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The Future of Unified Communications

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BYOD and the inherent security issues of the cloud

However, there is a downside to all this and it concerns security and privacy. Many a voice is heard that it would be “unthinkable” for a company to store sensitive data on someone else’s computer in the cloud. So what are the companies that offer cloud storage and sharing facilities actually doing about it? Are they cynically using your information to build marketing profiles that in turn they sell to advertising companies? Are your company’s payroll records susceptible to attack from hackers? Enter the personal cloud, a device that works with a wireless router and saves data from computers, tablets and smartphones onto a localised cloud. It can then be accessed by any device within the wireless network and outside the network via mobile apps. Intel has announced it is moving into the personal cloud storage market with a number of devices for securing, backing up and sharing content through the cloud, where customers can access the devices via its IP address securely through a web browser. In another initiative, the British government is considering allowing its citizens in a controversial national identity scheme to use social-networking services such as Facebook and Google mail as forms of ID to log into online government services, even though no one quite know how they fully intend to verify the account holder. They say they will prove identities via social media sites, banks and large retailers such as supermarkets, but these plans still have a vast network of holes yet to be considered. Overall though, private personal cloud vendors and several mobile operators are launching these services to provide users with the simplicity and private sharing of the cloud but with the privacy and security people need.


Much ado about security in the cloud
igital data storage in the cloud today has phenomenal storage capacity, which users can access via multiple devices including computers, tablets and phones, and refers to anything from Dropbox and Netflix to large multinationals such as Apple iCloud, Google cloud services, Facebook and Amazon that all offer cloud services.

Based on technological research from Gartner Inc., the firm concluded that cloud computing will continue to grow precipitously and that some are calling what we are entering the “post PC era”: “The cloud will change IT as nothing before it has. It may end up removing the last vestiges of the captive IT organisation that ‘owns’ its enterprise as surely as the enterprise owns IT. CIOs are right to start addressing it now. They can’t afford to be caught unaware by it, no matter how and when they choose to incorporate the cloud into the enterprise. “The reign of the personal computer as the sole corporate access device is coming to a close, and by 2014, the personal cloud will replace the personal computer at the centre of users’ digital life.”

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Benefits and security issues of BYOD
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has brought about sweeping changes to the way mobile devices are used by employees in the workplace by increasing productivity more effectively than using desktop or laptop computers. Initially discarded by IT departments, end-user demands for using smartphones and tablets in the workplace has led many IT departments to adopt less restrictive practices by allowing them connectivity. This trend is almost certainly irreversible and someday soon every IT department will have adapted to the changing working practices brought about by BYOD. Increasingly, connectivity through remote mobile access gives employees flexibility and increased productivity, but it has also blurred the line between work and leisure as employees do not like carrying around both work and personal devices; employees instead want to use a single smartphone or tablet for work and personal tasks. Today’s communications are also increasingly using rich media that utilise collaboration applications, especially with the arrival of LTE technology, which is driving a large increase in video and multimedia traffic from high-definition cameras with video capabilities. As bandwidth and 4G increases, applications transmitting HD media streams will become far more common. However, BYOD adoption does have its drawbacks and many of the benefits associated with BYOD, such as having choice of device with anywhere-anytime access, is not always compatible with corporate levels of security and support: it is impractical to expect IT departments to be able to support every device that employees bring to the workplace.

To illustrate the point, last year Marissa Mayer decided to standardise BYOD by buying 10,000+ Yahoo employees new iPhones, having moved away from the Android platform of her previous employer Google. Device choice also means IT must maintain security practices and all devices must meet the standards set for the corporate network, including WiFi security, VPN access and software protection against malware. In addition, it is critical that every device is identified and authenticated when connecting to the network. Put simply, with the adoption of BYOD, companies must enforce security policies for the use of consumer devices in the workplace. Another pressing issue is the protection against data loss, which is proving to be a huge challenge with the coming of age of BYOD. If smartphones are being used to access business applications and data, every IT department must ensure that someone other than the authorised individual cannot gain access to the network and IT must tightly control that asset. As we have said before, one of the major drivers of BYOD is the use of mobile devices to boost productivity, but it is also the case that appropriate security policies must be put in place to protect corporate data. However, if these security measures are too intrusive they could start to erode the very benefits and productivity gains that persauded companies to sanction BYOD in the first place. It is therefore important that companies find the right balance and not lock down access to business applications and data too severely.

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The rise of the smartphone in the mobile cloud
According to the Financial Times, “smartphones are spreading faster than any technology in human history” and that this ameliorated adoption of mobile devices is fundamentally altering the way in which businesses interact with their customers and employees, leaving the traditional business world behind in the blistering pace of innovation and the divergent paths of enterprise IT. Cloud-based solutions are also providing a platform for mobile speech recognition and by the end of this year almost 20% of smartphone shipments will include facial recognition capabilities. The Samsung Galaxy SIII has led the march and already features this technology. For businesses, the intelligent leverage of mobile devices is one of the major challenges they face today, as it and has become one of the key differentiators in how to service customers on an interactive basis. The playing field has been levelled with the advent of mobile cloud computing, as it has decentralised business structures where teams can leverage this technology that was once the sole preserve of the big corporations. It has also redefined the economics of innovation and user interaction that is now delivering flexible, competitive advantage for companies vying for consumer attention. As delivery platforms are changing and collaboration channels are reinvented, technology is the driving innovator behind the proliferation of apps that organisations are

developing for customer engagement. Employees now expect these innovations to be in place for managing key operations and the ability to collaborate over a raft of devices via unified communications. Traditional user interfaces are being discarded in favour of touch and voice recognition, bringing in a new era of business. In short, consumer apps have changed the dynamics of progressive businesses today. And it is cloud computing that has allowed business agility to take root with more vendor choice, which compellingly offers far more than just cost efficiency, with enterprise strategies very clear about the necessity to move away from on-premises architectures to hybrid cloud solutions that enable faster provisioning of computer resources. Forrester Research reported that it expects the global cloud computing market to reach $241 billion in 2020. With that incredible growth trajectory and cloud-hosted services having permeated every industry to become a significant part of any organisation’s business strategy, organisations need to successfully implement and manage mobile technologies in this unpredictably innovative environment. The companies that will be successful in this brave new world of the cloud will be those offering user-centric mobile experiences, where consumer services and business transactions will be simpler and smarter due to the power of cloud-powered mobile apps.

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Integrating BYOD mobile devices in UC systems
With the exponential growth in the smartphone market, businesses today are facing a crucial technical challenge: how best to integrate internal unified communications (UC) systems with “bring your own devices”, or BYOD. This irreversible new paradigm in the consumerisation of enterprise IT is a reality that requires innovative solutions. As smartphone usage by employees for business communications is now commonplace, pressure towards UC collaboration has collided with mobile device management. This consumerisation is having a huge impact on enterprise IT departments and is quickly transforming the way employees work. With the widespread use of personal mobile devices in the workplace, staff are now opting to communicate via their mobile devices and tablets. The challenge is how to reconcile enterprise UC systems with employees who use unique communications services and interfaces. Strategies and solutions now need to be put in place by IT managers to take advantage of the BYOD phenomenon, as it brings with it greater productivity, smarter and faster customer response times, reduced IT costs, business agility and an uplift in competitiveness. But it has also caused headaches for IT support, with issues such as compliance, security and platform compatibility on a wide variety of device platforms. Despite the productivity and cost benefits of BYOD, the main reason many IT managers are reluctant to allow employees use their personal devices for business communications is security, which centres around exposing unauthorised access to corporate networks and the loss of devices. One way around the problem is to store UC data in the cloud and not on the devices themselves and to encrypt any sensitive data on the PBX infrastructure. This requires a secure container for enterprise communications to detect when a device is outside the company firewall and use a VPN or SSL session to secure the connection. Another issue concerning BYOD is the range of smartphones and tablets that are used. This provides IT managers with the challenge of finding a solution that can effectively manage smartphones and tablets using UC applications for Android, iOS and BlackBerry devices. This system needs to be seamless, with consistent features and interfaces that have a single point of control. Leveraging employee devices can attain the benefits of reducing capital expenditure. But the cost of supporting them must not be higher than the benefits of mobilising UC. However, once successfully implemented, the cost savings available to an enterprise can instead be used to fund a larger, more productive workforce. While IT managers struggle to identify efficient solutions to address the key demands of management, security and interface control, the demands of UC in the context of the modern-day office environment will drive business practices forward to help maximise productivity gains.