Our guest blogger, Matt Sarrel, provided us with many good posts on InfoFrame Elastic Relational Store, so if you are in need of information on high-performance databases building for high availability and flexible scalability, look no further! Here is a sampling:
It’s estimated that telecommuters will total 3.9 million people by 2016.The question remains though—can work-from-home teams collaborate effectively with the help of technology?
Telecommuting seems to be a business trend that thrived during and survived the recession. There’s been an abundance of news articles on this very topic since Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced almost two years ago that the company’s new policy would only allow telecommuting occasionally. Yahoo’s human resources chief, Jackie Reses, announced the telecommuting change in a memo, saying, “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side.”
The indication here seems to be that collaborating and communicating from multiple locations and across technology doesn’t work nearly as well as in-person collaboration—a bold statement which many critics claimed was unfounded and misguided. With most businesses using some form of communications technology like Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) that have applications and features like presence, unified messaging, and video collaboration that have been proven to make teams more efficient—the decision to re-route two decades of Yahoo and HR modernization and improvement seems like a giant step backwards.
The teleworker discussion seems to be a small piece of a much bigger conversation—whether or not technology actually brings people together, and how best to define the new workplace and teleworkers’ individual roles in it.
“No one would disagree that the U.S. work force is increasingly mobile,” said the Telework Research Network in a 2011 paper on the state of telecommuting. “But, beyond that broad statement, we know little about the rate of increase in mobility — how often people are out of the office, where they are, and what they’re doing. For that matter, there’s no agreed-upon method of defining who they are.”
The Challenges Facing the Remote Workforce
It’s clear that the remote workforce discussion was taking place long before Marissa Mayer and team entered it. And they certainly aren’t the only ones to question the effectiveness of a constantly remote work-force.
Tools like instant messaging and video collaboration can help create opportunities for these interactions for remote workers—provided of course that UC and communications solutions are evenly distributed and widely used throughout the given organization.
Dr. Cerf, one of Gallup’s senior scientists, is widely regarded as one of the fathers of the Internet for his seminal work on the TCP/IP protocols that form its underlying architecture, and the networking tools he helped make possible now allow many people to do their jobs from almost anywhere.
Google has faced its own challenges with employees working together remotely. “‘We had people participating in teams, [and] they would almost never see each other face to face. Often they were in different time zones, which meant they had to work harder to stay in sync,’” Dr. Cerf said. “‘So we started recompiling groups to make them, if not co-located, at least within one or two time zones of one another so that it was more convenient to interact.’”
Many similar challenges are faced by organizations that have large telecommuting populations. As more workplaces become dispersed and reliant on remote workforces, more companies will experience the tension of helping employees work together effectively while allowing them to do their jobs from disparate locations.
Modesty is Key to Higher Telecommuting Success Rates
One of the top telecommuting questions that most people want answered is: “How does telecommuting affect employee engagement?” On the one hand, working remotely offers employees a measure of autonomy, helping them feel better equipped to do their jobs. On the other hand, employees must have positive, trusting relationships with their managers and coworkers to stay engaged, and such relationships become much more difficult to sustain with less face-to-face interaction.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report suggests that the ability to work remotely corresponds with higher engagement, but, primarily among those who spend less than 20% of their total working time doing so—a pattern that makes “intuitive sense,” according to Dr. Cerf.
Jennifer Glass, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, who has studied teleworking for two decades, said her research shows that much of what managers and professionals call telecommuting occurs after a 40-hour week spent in the office. These people check email, return calls and write reports from home, but in the evenings and weekends.
Flexibility is a remote work benefit that will elicit a positive response while it remains a benefit, but beyond that it becomes less useful. In terms of the limits to the utility of telecommuting, it seems that studies and statistics suggest that the strategy involved in managing in-office and remote work is as important, if not more so, than the tools used while telecommuting.
Solutions are found in Balance
Balance is needed between utilizing the advantages of online collaboration tools and the need for the personal and informal interactions that boost workplace morale/cohesion; a balance which depends on the nature of the job being done and specific situations.
In inclement weather or other crises, cloud computing services such as remote desktops, softphones that can be accessed from home or at work, and video collaboration tools can help organizations ensure that everyone continues working even if they cannot physically get into the office. The benefits in this situation are great, and often allow employers to keep employees safe without losing, what many times can end up being weeks of, productivity.
“The ability to set up a collaborative environment literally within seconds is an extraordinarily powerful tool,’ Dr. Cerf says, ‘as opposed to having to coordinate everybody’s calendar and waiting two weeks before we can all put our heads together [in the same room].’”
But it’s still just as important to interact directly with co-workers on a regular basis. According to Dr. Cerf, face-to-face conversations help “cross-pollinate” talent and creativity among varied workgroups and departments within an organization.
The Flexibility of Modern Communications
In the end, companies will have to devise policies that meet their own needs and values. As we mentioned before UC&C, video collaboration, presence, instant messaging etc., can help organization scale communications more appropriately to affordably allow telecommuting as needed/wanted.
But UC&C does a lot more than that. UC&C integrates real-time and regular communications with business processes and requirements based on presence capabilities, presenting a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types. UC also supports each organization when managing various types of communications across multiple devices and applications, and across geographies, with personalized rules and policies, while integrating with back-office applications, systems and business processes.
UC&C can help you re-define what “remote work” means for your business by helping you eliminate many of the social issues typically associated with long-term work outside of the office. How? UC&C enables people to connect, communicate and collaborate seamlessly to improve business agility and results. These results include better user and group productivity, dynamic collaboration and simplified business processes—all goals that need to be met to keep remote workers connected to each other and the home office.
What does Unified Communications have in common with Formula One racing?
Well a lot more than you might think. There’s nothing like the combination of speed and technology—a blend that is key to success for both technologists and Formula One (F1) teams.
Speed sells, and it sells well. Speed—or lack thereof—is the main reason that many technology innovations take off. It’s also the reason why many fail. Speed is the reason why dial-up internet was replaced by DSL, horses by automobiles, and why F1 racing continues to grow in popularity year over year.
All of that is fairly obvious.
But what isn’t always obvious—is that NEC invests in speed and innovation in areas beyond IT technology. In fact, NEC is heavily invested in F1 racing—a sport where speed and technological innovation are necessary to succeed.
NEC is a premier partner of the Sauber F1 Team, and yesterday we hosted our annual F1 Drivers Day event at our European headquarters. It’s a fun day for NEC and is just four days before the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Drivers Day was celebrated locally for NEC business partners, employees, and any F1 fans that could make it to the event. But in a truly innovative and unique fashion, partners, employees, and fans from multiple cities across the globe were able to attend via NEC’s award-winning Unified Communications & Collaboration platform UNIVERGE 3C.
Those who attended had the opportunity to meet Sauber F1 Team driver Esteban Gutiérrez and test driver Giedo van der Garde in person. The rest of us were invited to a question and answer session through the live UNIVERGE 3C broadcast, which gave the event a truly authentic flair (we are technologists after all).
After general introductions by NEC Global Marketing Executive, Todd Landry, Sauber Motorsport AG Marketing Director, Alex Sauber, came to the stage to discuss the role that technology plays in F1 racing.
Racing technology has indeed changed a lot over time—which was evident in the pictures that Sauber brought with him of some of the original computers and equipment that has been used by the team. Sauber is one of the oldest F1 teams on the grid today—and was founded in 1970. So they’ve had a front row seat as F1 technology has grown and changed over the last 40 plus years (the picture below is an excellent example as it shows how much the steering wheel changed over the course of just one year).
With Esteban running late as a result of a British Customs snafu, Giedo took the first round of questions from the global audience. The first question was about F1 steering wheels, which to a layman looks like the lunky musclebound brother of an Xbox controller.
The steering wheels are incredibly complicated. The buttons and knobs do everything from controlling the radio, to managing the brake systems, shifting, clutch system, oil intake, brake fluid—and so on. The lights, and now screen, serve as warning mechanisms—letting the driver know when something has gone awry. With the car going up to 340 kilometres per hour (about 211 miles per hour) it becomes increasingly evident that making an error can be dangerous.
That’s why the drivers are given their own tech—simulators, which keeps their reflexes honed during the off season. For Giedo, the newest Sauber team driver, the simulator technology is even more important, as each car is customized to the team and the team’s drivers.
The discussion then turned to racetracks, with a viewer asking where the Silverstone track was most challenging, and which track was the most difficult overall.
Giedo memorizes each track. The real challenge, according to him, lies within the curves. Curves are the most technically difficult parts of the race for the drivers to execute. Even with the stable car, the high speed corners require serious backbone—as the changes in down force and torque make the car more difficult to handle—like an incredibly powerful dog pulling on a leash.
F1 in general requires serious backbone, which signals the part of the event where the discussion turned toward the racers themselves. It bears mentioning for those who are not fans that Formula One racing is one of the most physically demanding sports there is.
As Giedo kept talking, he named Singapore track as his toughest, both physically and mentally. “It’s basically made up of non-stop corners,” he said. Singapore is a two hour race, during which his average heart rate is 158 beats-per-minute—putting immense stress on the driver’s body. This is most evident when you compare the number to the average healthy man’s heart rate, which is typically around 60 beats-per-minute.
The physical stress of driving takes a toll on the racers, which led Giedo to discuss the difficulties of not being able to drink in the car. With so few pit stops, it can be easy to get dehydrated. Racers can lose up to 3 litres or more of fluid (about 0.8 gallons) in a two hour race—three times more than what’s required to lose concentration. So dehydration becomes even more dangerous than usual in a sport where concentration is literally required to keep the participants alive.
The human element, as it seems, may be one of the most dangerous facets of F1 racing. In fact, the cars themselves are one of the safest, as they are engineered to be highly stable and include some of the best technology the world has to offer. But when asked by one NEC F1 fan whether or not there was a future where robots would be driving the cars, Giedo flatly said, “No,” indicating that the robots wouldn’t be able to make the quick decisions the drivers themselves have to make during every race.
As Esteban arrived and got settled, the discussion turned to fitness, as a viewer asked about exercise needed to sustain the racers’ bodies during the grueling races.
F1 racers must have immense physical resistance to heat and other stresses, as well as the ability to cope with potentially catastrophic fluid loss. In fact, experts say the loss of one per cent of body fluid is enough to cause serious lapses in concentration. And a Grand Prix driver will lose up to three and a half liters of fluid in the course of a two-hour race.
During an F1 race a driver will experience up to 5G under braking and cornering and 3G under hard acceleration, meaning that his neck has to support up to 24 kilograms (53 pounds) during a long corner—the equivalent of having a sack of spuds slammed into the side of your head while you’re driving.
During the off season, Giedo and Esteban said they will work out about for about three hours in the morning, and two hours in the afternoon to stay in shape. During the season, the drivers have a varied schedule, so while they try to average two hours a day, it can change.
When Esteban was asked what matters most, the skills of the driver or the technology in the car, he answered very matter-of-factly, “Well the car has to be quick. But driver has to drive as quick as possible with the car that’s fast. It’s a combination.”
So there you have it. Speed and technology, paired together to make a successful F1 racer as well as the car he drives.
And as the live UNIVERGE 3C broadcast came to a close, Esteban thanked the NEC team saying that UNIVERGE 3C gave them the ability to talk to all of the NEC fans more easily. “Thanks to the technology, we don’t have to travel all over to talk to you,” he said.
Which given his issue with Customs, is probably a relief.
If You Missed the Event
Interested in learning more about Sauber? Want to see how well NEC’s UNIVERGE 3C works in a truly global application? Just love F1? Check out NEC’s F1 Drivers Day video below.
You know your PBX is way past its prime, and economic pressures have lead you to delay its upgrade or replacement.
But there comes a point in time when continuing to sweat your communications assets no longer makes sense—from both a financial perspective and a business/productivity perspective. Retaining outdated equipment can essentially increase your IT costs and prevent your users from utilizing communications tools that help your business processes.
Phone systems are one of the assets that many companies sweat for too long, and, as a result, many of these organizations are sitting on archaic (or end-of-life) equipment that is no longer efficiently supporting their business while possibly putting it a risk.
Yet for some, the prevailing practice is to continue operating the existing system well past its useful life and beyond the end-of-support.
We often hear the following reasons to avoid upgrading:
We don’t have the budget, or there is a higher priority budgetary request.
The lifespan on the last PBX was too short.
We’re afraid that if we upgrade tomorrow, something better will come out next week (a.k.a. the cycle of obsolescence).
We’re unclear on our unified communications plans and how our phone system should fit in with UC.
Newer phone systems are becoming too complex to use.
The buying cycle is too long, and we will have to get too many people involved who will all have different opinions.
We don’t know which approach to take—i.e. premises, hybrid, or cloud-based.
There’s a chance that the phones you think are supporting your business aren’t. While the value of your older technology may not have appeared to change—for example, the phones still work, and you can still make calls—the outdated system may be hurting your business.
We know the decision to move to a new telephony system is sometimes a difficult one to make. That’s why we’ve created the following list of 3 of the benefits of a modern unified communications system over an outdated phone system.
1. System Stabilization
If you are a business owner or decision maker, you have probably thought, “We save money keeping the old system. What’s the worst that can happen?”
Every day your business uses an analog, TDM, or older VoIP phone system that has reached end-of-life, you run the risk of having your phone system fail without access to support. If that happens, revenue will likely be lost as a result. How much? Well, you could lose what equates to hours, days, or even weeks of revenue—depending on the amount of time it takes to quickly repair or worst case find and install a new system.
And hurrying to find a new system isn’t ideal. If your system fails, it could mean you are forced to make a quick replacement decision. Companies that don’t have the time or don’t take the time to research properly before purchase usually discover they’ve spent too much money or are unhappy with their purchase after it is too late to change it. Taking the time to find the rightIP Telephony solution or Unified Communications solution will improve your business processes and efficiencies without over-extending your budget.
2. Improved Operational Costs
Maintaining separate systems like directories, conferencing software, voicemail, and telephony is expensive and time consuming for IT departments to sustain. In fact, it can be so time consuming that the IT department spends the majority of their day keeping these systems functional—time that can be better spent on more strategic IT projects.
The older the system, the higher the operational cost is when you don’t upgrade. Some of the costs businesses accrue using older systems include:
Proprietary hardware at each location (equipment, phones, PBX)
Maintenance, repairs and upgrades
HD video meetings
When you factor the lost IT time spent maintaining each separate communications system with the opportunity cost of not having the advanced applications and features that modern unified communications provides, you end up with a total cost that is just too high for most businesses to ignore.
3. Competitive Advantage
Have you stopped to think about whether your competitors are taking advantage of modern communications software? If they are and you’re not, then chances are they are able to work smarter, faster, and more efficiently. Working smarter gives them an edge by increasing their productivity and creating a competitive advantage.
Your competitors that are working with updated communications systems, most likely have these advanced features at their disposal:
Audio/video/web collaboration, white boarding and document sharing
Support for the mobile workforce with a consistent user experience across smartphones and tablets
UC clients that provide status, presence, call history
Integrated vertical applications through standards and open services
While the cost of upgrading may seem high, the advanced applications and features associated with modern communications systems will help re-gain lost competitive edge and offer companies an opportunity to better serve their customers.
Unified communications can help businesses regain competitive advantage in two ways.
First, a new system can help you increase your revenue by providing your business with the communications applications needed to be more productive and efficient. You could gain better advantages and increased competitive edge by choosing a modern solution with a lower total cost of ownership and features that enable collaboration across your business, improving the speed of your communications.
Secondly, UC provides communications software that makes enterprise-level communications applications available on an ad-hoc basis. This either gives you access to applications that you might not have previously been able to budget for, or, saves your organization money as you no longer have to pay the fees required to utilize multiple services. Replacing hosted web, audio or video conferencing services is a perfect example. The accrued savings can boost the return on your unified communications investment, and expand your competitive edge through re-investment into other IT projects that help your business grow.
If you fear that your new technology will become obsolescent and use that as an excuse to avoid upgrading, you shouldn’t. Look for vendors that offer software assurances and extended warranties for hardware that will provide your business with more security and less risk in the long run.
With a modern communications solution, you ensure that your system has the flexibility to handle rapid growth, giving you the ability to provide support to your increasingly mobile and distributed workforce. Your IT team will re-gain some of their time, allowing them to focus on other strategic IT initiatives. And, your employees will re-coup benefits that improve the speed of communication from access to applications that positively impact your daily business—whether it’s through more efficient collaboration with colleagues, or improving customer response times.
Options Available to Your Business
Ultimately there is a high cost, in terms of inefficiencies and operational cost, when you continue to operate an outdated or end-of-life phone system.
Some organizations struggle with selecting the best model (premises, hybrid, or cloud-based) to meet long-term communication needs. Check out the infographic below to learn more about the advantages of each option. Ultimately you’ll look for the platform and vendor that has the flexibility to customize the right solution to meet your specific needs.
Examining the Enterprise Connect Unified Communications RFP Results
Each year at Enterprise Connect, a mock Request for Proposal (RFP) session is held. The mock RFP is a simulation of the requests that enterprises and government agencies put out when looking for a new unified communications solution.
The session, led by independent consultant David Stein, Principal at Stein Consulting Group, assesses telephony products developed by communications vendors. Each of the vendors that participate are required to answer questions related to their solutions’ architecture, features, and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over a 3-5 year period. The goal of the session is three-fold:
Provide enterprises with an un-biased third party opinion of UC solutions on the market
To thoroughly assess and discuss the features of each solution
The RFP was handed out in advance of the conference. Each participating vendor is required to answer questions related to their solutions’ architecture, features, and, new this year, Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) over a 5 year period. This year, seven vendors proposed ten solutions. The proposing vendors come from a variety of backgrounds ranging from over 100 years of telephony experience to very recent entrants into the market.
The RFP specifically includes stringent requirements for high availability, core voice functionality, voicemail, unified messaging, unified communications (e.g. presence, IM, voice, Web, video conferencing), and system administration.
This year’s vendor responses were submitted to Stein, who judged them based on a weighted scale. This year’s scale—same as years past—offered 50 percent of the score to functional/technical requirements, 25 percent to architecture requirements, and the final 25 percent to pricing.
This year also marked the first year that both on-premises and cloud solutions were combined for a sufficiently comprehensive UC solutions showcase. Also, included in this year’s session was a panel discussion that covered topics such as integration issues, deployment issues, and how vendors decide which solution—cloud or premises—to propose.
Evident Trends from the Session
The RFP placed emphasis on mobility, virtualization, integration of existing product sets, and improving user interfaces. The continuing trends from last year include:
Focus on the development of Android and iOS platforms for mobility offerings.
Significant focus on user experience and development of UC functionality as related there-in.
Emphasis on virtualization with most components available in virtual configurations.
New or changing trends that became evident from 2013-2014 include:
Vendor strengths are developing with particular features; i.e. not all vendors provide every feature often desired.
Gap in UC capabilities amongst respondents is still significant.
Significant differences still exist in vendor solutions.
“Average prices” decreased from 2013 to 2014.
Cloud vs. premises functionality differences more significant than previously thought.
Cloud vs. premises TCO differences remain significant.
Key Trends for Modern Communications Systems
This year’s session positioned as Premises vs. Cloud was a welcome addition to the conference. For the first time, conference attendees had access to a more complete representation of the unified communications market.
There are three trends noted in David Stein’s own observations, that communications experts agree are foundational for modern Unified Communications systems. Each system must be/include:
Software-based—software-based communications solutions have re-defined the way businesses communicate. The most modern, agile, scalable solutions will deliver a fully functional IP-PBX along with a complete set of voice features and UC applications that can be tailored to individual needs. Software-based systems also offer simplified licensing and management features that make it easier for businesses to manage day-to-day communications needs.
Virtualization—communications systems that can be deployed across distributed architectural platforms offer ultimate flexibility, and improve business continuity and cost saving. Virtualized infrastructures offer benefits such as server consolidation, increased security, operational flexibility and greater application availability during downtime.
Mobility— Modern communications solutions offer enhanced user-mobility solutions that enable workers to stay connected and productive from any locale. These mobility solutions typically incorporate softphones, mobile applications, call-twinning, call transfer, and fixed mobile convergence options. These tools allow businesses to shorten the time it takes to move projects forward, and ultimately improve the service provided to customers.
NEC did very well, winning the highest total score of all vendors compared in the 2,000 user UC RFP. NEC’s UNIVERGE solution won top score both because of its technological strengths, and because it provides customers with a significant economic advantage in terms of TCO.
NEC’s response to the RFP is listed as “on-premises.” However, it’s interesting to note that its software based solution resides on a virtualized server and could easily exist as part of an organization’s private cloud. Alternatively, this configuration could be hosted off-premises in a commercial data center.
5-year Total Cost of Ownership
Frequently, after organizations have made the decision to replace their existing phone system, a lot of time, energy, and effort go into evaluating and comparing the initial acquisition and installation costs of the vendors that make their short list. This focus on initial costs sometimes means that ongoing operation and maintenance costs are overlooked. This year Stein added an extensive evaluation to the study that helps determine the “true” cost of a Unified Communications solution.
The addition of the 5-year Total Cost of Ownership section of the RFP gives businesses the opportunity to look beyond the initial costs of implementation, to the costs of operating the solution for five years. This evaluation helps businesses plan a comprehensive budget that takes the long-term operational and maintenance costs into consideration.
There are a number of factors to consider in evaluating Unified Communications RFPs. High availability, voicemail, unified messaging, and unified communications are just some of the features of modern communications technology. If your organization is starting the process of looking for a new UC solution to replace your existing IP/PBX, then taking a look at the UC RFP results would be a great place for you to start.