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Your Guide to Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) with Microsoft Teams Integration

The pandemic has brought a seismic shift in the business landscape and businesses are now operating with most of their workforce at home. This has elevated the role of Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solutions that easily empower a hybrid workforce that operates from anywhere. Some organizations downplay their contact center and treat them as operational cost center instead of the strategic value they hold as the primary face of the customer experience. How the contact center responds to customers will leave a lasting impression and define a company’s brand.

The Problem: Disparate Contact Center, Telephony and Collaboration Solutions

The global pandemic forced contact centers to spin up patchwork, work-from-home solutions, or dramatically alter their physical contact center footprint. This approach, although good enough, has left businesses with five1 disparate remote working technologies with overlapping functionalities. This has not only increased an organization’s spend in cloud-based tools by 25%2, compared to pre-Covid levels, but has also prevented agents from being fully efficient. According to our recent remote working survey, 67%1 of employees believe they would be more productive if their CCaaS and remote working solutions were integrated2.

The Solution: Unified, Omnichannel CCaaS that Seamlessly Integrates with the Rest of the Business

This cloud sprawl along with the rise in remote and hybrid work has forced most businesses to rethink their long-term strategy. IT and CCaaS leaders are looking at better ways to connect agents to the contact center solution and critical applications they need to do their jobs.

In addition to a cloud-based, omnichannel CCaaS solution that was recommended pre-pandemic, leading analysts and product experts are suggesting a unified solution that seamlessly integrates contact center with the rest of the organization.

CCaaS, when integrated with a telephony and collaboration solution provides streamlined access to tools and applications that help agents find the right answers quickly, thereby improving first contact resolution and customer satisfaction.

See why Evolve IP has been recognized for the 5th time in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service. Download your copy today to evaluate the CCaaS providers for 2021.

 

Benefits of a Unified CCaaS Solution with Teams Integration

  • Visibility into Coworker’s Presence Status: CCaaS agents can see the presence status of all employees in the organization, allowing them to connect to the subject matter expert (SME) whenever needed.
  • Flexible Work From Home Deployment Options: CCaaS agents can operate via the best endpoint for their needs including a softphone (Evolve Contact Suite or Microsoft Teams), their mobile phone, a physical handset (SIP or Microsoft Teams), etc.
  • Seamless Customer Experience: CCaaS agents can collaborate with anybody in the organization to get the answers they need plus they can instantly conference or transfer a Supervisor or SME.
  • Leadership Empowered: CCaaS supervisors can remotely listen to live interactions and “whisper” in their Agent’s ear to provide instant coaching.
  • Expanded Labor Pool: Leadership has the flexibility to hire staff that can Work Anywhere.
  • Ability to Transfer Calls and Send Notifications: CCaaS agents can transfer calls to coworkers that are not part of the contact center and can alternatively send notifications to them should the need arise.
  • Consistent User Experience: The end-user experience remains consistent across all platforms and all agents are defined and authenticated in Microsoft Active Directory, like other employees in the organization.
  • Improved Meetings Experience: According to Gartner, CCaaS advisers working remotely during the pandemic have experienced better quality connections to meetings using platforms like Microsoft Teams than using CCaaS platforms.

Other Benefits of a Cloud-Based, Omnichannel Contact Center as a Service:

  • Lower TCO: A cloud-based CCaaS solution allows businesses to eliminate CAPEX, maintenance costs, upgrade charges, and reduce traditional telecom expenses. They only need to pay for the services they need.
  • Improved Customer Satisfaction: An omnichannel CCaaS solution can improve a caller’s experience with advanced routing tools, surveys, callback capabilities, CRM integrations, and business intelligence insights.
  • Increased Business Efficiency: CCaaS solutions that deliver advanced features such as AI-driven speech analytics, call recording, workforce management, reporting etc. can further enhance business efficiency

Top 10 Questions Businesses Should Ask Themselves

Like most contact centers, if you are looking to redefine your CCaaS strategy, here are the top 10 questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Have you standardized your remote working environment (Internet / ISP/router, ergonomics, headset, HR policies, employee reimbursement, etc.)?
  2. Do your agents have access to the applications needed to perform their daily functions?
  3. Can the business operate as effectively with everybody remote (coaching, training, QA, new hire shadowing/learning)?
  4. Do your leaders have access to the customer experience metrics, agent performance insights, and call recordings they need?
  5. How much IT effort is required to remotely support the end-users?
  6. Are agents able to BYOD? Are you providing them with expensive desktops/laptops to work remotely? Are you making the shift to “throwaway” IT (cheap end-user devices)?
  7. How quickly and easily can you onboard a newly hired class of agents?
  8. Are the IT & Legal teams comfortable that the contact center is addressing the organization’s security and compliance expectations?
  9. Which collaboration platforms do you use? Does your contact center solution integrate with your current collaboration platform?
  10. Are you looking for a quick fix, disparate solution or a unified, long-term strategic solution that can improve both customer & employee satisfaction?

How Can Evolve IP Help?

Evolve IP is a true technology partner that can help businesses future-proof their CCaaS strategy along with the rest of their business. No one besides Evolve IP provides a complete solution for agents and managers that delivers award-winning omnichannel features, secure access to desktop services and business applications, and integration with the rest of the business via Microsoft Teams; all from a web browser on nearly any device.

Contact us today for a free consultation on your CCaaS strategy.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/your-guide-to-contact-center-as-a-service-ccaas-with-microsoft-teams-integration

Publish Date: October 5, 2021 5:00 AM


3 Takeaways from the 2021 Gartner® Magic Quadrant™ for Contact Center as a Service

Evolve IP was recently named in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS). This recognition marks Evolve IP’s fifth consecutive appearance in the Magic Quadrant, which evaluates 12 CCaaS technology providers and their ability to deliver on end-user needs.

Here are three takeaways from the 2021 report:

  1. Evolve IP is a leader in the niche segment

Gartner organizes its Magic Quadrant into four segments: Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries, and Niche Players. Evolve IP was recognized by Gartner as a leader within the niche segment. Niche players are defined by Gartner as companies that are quite large or experiencing relatively strong growth but have decided to focus on a particular market opportunity, a particular set of solutions, or certain vertical markets.

What does this recognition say about Evolve IP? Well, it highlights that:

  • We deliver world-class CCaaS solutions – Evolve IP has one of the highest user ratings, 4.8 out of 5 stars and a 92% client recommendation rate, on Gartner Peer Insights
  • We offer specialized solutions to meet our customer’s needs
  • We have a distinct market differentiation compared to pure-play contact center providers
  • We have a broad set of collaboration capabilities – Evolve IP’s Contact Suite offers integration with a native UCaaS offering, as well as integration with Cisco for UC, and Microsoft for collaboration
  • We are tightly integrated with Microsoft Teams
  • We deliver a flexible workspace offering ​to meet the increasing needs of companies supporting a remote workforce

Additionally, our pricing was hailed for being very competitive. Whether our contact center solution is sold as an integrated solution or a stand-alone product, it offers higher value than comparable solutions.

 

  1. CCaaS and the four pillars of customer service

CCaaS solutions are used by customer service and telemarketing centers, employee service and support centers, help desk service centers, and other types of structured customer-centric communications operations.

According to Gartner, CCaaS solutions enable an “adaptive, flexible delivery model” with native capabilities across the four pillars of great customer success. These four pillars can be summarized into the following capabilities:

  • Getting connected – Focused on delivering a channel-agnostic, architected design to create customer service journeys.
  • Process orchestration – Supporting increasingly complex and personalized customer engagements.
  • Resource management – Developing and maintaining engaged and empowered staff based on the understanding that engaged employees power a stronger customer experience.
  • Knowledge and insight – Delivering customer and operational insights and recommending next best actions across all functional groups.
  1. CCaaS solutions are moving upmarket and into the Cloud

Spurred by the pandemic, demand for CCaaS solutions is moving upmarket as these offerings are commonly used to meet complex and multiregional requirements. Contact Centers are now the go-to technology for most organizations procuring sub-500-seat contact center environments, particularly where routing of voice-based interactions plays a critical role. They are also being deployed in environments with thousands of seats, although these environments may be composed of smaller entities. This reflects the desire of customer service organizations to consolidate stand-alone environments and move forward with a single, strategic supplier.

Buyers are focused on replacing premises-based and server-based contact center infrastructure with cloud-based capabilities. Gartner projects a 29% CCaaS revenue CAGR reaching $17.9 billion by 2024, as users adopt more expansive capabilities including multichannel, AI, analytics, and Workforce Engagement capabilities.

The pandemic forced contact centers to spin up patchwork, work-from-home solutions, or dramatically alter their physical contact center footprint. Now, with businesses evaluating a long-term strategic change towards remote and hybrid working, IT and contact center leaders are looking at better ways to connect agents to the contact center solution and critical applications they need to do their jobs.

No one besides Evolve IP provides a complete solution for agents and managers that delivers award-winning omnichannel features, secure access to SaaS and legacy applications, and integration with the rest of the business via Microsoft Teams; all from a web browser on nearly any device from any location. Evolve IP’s Contact Center integration with Microsoft Teams and Digital Workspaces provide contact center leaders the flexibility to work, hire and manage their agents, regardless of location.

Ready to get your team on the cloud? Contact us to get started.

Disclaimer: * Gartner, Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service, Drew Kraus, Pri Rathnayake, Steve Blood, 9 August 2021

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Gartner and Magic Quadrant are registered trademarks of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved

Tailored for Your Business. Acclaimed By Gartner.

Noted by Gartner analysts for its cost-effectiveness, integration with Teams, and complete omnichannel feature set. Download Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Contact Center as a Service.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/3-takeaways-from-the-2021-gartner-magic-quadrant-for-contact-center-as-a-service

Publish Date: August 24, 2021 5:00 AM


Hybrid Work - 5 Keys to Building an Effective Hybrid Workforce

Hybrid Work – 5 Keys to Building an Effective Hybrid Workforce

Ryan Easter couldn’t believe he was being asked to run a pandemic business continuity test.

It was late October 2019 and Easter, the IT Director and a Principal at Johnson Investment Counsel was being asked by regulators to ensure that their employees could work remotely with the same capabilities they had in the office. In addition, the company needed to validate hybrid work capabilities where up to 50% of personnel were unable to do their jobs, forcing others to pick up their internal functions and workload.

“I honestly thought that it was going to be a waste of time,” said Easter. “I never imagined that we would have had to put our plan into action. But because we had a tested strategy already in place, we didn’t miss a beat when COVID-19 struck.”

In the months leading up to the initial test, Johnson Investment Counsel developed a hybrid work strategy with their technology partner Evolve IP. The plan covered a wide variety of integrated technologies including voice services, collaboration, virtual desktops e.g. desktop as a service (DaaS), disaster recovery, and remote office connectivity.

“We manage about $13 billion in assets for clients across the United States and provide comprehensive wealth and investment management to individual and institutional investors,” said Easter. “We have our own line of mutual funds, a state-chartered trust company, a proprietary charitable gift fund, with research analysts and traders covering both equity and fixed income markets.”

Easter continued, “It was imperative that our advisors could communicate with clients, collaborate with each other and operate the business seamlessly. That included ensuring we could make real-time trades and provide all of our other client services. Having a fully-functioning hybrid workforce with services that were integrated was one of the keys to our success.”

Five months after their successful hybrid work strategy was evaluated by regulators, the program was put into a year-long test by remote workers and stressed-out clients.

“One day we were in the office and the next we were working from home. There was one major change however, our advisors were the busiest they have ever been. The stock market was swinging wildly and we needed to be ultra-responsive – both in terms of being accessible, but also being able to move quickly in the markets. Our systems and the plan operated perfectly,” said Easter.

Johnson Investment Counsel was in far better shape than most businesses due to their strategic hybrid work approach. Unfortunately, the majority of companies didn’t plan ahead. In those businesses, IT rolled out remote work solutions without a long-term strategy or thinking through compliance issues and device security. They shipped desktops to employees with instructions on how to set-up their home networks or said, ‘Go ahead, use your kid’s Chromebook, we’ll call you on your mobile’.

Now that organizations are beginning to move some employees back to the office they need to develop a permanent hybrid work strategy – like the one deployed by Johnson Investment Counsel.

To be effective, hybrid work solutions must employ technologies that are employee-focused, not driven by the end-points in a cubicle or on a desk. They must be easy to use and manage, simple to implement, and be cost-effective and secure. Here are five considerations to start building a permanent hybrid work strategy.

2021 Remote Work Survey Results: A Year of Working From Home

In early February 2021, Evolve IP surveyed 538 individuals via SurveyMonkey about their remote work experience over the last year and post-pandemic work expectations.

CONSIDERATION 1: Hybrid Workers - Define and Secure User Identities

Even before the pandemic sent workers scrambling home there was no way to support all of your end-users unique computing desires and scale your IT. Now, your business has the unique opportunity to build profiles for the work your employees actually do, the applications they truly need, and the level of mobility they require to be successful.

With those goals in mind, if you take the time to really think about it, your users realistically fall into 3 broad categories. Those that rely solely on Web-based tools (SaaS Users), employees that need SaaS and legacy line-of-business applications, and individuals that require a full desktop experience – either a cloud desktop or a CPU with natively installed OS.

As businesses adopt hybrid work processes, remote management and provisioning of these user types and their subsets become critical and should be handled by a highly-secure, Identity and Access Management (IAM) tool that leverages single-sign-on (SSO) with multifactor authentication (MFA).

With IAM and SSO users log into a personalized Web-based portal at the beginning of their day on any device, no matter where they are. On Monday and Friday, they may be logging in from home. Tuesday through Thursday, they may be in the office. Regardless, the experience and their access should be the same.

This is easily implemented by providing hybrid workers with an ‘identity wristband’ and just the applications they need to do their job. So, whether they are on a corporate laptop in the kitchen, their personal mobile phone at Starbucks, or on a CPU in the office, users can access all of their applications securely, with just a one-time login. IAM tools are simple to use, ease employee onboarding /offboarding and application deployment, and reduce the business’ financial and security exposure due to poor password management.

One strategic consideration is that while major IAM tools deliver access to SaaS services, most do not integrate with on-premises Windows applications. Oftentimes, during a crisis or physical disaster, these applications become critical to operations as they may handle billing, purchasing, and employee benefits.

Consideration 2: Device Management and Hybrid Work Security

Well before COVID-19 drove users home, organizations were working on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and procedures. As with seemingly everything else in IT, the coronavirus dramatically moved the timeline forward. Our research showed that the average hybrid work employee is using 2.5 devices to do their job and personal mobile phones are the 2nd most used endpoint. Businesses had to figure out, seemingly overnight, the right way to support and protect devices they didn’t own, or perhaps weren’t even aware employees were utilizing.

To make matters more ‘interesting’, the influx of hybrid work employees has shown business executives what IT has been saying for the last few years … the new corporate network doesn’t stop at HQ’s walls. It also doesn’t stop at the VPN connections. It’s everywhere. Unfortunately, using personal devices on lightly or unsecured personal networks (or Starbucks) opens the business up to malware and represents possible negative findings for compliance-focused businesses like healthcare and finance.

To solve for these non-corporate devices companies have turned to a variety of solutions:

  • Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) can protect the enterprise while enabling a more flexible environment for their employees. Note, their solutions can be costly and complicated to implement.
  • Virtual desktops (VDI) or Desktop as a Service (DaaS). With these solutions, IT gives users access to a desktop OS from pretty much any device that has an Internet connection while still being able to enforce corporate controls and security measures.
  • VPN has been the de facto way to gain access to the corporate network for the hybrid workforce for years. However, there are limiting factors such as performance/latency that should be considered in building a hybrid workforce strategy.

However, these three solutions are not a fit for every business and certainly not for every hybrid work employee. Instead, businesses are now deploying remote workspaces that include combinations of identity and access management (IAM), access to line-of-business / on-premises applications, and cloud desktops in a single environment. This new approach is typically less expensive, more secure, easier to manage, and presents applications the same way on any network-connected device, regardless of OS and whether it’s BYOD or corporate-owned.

CONSIDERATION 3: Choose Your Hybrid Work Collaboration Service

During the pandemic, no single technology received more attention than collaboration and there is no doubt that it will be the lynchpin of the hybrid workforce going forward. With video collaboration, hybrid work employees find that they can maintain relationships, meet with clients, and communicate regardless of their current work backdrop. But, limitations have also been exposed and organizations need to think about their long-term strategy based on several components.

Workstream Collaboration:

Gartner predicts that by 2022 70% of teams will rely on workstream collaboration as their primary means of communicating, collaborating, and sharing information. And that data was published before businesses were forced to collaborate by any means necessary just to keep their company’s running.

The reality is that employees were already headed down the collaboration path, with or without IT’s oversight. Now, as employees move back into the office it’s time to land on a hybrid work collaboration solution and drive it strategically throughout the business.

If your business relies heavily on Microsoft tools it likely makes sense to investigate or switch to Microsoft Teams. The Microsoft Office productivity suite is tightly integrated into Teams which will make your employees even more productive in a work anywhere environment.

If your business is using the Google suite of services you may want to explore integrations with third-party collaboration/video only providers as Google has changed its video/collaboration strategy numerous times over the past few years. Similarly, for Apple, FaceTime is an option for video conferencing but is not tightly integrated with its iWorks productivity suite.

Integrated Enterprise Voice Communications:

Think about integrated voice and collaboration from several perspectives. The first is quality and reliability. Does your business require crystal-clear voice quality and five-nines reliability to ensure your employees always sound professional? Or, is a glitchy robot voice an okay source of amusement?

Ryan Easter noted the following about his advisor’s experiences with voice communications, “Clients are just amazed when they find out our advisors are at home. They can’t tell the difference and it gives them a lot of comfort to be able to reach us regardless of what’s going on in the world and it always sounds professional.”

Next, how important is business continuity to your company? In the event that your collaboration tool goes down, would you want your hybrid employees to be able to leverage an office phone at home, use their computer or tablet as a fully functional softphone, and receive calls from customers on their mobile phones?

Also consider the services that are inherent in an enterprise-quality, cloud PBX. These are not part of most current collaboration tools and include services like business SMS, contact centers, multi-level auto-attendants, integration with current SIP phones, overhead paging, executive assistant features, receptionist clients, advanced hunt groups, and more.

Video Drivers or Business Drivers:

Today, most collaboration tools are driven by video. For your hybrid workforce, think strategically about how people get their jobs done, their software tools, and how to integrate it all.

For example, today, during a group video call you can likely share a PowerPoint or Word document from your desktop. After the meeting, you can send it around via email and then compare edits to finish the file. In the future, would you want your team to be able to jointly edit that document in real-time by simply posting it to the group chat for people to notate?

Further, think about where you want that document to live. Do you want it to live on the corporate file server or a user’s local hard drive? Or, would your business be best served with the file living where your employees are congregating and exchanging ideas? Much like the rest of your life, your business probably operates topically, and a complete collaboration tool allows for a truly Agile organization, full of hybrid workers, where cross-functional teams seamlessly spin up and wind down as projects are created and completed.

CONSIDERATION 4: Enabling Hybrid Agents For Contact and Support Center Teams

During a crisis, your contact center and support employees are on the front line, oftentimes playing both offense and defense. How they respond to your clients and partners at this critical time will leave a lasting impression and define your company’s brand.

Unfortunately, during the coronavirus crisis, some businesses were forced to shutter their contact centers almost overnight or start forwarding phone calls to home phone numbers and cell phones with no regard to quality, consistency, or cost. Those with on-premises solutions were left in a bad spot while those with a cloud contact center, and distributed agent capabilities with work-from-home policies, were able to pivot quickly and resume business that was at least close to normal.

Several strategic IT decisions need to be made before landing on the right solution to support hybrid work environments for contact centers.

Unified vs. Overlay - Cloud contact center software is deployed in one of two ways; unified with a provider’s hosted PBX, or as an overlay onto a 3rd party voice solution/phone system.

With a unified solution, organizations work with a single provider making billing, installation, and support easier. There are also functionality improvements for agents and managers as call handling is improved due to deep integration with the PBX. These call handling advantages offer productivity gains for agents and empower them to deliver higher customer satisfaction.

Overlay solutions also have benefits and can be a great choice for businesses with use cases such as a phased migration where the contact center migrates to the cloud before the rest of the organization. This allows the entire organization to continue leveraging their existing phone system investment while empowering the contact center with the advanced capabilities of a cloud solution.

Key Integrations

Contact and support centers require some of the most necessary, and difficult, integrations in a business. From collaboration and unified communications capabilities to deep hooks into the company’s CRM, in order to do their jobs effectively, agents and managers typically rely on multiple systems; the same systems that also feed other departments.

Because of these factors, it is critical that the business looks at the contact and support center holistically, with IT’s direct input, and not as a one-off software solution.

Consideration 5: Hybrid Work Technologies and Remote Hiring

A major outcome and benefit of enabling hybrid work technologies will come in the form of hiring, as the best candidates will go to organizations that enable them to work in ways that fit their lifestyles. To compete for the best talent, businesses will need to implement hybrid work technologies that include onboarding / offboarding via user identities, secure BYOD programs, seamlessly integrated collaboration and communications tools, and more. With these capabilities in place, businesses can hire the best candidate regardless of where they live and reduce expenses at the same time.

As workers become vaccinated the hybrid workforce will emerge. Companies have the unique opportunity to reset; to deploy integrated technologies to enable hybrid workers to be successful both in the office and at home. And, implemented correctly, the same technologies will enable them to hire anywhere – positioning the organization for success in both the near-term and long-term future.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/hybrid-work-5-keys-to-building-an-effective-hybrid-workforce

Publish Date: April 5, 2021 5:00 AM


Hybrid Office & Microsoft Teams Direct Routing

The Problem

When the pandemic hit last year, most organizations were forced to quickly spin up a patchwork of solutions to enable remote working. In fact, our survey of 500+ professionals revealed that the typical company now deploys 5 different remote work technologies.

Fast forward to today and the result is that most companies have disparate solutions to communicate and collaborate, often with overlapping meeting and messaging capabilities. This is driving inefficiency, user confusion, as well as increased costs that will ultimately harm the ability to create a productive hybrid workforce.

According to Gartner1, the three steps to eliminate unnecessary communications & collaboration tools are:

  • Remove overlapping tools
  • Reduce spending on physical devices
  • Use alternatives for telephony

Meaning, find a single, integrated voice and collaboration solution that supports remote working, an initiative that 45% of businesses are either currently evaluating or will do so in the next year.

2021 Remote Work Survey Results: A Year of Working From Home

“55% of executives reveal they expect employees to work outside of a corporate office the majority of the time after the pandemic is over.” Learn what 538 business professionals, IT, and executives had to say about the future of remote work.

The Solution

The solution that fits all the above-mentioned criteria is Microsoft Teams Direct Routing.

Most businesses are already using Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, file sharing, and chat for internal communication purposes. Microsoft Teams Direct Routing is the service inside of Microsoft Teams that allows businesses to connect external phone lines and use Microsoft Teams as an office phone system from anywhere.

Doesn’t Microsoft offer calling plans? Yes, it does but please keep in mind that Microsoft calling plans deliver very basic telephony features and do not include the SLA, high availability, business continuity, and advanced PBX features that most businesses need.

Also, it is a self-service solution meaning it doesn’t include call-in support and comes with the additional hassle of porting numbers yourself. Microsoft was aware of this feature gap and has hence developed the Microsoft Teams Direct Routing solution.

With Microsoft Teams Direct Routing, you get all of the basic phone system & productivity-enhancing collaboration features that Microsoft Teams delivers along with the PBX features that the voice provider has to offer, all from a single provider.

According to Gartner 2,

  • By 2022, 90% of large organizations using Microsoft Teams will use a third-party network service provider for PSTN connectivity, up from less than 10% in 2019 and
  • By 2022, all global telecom providers will support Microsoft’s Direct Routing interface to provide direct PSTN connectivity to Microsoft Teams users, up from less than 15% in 2019

Meaning, Microsoft Teams Direct Routing is the way to go.

But is a Microsoft Teams Direct Routing solution unified and truly integrated? Yes, if it is a natively-integrated Microsoft Teams Direct Routing solution such as Evolve IP’s. But what does the word “native-integration” mean and are all Microsoft Teams Direct Routing solutions alike? Stay tuned for our next blog post to learn more.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/hybrid-office-microsoft-teams-direct-routing

Publish Date: March 23, 2021 5:00 AM


The Virtual Private Network (VPN) – Is it Dead?

At the start of 2020, many ‘industry insiders’ would have told you that the VPN is dead, but like, seemingly, everything this year, expectations could not have been further from reality.  COVID-19 and the expedited need for work-from-home solutions across practically all industries and verticals has clearly proven that notion wrong, and it would be a fair assumption that there are more client VPNs in use for enabling work-from-home and remote work solutions than at any other time in IT history - many of these hastily put-in-place or quickly expanded in their usage by urgent necessity.  As more time passes, however, and we transition from solutions of ‘immediate need’ to ones of ‘long-term outlook,’ the new question may not be ‘Is VPN dead?’ but rather, ‘Should it be?’  In this post, we’ll review a few of the key concerns around a VPN-centric ‘work-from-home’ solution, and how Evolve IP’s Workspaces solution can help to address and alleviate these concerns.

Secure VPN

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room.  VPNs, by their very nature, present an inherent security risk for your network.  There are a number of mitigating technologies and practices which can help to manage the level of risk involved, but the risk of allowing external machines to become an extension of your internal network still carries with it a number of concerns.

One of the most obvious ways that organizations look to secure their VPN is to ensure that when client devices connect, they are placed into a ‘quarantine’ network which exists adjacent to (rather than as part of) the internal network.  The challenge, here, is that the whole purpose of the VPN is to enable access to those internal resources which reside on that internal network, so you still need to provide some form of crossover between those networks.  Why is this risky?  Simply, the biggest concern here is that any of those external devices that connect via VPN could be compromised; they could have viruses, malware, ransomware, or a range of other potential infections or issues that will attempt to propagate across whatever networks and devices they are connected to.  This begs the question, ‘Can’t I just make sure that the devices have antivirus?’  Sure… you could, but now you have just expanded your role to managing and securing all of these devices as well.  This comes with a cost, both financial and administrative.  You now have to supply the licensing for the security software you choose to leverage, you need to ensure that users have installed it, you need to maintain definitions for it to keep it updated as well as ensure patching of the device Operating Systems in order to ensure no vulnerabilities there may be exploited.  Many folks now turn to the idea of SDP, or a Software-Defined Perimeter solution, which provides Network Access Control and automates the process of ensuring the client devices meet certain minimum requirements like: running a supported OS, running approved antivirus/anti-malware, etc.  Unfortunately, this then further increases the cost and complexity of a traditional VPN solution, and frankly, many organizations don’t take these additional needs into consideration as a result.

Many organizations tend to focus their time, attention, and finances on ensuring that their network is most secure at its assumed weakest point, the firewall.  This makes a ton of logical sense because we can think of the firewall like the front door of your home.  Naturally, you feel safer if that door has more and better locks or maybe a thicker or more secure door and door frame, but many organizations make these significant investments in providing the best door and best locks possible, but then, in the interest of providing simple and fast remote access simply leave the door unlocked so that everyone can come and go as they need.

Why not embrace a solution in which there is no need to actually establish a connection between the end-users’ devices and the internal network, though?  This solves many of the aforementioned concerns because it effectively makes the user’s device simply a terminal to connect to published desktop sessions or applications, and internal company or organizational data never has to leave the datacenter and be processed locally on the client device.  This is the type of solution afforded by Evolve IP’s Workspaces solution which even goes a step further by securing access to those applications and desktop sessions behind an included Identity and Access Management platform that can utilize both Multifactor Authentication and Single Sign-On capabilities.

Comparing DaaS Solutions

This virtual desktop or DaaS comparison guide is designed for those who are looking into hosted virtual desktops or desktops as a service (DaaS). It also compares the technology to Evolve IP’s Workspaces solution.

VPN Reliability and Performance

As we established in the Security section, employing a VPN is, basically, extending your internal network to an external client device.  Historically, this has worked well for things like access to file shares, network printers, and other internal resources, but what about actually running an application across the VPN?  Some applications will perform fine and seem no different than when a user is in the office; however, many applications (especially some older apps) can be sensitive to latency.  Let’s first establish what latency is.

Imagine driving on a highway from New York to Los Angeles.  If you are the only car on that highway, then you can get back and forth as fast as your car will allow you.  That is latency: the amount of time that it takes to travel the distance back and forth.  Many people tend to confuse latency with bandwidth.  In the same scenario, think of bandwidth as the number of lanes that the highway has.  Once you introduce other traffic, beyond just your car, now, the more lanes there are, the faster you can make the trip, but you still can’t go any faster than your car can drive that road back and forth.

I bring this up because if you have a latency-sensitive application, the app performance will suffer simply because ‘the road’ between where your user is running the app and where the backend of that app is too long.  In some cases, those two things not being directly adjacent (or within the same network) may be enough to cause significant performance issues, unresponsiveness, unreliability, or application ‘slowness.’  When this occurs, we often see IT teams mistakenly think that adding more bandwidth can correct this issue, but the problem isn’t that there’s ‘too much traffic’ it is just that ‘the road is too long’ for that application to function as intended.

One of the best ways to solve these types of reliability and performance issues is to continue to actually run the application in the same location where its servers, data, and backend reside.  With Evolve IP’s Workspaces solution, the users’ applications are running within the same datacenter where their servers, databases, files, etc are located even though, from a look and feel perspective, it appears that the applications are running directly on the end-users’ devices.

Virtual Private Network Cost

A common misconception is that a client VPN solution is cheap and easy to integrate.  This might be true if you are only considering the costs associated with whatever VPN concentrator device or VPN-enabled firewall and the per-user licensing for the VPN solution.  Once you begin to add all of the additional costs around ensuring the security and integrity of your organization’s network, data, and devices, however, these costs quickly begin to mount.

Here are some of the ancillary cost considerations required when attempting to properly secure and manage a client VPN solution:

  • VPN Concentrator / Firewall
  • VPN client licenses
  • Network devices capable of and licensed to allow network segmentation (quarantine networks)
  • Reactive client antivirus
  • Proactive client threat protection
  • Client Firewall solution
  • Software Defined Perimeter solution / Network Access Control solution
  • Client OS Patching Solution
  • Remote Monitoring and Management Solution
  • Enhanced Intrusion Detection and Prevention on your company network

There are more solutions that can be added to this list and constant new technologies coming to market to counter new, emerging threats which can threaten your end-user devices but consider the above to be a good starting point for at least some of the things that you would need in order to ensure a client VPN solution that is as secure as possible.  With the threat of new zero-day attacks and additional threat vectors always being discovered, even with all of these solutions in place, there is still some risk in expanding your organization’s network to allow access to these external devices.

While I will never say ‘Client security doesn’t matter,’ I can say that with a solution like Evolve IP’s Workspaces, client security CAN significantly become less of a concern for your organization.  While you certainly want your users to protect themselves, their devices, and their personal information, most organizations don’t want to take on the burden and cost of ensuring these things.  By separating your organization’s data, applications, client information, etc, and ensuring that these things never actually leave the data center and do not end up being processed or stored on your users’ devices, you can let your users manage their own security needs while you ensure your data center and internal network are meeting your security needs and compliance standards.  Even in the event that a user’s device may be compromised, by putting access to BOTH your internal data and applications AS WELL AS your external applications behind the Evolve IP Workspace Identity Management platform, you are ensuring that a user’s compromised credentials without the Multifactor Authentication are, effectively, useless and ensure the security of your data and that of your clients.

 

[Desktop as a Service] - Workspaces by Evolve IP - a Better DaaS solution

Finally! A different virtual desktop solution that users love and is significantly more cost-effective than traditional cloud desktops. Workspaces, from Evolve IP, allows businesses to deliver the right tools for each user. HIPAA / HITRUST and PCI compliant, and ultra-secure with SSO and MFA.

Virtual Private Network Support

Obviously, the long list of additional considerations above suggests a complex interwoven mix of technologies.  Each of these disparate platforms and solutions will require configuration and administration from a knowledgeable IT team.  Couple this with the need to be prepared to support multiple different user devices, multiple Operating Systems, users of varying skill levels, and a myriad of potential issues on end-user devices, and it is easy to see the difficult nature of supporting a client VPN solution.

If an application isn’t performing well, is it because of latency?  Is it because of the end user’s hardware?  Does that user not have fast or reliable enough internet connectivity?  These are the types of challenges that IT teams come across on a daily basis when managing this type of Work-From-Home solution.   Couple this with the need for password resets for not only general access and internal applications but all of the different external applications that your users regularly use, and it isn’t difficult to imagine an IT team or helpdesk becoming quickly overburdened.  This has been the reality for many organizations that have adopted this type of solution due to the current pandemic.

Imagine, instead, a single user experience – that no matter what type of device a user is connecting from or where they are, everything looks, feels, and most importantly, behaves the same way.  Imagine enabling user self-service account administration for things like password resets and being able to only log in once in order to launch your desktop, your softphone, an internal application that lives on your servers/network, an external application like SalesForce.   Evolve IP’s Workspaces makes this a reality.  By providing a unified cross-platform user experience and leveraging the tools of our Identity Management solution, supporting Work-From-Home users has never been easier.  As an added bonus, even when your users return to the office, they will still access all of their resources the same way which makes user onboarding, training, and support and optimized and simplified experience.

So, no… the VPN is definitely not dead, but there are a lot of reasons that, for many organizations, it can and should be.  We would love to speak with you further about how Evolve IP’s Workspaces solution can better enable your organization to provide a highly-secure, reliable, predictable-cost-conscious, and easily-supportable Work-From-Home solution that will both solve your immediate needs and provide a strategic long-term solution that will take your productivity and mobility to the next level.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/the-virtual-private-network-vpn-is-it-dead

Publish Date: October 9, 2020 5:00 AM


The Contact Center Solution for Covid-19 Challenges

The recent health crisis has forced contact centers to quickly spin up patchwork, work-from-home solutions, or dramatically alter their physical contact center footprint. Now, with businesses evaluating a long-term strategic change toward work anywhere users, IT and contact center leaders are looking at better ways to connect agents not only to the contact center solution, but to the critical applications they need to do their jobs.

The Most Common Work From Home Challenges:

  • Agents could no longer request immediate help from their Supervisor and SMEs by raising hand or walking to desk
  • Supervisors lost ability to observe, coach, and evaluate Agents by sitting with them
  • WFH technology varied by user and IT drowned figuring out how to fix infinitely different configurations, home networks, and ISP issues

 Leading Contact Center Software Solution:

A Unified solution that seamlessly unites the Contact Center and the rest of the organization

Evolve Contact Suite

Evolve contact suite is a fully unified, omnichannel contact center that integrates with PBX, workspaces, and Microsoft Teams and is priced significantly lower (30-40%) than competing solutions.

Contact Center in the cloud is an essential part of a Work Anywhere solution. According to recent research, 71% of respondents consider a unified Contact Center and PBX important.

Benefits of this Approach:

  • Flexible WFH Deployment Options – Agents can operate via the best endpoint for their needs including a softphone (ECS or Teams or UC1), their mobile phone, a physical handset (SIP or Teams), etc.
  • Seamless Customer Experience – Agents can collaborate with anybody in the organization to get the answers they need plus they can instantly conference or transfer a Supervisor or SME.
  • Leadership Empowered – Supervisors can remotely listen to live interactions and “whisper” in their Agent’s ear to provide instant coaching.
  • Expanded Labor Pool – Leadership has the flexibility to hire staff that can Work Anywhere.

Contact Evolve IP to learn about Evolve Contact Suite, a fully unified omnichannel contact center solution that integrates with PBX & Microsoft Teams to deliver superior customer experience and enterprise-grade business continuity.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/the-contact-center-solution-for-covid-19-challenges

Publish Date: September 18, 2020 5:00 AM


Compare VDI to Hosted Virtual Desktops / DaaS

D.I.Why? In-House VDI vs Cloud-Desktop-as-a-Service

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure providers / VDI providers are in high demand as businesses seek out Work Anywhere solutions. Here’s a list of the top providers and technologies as seen in Gartner’s DaaS Market guide:

  • Evolve IP
  • VMWare
  • Citrix
  • Amazon Web Services
  • Microsoft
  • IBM
  • dinCloud
  • Cisco
  • Red Hat
  • RapidScale
  • Nutanix
  • Parallels
  • Vagrant
  • Nerdio

In addition, there’s been much confusion in the market as virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) providers have become interchangeable in terminology with DaaS and hosted virtual desktop (HDV).

We’ve written this blog post to help businesses evaluate virtual desktop infrastructure solutions and the plusses and minuses associated with a DIY vs. provider approach.

In the world of virtual desktop solutions, there are a lot of variables and decisions to be made, but none of these are as paramount or as journey-defining as whether to build your own in-house VDI as a self-managed solution or to partner with a Cloud Services Provider for a partially or fully-managed DaaS / hosted virtual desktop solution.

It should come as no surprise that, in the IT world, we don’t do ourselves any favors when it comes to terminology and acronyms, and things like virtual desktop (VD), hosted virtual desktop (HDV), remote desktop, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) are often used interchangeably. I won’t even get started on Desktops-as-a-Service … that little ‘S’ drives me nuts!

As a result, it can get a bit fuzzy when trying to understand exactly what solution you’re looking at. Given that, let’s take a quick moment to clarify terms so we can break things down into two categories.

First, we have VDI – short for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. VDI, at its core, means that you are using some form of a central server/servers to house the virtual desktops you are making available to your users. For this post we will consider the term VDI to refer to a virtual desktop solution that you are building and managing within infrastructure that you manage – running either in an in-house datacenter or collocated with a provider.

Alternatively, we have DaaS - short for Desktop-as-a-Service. For all intents and purposes, DaaS is VDI; it uses the same components to deliver the same solution to achieve the same goals. The difference is that with DaaS, a provider is building, maintaining, and/or managing the platform that delivers the desktops to your users as a cloud-based service rather than doing it in-house… hence, the ‘as-a-Service.’

Now that we have defined them and understand the key difference between VDI and DaaS, how do you know which solution is right for you? Should you be looking to implement a VDI solution or contract for a DaaS solution? There are a few key things to take into consideration to aid in making the decision.

Considerations For Comparing In-house VDI vs. Hosted Virtual Desktops / DaaS:

  • IT Staffing
    • Expertise
    • Areas of Focus
    • Training
  • Infrastructure
    • Servers
    • Licensing
    • Storage
    • Networking
  • Management & Support
    • Budgeting
    • CAPEX vs OPEX
    • ‘The Bucket Problem’

Many traditional approaches to differentiating virtual desktop solutions begins with budget and infrastructure, but to me, the most important factor regarding the right fit begins with your IT team.

In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Staffing

This isn’t really a question of headcount as much as it is a combination of ability and current workload. Organizations often tend to have difficulty striking a balance between having a large enough team with enough specialized technical ability and having the capacity to take on new and complex projects.

For example, a large IT team may have more capacity to take on work but will likely have varying skill levels throughout the team; whereas, you may have a small and technically-capable IT team which will already be at-or-near their capacity, working on other operational and administrative efforts.

This becomes extremely important because the process of designing, implementing, and managing an in-house VDI solution can be very complex and time-consuming work that will last as long as the solution is in-place.

Alternatively, engaging in a Desktop-as-a-Service solution model moves the complexity up-front as part of the discovery process, but you can then free your IT team for other priorities by shifting the responsibility of platform management of your virtual desktop solution to the provider.

It becomes a matter of whether your organization wants to make a long-term commitment to increasing IT personnel and /or providing additional training or, leveraging the resources, knowledge, and personnel of a provider.

In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Infrastructure

Similar to personnel resources, we need to account for infrastructure resources. Running an in-house virtual desktop infrastructure platform will require significant server hardware resources, licensing, shared storage, and additional network capacity, along with devices for both the internal LAN and the WAN to ensure sufficient external connectivity to accommodate your users.

While it is not uncommon for organizations running their own datacenter to have some overhead capacity available, it typically isn’t enough to build and operate an in-house VDI solution. This, then, requires making a significant investment in increasing your datacenter footprint, not only in terms of adding the required infrastructure, but also in accounting for any increased space, HVAC, and power requirements.

For organizations currently performing their own Disaster Recovery and/or Business Continuity solutions, they must also account for how they will protect any in-house VDI. Where many IT teams tend to go wrong here is in the practice of repurposing ‘old’ equipment or recently retired infrastructure that they may have just upgraded. While done with the best intentions, this can lead to significant future issues as the reliability and supportability of those devices will always be in question; otherwise, why upgrade it to begin with?

The takeaway is that an in-house VDI solution may be a great fit for your organization as long as you are willing to make the commitment for the required infrastructure and accompanying facilities concerns and can fit this solution into your strategic approach to business continuity.

On the other hand, the Desktop-as-a-Service solutions model can help alleviate the concerns around purchasing, configuring, maintaining, and supporting the additional infrastructure required, as well as blend more seamlessly into a continuity strategy given the more flexible nature of cloud-based solutions.

 

[Desktop as a Service] - Workspaces by Evolve IP - a Better DaaS solution

Finally! A different virtual desktop solution that users love and is significantly more cost-effective than traditional cloud desktops. Workspaces, from Evolve IP, allows businesses to deliver the right tools for each user. HIPAA / HITRUST and PCI compliant, and ultra-secure with SSO and MFA.

In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Management

For virtual desktop management and support, we’ve already covered the platform-side from a personnel and infrastructure perspective; however, when it comes to desktop management, in my opinion, the industry has historically made a mistake in that it tends to see both VDI and DaaS as solutions that will eliminate the administrative burden of managing desktops.

Frankly, that’s incorrect. Either solution can greatly reduce the administrative burden, but neither truly does away with it.

With both solutions, much of the administrative burden is shifted from managing desktops to managing images/templates, and many IT teams inadvertently make their jobs more complex by limiting their ability to utilize automation tools to assist with things like patching and antivirus management when deploying dynamic desktop environments (Note: we’ll address this more in a future blog post comparing and contrasting Static vs Dynamic DaaS solutions).

Having said all of this, there is a lot to be gained through streamlining either a VDI or DaaS solution to use as few images as possible; I like to refer to this as ‘simplification-through-standardization’ – the more you can provide a consistent user experience with fewer variables, the easier that solution is to support and manage.

In this case, VDI and DaaS are neck-and-neck with neither having much of a practical advantage over the other, but one of the ancillary benefits of a DaaS solution is in working with a provider who has a myriad of experience having worked with clients, designing these solutions. The right partner will share the lessons-learned and guide your business based on what they have seen clients do both successfully and unsuccessfully.

In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Costs

In terms of virtual desktop budgets, I have to caveat my thoughts by saying that, historically, I’m not a ‘financials’ guy any more than I have ever needed to be, so we’re probably not going to get into much nuance when it comes to tax deductions, organizational budgeting impacts, and expense amortization. You will have a far better idea of your organization’s preference for capital expenditure (CAPEX) vs operational expenditure (OPEX) and reasons therein.

The important thing to note for the purposes of our discussion is that CAPEX-leaning organizations, who are more open to making the significant investment in the required infrastructure, would seem to be a better fit for VDI, whereas OPEX-leaning organizations would be a much more natural fit for the subscription-based approach of DaaS.

What about when we look at the technology-side of CAPEX vs OPEX, though? Are there any differences there?

This is where I would like to introduce what I refer to as ‘The Bucket Problem.’ I have three buckets, each of which can hold twenty gallons. Any amount up to sixty gallons, total, I can easily accommodate within those buckets; whether that’s three buckets with ten gallons each, or two with fifteen each, and one with seven. I am completely fine as long as I stay within the sixty gallons that I have allotted to myself.

What happens when I get to gallon number 61, though? Now, I have a decision to make. Do I run out and buy another twenty-gallon bucket knowing that I’m not going to get close to that eighty-gallon-mark for a long time, so I’m buying a lot of extra capacity that I don’t immediately need, or do I just get a five-gallon bucket to kick the problem down the road a while but which leaves me with an asymmetrical and internally inconsistent solution?

This is the exact problem businesses face with an internal VDI, CAPEX-driven model. Once you start to get near the capacity of available desktops and begin to start planning for growth, you need to determine how you will grow the environment. This also makes locking-in an exact price per user difficult, because, to our earlier example, that 61st gallon of water is now costing you as much as gallons forty-one through sixty are as a whole.

One of the primary benefits of a DaaS platform with a subscription model is that every user has the same cost which remains consistent as the platform grows. This Predictable Cost Model makes growth, especially for Merger & Acquisition-driven companies, much easier than with an in-house VDI solution.

Another virtual desktop budget consideration is whether or not everyone in your company needs DaaS or VDI. New solutions, like Evolve IP’s Workspaces, can help furthrer reduce costs by providing a single virtual desktop platform that allows IT to deliver DaaS to only those users who need a cloud desktop, while the rest of the business’ employees can access SaaS and legacy line-of-business applications via SSO and MFA. One platform, completely secure, and everything runs the same way on laptops, desktops, tablets and mobile devices.

So, when it comes to VDI vs. DaaS, which is the right fit for your organization? Well… that’s not an answer that anyone else can give you. My personal suggestion would be to make sure that you give both equal consideration and be sure to run a Total Cost of Ownership comparison as part of your evaluation process. That will give a firm grasp of all of the financial considerations of both solutions.

When comparing TCO for a do-it-yourself VDI solution to a subscription-based cloud DaaS solution be sure to include easily neglected elements like personnel headcount, capacity, training, licensing, datacenter costs, additional external bandwidth, etc. If you don’t include these pieces upfront, those costs will end up surprising you later.

In-house VDI vs. DaaS: Providers

Also, try to find a way to quantify the intangibles such as the benefit of working with a provider who has experience (shameless plug – Evolve IP is VMware’s largest DaaS provider in the world and we’ve been in every DaaS Gartner Market Guide since inception) and whether your organization may be able to benefit from ancillary services like additional management or support from a provider which may have the added benefit of additional discounts or economy of scale savings.

Good health and best wishes, and best of luck navigating the waters of selecting and providing the most robust, secure, and scalable Work Anywhere solutions called for in our current times! We, at Evolve IP, are here to help however we can!

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/compare-vdi-to-hosted-virtual-desktops-daas

Publish Date: July 14, 2020 5:00 AM


Work From Home – An Application and Identity Management Guide | Part 1

This is part one of our three-part series on work from home - an application and identity management guide. In this section, we’ll cover the ins and outs of identity and access management. Before we get into the meat of this write-up, we’ll start with a little baseline background.

Background

SaaS is exploding.  Unless you live on Mars, this is a pretty obvious statement!  But what isn’t perhaps as obvious is the gaping hole this explosion is causing in your IT security posture. In many organizations, Active Directory (AD), which used to control all access to company resources, now only governs 20% of applications while 80% of a user’s application load comes from a 3rd party like Salesforce.com or Concur.

That also means IT is no longer the linchpin to get applications up and running. If a user or group of users want to share files, they can have an app up and running in 5 minutes with a credit card. Similarly, when internal applications are not easy to use, the workforce is finding, they now have the power to go out and sign up for tools on their own.

IT is struggling to provide users with the flexibility to get tools the way they want them, while also trying to get their arms around provisioning, usage, and de-provisioning.

Identity and Access Management Defined (loosely)

It’s essential to define these terms before we dive into these two distinct functions within an IT security framework.

Identity Management – This refers to the process of assigning and then managing the attributes of a user.  Who are they, what groups they are a part of etc. For example, “This person is remote, part of the Marketing functional area,” and so on.

Access Management – This refers to the process of taking the above identities, or groups of identities and deciding what IT resources they have access to.

These terms are very closely related and often used interchangeably. This is likely because traditional IT environments where corporate assets have been housed internally have utilized Active Directory (AD) to address both of these dynamics.  Who you are and what you can access.

However, with the explosion of SaaS, AD isn’t able to perform these functions by itself any longer.

Identity Management

Solutions for identity management can be segmented into two buckets:

Here are a few of the options:

Traditional AD – Companies not yet “cloud-enabled” are using this tried and true structure, whether hosted on-premises or in some sort of private cloud environment.  It works great; it’s robust and very familiar and easy to manage.  But, it’s lacking when companies start venturing out to SaaS applications, and identities must be created and maintained at these providers individually; it’s extremely time-consuming for IT to create, manage, and audit.

Directory as a Service – Seriously … another DaaS??  In all seriousness, these are purpose-built solutions hosted by 3rd parties specifically for managing user identities.  They are often built to integrate with other cloud solutions like SaaS applications.  A great example of this would be Azure AD, which is very popular. Mostly due to the fact it’s given away for free in some instances.  These are great for companies that are entirely “cloud-enabled,” but they aren’t built upon full-blown AD.  So, companies that have any legacy infrastructure that requires full AD must maintain both.  And while these two can integrate with each other, it can only be managed using the full AD instance as opposed to the cloud directory instance since that’s the scaled-down version.

In part two of this series on work from home - an application and identity management guide, we’ll dig into what SSO is, how it works, and the three big considerations for why to use SSO. For a much more thorough dive into the work-from-home guide, follow the link above.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/work-from-home-an-application-and-identity-management-guide-part-1

Publish Date: July 13, 2020 5:00 AM


Top 15 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Work Anywhere Unified Communications and Collaboration Solution

Users expect to communicate as they do with consumer applications – anywhere, anytime, on any device, with a single click. According to Gartner, by 2022, 70% of businesses will rely primarily on business collaboration tools to get work done. This number is likely to increase given the current health crisis and the increasing number of remote workers.

While there are many video-conferencing / collaboration solutions out there, there are very few providers that are able to deliver true collaboration solutions. A true collaboration solution not only delivers world-class collaboration features such as video conferencing, persistent chat, desktop sharing, file sharing, group editing, multi-party audio-video calling, remote/mobile/guest conferencing, etc. but also seamlessly integrates with a voice solution to deliver enterprise-grade PBX features, business continuity, and high-availability (99.999% uptime) all while maintaining the team’s end-user experience.

Like most businesses, if your enterprise is looking for an all-in-one, secure, scalable, voice-enabled collaboration solution, then here are the top 15 questions that you need to consider before choosing a true business collaboration platform:

Strategic Questions to Consider

1. What is your Collaboration Strategy (meeting, video, mobile)? Do you have single/multiple communications & collaboration solutions in place? Have you considered transitioning to a single collaboration solution such as voice-enabled Microsoft Teams or Cisco UC?

2. What is your Hiring / Recruiting Strategy? Are you hiring a more mobile/younger workforce?

3. Do you have a Work From Home (WFH) Strategy in place for your employees? What kind of applications do your employees access while they are mobile? How will they access applications, hosted on-premises, or collaborate when remote?

4. What is your Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy? If your employees don’t have a work laptop to bring home, this is a great time to investigate an ‘any device’ strategy.

5. Do you have a Business Continuity Plan in place to carry out business as usual during a health crisis, natural disaster, or geopolitical issue?

6. Does your enterprise need to meet any Compliance requirements? Can you host your solutions in HIPAA/HITRUST, PCI, SOC compliant datacenters? Have you considered an Identity & Access Management / Single Sign-On solution to easily secure, access, and manage your applications?

Technical Questions to Consider

7. What groups, other than IT, may have deployed a solution? How will you integrate their solutions and projects with other teams?

8. What are the ‘must-have’ requirements for your collaboration solution?

9. What are the core needs and features that you absolutely must have from your phone system?

10.  Do you want your phone system integrated with your collaboration software?

11. What kind of phones do you have? Does the current collaboration solution support your existing handsets?

12. Will you want your call center integrated with your collaboration solution?

13. Are you a Microsoft business? Are you already using Office365? How do your associates leverage O365 today? Have you deployed Microsoft Teams or plan to adopt Microsoft Teams in the next 12 months?

14. Are you using Cisco Webex? How important are video meetings for your organization? Do you need your meetings recorded? Do you have Cisco-specific hardware?

15. Does your existing collaboration, phone system, and contact center solution support a long-term collaboration strategy? How secure and scalable is your current collaboration solution?

Once you’ve had the above-mentioned discussion internally with your team, Evolve IP can help you with the next steps. With remote working becoming the new normal and business continuity becoming a necessity, Evolve IP has been consulting, supporting, and transitioning an increased number of organizations to a ‘work anywhere’ platform.

Evolve IP combines the world’s most stable voice platform, Cisco, with the world’s leading collaboration solution, Microsoft Teams, to deliver advanced PBX features, contact center functionalities, and 24x7x365 U.S.-based support that enables businesses to work securely, from anywhere, on any device. This powerful combination enables us to deploy flexible, purpose-built business collaboration experiences that are designed to meet the unique needs of your business’ environment and dramatically improve your associates’ productivity.

About Evolve IP

Evolve IP enables people to Work Anywhere™, more productively and more securely. We design Purpose-Built® solutions, tailored just for your business, that unify workspaces, collaboration and communications, and contact centers. Integrating blue-chip technology partners like Microsoft, Cisco, Citrix and VMware, with our intellectual property, Evolve IP’s analyst-acclaimed solutions have been deployed globally to 500,000+ users and into the world’s most well-known brands. All Evolve IP associates are focused on driving successful client outcomes and that has resulted in our scoring at the top of verified analyst and client satisfaction rankings.

Categories: Business Collaboration Work Anywhere

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/top-15-questions-to-ask-yourself-before-choosing-a-work-anywhere-unified-communications-and-collaboration-solution

Publish Date: May 19, 2020 5:00 AM


Remote Work Considerations – Illicit Applications and Shadow IT

Having provided virtual desktop and infrastructure solutions for over 11 years Evolve IP has seen a massive shift take place in the way IT is providing applications to end users.  11 years ago, customers were utilizing 90% client-server based software.  Meaning companies would acquire a server, whether physical or virtual, install the application and then install the client on each user’s desktop.   

Now, fast forward to today and I would argue that the number is down to around 25%. So, where are all those applications moving?  It should be no surprise when I write Software as a Service (SaaS).  Companies like Salesforce.com, ADP, Concur, Outreach are all delivered via a browser with no software to install. 

For the purposes of this post, I’ll be using the term “before” to describe how applications were delivered to end users in the “old days” and “after” to describe how applications are delivered now.  Our first post looked at the changing role of Active Directory, the second showed how SaaS has caused IT to play Defense in the Wild West, and last we looked at BYOD and Remote Work. 

Today, is the granddaddy of IT subterfuge … Illicit applications and Shadow IT 

Just a few years ago, when it came to application implementationIT held all the power.  If Marketing wanted a new CRM, IT would need to technically bless the app, deploy it and then finally provide credentials to each user.  Obviously, this is a very inefficient process and one of several reasons for the explosion of SaaS-based applications.   

Application provisioning has dramatically changed with the explosion of SaaS. Today, that same Marketing team can deploy an entire tech stack in an afternoon with a credit card. Because there is little if any dependence on IT, organizations are finding more and more instances of “shadow IT”.  In essence, functional areas are going out and utilizing applications without oversight from IT which leaves the organization extremely vulnerable.   

Organizations have begun writing policies to try and curb this adoption but increased pressure from the business is causing employees to resort to what they think is best to achieve their specific needs losing sight of the overall impact to the business. Training and education workshops help, but IT leaders are left scratching their heads on the best way to deter this behavior. 

Remote Work Considerations – Securing the New Corporate Network

Evolve IP has developed a comprehensive solution that addresses the needs of the IT and the business. Workspaces enable mobility and security and give employees the tools they need to do their jobs in ways that make them more productive than ever.

Enter Workspaces

Evolve IP has been working diligently to address the security defenses needed for businesses dealing with SaaS and Legacy line-of-business applications.  

Evolve IP Workspaces include: 

  • Active Directory Integration – Control access to legacy and SaaS applications through AD 
  • Multi-factor Authentication – Increase security posture by requiring a second form of authentication 
  • BYOD Friendly – Allow employees to use any device while maintaining security controls 
  • Custom Toolbelt – Users get just the tools they need, the way they want them, increasing efficiency 
  • SSO and Self-Service Password Resets – Users adopt, and adhere to technologies that make their lives easier 
  • Full DaaS capabilities for power users 

Enjoyed this post? Download all four sections of the Remote Work Considerations - Securing the New Corporate Network brief here. For more information about Workspaces please visit www.evolveip.net/workspaces or give us a call at 855-481-3798 for a demo. 

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/remote-work-considerations-illicit-applications-and-shadow-it

Publish Date: April 20, 2020 5:00 AM


Remote Work Considerations – Remote Work is Hell for IT

Having provided virtual desktop and infrastructure solutions for over 11 years Evolve IP has seen a massive shift take place in the way IT is providing applications to end users.  11 years ago, customers were utilizing 90% client-server based software.  Meaning companies would acquire a server, whether physical or virtual, install the application and then install the client on each user’s desktop.   

Now, fast forward to today and I would argue that the number is down to around 25%. So, where are all those applications moving?  It should be no surprise when I write Software as a Service (SaaS).  Companies like Salesforce.com, ADP, Concur, Outreach are all delivered via a browser with no software to install. 

For the purpose of this post, I’ll be using the term “before” to describe how applications were delivered to end users in the “old days” and “after” to describe how applications are delivered now.  Our first post looked at the changing role of Active Directory, the second showed how SaaS has caused IT to play Defense in the Wild West. Today’s topic is BYOD and Remote Work. 

For years, the business ruled the device decision.  IT would provide a spec to purchasing who would go out to Dell, HP and Lenovo in search of 2 things.  The best price and the most standardization.  This was done to make IT’s life easier.  The fewer drivers the better.  Everyone gets the same device … office worker or road warrior, accountant or marketer, you were getting the same exact device.  Which made sense back then. 

But the explosion of SaaS, and therefore much lower dependence on IT provided resources, has shifted the power of choosing which device a user will utilize to accomplish their job function.  What was forecasted for years in the making is now finally here and mainstream – the BYOD revolution.  Users are demanding to be able to do their jobs from their favorite devices whether iPad, desktop or personal laptops.  And what’s shocking is that, according to Gartner, this choice is increasingly affecting whether top candidates take or stay in a position within a given organization.  Thus, forcing the business to push even more for a BYOD stance.  

For the last few years, virtual desktops (VDI) or desktops as a service (DaaS) have been somewhat of a band-aid in this department.  IT figured out a way to give users access to a desktop OS from pretty much any device that has an internet connection while still being able to enforce some of those corporate controls mentioned above. This was a great step in the right direction but it still didn’t provide the native experience users desired for Mac devices, tablets etc. 

Remote Work Considerations – Securing the New Corporate Network

Evolve IP has developed a comprehensive solution that addresses the needs of the IT and the business. Workspaces enable mobility and security and give employees the tools they need to do their jobs in ways that make them more productive than ever.

Enter Workspaces

Evolve IP has been working diligently to address the security defenses needed for businesses dealing with SaaS and Legacy line-of-business applications.  

Evolve IP Workspaces include: 

  • Active Directory Integration – Control access to legacy and SaaS applications through AD 
  • Multi-factor Authentication – Increase security posture by requiring a second form of authentication 
  • BYOD Friendly – Allow employees to use any device while maintaining security controls 
  • Custom Toolbelt – Users get just the tools they need, the way they want them, increasing efficiency 
  • SSO and Self-Service Password Resets – Users adopt, and adhere to technologies that make their lives easier 
  • Full DaaS capabilities for power users 

Enjoyed this post? Download all four sections of the Remote Work Considerations - Securing the New Corporate Network brief here. For more information about Workspaces please visit www.evolveip.net/workspaces or give us a call at 855-481-3798 for a demo. 

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/remote-work-considerations-remote-work-is-hell-for-it

Publish Date: April 13, 2020 5:00 AM


Remote Work Considerations – SaaS Defense in the Wild West

Having provided virtual desktop and infrastructure solutions for over 11 years Evolve IP has seen a massive shift take place in the way IT provides applications to end users.  11 years ago, customers were utilizing 90% client-server based software. Meaning companies would acquire a server, whether physical or virtual, install the application and then install the client on each user’s desktop.   

Now, fast forward to today and I would argue that the number is down to around 25%. So, where are all those applications moving? It should be no surprise when I write Software as a Service (SaaS).  Companies like Salesforce.com, ADP, Concur, Outreach are all delivered via a browser with no software to install. 

For the purposes of this post, I’ll be using the term “before” to describe how applications were delivered to end users in the “old days” and “after” to describe how applications are delivered now.  Our first post looked at the changing role of Active Directory and today we’re going to see how SaaS has caused IT to play Defense in the Wild West. 

Up until the explosion of SaaS, the industry best practice was what IT referred to as “defense in depth”.  At its most basic level, this meant a firewall at the edge of the network, then some sort of monitoring at the network level for traffic that may not appear legitimate, and then finally all sorts of different security tools at the server or desktop level. Basically, build big castle walls and keep the bad guys out. 

 Today, the new corporate network doesn’t stop at HQ’s walls.  It also doesn’t stop at the VPN connections.  It’s everywhere.  Users need to access resources from different SaaS providers around the globe and those connections are all public.   

 For corporate assets, IT still maintains anti-virus (AV) and other protections on those devices which certainly helps.  Some companies have turned to Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) in an effort put a man in the middle act as a relay to protect the enterprise while enabling a more flexible environment for their employees. Unfortunately, to date, these solutions have proved very costly and complicated to implement. 

Remote Work Considerations – Securing the New Corporate Network

Evolve IP has developed a comprehensive solution that addresses the needs of the IT and the business. Workspaces enable mobility and security and give employees the tools they need to do their jobs in ways that make them more productive than ever.

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/remote-work-considerations-saas-defense-in-the-wild-west

Publish Date: April 6, 2020 5:00 AM


Is your temporary Work From Home solution letting you down?

On Friday, April 3rd, Zoom reported an outage due to strains reported on the cloud video conferencing platform. Because of this outage, clients were reporting error messages after attempting to log into Zoom’s web client. According to Zoom’s status page on Friday, their web client is currently under maintenance and they are trying to get the Zoom web client and web SDK back online.

Additionally, on Wednesday, April 1st, Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, enacted a freeze on all feature development for 90 days due to security and privacy issues such as information leaks reported by users (a.k.a “Zoombombing”).

While Zoom gained popularity during the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the limitation of offering video conferencing capabilities alone coupled with the recent incidents have got businesses wondering if Zoom is a reliable and long-term solution.

Is this the rise or fall of Zoom? Is it indicative of a larger issue with a piecemeal approach to your work from home strategy (or lack thereof)?

What businesses need today – an integrated strategy

Most businesses, employees and customers that we’re interacting with today are looking for an integrated solution that strategically meets these three requirements:

  1. Enables everyone to work from anywhere on any device
  2. All-in-one voice-enabled platform-level collaboration solution
  3. Secure, scalable and long-term

Introducing Microsoft Teams

In a span of two years, Microsoft Teams has become the leading collaboration platform world-wide. It is used by 93 of the Fortune 100 companies and 44 million users daily. Microsoft Teams delivers world-class collaboration features such as collaborative, persistent chats, desktop sharing, file sharing, group editing, multi-party audio/video calling, remote/mobile/guest conferencing and more – all in one place, on one platform, with one click. But what about voice?

Introducing Voice-Enabled Microsoft Teams

That’s where Evolve IP comes in. Evolve IP combines the world’s most stable Cisco hosted PBX platform, with Microsoft Teams to deliver advanced PBX features and contact center functionalities that enable businesses to work securely from anywhere on any device. Evolve IP’s Microsoft Teams solution has helped our associates and customers successfully carry out business and work remote during this pandemic. And whether it’s the Zoom outage that was reported on Friday, April 3rd or a collaboration provider’s outage, Evolve IP has you covered.

Mobile Workspaces –  a better solution than ‘just’ Desktop as a Service

Ditch the VPN with Evolve IP’s Workspaces and give your associates easy identity management and access to all of their SaaS applications, as well delivers data center applications to any device, wherever your users are and whatever devices they are on. IT also features full cloud desktops for power users with heavy OS needs.

Integrated with Evolve IP’s collaboration and voice solutions we deliver a seamless, strategic Work Anywhere approach that keeps businesses productive, secure and mobile.

Business Continuity

With Evolve IP’s award-winning OSSmosis portal, clients can quickly and efficiently reroute incoming voice traffic to an alternate phone number. So during a crisis, an event of a natural disaster or a Microsoft Teams outage, your associates can enable the business continuity feature on OSSmosis and stay connected.

In addition to the call forwarding and remote office option available for voice via Evolve IP’s OSSmosis portal, our Microsoft Teams Direct Routing solution differentiates itself by delivering advanced PBX features, contact center functionalities, call recording, receptionist applications, 24x7x365 US based support and dedicated project management all via a platform level integration (and not a 3rd party software like most vendors out there). And because our solution is built on the world’s leading and most stable VoIP platform, Cisco, we can ensure reliability, security and uptime that no other voice-enabled Teams provider can.

We can help

Do you have a complete Work From Home strategy yet? Are you planning to adopt Zoom and add multiple vendors/solutions for PBX and contact center capabilities? Do you plan on providing virtual desktop options for your associates or deliver one-off access or are you planning to migrate to Evolve Teams Enterprise Voice, the only platform-level solution that integrates with the best technologies world-wide, Microsoft & Cisco?

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/is-your-temporary-work-from-home-solution-letting-you-down

Publish Date: April 6, 2020 5:00 AM


Remote Work Considerations – Access Control and the Changing Role of Active Directory

Having provided virtual desktop and infrastructure solutions for over 11 years Evolve IP has seen a massive shift take place in the way IT provides applications to end users.  11 years ago, customers were utilizing 90% client-server based software. Meaning companies would acquire a server, whether physical or virtual, install the application and then install the client on each user’s desktop.   

Now, fast forward to today and I would argue that the number is down to around 25%. So, where are all those applications moving? It should be no surprise when I write Software as a Service (SaaS).  Companies like Salesforce.com, ADP, Concur, Outreach are all delivered via a browser with no software to install. 

For the purposes of these posts, I’ll be using the term “before” to describe how applications were delivered to end users in the “old days” and “after” to describe how applications are delivered today.  We will cover the four main differences and what IT has to be cognizant of regarding these dynamics. This first post looks at Access Control.  

As networks matured over time, IT realized they needed some “rules of the road”.  Active Directory (AD) was put in place to control which network resources users could access.  So, by creating user groups with permissions, IT could enable a user with one set of credentials and off they went.   

Unfortunately, SaaS providers are all independent of each other.  Therefore, there is no common framework IT can enable in order to control access to SaaS providers.  In theory, you could control access from the corporate network to decide which SaaS providers your users could get to, but as with many ideas on how to lock down security, that would prove to be completely inflexible in practice. 

The result? IT is forced to not only provide AD credentials for corporate legacy access, but then enable, manage and finally disable access to all SaaS providers individually.   

For enabling and managing access, this equates to a massive commitment of time from IT.  However, the larger consideration here is when employees are offboarded.  IT must first figure out which applications users were given access to when they started, then what access they may have gained throughout their tenure and finally what other applications do they have access to that IT may not even know of – also known as Shadow IT. When this is an amicable parting of ways, it’s more of an annoyance, but when it’s a sensitive or negative offboarding, this can present huge business risk if not done quickly and accurately. 

Remote Work Considerations – Securing the New Corporate Network

Evolve IP has developed a comprehensive solution that addresses the needs of the IT and the business. Workspaces enable mobility and security and give employees the tools they need to do their jobs in ways that make them more productive than ever.

Enter Workspaces

Evolve IP has been working diligently to address the access management needs of businesses while enabling mobility, security. Evolve IP Workspaces include: 

  • Active Directory Integration – Control access to legacy and SaaS applications through AD 
  • Multi-factor Authentication – Increase security posture requiring a second form of authentication 
  • BYOD Friendly – Allow employees to use any device while maintaining security controls 
  • Custom Toolbelt – Users get just the tools they need, the way they want them, increasing efficiency 
  • SSO and Self-Service Password Resets – Users adopt, and adhere to technologies that make their lives easier 
  • Full DaaS capabilities for power users 

Enjoyed this post? Download all four sections of the Remote Work Considerations - Securing the New Corporate Network brief here. For more information about Workspaces please visit www.evolveip.net/workspaces or give us a call at 855-481-3798 for a demo. 

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/remote-work-considerations-access-control-and-the-changing-role-of-active-directory

Publish Date: March 27, 2020 5:00 AM


Work from Home DaaS Comparison – Cost Considerations

If your business is considering enabling remote work, Bring Your Own Device or looking to easily provision, update and secure your users with DaaS or a virtual workspace you’re not alone. In fact, according to Gartner, DaaS momentum continues to build – especially in the midmarket. 

To help businesses think through some of the major considerations we developed a comparison guide that outlines: 

  • How projects get funded 
  • Major solution types 
  • Key questions to consider
  • A cost evaluation process
  • Thoughts on overcoming objections 

So, why would should listen to us? Well, Evolve IP… 

  • Has been providing DaaS solutions for over 11 years 
  • Is the largest multi-tenant VMware DaaS provider in the United States.  
  • Our solution has been named in every Gartner DaaS Market Guide since inception.  
  • We also work with Citrix and have deployed virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) for clients. 
  • We have tens of thousands of users 

Bottom line, we have a lot of experience to pull from for this comparison. 

Today we will look at the number one question / consideration we hear … What is the Total Cost of Ownership of Desktop-as-a-Service / DaaS 

If you’ve read any of our previous posts you’ll understand why this question / consideration is the equivalent of an online mic drop! Why? It might have been some twisted joke from our Product team, but in this case better is significantly cheaper.  

Looking at DaaS, for almost every provider the pricing model is the same.  You buy a seat, then you outfit the seat with the ancillary parts and pieces needed to actually make the desktop work.  The typical seat itemization would include: 

  1. RMM (Remote Monitoring and Management) – this is a tool used to manage desktops.  In our case, we use N-Able.  However, we also allow customers to bring their own solutions to the table and re-use them in our cloud. 
  2. Anti-Virus – In today’s environment you had better protect those devices.  We utilize Trend AV or allow our customers to bring their own solutions. 
  3. Operating System – Pretty straight forward.  Again, if customers have their own Office 365 OS they can bring that along. 
  4. Patching – This is not a requirement, but more and more clients are asking us to apply Windows, 3rd party and AV patches/updates.  We think this is great move because there is ZERO value to the business handling this exercise and you are paying an IT professional WAY too much for such a mundane chore.  Not to mention we’ve never found anyone in IT that wakes up thinking, “I can’t wait to patch my desktops today.” (If this is you, put down the whitepaper and call someone for help!) 

Comparing DaaS Solutions

This virtual desktop or DaaS comparison guide is designed for those who are looking into hosted virtual desktops or desktops as a service (DaaS). It also compares the technology to Evolve IP’s Workspaces solution.

So, how does a typical DaaS solution compare to Workspaces? Here’s a list price comparison. 

  DaaS    SaaS Only  SaaS & Apps  SaaS & DaaS 
Desktop – 8G RAM  $62  $6  $60  $75 
RMM Tool  $6  Included 
Anti-Virus  $2  Included 
Operating System  $7  Included 
Patching  $12  Included 
Total  $89  $6  $60  $75 

Remember when we talked about the 3 user types?  This is when it really hits home.  In the DaaS world, every user is $89.  However, with Workspaces, users are matched with just the tools they need; drastically reducing your overall TCO!   

Here is an example of what Evolve IP Workspaces looks like with 450 users compared to a 100% DaaS solution. 

  DaaS    Workspaces 
Seat Type  DaaS    SaaS Only  SaaS & Apps  SaaS & DaaS 
User Count  450    50  200  200 
Per Seat Cost  $89    $6  $60  $75 
  $40,050    $27,300 

Source: https://www.evolveip.net/blog/desktop-as-a-service-comparison-cost-considerations

Publish Date: March 26, 2020 5:00 AM

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