Using Internal Chat for Your Business

Internal chat apps have quickly become a must-have communication tool for businesses. If your business communications are still centered on email, or your team is using personal Skype, Google Hangouts or social media accounts to chat internally, it’s definitely time to get a team chat app.

I saw this article on the Broadview Networks blog. Since I am seeing a lot of private chat apps come out with various providers, I enjoyed the read. It was written by Nicole Yeager. Nicole is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Broadview Networks, a top 10 UC cloud provider in the nation, where she enjoys writing about the latest technology and cloud products businesses can leverage to maximize productivity, improve security and reduce costs.

Chat apps build a stronger working relationship amongst your employees, especially if your business operates in different locations or employees are on-the-go. The ability to chat in real-time increases productivity and builds a forum for your employees to feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Chat allows employees to share information effectively, while minimizing the disruption of work environments.  Employees who use chat are able to instantly engage with colleagues while on calls with customers or in meetings. As we all know, our email inboxes are inundated and emails typically cannot be answered immediately. Chat, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to send a brief message and provides a quick and easy method for others to respond.  Employees are able to successfully communicate at the touch of a button–eliminating the time needed to run messages across the office.

Team chat apps are perfect for customer facing and sales departments and improve the quality of service. Employees who are on calls with customers can seek assistance from their colleagues in seconds to provide more prompt and accurate service to their customers.

There are plenty of chat apps on the market to choose from, but it’s important that the platform you choose meets all of your needs and works across all platforms, anything less is sub- standard. For the best user experience and to accelerate adoption, make sure your chat app works on desktops; either as a standalone app or from the web or both, as well as having apps for Apple and Android phones and tablets. Broadview’s MyOfficeSuite application offers a unique integration of an entire communication platform: online presence, click-to-call extension dialing and company-wide chat functionality in one and is available on nearly every device you own.

Whichever chat application you choose, be sure that it offers cross-platform functionality to unify and simplify your communications across departments and your entire organization, no matter which device your team is using. This will allow you to keep you communications in one place for optimal efficiency and connectivity.

 

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Cloud for Financial Services

financeCloud for Financial Services

Financial service organizations include banks, insurance companies and securities firms. These organizations are constantly dealing with extremely sensitive and confidential information. They need to balance strong security and data protection with addressing customer needs and adapting to a rapidly changing business environment. With cloud computing, they can find this balance.

Cloud provides secure IT resources and meets industry regulations while providing a multitude of benefits that are invaluable to the financial sector.

Maintain Security and Data Protection

Security is obviously a hot topic in the financial services realm. These organizations deal with extremely sensitive and personal customer information. For this reason, the sector has been carefully adopting cloud solutions, and that makes perfect sense.

However, cloud computing has finally evolved into a secure technology that definitely rivals and exceeds traditional IT. Providers have taken feedback in regards to security and data protection and have greatly improved these areas to better address businesses needs. It’s now realistic to leverage the benefits of cloud computing without risking data security or violating industry compliances like SOX or PCI DSS.

There is a responsibility on both the client and provider sides to maintain security and data protection. Clients must be aware of the regulations they need to meet, and create policies to meet them. A great provider should have the technology in place to address these needs, protect data, and maintain security.

Improve Business Agility

Business agility is the ability for an organization to adapt rapidly and efficiently to changes in its environment.

Cloud computing leads to greater business agility, which is invaluable, especially in the financial services industry. Financial organizations in the cloud have a competitive edge because they can more quickly deliver new financial products and services, move into new markets, adapt to industry regulations and opportunities, and improve the customer relationship.

Business agility also ties right into scalability, as the cloud allows organizations to scale resources up and down as needed, without overspending.

Build Customer Relationships

All businesses today are facing increasingly demanding customers and are expected to meet changing expectations. Cloud computing makes this happen.

In the financial services vertical, cloud allows organizations to move from just focusing on the transaction to actually building strong customer relationships. This is possible through developments like self-service, new consumer applications, improved, targeted marketing, and mobile banking. In fact, more than a third of customers at major U.S. banks are now regularly using mobile banking, and about half of the top 25 financial institutions in the U.S. are now offering more advanced mobile app features, including person-to-person transfers and remote deposit services, according to Adobe.

The cloud hides the complexity of technology from the consumer, allowing them to maintain their own level of knowledge while successfully completing tasks. It also allows financial institutions to gather valuable information on user preferences to enable customization, personalization, and the ability to adapt.

Experience Reduced Costs

If you’re familiar with the cloud, you’re probably familiar with the fact that it shifts a huge amount of capital expenses to operational expenses. This includes things like software licenses, installations and physical equipment. With a traditional solution, prices add up and it’s extremely difficult to forecast costs. That’s not the case with cloud computing.

When costs move from capital to operational, financial firms get what they need when they need it, and they pay accordingly. This is the pay-as-you-go model, and it allows these businesses to do more, with less. That’s a pretty good deal.

With cloud computing, financial organizations can handle the needs of customers and regulators while also decreasing costs.

Improve Collaboration and Mobility

Collaboration is key in any organization, especially those with multiple levels and locations. Thanks to cloud computing, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch and ensure everyone is on the same page. A hugely popular characteristic of the cloud is the ability to securely access information from any device, in any location. This creates consistency and allows various users to access the same information, even if they’re not together.

On the consumer-facing side, this allows customers to access the services they want and need, whenever they want and need to. This easy access is key today, and customers are expecting it.

Speed Up Time-to-Market

The agility that cloud computing provides allows financial institutions to speed up their time to market. They are able to better adjust products and services to changing market environments and innovate and prototype much faster.

This makes it easier and more efficient than ever to introduce new services that customers are demanding. They want mobility, they want ease, and they want increased knowledge. The cloud helps financial service organizations provide these things, helping take them to the next level and achieve things that weren’t previously possible.

Don’t Make these 5 Cloud Migration Mistakes

Don’t Make These 5 Cloud Migration Mistakes

The cloud has many benefits that countless businesses are taking advantage of today. But this convenience and efficiency doesn’t happen with a snap of your fingers. A smooth and smart cloud migration takes preparation. Here are five mistakes to avoid when moving to the cloud:

1. Assuming All Clouds Are Equal

Just as your business brings its a unique set of goals and requirements for moving to the cloud, each cloud provider has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. You can’t assume that a solution working for another business will automatically work for yours. There’s a wide array of providers and cloud services, so you need to choose the best one to fulfill your needs. You will go about the transition differently than the company next door.

Additionally, there are different cloud options, and you need to know which one(s) you want. Does your business need a private, public or hybrid cloud environment? Are you a small or large organization? Do you need IaaS, PaaS or SaaS? Different workloads mean different clouds! It’s definitely worth your business’ time to evaluate the options and make the most informed choice. The decision to move to the cloud isn’t just a yes or no one. It’s all about the “how,” “when,” and “which.”

2. Not Doing Your Homework

Yes, you have to do some work first!

Businesses commonly think that the first step to the cloud is searching outside the organization for a provider, but this skips a crucial personal evaluation.

Instead, you should first look inside your organization to identify your own needs, current environment and spending, usage, and hopes or expectations for the cloud. Only then can you move on and thoroughly research and identify providers that suit your business.

The perfect provider is one that lines up with your needs and goals. To determine this, reach out to multiple providers and be prepared to ask questions. What exact security measures do they have in place? Can they meet your compliance needs? How involved are they? What’s their specialty? The answers to these types of questions are key.

3. Moving Too Fast

It’s okay to start small! In fact, we recommend it.

Faster doesn’t mean better. There’s a difference between proactivity and rushing. In fact, moving too fast will likely result in unpreparedness. Take time to consider what makes the most sense in the cloud and be prepared from the get-go.

You can take a test drive by moving a non-critical application to the cloud that will still make a positive business impact, like a collaborative tool. Once you’re comfortable, confident and more experienced, it’s easy to repeat and eventually you can start taking bigger steps.

This calculated pace allows you to learn more about the cloud as you go, and drives consistent, positive change across your business.

4. Thinking It’s All or Nothing

Just as you don’t have to migrate all at once, you also don’t have to move all functionality to the cloud. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing! Some applications will make sense in the cloud while others might not be worth it. Always weigh the pros and cons of moving tools and resources into the cloud. Choose whatever makes sense for YOUR organization, and then you can develop the perfect cloud solution.

It’s helpful to prioritize the applications and tools that need to be moved, while considering if the move maintains cost efficiency, usability and security.

5. Not Doing Your Part

The relationship between a business and its cloud provider is an important one. While the provider obviously shoulders the majority of the responsibility, your organization still has to do its part.

You should have an internal team that develops your cloud strategy and ensures you are using the cloud in the best way possible for your business. It’s also important to communicate with your team and educate your employees on why the cloud move is happening. You might initially face resistance, but by demonstrating the benefits of the migration, the team will be more willing to learn about the new cloud services. Involve your employees in each step and keep them informed – this ensures a smooth transition and builds trust.

Additionally, security is up to both parties. The provider will certainly have hefty security measures in place, but you can take steps on your end as well. Make sure your users are creating secure passwords and you have policies in place in regards to personal device usage and data access. Setting these expectations will help keep your information safe.

Cloud Computing Trends that Affect Cloud Strategy

Over the last few years, cloud computing has become a major technology trend that has infused the market – and the continual monitoring of these trends, combined with regular updates to an enterprise’s cloud strategy, will be essential to avoid costly mistakes or missed opportunities.

While there is significant opportunity for cloud computing, there are also factors that will not only require frequent review, but that also remain uncertain. Below, we outline the top five cloud computing sub-trends that will be accelerating, shifting or reaching a tipping point over the next few years, according to Gartner, Inc.:

Cloud Investment Optimization

There is a wide range of benefits that the cloud promises to offer, including:

• A shift from capital-intensive to operational cost models
• Lower overall cost
• Greater agility
• Reduced complexity

There are, however, a number of challenges that must be carefully examined as they have the potential to create a complex environment in which to evaluate individual cloud offerings. These types of issues include, a lack of transparency, security, the potential for vendor lock-in, performance and availability, integration needs and more.

Hybrid Cloud Computing is Imperative

As it currently stands, hybrid cloud computing is the coordination and combination of external cloud computing services, as well as the internal infrastructure or application of services. Over time, it is predicted that there will be a unified model in which a single “cloud” accounts for multiple cloud platforms – ultimately, bringing together the current aspects of hybrid cloud computing and allowing them to be used depending on the changing requirements of the business.

With this in mind, it is recommended that enterprises focus their near-term efforts on application and data integration, and link fixed internal and external applications with a hybrid solution.

Cloud Brokerage & Cloud Consumption

As more and more companies begin utilizing cloud-computing services, the need for consumption assistance will increase as well – and a cloud services brokerage (CSB) stands as a great option to consider. A CSB is a service provider that plays a transitional role in cloud computing, making it easier to consume cloud services without the need to involve IT.

With this trend steadily increasing, it is also believed that IT departments should start looking into how they can position themselves as CSBs to the enterprise. One way to achieve this is to begin modifying existing processes and tools such as internal portals and service catalogs.

Cloud-centric Design is Becoming Integral

While it is common for companies to seek out opportunities that allow them to migrate their existing enterprise workloads to a cloud system and/or application infrastructure in order to increase time and efficiency, the design aspect should not be overlooked. To fully take advantage of what a cloud model can offer, applications need to be designed with the cloud model’s unique characteristics and opportunities in mind – meaning it is advisable to look beyond just the migration of enterprise workloads.

For more information, please contact us today.

The VO- Virtual Office- Evangelist

What is keeping you or your clients from setting up a virtual office? Are you searching for the benefits and drawbacks? Here are some thoughts that I have gathered from a variety of sources and from my own experience to frame the conversation:

Work/life balance. Working from a virtual office (VO), combined with a relatively flexible work schedule often gives the employee a healthy work/life balance. Yes, I know that sounds cliché, but you get to wake up with your children, feed them breakfast, get them ready for school, and sometimes do pick-up or drop-off. Then up a flight of stairs and you’re at work. If your kids need something (and your spouse isn’t available for some reason), they know they can knock at your office door and if you’re not on the phone, they can come in for a short interlude of family time.

Why are you still in a cube? So, why aren’t more people working from home? As Dave Michels wrote in a recent CIO Collaboration post, many employees and employers don’t even pause to think if virtual office might be right for their situation. I agree with Dave that many people are missing out on a great opportunity. Many of our clients have done quite well with VO employees and perhaps this is not just because they have an open mind about these things, but because we sell many of the communications solutions that make VO successful, which brings us back to the productivity question.

Engagement. There was an excellent blog by Scott Edinger in the Harvard Business Review last month about how remote workers are as engaged if not more than those who work in the office. You should give it a read as I won’t reiterate his excellent points here, but suffice it to say that when the supervisor and employee are not in close proximity, they consciously work at their communication, resulting in more engagement. I have found regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings are crucial. I meet with all of my direct reports for at least 30 minutes every week. For the rest of my organization, I meet individually with them every other month. Sometimes we talk about work, other times about family or sports. What you talk about matters less than the fact that you are talking. Don’t make this your only opportunity to talk every week, but having time set aside makes sure you really connect.

Communication Tools. As Scott wrote in his HBR post, having the right tools are crucial to making that communication happen regularly. While you can get by with a solid audio connection, video is becoming a huge benefit for VO employees. I’m lucky in that at Prime we have a variety of tools to make working remotely successful. Here is a list of what I use (in addition to my standard desktop software):

  • iMeet video conferencing– a great tool for setting up your own personal meeting room for voice and video conferences -which also allows me to see who is on a conference call and who is speaking.
  • Plantronics CS351N headset with enough range to get to the kitchen for lunch
  • S-NET Glo-com software– for our hosted phones- we can chat securely, see who is on the phone and share one to one video.
  • Allworx Call Assistant– gives me virtual control of my office phones – just like a receptionist would have. I can see what anyone and everyone is doing.

Face Time. Another helpful tip that I’ll share is that whenever you stumble upon a colleague’s picture (LinkedInTwitter, internal sites, etc.), attach it to an Outlook Contact (see here). This way, whenever you receive an email from them, you will see their picture, making it feel more like a personal interaction. As an added bonus, when using an Avaya Flare client, those pictures transfer over, so you can see their pictures for phone calls as well.

Not for everyone. Don’t assume that a very productive employee in an office will remain so at home. VO is a great fit for experienced information workers that spend a good deal of time on the phone with others, especially if those others are geographically dispersed. If an employee is new to the role and/or need access to physical equipment or people, this won’t work. A certain discipline is needed in order to stay focused on work when there are increased distractions (family, television, video games, etc.) The individuals’ personality and work-type must match up to ensure the employee can continue to meet or exceed his/her objectives

The Office in Home Office. Yes, I know, you have a laptop, a smartphone, and a Bluetooth headset. That does not make you a one-woman-home-office. A coffee shop or your kitchen table while the kids play in the next room over will not be successful long term. Get yourself a quiet room with a door (ex. guest bedroom). The room doesn’t have to be office-only 24×7, but during work hours, nothing else should be taking place there. Besides, you don’t want to be the person on the conference call with the dog barking, or worse, “Daddy! I’m all done pooping and peeing!!” (Did I mention my Plantronics headset has a very handy mute button on it?)

Don’t forget your agents. While I have focused on my own experience as a knowledge worker using Unified Communications products, working from home is also a great option for Contact Center agents. I work with a telemarketing employee  of ours in Cleveland and I know that we value our home agents. She is more productive, works harder and better- which is the standard result for successfully deployed home agents. Kay Phelps,  has written a number of articles about these Home Agents, so please go give her a read.

In summary, if I were writing an online review of a product, I’d sum up Virtual Office as:

4OutOf5Stars Amazing, but not for everyonePros:

    • Great work/life balance
    • No commute transportation costs (gas, tolls, car, auto insurance/repairs, etc.)
    • Significantly reduced wardrobe expenses
    • No downtime needed between meetings
    • Positive environmental impact

 

Cons:

  • No after-work camaraderie over drinks
  • More self-reliance for IT and office supply needs
  • Discipline needed by the employee and those they live with

I know I’m not the only VO evangelist out there. So, let me know what you think. Living the dream? Did you try VO and it was a fail whale? Desperate to break out of your cube and into your sweatpants? Drop a note in the comments below.

 

2 Winning Options for Small and Midsize Businesses

Whether your business that has a handful of servers or hundreds of server racks, until fairly recently they were all managed the same way: server by server, one application to one server.

Virtualization has changed all of that. With virtualization, you can allocate applications across servers. You can more easily balance workloads across hardware and better adapt to peak usage and maintenance schedules. In the event of a hardware failure, applications can be quickly migrated to another server in the environment and resume operation. You don’t need redundant hardware—overall savings on hardware and management can be significant, which is why virtualization has been a dominant trend in IT for the last several years. 

But there has been one major holdout in the virtualization game: communications. You might have virtualized your other applications, but you kept your communications separate and apart.

That’s because, initially at least, virtualization software—solutions like VMWare’s vSphere and Citrix’s XenServer—could not adequately support real-time communications. They could handle non-real time applications (e.g., voicemail ) but for real time services like call control, conferencing and call center applications the quality was simply not there.

Now that’s changed. Enhancements to virtualization hypervisors have opened the door to fully virtualized unified communications platforms. This is a big deal, particularly for midsize companies.  In the past, midsize companies were forced to choose between single-server communications solutions designed for small companies or much larger, multi-server solutions designed for enterprises—in effect, having to under-buy or over-buy.

Now, through virtualization, the midsize company has a way to move into advanced communications and collaboration, without being forced to over-buy. Midsize companies can buy virtualized modules of unified communications services deployed in turnkey appliances with separate partitions for each service. They can select only the services that they need, and if their needs change, new modules can be activated on the appliance without additional hardware costs.

The Avaya Aura Solution for Midsize Enterprise (ME) is typical of the new unified communications solutions that take advantage of virtualization. It provides a centralized, enterprise-wide architecture for up  to 2400 users (up to 250 remote locations) with common management for all kinds of collaboration—mobile, voice, video, instant messaging and presence—and support for extended applications such as  Avaya Aura® Contact Center, Avaya Aura® Conferencing and AvayaLive™ Engage.

The complete base system is one server. Even with additional application servers for advanced applications, virtualization is a key reason why Avaya Aura ME is up to 16% less expensive per user compared to competitors (based on Avaya internal testing–measured at 400 users).

Faster and less costly than installing everything separately, the solution uses the Avaya System Platform application to simplify the installation and maintenance procedures. System Platform runs multiple Avaya Aura applications on a modified Citrix Xen hypervisor on a Linux platform.

Set-up is streamlined through the use of pre-defined templates (e.g., enter IP addresses once for all solutions) simplifying desktop management and speeding deployment. Overall, streamlined administration can result in 75% less time required for system maintenance.  Virtualization also means significantly less power and cooling required compared to traditional deployments.

Virtualization is not for everyone. That’s why Avaya also offers a non-virtualized solution: Avaya IP Office. On a single server platform, IP Office can grow from serving a handful of users to up to 1000 users at up to 32 locations. It’s designed to be easy-to-administer and deliver desktop communications capabilities right to a smartphone or tablet, including integrated e-mail and voice mail, instant messaging, presence and conferencing. You can meet the needs of individual users in your company by adding targeted software applications designed for office workers, mobile workers, home/teleworkers, customer service agents and more.

So, if you are ready to take the plunge with virtualization, there has never been a better time with a solution like Avaya Aura ME. If you are still more comfortable with a single-server solution that is simple to manage and offers easy growth to up to 1,000 users, Avaya IP Office can fit the bill.  Read “Getting Mobile Collaboration Right: A Guide for Midsize Enterprise” at http://www.avaya.com/usa/solution/mobile-collaboration for more information on these 2 winning options.

Key Trends Redefining Unified Communications

Defining Unified Communications (UC) has always been a bit of a moving target. And that’s made many people wonder if they really need it.

In the beginning, UC often meant things like being able to see your voicemail and e-mail together on a PC.  Or having software you could put on your PC to control your phone and directory. The operative initials were as much PC as UC.

Now Unified Communications is being redefined. Mobile devices are a big part of what’s bringing about the change. Collaboration technologies are part of it. And so are improvements in the underlying communications infrastructure—IP, SIP, 4G and more.

Here is a quick guide to where UC is now and why these changes are making UC a smart choice for almost any business. Also, to see a good example of UC in action, take two minutes to watch this solutions video located on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw_mwruTPVk&list=PL61568CCB0826DEE2&index=32&feature=plpp_video

IP and SIP: The “unified” part of UC has always been primarily about getting your phone and computer to work together using the Internet-based IP and SIP protocols. This made it possible to have your PC and your phone on one network. But the bigger benefit was that a phone call itself was now able to be handled as a digital file (i.e., like an e-mail.) Just as you can easily have one e-mail go to multiple addresses, you can have calls go to multiple devices and numbers: business phone, mobile and home phone. Just as you can have dozens of people on an e-mail chain, you can have dozens of people on a conference call—without having to use a conferencing service. Just as you can easily manage different e-mail accounts, you can have multiple incoming lines for different segments of your business—a key way to create a better customer experience.  The benefits are substantial. That’s why sales of IP-based business systems grow in the double digits every year and are a driving force behind the UC revolution.

UC Apps: Everyone loves their mobile phone, in part thanks to all of the mobile apps that are now available. You can use your mobile to check the weather, do your banking, find a movie, etc. Now you can also get a UC app. Avaya has one (see it in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq3duSQFU5o) It lets you tightly integrate you mobile phone and your office system: Manage your office directory. Set up conference calls. Make a call directly from a text. Getting the right app to marry your mobile phone to your office communications system is a major step forward for UC.

Collaboration: This is one of the hottest buzz words in business today. In fact, the terms “unified communications” and “mobile collaboration” are often used interchangeably. They are both all about bringing the right people together with the right information in the right context. “Presence” is a big part of this.  Having presence capabilities let you see at a glance who in your organization is available and how to reach them quickly.

Video: Today, anyone with an Internet-enabled device, a webcam and free software can make a video call to almost anyone else in the world. It’s estimated that more than a third of Skype-to-Skype calls now include video, with peaks as high as 50 percent during the holidays. This rapid spread of video calls in the personal, consumer market is driving the growth of video in business. Also, the SIP standard provides capabilities that simplify how video integrates and connects, opening the way to regular use of video with the same ease as voice and messaging communications. Businesses are also discovering that the smart use of video conferencing can give you new levels of flexibility in partnering, assembling teams and competing for top, full-time talent. For all of these reasons, video is becoming a larger part of the UC equation. We also have a service called iMeet on our website- that makes business class video conferences easy and extremely affordable.

We  have  a wide range of resources on our website www.primetelecommunications.com  that look at all aspects of UC—where it is today, and where’s it’s going.