Your Keys to Success with Cisco Spark

cisco_Spark

The way your organization works together is changing.

You understand moving to a cloud collaboration suite could complement, or even replace, your current unified communications (UC) solution. But, until now, you’ve hesitated to invest in a public cloud-based service because:

  • You worry adding high-traffic cloud services to your environment could strain your network
  • You’re unsure how a cloud-first suite will blend with your existing on-premises infrastructure
  • You know the human element of any UC deployment often makes rollout a challenge for IT

In a recent video meet up with Spiceworks, our panel of experts discussed the key consideration any organization needs to make before a Cisco Spark deployment.

Watch the video here.

What Sets Spark Apart?

There are a lot of UC options on the marketplace. What makes Cisco Spark stand out from the crowd?

Spark completes the Cisco collaboration portfolio ranging from on-premises to public cloud. Where competing products focus on calling, messaging and video conferencing features, Spark is designed for project teams with a need for high-frequency collaboration. From an end-user perspective, Spark replaces email as the primary way to exchange files and documents and enables content sharing in diverse ways.

Spark also enhances the potential for hybrid services integration with your existing on-premises PBX. Cisco has built Spark on open, flexible APIs. This makes it easy to integrate with other applications, such as issue ticketing or CRM software. You can deploy Spark as a full PBX or call control engine, or use the Spark client like a softphone on a mobile phone or desktop PC.

Before You Begin

There are three key considerations to make before planning your Cisco Spark migration.

  1. Keep in mind Spark is a cloud-first solution.

This means it’s critical to understand how and how much traffic will be moving through your environment. Can your network architecture provide enough bandwidth to support it? This is even more important when voice and video are part of the equation.

  1. Mind your roadmap.

You must have the internal conversations around onboarding Spark to your environment. What features do you plan to deploy? When and where are you going to deploy them? Who are your users? Having a clear plan helps you avoid the conundrum of investing to deploy a tool only to have nobody use it.

  1. Define your expectations.

Spark offers core functionalities across meetings, calls, and messaging. Decide which capabilities Spark is going to add to your environment and which it’s going to replace.  The desired business-related outcomes will drive your migration path. Remember, the provisioning and configuration aspects are simple. Your project plan is where the real work is done.

Driving User Adoption

Best practices for championing adoption in your organization depend on your business use case. While one organization might be able to accommodate a multi-day gap in phone service, another might face serious problems. Each scenario presents different drivers and conversation points.

In any case, preventing confusion is crucial. Administrative knowledge transfer should happen before Spark is in production within your environment. Clear communication and user training in advance are key to ensuring early and widespread adoption.

In an ideal situation, your Spark deployment will take place on a departmental or site-by-site basis rather than all-at-once, allowing you to tailor each rollout to departmental needs.

Networking & Hardware

From a networking perspective, it’s important to know whether your infrastructure has the bandwidth to support a cloud solution like Cisco Spark.

But, as with any cloud application, bandwidth isn’t the only networking consideration.

There are also firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware concerns. Certain websites will need to be whitelisted. Also, Spark deployments in on-premises or hybrid environments rely on Cisco Expressway, meaning this service will need to be in place before deployment.

There are also options to use a hybrid media node to keep data central and reduce hardware bandwidth, although these have a considerable upfront cost. In addition to linking Spark to mobile devices, it’s also possible to register Cisco IP phones to the cloud, allowing you to migrate some of your legacy hardware if necessary.

Security & Compliance

Transitioning to a cloud-hosted UC platform is sometimes difficult for organizations in regulated industries. For organizations in finance or healthcare, for instance, compliance is an unavoidable issue.  To this end, Cisco has industry-leading security bona fides. The Spark platform also provides end-to-end data encryption.

Nonetheless, issues with encryption key storage and cloud server configuration make compliance a challenge within some deployments. In high-regulation industries, it’s advisable to keep impacted business functions on compliant on-premises hardware.

Licensing

Cisco offers per-user Spark subscription licensing in three tiers, with monthly, annual or three-year payment options. Packages range from basic messaging and meetings to advanced WebEx and hybrid services. Flexible licensing is available for meetings features, as are numerous add-ons, such as telepresence units, Spark room systems and Spark Board licenses.

Cisco also offers free trials, either direct or through partners like us, that range from limited baseline features to thirty- and sixty-day trials that include hardware and PSTN services. Trials offer a terrific opportunity to become acquainted with the Spark feature set and assess the fit for your organization.

Planning Your Deployment

The first step is to document a high-level design that defines the capabilities Spark will take on in your environment along with adoption methods and end-user training. The next component is a low-level design that addresses site-by-site network and bandwidth requirements. Next is staging for end-points and functionalities in the cloud.

The safest approach is to begin your deployment with a pilot group in parallel with your current environment. This way, you can pinpoint and address issues at the proof-of-concept stage. Then, proceed with side-by-side migration in conjunction with end-user training. If you’re deploying to a large organization across numerous sites, a site-by-site deployment is ideal. Day-to-day administration once Spark is in production is straightforward, as most admin components are cloud-managed.

What’s Next?

With a better understanding of what to expect with Cisco Spark, you’re ready to move ahead with your deployment plan. We recommend you get a network assessment to determine whether your environment has the capacity to handle additional cloud services. We’re also equipped to assist you with setting up a trial account to determine whether Spark is a fit for your business.

 

Have more questions? Find out more.

Why Now is the Time to Move to Cloud Collaboration

Cloud collaboration

Unless you’re a company of one, communication is the backbone of your organization’s productivity. But that backbone may soon break under the weight of obsolesce, making now the ideal time to look into how the cloud can shore it up today and brace it for the future.

[Read more…]

5 compelling benefits of Microsoft Surface Pro 4 to include in your business case

Surface Pro Hardware

Updated April 3, 2017

Case

When Microsoft entered the hardware industry and introduced specs for the initial Microsoft Surface Pro, some were skeptical about whether it could compete in the marketplace. Now that the latest generation of Microsoft Surface devices has been adopted by thousands of companies worldwide, success is undeniable. Many users have switched to Surface and given it glowing reviews for increasing their productivity.

Regardless of what hardware you are switching from, outfitting your workforce with an alternative model or brand will likely require a strong business case. Fortunately, it is not difficult to make for Surface devices. Here are four compelling reasons to equip your workforce especially with the Surface Pro 4.

1. Greater versatility, lower management costs

The Surface Pro’s ability to be both a laptop and tablet is its greatest attribute. The juggling act between desktop, laptop, and tablet is expensive for organizations. Not to mention a burden on employees who spend time transferring files between devices. Also, data security challenges are inherent in loading confidential data onto USB sticks as a means of file transfer.

Add to this the beauty of the hardware: users love the hinge design, which feels great and props the screen at any desired angle. The keyboard snaps on and holds tightly thanks to neodymium magnets, and the keyboard and touchpad are top-rate for long days of use—a big differentiator from other detachable keyboards.

After years of dealing with headaches like short battery life and lugging around heavy laptops, the road warriors at high tech and electronics giant TeleSign recently adopted Surface. “Compared with other devices of the same size and weight, [Surface] has far more functionality and far lower management costs,” says Paul Stovall, Director of Enterprise Sales. In addition to eliminating presentation hiccups and making the sales team much happier, introducing Surface has also taken care of TeleSign’s IT challenges managing and securing their iPads.

2. Boost workforce collaboration with features like shareable screen markups

Doctor taking notes on Surface ProBetween the portability of Surface and features like the Surface Pen, OneNote and screen markups, teams are finding Surface helps them collaborate faster and smarter. We’re seeing this play out in a variety of ways and industries; for example, at Seattle Children’s Hospital, doctors and nurses are now taking notes with the Surface Pen, keyboard or dictation using Cortana, which means most records are completed and available to others the minute practitioners leave patients’ rooms.

New York-based SHoP Architects uses Surface in a completely different way: they have Surface devices in their conference room and common areas to stimulate staff collaboration and streamline their process for developing ideas. “What’s important is not the time as much as the energy that gets lost from the original sketch,” says John Cerone, Associate Principal, Director of Virtual Design and Construction. He says his team is finding the stylus and touch screen features very valuable for capturing design ideas: “Pen-to-screen or hand-to-screen is the most intuitive interface.”

3. Software optimization and capacity that eliminates hours of work

The design of the Surface was optimized to run Office 365 and Windows 10 as efficiently as possible, and we’re hearing many reports of time savings related to this and its other software capabilities. One example is Enterprise Fleet Management, which equipped its sales team with Surfaces. Enterprise’s team estimates better access to files and software saves them about an hour each day and makes their sales presentation much more polished. “An hour a day saved hundreds of salespeople adds up to significantly more selling time and better customer service. In addition, our closing ratios have gone up 35 percent in the last year, and the Surface has certainly contributed to that sales increase,” says their senior vice president of sales and marketing Tom Chelew.

Surface users are also happy with the incorporation of Cortana personal assistant, which responds to voice commands, as well as new convenience tools in the revamped Internet Explorer, renamed Edge. Plus, Surface is no slouch when running resource intensive applications such as SolidWorks, used for design.

4. Impressive streamlining and time savings from improved security

Surface’s optimized implementation of Windows 10 also makes it fast and easy for users to login and access their work. It has organization-wide benefits too: the Windows Hello biometric login feature, part of Windows 10, eliminates forced company-wide password resets, which most employees loathe. Meanwhile, the ability to move between desktop accounts and cloud services such as Office 365 and the Windows Store with a single Microsoft login decreases reliance on additional passwords.

Paired with Device Guard, the biometric security feature protects against lost devices and hacking by keeping user information safe, making getting up and running as easy as logging into another device and accessing content on the cloud. As Forrester’s David Johnson told Computer World UK, “Microsoft is fundamentally improving security at the OS and hardware level. It has done a really good job implementing all the security features that companies like Intel can provide.”

For its light weight and power alone, Microsoft Surface is a no-brainer for outfitting a mobile workforce. But it has much wider application than this, and it opens multiple avenues for greater productivity. Given the growing importance of security, mobility, and cloud, Surface’s winning combination of software, hardware and stylus make it a solid device for organizations of all sizes and shapes.

5. New savings

Microsoft has introduced new savings for the 2-1 by up to $300 depending on your country and model SKU*.

For example in Canada, the higher end version with Intel Core i7 with 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM that was introduced at $2,099 is now $1,799 CAD, getting you $300 savings.

In the US, new $100 savings are available on most models!  You can now get a new model for as little as $799 (Intel® Core™ M 4GB 128GB (w/o pen).

If you think this is a prelude to the release of new Surface Pro devices, don’t hold your breath. There is still no release date for Microsoft’s flagship device but the company has been dedicated to offering our customers the best price possible for Pro 4.

To learn more about Surface Pro 4 and new pricing, please go here. 

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