5 Reasons Every Business Needs a Unified Communications (UC) Solution

No matter what type of business or size business you have, the one aspect that you cannot afford to neglect is the communications you have with your customers. Businesses today are reaping the benefits of adopting one reliable solution for all of their communication needs thanks to the evolution of cloud-based unified communications (UC) solutions.

Here are 5 reasons why every business today needs a quality unified communications solution in place.

1. Cost
If you think about all of the individual services, equipment and staffing your business requires to communicate with your customers, you will be shocked at your monthly expenses. Communications, no doubt should be an investment, but one that is affordable. Quality and affordability are often both difficult to achieve, but thanks to modern cloud-based unified communications solutions, both are now obtainable. Every business should be looking to adopt a full service, subscription-based UC solution, one where everything is included. When we say everything, we mean it. The best UC solutions will include your phones, advanced calling features like auto attendants, unlimited calling, online faxing, video conferencing, toll-free and the latest mobile apps and tools, all for no capital expense. When you think about the value of this and what you can eliminate, for example, your fax machine costs and maintenance, modernizing and unifying your communications into one cost-effective solution is a no-brainer.

2. Disaster avoidance
When you think of disasters in business, you immediately think of revenue lost and unanticipated costs. Disasters can range from man-made interruptions to natural disasters like hurricanes and blizzards that can affect your business for days on end. With a cloud-based unified communications solution, disasters are no longer a concern. Communications can remain intact because all of your features and services are managed and accessed through a secure, online portalfrom any device. This means, that you can forward your calls to any number and voicemails can be retrieved from anywhere you are. Features like auto attendants, can also be used to inform customers of office closures. So, while your physical place of business may need to close, your communications with your customers will never be down.

3. Mobility
One of the greatest benefits of a cloud-based unified communications solution is the mobility and flexibility they provide. The world has become forever mobilized and so should your business. You no longer need to be chained to your place of business waiting for calls, or be worried about giving out your personal cell phone number. Cloud-based UC solutions offer the mobility to get calls on any device, through features like mobile twinning, where your business phone and mobile phone will ring simultaneously, so you never miss a call or mobile softphones, where you can make and receive calls on your mobile device using your business number. The ability to make business happen wherever you are and on whatever device you choose, is a benefit that no business should overlook.

4. Scalability
No matter what type of business you have, your hope and plans are for growth and profitability. Since the speed of growth is unknown, it is often difficult to plan ahead when making important investments, such as your business technology. Fortunately, cloud-based UC solutions allow you to scale up and down as needed. Having the reassurance that you can add and remove new employees, services and equipment instantly, gives you peace of mind and more control over your bottom line.

5. Productivity
With a cloud-based UC solution, your employees productivity level gains an instant boost. Not only can employees from any of your locations communicate on one system through 3 or 4 digit extension dialing, but they can also chat live through a secure, online customer portal. New tools like video, audio and web conferencing allows your employees to meet, collaborate and share documents from any device, anytime.

Cloud UC solutions offer countless advantages to businesses and help to ensure it is business as usual, no matter what takes place or where you or your employees physically are.

Interested in learning more about the benefits of UC solutions? Prime offers an award-winning, 100 percent cloud-based unified communications solution, and has more than a decade of cloud experience. Click here for more information or a free quote for your business.

5 Best Practices for Seamless Video Conferencing

Video and web conferencing has become more affordable and provided better quality in recent years. Video conferencing has also become a critical method of business communication in the face of decreasing travel budgets. Here, I explore some of the best practices you can bring to your video conferencing deployment to ensure that you have a reliable way for your employees to communicate with your customers, other employees, and peers.

Use Unified Communications Tools with Your Video Conferencing Tools

Whether it’s a face-to-face meeting, a dial-in conference call, or a video conference, participants complain about the amount of time spent in meetings. Meetings are a necessary evil, bringing team members and leaders together to collaborate on ideas, deal with problems, and develop solutions.

In response to the growing need and desire for video and web conferencing systems, some enterprise video conferencing vendors have expanded their relationships with other unified communications (UC) companies to deliver more integrated tools to meet the need. Ideally, a company would be able to combine its existing high-definition (HD) video, UC, and voice over IP (VoIP) tools and environments into one that’s easy for everyone to use. Currently, few successful solutions offer a complete packaged solution like this, so to improvise, you could find ways to bring your UC and video tools together.

Manage and Control

Any IT system requires full control and management to be effective. When you install management systems, you need to ensure that they will work effectively for everyone. This means that any video conferencing system must be accessible to any employee at any given time. To achieve such control, centralize your video conferencing equipment into dedicated conference rooms available on a reservation basis only.

Future-Proof Your Communications

It is essential that you select a solution that is compatible with your current software and an future upgrades of that software. As VoIP, web conferencing, and other IP-based technologies evolve, make sure that upgrades are as painless and seamless as possible with the technology you currently use. Your current IT vendor may have solutions and suggestions for how to achieve this. The vendor may also partner with other vendors that have a compatible solution.

Mobility

Many employees are highly mobile, so you want to make sure you include mobility when selecting a video conferencing solution. If your employees need to be present in a meeting but are on the road, you need to ensure that they can dial in at a minimum, but the optimal goal is for them to be able to use the video aspect to gain the full effect of the meeting. Some solutions offer compatibility with iOS, Windows Phone, and Android mobile devices.

Select the Best End Points

Desktop video, executive desktops, and room-based systems are all examples of video conferencing solutions that allow users to join a video call. Desktop and executive desktop solutions are designed to be used at a workstation with high-end HD cameras. Computer-based video conferencing software contains integrated voice, web, video, presence, and chat capabilities, which makes it easy for employees to join a video conference even if they are tied up with other work. Room-based systems provide video conferencing to large conference rooms, where participants can collaborate and bring desktop users in as needed, whether they are in the same building or across the country.

 

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This was originally posted here by Anthony Ortega
About the Author
Anthony Anthony Ortega has extensive IT support and systems engineering experience in government environments. A solutions-focused professional, he has led staff; worked in network operations support, information assurance, and change management; managed project software and licenses; and provided quality assurance. He has also developed coursework for VoIP, unified communications, and cloud computing for online colleges. Anthony is working on his Ph.D. dissertation in Organizations and Management, with a specialty in IT Management. He is an analyst with Studio B.

Warning- One Cloud does not Fit All!

Let’s just be clear from the get-go: one cloud does NOT fit all. It’s true that cloud computing technology can lead to some major benefits, including reduced spending, business mobility, greater efficiency and more – but today we see hundreds of cloud providers boasting the exact same benefits. When businesses see this, they assume they can play eenie-meenie-miney-mo and get a magical solution to fix their business operations.

Our suggestion? Don’t choose your provider or solution at random! Do deeper research to identify the strengths of each provider. Why? Because the cloud comes in all different shapes and sizes, including public, private and hybrid models, and some providers might not be able to give you exactly what you need. In that case, you’d be wasting time and money while seeing no business progress.

When deciding whether or not to move to the cloud, you first have to consider what you want. Everything depends on your business’ needs and goals.

So, plan ahead! Because the cloud is worth the planning time. You should step back and truthfully identify your business’ problems, expectations and goals. If you begin the process by trying to decide which cloud service to use, you’ve already missed a step. First, decide what parts of your business make sense in the cloud. Identify your strengths and weaknesses before moving forward. Let’s take a look at how different sized businesses require different cloud solutions.

Small businesses still require up-to-date IT resources to run smoothly, even with their limited budgets. The cloud can help. A small business solution has to be flexible and scalable, with a pay-as-you-go option. This allows the business to only pay for what it uses, which is much more affordable than typical CapEx spending. This type of cloud solution allows a small business to play on a level playing field with larger organizations without breaking the budget.

For a medium business, the issues are slightly different. These organizations focus on growth, and need a solution that can grow as they grow. These organizations also have higher expectations when it comes to software and technology tools, and the cloud can give them access to these resources. In this case, the cloud solution needs to be one that is scalable and offers leading technology applications.

And when it comes to large businesses, the focus switches again. These organizations need to manage all the IT resources while remaining innovative – and that can be a lot of responsibility for an in-house IT team alone. With the right cloud provider, these larger organizations get around-the-clock support and management for their system, allowing them to focus on moving the business to the next level. This cloud solution requires excellent uptime and security with great customer support.

These three examples display only a few ways in which one business’ cloud solution may differ from another’s. That’s why it’s important to establish a plan before making the move.

And when you do decide to make the move, you don’t have to do it all at once. You probably want to start with systems that are easiest to move, saving mission-critical items for the end. This will reduce interruptions during your transition. This also allows you to take time to understand how your business works in the cloud, and decide exactly how you want to move forward. Once you get going, it’s easy to scale your service up or down and move new systems into the cloud.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: the cloud is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and it won’t solve every single one of your business problems. But that doesn’t mean it can’t benefit the majority of organizations.

Unified Communications for the New Year

As mobile technology and remote accessibility continue to evolve, businesses, their employees and their customers now have a variety of devices, media types and communication platforms to choose from when building or growing their mobile workforce. While these different technologies and platforms provide effective communication on their own, full efficiency cannot be achieved – both technically and financially – if there is a lack of integration among them. As a result, the demand for multi-device connectivity to enterprise systems has grown substantially.

So, how do you meet these expectations to increase productivity, quality and efficiency for a modern workforce? Unified Communications, of course.

Bridging the Gap

Unified Communications bridges the gap between VoIP and other computer-related communication technologies. Through the real-time integration of both voice and data networks, business are able to manage every aspect of their communications in one entity, versus several – including the integration of email, voicemail, instant messaging technologies, fax, Short Message Services (SMS), web/video conferencing, screen sharing and more.

Through these real-time collaboration features, UC not only empowers people to communicate and make decisions at the rapid pace that is demanded in today’s business environment (users can save up to 20 minutes per day,) but it also reduces common communication barriers, such as the need to return missed calls and manage multiple email threads.

UC also provides businesses with the flexibility to choose and tailor the amount, and what types of communications platforms they would like to integrate, depending on what works best for their specific needs.

Consolidated Communication Tools on any Device

With UC, users can communicate with colleagues and customers from a business VoIP number on any device, including smartphones, tablets, PC desktops and desk phones, regardless of location. This means that personal numbers can be kept private, and communication delays are eliminated.

Integrated Voice

In UC strategies and solutions, hosted voice and Internet-delivered telephony services can be integrated. Hosted solutions, such as Hosted Voice, are becoming an increasingly popular choice as more companies adopt VoIP communications due to its inherent cost savings over traditional telephony, as well as the added convenience of fully managed services. These communication and collaboration features speed up almost every aspect of the business cycle, as well as provide workers with more freedom and flexibility in how they communicate and manage their communications.

Additionally, UC’s hosted voice services are a cost-saving, feature-rich, and scalable alternative to traditional and expensive phone services and equipment. With features such as self-service call routing, voicemail transcribed as email, call recording, and audio conferences, supporting a more mobile and productive work style is easily achieved.

Supporting the Needs of a Changing, Mobile Workforce

Having the ability to communicate and collaborate in real-time, no matter where you are, is advantageous for businesses of all sizes. From reduced total cost of ownership and travel time, unparalleled freedom, flexibility and productivity enhancements and more, UC solutions are an efficient way to embrace and benefit from the mobile, multi-device work style of today’s workforce.

 

Keeping Video Conferencing Security in Perspective …

I was doing more research on video conferencing. I was interested because it seems to me that a cloud video conferencing service is much more secure than a stand alone system sitting behind a firewall- as long as the cloud conferencing provider is using active monitoring and industry best practices for security.

Network Security 4

I came across a fascinating blog on No Jitter by Ira M. Weinstein and Andrew W. Davis about security and video conferencing. The article can be found here.

The NSA is accused of spying on UN video conferences. What’s the most likely scenario for what really happened?

Every few months the topic of video conferencing security rears its ugly head in the media. In the last week or so, the NSA has been accused of cracking the encryption guarding the United Nations’ internal video conferencing systems. According to the well-known German magazine Der Spiegel, these NSA activities took place in the summer of 2012 and allowed the NSA to decrypt more than 450 communications. Apparently the Chinese tried to do the same thing, with unknown results.

First of all, the authors want to clarify what we don’t know. We have no first-hand knowledge of any surveillance programs in use by any entity or agency, government or otherwise. We also don’t have access to non-public details about the recent allegations. For example, we don’t know which video calls were compromised or not compromised, which locations or people participated in these sessions, or what systems, services, or networks were in use.

Here’s what we do know. Video conferencing can be very secure. The actual security level of a video call depends on a number of factors including (but not limited to) the equipment in use, the settings within the equipment, the networks in use, and the actual call settings.

Basically all video conferencing systems released in the last 10+ years have included 128-bit AES encryption. This means that calls between compatible systems should be encrypted using 128-bit encryption keys that are generated automatically at the start of each video session. Although AES is a commercial rather than military grade of encryption, AES packs quite a punch. According to a 2012 article in EE Times, a supercomputer would take 1 billion billion years to crack a 128-bit AES key using a brute force attack. Given that this is more than the age of the universe (13.75 billion years), this does not seem like a real-time risk.

And there is more. Despite the inherent security provided by 128-bit AES encryption, highly secure communication environments (e.g. the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, etc.) use additional methods to secure their communications. Most common are external, hardware-based encryption devices. These devices typically leverage multiple encryption keys including:

*A device-level physical encryption key that must be inserted in the device each time the system is used. These keys are typically exchanged every 30 days or more.

* Password keys that limit access to the device’s functions and systems.

* Session keys that are automatically generated at the start of each session. In some cases, the session keys are even changed automatically during the session.

In addition, organizations conducting secure communications typically host their traffic on secure data networks that also use advanced encryption technologies.

So what does all of this mean? It is basically impossible to gain access to an encrypted video conference.

Now the question is–what really happened? Most likely, we will never know. What we do know is that most security issues we find in the video conferencing area are related to people not following basic security policies and procedures–either knowingly or unknowingly. Common causes of weak video conferencing security include:

* Turning off encryption on video systems
* Using outdated video systems that don’t support encryption
* Failing to use the most current software on video systems/other devices
* Connecting to other devices (e.g. gateways, video bridges, etc.) that either don’t support encryption or have encryption turned off
* Using software solutions or services that either don’t encrypt or use less stringent encryption methods
* Failing to use proper passwords, not changing passwords often enough, or failing to keep those passwords secure.

These factors are NOT inherent weaknesses in video conferencing security; they are user-introduced weaknesses. This is analogous to putting money or jewels in a safe, and then either leaving the door wide open (on purpose for convenience or mistakenly) or writing the lock’s combination on a post-it note hanging on the safe itself.

While not as likely, it is also possible that the UN’s video systems themselves were compromised. For example, most video conferencing systems support remote monitoring and management. Some systems also support the streaming of video and audio content to remote users. These features are turned off by default and are password protected. If properly used, they are extremely valuable. However, if abused, these features can compromise security and provide access to secure information.

Finally, it is also possible (albeit unlikely) that someone gained access to the video systems and uploaded hacked firmware that provides back-door access to the audio and video content. (Remember the centrifuges in Iran!)

So given the limited information in hand, we believe it is far more likely that someone learned the IP address of one or more of the UN’s video systems, and then snooped on non-encrypted conferences. Perhaps the video systems in some locations were not properly configured or had encryption disabled. Who knows?

But make no mistake–given sufficient time and resources, everything is “hackable.” In the case of today’s video conferencing systems, however, the chances of successfully eavesdropping on an encrypted media exchange are extremely small, even with the resources of the NSA.

Learning how to Create Use Cases for Video Conferencing

I sat at my computer yesterday with my cloud video conferencing mentor, Dan Marchetto from Iocom. We were talking about the best ways to implement cloud video conferencing in organizations. It comes down to the “use case” more than the technology. A “use case” is just that- what are you going to do with the service once you get it. Think of it as a compelling “Why?” or “What are we seeking to do with the technology? What need does fulfill for us?”. Each organization has different needs- generally based upon industry. Therefore, you can look within your work flows specific to what you do and where you do it to look for efficiencies. I thought this was logical and fascinating. Being the web researcher I am, I immediately set to work to explore this further. I found a great paper from Frost and Sullivan from 2009 that describes this. Here is an excerpt from what they wrote: (five years later, still very relevant)

Use Cases for Videoconferencing

The best way to derive value from any technology is to use it in places where it will make the biggest difference within the organization. Videoconferencing is no exception. There are many key use cases for the technology— areas of business where using it will significantly reduce costs and/or increase productivity. Let’s look at a few of them in step two of our five-step process:

 

  • Training is a clear case where videoconferencing can save companies money, and their employees times and By using video to train everyone from salespeople to support staff to every employee who needs information on benefits and enrollment, companies can save money on travel and facilities costs for the attendees and trainers. They can also limit the time people spend in training to the event itself, meaning that a three-hour training session will take three hours, not 12 (or more, is flying is involved). That, of course, allows attendees to go back to their day jobs that much sooner. Using videoconferencing for training also allows benefits the trainers, who no longer need to fly around the country (or the globe) to teach. That ensures they can spend more time on prep and follow-up, and reach more people in the same amount of time. With videoconferencing, who gets trained doesn’t have to be determined by location and costs; now, everyone who could benefit from training can get it, without leaving the office.

 

  • Employee and recruiting interviews can be held via videoconferencing, allowing companies to reach out to more candidates, since location no longer Also, those candidates can speak with more people within the organization, without incurring travel costs for them or the interviewers.

 

  • Product development teams benefit from videoconferencing in two ways: The technology allows them to communicate and collaborate better, since video lets participants read body language and facial expressions; and it allows them to show team members parts, components, materials and other physical objects that relate to the particular product in development—something that would otherwise require an in-person

 

  • There’s a reason high-level managers and executives spend so much time traveling: Strategic planning and budget creation require open discussion and trust—two things that are best done when you can see the faces and body language of the people you are working But with videoconferencing, they can achieve the same level of intimacy without having to leave their offices, reducing the wear and tear that comes from extensive travel, freeing up time for more productive activities when they’re not in meetings and, of course, saving even more money on travel than the average employee.

 

  • The increasingly virtual workplace offers any number of benefits, but one thing gets lost in the translation: Team It’s tough for employees to develop deep and lasting relationships when they rarely see each other and communicate mainly via phone, e-mail and chat. But videoconferencing can change that, by making it possible for team members to see each other on a daily or weekly basis. Simply making that visual connection makes contact more personal—and that makes it easier for people to work together, because they feel like they actually know the people they are working with. That, in turn, makes it more likely that they will share information and skills, supporting each other throughout the work day and for the overall benefit of the business.

 

  • Finally, while some customer and partner engagements require a live, in-person meeting, many don’t—but they will benefit from the visual connection videoconferencing Just as employee relationships are deepened by videoconferencing, so, too, are those with customers and business partners.

The paper from Frost and Sullivan is a good read. If you want to download it- please click here.

 

If you are interested in actually trying this out, please click here and I will give you a 30 day free trial of Visimeet to develop your own use case with!

 

 

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