BYOD feasibility study also needs to include the potential security breaches that can occur from the vulnerabilities that BYOD introduces. This research (which can include Google, expert blogs, suppliers, software specialists, and business publications) may lead to a narrowed list of mobile device selections for employees to choose from. Comprehensive research will also help managers make the following determinations:

  • Rules and policies for professional vs. personal use
  • Mobile Device Management (MDM) strategies
  • The level of extra work and pressure BYOD will put on IT support
  • Price targets, options, and negotiation strategies

Developing a Company Mobility Plan

After compiling the above information, management should write a detailed company policy that spells out specific rules and regulations. The policy should identify which employees are permitted to use their own personal devices, which types of devices are allowed, and how they may be used in the workplace.

Additionally, the policy should specify who pays for phone and data plans and who is responsible for device maintenance and security. Finally, the policy needs to culminate in a summary of the company’s enforcement policy of rules and regulations.

The Power of MDM 

MDM software, such as IBM’s MaaS360, strengthens mobility policies through passwords. This cross-platform software is affordable, with options ranging from $3 to $10 per month. The software keeps devices locked down when not in use and sets limits on functions so that management can keep employee usage under control. As a security feature, MaaS360 can wipe data from lost or stolen devices.

As long as management does its homework by conducting a cost analysis then setting clear and appropriate policies, BYDO can help enable workers to be more productive at their jobs.

 

Cloud Considerations

The cloud has evolved in recent years from being just a buzz word to becoming a game-changer and equalizer. Small businesses (SMBs) to large corporations can become more scalable and agile than ever before, allowing them to cater to their customers’ ever-growing needs without having to spend a lot.

Cloud Spending

According to analyst group IDC, IT infrastructure spending growth will reach $38.2 billion for cloud environments this year. Private cloud spending gets 11% of that amount, a close second to public cloud’s 14%. Though enterprises are quick to recognize the cloud’s many capabilities, they still prefer to invest in their own data centers, or at the very least, in hybrid cloud strategies.

The reasoning behind this boiled down to security. As business processes are moving to the cloud, protection from data threats over the internet is more important than ever before. Further, some business processes are simply not ready for transitioning to the cloud for a variety of reasons, including compliance, data sovereignty, or legal limitations.

Cloud Implementation

Security, though still a priority, is no longer the topmost concern of enterprises when transitioning to the cloud. Nowadays, the problem they face is the not having enough resources to successfully implement such a transition.

For public clouds, connection can be established via the data center cloud exchange model. But this can be an inconvenient setup because of the presence of an exchange data center through which an enterprise has to cross-connect. The added step makes the whole operation tedious. Thus, the easier option is for an enterprise to use their own WAN to establish their private cloud. Without the need for an exchange data center acting as a middle man, there are fewer assets to manage, and, therefore, bigger savings to look forward to.

At the same time, it makes access to infrastructure much faster, too. Based on the 2016 State of the Cloud Report by RightScale, 62% of survey respondents consider speed as the top advantage of the cloud.

When speed is of the essence, it’s best for enterprises to look for providers who can make the adjustments for them and bring the cloud to them, and not the other way around.