How We Built Avaya's Own Version of Khan Academy

974 videos, 2,159 subscribers, 272,211 video views – all in just 17 months. Those are the key stats around the Avaya Mentor program, our fast-growing set of how-to YouTube videos for Avaya products that my team and I have been producing.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the semi-annual Technology Services World (TSW) Conference, hosted by the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on the Avaya Mentor program, which I had also written about last August. This was a conference focused on services transformation and TSIA asked that I talk about how we at Avaya put together this video knowledge base, including challenges we faced. The breakout session was well attended and so I thought I would share this presentation with you here. Below is a YouTube video of me doing the presentation (not at TSW), which I’ve also summarized, along with more success metrics, for those who prefer to read.

As most of you have heard, the best example of using video to share knowledge is the Khan Academy. This non-profit’s website has a free collection of over 4,000 educational YouTube videos, surrounded by curriculum, quizzes, and incentives like points and badges. The topics range from simple addition, which has 1.7 million views, to the French Revolution with 400,000 views. 

Khan makes a point of having its contributors avoid a teacher-at-a-whiteboard approach, opting instead for a style that feels like you’re sitting at a table with a tutor, working through the topic on a piece of paper. This better aligns with the many of us for whom learning is a visual experience. Being able to see how to do something taps into something different in the brain than just reading about it. The intuitive simplicity of this approach has allowed the Khan Academy to eclipse MIT’s own online education system with a total of 260 million views. 

Another good example is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which helps speed up academic research through online video. When an academic team publishes a research paper, they include instructions so that peers can reproduce their experimental results and thus verify the research. Even to experienced lab researchers, understanding exactly what the authors of the research were trying to convey can be difficult, sometimes delaying the peer review process by months. Jove allows them to more easily include videos to demonstrate the procedure.

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By this point, I hope you are asking yourself why you aren’t already using video for your knowledge base. Wouldn’t your employees and customers benefit from your company’s own Khan Academy? At Avaya, we found ourselves facing this question in the fall of 2011.

The President of Services challenged those of us in his extended leadership team to make our organization not just be successful in the market, but to be an organization that the analysts would write about. Put another way, it was no longer good enough to be lean and efficient; we needed to take the lead. 

Going All In

My proposal was to put together an Avaya version of Khan Academy. We would use video to expand on the company’s existing knowledge-base-focused-support-model. We limited our scope to basic how-to videos designed to help those that install, maintain, and support Avaya products, be they customers, partners, or Avaya employees. These were to be short how-to videos, not anything that would replace the training that Avaya Learning develops. 

Like Khan, we would focus on videos that were more live screen capture than talking heads. Additionally, I proposed that unlike Avaya’s existing knowledge base which is only available to our customers with a maintenance agreement, we would make the vast majority of our videos available for free on YouTube. By doing so, search engines like Google would be aware of this content, making it much easier for an engineer to find the answer to an Avaya-related question.

As we got started, getting buy-in from leadership was obviously important. A big part of that was that my team of engineers would need to reprioritize some of our work in order to make time for generating 800 videos in only 9 months. We had great support from Mike Runda, the leader of Avaya Client Services, who gave us the green light to move forward.

The Gear We Got

We evaluated a number of video production software suites and settled on Camtasia Studio. Camtasia gave us great features like the ability to use templates, splice video and audio in, as well as special editing features to highlight or zoom to certain parts of the screen. These licenses ran ~$150. Adding Camtasia required that we upgrade a number of our engineers’ laptops to meet the minimum specs, an upgrade that everyone was excited to have a good reason for.

We also went with a high-quality $80 USB microphone called the Blue Yeti. All in all, that’s about $230 per engineer. We felt it was important to maintain a common look and feel to these videos, so we built a template for Camtasia with legal and branding-approved intros and outros as well as standardizing on things like transitions. Due to our high quality standards, after reviewing the first handful of videos, Avaya’s branding team gave us carte blanche to publish to YouTube without further oversight.

Getting Started

For topic selection, I was lucky to be starting with an amazing team of subject matter experts. Most had no trouble coming up with topics for videos. For those that did get stuck, the engineer would talk with the support engineers to determine the most common repeat scenarios that they encounter and find a way to use these videos to speed up resolution and/or prevent the tickets from being opened in the first place. 

As word got out about our videos, we also started receiving requests from internal and external users. We set a limit of 15 minutes for all the videos and encouraged them to be under the 5 minute mark. The length would really depend on the topic, and I would challenge the author of anything over 10 minutes to see if they could break it into more than one smaller video. To give you a feel for our topics, here are six that show off the variety covering hardware, software, different product portfolios, even our own customer-facing tools.

Quality Control

As the lead for this effort, the most time-consuming part for me was the review and approval process. It was very important to me that we has a very high quality product and thus I personally reviewed each and every one, sending back to the author a list of changes that I wanted to see. The bar was set high and a single review could easily take me half an hour

To help reduce the number of errors, I would frequently share an updated list of common problems I was encountering. This was important as some had a harder time with the learning curve than others, encountering more than 20 issues per submittal, and multiple submittals of the same video. It is worth noting though that while everyone got much better at it with time; some were submitting perfect videos on day 1 while others never quite got there. Some of my engineers were frustrated with me as they felt the bar was set too high for quality. If I heard any extra noise in the background, or if a transition wasn’t crisp, I’d send it back. 

But our users noticed that quality and complimented us on it. I feel it was important to our success. After three months, I delegated the approval process to one of my top engineers, Bhavya Reddy. She was one of the best at producing error-free videos and thus I knew she could maintain our quality. Here’s her video on setting up Avaya Aura Session Manager, which has garnered more than 6,200 views.

After six more months, Bhavya transitioned this role to the company’s formal knowledge management team where it could be better integrated into the other KM processes. This is important as we made sure we always dual-published all YouTube videos to the standard knowledge base by embedding the YouTube video in an article. This helped us ensure that our users could trust that a search of http://support.avaya.com would return everything. The videos that were deemed proprietary were uploaded to an internal server instead of YouTube and published as internal-only articles in the existing knowledgebase.

Getting the Word Out

Building a knowledge base, or any tools, is pointless if you can’t get user adoption. I felt it important to delay the initial announcement until we had the first 100 videos published. I was concerned if someone came to the site and only saw 5 videos, they might never return. 

So once we reached 100 videos, I had the President of Services announce the program internally, followed by similar announcements in external communications to our partners and customers. To reinforce this in a more detailed way, I blogged about it on our corporate site wrote as well as created a Twitter account for Avaya Mentor, allowing people to receive tweets when new videos are uploaded. 

At last year’s Avaya’s User’s Conference in Boston, myself and others passed out materials to all the customers and partners we met with, be it at the conference center itself, or in a bar later in the evening. The IAUG group was actually so impressed with the program that they helped with advertising on all the plasma screens throughout the conference center. We’ve also partnered with the product documentation teams to include references to our program directly in the product documentation.

Our Results

With 16 months now under our belt, I thought I would share with you some of the measurable success we have had with the program. As I mentioned earlier, we have published nearly 1,000 videos on YouTube which have been watched more than 270,000 times.

While the U.S. provides our largest set of viewers, I’m happy to say that we are in 196 distinct geographies. What our support folks are most excited about is that we’re at 1,100 hours of video viewing per month which equates to about 10 full-time equivalents of people, which we figure equates to at least 3 FTE of labor avoidance. 

But perhaps the most interesting metric is that we are seeing significantly more views per article than Avaya’s text-based articles. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given that we used some of the company’s most knowledgeable resources and posted our content publicly. However, I still think it is clear that video-enabled content is that much more compelling than text alone. 

Three Unexpected Benefits

There are many surprising results from the Avaya Mentor project. The most exciting one for me as a manager was the impact to my employees. At first, I had some resistance from some of my engineers. They were not yet convinced of the value of these videos and combined with the steep learning curve and high quality expectations, some folks just weren’t interested. However, after the good press started, with people directly contacting these authors thanking them for their videos, they came around to its value.

I also saw increase in their self-confidence, which is typical after demonstrating how-to do something to others.  Having those people publicly thank you helps a ton, too. Our most popular video is actually about setting up an interface on an HP server – it has gotten more than 19,000 views! This video was created because many of our applications are sold with this server and this configuration is important. What we didn’t expect is that non-Avaya people would find it valuable to their usage of the same HP servers. I’ve found our video embedded in a variety of websites out there, having nothing to do with Avaya. 

The last surprise was discovering that a business partner pirated a few of our videos and re-uploaded them to YouTube and other sites, touting them as their own. This is something Avaya typically doesn’t care about as our videos tend to be marketing-based. The upside of this is that the message is getting out to more and more people. What makes me nervous is that if we find a problem with a video and need to take it down and re-release it, this partner likely won’t see that and bad information will continue to float around.

We’ve received great feedback from our users of the program. We get these comments on YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Sometimes we get suggestions for new videos to create, product support questions, or just encouraging statements like the ones shown here. As mentioned previously, feedback like this is very encouraging to our engineers.

I want to thank my team who helped make this program a success. We dedicated at least a third of our time for nine months building this program up and it was no small feat. I’m proud to say that Avaya has recognized all of them with well-deserved awards.

Contact or follow me on Twitter @CarlKnerr.

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Avaya Predictions for 2017 Services Trends: Top Focus is on Smart Customer-Centric Engagement

Recently, we asked six Avaya services experts to help us reflect on the past year and to peer ahead into 2017. Our panel:

  • Richard English, Managing Director, Avaya Professional Services
  • Camille Lewis, Product Management Director, Avaya Client Services
  • Barbara Sidari, Customer Engagement and Executive Cadence, Avaya Client Services
  • Thomas Brennan, Vice President of global support services, private cloud and managed services delivery
  • Michael Sale, Director Online Engagement, Avaya Client Services
  • Dan Pratt, Senior Director, Business Transformation and Strategy, Avaya Client Services

According to our six experts, our predictions for these 2016 trends proved to be spot on—and they will continue to be a force in 2017:

  • Use of hybrid/private cloud

    will continue to dominate for large enterprises until public cloud providers can demonstrate that compliance to privacy/security regulations such as HIPAA can be achieved. However, Public Cloud is quickly becoming a flexible and effective delivery model for the midmarket.

  • A flexible delivery model

    to achieve growth in modular steps that helps IT maximize ROI and support rapid business scaling has been, and will continue to be, extremely successful. Taking some of the burden off the enterprise enables IT managers to focus on more strategic corporate initiatives.

  • The need for person-to-person human touch

    will continue to rise. It will become critical in 2017 as unassisted support and self-healing systems grow smarter in identifying trends and problems before they happen and engage in machine-to-machine maintenance for resolution. The use of video will be more widely used, providing personalization and higher customer satisfaction.

The panel thinks that 2017 will mean an increasing focus on smart customer centric engagement when it comes to service. In 2017, it’s all about using analytics and even smarter technology to increase customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores, loyalty and revenue—and to achieve a better return on investment.

The Avaya panel sees these three trends emerging in 2017:

  • Transforming legacy systems and increased customer use of omnichannel will streamline the customer journey to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and revenue.

    For example, many retailers will transform their Contact Centers into profit centers. The shopping experience for their customers starts on the mobile device or web-based applications—retailers want it to end with an order placed. The customer will experience a seamless transition from mobile to voice (or to web chat or video) without having to repeat who they are and what they want to purchase. The agent will already know the value of the customer to their company and will provide a personalized shopping experience.

  • Analytics, Internet of Things (IoT), and big data will enhance the experience of the Customer Journey.

    The predictive and preemptive active workflow will match people to people, machine to machine, as preferred by the customer for maximum satisfaction and profit. For instance, service vendors will use data captured from customer service requests, alarms, outage history, and project volume to identify risks and take appropriate actions to proactively mitigate issues. Utility companies can leverage web-based applications to proactively communicate to customers the status of affected service areas via maps on smart phones, reducing the burden of customers calling the service center to report an outage. Similarly alarm companies will analyze alarms and preemptively fix them before the consumer arrives home.

  • Demand for holistic application service management will grow as siloed and disparate cloud applications shift focus from managing assets in the field to delivering on business processes.

    Enterprises will need a dashboard that provides a single pane view by business process vs CPU performance. The workforce needs to be trained to leverage all the data in a way that includes human touch.

The year 2017 promises to be very exciting as service transforms and demonstrates its value by preemptively fixing issues before they become problems. It is imperative that knowing the customer and providing what they want, as well as the human touch, will become ever more critical in a big data world. After all, it’s all about the customer experience!

What do you see emerging in 2017? Drop me a note at sithomso@avaya.com

Avaya’s 2017 Tech Trends to Watch: the Distinguished Dozen

With the Age of Intelligence fully underway, 2017 is destined be a landmark year for mobility, data and very cheap hardware. Here are Avaya’s 12 trends to watch in 2017 and the impacts they could have on life as we know it.

  1. Customers and business executives demand one-click collaboration on all devices.

    For decades, contact center agents have quietly dealt with cobbled together desktops that force them to click through as many as 18 different applications during one customer service call. The notion of one-and-done (one phone call, no transfers, problem solved) in the contact center isn’t always true from an agent experience perspective. Mobile employees, on the other hand, don’t have the same level of patience or tolerance, especially going into 2017.

  2. The rise of Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) in recent years is enabling businesses to utilize the cloud to embed foundational team engagement functions such as IM, presence, and click-to-call into cloud applications. With these functions just a click away, mobile employees can be more productive than ever. No more time spent searching for a meeting invite, opening the invite, clicking on a link, entering a passcode—all of which are doable on a mobile phone but create a cumbersome experience. The functions can be embedded into and then launched from within a cloud-based CRM application such as salesforce.com, making the experience from any device much more efficient and simply better.

    The CPaaS market in 2015 was valued at $400 million and is expected to reach $8.1 billion in 2019. The one-and-done, click-to-collaborate generation of mobile employees is here to stay.

  3. A CIO and a CMO walk into a bar….

    CIO vs. CMO is no longer a battle, it’s on its way to becoming the most strategic partnership in the c-suite. With the ease and free availability of cloud applications throughout the recession, CMOs and their scrappy marketing teams tasked with building sales funnels to drive business with little to no budget learned quickly the power of the cloud. Cloud-available marketing tools and applications that were free to download and trial for a limited time enabled the marketing department to easily bypass the CIO as they built out their cloud-based toolkit and efficient processes. When the time came to begin having budget discussions again, the CMO had results-driven use cases that provided a solid argument for the marketing department to be awarded a good chunk of the IT budget.

  4. That was 2010. This is 2017.

    Now, with customers and employees using a variety of mobile channels to communicate with enterprises and engage teams of people to get work done, the value of communications is more noticeable than ever, as is the CMO’s influence on IT purchases. But with the growing enterprise security concerns coupled with the need for real-time, pervasive analytics that are everywhere across the enterprise, it’s time for a truce.

    The CMO can no longer rebel alone but the CIO can also no longer be the sole purveyor of all things IT. By partnering and gaining a greater understanding and appreciation for each other’s roles and objectives, these two technology-driven leaders have the opportunity to redefine how business gets done when real time, contextual communications and quality of user experience are at the forefront of all IT purchase decisions.

  5. Internet of Everything causes segmentation to combat ransomware.

    Ransomware can prevent the user from using their computer and accessing data. The computer and its data are held “hostage,” under complete control of a hacker, until a ransom is paid to the hacker. What happens when the computer is a glucose monitor? Or wireless ultra sound monitor? Or a pacemaker? The Medical Internet of Things has become just another vast playground for hackers to manipulate with the intent to profit. Unlike a company’s enterprise infrastructure or a smart phone, when hackers break into medical devices, lives are literally at stake, which drives up the ransom that can range from hundreds of dollars to thousands to regain access to a computer, network and/or files.

  6. Any Internet of Things poses a huge security risk, more so than the average computer on a network. Most objects in the new connected world are developed with minimal security features making them very vulnerable endpoints. It’s incumbent upon the network to provide the utmost level of security needed for each object: Enter segmentation.

    Network segmentation separates the network into secure zones that allow IoT devices to be separated from standard IT devices and applications. If an IoT device is hacked, it’s only the devices in that zone that are threatened. The zone and its contained devices are easily identifiable for immediate reaction to the security breach.

  7. Financial industry to drive innovation as financial customer experience goes mobile.

    Mobile is not just a form factor, it is a different experience. Mobile financial services are becoming more context-aware and going beyond replacing the basics you can do on a web site. While the mobile, financial services customer experience has been cumbersome and time-consuming with passwords, codes and security questions, advances in context-aware computing will enable the mobile customer experience to be on par with other mobile experiences.

  8. Biometric technologies such as voice authentication, fingerprint and facial recognition are ready for prime time and banking institutions are ready. Barclays was one of the early adopters of voice authentication. Executives at Barclays report that customer satisfaction has improved significantly with the simple acknowledgement that many of their customers wanting mobile experiences and providing a secure option.

    With context-aware computing for banking, financial and insurance on target to grow from $3.25 billion in 2013 to $13.8 billion in 2018, 2017 is shaping up to be a very pivotal year for mobile customer experience in financial services.

  9. Blockchain goes mainstream.

    Blockchain is not just for cryptocurrency anymore. In fact, most of blockchain deployments will be in the security and fraud areas, and expect fintech to massively use it. It will also change how payments are made.

  10. Blockchain is the underpinning technology of digital currency bitcoin. Today, more than 40 top financial institutions and companies across a number of industries are testing this distributed ledger technology as a trusted way to track the ownership of assets without the need for a central authority. This could speed up transactions and cut costs while lowering the chance of fraud.

    Considering the rise in security hacks and fraud cases worldwide, this is an important step for fintech (A term that is applied to a segment of start-ups that is developing truly disruptive technology such as mobile payments, money transfers, loans, asset management). Typically any technology experimented with by fintech is destined to trigger a cultural shift, driving permanent change to our daily lives.

  11. The team collaboration battle heats up.

    Reaping the benefits of team engagement and collaboration has been a struggle with siloed applications for content creation and sharing, project management, document management, and real time interactions. But when the results of using these tools show an increase in productivity is up to almost 13% and 97% of businesses say they use these tools to better serve their customers more efficiently, the hope for collaboration nirvana is still very much alive.

  12. In 2017, we will see more opportunities for businesses to redefine their team engagement workflows and improve their productivity with a single platform containing a family of intelligently integrated collaboration applications. “Silos be gone” will be the battle cry of those seeking true team engagement and collaboration tools, and their cries will finally be answered.

  13. Big data analytics 3.0 creates demand for skilled work force, practical uses.

    Enterprise IT adoption of big data analytics grows and creates demand for services. While machine learning can yield enormous benefits, data scientists will still be needed to understand what to model and improve. Machines are good at manipulating huge data sets, which people handle with difficulty. People are good at understanding causality, which an area machines struggle with.

  14. Who are these masters of data? Harvard Business Review reported that data scientist is the sexiest job of the 21st That article appeared in 2012. Today, the need for data scientists is greater than ever because the amount of data being generated is greater than ever and growing. Add to that, the fact that machines are smarter but still need supervision and guidance, it’s clear that the demand for data scientists is not going away. Companies need these scientists who are not only curious about “what if,” but also have the skills and knowledge to analyze thousands of petabytes of data that reside in all forms of rows and numbers, and can mashup data to analyze it in a way never imagined.

    In 2017, with the tremendous increase in data needing analyzed, more companies will begin training data-focused employees to become the skilled data scientists that are greatly needed.

  15. ID please.

    Business and consumer demand for apps on devices continues to drive the need for security and strategies for managing information. Beyond securing big data is the additional need of securing identity data.

  16. Identity data is different than the data consumers are accessing when engaging with apps. With the number of apps growing faster than the number of people, securing identity data on each and every app is an added consideration for companies developing apps as well as companies selectively utilizing apps for customer engagement.

    As companies continue their efforts to digitally transform in 2017, this process will shine an even brighter spotlight on the need for modernizing security, in particular identity access management systems. Companies must abandon their legacy identity security tools and begin deploying new systems that are highly scalable and equipped with high-end encryption enable a high quality user experience as well as the best security.

  17. Customer service scores take on new importance.

    Poor quality costs businesses billions each year. IT managers must focus on culture, analytics, and best practices to reduce risk and losses. Peer reviews, social media posts will be analyzed integrated in real time in customer experience strategies, as opposed to being reviewed periodically. Like high frequency trading changed the brokerage industry, high frequency customer segmentation will create new revenue opportunities for the innovators.

  18. The ability to segment customers enables companies to identify specific areas of interest, likes, and dislikes—and plan communications strategies that are then customized, more personalized and therefore, more likely to be accepted, not rejected. The ongoing challenge is that consumer choice and always-on access to multiple choices has changed how consumers think and react to information and buying opportunities. Consumers, led by the millennial generation, are more open to trying new things, seeking alternative choices.

    Add to this, the growing need for speed and sense of urgency, and obtaining and then maintaining high levels of customer satisfaction no longer has little to nothing to do with brand loyalty. Rather, it has to do with how quickly a company can become aware of when a customer tries something new and different, and then segment that customer accordingly.

    In 2017, the opportunity for real-time predictive analytics in the main customer service touch point, the contact center, is now. As customer segmentation must be done faster and in real time, so must the analysis of all the real-time customer data. With digital transformation knocking down siloes across the enterprise, the contact center’s ability to gain access to real time customer data and gain predictive incite to create better, relevant customer experiences is more real than ever.

  19. Looking for a driverless ride?

    Future generations will not have to take driver’s education. With its low-latency, high performance, ultra-reliable capabilities of the 5G mobile network is the ability for telecommunications companies to power machine-type innovations. This is the network that has the greatest capacity for enabling self-driving cars and the Internet of Things. The 5G is expected to be widely available by 2020.

  20. More than two dozen corporations are already working on self-driving cars from Google, to Apple, to Bosch, to Mercedes, to Tesla. General Motors has made two significant acquisitions in this area—Sidecar’s assets and Cruise Automation—and invested $500M in Lyft. The American auto manufacturer plans to have self-driving taxis ready for testing with Lyft in 2017.

    With safety being the number one priority for the companies doing the research and development as well as the regulators, the current expectation is that autonomous cars will be generally available by 2025.

    It’s quite possible that kids born as recent as 2010 will not have to take driver’s education. No more Driving Miss Daisy, she’ll be able to have her own ride all to herself.

  21. Drone dreaming goes sky high.

    Drones are one of the most popular new forms of information gathering available. Surveillance, public safety, agriculture and inspection are the use cases transforming drones from a high-flying hobby to a strategic business improvement and communications application.

  22. Similar to autonomous cars, drone performance is expected to excel with wider availability of the fifth generation mobile network. Whether equipped with video cameras to transport real-time, live video and images from a disaster back to public safety officials, or a fleet of drones conducting a crop survey, or a building or oil rig inspection, drones provide the missing, middle-ground view between satellite imagery and ground-level.

    For enterprises, the opportunities to incorporate drone technology into business communications and re-imagine traditional industries is very real. Price Waterhouse Coopers reported that the commercialization of drones in vertical industries ranging from construction to insurance could lead to a $125B disruption. The expectation is that drones can improve business with new found operational efficiencies as well a capital expenditure improvements not previously ever envisioned, let alone realized.

  23. A robot and a human walk into a bar…?

    When the use of robots, also known as artificial intelligence, in the workplace to improve productivity and save companies money initially made headlines decades ago, primarily for assembly line work, redundant tasks. The reality was that the technology wasn’t mature enough to act without human intervention. The attitude of the average person was: Leave working with robots to the scientists and Hollywood, why would I ever interact with a robot?

  24. Enter the Age of Intelligence. Perhaps a more appropriate description here is the Age of Technological Maturity and Acceptance. Robots and average people have matured enough to co-exist. Technology has reached the point where it is proven that robots can be programmed to perform tasks with 100% or better accuracy. The simplicity of the user experience, whether programming or interacting with a robot, has made the use of robots something the average person can not only relate to, but in 2017, will find they can’t live without.

    In various industries such as health sciences, military and public safety, robotics and automation are improving human lives. In the most digitally advanced hospitals, robots are helping reduce the risks of infections of workers by disinfecting patient and operating rooms. They are programmed to work in labs to draw blood, dispense medications, deliver meals, all while moving among people using elevators and automatic doors.

    Looking at military and public safety, human first responders and human-operated responders are working together. Using a robot to enter a highly dangerous area such as a burning building to look for survivors, investigate a bomb threat, enter a hazardous waste spill or investigate a hostage situation are scenarios where more human lives are saved.

    Will a robot and a human ever walk into a bar in 2017? Princess Leia would certainly want us to believe it’s possible.

Looking Ahead

As the above trends come to fruition in 2017 in various ways, so will the need for IT teams to be ready for change.

Change is inevitable in every company in order to survive as evidenced by the number of digital transformation projects going on in companies of all sizes worldwide. Add to this the fact that traditional industries will continue to be disrupted, the need for change is greater than ever.

In 2017, IT organizations will be challenged more than ever to keep up with ongoing change while balancing the need for greater security with the ability to deliver secure change with a sense of urgency.

APTs Part 1: Protection Against Advanced Persistent Threats to Your Data

Hardly a day goes by without hearing about a data breach somewhere in the world. So it’s timely that we launch this new blog series about Security. To kick the series off, we’ll take a look at some of the alarming trends in the development of Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). We’ll explore what they are and how they operate. Along the way, we’ll provide simple advice to help you limit their impact on your enterprise.

In the old days, we mainly dealt with fly-by automated attacks. We all recall worms and Trojans and the other little beasts in the menagerie of malware. They were fairly simple at first but as time moved forward, the degree of sophistication and stealthy behavior of this code has drastically increased. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, code naturally evolves as multiple individuals contribute to its evolution, growing in feature set or reliability. Even malicious code benefits from collaborative development. Second, the design goal has changed from doing immediate damage to remaining hidden. This is the goal of the APT.

  • APTs are advanced.

    Typically, they come from a sizable group of individuals who are well-funded and equipped. Many people will automatically think APTs come from China and Russia, but the reality is they can be and are anywhere. The U.K. is one of the leading nations and there are plenty in the U.S. as well. They are also given a set of targets or perhaps even a single target.

  • APTs are persistent.

    This is a group that owes its whole existence to penetrating the assigned target. Many times, there are handsome bonuses for success. They will persist for months and even years, if necessary, waiting for the right moment.

  • And while they do not seek to do immediate damage, they most definitely are a threat.

    Their goal is to penetrate and access sensitive information, and establish command and control points within the network with devastating results. The recent data breach at Yahoo is the latest, with roughly 400 million records stolen. Let’s also not forget that the NSA itself was breached with the result being the exfiltration of sensitive cyberattack tools.

While many will still say “not in my network,” research indicates the attacker in most breaches is resident in the network for an average of 256 days without being discovered. Further, about 81% of those breached did not identify it themselves. They were notified by third parties such as banks, credit card vendors, or law enforcement—and though we can’t tell exactly, it’s suspected that up to 94% don’t know they’ve been hacked until long afterward.

Now don’t get me wrong, we still have plenty of malware out there and it’s growing in volume every day. As an example, there are 25 million new instances of malware that cannot be blocked by traditional antivirus solutions. The added venom to the mix, however, is that now there are well-equipped teams using malware in a tightly orchestrated fashion. It’s reported that 70% of known breaches involved the use of malware, but the breaches are done in a well-thought-out orchestrated manner. The rules have changed so we had better up our game. In my next blog, we’ll take a closer look at a typical method of APT operations and the concepts of kill chains and attack trees, as well as how they go about getting into your enterprise.

You’re likely wondering what you can do to protect yourself. Well, the NSA recommends implementing highly granular microsegments. This prevents lateral movement, which is critical to the attackers’ ability to escalate privilege into the environment. They also recommend creating stealth or black networks that yield little or no information to scans and probes. Finally, these secure microsegments should ideally be ships in the night with no or at least very constricted communications capability to other segments.

Avaya has embraced this philosophy in our recent security launch. Hyper-segmentation provides for high granular segmentation, stealth provides for the black network environment, and elasticity provides for strong perimeter protection, allowing access to users and devices only once they have been vetted, established as trusted, and authenticated. We’ll go much deeper into this in the third installment of this series on APTs. Until then, don’t be afraid. Be prepared.