New Age, New Requirements, More Innovation: Three Ways to Keep Up (Part 2)

If you’ve read Part 1 of this series, you hopefully now have a solid understanding of how businesses must keep up with today’s pace of innovation in order to thrive. If we’re going to talk about innovation at the enterprise level, then we must talk about what’s happening within IT.

Network infrastructure is the backbone of every organization. For some companies, that backbone needs serious strengthening due to advances in communication and collaboration. The way employees connect internally and externally today make IT changes vital for sustainability. System engineers, network architects and CIOs are responsible for ensuring their organizations not only stay current, but surpass the status quo.

Networking over the Decades

We’ve seen nothing short of explosive growth within the world of connectivity in the last 15 to 20 years. For example, research shows that in 2000 only 6% of the world were Internet users. By 2015, that number had increased to about 42%, representing 3.1 billion users worldwide. That same year, revenue from mobile data services peaked at $105 million—today, revenue hovers around $500 billion.

In just 25 short years, we’ve evolved from the dawn of the World Wide Web to a complete digital overhaul. Consider, for example, Web-based collaboration solutions that seamlessly combine capabilities like video conferencing, IM and file sharing. All functionality is available via the touch of a finger from any device, anywhere, anytime. This means you’re no longer tied to a physical location, but you still need a hell of a strong network connection to handle it all without costly bouts of downtime.

All of these changes are powerful enough to render legacy networking solutions inadequate to meet Digital Enterprise needs. Today it’s all about Ethernet and IP. The problem is that these are such complex, hierarchal, multi-protocol environments that they’re unable to support desired business outcomes and agility (at least not without the highly sophisticated provisioning tools needed to hide all this complexity, which MPLS is also required). Clearly, not every enterprise businesses can afford and sustain such high OPEX costs. Today, about 95% of customers still live in this legacy environment, while expecting different results. It seems unreasonable to expect different outcomes.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with organizations that deployed these older solutions back in the day. That was simply what was available at the time, and it can be difficult to find an exit strategy. But this is no longer good enough. Legacy solutions don’t work, and will not allow your business to digitize or move at the pace it needs to in order to continually innovate and excel.

SDN: Networking of Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

So, what’s the solution? You have to look at an alternative for your networking infrastructure. For many businesses, this alternative involves software-based architecture, like Software-Defined Networking (SDN).

SDN promises to enable users to directly control the network resources by separating the network control plane from forwarding functions. The architecture is to be easily-manageable, open standards-based, and vendor-neutral, enabling businesses to sufficiently handle today’s dynamic computing and storage needs. Perhaps most notable is that SDN is not to depend on proprietary software. This enables users to write their own application profiling in order to easily provision network resources.

Overall, the SDN market is set to grow from $289 million in 2015 to $8.7 billion in 2020, representing a CAGR of 98%. That’s pretty impressive stuff, and I’m not just saying that as a chief technologist of Software-Defined Architecture.

The bottom line is your business will only go as far as its network infrastructure will take it. If your business is running on restrictive architecture, will you be able to master data context, awareness and intelligence? Will you truly unlock ubiquitous connectivity? We definitely need something different. Your organization deserves something better than a legacy model.

The objective is clear. We need to deliver a solution that’s way more agile, more resilient, open and secure. To this end, there are generally two paths available to get to SDN:

  1. Traditional SDN: Traditional SDN is aimed at centrally building a software controller and bringing all of the control plane protocols in a legacy environment towards application profiling. It’s widely believed that this profiling approach makes it easier to deploy apps. In this way, if you want to deploy a certain solution, you can access a pre-defined application profile from every angle—for example, security policies—but how complex was it to create the profile? The intentions here are good, but in my opinion this path involves the development of complex and sophisticated provisioning tools. This is simply a new programming approach that aims to reduce complexity, but doesn’t guarantee it. As such, many wonder if this is the right strategy.
  2. Fabric-Based Architecture: This option involves maintaining a distributed control plane and reducing the legacy multi-protocol dependency while benefiting from centralized management (orchestration). The simplification of the control plane is a much better approach: fix the problem, don’t try to mask it. Simplicity allows businesses to become that much more nimble, dynamic and competitive. We’ve been seeing a lot of startups lately working to rebuild the control plane too, hence the market is starting to come to the same conclusion, but Avaya has already delivered it, making it a key competitive differentiator.

 
Let’s be honest, there are pros and cons to both traditional SDN and fabric-based architecture. At the end of the day, what’s most important is that business leaders are educated on their choices in order to make informed decisions that are best for their organizations, while choosing the path that will meet their business needs TODAY—not years from now based on promises!

If you’re looking for more resources to help shape your software-based strategy, check out these blogs:

Coming up: Part 3 of our series will take a look at the bigger picture of complete digital transformation and what that looks like across multiple verticals.

 

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Serving Customer Buying Patterns Means Our Partners are “Living on the Edge”

Today’s business environment is a competitive and dynamic landscape that necessitates innovation in communications and collaboration. Technology solutions are more than mere infrastructure investments, they are business success enablers. This has led to a major transformation in customer buying patterns. Customers have changed how they approach, purchase, and deploy ICT—information and communications technology–and we’ve changed how we sell to customers. Simply put, customers are requesting as much agility in their solutions and infrastructures as they require functionality, if not more.

Here at Avaya, we recognized several years ago that one size NEVER fits all. That’s why we made the strategic decision to transition to a software-and-services-led company providing solutions and platforms. To keep pace with customer buying patterns, we totally changed our product mix, made everything available as a software component, and gave our customers more flexibility in how they consume our solutions.

That last point reflects another major shift for Avaya—we put our customers first. That may sound self-evident, something all companies should be doing all the time, but it all too often doesn’t happen in the IT industry. It certainly wasn’t happening at Avaya. In 2011, our Net Promoter Score was hovering in the 20s, placing us … well, on par with most of our competitors, which is to say not very good. Today, we’re at 59, or Best in Class, which is in the 50% to 70% range with Apple and the Ritz Carlton.

So, putting the customer at the heart of everything we do has paid off for us big time. Consequently, our channel programmes have to evolve taking that new reality into consideration and that is exactly what we have done.

This month saw the global launch of Avaya Edge, our brand new and streamlined global partner programme, designed to give our partners the edge in the marketplace. Our vision for the new programme has three pillars:

  • Put the customer first
  • Protect and represent the Avaya brand
  • Be highly rewarding for the professionals and organisations that are a part of the programme, wherever they may be.

Avaya Edge also addresses some of the biggest needs for technology partnerships—a simpler structure, greater benefits, and flexibility—and builds them in as the key defining characteristics of the programme. To achieve that we gave our partners a choice to decide in which marketplace they would like to thrive, i.e., Enterprise or Mid-Market, since each of those segments require different level of profiles, skills and investments.

Here’s another way we’re bringing partners more closely into the fold. In previous years, we’ve hosted separate events for partners and customers around the globe. The partners had their own specialist Avaya Partner Forum event, while customers attended Avaya Technology Forums. Fair enough, specialization is not exactly a bad thing—but achieving the best possible outcome requires everybody pulling together in the same direction. The Avaya business teams, our partners (resellers, systems integrators, distributors, etc.) and, above all, our customers need to be aligned if we are all going to achieve our business objectives.

This month in Dubai, we’re hosting Avaya Engage—our first event that brings everybody in the Avaya ecosystem under one roof. Avaya executives will meet with partners, customers and industry leaders, giving everybody an equal opportunity to network, learn latest industry trends and understand where Avaya is going.

Get more details on Avaya Engage in Dubai. I look forward to seeing you there.

 

Make or Break: The Customer Experience Imperative for Midsize Businesses

According to the Wall Street Journal, 2016 Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales have already accounted for more than $3 Billion in “desktop spending”—aka, e-commerce. While many of these purchases are simply one click and a check off of gift lists, the customer probably made several decisions well before the submit-order button was activated. Whereas item and price have been the primary drivers of purchasing decisions, the customer experience is increasingly the new battleground.

  • We know that customers tend to repeat shop at places where both the self and assisted service is efficient and knowledgeable.
  • We know there is an expectation that they’ll be able to use mobile, desktop, voice channels—often all of them in the course of a transaction.
  • And we know that making them repeat information over and over is a black mark against the perceived experience.

Big companies can and are dedicating investments and resources to digital strategies focused on an elevated customer experience that checks all items on the list above. But if you’re a midsize business, is it even possible to break through the bulwark of expectations and large enterprise investments, and stand out from the crowd on customer experience alone?

At Avaya, we strongly believe the answer is a resounding YES! We are well aware that what goes on behind the scenes to coordinate the customer experience can be dauntingly complex. The latest release of Avaya IP Office Contact Center takes into account midsize businesses’ needs and requirements for simplicity and affordability, and the desire to deliver a top-notch customer experience.

Tips for Creating an Outstanding Customer Experience

Midsize businesses can ensure their customer experience sets them up for the kind of preferred vendor relationships that lead to profitability, growth, and long term customer loyalty.

  • Integrate Multichannel Customer Contact into Your Strategy

    An overwhelming majority of customers expect organizations to offer different channels to meet their needs, and make it easy to do so (Marcus Hickman, The Autonomous Customer 2015). Avaya IP Office Contact Center enables a midsize business to offer web chat, email and voice as an integrated, multichannel customer interaction strategy.

  • Drive an Efficient Experience with Skills-Based Routing
    It doesn’t help to offer multiple channels if the channels are kept separate within the company. For example, web chat is a great way to capture the customer while they’re in the evaluation stage on a website and turn them into a buyer. But if the channel only goes to those handling web chat and not the best agent for the customer needs, you may end up with someone who’s more frustrated than satisfied.Avaya IP Office Contact Center can help companies optimize their multichannel strategy, providing voice, email and web chat and enabling skills-based routing that can get customer inquiries to agents who are best qualified to handle them, including choice of channel, expertise, and past experience with a particular inquiry or customer. This can create a much more efficient experience by increasing first contact resolutions, reducing interaction handling times, reducing or eliminating transfers to other agents, and reducing callbacks.
  • Drive More Efficiency by Letting Customers Serve Themselves

    The preference to use self service is on the rise, and can be a money saver for the company and a time saver for the customer. For those that call in, an interactive voice response (IVR) can greet and direct callers, allowing them to use speech recognition or their touch tone keypad to get answers to common questions. This may quickly resolve issues without involving live assistance, or if needed, quickly get the customer to the right agent.

  • Narrow the Gap by Using Agent Downtime More Efficiently

    Undoubtedly, there are times when incoming interactions are slow. This is a perfect opportunity to automatically start outbound or proactive marketing campaigns and fill in the gaps between peak times and seasons. With Avaya IP Office Contact Center agents can use predefined scripts during outbound call campaigns to help increase sales revenue and upsell opportunities, to reduce accounts receivable backlog, or generate sales appointments for field sales.

  • Make Faster Connections: Link Your Customer Engagement Platform to Your CRM System

    Your CRM system can be a tremendous boost to contact center agent productivity by simply linking one platform to another. Now, agents don’t need to search for customer details or create activity records—it’s all in one place. From here they can click to dial or email from customer records, greet customers by name, and quickly access relevant information for more personalized, well informed customer interactions.

  • Look Back to Go Forward: Measure to Identify and Pursue Improvement Opportunities

    Companies need to determine what success looks like to understand if they’re on the right path. For the contact center, KPIs should be outlined by an agreement on what’s important to the business. Metrics such as new customer acquisitions, new and repeat sales, debt collected, or sales appointments made can be good starting places from which you establish a benchmark to chart future progress. Contact centers may also want to measure some of the more traditional indicators such as number of interactions handled, number of first contact resolutions, wait time, etc. And here’s a strong tip: Tout your customer experience metric successes to demonstrate the positive impact your contact center is having on the overall business.

If you’re an Avaya IP Office company and not already using IP Office Contact Center, make a New Year’s resolution to check out all it can do for you to make the next peak season one that breaks records—not backs.

The IoT Chronicles Part 2: Three Big Security Threats—and How to Solve Them

With projected market revenue of $1.7 trillion by 2020, the Internet of Things (IoT) stands to forever change the world as we know it. In part 1 of this series, I demystified the IoT and explored how leaders can create a vertical-driven strategy that produces positive and proactive business outcomes. Your strategy won’t get you far, however, if it doesn’t explicitly address the unique security threats that are inherent to this level of connectivity.

These kinds of threats aren’t easy to identify or mitigate, which is exactly why nearly 60% of companies say they plan to eventually implement the IoT (i.e., once security no longer concerns them) and why nearly 30% have no plans to implement the IoT at all, but this is likely to change quickly.

With the number of connected “things” growing, it’s expected that more hackers will feed off the ever-growing possibilities to attack, threaten and compromise business. Consider the recent IoT-driven DDoS attack on Internet performance company Dyn, which disrupted websites like PayPal, Spotify and Twitter. Dyn’s Chief Strategy Officer admitted last month that some of the traffic that attacked the company came from compromised IoT devices.

As I continue this four-part IoT crash course, I’d be remiss in not discussing security. Having said that, here are three massive IoT security threats we’re seeing today (and how to expertly address them):

  1. Personally-owned devices:

    Research shows that about 40% of U.S. employees at large enterprises bring their own device(s) to work, and 75% of companies currently permit or plan to permit BYOD in the workplace. Today, there’s a clear need among businesses to securely connect these personally owned devices that simultaneously perform multiple functions and connect to public, private and hybrid clouds. It may be easy to secure enterprise IoT, but this gets a lot trickier when you factor in the devices employees are using on your network. Just consider the 10 million Android devices that were infected this summer with Chinese malware.

    My suggestion: implement some sort of malware detection mechanism and deliver some level of automation that can quickly detect abnormalities on employee devices and prevent them from spreading.

  2. Open APIs:

    An open API model is advantageous in that it allows developers outside of companies to easily access and use APIs to create breakthrough innovations. At the same time, however, publicly available APIs are also exposed ones. Promoting openness means anyone can write new APIs (which is a good thing), but that can cause some challenges in the market. If an organization has undocumented features of its API, for instance, or if someone is rolling out an API and doesn’t have it properly documented or controlled, hackers can potentially take advantage. At the end of the day, businesses must be cautious as to what is being exposed and documented when writing APIs.

  3. Influx of data:

    The amount of data being gathered from today’s ever-growing number of connected “things” is simply astounding. In fact, research shows that about 90% of all data in the world today was created in just the past few years (2.5 billion GB of data were being produced every day in 2012 alone!) While big data has the potential to transform internal processes and the customer experience, leaders must ensure they have the right infrastructure in place to securely distribute and store the massive amount of data that flows through their organizations daily.

    My suggestion: have a solid understanding of how much data your network can handle (never overestimate your network capabilities) and plan to scale accordingly. Also, know the origination of your data and what privacy regulations you might need to take depending on the industry in which you operate. Healthcare, for example, must abide by very strict regulations. Be sure to also keep in mind the legality of where you store your data, depending on where that data comes from. Countries like Germany, for instance, have strict privacy laws that others don’t.

The One Thing to Remember

Here’s the thing business leaders must keep top of mind: although the possibilities for data compromise are growing, they’ll never become realities with network security solutions offered from the right provider. This doesn’t mean your security concerns aren’t valid. It simply means that, with the right technology, there’s no longer a reason to let those concerns prevent you from tapping into the immeasurable growth brought about by the IoT.

So, what’s my final suggestion? Organizations should consider a layered approach:

  • Phase I: Analyze, monitor and inspect.
  • Phase II: When classifying a device as suspect, isolate it to a different segment and perform forensic analysis.
  • Phase III:
    • Quarantine the device if known malware is detected and identified.
    • If the cause is unknown/unidentified, maintain isolation in a honeypot—a quarantine zone to understand malware—and deploy counter measures as soon as possible once a fix becomes available.
  • Phase IV: Once malware is clearly identified, quarantine all devices potentially infected while informing the end users and LOBs impacted.

For Phases II and III, invoke an automated sophisticated workflow to notify the right team for just-in-time analysis.

To properly execute on these phases, you need an automated and more secure networking foundation. The legacy client-server is simply not suitable for this new IoT world. Whatever services your connected devices or systems provide, do whatever you can to ensure they are logically segmented on your infrastructure. This is something that can be achieved through end-to-end network segmentation.

An end-to-end network segmentation solution eliminates nodal configuration by leveraging end-to-end Virtual Services Networks (VSNs). This allows businesses to provision their networks only at specific points of service, where those services are being consumed by end users or devices. Ultimately, end-to-end segmentation transforms your network core into an automated and intelligent virtualized transport. Your network segments will be stealth to hackers, flexible for secure and authorized use, and truly isolated from one another. These core capabilities nearly guarantee network security no matter what devices your employees are using, how much data they are generating and sharing, or what APIs are being written.

Your network security strategy will never be effective if your underlying architecture isn’t what it needs to be. In my opinion, end-to-end network segmentation is the most effective way to minimize and control the inherent security risks of the IoT. And the best news is that there are end-to-end segmentation solutions proven to deliver next-generation IoT security—even for companies still leveraging aging infrastructure. The technology is possible, real and waiting to be utilized.

As we move forward with the IoT, we must ensure security is always top of mind. There are a set of best practices that organizations must implement to substantially reduce the risks associated with IoT deployment. Keep in mind, there are no immune systems, but understanding the risks and minimizing the potential business impact is key. In the end, status quo will likely be a disaster for organizations endorsing the IoT at a rapid pace—changes to legacy practices and infrastructure are a must! Thankfully, technology advancements can provide the connectivity, stability and security required to enable companies to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the IoT.