UCaaS: Making Small Businesses Big

UCaaSSmall and medium businesses (SMBs) are the backbone of a successful economy. Big starts from small: Apple that took off in a garage; eBay was founded in a living room; FaceBook was conceived in a dorm room.

In the present business environment, small can also be big. SMB owners are wearing more hats more than ever in order to keep pace with bigger enterprises. They are realizing that concerns related to sales, marketing, finance, human resources, and more can be addressed by streamlining processes through effective communications. Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) can help meet these challenges at less cost than an in-house solution.

The Benefits

With the emerging mobility trends, SMBs are increasingly shifting to UCaaS to meet the changing demands of remote working through enhanced communication and collaboration tools. Reduced costs and business continuity are the main drivers to a move to a UCaaS model, along with a host of other benefits.

Reduced Costs UCaaS enables SMBs to minimize the cost of ownership and offload significant capital expenditures to the provider with no major infrastructure to build. Work hours are saved by not having to maintain, troubleshoot, and replace old equipment. Hosted UC provides a predictable monthly operating expense with monthly billing that can include collaboration tools like audio and video conferencing and long distance services.

Business ContinuityBusiness disruptions happen not only during earthquakes, tornadoes, blizzards, or wild fires, but also when isolated electrical fires occur, when major pipelines leak, or when IT glitches crop up. Most hosted UC services include a disaster recovery and business continuity plan that enables employees with Internet access to use the network’s UC tools to continue working and keep the business up and running.

Simplicity and Speed of Deployment Premise-based UC is often complex, with several servers and UC applications needed to be set up by specialized IT professionals. A hosted UC solution can be set up quickly, with adds, changes, and moves accomplished in minutes. Typical IT management and maintenance tasks, including automatic updates of the latest versions, are handled by the UC provider.

Increased Efficiency and Productivity Presence is an effective tool for SMBs that lends visibility into how employees are working and if processes are aligned with established business objectives. This translates to improved efficiency, increased productivity, and more robust ROI.

The Challenges

UCaaS is not without challenges, but businesses can have a successful UC experience if these challenges are addressed.

LAN RequirementsThe local area network (LAN) is host to routers, switches, and firewalls. These critical components need to be upgraded, adjusted, and configured to ensure quality of service and streamline deployment and management.

Network Bandwidth and Redundancy Concerns While voice calls, messaging, and emails are the more frequently used components of a UC network, video conferencing eats up significantly more bandwidth. UC planners need to assess their bandwidth requirements as well as plan for a backup bandwidth provider in case the primary system goes down or becomes congested.

Wiring and Cabling – Wiring and cabling may seem like minor needs, but they help ensure the desired quality of service. Cat5+ cabling works best in a VoIP environment, while Wi-Fi has limited uses. UC planners may also consider a dual drop switching system where the data network has its own port, with the phones having their own port.

Integration of Special Features – Many companies want to retain special digital and analog phone services that have been part of their corporate culture. These include paging systems, music on a call on hold, automated door systems activated via phone, advertising, messaging, and many others. Integrating and testing the services are important tasks during the planning phase.

The benefits of UCaaS are clear, but SMBs moving toward a hosted solution need to address the challenges for a successful deployment. If you’re an SMB looking to UCaaS to make your business big, contact us at ROI Networks for a no obligation UC planning session.

Enterprise E911 Adoption: Challenges and Solutions

September Blog # 4 (1)Enhanced 911 (E911) capability is a critical component of an enterprise voice system. However, design capabilities of current telephony systems can pose potential trouble for its adoption.

From 911 to E911

The 911 system was traditionally designed for a public switched telephone network (PSTN) environment and then gradually adapted to evolving telecommunications technologies. The system performs three basic functions:

  • Receive and recognize an emergency call from any phone
  • Transmit the call to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) based on the caller’s originating location
  • Immediately dispatch the needed responders based on the location information

However, there are situations where a 911 call may provide insufficient or confusing information on the identity and location of the caller that may lead emergency responders to the wrong location. Most enterprises today deploy some form of multi-line telephone system (MLTS) or private branch exchange (PBX) with centralized trunks.

A 911 call passes through the Automatic Number Identification (ANI) associated with the trunk used. This process allows the PSAP to know the location of the caller through the Automatic Location Information (ALI) that is often identified with the address of the trunk. The centralized trunking system can give rise to location issues when calls are made from:

  • A large building or one with multiple floors
  • Multi-building premises
  • Metropolitan or wide area networks (MAN/WAN) with several buildings having access only to centralized trunks

This is where the enhanced version comes in. The E911 capability allows the telephone system administrator to customize ANI and ALI data. This involves the assignment of a unique DID number to each user in the organization that will reside in the telephone carrier’s regional ALI database. In order to get access to the carrier’s database, companies need to purchase a Private Switch ALI (PS-ALI) from the carrier. This results in additional costs because PS-ALI service is priced per unique ANI/ALI record applied for.

Challenges to E911 Adoption

Most MLTS and PBX systems do not provide the exact location within a building or campus where the E911 call originated. When a 911 call is made from an individual user’s desk, the caller ID that reaches the PSAP often reads as the company’s MLTS or PBX ID, making it difficult for responders to pinpoint the specific location where emergency assistance is needed. In a highly critical situation, this could mean a lost opportunity to save life or property.

The Solution: PS/ALI could be integrated into the telephony system to provide additional location information, such as the individual user’s extension number, unique DID number, or exact floor or wing within the building.

VoIP systems, due to their portability, have no permanent location. This makes it difficult for the 911 routing system to locate the exact address of where response is needed.

The Solution: For fixed line users, a default physical location can be set up for every VoIP account with a dedicated extension or help desk and emergency operator to monitor 911 calls. For mobile users, some service providers offer location update functionality that enables users to update their expected location at certain times.

Beyond addressing regulation concerns, E911 aims to protect employees and members of all kinds of organizations by making emergency services available literally right at the tip of their fingers. To learn more about E911, visit us at ROI Networks.

The Ongoing Security Crisis in Healthcare

SecurityThe list of healthcare companies that have experienced a breach is growing at an alarming rate, with more continuing to be discovered. Despite the spotlight finally beginning to shine on healthcare security, news stories every week seem to report yet another incident. Here’s a look into why these breaches continue to occur, and what might be done to stop them.

Common Problems

A frequent cause of a breach or data theft is simple error. A patient file is accidentally left out in a public area, a worker steps away from an unsecured computer with patient data left on the screen, or a company laptop in plain sight is stolen from a worker’s vehicle. Applications may not be password protected, or the passwords used by doctors or admin assistants may fail complexity rules and be easily guessed for unbridled access to sensitive data.

Other points of vulnerability are vendor connections to the systems that house healthcare data. In both big box retail and healthcare, breaches have occurred when vendors are linked in but fail to properly protect their own systems or that connectivity.

Other causes are more complex or political. For example, healthcare workers are charged with filling out extensive amounts of paperwork for each patient interaction and test. While the intention is to provide better patient care through communication of all possible details, the result is overburdened nurses who are outnumbered by patients and forms.

Lastly, archaic software systems or components are not up to today’s security standards. Many hospitals do not use modern software due to the expense and effort of implementing changes to systems. This can leave doors open to cybercriminals seeking payment and identity data easily found in patient records.

Solutions

Unfortunately, many workers in the healthcare industry place the entire burden of security on their IT departments. While IT is responsible for ensuring that best practices for application and data protection are implemented, overall security is not a task that can be performed without support from all levels of the company. There must be a partnership between IT and the rest of the organization.

Here are a few easy ways to improve security in healthcare:

  • Security training – Basic principles for physical and technological protection should be covered in annual and new-hire training sessions. Topics should include password strength, ways to easily secure a system or device, and avoiding common hacking or phishing methods.
  • Streamlining processes – So much paperwork is required in patient care. Providing easy, intuitive methods of completing these responsibilities can cut down the time required. Analytics can then be produced from the data collected to further identify how processes for both administration and care may be improved.
  • Control risk – Fully assess vendors who will be connecting to systems, prohibit or limit non-company devices from storing or accessing patient data, and educate the workers who access the systems.

Medical data is incredibly valuable. From the records held by providers, a thief can potentially gain access to credit card information and extensive personal records that facilitate identity theft. Healthcare organizations must do more to protect patients from this growing area of crime. To continue the discussion on healthcare security, contact ROI Networks.

The Black and White of SDN

September Blog # 4 (1)Over just a year, Software Defined Networking (SDN) went from barely known to celebrity status in the technical realm. Even though it has been around for quite some time, the concept of SDN is still somewhat nebulous to many. With so much misinformation and sketchy vendor marketing surrounding this tool, it may be difficult to know its true value. Here’s the truth about this powerful technology.

The Basics

SDN is a centralized manner of controlling all of the switches, devices, and components of a network. The purpose is to make deployment and configuration much more efficient, while also allowing the path of network traffic to be optimized.

For a solution to be qualified as SDN, a few criteria must be met.

  • It is designed to replace an MPLS arrangement, so must be able to do that.
  • Some type of UI or management portal must be included for network administrators to efficiently manage all of the connected components via one mechanism.
  • The system should be able to automatically reroute traffic and connections to a secondary path. Having this failover keeps traffic running optimally and avoids outages.

Any vendor solution that cannot meet these three requirements should be omitted from consideration.

Critical Features

A software defined network is all about optimizing performance, including connectivity. Often, multiple types of Internet connections are used by companies so that they can switch over to a secondary in the event of an outage. Not only is the SDN capable of doing this, but it can also switch between connections when lag or inadequate performance are detected. This facilitates stability and ensures that communications remain high quality.

Alerts are another great part of an SDN arrangement. Should an outage be detected, an alert is sent so that it’s addressed immediately and network stability is preserved. Using the SDN portal, trouble is accurately pinpointed and can be resolved efficiently.

The Benefits

SDN is applicable to a wide variety of industries. Implementing SDN improves a number of factors on a company network:

  • Reduce trouble tickets – Since this technology automates outage-handling and traffic optimization, users no longer experience lag or downtime.
  • Cost effective – This is a less expensive solution than MPLS, for example. In addition, systems are more stable so Internet connections may often be altered to save money.
  • Flexible – An SDN-qualified solution can be network agnostic, permit user customizations, and easily accommodate new hardware devices.
  • On the rise – More providers coming on to the scene means competitive pricing and feature-rich packages.
  • Improved productivity – Network administrators are able to focus on more important tasks since the network now automatically handles performance improvements.

Software defined networking is becoming increasingly popular. For more information about implementing SDN, contact ROI Networks today.