Less Maintenance, More Innovation: How to (Finally) Fill the IT Skills Gap

If you take a good look at how the business ecosystem is evolving, you’ll find that it’s being redefined by five key market trends:

You’d be hard pressed to find research that doesn’t indicate the takeover of these five megatrends.

Forrester, for instance, predicts that machine learning and automation will replace 7% of all U.S. jobs by 2025. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, almost 80% of companies identified digital transformation as their top strategic priority last year. Gartner believes that 70% of all newly deployed apps will run on open source databases by 2018; meanwhile, research continues to show that some 20 to 30 billion objects could be connected to the IoT by 2020.

As these technologies shape our smart digital world, so too do they raise the stakes in terms of customer expectations. Next-generation consumers demand nothing short of a sophisticated digital experience marked by greater quality, agility, speed and contextualization.

The Need to Transform NOW

Driven by these trends, organizations have no choice but to consider how they can adapt to grow and thrive. Competitors are moving at rapid new paces and blazing unforeseen trails. We’re seeing this disruption industry-wide, from companies like Uber and Lyft that have revolutionized the taxi industry (taxi trips have fallen by as much as 30% in cities like L.A.) to Airbnb, which turned the hospitality industry on its head by introducing the concept of an end-to-end digital homestay experience.

Look around and you’ll see just how much your own industry is changing. Do you realize how much new ground is ready to be broken? How much unexplored territory there is to seize? The organizations that thrive will be the first to not only see the possibilities, but successfully execute them. To do so, however, companies must undergo some level of transformation—and IT must be a central part of that transformation.

Elevating IT to Accelerate Business

To enable business to move at a pace that maintains a competitive edge, leaders must ask themselves how they’re empowering their IT staff. As it currently stands, something needs to be done about today’s IT skills gap. What we’re seeing is too many departments tied down to costly, archaic systems that hinder performance and productivity. There are too many people doing the same things and expecting different results. In a world where IT maintenance and innovation must be expertly balanced, teams are working to keep the lights on and not spending enough time learning new technologies and strategies or becoming part of the solution. This has been an ongoing problem that needs to be talked about less and acted on more.

The bottom line is that organizations will only truly accelerate in the digital era if IT spends enough time on strategic initiatives. Consider that 60% of top-performing companies engage IT to gather ideas for innovation, and 49% collect ideas through business unit workshops facilitated by IT. Without question, IT should be factored as a critical part of business innovation.

So, how can businesses free their IT teams to begin innovating? The right technology here is key—specifically, it has to be a combination of business process automation over an automated, end-to-end, meshed networking architecture. Let’s first focus on networking—this open, agile and integrated platform liberates IT by substantially reducing the level of complexity associated with traditional network maintenance, allowing teams to spend more time on high-level strategic initiatives. I’d like to take a look at how such a platform helps fill the IT skills gap from a traditional networking standpoint and outline some of the security benefits this architecture can bring.

Networking

Traditional legacy architecture, often referred to as “client-server” is becoming near obsolete thanks to the proliferation of automation and M2M. But before we jump too quickly, you may remember the resistance from peer-to-peer communication where IT in fact won the battle and for the most part didn’t allow it—simply put, the legacy architecture couldn’t sustain it. As manual processes continue to be replaced by smarter, automated processes, it’s imperative that organizations start thinking differently in terms of networking.

This may mean, for example, seamlessly integrating AI and machine learning into their communications strategy to engage customers with flexible new touch points. This will also likely require the integration of services from several vendors with different capabilities, versus one single provider, hence the importance of having an open ecosystem with standards as much as possible.

Regardless of how organizations go about it, the fact is that they must begin moving their networks in a new direction if they wish to progress at the pace their business needs to. Fully-meshed, end-to-end architecture offers an open ecosystem in which businesses can begin freely automating, integrating and reinventing traditional processes without a high level of complexity. This time freedom enables IT to begin reimagining business outcomes. The use of open, integrated, future-proof technology opens new doors of opportunity to do so.

Security

With billions of IoT devices directly communicating and sharing data, organizations are now operating in an essentially borderless network—or as I like to call it, the everywhere perimeter. While this everywhere perimeter enables organizations to operate with unmatched agility and ease, it can also destroy companies if left unprotected. As one can imagine, the strategy and technology needed to protect a virtually borderless network look drastically different than those protected by a traditional firewall or legacy network architecture (Static VLANs, ACLs). This is exactly why IT needs to flex its strategic muscles and identify a stronger security approach, one that safeguards the organization with a near impenetrable network that significantly minimizes security risks and reduces exposure.

An end-to-end meshed networking architecture lets organizations quickly and securely enable services across the network anywhere they are consumed (i.e., personal mobile device, Wi-Fi hotspot, corporate campus). This is done through end-to-end network segmentation, which is widely considered to be the holy grail of network security today. Comprised of three core components—hyper-segmentation, native stealth and automated elasticity—this solution ensures organizations have the necessary framework for next-generation cybersecurity defense. By minimizing security risks in this way, organizations can ensure they are maximizing the value of IT. Lay the foundation right first, then focus on business process workflow automation. Doing the opposite or simply ignoring the foundation will cause pain and slow down your business transformation while making it extremely difficult to maximize the benefits of, for example, IOT.

In the end, every important business initiative requires time. Organizations won’t be able to reinvent themselves if their IT department has none to spare.

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Kari’s Law: An Emotional Journey Leads to a Bittersweet Ending

Our long journey leading up to the presidential signing of Kari’s Law began well before the precious life of Kari Hunt tragically ended on Dec. 1, 2013. (Learn about Kari’s story.)

For me, it actually began in the spring of 2013 when I noticed a sign on my hotel door, which read: “In case of an emergency, dial 0 for the operator.” I remember thinking, “The operator isn’t trained to handle an emergency. I should be able to dial 9-1-1 from my room phone.”

Sadly, this occurrence wasn’t an anomaly. I found it to be a common bad practice adopted by too many hotels across the United States.

There’s no doubt their intentions were good. Hotels were looking to be proactive, and they wanted to expedite not delay emergency response times. To make matters worse, direct access to 9-1-1 from Multi Line Telephone System (MLTS) was flawed because guests couldn’t dial 9-1-1 directly. They needed to dial an extra 9 just to get an outside line. That proved to be a fatal flaw in Kari’s case because her 9-year-old daughter couldn’t get through to 9-1-1. MLTS legislation also didn’t exist or, if it did, it was limited to a handful of states, and much of that dealt with the reporting location. It didn’t address the issue of access and notification.

Throughout the year, I used social media to increase awareness and drive meaningful change. I spoke at conferences and even began a podcast series dedicated to this very topic.

Then one day in December 2013, everything changed. My Google Alerts for 9-1-1 came up with a Change.org petition that was raised by Hank Hunt after his daughter Kari was brutally murdered in her hotel room.

I reached out to Hank on Facebook and offered to help him in his cause. Having an innovative tech leader like Avaya backing me increased Hank’s confidence in my ability to help him bring about the changes he sought.

My previous experience immediately proved useful, and we were able to go straight to the top at the FCC. (I had served on the Emergency Access Advisory Committee under Chairman Julius Genechowski, who had just turned the agency over to Chairman Tom Wheeler. Talk about timing!)

Following a number of tweets and letters, including an Open Letter to the FCC Chairman Wheeler, we received a call from Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office and a meeting was scheduled for Jan. 10, 2014. That meeting turned into a 45-minute discussion on the issues, the fix, and the challenges we faced.

Over the next several months, Hank and I garnered the interest of legislators in cities and states across the country: Suffolk County in Long Island, the state of Illinois, Maryland, et al.

In Texas, Avaya participated in hearings, and offered our unique expertise. We introduced the idea of a “Waiver Clause,” which stated that a business could obtain an exemption if they showed financial hardship. With the exemption was the requirement to register the make and model number of the system. This uncovered many systems that were actually capable of being compliant, and eased the adoption of the new law.

More states followed embraced the legislation—it was a full-on domino effect—except at the federal level where every attempt to bring a bill to life stalled. But then in 2018, that changed too.

After an all-night session ending on Feb. 9 on what would have been Kari’s 36th birthday, the House of Representatives passed the Senate amendment of H.R. 582, and it was officially on the way to the president of the U.S. for signature.

We quietly celebrated, knowing Kari’s murder would not be in vain.

The cherry on the cake was being invited by Hank, Kari’s father, to witness the president sign the bill into law on Feb. 16, 2018. I was both humbled and honored, and invited my former colleague Avaya Sales Engineer Dan Wilson to enjoy the moment with us. Dan had worked tirelessly on this legislation, clocking 12 miles of walking in the Maryland House and Senate.

The West Wing is everything you’d imagine: intimidating, wonderful and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a pleasure to not only stand beside Hank and witness the signing, but to also be in the company of people who supported our endeavor since day one: Ajit Pai, my good friend and now Chairman of the FCC, Congressman Louie Gohmert who introduced the bill, as well as other Congressional reps with interest in public safety. After reading a prepared statement, President Trump uncapped the ceremonial pen and placed it on the paper. As it started to move, we were overcome with emotion. To think, 50 years to the day, and quite nearly the minute, following the first ever 9-1-1 call, Kari’s Law had become the “Law of the Land.”

Transforming Online Meetings for Team Collaboration

I find it interesting how companies choose to measure team collaboration. Most use surveys, some productivity data, and others standard review processes. Yet team collaboration is about so much more than all of this. If you ask us, it’s about putting people first.

We mean this quite literally. It’s important to provide employees with a suite of face-to-face collaboration capabilities that enable dynamic, real-time team collaboration. Communication staples like voice and chat are surely important, along with the endless other tools teams use to connect and share information. Meeting via video, however, is arguably the best way to collaborate, build relationships, create momentum and build morale. Face-to-face collaboration may not always be needed, but companies will want to make sure they have the best tools in place for when it is.

When done right, online meetings enhance team collaboration in several ways. Consider the most basic of them all: a good part of communication is non-verbal. Being able to observe team members’ body language can help prevent miscommunication and connect across languages and cultures. The technology has also evolved to the point where teams can flexibly share data, documents and other project details via screen sharing or virtual whiteboards. All the while, there’s the opportunity to initiate private chat sessions between team members to discuss simultaneously.

The bottom line: online meetings enable authentic human interaction that delivers real value, time and cost savings, and better business outcomes.

Now, imagine being able to quickly implement an easy-to-use, cost-effective service that skips the capital investment and technical hassle of a traditional video solution. This is exactly what Avaya Equinox Meetings Online offers: a cloud-delivered application that allows users—both employees and outside contacts—to connect with their browsers (no plug-ins required) or mobile apps to effortlessly initiate and/or participate in online meetings. The service places priority back on people, which is where it belongs. Simple as that.

Don’t believe us? Read Nemertes Q4 2017 Enterprise Business Value Matrix for Unified Communications and Collaboration to see what they had to say. If you like what you see, or if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our team for more information via our webchat.

The Easy Button for IoT

I am sure that I don’t have to tell you how the Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing our world. Stop by any electronics retailer and you will find smart TVs, smart lights, smart refrigerators, and smart thermostats. Open up the brochure for a new car and you will find more space dedicated to intelligent sensors than horsepower. Tour a modern manufacturing plant and you will quickly discover that nearly every machine used in production has been equipped with an IP address. From the consumer to the enterprise, IoT is the driving force of innovation.

Of course, there is a dark side to this revolutionary technology: It’s not all that easy. As a consumer, it’s not a big deal to have one smart dryer that sends a text message when your clothes are dry. It’s also pretty simple to have your refrigerator email you a photo of its contents. In these cases, it’s just you and your machine.

However, what if you had a thousand dryers and ten thousand refrigerators. Let’s take it further. What if you were American Airlines and your fleet of airplanes had five hundred thousand different sensors reporting information every second. Now, imagine that some devices reported data using Bluetooth while others used Zigbee, WiMAX, LTE, WiFi, and NFC. Want to make it even more challenging? These different sensors report data reading using SOAP, REST, WebSockets, and a myriad of proprietary protocols. It quickly becomes an engineering nightmare to collect, store, and take the appropriate actions on this constant stream of data.

One Bite at a Time

Question. How do you eat an elephant? Answer. One bite at a time.

As with an elephant, the best way to conquer the IoT problem is to break it down into bite-sized pieces. Instead of trying to directly deal with all those different sensors and their unique forms of communication, have those sensors talk to gateways that understand multiple IoT dialects. Those gateways could then normalize the data before sending it off to a central cloud repository. Next, wrap the IoT cloud with web services that allow for a consistent and uniform way to access IoT data. Finally, use those web services to create a suite of applications for data visualization, event processing, analytics, etc.

Now, instead of being inundated with terabytes of data that may or may not be important, you only see what you need to see and only when you need to see it. You also have a scalable platform that allows you to add new sensors without having to constantly redesign and redeploy your business applications.

At Arrow Systems Integration (ASI), an Avaya A.I.Connect partner, we call this distributed architecture of sensors, gateways, and cloud services Arrow Connect™.

Arrow Connect

Arrow Connect is a software architecture that connects any device over any protocol to any cloud. Designed and developed by Arrow with security, scale, flexibility, device management, multi-tenancy, hierarchy, open APIs, and extensibility as its core principles, Arrow Connect is helping customers across multiple industries bring their products to market faster.

The Arrow Connect software development kit (SDK) helps enterprises leverage the full capabilities of any device while an extensible software gateway allows developers to add support for protocols and sensors not currently supported by Arrow Connect.

The Arrow Connect cloud platform enables secure provisioning and management of all its devices. It runs on multiple public cloud platforms and seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Azure, IBM Watson Bluemix/Softlayer, Amazon Web Services, and private data center solutions.

Breeze and Zang Workflows

While support for RESTful web services is essential to being an open and secure cloud solution, this comes with a price and that price is complexity. Despite being an open standard understood by most software developers, the fact that you must be a developer to use web services confines them to a very select group of people.

In our quest to find every possible way to simplify IoT, ASI has partnered with Avaya to add support for Arrow Connect IoT devices, sensors, and gateways into Avaya Breeze and the Zang Workflow Designer. With both of these platforms, access to IoT data and Arrow Connect services becomes as simple as drag and drop and non-developers can create powerful IoT solutions in a matter of minutes. Better still, this simplification does not come at the cost of accuracy, reliability, speed, security, or scalability. The visual tasks embedded in these workflow tools employ the same Arrow Connect web services a skilled software developer would use. The difference is that there is no need to learn Java, .Net, Python, or any other programming language.

 

The Easy Button for IoT

With integrated workflow technology, you can quickly turn an idea on a whiteboard into a fully functional and easily deployable solution.

Next Steps

McKinsey recently said that “Any business that fails to invest heavily in the IoT in the next 10 years is unlikely to be able to remain competitive.” While these may seem like strong words, industry after industry has taken them to heart and the IoT revolution is everywhere. As I stated at the beginning of this article, IoT is becoming pervasive for both consumers and businesses.

The simplification, scalability, and security of IoT offered by Avaya and Arrow Systems Integration helps an enterprise to create the solutions it needs to enhance its business, grow its customer base, and stay competitive.

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Emerging Technologies at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.