Building out an effective telecommunication and technology infrastructure that meets current needs in the most cost-effective manner possible while providing a base for expansion isn’t an exact science.

You need to account for future changes in the nature of work within your organization and with your partners, customers and suppliers, keeping in mind that working models are becoming more flexible and customer contact is increasing.

You also must consider specific needs, such as security, disaster recovery, technology performance requirements, public/private boundary controls within systems and networks, and critical tools and datasets.

If you underestimate your needs, you could end up needing a complete technology replacement — an expensive proposition. If you overestimate, you may be paying today for services you never actually need.

It’s no wonder that business owners find this a challenging task, especially when so many factors affecting growth are outside of their control.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president for Comcast Business, about implementing technology infrastructure that is geared for today and ready for tomorrow.

What are some key considerations to planning for growth?

You must first determine your current baselines with existing systems, hardware, software, policies, etc. Then, audit each to see how your infrastructure can serve as a foundation for growth. Plans should include benchmarks that trigger technology upgrades, but there should also be a budget built into the plan to ensure the business has adequate technology to achieve its initial growth targets and increase the chances of hitting those triggers.

Technology tends to get better and less expensive over time, so be careful about purchasing the ‘latest and greatest’ without careful analysis, such as creating a pro-and-con list. You may be surprised by what you really need. There’s a great story about Americans designing a special ‘space pen’ that could write in zero gravity, while the Russians used a pencil.

Remember that technology rarely solves a business problem on its own; it needs to be married to a core business process or user behavior.

How are the cloud and bandwidth affecting these infrastructure plans?

Cloud-based services are changing the game for all aspects of technology infrastructure, including telephony, Internet access and applications — allowing small and midsize business to more easily scale. With each technology system, weigh whether it’s more cost-effective to run services in-house or outsource them as third-party applications hosted externally.

Bandwidth is a key enabler. As users add Wi-Fi, move to cloud apps, stream video and bring devices to work, the demand for bandwidth is escalating exponentially. You need to consider the number of current users accessing your networks and the kinds of applications they are using, as well as the user growth you expect. If employees and customers both need Wi-Fi, you may want separate services so the public Wi-Fi doesn’t affect your private network’s speed.

This is a complex equation; do you have tips for the right approach?

Many companies that have implemented a technology infrastructure geared toward growth recommend that unless a particular technology promises to solve a major pain point, being a little late in adopting a new technology is conservative and smart.

Even with proven technologies and a carefully designed proof of concept, a phased rollout should be planned for any hardware projects. That same approach can be used for software and cloud services, but the phases can be more rapid because of the easier rollout and scalability.

Plans may vary by industry and your business’s circumstances, but it’s typical to buy the most basic package with the greatest flexibility first. Then, as your revenue grows, you can add bandwidth and expand your cloud storage and speed. And as personnel increases, you can implement portability and integration phases. It comes down to tying your selection criteria and implementation approach to your business objectives and the explicit assumptions about where your business and industry are going.

Kevin Conmy is regional vice president at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

Cloud technologies have transformed the playing field for small and midsize businesses, largely because of their flexibility. Organizations have the ability to quickly and painlessly ramp up their services when they need something more.

“Using their Internet connection, they can harness the power — and reap the rewards — of applications traditionally available only to large enterprises with big IT budgets,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Freedom Region at Comcast Business. “Cloud-based services, from servers to storage, provide access to high-performance infrastructure without high-priced investments. Streaming video can be used to bring conferences and training to any employee, anywhere. Mobile devices increase productivity beyond company walls, with businesses seeing increased efficiency and a growing bottom line.

“But what may not be immediately visible is the impact these tools are having on company networks,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about sufficiently planning for your company’s bandwidth needs for today and tomorrow.

How are Internet connections and networks affecting business operations?

As organizations move to the cloud and embrace applications like high-definition video and Web-based tools, their Internet connection becomes more important. Suddenly, more data needs to move — and move quickly — over your connection. If your network doesn’t have sufficient bandwidth or speed, you could experience slower response times, or risk losing connectivity completely.

As a result, many tools intended to allow businesses to analyze data, make decisions, and interact with employees and customers with lightning speed are at risk of not operating at peak efficiency. There may be a delay between a query to a cloud-based data center and a response, or video streams may freeze as they struggle over a lagging connection. Remote workers also might have difficulty accessing applications or email because too many people are accessing the company network simultaneously.

Which businesses face bandwidth problems?

This need for speed is more the rule than the exception. In a 2012 Comcast Business poll, 84 percent of small and midsized business respondents experienced increasing bandwidth needs because of their use of the cloud, Wi-Fi and mobile devices.

This trend is expected to increase, too, as companies continue to aggregate and unlock value from customer data, such as order histories, buying preferences and online shopping patterns. More than half of respondents in a different Comcast Business survey expect the quantity of collected data to grow at least 50 percent within two years.

How can organizations deal with the challenge of increasing bandwidth?

Clearly, a bandwidth upgrade is, or soon will be, in order for many. In the old days, companies often relied on T1 lines from traditional phone providers. So, boosting speeds involved buying and tying together more lines, a pricey and complex endeavor.

Today, things are easier, but only if you ask the right questions before an upgrade:

  • Does the network have the reach we need? If you rely on transferring data between offices, make sure your provider has a wide network, and double-check to ensure all locations are within that footprint. Just because one office may appear to be in the middle of a coverage map doesn’t guarantee your satellite location 20 miles away will have that same good fortune.
  • How quickly, and in what increments, can we change our bandwidth? Having the ability to scale up or down can help companies buy only what they need and cut long run costs. Select a provider that can do this via a simple phone call to save you hours of aggravation and help enhance business productivity.
  • What happens if the network goes down? The majority of telecom providers operate over another provider’s fiber lines. So, although you may be under contract with a smaller company boasting a less expensive monthly bill, you’re likely using the same line as one of the larger companies. What does this mean? In an outage, your main contact may not be able to immediately resolve the issue.

By asking now, you can help ensure your company knows what it needs for the future so you can begin planning accordingly.

Kevin Conmy is regional vice president of the Freedom Region at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

Most business owners rely on their computer systems and technology to keep their companies humming. When technology stops working, the business stops working. Even a relatively “simple” problem or question could involve hours of troubleshooting, resulting in unplanned downtime and expenses.

Proper management of technology can not only minimize pesky tech issues that drag down productivity and drive up costs, it can maximize productivity and help a business grow. But the time and financial resources necessary to manage IT in-house are making outsourcing increasingly attractive and beneficial.

“Also known as a Managed Services Provider (MSP), an outside IT provider can take over the day-to-day management of your IT needs,” says Kevin Conmy, regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. “A good provider can offer set-up, maintenance and proactive IT management, as well as troubleshooting for questions or problems whenever they arise.”

Smart Business spoke with Conmy about key questions to ask when choosing a MSP.

Do they understand your business and technology?

You want a provider who already works with businesses like yours — who knows the technology, software and hardware. Be specific about your set-up, and ask directly: Does the provider understand networked printing? Are they familiar with the programs you work with? Can they work with PCs, with Macs, with servers? What about mobile devices or combinations of printers, scanners and routers?

Can they support you remotely?

It may seem comforting to have a technician come to your office, but the convenience and speed of remote service and support is invaluable as it’s often faster and more efficient. For example, if you’re experiencing a problem and your provider can talk an employee through diagnostics, resets or other procedures on the spot, it often resolves issues without an in-person visit.

In other cases, a provider can use the Internet to access your systems and networks remotely, with permission, to reset routers, change network settings, scan systems for viruses and malware, or reinstall software and handle many other problems in far less time.

That said, there will be times when you need on-site support, such as when you’re setting up new equipment, resolving physical issues with networks or moving equipment. You need a provider who can deploy on-site technicians promptly, to any of your locations.

Do they work nights and weekends?

When do you most need service and help? If you are in retail, hospitality, transportation or any other industry where 9-to-5 doesn’t apply, you need a provider who is 24/7. Or, maybe the only time you can stop for service is outside of your working hours. A provider who is daylight-only may increase prices for after-hours and holiday support. They may provide limited services or slower response after regular business hours. That can hamper — and cost — you.

Do they offer preventive, proactive help?

It’s best to have a prior relationship with an IT provider. When your network crashes or computers go dark, that’s not the time to start hunting for help. You want a resource you know, and who knows you.

Second, ask what preventive services an IT provider has to help spot potential problems before something breaks. This can involve scanning your computers for rogue code, and troubleshooting and testing your network for performance issues.

How do they charge?

It may seem prudent to arrange for support on an a la carte basis, but when something breaks that practice can be unpredictable and costly. And it’s especially irritating when the problem could have been prevented.

A better option is an all-inclusive monthly subscription fee — either per user or for the entire business. This fee can include the immediate services that may be required, along with some combination of proactive and preventive services, data back up, hosting, etc. The costs are more predictable no matter what occurs, and it’s easier to predict the costs of adding more users, and computers. As your business grows, you need a solution that can scale with you.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

The growing prevalence of cloud computing has driven astronomical growth in the amount of data center traffic passing through networks. A 2011 survey projects this traffic to hit 468 Exabytes in 2016. To put that in context, worldwide Internet traffic surpassed one Exabyte for the first time in 2003.

The fuel behind this widespread adoption is cloud computing’s cost-effectiveness. With a “pay only for what you use” pricing structure, midsize companies can ramp up or down with minimal startup costs. In addition, there are tax benefits to having cloud computing as an operating expense, rather than a capital expenditure.

However, one factor stands in the way for many businesses — an outdated network infrastructure that is unable to operate efficiently using cloud-based systems.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president, Business Services, at Comcast Business, about how businesses can use Ethernet to maximize cloud computing, and the competitive advantage it brings.

Why are some companies unable or slow to take full advantage of the cloud’s potential?

The first hurdle to get over is the trust factor. Business owners are hesitant to hand over sensitive information and transactions to a third party. But as the use of cloud applications becomes widespread and the ease of the applications themselves make them harder to resist, more and more companies are jumping on board.

The second obstacle is often the company’s network and whether they are using the public Internet or a private Ethernet.

While a public Internet service is cost-effective and accessible from just about anywhere, the flipside to that is increased security risks that are a very credible concern.

Latency — the time it takes for data to make a round trip between two points, such as from your office to the data center where the cloud application is hosted and back — is another problem when using a public connection. Some applications, such as email, can tolerate longer latency, but others like video, are latency-intolerant.

How is private connectivity, Ethernet, better matched to cloud services?

For mission-critical applications hosted at a data center or cloud provider, private connectivity provides secure, high availability and low-latency access.

Ethernet technology, which has been around for 40 years, has become the de facto technology in offices around the world, linking computers and servers together in a high-speed local area network (LAN). A metropolitan area network (MAN) can link computers over a larger area, like between buildings in a metro area, with low latency.

One service provider manages the Ethernet traffic and applications within the private network, resulting in better security and performance. Companies still have the ability to integrate Internet traffic, but the low latency causes remote offices, and even those applications hosted in third-party data centers, to feel like they are on the LAN.

Data centers and cloud providers generally don’t provide dedicated network infrastructure with their cloud offerings, but they are reporting that clients are increasingly purchasing dedicated high-speed fiber connections from separate service providers for accessing these cloud services.

Do businesses leaders understand how important it is to have the right network services?

A recent CIO/Computerworld survey found that 70 percent of IT executives considered reliable, high-capacity bandwidth as a transformational or strategic asset, up from 42 percent two years ago. The majority of respondents believe high-performance connectivity increases productivity and efficiency. It’s clear that business owners increasingly view high-performance network services as a prerequisite for future growth.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president of Business Services at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

The restaurant and bar industry is highly competitive, and many owners struggle every day to stay in business. The right technology can help restaurants and bars gain an edge, while improving back-office operations and guest experience.

Recently, Comcast Business conducted a poll of LinkedIn members in the hospitality industry. Of the more than 700 respondents, 31 percent said technology was setting them up for success, the second-highest response.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president of business services at Comcast Business, about how technology and the Internet can be the keys to evolving a restaurant or bar from struggling to thriving.

What technology is driving new efficiencies for back-end operations?

Multiple generations often operate family-owned restaurants and bars. Older-generation owners may prefer traditional, paper-based methods to take customer orders, track time and inventory, and pay employees. However, these businesses often lose money without understanding why.

Fortunately, many software packages and systems are specifically designed to bring the business a level of automation and help operations run more smoothly. Owners can automatically re-order items when supplies get low with real-time inventory management systems, preventing shortages of key ingredients and minimizing over-ordering. They can order food and make supplier payments directly online, making accounts payable faster and easier. Online time cards and schedule management software can improve employee management and allow servers to log in to a secure site to see their schedules with updated changes. The system can deliver announcements to quickly communicate important information, such as menu changes, to the entire staff.

Technology also allows tablets and other mobile devices to send orders immediately to the kitchen. Orders move faster with fewer errors.

How can owners improve guest experiences?

Consumers today are constantly using their smartphones, tablets or laptops. They want a fast connection to watch videos, update social media accounts or do a live video chat right at the table. Restaurants and bars can differentiate themselves with fast wireless Internet service. Having a sign that says ‘We have Wi-Fi’ brings people in and keeps them coming back. To support this, you must have a high-capacity connection out to the Internet that supports the Wi-Fi network.

Technology is also transforming how guests order and pay with tableside touch-screens. One-click ordering leads to more food and drink orders. The bill payment delivers tips directly into a server’s account.

How does cloud technology help restaurant and bar owners?

Many of these technology solutions are stored and operated ‘in the cloud’ so owners simply pay for the service and log onto a website to access the software. Then, there is no need to upgrade software or keep a server on site. Plus, the system can be accessed from any Internet connection, allowing owners to keep eyes on their businesses whenever or wherever. They also don’t have to be technology experts to use these tools, freeing up more time to manage the restaurant or bar.

And with data stored elsewhere, owners don’t have to worry about losing information because of a technical issue, theft or fire/flood damage.

However, the key to cloud-based systems is access. Businesses need fast, reliable Internet access to get online, so cloud-based systems work quickly and reliably.

What are the first steps to getting started?

Restaurants and bars need to start planning now to shift to technology-based systems and amenities. First, stay ahead of the bandwidth curve by ensuring you have a fast enough Internet connection to meet your needs today and tomorrow. Once you have a high-speed network connection out to the Internet, you can purchase cloud-based software systems or Wi-Fi access points.

Business owners also might consider bundling Internet, phone and television with one provider, so there’s only one place to call for assistance, and one bill to pay.

To enjoy the benefits of these technology tools, restaurants and bars need to embrace them now, or risk being left behind.

Kevin Conmy is a regional vice president, Business Services, at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Learn more about Comcast Business solutions or contact your local account executive.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia