The pros and cons of hosted voice vs. on-premises PBX

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a technology that allows businesses to make phone calls with a broadband internet connection, instead of using a telephone landline. As companies grow increasingly dependent on the internet to do their business, VoIP has become more and more appealing for organizations of all sizes and industries.

According to market research and advisory firm Zion Research, the global VoIP industry is expected to surge from $83 billion in 2015 to $140 billion by 2021.

Despite the move towards hosted VoIP, many companies have chosen to remain with an on-premises PBX (private branch exchange) solution.

In this article, we’ll discuss the definitions of hosted VoIP and on-premises PBX and then go over the pros and cons so that you can make the right choice for your business.

What is hosted voice?

The term “hosted” means that the VoIP provider is responsible for hosting the services in the cloud. In other words, the telephones at your business headquarters use the internet to connect to the equipment hosted by the VoIP provider at an off-site location.

Most hosted VoIP providers use a recurring monthly or annual pricing model, which includes a predetermined number of minutes as well as a given set of features. However, some providers offer a per-minute pricing model for additional flexibility.

It’s worth noting that many hosted voice offerings are part of a “unified communications” solution that combines phone, email, fax, chat, and video capabilities. Indeed, some companies treat the terms “hosted voice” and “unified communications” almost synonymously.

What is on-premises PBX?

A private branch exchange (PBX) is a private telephone network that manages the internal and external phone calls of an enterprise.

As the name suggests, “on-premises” PBX means that your business is responsible for maintaining the necessary hardware on-site. You have ultimate ownership of, and responsibility for, the network.

Hosted voice vs. on-premises PBX: advantages and disadvantages

Let’s look at the pros and cons of each option.

Cost

Using an on-premises PBX solution is typically much more expensive when first starting out. You need to purchase your own hardware, set it up, and perform your own maintenance.

Meanwhile, hosted VoIP uses an OPEX cost model, so your monthly expenses are much more predictable (and often lower).

For example, small businesses that switch to VoIP can reduce the costs of local calls by up to 40 percent and the costs of international calls by up to 90 percent.

Flexibility

If you’re just starting out and are unsure which option is best for you, then you should likely choose a hosted VoIP solution.

Your VoIP provider shoulders all the load in terms of future work and expansion, including concerns such as maintenance and software updates. This gives you a great deal more flexibility.

Reliability

The biggest question mark in terms of hosted voice is reliability.

Because VoIP relies on an internet connection in order to function, VoIP customers will be left without phone service when their internet goes down or when they experience a power failure.

Before option for a hosted VoIP solution, be sure you have a reliable internet connection.

Final thoughts

If your company has the IT expertise required to perform the installation and you’re willing to handle all of the responsibilities, then an on-premises PBX may not be a bad choice.

For most businesses, however, the lower costs, lessened maintenance obligations, and increased flexibility of a hosted VoIP solution are enough for them to make the switch.

Need some expert advice about whether hosted voice or on-premises PBX is right for your organization? The right managed services provider can help make the decision a lot easier. Contact your MSP for some good advice on the solution that best fits your situation.

If you’d like to keep reading, check out these additional options for cloud communication infrastructure.

Should companies embrace Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge?

As of late June 2018, one of Microsoft's newest software platforms, Azure IoT Edge, is generally available. This means that commercial enterprises and independent consumers now have access to it and, thanks to Microsoft's decision to take the platform open source, can begin modifying the technology to fit specific needs.

Every innovation brings new opportunity and unforeseen challenges, and there is no reason to suspect that Azure IoT Edge will be any different. Even programs created by technology industry leaders like Microsoft have their potential disadvantages. 

What exactly is Azure IoT Edge?
Simply put, Azure IoT Edge represents Microsoft's plan to move data analytics from processing centers to internet of things enabled devices. This sophisticated edge computing technology can equip IoT hardware with cognitive computing technologies such as machine learning and computer vision. It will also free up enormous bandwidth by moving the data processing location to the device and allow IoT devices to perform more sophisticated tasks without constant human monitoring.

According to Microsoft, there are three primary components at play:

  1. A cloud-based interface will allow the user to remotely manage and oversee any and all Azure IoT Edge devices.
  2. IoT Edge runtime operates on every IoT Edge device and controls the modules deployed to each piece of IoT hardware.
  3. Every IoT Edge module is a container that operates on Azure services, third-party software or a user's personalized code. The modules are dispersed to IoT Edge machines and locally operate on said hardware.

Overall, Azure IoT Edge represents a significant step forward in cloud computing and IoT operations, empowering devices with functionality that wasn't before possible.

Devices like drones will be able to carry out more sophisticated tasks using Azure IoT Edge. Devices like drones will be able to carry out more sophisticated tasks using Azure IoT Edge.

The cybersecurity concerns of Azure IoT Edge
It is worth remembering that IoT hardware has a long and complicated history with cybersecurity standards. Considering the bulk of IoT technology adoption has been driven by consumer, rather than enterprise, products – issues like security and privacy were placed second to interface design and price point.

Research firm Gartner found that 20 percent of organizations had already reported at least one IoT-centered data breach within the three years leading up to 2018. This risk has led to IoT security spending that is expected to cost $1.5 billion globally in 2018. Some companies scrambling to make their IoT hardware more secure may want to leave this problem as a priority over incorporating Microsoft's newest software platform.

Another potential issue is Microsoft's decision to make the platform open source. The original code is public knowledge and now available to all to modify for personal use. While this flexibility will greatly help the product's user base expand, open source programs have not historically been the most secure from cybercriminals.

Many ecommerce websites ran on the Magento platform, an open source solution that became the target of a brute force password attack in 2018, which ultimately proved successful. The resulting data breach led to thousands of compromised accounts and stolen credit information.

A Black Duck Software report tracked open source programs as they have become more widespread. While the overall quality of open source code is improving, the study found that many organizations do not properly monitor and protect the code once it has been put in place, leaving it vulnerable to exploitation from outside sources.

"Microsoft annually invests $1 billion in cybersecurity research."

The Microsoft advantage
However, Microsoft is arguably in position to address the major security concerns with its Azure IoT Edge platform. The company invests over $1 billion in cybersecurity research each year. According to Azure Government CISO Matthew Rathbun, a lot of this money is spent  with Azure in mind:

"Ninety percent of my threat landscape starts with a human, either maliciously or inadvertently, making a mistake that somehow compromises security," Rathbun told TechRepublic. "In an ideal state, we're going eventually end up in a world where there'll be zero human touch to an Azure production environment."

Azure IoT Edge represents a bold step forward in empowering IoT technology and improving automated productivity. While there are risks associated with every innovation, Microsoft remains committed to staying at the forefront and protecting its platforms. Companies should be willing to invest in Azure IoT Edge while remaining vigilant about the possible risks. 

How a holistic approach to data analytics benefits cybersecurity

 

Almost everyone, regardless of industry, recognizes the growing importance of cybersecurity. Cyberattacks are on the rise and growing increasingly varied and sophisticated. According to data collected by Cybersecurity Ventures, the annual cost of cybercrime is estimated to reach roughly $6 trillion by 2021. An effective information security policy is, in many cases, the only thing standing between companies and possible financial ruin.

The danger is especially real for small- to medium-sized businesses. Data from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission found that only slightly more than a third of SMBs (40 percent) survive for longer than six months after a successful data breach. For these types of organizations, cybersecurity is literally a matter of life and death.

The good news: Many businesses recognize the need for effective cybersecurity strategies and are investing heavily in personnel and software solutions. The bad news: Many of these same companies are only reacting, not thinking about how to best deploy this protective framework. Effective cybersecurity isn’t as simple as applying a bandage to a cut.

It can be better equated to introducing a new nutritional supplement to the diet. The whole procedure is vastly more effective if integrated into every meal. To best use modern cybersecurity practices, businesses must rethink their approaches to corporate data structure. Data analytics is a vital tool in providing the best in information protection.

“Segmenting data spells disaster for an effective cybersecurity policy.”

Siloed data is unread data
As organizations grow, there is a tendency to segment. New branches develop, managers are appointed to oversee departments – in general, these groups tend to work on their projects and trust that other arenas of the company are also doing their jobs. The responsibility is divided and thus, easier to handle.

While this setup may make the day-to-day routine of the business easier on executives, it spells disaster for an effective cybersecurity policy. This division process creates siloed or segmented data pools. While a department may be very aware of what it is doing, it has far less knowledge of other corporate branches.

Many organizations may figure that an in-house IT team or chief information security officer can oversee everything, keeping the company running at full-tilt. However, this assumption is only half-true. While these staff members can and do oversee the vast majority of business operations, they will lack the data to make comprehensive decisions. A report from the Ponemon Institute found that 70 percent of cybersecurity decision-makers felt they couldn’t effectively act because of a surplus of jumbled, incoherent data.

Data analytics, or the study of (typically big) data, provides facts behind reasoning. To gather this information, companies need systems and software that talk to one another. Having the best-rated cybersecurity software won’t make a difference if it can’t easily communicate with the company’s primary OS or reach data from several remote branches.

CISOs or other qualified individuals can make practical, often less-expensive strategies with a clear view of the entire company. Without this type of solution, a business, no matter its resources or personnel, will essentially be operating its cybersecurity strategy through guesswork.

Separated data creates bubbles where information can be misplaced or duplicated, resulting in a slower data analysis process. Separated data creates bubbles where information can be misplaced or duplicated, resulting in a slower data analysis process.

Centralized businesses may miss real-time updates
Businesses face another challenge as they expand. Data collection has, in the past, slowed with remote locations. Before IoT and Industry 4.0, organizations were bound with paper and email communications. Remote branches typically grouped data reports into weeks or, more likely, months.

This approach meant that the central location effectively made decisions with month-old information. When it comes to minimizing the damage from data breaches, every hour matters. Luckily, many institutions can now provide data streaming in real time. Those that can’t must prioritize improving information flow immediately. Cybercrime looks for the weakest aspect within a company and tries to exploit the deficiency.

For data analytics to work properly, businesses need access to the full breadth of internal data. The more consistent and up to date this information is, the better CISOs and IT departments can make coherent and sensible decisions.

Visibility may not sound like the answer to fighting cyberattacks, but it is a crucial component. Companies need to be able to look within and adapt at a moment’s notice. This strategy requires not just the ability to see but also the power to make quick, actionable adjustments. Those organizations that still segment data will find this procedure difficult and time consuming.

As cybercrime becomes an expected aspect of business operations, those who still think in siloed brackets must change their mindsets or face expensive consequences.

Help Desk Increases Efficiency at John Deere

Industry: Industrial Equipment

John Deere Equipment dealer increases efficiency with Help Desk. As one of John Deere Construction Equipment’s largest dealers, ISG’s first Support Center client provides full sales and product support through 28 locations serving Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska,  and Western Missouri. Along with corporate offices in Wichita, KS, each location has a full complement of equipment and parts inventories, service technicians and field service capabilities. Continued expansion and excellent client service maintains their place as the centerpiece of their long-range planning.

Challenge

The company’s client base comprises a finite set of businesses needing heavy construction equipment. “It is imperative that every one of our client is happy with the service we provide,” states the company’s Assistant Controller. “They are our number one priority. We recruit and hire with client service in mind— not necessarily computing skills. With 16 locations and 700 employees, we needed the support of a full IT staff but lacked the skills internally. Our employees were hired to serve the clients, not service and diagnose daily computer problems. Employees from various locations were calling the corporate office with all of the computer issues. It often took us days to respond and deliver a solution. And, it took managers off task to work through the issues.”

Solution

The company worked with the ISG office in Wichita to implement the ISG support center service across all of their locations. When an employee needs IT support, they call the ISG support center via a personalized toll-free phone number. The number is answered with the company name– as if it was answered within their building. A trouble ticket is entered and the status of each ticket is available through the web. The Support Center handles standard desktop applications, network management issues and a custom John Deere application for all 16 locations. When on-site service is required, ISG will dispatch out a service technician to resolve the problem. Management reports are provided on a monthly basis to assist with decision-making.

Results

  • Desktop application support
  • Network administration support
  • Call logging/categorizing
  • Call triage and routing
  • Dispatch services
  • Call monitoring and escalation
  • Call closure and confirmation
  • Management reporting
  • Client satisfaction survey

“The support center has been a very cost effective solution for delivering quality support to our employees. It provides a single point of contact to manage all of our daily computing issues. Most importantly, it allows us to focus on our core business,” states the company. Support Center delivers quick resolution to end user computing problems.

“With the depth of support that ISG provides and by instituting a consistent process, there is no doubt that problems are solved faster and our employees spend more time serving clients,” states the company. “We are getting more than a help desk, we get the skill of an entire IT staff.”

The benefits of the solution include:

  • Reduce IT costs
  • Increase end-user service levels
  • Focus on core projects
  • Eliminate turnover
  • Reduce downtime
  • Reduce personnel issues
  • Save on training and certification expenses

Video: Office 2007 End-Of-Life

It’s important to ensure your business is protected, which is now more difficult without security updates, new features, bug fixes or other updates. Upgrading is easy and will keep you well protected.

ISG Technology has multiple solutions for your business to limit disruption and deliver the latest features and benefits from Microsoft Office. Contact us today to upgrade without any interruption to your business.

For more information, visit these links:
Support is Ending for Office 2007
Support is Ending for Mac 2011

 

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How to choose an effective UC solution

Creating and maintaining meaningful connections is an essential part of business that can impact supplier, partner and customer relationships. Having the right solution on hand can make all the difference in supporting employee needs and facilitating critical opportunities across important assets. Unified communications appears to be the answer to many business interaction needs, but it can be difficult to know where to start when looking at potential options. Let's take a closer look at how your can choose an effective UC solution:

1. Consider organization growth

The number of staff within a business isn't a permanent figure. People join and leave, but all organization leaders plan with the belief that the company will grow. When considering a UC solution, it's not only important to look at the amount of staff you currently have, but to also prepare for scaling in the future. TechTarget contributor Chris Partsenidis noted that most UC platforms support a specific number of users and are designed around these limitations. This could create major problems in the future as the business grows, forcing organizations to seek out new solutions.

Organizations will need to team up with a UC vendor that not only serves current needs, but also acts as a partner for strategic development. A capable provider should be able to scale features and services up or down depending on business requirements. This will guarantee the flexibility that companies need as they develop while still ensuring that employees have quality tools.

UC solutions should be able to scale alongside business growth. UC solutions should be able to scale alongside business growth.

2. Ensure mobile enablement

When businesses start out, they might only choose a few of the most important, basic communications tools that they'll need. As time progresses and technology preferences change, organizations must ensure that their strategies encapsulate user demands. Today's modern organizations are still scrambling to meet remote and mobile work expectations, facilitating bring-your-own-device policies and other similar initiatives. Mobile capabilities are becoming a necessity for employees, making it essential for UC solutions to effectively support this functionality.

With the insurgence of consumer devices in the workplace, that means that IT departments no longer have tight control over everything that goes on within their networks. Network World contributor Zeus Kerravala noted that UC applications will be an essential component to ensuring that users can switch devices on the fly and access UC functions. This type of freedom can boost collaboration opportunities and improve overall productivity.

"Use your business objectives to customize your UC solution."

3. Align with your objectives

Any new initiative must be able to prove its value to stakeholders and users alike. The benefits of UC have been widely reported, but seeing is believing. To get the most out of your UC solution, you must have a clear view of your business objectives and use them to customize your UC system, digital content specialist Rajesh Kulkarni wrote in a LinkedIn post. By aligning the UC solution with your goals, you can deliver maximum value and ensure that the offering makes sense for your organization's needs.

UC initiatives must be planned out carefully to ensure that workers are engaged and motivated to use the tools. Leaders must put a training mechanism in place to facilitate even adoption and improve receptiveness to changes caused by UC. Employees are expected to leave behind familiar solutions, making it essential to align with objectives and deliver in a way that will help cushion the impact for staff.

UC is the next big necessity for businesses to keep up with user demands and offer flexible communication options. By following these tips, you can choose the most effective UC solution for your needs and ensure it benefits your organization. To find out more about what UC solutions can offer, contact ISG Technology today.

Video: Security & Mobility in the Modern Workplace

60% of Mobile Employees Rely on Three or More Devices.

While workplace mobility has become the new norm, it can leave a company vulnerable by exposing proprietary data. Organizations are looking for proven, trusted IT partners that can help clients manage, transport and protect their data. At ISG, that’s exactly what we do. Watch our two-minute video below to learn more.


   

 

Video: Security & Mobility in the Modern Workplace

60% of Mobile Employees Rely on Three or More Devices.

While workplace mobility has become the new norm, it can leave a company vulnerable by exposing proprietary data. Organizations are looking for proven, trusted IT partners that can help clients manage, transport and protect their data. At ISG, that’s exactly what we do. Watch our two-minute video below to learn more.


   

 

What does health care need from communications solutions?

Health care is an incredibly fast-paced industry. Even a few seconds’ hesitation can result in a patient’s death, so medical professionals are almost always strapped for time. Although this is simply the nature of the job, a solid way to improve efficiency is by implementing a robust communications solution.

A doctor needs a hefty amount of information to treat a patient, and other health care workers simply need to be able to talk to each other in order to complete their daily tasks. However, this sector has some very specific needs that can’t be solved by just any system.

So, what should health care administrators be looking for in a communications solution?

Security and compliance are the first concerns

“Health care is a huge target for hackers.”

Health care is a huge target for hackers, and for good reason. Those working in this industry need a lot of information about the patients they are treating, ranging from financial data to descriptions of potentially embarrassing diseases that could be used to blackmail the person.

The storing and transferring of these records through digital means has increased the attack surface, which is why lawmakers enacted the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA is designed to protect the privacy rights of patients and ensure anyone involved in the medical process, whether they be doctors or insurance agents, take proper steps to increase security.

While keeping patient data out of the hands of hackers is a noble goal in itself, medical facilities also have a selfish reason to avoid a breach. According to a study from IBM, the average cost of a hacked medical record totaled $355. This is well above the overall average of $158, showing just how expensive a breach can be for those working in health care.

This is why it’s so important to invest in a secure and compliant communications system. Hackers know how much medical information is worth, and they’re eager to intercept messages containing this data. What’s more, overall security in health care is extremely lacking. A study from HIMSS Analytics and Symantec found that 80 percent of health care institutions put 6 percent or less of their IT budgets toward security.

While this issue needs to be addressed in its own right, allocating some of this spend toward a better communications infrastructure could be a huge step forward.

Uptime is vital

Another major aspect of health care communications that must be addressed is the importance of uptime. Medical workers need to be able to trade information on a regular basis throughout the day, and losing this ability could be incredibly dangerous.

A great example of this is the ransomware attack that befell the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in California. This hospital was hit by a piece of malware that basically encrypts all the data stored on a network, which means staff members couldn’t access any patient information. After realizing the extent of the attack, hospital workers attempted to work around the issue by using fax machines and written notes, according to Digital Trends contributor Trevor Mogg.

While the hospital did end up getting its systems back online after paying a ransom to the hacker, this situation very clearly shows the fragility of a health care organization’s communications system. A single attack was able to send the facility back to the 1980s, causing an enormous headache for administrators.

Of course, hacking isn’t the only way that a communications infrastructure can go offline. Everything from lightning strikes to simple human error can easily have the same effect, and health care officials need to set up a system that can deal with these kinds of threats.

Your organization needs scalability

Stepping outside the realm of scary possibilities, medical facilities also have to plan for inevitable growth. A business is only doing well if it’s getting bigger, but this means that local systems need to increase as well.

Such an ability to grow is called scalability, and it’s incredibly important in all things IT. However, it’s perhaps most relevant in health care communications. As these organizations increase in size, they must hire new people and take on more patients than ever. When this happens, older solutions will start to show their age and won’t be able to handle the increased load. Therefore, a communications infrastructure needs a high level of scalability.

Your organization might need to scale up in the future. Is your current solution’s scalability enough?

What about continued support?

When it comes to any IT solution, administrators need two things: training and continuous support. Although modern technology is becoming much easier to work as IT literacy increases, the only way to get everything out of a system is to be taught exactly how to use it. On top of that, employees need to know that they have an experienced professional they can call if they run into any issues that they can’t solve themselves.

This is why it’s so important to work with an experienced vendor like ISG Technology. We have a history of creating communications solutions for health care organizations, and we know what this industry needs. Our security procedures will help your facility stay HIPAA compliant and your systems online. On top of that, we can help you scale your communications system to meet your specific needs, and we offer training and round-the-clock support.

Communicating is incredibly important in health care, and administrators shouldn’t wait until their current solution fails in order to find another. Contact ISG Technology today to see how we can help your employees collaborate better.

Shadow IT: What it is and how to mitigate it

Technology has advanced at an incredibly fast rate in the past few years. Innovations such as the computer that were once thought too expensive for personal use are in a vast majority of American homes, and the emergence of the smartphone has increased the internet’s reach even further.

It would seem that every day some new device or piece of software is making life easier for people, and while this may be good for the consumer, it poses a major risk for IT administrators. The in-office use of these kinds of technology is called shadow IT, and it’s causing some big problems for organizations all over the globe.

How is shadow IT formed?

“The issue at hand here has to do with an employee’s personal convenience.”

The issue at hand here has to do with an employee’s personal convenience. As a rule, shadow IT very often forms when a worker decides to go outside of the company-supported suite of software and hardware in order to use something he or she is more familiar with.

A good example of this would be an employee that gets fed up with a certain file storage/exchange system. They don’t know how to work this platform, so they decide to use a free service that they’ve relied on before.

While this may solve a convenience issue, this employee is now moving company information around utilizing a platform that isn’t supported by the internal IT team. This creates a gaping security vulnerability that a hacker could work to exploit.

BYOD can help foster it

An aspect that a lot of administrators don’t consider is that shadow IT doesn’t just pertain to software or digital platforms. As TechTarget contributor Margaret Rouse points out, hardware is also part of the equation.

Your employees have all kinds of personal devices that they use at home, and they bought them for good reasons. They have experience with this tech, and this can very easily translate to an increase in productivity.

In fact, the bring-your-own-device trend hinges on this exact principle. BYOD allows organizations to sidestep paying for new equipment by simply allowing workers to bring in their own gadgets. On top of that, staff members get the unique ability to complete daily responsibilities with the tech they know and love.

When done properly, this is a perfect example of a win-win scenario. However, a BYOD deployment must be implemented properly. The IT team needs to handle this transition to ensure that the devices in question are properly secured against hackers. Without some kind of security procedure on the books, companies could be looking at a data breach.

The problem is that employees very often don’t know about the risks involved here. Again, without any sort of maliciousness, they’re simply thinking of their own convenience and choose to bring in their own gadgets without clearing it with company officials. In fact, a survey from Gartner found that more than one-third of respondents were currently completing work-related tasks on personal devices without telling anyone about it.

This is huge because the average person simply does not take the time to properly secure their gadgets on their own, especially considering the high standards of data security many industries need.

A consumer affairs survey found that only 8 percent of average smartphone owners had software that would allow them to delete the information contained on their phone should it be stolen. While most people would worry about the photos and other irreplaceable memories in the event of a theft, a stolen smartphone can easily turn into a major data breach should the wrong person get their hands on the gadget.

Smartphones used for work must be secure. Smartphone security is incredibly important in a BYOD plan.

Companies must take action

Clearly, shadow IT is no laughing matter, and organizations must take decisive action in order to mitigate the risks of a data breach. So, what would this look like?

First and foremost, set up a meeting with employees to explain the consequences of their actions. As stated, it’s not that these workers are actively trying to sabotage the company. Rather, they simply don’t understand that using a personal device or outside software could cause serious harm. These people simply need to be educated about what can happen when they step outside the approved systems.

Second, to attack unlicensed BYOD directly, administrators must come up with a plan. This could include banning these gadgets outright, but doing so is nearly impossible to enforce, and completely misses all of the advantages BYOD has to offer when done correctly. A better option may be to simply work with a vendor that knows how to implement a secure system to regulate these devices.

Finally, it might be important to figure out why employees were using outside tech to begin with. Are current solutions not doing what they’re supposed to? Do you need to implement training sessions? Would it be best to simply move on to a different platform? Answer these questions and you can work to find the root of the problem.