3 ways to empower workplace collaboration

We live in an era where existing business models are being disrupted faster than ever before, fueled in large part by rapid changes in digital innovation. More distributed and digitally savvy employees expect companies to deliver the same choice and access to technical advancements in the workplace that they experience in their daily lives. Companies that want to remain relevant and successful must transform themselves to meet these expectations and fully unlock their employees’ creativity. Technology is one key, but digital transformation requires business leaders to rethink how they connect their teams effectively.Here we’ll share the latest research from Forrester Consulting and workplace experts on three key areas of investment companies are making to achieve greater outcomes through collaboration.

For any business to remain agile, innovative and relevant over the next 10 years, it must attract, retain and unlock the potential of its human capital. As more and more organizations, large and small, are globally dispersed, an engaged workforce is at the heart of driving business forward.

Over the last 12 months, the Microsoft Surface Group connected with industry-leading experts and researchers in collaboration and modern workplace development including analysts, ergonomists, workspace consultants, architects and designers to understand the role of collaboration in an organization and how companies can invest to foster better collaboration. One of the top problems businesses face? Teams are not as effective or engaged as they could be, therefore businesses may not innovate as quickly as they need to.

Man and woman collaborating and working together on a Surface Book

According to Forrester Research, “Many enterprises struggle with gaps in their workplace collaboration technology, environments that are not built for collaboration, and cultures that do not fully support teams to achieve better outcomes. The result is teams that are not as effective as they could be.”

Why is this the case? Customers, employees and citizens are savvier than ever before, placing extremely high expectations on businesses and organizations. The workforce (the people) and the workplace (the spaces in which people work) are evolving. Businesses are under tremendous pressure to innovate faster and faster. The need for companies to tap into the unique value of their people is becoming more critical.

“The greatest value of people now is around idea creation, creativity and new innovation.”

— Greg Parsons, vice president of Global Work at Herman Miller

Throughout our research, we saw that the principles of collaboration are most effective when grounded in a holistic, people-centered approach that considers employees’ needs across their different activities throughout the workday. Greg Parsons, vice president of Global Work at Herman Miller, the furniture design firm, says, “The greatest value of people now is around idea creation, creativity and new innovation.” This mirrors the realities of the most profitable sectors today, idea-centric industries like finance, media and IT, which account for 22 percent of revenues but over 40 percent of profits.

As more and more companies look to build a more engaged workforce, collaboration is key. The sweet spot of effective collaboration lies in the space where three critical investments converge:

  1. Building a collaborative culture grounded in a growth mindset that celebrates individuals and rewards group outcomes
  2. Deploying a simple, knowable technology toolkit, leveraging the convergence of recent digital advancements
  3. Designing intelligent, connected environments that encourage engagement and reduce collaborative friction while offering employees choices

We commissioned Forrester Consulting to survey 741 business and facilities decision-makers and 1,032 information workers revealing the office is still the productivity hub for many companies, and “when leaders get it right, optimized meeting spaces, technology and culture lead to business benefits.” Forrester also found that investments in all three key areas led to heightened creativity, better products and business agility.

We also sat down with Convene, SHoP Architects, Gensler and Herman Miller, among others, to capture their vision and advice on how to empower and engage employees to achieve better outcomes.

Let’s address the three key areas one at a time.

Creating a collaborative culture

Changing corporate culture doesn’t come quickly or easily, and can be the most difficult of the three building blocks for collaboration because you can’t buy culture.

It starts with a growth mindset and being “insatiably curious,” according to Anna White, general manager of HR at Microsoft. White says, “We need to stop acting as knowers, who seem to have all the answer and ignore input from others, but become constant learners and proactively seek input and feedback from others.”

To serve the diverse needs of its customers, a company must embrace internal diversity and inclusion in a meaningful way. Dan Winey, COO of Gensler, notes the value of “many inputs and viewpoints and diverse ideas coming to the table.” When employees collaborate, it’s crucial to make sure all voices are heard and tap into the collective power of all employees, at all levels.

The collaboration coefficient: Three keys to empower workplace collaboration

Leaders are also expected to be role models for successful collaboration. Performance, and the rewards associated with team wins, can be measured as impact resulting from a combination of each employee’s individual accomplishments that contribute to the team, their contribution toward the success of others, and how their results build on the work, ideas and efforts of others.

Changing habits takes time and effort, and success usually happens by addressing a single group habit and then adding others over time. Focusing on a keystone habit can help shape many others downstream. For example, prioritizing being on time for meetings creates mutual respect. Building a collaborative culture is part of the long game. By focusing on group habits, celebrating the unique attributes of individuals and rewarding group outcomes, organizations build a culture of collaboration and maximize their people power.

Innovative technology shifts behaviors

In the future, all companies will be digital companies. Whether or not their products are digital, the services that engage customers and employees will be connected via hardware, software, services and applications that act as a catalyst to shift behavior. Christopher J. Kelly, co-founder of Convene, says that companies today need to rethink technology not as a workplace feature but as its very foundation. He stresses the importance that “anybody’s first experience with technology is completely seamless,” to encourage adoption and regular use. Ease of use is essential for collaboration technology as people get nervous operating even simple collaboration tools, often because of a deep fear of failure in front of peers.

Forrester found that 41 percent of employees report they now spend more time away from their desk than they did two years ago.

To achieve increased adoption, collaboration technologies must support a seamless transition from place to place, device to device, and from personal to group computing. Forrester found that 41 percent of employees report they now spend more time away from their desk than they did two years ago — many significantly so. This calls for investments in more versatile and more personal computing tools that engage the senses and adapt with both the individual and the group.

Anton Andrews, director of the Microsoft Envisioning Center, says to start with “technologies that are built from the ground up for collaboration, for multiple people to input and ideate together at the same time.” Gervais Tompkin, design strategy studio director at Gensler, stresses that technologies that enable “video, gesture, layering … really allow you to bring your whole sensory self to collaborating.” Tompkin adds that by allowing the “whole human to participate,” teams build the necessary trust and connections that set the stage for more innovative outcomes.

At Microsoft, we are obsessed with bringing the full human experience to the collaborative environment. We designed Surface Hub to simplify the deployment and management of collaboration technologies across an enterprise while creating the best workspace for teams to create, brainstorm, and form engaging and productive connections. Surface Hub is purpose-built to fill the gap between analog and digital thinking for improved group flow by combining virtual teleconferencing, whiteboard ideation and projection while fitting beautifully into the modern office. John Cerone of SHoP Architects, an early user of Surface Hub, describes the type of outcomes expected from group computing technologies today: “that fluid process, that kind of stream of consciousness [that] actually leads to more coherent design.”

Technology on its own can certainly shift behavior and engage employees in new ways, but without the proper environments, technology may be overlooked, unused or avoided.

Promoting intelligent, connected environments

Gone are the days of small offices overlooking factory floors where workers toil at one task all day, and communication is a one-way flow of orders from management. In its Design Forecast 2016, Gensler suggests engagement is the new differentiator, and rising expectations for engagement among employees, customers and teams will spur the growth of “open” collaboration spaces that welcome outsiders, including autonomous teams.

Historically workspaces were built as long rectangular rooms with long rectangular tables, because they were great for showing and telling, the primary group function of the past. Many of today’s workplaces are out of sync with people and their work, employees avoid them. Research from Herman Miller suggests that up to two-thirds of current meeting rooms are underused or avoided in workplaces today. What results are dramatic social, physical and cognitive inhibitors that keep people in their seat, and reduce the desire to pick up a digital pen or other tool, move around the room, or engage in a generative process. This also means companies aren’t optimizing their space investment, even as per-worker square footage shrinks from 225 square ft. in 2010 to less than 100 in 2017 in the U.S. according to a survey by CoreNet Global.

According to Tompkin at Gensler, the new face of productivity is influenced by “the shape of the table or even the lack of a table, action, posture, furniture — anything that encourages engagement.”

According to Tompkin at Gensler, the new face of productivity is influenced by “the shape of the table or even the lack of a table, action, posture, furniture — anything that encourages engagement.” Such changes can reduce some of the friction employees feel in an outdated workspace. But friction still exists and often begins in the development cycle for new spaces where the budget and project management for furnishings, surroundings and tools are misaligned.

Although decision-makers believe they excel in group collaboration investments, Forrester’s survey says their employees disagree. It finds only 34 percent of large meeting rooms are equipped with collaboration tools such as whiteboard and conferencing technology, and only 26 percent of smaller rooms that are used most frequently are properly equipped. While decision-makers are investing in collaboration and productivity tools, their top priority is often applications and mobile devices that allow employees to work offsite. Yet 79 percent of workers say it is important that their productivity tools allow them to work collaboratively with others in person, highlighting a dramatic misalignment.

The collaboration coefficient: Three keys to empower workplace collaboration

Supporting teamwork requires fresh workspaces: Because many of today’s best workplaces start with an understanding of the way people work together and offer flexible choices based on what they do as individuals and as a group. Consider these core principles to aid the development of intelligent, connected environments:

  1. Provide ample circulation space for comfortable collaboration, and consider square rooms to avoid trapping people in corners or at the ends of long tables.
  2. Encourage collaborators to use all the room’s features and technology. Furniture whose shape opens up sightlines, and the inclusion of higher tables and chairs that allow perching, can encourage movement.
  3. Support the use of personal devices with features such as extra charging ports.
  4. Consider the experience of remote users with regard to acoustics and lighting.
  5. Integrate complementary AV technology to maximize the number of activities groups can do in one space.

Why invest in these three areas?

Forrester found that companies with forward-thinking, innovative workspaces promote higher office attendance, better teamwork and faster projects, in addition to attracting new talent. A full 51 percent of decision-makers who have recently updated their office environment believe that physical spaces optimized for collaboration lead to higher employee satisfaction. Additionally, 49 percent believe that it makes for a better team culture and, as a result, 36 percent experience higher employee retention rates.

Companies don’t have to navigate change alone

To become a digital company means building systems of intelligence to leverage every system, device, process and asset across the organization. Companies that succeed through digital transformation will build new capabilities to accelerate collaboration. The ability to listen, predict and respond to customers instantly will be a competitive advantage. Innovative devices, applied in new ways, can help shift behavior, connect disparate teams and improve engagement through software and services.

That’s a tall order, but the good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. A space systems integrator or design company can research the impact of the physical environment on your desired outcome. An IT solutions provider can empower your people with the right tools. Consultants can help guide how teams work together. Countless resources, including Microsoft and its ecosystem of partners, can help companies realize their own definitions of highly functional collaboration.

We encourage you to ground yourself in the Forrester Digital Transformation study to arm yourself to battle for the required investment. Find inspiration from the modern workplace experts in our video, which highlights the three keys to improved outcomes from collaboration. Learn more about technology built for collaboration from the ground up like Microsoft Surface Hub. Then engage with the specialists you need around your guitar-pick-shaped table to design your own collaborative culture, technology and environment as you begin this journey.

When organizations start unlocking the power of the group, amazing things can happen.

Article originally published at: https://blogs.windows.com/devices/2016/09/20/the-collaboration-coefficient-three-keys-to-empower-workplace-collaboration/#d2KSGmvioTdJzPAi.97

The Internet of Cows

The IoT is a giant network of connected objects, including people. The analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices.

The IoT allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely by a network infrastructure. More and more devices are being designed with wifi capabilities and sensors built-in to create a vast network of things.

Put simply, the IoT is made up of any device with an on and off switch to the internet. This includes anything from coffee makers and washing machines to smartphones and wearable devices such as Fitbits.

The internet of cows

The possibilities really are endless. An example of this is an IoT application that connects cows to the internet. Working with the National Trust, BT were able to monitor the cows’ location in order to prevent theft.

The IoT is not new, back in 2008 there were already more objects connected to the internet than people. In fact, the ATM is considered one of the first examples of an IoT object.

Transport is an obvious target for IoT investment. By 2020, a quarter of a billion vehicles will be connected to the internet, generating new possibilities for in-vehicle services and automated driving (Forbes). Virgin Atlantic are planning to connect a fleet of Boeing 787 aircrafts and cargo devices with IoT devices and sensors. Each connected plane is expected to produce over half a terabyte of data per flight.

A world of connections

The variety and extent of IoT is set to grow, creating more and more opportunities for direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems. As a result of this interaction, businesses can improve efficiency, accuracy and productivity.

The IoT looks to become all-encompassing and for companies to take advantage of the data collected from the IoT, their ERP system needs to be flexible, intelligent and give real-time information.

This article excerpt originally appeared here: https://www.hso.com/uk/blog/de…


Tackling SharePoint Intranet Requirements

SharePoint consultants spend a lot of time listening to intranet and collaboration portal requirements. 

Companies big and small want to create content and collaboration solutions that their staff will actually use. And while each industry or business will always have specific requirements, a few core requirements apply across the board. 

This article is the first in a series that will address these requirements, as well as some considerations to keep in mind if your company is looking to make that big SharePoint on premises versus SharePoint online decision.

‘Our home page should be attractive, simple and helpful …’

Let me start with a warning: surveys will come up a lot in this series. I use and abuse surveys during intranet planning. 

Clients with existing intranets should list likes and dislikes of their current home page during the planning meeting or through an email survey, then vote on the most important of these items. Use this data to formulate a few goals for the new home page (e.g., must be simple, helpful, fit company branding, etc.). This is a good point to bring up options for web parts and/or features — I show intranets I’ve built to give them something visual to chew on. This helps those with less SharePoint experience. 

On a few occasions I have cut out images of the web parts to have the team work together to “pin the feature on the page.” This not only drives discussion on what is worth featuring on the home page, but also fuels discussions about look and feel.

A recent trend is the use of Metro icons, which replace listing text links all over the page. These not only help reduce clutter but add to the much desired clean and modern design. They are also relatively inexpensive to create in SharePoint, either with some easy styling or a third party web part. I highly recommend Metro Studio by Syncfusion if you plan to design these internally.

Some companies have turned to tag clouds — visual representation of the metadata being used across the intranet —  to help users to get an idea of what is “trending.” The font size and color connote the importance of topics and make finding documents related to the popular tags much easier. SharePoint’s out of the box tag cloud works well, but third party options with a little more flash are available in the SharePoint App store.

Add a Little Razzle-Dazzle

And without fail, the topic of branding the intranet will rear its head during the home page conversation. As with any other part of this process, it will require special planning and budget considerations. Branding SharePoint involves many considerations (and there are people more qualified than I to help with them), but I want to mention the difference between SharePoint on premises and online in this context. 

As you could probably guess, with SharePoint on premises, the sky’s the limit on branding, provided the right budget and resources. If your marketing team can dream it, it can probably be done. 

While the same may technically go for SharePoint online, any branding expert worth their salt will probably advise against investing in the creation of a highly customized masterpage for SharePoint Online. The reason? Change. 

The frequency and unpredictability of SharePoint online changes means your highly customized Mercedes Benz of a masterpage may break and be a rather expensive fix. This doesn’t mean you can’t make SharePoint look less like SharePoint. Plenty of options are available to update colors, themes and light styling in a way that is not only more affordable, but gives you that extra level of comfort. 

This may sound like a detraction, but keep in mind you are getting the latest and greatest features with SharePoint online. Those with on premises installations may have to wait months or for the release of a new version before receiving these features. 

Still to Come

Your intranet home page is only one thing to consider as you begin the process of rolling out a new intranet. The remaining articles in this series will cover some of the other common requirements, such as:

  • “We need to be able to easily find content” 
  • “More collaboration but less email”
  • “We need integration with the other tools we use”
  • “I need people to be engaged and actually use the intranet” 

This article excerpt, by Joelle Farley, originally appeared here: http://www.cmswire.com/social-…/

3 Reasons Your Employees Need You to Switch to Office 365

We can’t really it hammer it home any more than we have – it would benefit your business to switch to Office 365. With rare exception, we’re recommending Office 365 to most of our small and medium-sized business clients. In fact, we’ve been talking about it for quite some time on the blog. If you’ve been considering a migration because of licensing or equipment costs – know that there’s another reason to consider it: your employees. Check out these three reasons your employees need you to switch to Office 365:

  1. They’re fantasizing about destroying your lagging server.
    Your server is getting older and it just isn’t keeping up like it used to. Your employees see it in every click they make. It’s impacting their productivity and they’re thinking of pulling an Office Space and taking it out back with a baseball bat. The only thing worse than losing money due to unproductive employees is losing employees due to outdated technology. Don’t allow your employees to continually become more frustrated. Migrating to Office 365 means a huge load off your server when all your e-mail data moves to the cloud. This will speed your server up, giving your employees faster access to other files and applications on your server in addition to their e-mail service in the cloud. It’s a win-win scenario.
  1. They want to work from home – or anywhere else.
    Your employees don’t like the idea of being chained to their desk. More than ever users are demanding flexibility. They need immediate, speedy access to e-mail from anywhere. They want to be able to get work done from home, at a coffee shop, or while they’re on vacation. An Office 365 migration is going to give them the flexibility they need without having to rely on your local server or internal connection to access their e-mail. Hosted e-mail means that employees can access their e-mail at any computer with a browser, securely, reliably and quickly.
  2. They need Word and PowerPoint on more devices.
    While we went into this in a previous post, we didn’t really outline what this means for your employees. Office 365 comes with licensing for all user mobile devices and smartphones rather than the two-computer limit that Office had previously. This is huge for employees that use tablets, phones or laptops to access presentations, spreadsheets or other Office documents. It means collaborative editing and quickly transitioning from device to device with a user login to access recent documents. Read: increased productivity.


Employee happiness is about more than annual raises and BBQ events. It’s a comprehensive undertaking. Technology plays a massive role in the satisfaction of your employees, and every moment they have to spend working on subpar technology is contributing to their level of engagement with your organization. If you want to employ savvy, quick people, you need innovative, quicker technology. Take a moment and assess the true impact that a transition like this can have on your employees and consider making the switch to Office 365.

This article excerpt, by Business 2 Community author Buddy Marti, originally appeared here: http://www.business2community….

Microsoft Acquisition to Beef Up Skype for Business Management Tools

Microsoft announced this week that it has acquired the assets from Event Zeroto improve its Skype for Business online offering. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

In an announcement on Wednesday, Microsoft said the acquisition of the technology assets underlying the UC Commander product suite from Event Zero will allow the company to improve the built-in management tools for Skype for Business.

Event Zero, a provider of management software for Skype for Business Online, will continue to serve its customers and partners.

“Our goal is to make the Skype for Business management tools as powerful and easy-to-use for IT professionals as Skype is for end users,” Zig Serafin, corporate vice president, engineering, Skype for Business said in a statement. “Today, customers of our calling and conferencing services can use the Office 365 administration center to acquire and assign phone numbers to their users in minutes, view reports of audio and video conferencing usage, and quickly access aggregated call quality information using our Call Quality Dashboard. In the future, using the technology acquired today, we will be able to add strong diagnostics and troubleshooting capabilities with even more extensive reporting and analytics for online audio, video conferencing and media streams — all within a unified management and admin system.”

According to a blog post by Microsoft, the company plans to integrate Event Zero’s monitoring, reporting and analytics capabilities with Skype for Business Online management tools.

Serafin said Microsoft would share more details about the integration in the coming months.

This article excerpt, by Talkin Cloud author Nicole Henderson, originally appeared here: http://talkincloud.com/cloud-computing-mergers-and-acquisitions/microsoft-acquisition-beef-skype-business-management-tools

Shift Happens: Approaching Cloud Migration with Confidence

The recent Microsoft Future Decoded event in London’s ExCeL was a vibrant and engaging mix of speakers who showed what an engaged ecosystem our industry has generated.

It was a also a reminder about how the expectations placed on enterprise technologies have become more demanding, as awareness grows that cutting edge IT infrastructure maximises productivity, efficiency and agility— and not keeping up can mean being left behind.

To make the situation even more challenging for businesses, the number of cloud tools and cloud applications continues to multiply, adding even more complexity to the decision of how to approach cloud migration. That’s a big reason Rackspace launched Fanatical Support for Microsoft Azure, a managed cloud solution that reduces the complexity of Microsoft’s cloud platform by providing guidance on planning, implementation and all aspects of support from proactive monitoring to patching.

As part of our commitment to Azure, we are constantly tracking its evolution and the addition of new features to ensure that our customers have the option to free themselves from all the related management responsibilities. Our expanded support of Azure, plus other Microsoft offerings, has become a key part of Rackspace’s managed cloud strategy that sees us offer Fanatical Support for a wide range of technologies.

As our CEO Taylor Rhodes wrote to customers when we announced our support for Azure, “This ‘technology agnostic’ approach enables us to update our offerings and help you adopt new capabilities as products and platforms evolve. It also further aligns us with you, because we are free to give objective guidance based on the best solution available for the mission you need to accomplish.”

From the conversations I had before and after my presentation at Microsoft Future Decoded, it became clear that many organisations still have misgivings over potentially selecting the wrong cloud solution for their business.

Luckily, there is a solution: working with a cloud provider that doesn’t lock you in to a specific platform — and this is precisely why Rackspace is committed to providing first class support, no matter what technologies our customers want to use.  A key takeaway for me was the need for users at all levels to understand the specific platform for a particular IT use case and not just the cloud that it runs on.

If your business is still working to make that decision, and you’re considering Azure, you may be grappling with some very real management and resource challenges. With help from leading industry analysts, we’ve compiled a wealth of data and found some interesting insights into Azure. We took that information and built an easy-to-read infographic, jam packed with relevant data: “Overcoming the Challenges of Microsoft Azure.”

We had a great experience at Microsoft Future Decoded 2015 and I hope we will see you at next year’s event.

This article excerpt, by author Paul Bolt, originally appeared here: http://blog.rackspace.com/shift-happens-cloud-migration-azure/

Why the Cloud is the Best Place to Manage Customer Identity Data

As the amount of data generated by always-connected consumers continues to increase, IT departments are scrambling to deploy technologies that are able to put that data to use. Understanding how to safely leverage this data using established business systems is a major challenge. Historically, this task fell to legacy identity and access management (IAM) technologies, which could easily manage hundreds or thousands of corporate employee identities and devices. Customer identities and devices, however, number in the millions, and managing that much data exposes several shortcomings in traditional IAM technology.

Scale and Scope

The largest on-premises IAM systems are designed to accommodate users and devices that number in the hundreds of thousands – occasionally, millions. Managing consumer-generated data can multiply those numbers by 100 or more. In addition, IAM solutions integrate primarily with internal applications and processes in order to simplify and enhance the employee or partner experience. Managing consumer identities entails integration with a set of applications that have different functionalities and purposes.

Data Structure

IAM systems are built on highly structured, relational data schemas. However, the majority of consumer data is unstructured. In order for these unstructured attributes to have value, they must be normalized so they can be queried alongside structured data.

Security

IAM providers use perimeter-based security measures that are less-effective when handling customer identity data that must interact with multiple third-party services and identity providers, while remaining relevant and secure as profiles are progressively built over time.

Initially, IT professionals addressed these shortcomings by adapting IAM systems or building custom solutions themselves. Now, specialized customer identity and access management (cIAM) vendors are developing cloud-based platforms to manage the volumes of unstructured consumer data and generate actionable insights. Best-in-breed cIAM systems feature:

  • Enhanced user experiences – Self-service registration and password management plus single sign-on access across websites, mobile applications and other Web properties reduces friction and drives customer engagement.
  • Valuable customer insights – Omni-channel data synchronization maintains a single, definitive customer view gained through functionality – such as progressive profiling – which provides a deeper understanding of customers and builds trust over time.
  • Security and compliance – API-focused transactional security, data encryption and redundancy, plus automatic compliance with social network privacy policies and government regulations keep businesses safe and compliant in a changing marketplace.
  • Robust cloud platform – The cloud’s flexibility enables plug-and-play integrations that accelerate time-to-market, as well as scalable architectures for rapid change and growth. The streamlined deployment process reduces development costs associated with custom integrations.

Cloud-based cIAM platforms offload the burden of safely managing structured and unstructured customer data. The technology excels at connecting multiple APIs in a multi-tenant environment, delivers extreme operational flexibility, and includes built-in software integrations for greater agility and flexibility. Customer and internal data assets remain discreet, minimizing the impact of breaches.

Security Takes Center Stage

Cloud and on-premises solutions face the same types of attacks and breaches. According to a 2014 Alert Logic Cloud Security Report, overall attacks remain much more likely to occur in on-premises environments than in the cloud. But, breaches are on the rise in cloud-based environments, likely due to wider adoption of cloud-based over on-premises solutions, and the migration of “higher value” data into the cloud. In response, cloud providers strive to build strong security measures into their core architectures.

Cloud-based cIAM platforms rely on API-focused security, rather than firewalls, which tend to control access for classes of users. These identity-based security policies have evolved with cloud technology. API-based protocols used by identity providers have a largely open-source background, allowing them to easily adapt. Best practices for working with self-provisioned identities indicate that each transaction should carry within it the attributes required to authenticate and authorize users.

Since leveraged customer data will typically be acted on at many endpoints, best-in-breed cIAM solutions have strong authentication, authorization and auditing policies in place, such as OAuth 2.0 and SAML. In addition, personally identifiable information is encrypted when stored and transmitted. Strong roles and permissions policies enforce tight control over user access, and robust audit logging tracks errors and bugs in the system.

Finally, risk-based authentication minimizes friction for users by evaluating risk on each login instance and triggering a two-factor authentication only when necessary. As the “Internet of Things” grows in scale and complexity, this methodology will become increasingly important for practically all digital transactions.

Best-in-breed cIAM platforms also provide auto-compliance with data-privacy policies. A recent survey found that 96 percent of U.S. consumers are at least somewhat concerned about their data privacy. Working with user-provisioned data means businesses must stay in compliance with frequently changing social network privacy policies, as well as with government regulations that apply to any service that interacts with that data. Maintaining this level of compliance on an ongoing basis is risky and time-consuming. Cloud cIAM solutions automate this process.

Cloud Platforms Deliver the Best Solution for Managing Customer Identity Data

Many revenue-driving business systems rely on customer identity management functionality that is outside of the scope of legacy IAM technology. Best-in-breed cloud-based cIAM platforms offer a streamlined deployment that shortens time-to-market, scales to fit business needs, and enables faster and easier integration with applications that help businesses monetize their customer data. Finally, cIAM’s API-based security ensures more secure transactions, while building customer trust and protecting data privacy.

This article excerpt, by Gigya author Suresh Sridharan, originally appeared here: http://cloud-computing.tmcnet….

Pexip’s puts Infinity into Microsoft’s Azure cloud

Pexip’s upcoming release will make another major technology leap, continuing to tear down the barriers that have historically plagued the communications industry.

The upcoming version of Pexip Infinity adds support for deployment to Microsoft Azure cloud.

It is a well known fact that “The Cloud” impacts organizations and businesses. “The Cloud” impacts how we work, how we interact with customers, and how we perform financially.

The shift and transformation to the cloud helps all organizations operationalize their use of IT infrastructure. From the technology to the finances, features and functions become easier to turn on and off on demand while driving up usage and scale easily and affordably. Cloud computing is a convenient tool and asset for many, and it continues to transform businesses every day.

As a direct result of customer requests, Pexip Infinity 12 introduces support for Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. As one of the three large native cloud platforms (Amazon Web Services — which is already supported by Pexip Infinity — and Google Cloud make up the two others), Azure provides organizations the ability to align cloud hosted compute under the same umbrella as other IT workflows. Many organizations are adopting Azure at scale today, and Pexip is the first vendor to bring scalable and interoperable video, audio, and web conferencing into this environment.

The promise of The Cloud

Enterprises want flexibility. They want flexibility in how they consume services and products, and they want flexibility in how they can scale up or down according to requirements. The cloud simplifies decision-making, reducing the need to plan long in advance for large hardware or infrastructure investments. The resources are available and can be leveraged in a moment’s notice.

And, according to a recent survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, Cloud Computing Increases Business Agility, the holy grail for many enterprises. No wonder leaders want to explore their options of how to deploy, manage and consume IT.

Pexip Infinity on the Azure Cloud

From version 12, Pexip Infinity can be deployed on the Microsoft Azure cloud service. Azure provides an infinitely scalable computing capacity and eliminates the need to make upfront hardware investments, so customers can deploy Pexip Infinity faster, and with less effort.

With Pexip Infinity on Microsoft Azure, customers can launch as many or as few virtual servers as needed, and use those virtual servers to host a Pexip Infinity Management Node and as many Conferencing Nodes as necessary to support their conferencing capacity requirements.

In a similar fashion to other Infinity cloud-hosted compute models, Infinity on Azure cloud can be combined with on-premises deployments for a seamless hybrid model.

Also read: To Cloud or not to Cloud – Pexip Infinity in Hybrid deployments

Cloud bursting elasticity — the ability to automatically* use cloud resources when necessary and turn them off when they are not required — provides Pexip customers with a unique ability to leverage the best that cloud hosting has to offer without incurring the heavy costs associated with always-on services.

Customers have the flexibility to scale up to handle changes in requirements or spikes in conferencing requirements as needed. Azure’s APIs and the Pexip Infinity management API can be leveraged to monitor usage and bring up or tear down Conferencing Nodes as required to meet conferencing demand.

How do I manage Pexip Infinity on Azure cloud?

Once set up, there is no difference to how you manage Pexip Infinity on Azure. The user experience is just the same, whether you choose an on-premises solution, an Azure cloud solution, or a combination of on-premises and cloud.

How do I get Pexip on Azure cloud?

Pexip will publish disk images for the Pexip Infinity Management Node and Conferencing Nodes. These images may be used to launch instances of each node type as required.

The fundamentals of Visual Communications

There are a few basic principles ensure that visual communications deployments are what they supposed to be.  In the past, these video conferencing roll-outs were relatively simple.  They were mostly confined to meeting rooms, with only a few desktop end points reserved for executives, and they usually connected colleagues either to one another at the office or, occasionally, to home users. Today that’s all changing and the key catalysts are Unified Communications (UC) and Activity Based Working (ABW).

There’s a rapid shift towards video everywhere.  Networks are expanding to include 4G and high speed internet connections, and employees are starting to use WiFi.  Meeting environments are transitioning from rigid old meeting rooms, to video available on laptops, tablets and smartphones.  The people we connect with are no longer just colleagues but now clients and suppliers as well as connections to home and mobile workers.  The landscape is completely different from what it was.

Scalability

This ‘explosion’ in video demand and usage is forcing many businesses to think more carefully about managing the user experience, which will drive wider adoption of visual communications solutions and, in turn, ensure better return on investment.  The best approach is to consider the fundamentals of successful visual communications and move forward from there.

The key is to recognise and accept that the number of video calls will increase rapidly over the next few years, as more smart devices become video-enabled, and demand to use them skyrockets. Eventually, you may have as many as three or four devices per person, plus your usual meeting rooms, all demanding access to video facilities.  Scalability is therefore all about whether your infrastructure and support processes can grow as fast as the increasing demand.  Will you continue to provide a good user experience regardless of how rapidly the solution scales?  One solution to management scalability the “as-a-service” model turning the whole solution from capital intensive to a consumption based OpEx model.

As demand increases, the service scales accordingly, and does so faster and more smoothly than businesses can do so internally.  Another possible option is outsourcing the infrastructure itself.  Platforms like Microsoft Skype for Business Online can now be used with legacy video endpoints for example to provide an elegant, cost effective solutions.  If the business needs to scale the number of end points, the supporting infrastructure grows accordingly with no additional capex, no need to wait for change controls, and no arduous procurement processes.

Business buyers are beginning to see that visual communications services involve more than purchasing a software licence or a piece of hardware.  It’s about the whole solutions (end point, the infrastructure, management, installation, Audio/Visual accessories and support) so that the outcome is quality and uniform across the organisation.

Uniformity

The key challenge for business today is achieving the same standard and quality of visual communications across all of their office locations.  Often, the experience is fair at its headquarters or major offices, which usually have high-touch support on hand. But it’s not the case with remote sites or home offices.  As a result, the utilisation of visual communications at headquarters sites is often much higher than at remote offices, and the user experience is equally better.

Uniformity requires the fundamentals to be in place, such as having a single directory, making sure the correct architectural controls are implemented, and then delivering the service consistently wherever the user’s may be.   This is often easier said than done for a business whose key focus is not communications technology.  A visual communications service provider like Generation-e that’s able to deliver such services can do so at a fraction of the cost that the business can provide internally and without the risk of employing, training and retaining personnel to do so.

Adoption & Change Management

Much has been said about the importance of user adoption and change management in the success of visual communications. Again, the uniformity of the user experience across locations contributes to both ease-of-use and increased usage.  It’s important to keep your most “luddite” users in mind − those who show an inherent reticence for using unfamiliar technology.  A concierge service may be an option to help these users, enabling them to enter a meeting room and simply meet but training and familiarisation is really the best approach.  If employed, the concierge meets and greets the participants to ensure that the call is set correctly. The concierge then leaves the meeting, but keeps monitoring the call, and can re-join if necessary.

It’s always worth considering a formal usage and adoption programme so that you people get the best out of the technology. This helps sustain users’ awareness of the benefits of the solution, as well as assisting the business to understand what their users want and need from the solutions.

Video end-points will increase rapidly over the next few years, as more smart devices become video-enabled and as workers become more distributed.

What users want today may be very different from what they expect in future.  It’s important to maintain the improvement of the visual communications strategy on an ongoing basis.  The balance between what’s ‘cool’ and new versus what’s practical and truly useful.  Previously it would have been questioned that there was real value in connecting to socially driven networks such as Skype.  Today, with the massive adoption of such platforms, it is mandatory so we can communicate with our customers.  

 

Any visual communications strategy you develop should tightly integrate into the businesses broader unified communications strategy.  Look out for ‘walled gardens’ solutions, in which you’re only able to call within their infrastructure or you may have no choice but to use that provider’s services which are often expensive or the provider may quite simply not support that call.  The net result is that visual communications often remains a poorly adopted technology. Consider partnering with a managed service for provider like Generation-e that can provide advanced services and utilises an open-standard architecture which can integrate into your overall unified communications approach.

Microsoft deprecates older Active Directory sync tools

Microsoft gave notice on its older Active Directory synchronization tools, giving IT pros almost a year to move to its newer Azure Active Directory Connect tool.

Today, Microsoft announced a “deprecation schedule” for Windows Active Directory Sync (DirSync) and Azure Active Directory Synchronization Services (Azure AD Sync). The announcement appeared to be somewhat retroactive, though.

Microsoft will no longer develop those products after April 13, 2016. It won’t support them after April 13, 2017, per the announcement.

Dead Products
In the recent past, Microsoft had said that DirSync and Azure AD Sync would be deprecated, but it hadn’t specified an exact date. The “deprecated” term means that the products continue to work, but Microsoft stops developing them. It’s Microsoft’s way of signaling a dead product.

Monty Python’s “

” comedy sketch maybe provides an apt metaphor for what this actually means for IT pros.

Going forward, Azure AD Connect is Microsoft’s favored sync tool. It has the most capabilities of all of Microsoft’s synchronization tools so far, according to Microsoft’s recently updated Azure article, “Hybrid identity directory integration tools comparison,” linked here (Microsoft tends to move this document around, so search for the title if the link fails). Even Microsoft Identity Manager 2016 currently lacks some capabilities that are enabled by the free Azure AD Connect tool.

Azure AD Connect is a wizard-like tool aimed at simplifying directory synchronization tasks. It used to be that only some sync tasks could be performed by using the older tools, but Microsoft seems to have quietly removed those restrictions.

Migration Options
IT pros using the two older tools have two options to move to Azure AD Connect, according to this Azure article. They can perform an in-place upgrade to Azure AD Connect under certain circumstances. Alternatively, they can perform a parallel deployment (also known as a “swing migration”), which involves using a new server running Azure AD Connect.

Microsoft also has a tool known as the Azure AD Connector for Forefront Identity Manager and Microsoft Identity Manager. Microsoft’s article linked above indicates that this tool is at “feature freeze.” It’s not formally deprecated, Microsoft claims, but “no new functionality is added and it receives no bug fixes,” which sounds very much like a deprecated product. In other words, it has ceased to be. Microsoft wants you off it.

DirSyn users and users of the Azure AD Connector for Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) won’t have the option to perform an in-place upgrade to Azure AD Connect, according to this Azure article:

An in-place upgrade will work for moving from Azure AD Sync or Azure AD Connect. It will not work for DirSync or for a solution with FIM + Azure AD Connector.

Moreover, Microsoft only recommends an in-place upgrade when organizations have “less than about 100,000 objects” on a single server. The reason for that restriction is that it will take a lot of time to perform the upgrade under that circumstance. With more than 50,000 objects, it will take “more than 3 hours to do the upgrade,” Microsoft explained, in this Azure article.

Consequently, some organizations will need to go through the swing migration process to move to Azure AD Connect. The swing migration process involves using two servers to perform the upgrade.

Despite all of the complexity involved in the retooling with Azure AD Connect, Microsoft has claimed that IT pros prefer using Microsoft’s free tools over third-party software tools to sync up with Azure AD. Earlier this month, Microsoft indicated that it had 100,000 customers syncing their on-premises directories with Azure AD. Alex Simons, director of program management for the Microsoft Identity Division, said that the tools use breakdown was as follows:

45k are using Azure AD Connect, 46K are using DirSync, 7.5K are using Azure AD Sync and just over 500 are using Microsoft Identity Manager or FIM. The remaining 1% are using other solutions.

Back in January, Simons had described the use of Azure AD sync tools in terms of percentages. He said at that time that Azure AD Connect was used by 17 percent of tenants. In contrast, DirSync was used by 50 percent, while Azure AD Sync had a 9 percent use rate. Based on those figures, it seems that Azure AD Connect’s popularity has rapidly grown in just a few months’ time. It’s the preferred tool for multiple forest environments, which the older tools can’t handle.

This article first appeared in Redmond Mag.