3 Questions Answered about IT Modernization in Government

Government-Mobility2014 marked the beginning of the Infrastructure Revolution for several industries, many of which are following in the pre-emptive footsteps of the national government.

In February 2010, the Department of Defense created the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) to reverse the historic growth of Federal data centers. The FDCCI has been seeking to curb this unsustainable increase by reducing the cost of data center hardware, software, and operations; shifting IT investments to more efficient computing platforms; promoting the use of Green IT by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers; and increasing the IT security posture of the government.

Since then, the government has launched an IT modernization effort across departments which includes acquisition and deployment of more secure, collaborative, and mobile technologies—along with their associated skill sets and capabilities—to replace legacy environments.

By shutting down and consolidating under-performing technologies in the Federal inventory, taxpayers stand to save billions of dollars because of curbed spending on underutilized infrastructure. The smartest enterprises will follow suit, carefully architecting their path to modernization, leveraging key partners and modern technology architectures to create a more agile, secure IT environment.

What opportunities does modernization offer?

Legacy networking, communications and applications have become a significant IT and business problem in most industry IT departments. Not only do they require consistent maintenance from someone with a skill set that fewer and fewer people possess, they also carry a high cost of ownership and are difficult to modify when meeting ongoing business demands. Worse, with little leverage across these technologies, they are often forced to remain siloed instances, providing separate benefits to converging infrastructures.

IT modernization represents an opportunity for the evolution of government organizations’ (and others as well) existing application and infrastructure software, the goal being to align IT with forward-looking business strategies.

What are the immediate benefits of modernization?

While the government is actively modernizing its IT infrastructure, they will begin to find that they can react more quickly to the ever-changing environments (business, economic, political, etc). There are many results the public sector can expect from the process of modernizing. Namely:

  1. Intelligence – with converged infrastructures, including SDNs, virtualization, and distributed applications, leading to complete software-defined data centers with virtualization from desktop-to-network-to-applications.
  2. Agility – via improved standards for infrastructure programmability, data structure interoperability and fast infrastructure provisioning, leading to a more agile IT organization
  3. Alignment – by enabling IT practices that are more in line with business objectives.
  4. Responsiveness – as business changes create flux in organization size, location, and performance, IT is continually challenged to adapt at the speed of your business—a modern infrastructure puts IT in good stead to align with these changes.
  5. Flexibility and resilience – with systems that adapt automatically and recover from failure more quickly.
  6. Energy efficienciency – with technology and systems designed to reduce energy consumption.

To get the maximum strategic benefit from modernization, it is important to base your improved system on an architecture that is built on open standards and deployed on open systems. Just as important, is seeking holistic architectural thinking among your vendor suppliers that help you consider how a converged infrastructure can benefit your business.

What are the long-term benefits of modernization?

The success or failure of a consolidation/modernization initiative achieving long-term ROI depends on each organization’s goals. For many public sector businesses, long-term goals include: enhanced security, consolidating the infrastructure, and enhancing mobility.

Enhanced Security

Streamlining IT processes creates an agile IT infrastructure more capable of leveraging existing organizational vehicles for rapid delivery of tasks/orders. But none of this matters without a strong security platform that can withstand the stresses of and better respond to today’s cybersecurity threats.

A modernized IT platform must be hardened and able to detect, respond to, and report information security incidents, as well as developing situational awareness, utilizing authentication, reinforcing reciprocity, and leveraging automated assessments.

Infrastructure Consolidation

Today’s workforce demands applications that are always accessible and work consistently from any device.  Public-sector organizations that consolidate their enterprise networks—ultimately standardizing IT platforms, consolidating data and network operations centers, and optimizing architectures—create an infrastructure that is easier to manage and more secure in order to help support active user involvement.

Mobility Enhancement

As with most other industries, there is a significant push for both central and local government and associated not-for-profit agencies to move towards more flexible modes of working. Providing location agnostic access to data is a hot topic for the public sector as is the desire to provide better standards of service to employees and customers. Transparent communication has the potential to accelerate productivity and help realize mission requirements—provided it can be achieved in the face of the escalating austerity of ever-changing security measures.

Modernizing and consolidating IT infrastructures helps address unique resource challenges surrounding public sector enterprise mobility. Consolidation also enables government agencies to implement scalable enterprise mobile management solutions that extend to users, devices, applications, content, data, email and networks.

JITC Certified Unified Communications

Defense agencies are under increasing pressure to bring their disparate web technologies together.  That’s why the DoD has created the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certification, so all IT investments—including collaborative communications solutions—can be protected.

NEC’s UNIVERGE®3C solution has been thoroughly vetted by the JITC against the highest government standards, and has been added to the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Session Controller Approved Products List (APL) for Unified Capabilities.

The APL is a single, consolidated list of products that have been certified and approved for use in DoD networks to provide end-to-end unified capabilities. UNIVERGE 3C is certified as a Local Session Controller, referred to by NEC as Unified Capabilities Session Controller (UC SC).

The JITC evaluation process is highly respected by commercial organizations because JITC testing meets and frequently exceeds enterprise security levels. With Security Officers confident in the solution, the deployment process can be accelerated.

JITC certification requires compliance with hundreds of security measures as well as the ability to withstand extreme attacks on the software. Being JITC accredited means that we fully meet US DoD requirements and often surpass the security best practices of global commercial customers.

Visit us at Enterprise Connect booth 1121 to learn more about NEC’s JITC-Certified UNIVERGE 3C solution.

How to Choose a Cloud or SaaS Vendor

2015-02-26_1113Choosing a cloud and SaaS vendor can be tricky for SMBs with small IT organizations and larger corporations looking to lower operating costs. There are many benefits to choosing cloud or SaaS over on-premises but the route to those benefits is not always risk-free.

Difficulty vetting cloud or SaaS vendors is a common problem in today’s IT world. We see many organizations that continue to sweat older assets, having used on-premises software for many years. Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research, has pointed out, however, that more than 90 percent of businesses are starting to employ these technologies on some scale.

Vetting cloud or SaaS vendors can be very easy if you take the right approach. Rather than simply taking trusting the vendor’s qualifications or what you’ve read/heard, you should validate each claim the vendor makes to ensure that they don’t overstate their capabilities.

Verification is the key to success when choosing a cloud or SaaS vendor. Here are our tips to help you make the comprehensive assessments needed to make the right choice.

Vetting the Business

You wouldn’t buy a car from a manufacturer you knew nothing about. The same should be said of a cloud or SaaS solution. When your business is thinking about adopting a new cloud or SaaS technology, its imperative that you vet the vendors’ businesses as well as their technology.

You need to ensure that their leadership is strong, their business model is sound, and that the firm has the financial stability to survive the stressors of the current economy. This stage is the time to ask the tough questions, and get real, specific responses in return. Keep pressing until you get a real answer, one that’s supported by policies and procedures. Questions like these can help you determine the viability of the business at large:

  • Do you have a burn rate where you are making less than you are spending? If so, how long is the runway where you can survive at this pace without new partners investing?
  • Is your leadership rounded and truly qualified? Do you have a technologist at the helm, and has he surrounded himself with the operational, financial and sales expertise to keep turning out great products and services?
  • How do you maintain accountability for your administrative staff in regard to the control and management of customer data within/and outside of your application? What security challenges might we face if we give you direct control over our sensitive or compliance-relevant data?
  • How do you address government regulations?
  • Can we adjust our services as the business evolves?
  • Where does my support come from (vendor, support partner, etc.)?
  • What will I really pay?

Vetting the Technology

Just like with the manufacturer situation stated above, you probably wouldn’t buy a car you hadn’t test driven or looked under the hood of either. In order to determine whether the products/services you’re vetting work properly, you’re going to need to get your hands dirty and test each cloud or SaaS product/service for yourself. Does the product/service have known glitches/issues? Will it fit into the environment(s) as expected? Will it work with all of your platforms and impacted software products?

Now is the time to get the engineers involved to assess the technologies behind the vendor and ensure that they are ready for your purposes. Again, specific instances and case studies will help provide proof points to the vendor’s claims. Questions like these can help determine the efficiency, security, and usability of the technology itself:

  • What role does customer input play when your company plans updates and enhancements?
  • Can I see the software/technology’s R&D roadmap? What other changes are planning for performance and usability? Is this investment actually future proof?
  • Can you describe your data center?
  • How do you define uptime and downtime?
  • How frequently do you test your disaster recovery procedures?
  • Do you have a Service Level Agreement (SLA)?
  • How different is our current infrastructure from yours?
  • Can I move existing apps/services from my private cloud to your public cloud without massive reconfiguration?
  • How do you support my workforce’s mobility requirements?
  • How are my apps and data protected from other users on the same cloud servers?

Vetting their Customer Service

Let’s hit the car analogy one more time. You wouldn’t buy any car from any manufacturer if you weren’t going to get service and support to help you maintain the car over the course of its life.

So when vetting vendors, you need to ask point-blank if they are ready to handle you as a client. The only question that need to be asked during this phase is, “Can I speak with some of your customers?” Current customers are the best resources when it comes to determining whether the vendor’s product/service is on par with what you are expecting.

Don’t settle for the few they give you either. Look at trade shows and vendor events for customers that aren’t raving fans. Looking for non-specific issues can save you a lot of headaches in the future. Be skeptical, but open-minded. Knowing the issues that could arise will help you prepare for them in the future.

Vetting cloud or SaaS vendors can take up to 200 man-hours and could require some policy changes on your part. To do it right, though, you do need to assess more than the technology—you need to look at everything; the vendor’s business, technology, security, service, and employees. While it might seem like a bit of an undertaking, spending more time up front will save you headache and frustration in the end.

SaaS and Cloud in Perspective: UCaaS

Let’s take a quick look at a unique cloud and SaaS perspective: UCaaS.

Let’s say you aren’t ready for a full cloud deployment. You still have some reservations about the public cloud, and you have on-premises assets you want to continue to use. Research is actually beginning to show that “Hybrid Cloud UC Demands Unified Platform Management”. This is one of many cases where UCaaS makes sense.

The market for UCaaS is growing pretty rapidly. Among IT pros responding to a 2014 Spiceworks survey, 11% had adopted UCaaS. However, another 12% indicated they are planning to adopt it in the next year, more than doubling the number of people using UCaaS today.

Some suggest that growing confidence in hosted solutions in general is the impetus for the projected dramatic increase in adoption. Much of that confidence is due to the service providers’ dedication to security improvements.

We are excited about the opportunities UCaaS presents to the cloud and SaaS Markets.

Fear of vetting vendors shouldn’t hold you back from learning more. Check out the Reducing UC Costs and Increasing Business Performance whitepaper to take a deeper dive into the advantages of UCaaS, market drivers, concerns, and what to look for in a provider.

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4 Crucial Steps to Implementing a UC Cultural Shift

7K0A0129The advent of unified communications (UC) technology has transformed the business landscape for companies that successfully adopt and use it.

These days, email, instant messaging, and social media combined with the myriad types of mobile devices can work together to create an incredibly versatile and productive work environment. But this environment, known as unified communications, is only successful if a business devotes the time, energy, and resources to implement both the physical UC solution as well as a UC-oriented cultural shift.

It’s estimated that roughly 80 percent of companies never “fully realize” their UC implementation.  Why?  Well, while the physical implementation  of a new technology is often planned for, it’s typically assumed that users will accept the new communications system out of the box and will automatically understand its features. More often than not, this isn’t the case.

Here is the problem stated as blatantly as possible: either plan for the culture shift or reap the consequences that unrealized ROI can bring.

Whether your business is thinking of making the UC transition or  if you’re just upgrading to a new iteration of your current communications system, there are steps to follow to make sure that everything goes both physically and culturally smoothly.

Here are our 4 Crucial Steps to Implementing a UC Cultural Shift.

1. Involve the Entire Team
The first critical step in implementing a UC initiative is obtaining the needed buy-in from everyone in the company (not just the management team). The need for buy-in warrants a process that ensures consultation of all department leaders and requires they come to the same understanding in regard to the implementation. This process makes it so all stakeholders can work and learn together—helping define what the vision for the UC implementation will be.

But developing a clear-cut picture of the UC initiative is just a small part of this step. Once upper-management has communicated the needed information to the department leaders, these key players must then take the time to energetically and continuously communicate with their subordinates. This portion of the implementation process is the time to cull departmental knowledge—on the current technology’s best practices and failings, and to get employee opinions on the tools that they think would increase productivity.

Topics discussed should include all of the opportunities that UC offers, even those that may not directly affect most people’s daily work. Case in point: a good UC solution can help businesses realize more timely interactions (that means more revenue) and can help them implement a Capex/Opex shift.

While Capex/Opex isn’t something that even I think about on a daily basis—I more than realize the need for more revenue. And if a new affordable technology is the way to achieve that, then I can more readily get on board with the technology change than I could if I didn’t know anything about the change at all.  And, when I get a look at the full picture, I begin to feel included in the actual decision-making process (which also makes me more likely to be at least interested in the new solution, if not a little excited in anticipating it).

 

2. Test for User Acceptance

While your IT department will lead the technical aspects of the implementation, departmental leaders, and other key personnel will need to be and should be included in the piloting phase. The role of the latter is to ensure that the software is usable in a practical, real-world, day-to-day scenario.

This step should include demo sessions for both senior executives, who can give “big picture” recommendations, as well as front-line employees. These employees are your best resource when testing new UC solutions because they can explain and highlight specific difficulties with certain tools—giving you the opportunity to take note and the company to tailor the solution appropriately.

Even if this project is your responsibility—i.e., you are the one who knows more about it than anyone else in the company—you must remain open-minded to any recommendations or criticism. In the end, a new UC solution will have to both accommodate the needs of everyone in the company more easily while also helping achieve new business objectives.
3. Market Internally

There are many enterprise-level software products that are remarkably robust and dependable. The failure of a UC-oriented one is rarely the fault of the technology. Instead, the more common cause is implementers failing to impress upon their team the importance of embracing the new “initiative.” Everything must be planned for, and everything must be explained.

The vendors, however, can’t do all the explaining themselves. The department leaders mentioned in Step One should “champion” the initiative, developing the messaging and communicating directly the benefits the new solution will bring to their direct reports, co-workers, and other staff.

But you can’t force change. You have to win over your converts. And that requires marketing. The language and materials that you use to market your UC initiative internally can have a dramatic effect on user acceptance and can potentially win over converts. The choice of the word “initiative” instead of “project” is not accidental. The word “initiative” denotes more powerful and compelling reasoning than the word project, and better conveys the all-encompassing nature of a UC implementation.

That vocabulary choice that we just made is actually called marketing. And when you market appropriately to the majority of your end-users, the stragglers will inevitably follow.

 

4. Mandate Training and Measure Afterward
Here’s a fact. People hate “training”. When you’re in the process of implementing any new technology, you’ll find that most of your co-workers will balk at the idea of attending when the training sessions start.

In the same vein, many businesses are also hesitant to make training mandatory. Regardless of how your employees will feel about it, training provides valuable information on how to shift to the new solution and gives you another opportunity to champion your new solution. So they need to be there. And if you have to incentivize it with something awesome to keep everyone happy, then that’s what you should do. Making UC training fun and valuable—and it is imperative that you have your vendor’s help during this period—is the key to getting ultimate buy-in.

BUT, before you count the implementation as “complete”, you need to measure the adoption rate. Analytically speaking this is your one chance to determine whether the UC implementation initiative was truly successful. It’s also an opportunity to identify the last pockets of employee resistance.  If you want to overcome any and all lingering objections to the implementation—measuring the adoption rate is the way to do it.

Keep these tips in mind as you plan your UC implementation. They will make the whole process simpler and really will raise your overall chances of success.

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How will the Internet of Things be Strategic to the Enterprise?

NEC-Ubiquitous-ConnectednessThe Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly becoming entrenched in both consumer and enterprise IT as both a technology priority and a buzzword. As IT practitioners continue the ongoing evaluation of the rapidly growing array of IT tools and technologies available to the Enterprise, it might be time to question how strategic the IoT will be to the successful and smart enterprise of the near future.

Perhaps it would be best to discuss the IoT by first removing its “buzzword” status. The IoT is nothing more than a convergence of today’s pre-existing top IT Trends—think smart mobility, cloud, biometrics, and big data. But it is the true convergence of these technologies—working together seamlessly as interoperable parts of a whole—which is the goal and should define the term “Internet of Things.”

The data should be familiar. By 2020, IoT will be an $8.9 trillion market with over 212 billion connected “things,” meaning that within the next 5 years, the connectedness of everything will be one of the world’s largest industries.

But the question is not “will the IoT be important” but is rather, “will it be strategic to the enterprise?” Will planning for and installing “IoT” ready devices now result in success over your competitors?

Adoption of the IoT

At its core, the IoT is technological equipment that is connected to a network enabling information transfer, and improving efficiencies. The benefits can be vast for enterprises.

First, businesses can accelerate product development and deployment cycles by unifying information from diverse sources and applications. Second, the IoT introduces new revenue streams by allowing businesses to take advantage of the latest smart technologies before their competition. Finally, all these new connected devices produce a ton of data that can be disseminated and quantified for more reliable outcomes.

Because IoT connects tens, and eventually, hundreds of billions of active devices that capture and project data that broadly enriches the network, both consumer and enterprise technologies will continue to be important, and both will affect the enterprise. Consumer products manufacturers like PhilipsGE, (and now Google ) and carmakers  are racing to connect their products to internet networks for this reason. This connection will generate incredible accumulate data value, and that data will have enormous competitive consequence.

Smart enterprises should be starting to build their IoT ecosystems, leveraging new technologies and growing their network effect in order to be the most appealing and valuable offering within their vertical industries.

Where the IoT will impact the Enterprise?

The best techniques for exploiting the IoT to create business value are still emerging. But, it’s becoming apparent that the IoT will affect the enterprise in the following ways:

  • Creating smart, connected workplaces. The smart, connected workplace is full of emerging IoT related technologies. Think wearables, 3D printers, and any other sensor or control technology that can be connected to the network.
  • Creating new, quantifiable business activities. With business process monitoring, control, and optimization technologies connected, disparate, previously unmeasurable business activities in the office will be systematically categorized and improved.  Wearables and technologies like smartdust will be instrumental in capturing deeper levels of data. Technologies refined to process this big data will be applied to manage, orchestrate, and extract meaning from the vast streams of digital knowledge elicited from daily enterprise activities.
  • Automating products and services. Companies will first IoT enable their products and services, but then soon design them for and around IoT.
  • Creating new business intelligence. IoT network connection will have profound new levels of insight into how the world around us works and interacts with technology. Like Big Data, IoT will help businesses adapt and become better attuned to new realities.

Staying engaged and connected with customers via UC

In short, the IoT represents a zero-sum presence in our customer’s lives. By being connected in a meaningful way 24/7 with millions of our customers through IoT-enabled systems of engagement, we can ensure our organizations stay relevant and keep the competition from doing so.

There is a lot going on in the background of the IoT discussion to bring this meaningful content to the consumer that involves Unified Communications. What’s exciting from a UC perspective is that the IoT integrates into mainstream enterprise systems and supports interoperable real-world, on-line end-to-end business applications.

So, in short, yes, IoT is strategic to the enterprise. There isn’t much time, so build your ecosystem, accumulate knowledge, and get it delivering and capturing data as soon as possible.

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What does WebRTC do for the Enterprise?

nec-webrtc-unified-communications-enterprise-trendsWith the New Year nearly upon us, now is the time to scrutinize new technologies, business strategies, and capabilities. How will they fit your enterprise? Will they live up to the hype?

WebRTC is an emerging open source project that aims to enable the web with real-time communications capabilities—giving users the ability to conduct peer-to-peer voice and video communications directly through web browsers without needing a plugin.

WebRTC has set the Unified Communications industry to buzzing. But while early WebRTC apps seem promising, WebRTC has yet to see mainstream adoption by enterprises.

So, with WebRTC making the rounds on all of the “Top 10” IT lists (it even makes an appearance on our own), now is the best time to take a closer look and see where WebRTC hits the mark for enterprises, and where the misconceptions lie.

Separating Reality from Hype

There are many expectations and misconceptions as far as what enterprises can expect from WebRTC functionality. Slowed by standards battles around video codecs, the lack of end-user demand, the absence of browser support from Apple and Microsoft, and the high priority challenges facing the UC architects who are attempting to incorporate the standards into their solutions, WebRTC has so far failed to gain the support/demand needed to cross into the mainstream communications market.

In early 2014, Nemertes Research interviewed approximately 200 IT leaders responsible for unified communications strategy, architecture, and operations in end-user companies (not vendors or service providers). During the interviews, the IT experts were asked about their plans for WebRTC adoption. As it turns out, fewer than 7% of the respondents had definitive plans to deploy WebRTC over the next two years, while the vast majority had either no plans, or were still in the evaluation phase.

Here’s a breakdown of what the “early-still” applications of WebRTC will and won’t do:

WebRTC will (eventually):

  • Be most useful for public-facing organizations—Businesses with public-facing websites will likely see the most use out of WebRTC. The protocol allows SMBs and Enterprises to enhance their web properties with click-to-call capabilities—features that, up until recently, cost money to have. WebRTC gives public-facing organizations an opportunity to recoup that money—spent on 800-number services that enable browser-based calling, and/or multiple trunk lines. WebRTC will enable customers to talk immediately to the right person, keeping them from having to dial multiple numbers or sift through multiple menus with numerous extensions (hello customer service benefits).
  • Free users from extraneous plugins—the opportunity for plugin-less communications is on the horizon. WebRTC will allow enterprises to host internal and external meetings using only a web browser on any device. Once the open-source, pre-standardized protocol is available on all web browsers, the need to download extra plugins will disappear. WebRTC is currently enabled in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. Microsoft recently announced future support, whereas Apple’s has yet to say anything at all. As long as there are hold-outs, the standard will still require plugins. The use of plugin-less WebRTC, however, could potentially spur further development, greater functionality, and greater cost savings as the standards gain popularity according to Irwin Lazar, VP and Service Director at Nemertes Research.

WebRTC applications won’t:

  • Communicate freely without the help of an Session Border Controller (SBC)—Despite what many people believe, WebRTC audio and video sessions are encrypted—something that cannot be said of the still popular landline telephone call. But, with enterprise firewalls in place, the web clients supporting these conferencing sessions will have to “negotiate” with each other to determine whether or not the level of encryption coming from the alternate party will be supported. Session border controller vendors will be key to helping peer-to-peer communications technologies work with enterprise firewalls.
  • Replace whole VoIP/video conferencing infrastructures—while software development around WebRTC applications is increasing, that does not mean that enterprises are or should be jumping to replace current video and audio meeting infrastructures for WebRTC counterparts. WebRTC is not yet mature enough to replace existing technology—and never will be without greater adoption and significantly more development. WebRTC can, however, fill certain gaps that current communications technologies leave open, said Nemertes’ Lazar. WebRTC gives many businesses—especially those with call centers—an opportunity to simplify customer engagement. There could be real possibilities for financial and healthcare organizations to apply WebRTC to: customer meetings, telemedicine, and when improving customer service.

Other Communications Alternatives

All of this to say that while WebRTC can benefit the enterprise, it hasn’t yet. For businesses looking for more immediate ways of streamlining and simplifying business communications, the still-immature WebRTC shouldn’t be too high on your list of solutions, but should be at the forefront of the trends you watch develop during 2015. Applications for the contact center such as ‘click-to-call’ for customer facing e-commerce or service websites may be the most successful initial commercial use of WebRTC and could be avialble through several UC vendors in 2015.

Consultants agree that more widespread enterprise adoption will become more likely if the WebRTC protocol can soon deliver on the promise of very little maintenance and support. Until then though, a Unified Communications and Collaboration Solution would be your best bet in terms of ease-of-use and high return on investment.

Want to learn more about this year’s Smartest IT Trends?

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