Startel Corp. - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog
In our sixth and final week of our debunking the cloud myths series, we take on the misconception that the Cloud is too significant to outsource control. While outsourcing will result in less control from a technical standpoint, the business ease and financial savings will continue to increase the usage of these services.
MYTH: Too Significant to Outsource Control.
FACT: When considering implementing a cloud-based solution, most people tend to think they will have to give up control of their organization to their cloud vendor. From a technical standpoint this is in part true, as your cloud provider becomes responsible for implementing, maintaining and updating your hardware and software. However, it is the client who continues to manage his/her organization and its day-to-day operations, including routing calls, setting up accounts, assigning privileges, etc., using their administrator login. When selecting a cloud provider, it is important that you choose one who you view as a partner and trust to manage your IT resources. Giving up some control may be a good thing, especially when you have a trusted partner to focus on the technology pain points of your business. And in turn, you will be able to concentrate on other areas of your business that add value.
Thank you to those that kept up with our blog series, Dispelling 6 Misconceptions about the Cloud, over the past 6 weeks. We hope you enjoyed reading it, and learned a thing or two along the way. Designed for small and mid-size organizations, Startel’s Cloud Contact Center Solution enables customers to access our entire suite of products and applications and communicate with their customers any time, on any device, anywhere in the world, via an Internet connection. To learn more about Startel’s Cloud Contact Center solution, visit our website or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publish Date: November 14, 2014 5:00 AM
There has been a lot of hype around the word ‘cloud’. In fact, wherever you go, and no matter what type of technology you stumble across, there now seems to be a ‘cloud’ version of it. In the fifth week of our 6-week series addressing the myths/misconceptions related to the cloud, we examine the myth that the Cloud is a Fad. According to industry analysts and experts, forget fad. The Cloud is real, it’s here and it’s growing!
MYTH: Cloud is a Fad.
FACT: Cloud is here to stay, and according to Gartner it is accelerating quickly and globally. Based on their 2011-2017 forecast, Gartner expects adoption to hit $250 billion by 20172. And the McKinsey consulting firm forecast that cloud technology could have an economic impact of $1.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion by year 20252.
While its terminology has changed in recent years, and the ways in which the technology is being used have evolved, the concept of cloud computing dates back to the early 1960’s, when computer scientist John McCarthy discussed it at MITs centennial celebration3. Once the Internet matured, the vision of cloud computing became a reality when Salesfore.com began delivering applications through a website in the late 90s. Since then, employing private clouds has become a proven and established service, and if the experts prove to be correct, it is only a matter of time before most organizations have “gone to the cloud.”
Bottom line: The movement to cloud-based platforms is inevitable. Even cloud deniers need to come around to the fact that the way we’ve been doing computing in the last 30 years is changing. Core applications, computing, storage, and other IT services will continue to move to public clouds. Although the migration will be slow, it will be steady.
Next week we wrap up our six-week series with our final myth: ‘The Cloud is Too Significant to Outsource Control.’ In the meantime, we look forward to hearing from you! Please post your comments.
Publish Date: November 7, 2014 5:00 AM
During the fourth week of our 6-week series addressing the myths, or misconceptions, related to the cloud, we take on Myth 4: Cloud Cannot Scale for Large Organizations. Despite the current size of your organization – whether its large or small – this information is useful to know, especially as your organization grows in the years to come.
MYTH: Cloud Cannot Scale for Large Organizations
FACT: An advantage of using the cloud is that it adjusts to accommodate your business. If you need to add more staff or resources to support your business growth or to meet seasonal demands, you can easily scale up/down without making expensive changes to your existing IT systems. As a result of the scalability advantage, cloud users have the ability to pay for only what they use, minimizing costs and risk. No matter how large or small your organization is the ability to alter your plans due to fluctuation in business size and needs is an enticing benefit of the cloud.
Bottom Line: It doesn’t matter if your company has 10 employees or 10,000 employees – the cloud is built to scale quickly and efficiently, while ensuring that you only pay for what you use.
Next week we will examine the notion that the ‘Cloud is a Fad’, which based on industry reports and analyst findings could not be further from the truth. In the meantime, please post your comments. Enjoy your Halloween! We look forward to hearing from you!
Publish Date: October 31, 2014 5:00 AM
This week, the third week of our 6-week series addressing the myths/misconceptions associated with the cloud, we take on Myth 3, which revolves around the reliability of the cloud.
MYTH: Cloud is Not Reliable
FACT: While notable outages have been well documented in recent years, businesses that are using the cloud prove to be more reliable than other types of infrastructure platforms. Defined processes, advanced 24/7 monitoring capabilities and expert system administration all help contribute to uptime guarantee. In fact, most cloud providers offer a 98-99% SLA and have invested heavily in infrastructure and support to ensure high levels of performance and availability. With cloud solutions, data can be backed up to multiple locations and services, providing an added level of protection.
Studies by Microsoft and others have confirmed that when businesses shift to the cloud, they see improved service availability1. A 2013 study released by Microsoft Corporation found that SMBs that use cloud services have experienced the following advantages1:
- 94% have gained security benefits they did not have with their former on-premise technology, such as up-to-date systems, up-to-date antivirus and spam email management
- 62% have seen increased levels of privacy protection
- 75% have experienced improved service availability
The real silver lining in cloud computing is that it enables a higher level of reliability at a fraction of the cost.
Next week we will look into the myth that the ‘Cloud Cannot Scale for Large Organizations.’ In the meantime, please post your comments. We look forward to hearing from you!
Publish Date: October 24, 2014 5:00 AM
Over the course of the next 6 weeks, I am taking on many of the myths/misconceptions associated with the cloud. Here is Myth 2; please post your comments!
MYTH 2: Cloud is One Size Fits All
FACT: When it comes to the cloud, there is no such thing as a cookie-cutter solution. The idea that software in the cloud is not customizable is one that has been perpetuated by premise-based software vendors and is frankly not true. The inherent flexibility of the cloud means that organizations can have greater control and customization of their contact center solutions. Satellite offices can manage their own locations, while sharing the same technology platform across the whole organization and still benefit from centralized management. Predefined access rights enable individuals to see only the information that pertains to their permissions/role. Today’s cloud vendors offer a wide range of deployment options, service models and features to meet their clients’ requirements and needs. Be sure that the cloud vendor and cloud solution you select matches your organization’s needs and industry’s requirements.
Next week we will look into the myth that the ‘Cloud is Not Reliable,’ which studies by Microsoft and others have confirmed this to be quite untrue. In the meantime, please post your comments. We look forward to hearing from you!
Publish Date: October 17, 2014 5:00 AM
Cloud services and cloud platforms have become an undeniable part of the IT landscape. However, while the shift from traditional software models to the Internet has steadily gained momentum over the last several years, “the cloud” is still a fairly new concept. And like all things new, it comes with some concerns and uncertainty. Over the next 6 weeks, I will do my best to debunk some of the top misconceptions/myths associated with the cloud, including:
1. Cloud is Not Secure
2. Cloud is One Size Fits All
3. Cloud is Not Reliable
4. Cloud Cannot Scale for Large Organizations
5. Cloud is a Fad
6. Cloud is Too Significant to Outsource Control
If you have a concern about the cloud that is not listed above, please mention it here and give us the opportunity to address it.
When the cloud is done right, it fundamentally changes how companies and entire industries operate along with how customers engage and purchase products and services.
MYTH 1: Cloud is Not Secure
FACT: Security threats in the cloud are no greater, and in many cases much less common, than those faced by on-premise systems. When selecting a cloud provider, do your due diligence and ensure that your cloud vendor will host your contact center, and sensitive information, on a single instance cloud platform or dedicated hardware serving only your organization. Also ensure that the proposed cloud solution includes secure and redundant remote cloud servers protected by Tier III, SSAE16 data centers. Lastly, confirm that your center will be managed in a stable, PCI, HIPAA, GLBA and Sox compliant environment. Any reputable cloud provider will also provide clients with the following services:
- A dedicated team of IT experts
- Full compliance with industry and regulatory standards
- Regularly scheduled third-party security audits
- Automatic hardware and software updates
Next week we will take on the myth that the ‘Cloud is One Size Fits All’, which could not be further from the truth. In fact, the inherent flexibility of the cloud means that organizations can have greater control and customization of their contact center solutions. In the meantime, please post your comments. We look forward to hearing from you!
Publish Date: October 10, 2014 5:00 AM
On Thursday 8 May 2014, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) settled charges with mobile messaging application maker Snapchat. As the Wall Street Journal article reports, the gist of the alleged infractions (which were neither admitted nor denied by Snapchat) all relate to misleading consumers in one of three ways:
1. “By telling them (consumers) that messages would disappear.”
2. “Misrepresenting its (Snapchat’s) data collection practices.”
3. That Snapchat “didn’t adequately protect users’ personal data.”
I am not a lawyer, nor do I want to comment directly on the misfortunes of Snapchat who have now been ordered to implement a new comprehensive security program and agree to 20 years of monitoring by the FTC (an eternity in the technological world). I only bring this situation up as discussion points about, 1) what a technology company can and cannot guarantee users, and 2) what users of technology should look for in an application provider.
Working for technology companies for the last 25 years, I have seen many amazing changes occur in rapid fashion. We have gone from completely locked down proprietary systems where no Internet existed, to today’s cloud-based unified communications, where a 7-year-old can operate a smartphone to access an application that is maintained halfway around the world. As technology becomes more invasive in our lives, privacy issues are bound to increase exponentially. Perhaps part of the allure of today’s secure messaging trend is a direct backlash against broadcast technology, which has been so popular during the last few years. There seems to be a tug & pull between several technology trends: broadcast media vs. directed media; permanent vs. ephemeral content; data collection in order to serve up targeted online ads vs. temporary communication; contextual based communication vs. non-contextual communication; paid vs. free applications, and finally privacy vs. public disclosure.
I cannot help but feel sorrow for a technology company that builds and launches (often for free) a great product that satisfies the needs of the vast majority of their users, but still gets slammed by the small minority, who complain to the Federal Government (in this case the FTC). Keep in mind, these users chose to use the product in the first place! The take away may be that technology companies need “full disclosure” of what their applications can and cannot do (explained in layman’s terms), and in addition they need to be up front with any information they gather on their users. The old adage that “nothing is free” may apply here. After all, how could Snapchat provide a product for free with no strings attached? How could anyone for that matter? Perhaps users should look to technology companies that charge small fees for usage of their applications, but also fully disclose the application’s capabilities and limitations as well as if/how they handle customer information.
For instance, is making a claim that content will disappear guaranteed 100% of the time even a viable promise? Most people know that if you want to capture a screen on an Apple iPhone you push down on the “Hold Button” and while holding it down, you push down the “Home Button.” Most any message, or photo, sent to an iPhone user is susceptible to being copied and kept. Even if a technology company creates a product where the normal “screen capture” as described above does not work – what is to stop the recipient of a message whose content is meant by the sender to be private, from using a digital camera or secondary smartphone and taking a picture, or movie, of the screen and making it public? My point is there are myriad ways for the recipient of any form of media to copy and keep what is sent to them. There are even 3rd party programs specializing in thwarting “disappearing” messages and images.
Let’s assume in a professional business environment/setting the recipient and sender’s goals are aligned. In other words, the sender and receiver both want the text, photo, and/or video to disappear once they have reviewed it. If this is true, then most smartphone applications that promise privacy will be able to deliver. It is in the event that both senders’ and recipients’ goals are not aligned that we need to prepare for. What users need to know is that there is no 100% guarantee that text, images, and/or videos will disappear as intended by the sender, especially if the recipient’s goals are opposing or immoral. No technology vendor will be able to anticipate and prevent every unintended consequence of the use of their technology. Common sense by users should prevail.
In regards to what technology users should look for in an application provider, I would start with the belief that users of technology and those that create technology are partners. Partnerships will only be viable if there is a foundation of kindness, respect and honesty. So how does one determine if a technology company is a viable partner? Begin by excluding any companies that have proven they are not reliable partners. Review potential partners’ privacy policies and ensure that they adhere to it and that you agree with it.
Lastly, look for a technology provider who promises their sole source of funding is from the proceeds derived from sales by users of their technology and that they never share information with any 3rd parties at any time. They may charge users a small fee to use the application, but these days a small fee seems well worth the privacy it may buy. Just ask Snapchat.
Publish Date: June 2, 2014 5:00 AM
Text messaging (sending and receiving alphanumeric messages) is ubiquitous. Since 1982, mobile phones have had texting capability. Mobile phones utilize the mobile cell phone network and have access to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Each message utilizing SMS (Short Message Service) is limited to 160 characters, and uses telephone protocols, such as GSM, CDMA, etc.
The advent of the smartphones in 1994 (basically any phone with an operating system that can manage an application) brought the opportunity for phones to access the Internet (opened for public use in the 1990’s), which was a completely different channel of communication from the mobile cell phone network controlled by an oligopoly of carriers. This is why when most smartphone users begin service they have both a voice plan (for mobile cell phone network access) and a data plan (for Internet access). Now with the convergence of smartphones and the Internet, text messages can be sent via the public Internet, and use Internet protocols, e.g., TCP/IP, thus bypassing the carrier cabal.
Why am I bringing you down this road?
Because to understand today’s world of secure messaging it is important to know which highway text messages flow through and how those messages might be made HIPAA/HITECH compliant. Sending a text message via telephone protocols built by the carriers offers no guarantee that access of the messages will be protected from anyone with despicable intentions and means. In contrast, sending a text message via the Internet makes the use of “direct” encryption options possible. Using the Internet as the platform for sending and receiving text messages places control of whether to encrypt, or not encrypt, in the hands of the application developers and users. Using the mobile cell phone network to send and receive text messages, users are at the mercy of carriers with little incentive to encrypt messages, e.g., it adds cost and complexity to their model. In addition, carriers are designated “conduits” by HIPAA/HITECH and therefore do not share any potential liability in the case of breaches of ePHI (electronic protected health information). It should be noted that no carrier guarantees that SMS messages are encrypted during the time the message is running through their network. Since communication (including texts) most often traverse multiple carriers in the standard process of going from point A to point B, the issue of ensuring security is even less possible.
So what is the answer to protecting ePHI while texting?
What is the best way to guarantee that a text message containing ePHI is encrypted?
The solution lies in an application that utilizes both the Internet and encryption algorithm technology.
A few years ago, while discussing the concerns of Startel customers and their clients, we anticipated the need for a solution that would help prevent breaches of protected health information (PHI), or more specifically ePHI, and other private information. Soon after that discussion Startel launched a “cloud-based, device access only” secure messaging solution that is fully integrated with Startel’s Contact Center solution, the Startel Contact Management Center (CMC). Startel Secure Messaging is an application that can be downloaded onto any smartphone utilizing the following smartphone operating systems, such as iOS®, BlackBerry® OS and Android® OS. Once downloaded, the user is required to have a registration ID, which they can purchase from one of Startel’s telephone answering service customers or contact centers. Once the registration ID is entered, the application becomes fully operable for use either between the host (TAS or Contact Center) and the smartphone user, or two smartphone users in a peer-to-peer situation.
The Startel Secure Messaging application employs password protection, registration Id’s and Secure Socket Layer (SSL) technology to ensure that secure messages get where they are suppose to go, and only to their intended recipients. At a minimum, 128-bit encryption is utilized throughout the transport layer. Only the Startel Secure Messaging application has the ability to unencrypt a message encrypted by Startel’s Secure Messaging application. If someone intercepted a Startel Secure Message during transport and they used the fastest super computer on the planet – it would take them using brute force over 1.3 quadrillion years to break the message (source: http://www.kotfu.net/2011/08/what-does-it-take-to-hack-aes). Needless to say, the security of the ePHI is assured using the Startel Secure Messaging application.
Though the user of a smartphone would see no difference between a regular text message and a Startel Secure Message, the differences as noted above are tremendous. In today’s tech world, the power is to the people. No longer do a few carriers control whether the messages you and I send to one another can be read by a third-party. Currently, we are free to move about as we wish and encrypt at will.
A final note on HIPAA/HITECH compliance: Technology itself is not enough to be HIPAA/HITECH compliant. Technology can only assist in creating the environment where a user of ePHI can comply with HIPAA/HITECH.
At a future date, I will provide details of an active Startel project whose result will be a cloud-based version of Startel Secure Messaging with Web Access, versus just device access only. Please stay tuned.
Publish Date: November 25, 2013 5:00 AM
To ensure that your organization and your clients are acting in accordance with the HIPAA Security Rule as it relates to ENCRYPTION of ePHI, I did some extensive research and found a resource written by the American Medical Association titled “HIPAA Security Rule: Frequently asked questions regarding encryption of personal health information.” The document addresses a number of questions among physicians and other health care professionals as well as other HIPAA-covered entities and business associates. Consider the below points as it relates to your usage of ePHI:
To Begin with, What Information Should You Encrypt?
Any systems and individual files containing PHI/ePHI should be encrypted. Examples include electronic medical records, claims payment appeals, scanned images, emails containing ePHI, etc.
Emails containing ePHI. If you or your clients (physicians) correspond with health insurers or other health care professionals via email and those emails contain ePHI, then you could be accused of failing to protect ePHI for which you are responsible.
Encrypt all devices containing ePHI. Passwords are not enough, especially in the event that a hard drive was removed from a laptop containing ePHI. All devices that contain ePHI, including laptops, PCs, smartphones and tablets, need encryption technology, preferably “whole disk encryption” technology.
If ePHI is accessed via the Internet, encrypt those sessions. Since data that is published on the Internet is available to the public, you need to check with your Web service provider to ensure that any PHI that travels across the Internet is protected by secure sockets layer (SSL) or similar technology.
Encrypt any other remote access sessions. If you have a situation in which physicians/staff connect to the home office remotely to read email or access other resources containing ePHI, then this access may constitute a vulnerability to unauthorized snooping. It is important that these sessions be conducted using encrypted tunnels, or VPNS.
What Happens If a Security Breach Occurs at an Organization That Uses Encryption Technology?
If the ePHI is stored and transmitted in encrypted form, then you do not need to notify patients. This only applies to HIPAA-covered entities and business associates that use encryption technologies that render ePHI unusable, unreadable, or indecipherable to unauthorized individuals.
How do Startel’s Solutions Help Organizations Protect ePHI?
Businesses that handle sensitive information are not only morally obligated to protect sensitive, private and personal information of their clients; they are legally obligated to do so. Startel’s Encrypted Email Service enables compliance with HIPAA by utilizing Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) encryption protocol. This protocol converts email messages from a readable plaintext format to a scrambled cipher text format. Only the recipient using the private key that matches the public key used to encrypt the email message can decipher the message. If someone intercepts the message without access to the private key the email message would appear only as garbled text.
The private and public keys are the means for both encoding and decoding email messages. Essentially the unique private/public key acts as a distinctive digital signature bound to a particular email address.
In addition, the Startel Encrypted Email Service is encoded utilizing the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128 Bit block size. This level of cryptography ensures security is maintained for all encrypted messages. Any attempt to “break” an encrypted message secured at 128 Bit encoding would take billions of years to try every possible combination.
Users of Startel’s Encrypted Email Service have peace of mind knowing that their messages remain secure and private during transmission and storage.
In my third blog post of this topic, I will address how Startel’s Secure Messaging application handles ePHI and specifically, how it complies with HIPAA.
Publish Date: July 10, 2013 5:00 AM
The buzz surrounding HIPAA in contact centers is getting louder, and with good reason: As of September 23, 2013, healthcare providers, health plans, other HIPAA covered entities and their business associates must comply with the new Privacy and Security requirements. Those who fail to comply by the deadline or experience breaches in customer data security may face with substantial fines and penalties.
This blog post will be one of several regarding HIPAA, and what we (software vendors and users) must do to comply with it. To ensure we all have a basic and common understanding of HIPAA, this first blog post will address some general definitions, including how Startel and our customers are designated per HIPPA and how the Privacy and Security Rules apply to us.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) required the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop regulations protecting the privacy and security of certain health information. To fulfill this requirement, HHS published what are commonly known as the HIPAA Privacy Rule and the HIPAA Security Rule. These Rules help to protect the privacy of individual’s health information while allowing covered entities to adopt new technologies to improve the quality and efficiency of patient care.
Before we can discuss the HIPAA Privacy Rule and HIPAA Security Rule, we must mention who these Rules apply to.
Covered Entities and Business Associates
The HIPAA Rules apply to both covered entities and business associates:
Covered Entity (CE) : CEs are basically any person, business, or government entity that furnishes, bills, or receives payment for health care in the normal course of business. Examples include physicians, hospitals, pharmacies, health care clearinghouses (billing services) and health plans/insurers.
Business Associate (BA) : A business associate is a person or organization that performs a function on behalf of a covered entity. Examples of a BA include software vendors (such as Startel), third-party billing companies, claims processors, collections agencies, and outsourced contact centers. BAs must also agree to the privacy and data security requirements of HIPAA. A business associate could be a contact center outsourcer that handles calls for a covered entity or a collection agency working on their behalf.
Individuals, organizations, and agencies that meet the definition of a covered entity under HIPAA must comply with the Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of health information and must provide individuals with certain rights with respect to their health information. If a covered entity engages a business associate to help it carry out its health care activities and functions, the covered entity must have a written business associate contract or other arrangement with the business associate that establishes specifically what the business associate has been engaged to do and requires the business associate to comply with the Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of protected health information. In addition to these contractual obligations, business associates are directly liable for compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Rules.
The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, also known as the Privacy Rule, establishes a set of national standards that protects individuals’ health information – called “protected health information (PHI)”. PHI is “any health information that is individually identifiable”. Examples include an individual’s name, date of birth, social security number, address, as well as health status and payment/billing information. The Privacy Rule addresses the use and disclosure of PHI whether in written, oral, or electronic format by covered entities. It also sets standards for individuals’ privacy rights to understand and control how their health information is used.
The Security Standards for the Protection of Electronic Protected Health Information, or the Security Rule, is a national set of security standards for protecting certain health information that is held or transferred in electronic form (ePHI). The Security Rule addresses the technical and non-technical safeguards that covered entities must put in place to secure individuals’ ePHI. Technical safeguards include access control, audit controls, integrity controls and transmission security. Each of these technical safeguards can be addressed with software solutions, including encryption technology and secure messaging.
In March 2013, the long-awaited Omnibus Rule made the most sweeping changes since the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules were first implemented. The new rule expands the definition of a business associate to include “any downstream subcontractor that creates, receives, maintains, or transmits PHI on behalf of the business associate.” Business associates and their subcontractors who have access to PHI are directly liable for compliance with the HIPAA Privacy and Security Rules. In addition, among the changes is an enhanced opportunity for the Office for Civil Rights to enforce compliance.
Why am I sharing all of this information to you and why is it important? Since both Startel and our customers (telephone answering services and contact centers) are considered business associates we are therefore:
• Required to comply with the Rules’ requirements, including the Obnibus Rule, to protect the Privacy and Security of PHI. We have until September 2013 to become compliant.
• Directly liable for compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Rules. Penalties can be civil or criminal and may cost thousands of dollars and possibly imprisonment.
In my next blog post, I will address how Startel’s solutions address a pressing topic area: Encryption of PHI/ePHI, and specifically, what information/devices must be encrypted to ensure HIPAA compliance.
Publish Date: June 28, 2013 5:00 AM