The Virtual Private Network (VPN) is Dying. Here's Why.

A lot has changed since I left college and entered the workforce.  My first “real” job began July 5, 1983 at the company formerly known as Northern Telecom.  My first desk telephone was an analog 2500 set.  I did most of my work on a green CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) screen logged into a PDP-11 via a 9600 baud modem.  There were no cell phones, e-readers, Google, or Microsoft Word.  Heck, in 1983 there was barely a Microsoft.

I don’t want to sound too much like an old geezer reminiscing on a park bench, but I can’t help but marvel at how different things are today.  However, as much as the technology has changed, so has the way I do my job.  My job used to be a place I went to.  If my car broke down, I didn’t work.   If the roads were too icy to drive on, I didn’t work.  If I had to stay home for a repair person, I didn’t work.  I suppose I could have sat down with a pad of paper and wrote PLM code (my first professional programming language) by hand, but that wasn’t very practical.

These days, work is something I do and not a place I go.  I work at home.  I work from airports and hotel rooms.  I’ve worked at my kid’s baseball games and swim meets.  Remember when we used to take sick days?  Now, I just prop myself up in bed and call it my office.  No matter where I am, I have immediate access to email, instant messages, video, and enterprise telephony.  The presence jellybean on my Microsoft Lync client might tell you that I am available, but it doesn’t let on that I am working in a coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis.

Of course, the only thing constant about change is change itself.  It’s true that I have moved from being an office worker to an everywhere worker, but aspects of that are quite different from what they were just a short time ago.

The biggest change for me has to do with three words – Virtual Private Network.  A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is technology that creates a tunnel between a remote device and a corporation’s network.  When I start the VPN on my PC, it’s as if I am sitting in the office connected to the Ethernet jack underneath my desk.   I see no difference in the way my applications run or act upon corporate data.

I clearly remember the days when I would go home, start my PC, fire up my VPN, and start working on the day’s unfinished tasks.  Now, I go home, tuck my PC bag under my desk, pull my iPhone out of my pocket, and get back to emails, IMs, and telephone calls without the use of a VPN.  Yes, there are still times when I need a PC for its screen and keyboard, but even then I rarely start up my VPN.

So, what changed?  How do I gain access to the tools I need without having to connect to the corporate network?

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The King is Dead

A VPN connection secures a device – all of the device.  It creates an encrypted data tunnel between my PC and the VPN concentrator at my company’s headquarters.  In essence, a VPN allows my PC to act as if it is hanging off a very long Ethernet cable.  The upside is that to my PC’s applications, office and home look alike.  The downside is that not only does Microsoft Office have full access to my corporate LAN, so does everything else on my PC.  Any virus or ill-behaved application that sneaks onto my PC has that same unfettered access.

Since this is my work-issued PC, the security threat is the same at home as it is in the office.  However, the same cannot be said about my iPhone.  It’s not a corporate device and my company has no control over what I put on it.  Or how about my personal PC?  I can create a VPN connection on it back to my office and subject my company to anything my kids might have downloaded.

So, what’s a teleworker to do?

The answer is really quite simple.  Instead of securing the device, let’s secure the application and the connection it has back to the corporate network.  In terms of SIP that comes down to three more words – Session Border Controller.   An SBC creates a secure network edge that only accepts and passes SIP signaling and RTP media.  I configure One-X Mobile on my iPhone to point to my company’s Avaya SBC for Enterprise and voila – remote enterprise telephony without having to start a VPN on the iPhone.  It doesn’t matter what else I might have on my mobile device.  The SBC makes sure that only the SIP traffic gets in and out.

This is very similar to how we secure web applications.  The next time you use Outlook Web Access (OWA), make note of the fact that your web browser is using secure HTTP (HTTPS).  Similar to the SIP messages to and from my iPhone, the browser’s stream of data has been secured and not the device the browser is running on.

The benefits of securing the application instead of the device are significant.  My IT department can provide me access to the company’s SIP communications system without having to worry about anything malicious sneaking into the corporate network.  I can load up my iPhone with as many games as I want and not a one of them will get past the SBC.

This holds true for other devices, as well.  An SBC can secure the SIP traffic from an Android phone, iPad, Surface RT, PC, Mac, or any other device that supports SIP communications.  This allows an enterprise to fully embrace Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) while safely managing security risks.

Will there still be uses for VPNs?  Yes, but like modems, VPNs are falling out of favor.  Enterprises are far more security savvy than they were a few short years ago.  Securing applications makes more sense than trying to secure an entire device.  This is especially true since many IT departments have lost control over what their users put on those devices.  They may not be able to control the device or the user, but with tools such as SBCs, they can control the data they allow in and out of their networks.

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This article originally appeared on Andrew Prokop’s unified communications blog, SIP Adventures, and is reprinted with permission.

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Winning on the Customer Service Battleground

Think back to the last time you had a truly magical customer service experience. For me, it was a recent trip to an airport car rental desk. Two dozen people stood in line as three agents behind the desk worked as quickly as they could to get people into cars. I was convinced I’d be standing in that line for at least the next 30 minutes, when someone encouraged me to try a freestanding video kiosk off to the side.

Within 30 seconds, I was face-to-face with an agent working in a video-enabled contact center. She went over my options, displaying available car models on the screen. She scanned my driver’s license and had me sign the rental agreement electronically. In less than 5 minutes, I was heading to my rental car.

Customer expectations have never been higher, and for good reason—we carry powerful computers in our pockets that allow us to share photos and video, individually- or group-text our friends and colleagues, check email, book reservations, buy tickets, compare prices, read crowdsourced reviews and connect instantly in ways unimaginable 10 years ago.

The companies winning today lead with great customer service., Costco, Nordstrom, Netflix and Apple are well-known for their obsession with personalized, seamless customer service, while certain retailers and cable companies, which will remain unnamed, are known for impersonal, slow, frustrating or high-pressure customer experiences.

It’s no surprise that 89 percent of companies plan to compete primarily on customer service by 2016. Avaya is uniquely positioned to help businesses tackle this challenge—the company has led the Gartner Magic Quadrant for contact center infrastructure for the last 15 years in a row, and its customer engagement software solutions are currently in use by more than 5 million customer service agents worldwide. Avaya solutions are found inside 95 percent of the Fortune 500, inside the world’s 10 largest airlines and 9 out of 10 of the world’s largest banks.

At Enterprise Connect this week, Avaya will unveil its latest set of solutions to help companies compete more effectively on the customer service battleground.

Notably, the Avaya’s two flagship enterprise communications products—Avaya Aura 7 and Avaya Contact Center Elite 7—are now available in a completely virtual, software-only option. Now, deploying the industry’s best communications infrastructure is easier than ever, particularly if your company is migrating to the public, private or hybrid cloud.

Avaya Breeze (formerly known as the Avaya Engagement Development Platform) is an open technology platform that simplifies development of mobile-first, multi-platform communication applications. For some companies, that means it’ll be easier than ever to pull customer context out of existing information silos for greater personalization. For others, that will mean embedding communication capabilities into existing mobile apps, websites or internal workflows. Unlike competing platforms, Avaya Breeze apps can be built in hours or days, rather than weeks or months.

The company today is launching the Avaya Snapp Store, the first ecommerce marketplace for business communications applications.

Customers, partners and developers can find, purchase and download Snap-Ins—easily consumed, pre-built connectors, purpose-built application or  code—made on Avaya Breeze. Third party developers can quickly create, upload and sell their own Snap-Ins from the store. A number of Snap-ins, from Avaya and third-party developers, will be free while others will be offered on a monthly subscription or perpetual use basis.

“Now, Avaya delivers on the promise of open, mobile engagement with a platform that allows companies to easily design and embed applications into workflows via a powerful, simplified, software-defined architecture and infrastructure for communications,” said Gary E. Barnett, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Engagement Solutions at Avaya. “This game-changing technology is built for digital business where companies need the flexibility, speed and the freedom to easily create unique value for their customers. Avaya Breeze liberates them from the confines of monolithic, vendor-locked platforms.”

Thousands of developers, partners and customers have already attended early Avaya Breeze bootcamps, to learn how to design, build and test Avaya Snap-ins. These bootcamps have regularly been oversubscribed. Recent examples of Snap-ins include:

  • A cloud-based knowledge management platform is using Avaya Breeze to push relevant content to a customer’s smartphone to help solve an issue or speed a transaction.
  • An SMS messaging platform is using Avaya Breeze to more easily add messaging to Avaya-powered contact centers.
  • A collaboration-focused startup is using Avaya Breeze to help companies keep track of the increasingly multi-platform customer journey. Contact center agents use the startup’s platform to easily pick up the conversation exactly where they left off.
  • A voice security startup is using Avaya Breeze to help authenticate customers on voice calls in a fluid and unobtrusive way.

Finally, Avaya PodFx (formerly known as Avaya Collaboration Pod) places the company’s most powerful products—business communications, video conferencing and customer service—into a single rack that can be rolled into a cloud services provider, or into a company’s individual, on-premises data center. Avaya PodFx was designed with remote management and troubleshooting capabilities at its core.

In the past, companies used to think of digital transformation as a choice—a set of internal initiatives to modernize their communications infrastructure or invest in mobile, for example. Digital transformation is no longer a choice—it’s a reality being driven by the market. Customers want better experiences with their favorite brands.

Some 90 percent of customers say they regularly switch devices during a transaction journey—often starting with online self-service before trying online chat, voice, text, email, mobile app, video or social media. Ideally, every customer wants a nearly instant, personalized solution.

Seven out of 10 customers expect to be able to engage with companies over mobile—either inside the company’s app, through a mobile-optimized website or text messaging. More than half of customers say a bad mobile experience means they’d be less likely to engage with a company again.

“The competitive battleground has shifted, requiring a new type of solution and means to respond to digital customer behavior,” Barnett said. Customer expectations today will not wait for old contact center technology to get its act together. Speed is the new currency for business transformation – businesses need to understand, predict and respond to customer needs … Avaya is the only company that can rapidly elevate the customer end game without the disruption typical of massive technical change.”

Exploring the New Avaya Stadium Mobile App for the San Jose Earthquakes

With only days left, the momentum surrounding the 2016 MLS season kickoff is at an all-time high. This year, with Avaya’s help, fans of the San Jose Earthquakes have even more to look forward to as they celebrate their team’s home opener at Avaya Stadium—the league’s first-ever cloud-enabled stadium.

As a proud partner of the Earthquakes, Avaya’s mission is to continually refine its market-leading technologies in order to push the boundaries of fan engagement. Most notably among this season’s technological advancements is an upgraded version of the Avaya Stadium mobile app. Fans who download the app, which is currently available for iOS and Android, can engage deeper with their team using a number of innovative features and capabilities.

With just one week until kickoff, now is the perfect time for Quakes fans and MLS enthusiasts alike to check out the app. Here’s a sneak peek at what users can expect:

  • Game Day Activity Stream: The application’s homepage is a one-stop-shop for all news about the Quakes, featuring a number of live activity streams for fans to engage in. For example, a social media stream combines real-time activity and commentary across today’s most popular social feeds including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Fans can synch their social accounts to the app in order to post about the team or join in on conversations. They can also use the hashtag #AvayaStadium for a chance to appear on Avaya’s Fan Engagement Wall (more on this below), and win prizes like free drinks and clothing. Additionally, there are streams that curate managed content and news about the game, team and more. All need-to-know information is in one easily-accessible place for maximum convenience.
  • Digital Player Cards: Digital player cards bring fans’ favorite players to life. Users can quickly and easily view player information, performance statistics and more via the app.
  • Stadium Chat: This feature enables fans to engage in live chat with agents to receive help of any kind. For example, users can ask questions related to parking, concessions and merchandising, as well as view maps to easily navigate the stadium. Users can even buy tickets via the app, which is linked to Ticketmaster.
  • Interactive Polling: This function enables the Quakes to engage with fans via interactive polls, which are sent as push notifications to app users. As with any other application, users are first asked to consent to notifications before receiving them.

The all-new Avaya Stadium mobile app deeply engages with fans while supporting a truly effortless user experience. From the comfort of couches to the thrill of front-row seats, fans are granted 24×7 access to the Quakes with just the touch of a finger.

This new mobile app, however, is just part of Avaya’s technology showcase designed to enhance fan engagement. This year we’re also honing in on:

  • Networking and Wi-Fi: High bandwidth Wi-Fi service, powered by Avaya’s WLAN9100 solution, supports the expansive 18,000-seat stadium to ensure seamless connectivity for all users. Fans can use the Avaya Stadium mobile app, surf the Web, engage in social media and more with little to no latency or jitter. iBeaconing—location-based technology—also indicates when users are successfully connected to the Avaya network within the stadium.
  • Fan Engagement Wall: Six TVs are combined to make a giant, connected screen that shares real-time social activity and commentary, taking fans deeper into the game. Any post with the hashtag #AvayaStadium will automatically be sent to Avaya’s CMS for approval, where our team filters for content and then chooses to promote it, or reject it.
  • Fanalytics: With “Fanalytics,” Avaya has strategically leveraged the data it receives through several fan touchpoints and channels to continually improve fan engagement. This opens the door to new and exciting ways to transform the fan experience and make the MLS’ best stadium even better.

Supported by Avaya’s advanced technology and end-to-end support, the first cloud-enabled stadium in the MLS allows the Quakes to reimagine fan engagement, establishing themselves as a true differentiator in the league.

The launch of our new mobile app is big news for Quakes fans, but even bigger news for the sports industry as a whole. Technology makes a difference and, offered from the right vendor, can transform the way fans engage with the teams they love. Avaya is proud to support the San Jose Earthquakes as one of over 45 sports teams with advanced, cloud-enabled stadiums worldwide.

As fans countdown to kickoff, they can kick start an immersive, 360-degree experience using the all-new Avaya Stadium mobile app. In Avaya’s world, the 2016 MLS season starts right now.

Download the Avaya Stadium mobile app for Android
Download the Avaya Stadium mobile app for iOS

Avaya Helps Voss Auto Network Sales and Service Accelerate Into the Fast Lane

In a car dealership, responsiveness means the difference between a service appointment, a large-ticket sale, or a customer taking their business elsewhere. Voss Auto Network has accelerated into the fast lane for its sales and services to power its sales and service growth based on Avaya.

With an old network and aging phone system with limited features Voss faced these challenges:

  • Despite a reputation for meeting and exceeding customer needs, Voss Auto Network was using an aging communications system with limited functionality that resulted in missed customer calls
  • A young salesforce wanted smartphones to be their primary communications device
  • Without voicemail, customers would have no way of letting the service department know they needed an appointment after-hours
  • Getting calls when “walking the lot,” quickly retrieving voicemails, and having the ability to easily track missed calls have all proved key to taking customer service, sales, and repeat business to the next level

In a phased approach, Voss chose to upgrade to an Avaya network and IP Office business communications system and has seen immediate results. The value Avaya created includes:

  • A 10- to 20 percent increase in service appointments
  • More value for the money spent on communications
  • Integration of voicemails with email

“Right away, no call went unanswered,” said Voss Auto Network CIO Kevin Murvay. “Appointments were easy for customers to schedule at the press of a button. Salespeople love that; with their smartphone, they are just five seconds away from voicemail.”

The Voss Auto Network is proud to be part of the Centerville, Beavercreek, Monroe, and Tipp City communities. Starting with Chevrolet in 1972, Voss Auto Network boasts nine franchises: Chevrolet, Cadillac, BMW, Honda, Toyota, Scion, Hyundai, Land Rover, and Joe Morgan Honda.

Click here to read the Voss Auto Network’s full case study.