It is evident that the pandemic completely changed the way people perceive the workplace. Many organizations were quick to adapt to the new reality, however, simply securing the company’s computers and networks is not always enough.
Besides the perks of working from home, the recent global switch brought its own set of challenges for businesses. While companies managed to secure their workload by encrypting their network, issues surrounding communication and productivity are still prominent today. As we move into this new environment, it is up to the industry leaders to ensure collaboration and creativity thrive, no matter where the office might be.
We caught up with Evolve IP's EVP of Cloud Engineering, Joseph Pedano, who shared some insights about navigating the modern workplace.
What has the journey been like since your launch over a decade ago? Were there any milestones you would like to share?
When Evolve IP was started in 2007, we were largely in the business of convincing business owners and IT professionals that there was a different, easier way to buy technology. At the time, “The Cloud” was a new concept with an obtuse name. Since then, the concept has been embraced and businesses, largely, see cloud services as a trusted alternative to locally deployed solutions. What most businesses did not anticipate, however, is that while the cloud got many IT departments out of the data center business, it thrust them into the integration business. IT leaders were suddenly faced with the challenge of “How do I get my UC working with my contact center and running on my cloud infrastructure, all while playing nice with my collaboration suite, being integrated into my CRM, and running in a virtual desktop or available from my IDM?”
That’s what has always been different about Evolve IP. We offer pre-integrated solutions across several enterprise solution categories. In a way, this has been both a blessing and a curse. Historically, it has been challenging to compete in multiple product areas with companies that specialize in just one thing. Still, we persevered, confident that what made us unique would help fulfill an unmet need in the market. A big milestone for us was when we began to receive recognition from the analyst community for our individual products like Contact Center as a Service or Desktop as a Service, with analysts noting our strong integration into other product offerings. It validated a position we have, and still hold, alone in the market today.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do? What are the main challenges you help navigate?
Evolve IP, at its heart, is a people company, not a technology company. We seamlessly integrate various enterprise solutions so that employees and businesses can perform at their best using the technologies they know and love.
Never has this service been more in demand than during COVID. If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that the office is no longer just a physical place – it’s a collection of people who need to work together from wherever they are.
Prior to COVID, businesses had a collection of workforce technologies in place, pulled together from various vendors – each one doing its part to keep operations going. And outside of the occasional glitch, it worked okay. Then the pandemic hit, and, for many employees, the hybrid workplace became the only workplace. Suddenly, these disconnected technologies were being accessed remotely by employees in a less than secure fashion and could simply not support the unique demands of a remote workforce.
Evolve IP partners with IT professionals to bring together their Contact Center, Collaboration and Communications, virtual desktops, and other digital services into a single, secure cloud-based solution, fine-tuned for the hybrid workforce and delivered as a service. By integrating these disconnected systems from vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, Citrix, and VMware, and filling in the gaps, we are improving the experience for both employees and customers, while centralizing technology management. So, no matter how locations, tools, and partners shift over time, our customers have a solution that makes the future of work better for everyone.
With so many desktop virtualization options available nowadays, choosing the right one for your organization could be a daunting task. Do you have any tips to make this process easier?
Determining your ideal desktop virtualization environment is no easy task, but you can simplify the process by answering a few simple questions upfront.
- Select Internal or External Hosting and Management
The first step in making the decision about a VDI environment is determining whether you want to manage this infrastructure within an internal data center or through a third-party cloud-based provider.
Choosing the internal option can give you more control of the operating systems, software, and application. Keep in mind, though, that your IT staff is responsible for equipment, platform, and availability, and that specialized skills are needed to support this type of infrastructure (this expertise will come at a premium in this increasingly difficult IT hiring environment).
Working with a third-party expert usually means paying a monthly, per-user subscription while forgoing any initial capital investment. Although you relinquish some control, your partner is now responsible for maintenance and upgrades, and it will certainly make it easier to scale the solution up and down as business needs dictate.
- Understand your use cases
It’s incredibly important to understand how VDI will be utilized within your company. Is this a solution for everyone or just specific use cases? If you want to support remote employees, you must think about what kind of devices these employees will be using. Will your organization be providing devices, or will employees bring their own? What kind of applications are critical? Will there be a need to support real-time audio and video for collaboration or contact center needs? Each use case should be carefully considered against your options.
- Security and compliance
If your business operates in a highly regulated industry, you’ll want to ensure that the solution can help you meet all compliance requirements. Certain requirements may limit your options or require you to add things like multifactor authentication or end-point security.
- Know what you’re signing up for
Desktop Virtualization belongs in the hands of a specialist. Employee experience is the most important factor when exploring your options. If you’re considering doing it in-house, ensure you’ve got the right skill set to provide a high-quality, consistent, and secure user experience. If you are looking at external vendors, a company that specializes in desktop virtualization will always be better than a vendor without a track record.
How did the pandemic affect Evolve IP? Were there any new features added to your services as a result?
IT was pushed 5 years into the future in the first 5 months of the pandemic. For the past 30 years, IT strategies have been based around locations as the “unit of measure” for most of the business investment. Furthermore, remote strategies were designed for 20% of the workforce, and, honestly, carried an expectation of a substandard experience to the office environment. Fast forward to today, and hybrid work is here to stay. And in many cases, 100% of employees are remote at least part of the time. This shift has made the base unit of measure in any IT strategy the end-user and it has completely changed the way businesses consider cloud services.
Recognizing this, we further focused our services on advancing the hybrid workplace. In doing so, three primary areas of growth quickly emerged:
- We were an early Microsoft Direct Routing partner and had invested heavily in the technology before the pandemic. Direct Routing is a means to add enterprise voice services inside of Microsoft Teams. Teams became one of the de facto ways that businesses communicated internally during the pandemic. It created a halo effect for Evolve IP as businesses were seeking (and continue to seek) ways to replace their traditional communications systems with Teams. We focused on adding advanced features such as SMS to further elevate the Teams experience.
- Contact Centers were amongst the most critical business functions moved to the cloud during the pandemic. While the adoption of Contact Center as a Service was already high, the pandemic compelled most of the laggards to make the move. We focused on improving our agent experience and integrating it side by side with Teams.
- Desktop as a Service became critical for businesses with legacy applications that sit in the office data center, particularly those with compliance requirements. We focused on advancing our offerings to support a wide range of collaboration and communications tools and to enable customers to run them in the public cloud.
In light of the current global events, maintaining creativity has been a struggle for some companies. How can organizations foster creativity and innovation when the majority of employees are working remotely?
For group creativity and innovation in a remote work environment, the key is unlocking all of the capabilities of the platforms we’re using every day. Most businesses make ample use of video and screen sharing, but what about inline document editing, group note-taking, meeting transcription, and whiteboarding? Leverage the available training from your vendors and expose new features to your users regularly.
For personal creativity and innovation, the real issue these days is time. Most employees have days full of back-to-back meetings with no downtime; making it difficult to healthily manage our time virtually. Businesses should consider two options that are common features of collaboration platforms. First, end meetings early. Outlook will enable you to set a default meeting time that gives employees 5 or 10 minutes between sessions. Think of it as an automated breather for employees. Second, block out work time so you’re not overbooked. Outlook can do this for you by default.
If all else fails, schedule company-wide meeting blackout times to enable the synapses to get firing again.
What are the best measures companies can adopt nowadays to ensure not only smooth but also secure remote operations?
This question could be its own article, but since we focus on employee experience technologies, I’ll focus on collaboration and endpoints.
First, audit your Collaboration setup. Most businesses turned on Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Zoom, or Slack quickly and haphazardly in March of 2020. The good news is that we proved that we can be productive in this new paradigm. The bad news is that we probably did not do it securely. Information that used to be in documents on our file server in the office or in email neatly backed up and secured are now in chats in your collaboration tool of choice. Have you reviewed the security options for that solution, such as access rules, password rules, external file sharing, external users invited to discussions? If you haven’t revisited what you did in March of 2020, now is the time.
Second, re-examine your desktop strategy. When people rarely left the office, it was easy to paper over unsophisticated desktop management strategies. Now that so many employees work from home, and PCs have left the confines of the office, businesses need to decide if they’re truly ready to be excellent at managing and securing (and replacing) their remote fleet of devices, or if it’s time to embrace BYOD and leverage desktop virtualization or application hosting.
What issues do you notice most often when it comes to companies that don’t have proper communication tools?
The real issue here is not not having the communications tools, but, rather, having too many tools and no strategy on how or what to use. The average business now actively uses 3.5 communications tools and, according to Gartner, companies watched their expenses for online communications tools increase by 25% in the pandemic. It makes sense. Your UCaaS solution has its own basic meeting and chat function. Marketing used Zoom or Webex for webinars and events. IT turned on Teams for everyone. Businesses need to settle on a single method for communicating and establish standards for what content and response time is expected for each form of communication. For instance, email is considered information, and an acceptable response time is 1 business day. Chat is more immediate, and therefore, warrants a faster response time between available users.
Perhaps, just as important, is that businesses need to consider how their more traditional communications procedures and legacy investments in on-site phone systems fit into their new collaboration reality. Providers like Evolve IP can help businesses bridge those technology gaps and empower their hybrid workforce to excel today and in the future.
In your opinion, what will an average workplace look like in the near future?
I think the world’s employees have spoken. They want the flexibility that a hybrid workplace provides. We’re not going back to the office – at least not full-time. Permanent desk spaces will give way to hoteling desks and collaboration spaces. Offices will be where we go to meet, not necessarily where we go to work. Of course, different businesses will be more or less hybrid based on the type of business they’re in. But in every case, we will need to support our workforce wherever they are, on whatever device is in front of them. And that is a sea change for how IT has been constructed over the last 30 years.
Share with us, what’s next for Evolve IP?
Our focus is to make the future of work better. For everyone.
We will continue to grow. We will continue to invest alongside our partners Microsoft, Cisco, VMware, Citrix, Dubber, and others, to embrace new ways of working.
We will continue to count our success in terms of people-served, not locations supported.