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How Top Insurance Companies Are Pushing Digital Innovation

Digital InnovationNew leaders in the insurance industry continue to invest in and drive digital innovation, which is particularly apparent in Europe. When research firm Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC) surveyed 200 mid- to large-sized insurance companies in Europe, the company discovered that they are adopting a number of different strategies across the enterprise.
Paving the Way for Digital Innovation

Because of the appointing of new CEOs across 70% of Europe’s biggest insurance companies within the last 18 months, businesses are integrating more innovative IT strategies. As a result of the recent threat to traditional insurers from innovations in startup, manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities companies, many insurers have taken steps to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Out of the 200 senior business and IT executives that PAC spoke with, 84% have developed formal innovation strategies with dedicated budgets and teams behind them.
The Need for Improved Customer Engagement

One of the biggest motivators behind digital innovation is the demand for better customer engagement, which is true for many industries. Mobile apps are one of the innovations made over the years that have helped improve customer relations and boost loyalty, subsequently increasing customer spending. PAC found that 60% of the insurers surveyed reinforced the need for improved engagement with customers, making it their core focus regarding digital innovation.

Learning from Retail Banking Companies

One industry that can teach insurers how to be more technologically innovative is the retail banking sector, which has gone from lagging in customer engagement to becoming one of the most tech-friendly industries. Many retail banking firms have developed and deployed mobile apps that make operations much more convenient for customers.

Insurance companies have also since transformed from firms with poorer customer experiences to those making waves through innovation. For instance, one free app that has made a difference is known as Trov, developed by Axa Insurance. This app allows customers to easily insure individual possessions using a smartphone, which was an impossible task not long ago.
Potential Obstacles that Insurers Still Face

Innovations may be taking place within the insurance industry, but there are still certain issues that these companies face. Some companies that PAC surveyed cited stringent regulation as the largest obstacle preventing innovation, while one-third stated that outdated infrastructures and technology have been the biggest problems. Others also mentioned that a majority of their business applications are capable of supporting future digital innovation strategies.

Despite the existing shortcomings, insurance companies will likely continue to evolve as they adapt to the digital age, implementing mobile apps and cloud-based communications.

Advantages of BYOD

BYODThe edge that small companies have over larger ones is they can move faster and aren’t bound by restrictive agendas. Small businesses will more likely allow employees to work on the device of their choice. It’s a win-win for the owner and staff members who enjoy flexibility in the workplace. Here’s a deeper look at how bring your own device (BYOD) programs help streamline businesses.

BYOD Cuts Costs

The most obvious advantage to BYOD for a company is that it saves money. The company won’t have to invest in as many computers or software licenses, as workers are responsible for bringing their own laptops, notebooks, and smartphones. The firm will not have to keep upgrading hardware and software, and it will cut costs on security.

One of the most valuable advantages to BYOD is that it provides the company with a safety net in case of a power outage or other disruption. Not everyone will be affected by the same network conditions. Businesses will be able to redirect IT personnel to focus on cost efficiency.

Evidence of Successful BYOD Strategies

Harrison Associates is a health care organization that embraces the BYOD concept. By allowing employees to bring their own devices and providing them with IT support, the company has been able to attract experienced talent.

The firm has used a formal BYOD solution that includes Parallels Remote Application Server (RAS) as a more affordable alternative to shared systems management software Citrix. This solution has led to a reduction in support calls and downtime. Another advantage is that it allows employees to see all applications in one area.

Another organization that has enjoyed success with device flexibility is independent mobile games developer Hutch, led by CEO Shaun Rutland. His policy has been to let employees get their work done with the least amount of friction. Some of the cloud services that help shape the company’s communications are Google Apps for Business, Dropbox, GitHub, Slack, and Atlassian.

The company offers maximum device policy flexibility that includes security and management for its workers. Many of them connect and do assignments as needed. The result is a more confident and productive workforce with less than 3% staff turnover.

Terms and Agreement Language

The best way to secure a commitment from employees that they will comply with company policies is by issuing them a Terms and Agreement form to sign. Their signature will confirm that they have read and understand the policy. The form should specify who pays for communications devices and services and who is responsible for damages that may occur to a device.

One area that is essential to address is setting a policy for personal and professional use. Some companies use software that splits a device into two separate compartments. Employees will be expected to not mix work and personal data. The terms should specify devices, job roles, and security requirements. It should also explain remote policies on network use and disciplinary action for not meeting requirements.

How Learning Sales Can Help IT Teams

t2-jan-blog-2Disruption of emerging trends constantly keeps the IT industry alert — or at least it should in certain cases. Some of the buzz terms that define new developments in technology include Internet of Everything, digital transformation, and microservices.

Meanwhile, the cloud, containers, and the Internet of Things (IoT) appear to be established norms that aren’t going away. Furthermore, many companies aspire to integrate downloadable applications with their services. Here are reasons computer consultants need to balance focus on these developments with sales.

Innovations vs. Distractions

One of the biggest challenges of the tech support industry is to sort between meaningful innovations and marketing distractions. Is it necessary to devote time to every trend, such as the consumerization of IT? It actually depends on the goals, resources, and clientele of each provider, since there are multiple ways to resolve any specific problem.

Making the field more complicated is the niche branding of “as a Service” concepts that have been inspired by the SaaS boom. The question becomes: how much time should firms that market themselves as tech experts spend on learning trends that may have little effect on their markets?

The answer needs to stay close to the organization’s budget and the needs of existing clients. If a technology provider invests too much in new technology, this can drain the budget or lock in clients it cannot efficiently serve. Too much focus on how to manage multiple data streams can lead to diminishing returns, which is why it helps to specialize in certain areas while still offering broad packages.

Many times new technology is redundant and merely introduces new semantics to the industry. AWS EC2 instances, for example, essentially equate to VMware vSphere virtual machines (VMs). Even for the most experienced tech talent, this proliferation of variations can create confusion while draining resources on learning subtle differences in these services. One of the best ways for tech professionals to filter through this cutter is to learn sales.


What Tech Pros Should Know About Sales

Although IT and sales are often considered separate professions, learning sales helps tech experts adopt valuable skills that can enhance their careers by influencing colleagues and technology within the companies they work for. Understanding the sales process gives tech professionals an edge in problem solving when they deal directly with customer needs. It helps them communicate and see through marketing hype better instead of thinking in terms of technical jargon.

Here are basic sales steps that can help tech pros advance their careers by making better decisions for customers:

  1. Set the stage for expectations and resource needs by focusing on solving a problem instead of promoting features.
  2. Master solutions by knowing the differences in when and where to apply them.
  3. Improve consistency and control by applying the solution to a process.
  4. Deliver persuasive presentations that point toward clear and logical decisions.
  5. Move the pitch forward by focusing on the end result.
  6. Emphasize value while weighing costs attributed to time and labor.
  7. Be conscious of time and attitude factors that influence mindset.

Even though there’s an industry stereotype that tech support and sales don’t mix, it’s advantageous for tech support teams to develop sales skills, which can contribute to customer satisfaction as well as enhance their careers. The more skills they can bring to their organizations, the better career opportunities they will have.

Securing the Right Levels of Encryption

EncryptionIn a business environment where workplace collaboration is now considered the norm, how are consumer-focused companies implementing end-to-end security? According to industry experts, many commercial entities are simply emulating the security infrastructures of companies like Apple and WhatsApp.

To combat unsolicited messaging and foreign intrusion, Apple revamped its security infrastructure to protect all its iPhone users and data. Similarly, WhatsApp amended its messaging technologies so that no one could access messages except for end-user clients. These changes have served as models for businesses wishing to incorporate stronger levels of encryption for their communications technologies.

Issues with Encryption

While encryption is now commonplace for collaborative efforts, it is still not easy for companies with cloud-based messaging and communications. This is due to the following obstacles:

  • Cloud technologies are consistently changing and evolving, resulting in newer encryption modules that must be adopted and implemented by subscribers.
  • Cloud-based services are now adding more features, including bots, artificial intelligence, and even third-party integration.
  • The above-mentioned features are simply known as “valued additions”. However, this means that third party vendors will still have full access to user data and content.

To tackle this form of “accepted intrusion”, companies in the cloud are looking for stronger and more durable forms of encryption. In fact, they are seeking codes and programs that will protect user data and transmissions from even recognized vendors and services providers. In an industry that is blanketed with so many forms of encryption, is it possible to secure the right balance between content access and privacy?

Encryption Solutions in a Nutshell

There is no concrete answer to the current encryption dilemma. However, IT experts still play a pivotal role in encrypting codes and establishing access, eligibility, and defense for messaging programs. In other words, companies cannot go either way with encryption; not too insecure, but also not too clamped down. They must collaborate to find common ground and acceptable levels of encryption for all parties involved.

To that end, businesses should use fully locked down end-to-end consumer messaging tools. This means companies can take advantage of existing encryption and security codes without investing in other paid messaging apps.

Enterprise Messaging Providers

While WhatsApp seems to be a plausible solution, it is not the only program in town. Enterprise messaging providers also feature end-to-end encryption databases for all messaging platforms. However, services like Slack and HipChat are designed to be less strict when it comes to recognized intrusion. The latter includes IT involvements, especially during periods of downtime and maintenance. Certain clients may also have access to these internal chat databases, which can seriously impact privacy. With this in mind, user content and data can still be breached, and hackers may easily be able to intrude as well.

Green Tech—The Future of the Data Center

t2-december-2In the past few years, there has been an incredible surge in data center construction around the world. Companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are spending huge amounts of capital to build them in places like Singapore, Taiwan, and Tokyo. The reason for this unprecedented growth is the expanding global need for both business and personal connections.

However, the amount of energy used to operate data centers is extreme. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, data centers are “the energy hogs of the computing world,” and a study released in June 2016 found that “US data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2014… representing 2 percent of the country’s total energy consumption… equivalent to the amount consumed by about 6.4 million average American homes that year.”

This type of energy consumption places huge drains on global infrastructures. Therefore, a push to develop energy-efficient data centers is at the forefront of IT concerns.

The Definition of a Green Data Center

Green data centers are those that are designed for maximum performance and efficiency, using a minimal amount of resources. Basically, that means that all of the hardware (the mechanical, electrical, and computing equipment) is arranged and operated in a way that reduces the environmental impact of the data center. There are a number of energy-saving strategies used to reduce consumption in data centers, including:

  • Low emission building materials
  • Water reuse and recycling systems (much water is required for cooling purposes in these industrial-scale facilities)
  • Alternative energy technologies (new cooling systems, photovoltaics, and innovative heating units)

Reducing energy consumption at the data center does more than help our environment; it offers OPEX reductions for the owners.

Current Data Center Condition

Over the last decade, there has been an incredible surge in the need for industrial facilities housing large amounts of server and other hardware equipment. Designed specifically for the needs of electronics, these structures require massive amounts of environmental and security controls. However, their proximity to users does determine certain latency issues. Therefore, the abundance of affordable smart devices and increasing ranges of connectivity, combined with a plethora of new “as-a-service” offerings, has generated high demand for more data centers around the world.

The fact that cloud connectivity presents a number of cost-saving and performance improvement strategies for enterprises has also contributed to data center expansion, and even the number of providers who are “born in the cloud.” According to Gartner, IT is projected to shell out nearly $1 trillion over the next five years transitioning to cloud computing services. That type of infrastructure will depend on more data centers for support.

Green Futures

Data center development has increased, and likewise the energy required for operation. The good news is that the global commitment for developing more green facilities is strong. By investing in conservation and reuse equipment, providers will be able to transfer the savings on to the end user. In addition, although the initial capital expenditure is higher than traditional construction, a green data center delivers measurable ROI and long-term reductions in operating costs.

How to Determine if Cloud or On-site Video Conferencing Is Ideal

Video ConferencingPrior to purchasing video conferencing services, businesses should consider the differences between cloud and on-premises services to determine which type of service is ideal for them. As video conferencing continues to evolve and become increasingly streamlined over time, costs have decreased and these services have become more accessible to the average user.

There are two main ways for businesses to utilize video conferencing. The first is to keep video conferencing operations on-site with everything located within the workspace, while the second is to outsource it to a third party provider that deploys it as Software as a Service (SaaS) via cloud storage.

What Is Included in Video Conferencing Solutions?

Both cloud-based and on-site video conferencing services include many of the same components, but there are some differences between their capabilities.

  • Recording and Streaming – Both on-premises and cloud-based video conference calls can record and stream conferences, but while on-site services keep data within their own network, cloud services store data on third-party servers. Service level agreements (SLAs) can help businesses determine how data is stored and in what locations. Business owners also need to consider the total cost of ownership as it pertains to data storage and network traffic.
  • Multipoint Conferencing/Bridging – The great advantage of multipoint conferencing, or bridging, is the ability to include a large number of sites on a single call. The number of available users will vary from vendor to vendor, but typical on-site multipoint conferencing will allow anywhere from 12 to 120 users on one call, while cloud services often allow 25 to 50 users, with little to no call limits for the latter.
  • Firewall Configuration – One of the limitations of on-premises video conferencing is the need to setup firewalls prior to making calls beyond the business’s network. Configuring a firewall can be complex, requiring users to take multiple factors into account. Cloud-based services can help companies avoid this issue entirely, allowing them to connect nearly anywhere with internet connectivity.
  • Centralized Network Management – Another advantage of cloud-based services is streamlined network management, with the ability to update software and address books and manage problems with the network through an automated process.

When On-Site Video Conferencing Is Appropriate

On-premises video conferencing was a much more popular choice for organizations when it was the only method available. Today, companies utilizing this type of conferencing the most are large organizations that place security as a top priority, such as government agencies or businesses that handle large amounts of confidential client information.

However, on-site video conferencing also requires a lot of resources that many businesses simply don’t have, particularly smaller companies with minimally staffed IT departments. Unless the business has the ability to handle all of the details surrounding on-premises conferencing, this method isn’t ideal.
When to Choose Cloud-Based Video Conferencing

Cloud technology is constantly evolving, and cloud-based services are becoming less expensive over time. They are highly scalable to meet the needs of small to large businesses, with fixed costs available to maximize predictability of expenses. These services also include plenty of automation to reduce the need for a large and consistently attentive IT team.

When choosing between on-site and cloud-based video conferencing services, businesses should consider their unique requirements.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Colocation and Cloud Services

shutterstock_328634297When it comes to storage options, colocation and cloud services both offer tremendous cost savings for budget-minded businesses in need of an affordable and effective data storage solution. However, there are a number of pros and cons for businesses to consider as they determine which solution offers the best fit.

Consider Talent and Equipment

Businesses that already have considerable IT talent may consider the choice between colocation and cloud hosting from a cost/benefit point of view. Businesses with the skill set and budget to purchase and maintain their own equipment may see colocation as a better fit for their needs. The cost of leasing shared data center space may be more reasonable than building and maintaining in-house server space, especially when power and cooling costs are factored in.

On the other hand, businesses with a limited IT talent pool may find colocation to be a tremendous burden on staff and a drain on resources. In cases like this, cloud hosting may prove to be a more attractive option.

Room for Growth

As long as a business has the equipment budget and IT talent, colocation can offer an extremely scalable option for quick growth. However, some businesses may find it more financially advantageous to purchase additional storage in smaller increments from a cloud hosting provider.

Although the majority of cloud providers are flexible enough to accommodate fast growth among businesses, others may assess additional fees and penalties for clients who scale up heavily.

Compliance Requirements

Businesses that are required to comply with HIPAA, SOX, and other regulatory requirements should consider the risks of non-compliance when choosing between colocation and cloud hosting.

Colocation places the burden of compliance on internal IT staff, whereas most cloud providers are experienced with handling compliance issues. Colocation can also expose businesses to compliance-related liabilities, which could reach up to millions of dollars in penalties and lost business in the wake of a failed audit.

Assistance and Support Options

Support options for colocation and cloud hosting services can vary among providers. Some offer genuine 24/7/365 service, while others offer support that’s strictly limited to business hours. It’s crucial for businesses to consider their support needs before committing to a particular provider.

Some colocation providers offer “a la carte” services that provide on-demand assistance with installation, maintenance, and upgrade tasks. These services can be advantageous during periods when internal IT staff is unable to attend to those tasks.

For businesses interested in colocation, on-demand support services can be affordable for intermittent periods. However, heavy reliance on on-demand support could result in costs that exceed that of a hosted cloud.

Uptime Requirements

When it comes to near-100% uptime, self-managed hosting options may not offer the best choice unless the client has the IT experience to enforce data availability. Cloud hosting providers, on the other hand, can offer uptime guarantees that ensure continuous access to critical data. Businesses should make sure that their chosen provider has an established track record of meeting or exceeding their stated uptime guarantees prior to finalizing a service level agreement (SLA).

In the face of tight budgets, businesses are under pressure to keep their IT infrastructure intact using existing resources. These and the above mentioned issues may factor into a company’s choice between colocation and cloud hosting.

Data Storage Is Becoming Cheaper, but More Complex

There’s good news for companies considering outsourcing their data storage: It’s getting cheaper.

Storage outsourcing is a popular choice for many organizations and businesses as data generation increases almost exponentially. Companies are particularly interested in outsourced emergency backup and disaster recovery options. In the past, high technology costs for storage rendered outsourced options prohibitively expensive; but that is changing as costs are now driven more by management skills and tools rather than the price of technology.

Lower Costs

The decrease in technology costs is a result of several factors, including:

— A shift toward disk storage rather than more expensive tape or off-site options

— Lower media costs for solid-state drives

— More efficient management tools

— Open standards and common application program interfaces (APIs) that allow for more flexible capacity and integration of cloud options

— Options that store unstructured data

Management Complexity

The shift toward more efficient but increasingly complex storage options is creating some additional costs related to the skills and training required to manage these options. Other complicating factors include various compliance demands, security considerations, the need for frequent retrieval, and life cycle management.

One often overlooked issue with storage is that at any given time, many unstructured files should be archived because they are rarely needed. Tape storage options are ideal for archiving, while disk storage is better for files that will be accessed more frequently.

Companies frequently find that their storage performance needs fluctuate, necessitating implementation of management tools that can automate the management process. Emerging unified storage products offer simple tools that allow one-stop management of Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS). Software-defined storage is also a growing trend, allowing companies to virtualize storage.

Formulate a Strategy

In order to make the best use of the available options, including outsourced storage, it is crucial to make a storage plan. The following items should be considered when formulating a strategy:

— Preferred storage tools, including well-established options and emerging technologies

–Performance, availability, and capacity requirements

–Tiering based on usage patterns

–What files can be stored on lower performing and less accessible but more cost-efficient media like tape

–How much control should remain in house and what can be outsourced

A successful storage strategy, therefore, will first examine how much and what type of data is generated, how often access is needed, and what internal and outsourced management options are available to meet the company’s needs. Understanding life cycles is crucial to creating the best possible plan.

Emerging cloud options are usually part of an end-to-end management plan for all phases of IT rather than being storage specific. Companies should be aware that moving files to and from the cloud often incurs a fee. Understanding requirements when moving to cloud storage solutions will help avoid unforeseen costs.

The Benefits

New technologies have great potential to create the efficiencies companies are looking for when managing their skyrocketing storage needs. The key to getting the most out of these technologies is understanding the business’s data storage needs and which technology and outsourced options best fit those requirements.

Contact us to explore your data storage needs and the best solutions to meet them.

Why Ethernet Is the Best Choice for Business

For businesses that are considering a network upgrade, the implementation of a new network, or the addition of brand new functionality to an existing system, Ethernet is becoming the de facto standard. Ethernet comes in three main varieties: Standard, Fast, and Gigabit. Standard will provide up to 10 megabits per second (Mbps), Fast runs at up to 100 Mbps, and Gigabit can push up to 1,000 Mbps. With software tweaks and hardware settings, it is possible to provide almost any speed between 10 and 1000 Mbps.

There are numerous advantages to utilizing Ethernet for a corporate network, including ease of implementation, scalability, and flexibility. It also allows for the implementation of a host of useful features like virtual private networks (VPNs), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), both audio and video teleconferencing, and shared whiteboards.

Easy to Implement

The corporate network is the foundation on which all other services are built, and Ethernet provides the strongest foundation for the greatest variety of services. An Ethernet local area network (LAN) connects seamlessly to the wide area network (WAN), making it much easier for IT to extend functionality to the local level.

Scalable

In addition to the enormous bandwidth range it makes available, Ethernet allows for easy incremental bandwidth scaling. A company isn’t limited to the 10, 100, and 1,000 Mbps solutions mentioned above. Increases or decreases in bandwidth are possible in increments of 100 Mbps or even 10 Mbps.

Bandwidth Independent

Ethernet is bandwidth independent. Increasing or decreasing the size of the data pipe doesn’t generally affect the hardware used at all; the same wires and switches can be used for almost any speed of network.

Ethernet is, justifiably, the standard for business networks. Its ubiquity is the direct result of its ease of implementation, scalability, and flexibility, in addition to the laundry list of valuable functionality it enables. That’s not to say, however, that all implementations are the same. Different business situations require different combinations of hardware, software, and bandwidth, and determining what combination of those elements is right for a particular business can be challenging.

For more specific information on the options that are best for your business,contact us today.

Cut Through the Confusion to Understand the Benefits of the Cloud

shutterstock_127598501One of the most powerful benefits of cloud computing is that it creates a virtual work environment that can accommodate an increasingly distributed workforce.

More and more employees work in the field or from remote locations, which creates challenges when team members must work together. The cloud facilitates collaboration among employees in different locations by allowing them to access common data and applications wherever they are.

Businesses of all sizes are embracing the cloud to capitalize on this and other benefits, including the ability to access files on different devices. But many companies, especially small businesses, remain confused about what cloud computing is and if it’s the right choice for their company.

Cloud Benefits

Any major shift in IT operations deserves careful consideration and evaluation of its pros and cons. Following are three major benefits to consider when contemplating a move to the cloud.

Scalability. A business considering an investment in IT assets should assess which assets are currently needed, as well as how much capacity is necessary to meet existing demands. Further, planning for long-term needs is equally important.

Determining current needs is not too difficult, but understanding future requirements is a different story. The downside to guessing incorrectly is overspending for capacity that is never needed, or underspending and having to buy additional equipment later when the budget might be unavailable.

The cloud offers a tidy solution for companies that prefer not to roll the dice on predicting future requirements. When buying into a cloud service, companies can purchase the capacity and services they know they need now and then scale up or down later to meet future needs. The cloud also allows companies to adjust to operational peaks and valleys by allowing them to purchase capacity on an as-needed basis.

Simplified Project Management. In today’s electronic world, documents and files move easily among people and devices. Yet files and applications are still largely decentralized. Cloud services allow companies to centralize their data and applications, which allows for increased collaboration among employees and easier project management.

Document and correspondence history are stored and automatically updated, tasks can be created and tracked, and calendars can be generated to keep project members up to date. These tools can eliminate less efficient manual project management tools that require multiple platforms, such as spreadsheets and even handwritten notes.

The Bottom Line. Saving money usually tops the list of goals for any company looking to make an IT system change, and cloud computing offers several opportunities to realize cost efficiencies.

  • Eliminating capital expenditures on expensive physical equipment and software is a huge cost savings from day one.
  • Cloud services can eliminate some costs associated with employing in-house staff to maintain equipment.
  • Cloud computing services often provide a predictable and manageable pay-as-you-go billing model that is easier to fit into a budget than a large purchase of in-house equipment.

While many companies have already made the jump to cloud computing, some companies are waiting on the sidelines, trying to sort out fact from fiction. In reality, the cloud provides several potential benefits worth considering.

There are a number of cloud models to evaluate when making a cloud decision. Understanding the company’s current requirements and future goals will help determine the best path toward unlocking the potential of the cloud for any business.