Unified Communications: Click to talk

August 29, 2009  2:15 AM

Enabling Brings OCS to the College Classroom

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Colleges and universities across the country use the Blackboard Academic Suite to allow students and faculty to engage and collaborate virtually. Enabling Technologies is helping to expand the functionality of Blackboard and provide more effective communications and collaboration with OCS for Blackboard.

OCS for Blackboard automatically populates the Office Communicator client with information such as the course, users, teachers, and information about the school. Users can view the Presence details of the professor or fellow students and determine the best way to communicate. 

“The Higher Education Universities that we have contacted are very excited to trial the OCS for Blackboard application,” says Bill Vollerthum, President of Enabling Technologies.

A 45-day trial evaluation version can be downloaded from the Enabling Technologies web site.

August 27, 2009  8:49 PM

2.6 Million Lost Jobs Result of Communications Fraud

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Did I get your attention? I thought I might.

Now, let’s step back and look at the perhaps questionable or dubious math I used to arrive at this sensational conclusion.

A recent worldwide survey by the Communications Fraud Control Association (CFCA) reported that the annual loss from communications fraud is about $80 billion (USD). Assuming an annual income of $30,000 – perhaps low for United States standards, but arguably quite high by global standards- that means that companies lose the equivalent amount of money as 2.6 million employees’ annual salaries.

So, could 2.6 million more people have decent paying jobs if we got communications fraud under control? I am sure the correlation is not that direct. If more money in the corporate coffers translated to more jobs or higher paying jobs then trickle-down economics wouldn’t be such an abysmal failure.

But, money is money. Assuming your employer could save 10% or 15% of the annual communications expenses by reducing or eliminating fraud it might make that next request for a raise go a little smoother.

Forgetting employees entirely- the company has its own interests to look out for as well. I assume the corporations can find better things to do with $80 billion. Relative to the losses, the investment in the tools and technologies to secure communications and prevent fraud is relatively small. Companies should view this report as a wake up call of sorts and use it to build the business case for funding that VoIP / unified communications security project that is pending approval.

August 27, 2009  1:29 PM

SIP Trunks Gain Appeal in a Down Economy

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

SIP trunking has been a very hot technology in 2009- thanks in no small part to Office Communications Server 2007 R2. In fact, Microsoft shook the SIP trunking world up again recently with its announcement to partner with JaJah which will enable customers to place calls from almost any device to almost any device using VoIP, and let OCS 2007 R2 customers begin making calls almost immediately when deploying the server.

SIP trunking offers savings by eliminating some hardware components and more importantly by cutting costs and increasing efficiency. Adam Boone, vice president of marketing at Sipera Systems said “The economic crisis has underscored for us that any technology that enables greater enterprise process efficiencies actually is relatively recession proof” in a recent interview.

The rest of the interview with Boone is interesting and worth a read. SIP trunking is a step in the evolution from traditional voice to a completely software-based, IP-voice implementation. Be sure to keep security on your to-do list though. Part of the reason that Sipera Systems is gung ho on SIP trunking is that they offer appliances and services that let customers deploy it securely and extend it to remote and branch workers. Take a look at what they have to offer and how it can enhance your SiP trunking VoIP infrastructure.

August 26, 2009  7:31 PM

Plan Ahead for Successful Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

I know, I know. You’re saying ‘well, duh’. Of course you should plan ahead. Have you ever seen anyone start laying a foundation and building the frame of a house without a plan? I don’t think so. Let’s face it- if you just start nailing 2×4’s together you have no way of knowing what the end result will look like and I doubt you’d want to risk your life by stepping inside the resulting structure.

That same common sense applies to almost everything in life- particularly IT projects like a unified communications implementation. As my SearchVoIP counterpart Robin Gariess points out, “Often, network and telecom staffs rush to start the project when instead they should slow down, consider the unified communications strategy, and make sure all the pieces are in place to ensure a successful project — for those operating the unified communications (UC) support system and for those using it.”

Make sure you stop, take a breath, and devise a sound implementation strategy so that your unified communications environment will look more like the Eiffel Tower and less like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

August 24, 2009  3:03 AM

Unified Communications ROI Doesn’t Happen By Magic

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

I read an article recently that talked about the promise of cost savings with unified communications and that the ROI (return on investment) doesn’t always pan out the way it does in the marketing brochure.

I think the argument put forth in the article doesn’t support the headline. The article basically talks about why some customers aren’t able to determine ROI because they don’t know what their expenses were to begin with and have no baseline for comparison. That is an entirely different issue than whether or not the investment in unified communications is delivering the ROI it promised.

Assume for a moment that the claim is valid, I think I know where the problem lies. *Deploying* unified communications doesn’t lead to cost savings or deliver the expected ROI. It is the proper configuration, and more importantly, *use* of unified communications that leads to the ROI.

If an organization invests in unified communications, and deploys the technologies throughout the company, but the users don’t understand how to use the tools effectively and everyone just continues business as usual following the same old processes, unified communications will not provide any value. Part of the initial investment in unified communications should include some type of end-user training to educate the users {subliminal message} contact Tony Bradley to inqire about end-user training in unfied communications {/end subliminal message} on how to shift the way they communicate to take advantage of all that unified communications has to offer.

The UC ROI does’t just magically happen because you deploy UC. You have to actually USE the UC tools effectively to realize the ROI.

August 23, 2009  3:20 AM

Surviving Swine Flu Outbreak with UC

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

The United States government is warning schools and businesses to be prepared for a Swine Flu epidemic this Fall. VoIP and unified communications can be a critical component of business continuity during an outbreak like Swine Flu.

We got a brief taste of Swine Flu earlier this year, but it wasn’t really flu season in the northern hemisphere so it was sort of a flash in the pan. Even that brief glimpse wreaked havoc and caused panic around the world. Mexico completely shut down to prevent human interaction and contain the virus. Schools throughout the world were shut down to ensure the Swine Flu wouldn’t spread through the student population.

Pharmaceutical companies are hard at work cranking out the vaccine for the Swine Flu, but there may not be enough for everyone so high risk groups will get preference. Besides, you may not want to be at the front of the line for a brand new vaccine that was rushed through development.

The United States government has issued some guidance for how to prepare for and respond to an epidemic outbreak. One suggestion is to cross-train employees on critical functions to ensure that the function will get done. That reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I always wondered how everyone seemed to know everyone else’s job and be able to jump in at a moment’s notice. It would seem to me that being an engineer of a starship and being a navigator of a starship would be very different roles and that it would be tough to become expert at both. I guess it was in the script though.

Another suggestion in the government guidance is to minimize face-to-face contact. No face-to-face contact means no opportunity for germs to spread. That is where UC comes in. With audio and video conferencing, instant messaging, and VoIP voice service many job functions can be performed from anywhere. Those who think they may be getting sick should stay home and work virtually. If employees start reporting that they are sick, businesses should implement work from home even on a temporary basis to eliminate face-to-face contact and allow business to continue without risking an even larger outbreak among employees.

Make sure your company has a plan in place for how to prevent or respond to an outbreak, and make sure that unified communications is a key component of that plan.

August 19, 2009  2:12 AM

IP Video Vulnerable to Attack

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

IP video conference calls can be easily hijacked or eavesdropped using simple tools that are available for free. Of the organizations that use IP video for surveillance or conferencing, only about 5% employ any sort of encryption or security measures to protect it.

Its a common trick in action movies for the bad guys to cut the wires to the video surveillance cameras and insert their own looped video clip of business as usual so that security guards monitoring the area can’t tell a breach is occurring. The Hollywood bad guys always make it look so easy, and now it is. Using simple techniques attackers could insert video into an IP video surveillance stream or listen/watch an IP video conference undetected.

Sipera Systems VIPER (Voice Over IP Exploit Research) Lab team demonstrated an attack on IP video conferencing at the recent DEFCON security conference. Jason Ostrom, director of VIPER Lab, said “These attacks are based on ARP poisoning/man-in-the middle. You can do this with email and VoIP — we’re just doing a new twist on an old attack to show people that these vulnerabilities are out there for IP video.”

IP video and other aspects of unified communications can be game changing tools to streamline business processes and improve efficiency. However, they also have to be protected and secured or they can easily become game changing weaknesses that allow attackers access to sensitive information and network resources. Make sure you take advantage of the inherent security of the products you are using by enabling encryption and other security controls, and also take a look at third-party products like Sipera’s UC-Sec applicances.

August 16, 2009  3:54 AM

OCS 2007 R2 Adds Ability to Display Caller Name

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

On our home phones and mobile phones we more or less take it for granted that the Caller ID will display the name of the person or organization calling in addition to the originating phone number. In fact, many people simply refuse to answer calls from “Unknown Caller” and let them go to voicemail by default. With Microsoft Unified Communications and Office Communications Server 2007 this has not been the case.

Thankfully, amid a slew of other recent updates, Microsoft also corrected this glaring error in call management. Mike Stacy, a Director with Evangelyze Communications, illustrates the difference with before and after screen shots in his blog entry on this subject. Stacy also points out some additional steps necessary to ensure the updates work with Office Communicator, and to configure Office Communications Server 2007 to also display caller information on outbound calls.

July 31, 2009  8:46 PM

UC Cuts Costs by 78% for Ohio Township

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

What happens when you’re a large (the largest in the state) township in Ohio with an archaic, outdated communications infrastructure? In this economy, and in the state of Ohio in particular, money is not exactly flowing freely for IT projects.

As I have mentioned repeatedly here though- an investment in unified communications is not an expense. You have to consider the overall impact, the improved communications, and the more efficient processes. You have to look at the savings that will be generated once the unified communications platform is implemented.

In the case of Colerain Township, OH, the investment in unified communications resulted in a 78% drop in annual services costs for communication while vastly improving the communications infrastructure and enabling the local government to provide better service for its citizens.

July 31, 2009  8:21 PM

The Rising Risk of Toll Fraud

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Toll fraud is not new. Toll fraud has existed in some form, more or less, since telecom providers have charged customers for placing calls. But, just as technology and the computer / Internet revolution have streamlined productivity and helped people to work more efficiently, it provides the same benefits to cyber criminals.

The convergence of voice and data that comes with VoIP and unified communications deployments means that voice networks are now accessible- and exploitable- via many of the same vectors traditionally reserved for attacks on data. Attacks can be automated, they can be executed faster, and they can do more damage in less time thanks to the processing power and bandwidth available to work with. Read The 9 Deadly Security Gaps: Protecting Against the Rising Risk of Toll Fraud to learn more about the threats and how you can defend your VoIP / UC network from attack.

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