December 07, 2015

Cyber Security, UC and Social Media Just a Handful of Trends Impacting Business Communications

IntelliCom Analytics is in the business of analyzing the business communications landscape, including the companies involved, their technologies and solutions and their myriad applications. And their longtime experience with the communications market has given the company tremendous insight about the direction of unified communications (UC), collaboration and other important trends.

We recently got a chance to catch up with Mark Ricca, principal and senior analyst for IntelliCom. Ricca will be moderating two panel sessions at the upcoming ITEXPO Fort Lauderdale next month, following participation in the ITEXPO Anaheim event in October. At the previous event, Ricca discussed mobility as well as return on investment for NFV and SDN technologies. UC adoption was an important part of those discussions and will be relevant at the upcoming event as well.

Ricca will focus on “Cyber Security – The Imperative For All Mid-Market Businesses” as well as “IT Challenges and Opportunities Facing Educational Institutions” at the upcoming ITEXPO Fort Lauderdale event. We spoke to him about trends in UC, security, social media and more.

Q: Is technology changing business for the better? Why/why not?

A: Technology is a tool with the potential to make meaningful improvements to all businesses, subject to the following conditions: 

  1. The appropriate solution is applied to the situation-specific requirement; 
  2. Users are trained on the proper use of the technology; and
  3. There is on-going management of the technology and users to maximize efficiency and ensure a measureable “return on the investment.”

Q: Have we finally reached an inflection point with Unified Communications adoption? 

A: In a word…yes.

Q: What is driving or hindering the market?

A: Market drivers include:

  • An aging installed base of communications systems needing replacement;
  • The role that technology can play in measurably improving productivity; and
  • The need to collaborate effectively with decentralized project teams.

Market constraints include:

  • Tight budgets;
  • The “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude that prevails in some businesses;
  • Inability of some sales representatives to demonstrate the benefits of UC; and
  • The need for UC solution providers to make their offers simpler to use, truly seamless and secure.

Q: What do you say to industry observers who say UC is dead?

A: “Stay tuned.” 

Q: When it comes to unified communications, do you believe it’s better to meet customers where they are (i.e., popular business applications like Salesforce, or social networks like LinkedIn) or to use your interface as the front-end and then do integrations with those popular applications?

A: It’s relative. What’s better for some customers may not be suitable for others. The vast majority of customers want to have viable options available, such as the approaches mentioned above. One size doesn’t fit all. 

Q: How do you use social media in your daily business?  Should social be a major initiative for all businesses?

A: At IntelliCom Analytics, we use LinkedIn the most. In our opinion, it’s better suited to business related subjects and professional communications. All of our clients use some form of social media. It can be effective in improving brand recognition and building and maintaining relationships. 

Q: How are collaboration software/services helping workers today? 

A: Obviously, “work” is no longer a location; it’s an activity that can be conducted from virtually anywhere, provided that you have the proper assets. These include: network connectivity, a communication/computing device and collaborative software. Equipped with these tools, work activities can be scheduled, interactively conducted and managed. 

Q: WebRTC went through a very significant hype cycle.  Will its use cases and adoption live up to that hype? 

A: Yes, however it will still take some time. Decision-makers get smarter all the time and respond to proof-points…not hype.

Q: What is the biggest security threat currently facing businesses?

A: A “passive attitude” rooted in the belief that their current security systems and policies are effective. The two sources of security breaches are external and internal (e.g. employees). The external environment is a game of “Leap Frog.” It doesn’t take long for the external mischief-makers to figure out how to penetrate most security systems. Security systems and adherence to policies need to be constantly monitored, tested and improved. 

To mitigate internal threats, regular employee training and reminders regarding “good security hygiene” can be effective. 

Q: Has corporate awareness of security threats increased over the past year?

A: Yes. 

Q: Have security practices been adjusted as a result? 

A: Definitely yes. Hundreds of organizations including Boeing, Chase, Community Health Services, eBay, Home Depot, IRS, Neiman Marcus, Sony, Target, T.J. Maxx, UPS, VTech and Wyndham Hotels have experienced recent cyber attacks. The threat from external and internal sources can’t be ignored. 

Q: Have security practices been adjusted as a result? 

A: Yes, but as mentioned, it’s a game of “Leap Frog.” Security provisions must be constantly improved, because the “mischief makers” are clever and relentless.

Q: Should mobile devices have integrated software allowing for separation of business and personal apps and data? 

A: Yes. This capability would provide added convenience to me.

Q: How is cloud computing shaking up your product/service offerings?  How has it impacted your competitive market? 

A: At IntelliCom Analytics we’re using some cloud-based applications and have recommended them to clients, when and where appropriate. Cloud, premise and hybrid solutions all have their pros and cons. The take-away is that users have more choices.

Q: How are companies benefitting or losing out from the move to cloud solutions like Office 365? 

A: Office 365 is a very good solution for many customers. The “Business” version can accommodate up to 300 users, and the “Enterprise” version can serve several thousand. It provides a wide range of features, including Office 2016 for PCs and MACs.  It also comes with flexible payment plans. 

Q: What, if any, wearable tech products do you use?  

A: I just acquired a FitBit Charge. 

Q: How do they make you more productive? 

A: It tracks my physical activity (or lack thereof) against a set of objectives, and reminds me to stay active. 

Q: Will wearable tech become a major enterprise technology?  

A: I believe we’re seeing the “tip-of-the-iceberg” in wearable technology at this point in time. It will play a major role in improving healthcare, transportation, law enforcement, safety, military defense and business productivity in the near future. What will drive or hinder adoption? Initially, cost will be a factor in constraining growth. Once the benefits are realized and promoted, the market will grow and cost won’t be a major factor. 

Q: What big data and analytics tools are you using and why?  

A: Several of our clients are using Hadoop, and are satisfied with the results and benefits. How is Big Data changing the way you conduct business? In general, raw data isn’t useful until it’s analyzed and packaged into useful information and more importantly…applied intelligence. In this form it can assist in minimizing risks and predicting outcomes. This is a significant advantage that can benefit businesses of all sizes. 

Q: What are you doing regarding trans-border data flows now that the EU has complicated matters regarding where confidential data must reside? 

A: Trans-border data communication and storage have been issues for several European countries, even prior to the formation of the EU. In view of the frequent and growing number of security breaches occurring, coupled with growing concerns regarding privacy…their worries are understandable. There isn’t an easy solution to this problem; however steps can be taken to minimize concerns. 

Q: What technology has had the greatest impact on your ability to perform your job in the past year?  

A: The Smartphone. The power, applications and capabilities packed into the device are remarkable. Productivity has been measurably improved for all users. And the new applications and improvements just keep coming. 

Q: What has been the most impactful development or trend in 2016 that is changing how industry players need to do business? 

A: In my opinion there are three. Vertical, industry-specific applications, cloud-based solutions and universal mobility. All three trends represent major challenges and opportunities for manufacturers, and more importantly their channel partners. 

Q: To what extent, if any, are you and your partners doing deals with line-of-business leaders who are not in IT or telecom departments? 

A: “Power-users” in strategic business units are having a greater influence on the selection and deployment of IT solutions. Manufacturers and their channel partners are recognizing this trend, and are doing a better job in “leaning into it.” Manufacturers are developing solutions tailored to vertical industries and their business unit requirements. Many channel partners are becoming better educated on the needs, expectations and challenges specific verticals and business units are dealing with.

Q: Which departments seem to be leading the way on this trend (Accounting, HR, Marketing, Sales, etc.) and how are you changing your marketing and sales tactics to address this shift? 

A: Typically, customer-facing/revenue generating business units are the most needy, vocal and active. Truly understanding these industries and their strategic business units is the critical first step to success.

Q: Are channel partners keeping up with the latest products and services or is more training and education required? 

A: Based on our field research and direct experience, we’ve found that today’s universe of channel partners can be segmented into three major categories, in terms of their readiness. The categories are:

  • Prepared: Actively involved in this sophisticated, demanding and growing market;
  • Willing: Enthusiastic and anxious to participate, but needing more training; and
  • Content: Generally satisfied to play in the declining market for traditional systems.

Q: What is the greatest challenge the channel is up against today? 

A: Complacency. They must recognize the need to learn, adapt and grow…or they will become irrelevant.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at ITEXPO Ft. Lauderdale?

A: ITEXPO provides a convenient, effective and enjoyable “one-stop” venue to:

  • Learn about new and improved technologies, applications and techniques;
  • Be introduced to new companies participating in the IT/Communications industry; and
  • Network with industry colleagues, subject-matter-experts and friends.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

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