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  1. Telecommuting: Supporting Remote Workers During and After COVID-19

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    If you’re like millions of Americans, taking a break from work probably used to mean walking to the breakroom for coffee and saying hello to your coworker down the hall. Now you may find yourself reading through this blog on your couch for your break, while convincing yourself you don’t need another snack from your kids’ stash of goodies before tackling your next project.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of employers supporting telecommuters, or people who work from home, skyrocketed. However, working from home was on the rise prior to the outbreak. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 26 million people worked remotely at least part of the time before the pandemic. In fact, the total number of people who telecommuted increased by 115% between 2005 and 2015. Yet while some are used to keeping themselves away from the snack cupboard and successfully being productive while working at home, millions of employers and employees are new at it. We’ve put together a few tips that we’ve found helpful during this unprecedented time.

    Technical Tools

    From a technical standpoint, dozens of virtual tools can keep coworkers connected. Video conferencing software enables face-to-face meetings when physically getting together is not an option. Instant messengers, like Skype, foster quick communication for business purposes or the occasional aside! But remote work and collaboration go well beyond video conferencing and instant messaging. A whole suite of cloud-based unified communications applications including screen sharing and browser sharing can help groups of remote employees collaborate on mission-critical projects. In many ways the future of work has become the present, out of necessity. This is only set to continue as countries experiment with an incremental, limited easing of restrictions over the coming months.

    Applications that are typically only accessed at the office require a bit of planning, but there are options. Many businesses use a virtual private network (VPN) to give workers secure access to their company’s network. Employees can set up from virtually anywhere that has a Wi-Fi connection and access applications as they typically would at the office. DQE has seen an increase in the number of customers accommodating their newly remote workforce with this tool. Additionally, we’ve worked with many customers to increase their bandwidth so they can accommodate new, heightened demands on their network systems. This in turns means productivity can remain high, which is vital for businesses eager to weather the effects of COVID-19 successfully.

    Embrace Employees

    Employees are feeling more stressed and isolated than ever before because of the pandemic. Workers who are now also serving as teachers because their children’s schools are closed may be feeling the pressure even more. CNBC reports companies that successfully schedule time to check in on employees and provide emotional support will have a higher employee retention rate and more individuals who feel appreciated by their leaders.

    Working from home can be beneficial for employees who feel supported, so it’s important to embrace your workforce more than ever during this crucial time. An article by the American Psychological Association says telecommuting overall increases job satisfaction, and employees experience less work-related stress and exhaustion. Conversely, drawbacks include social and professional isolation. The article encourages employers to consider ways for staff to build relationships virtually, including creating online message boards or providing small stipends by using meal delivery services for virtual lunches or coffee breaks.

    We’re here when you need us

    At DQE, we’re doing our best to adhere to these and other best practices to support our employees as much as possible during this time. Whether we’re in the office or working from home, we also remain committed to you – our customers. If there are additional ways we can support your business as you manage a remote workforce now or in the future, please contact us any time.

  2. IoT and its impact on bandwidth

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    Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the way that more and more physical devices are collecting and exchanging data over the internet. When this data is aggregated and analyzed, IoT represents a tremendous opportunity for improvements in accuracy and efficiency. Currently, IoT is doing a better job collecting data than using it — but its potential is limitless. IoT will have an increasing impact on bandwidth needs it grows.

    IoT includes an incredible array of devices already

    Consumer uses include connected cars, entertainment applications such as gaming, smart TVs and media players, wearable technologies such as FitBits, and a growing assortment of smart home devices. Commercial IoT includes devices used in corporate settings to improve marketing and study consumer habits, control inventory, healthcare and more, while industrial IoT covers manufacturing and utility use. IoT can even assist with the management of critical infrastructure such as bridges, railway tracks, and wind farms by monitoring usage and structural factors.

    IoT is growing

    Experts predict that anywhere from 25 to 50 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020. In 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that a family of four had an average of 10 connected devices, which will increase to 50 by 2022 – and that’s consumer usage alone, without considering the exponential growth of IoT in commercial and industrial settings.

    Current challenges with IoT

    Several challenges exist in the evolution of IoT that threaten to limit its potential, such as security, compatibility, and standards – as well as privacy issues related to how gathered data is used.

    One much-publicized issue with IoT is that many devices are easy for hackers to co-opt into distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that disable key online services. In a DDoS attack, “botnets” send high volumes of traffic to a specific network. The resulting overload can shut down the network, blocking people from accessing email, websites, online banking and so on. It is crucial that developers of IoT consider and address security issues to help prevent DDoS attacks before consumers lose trust in IoT. It is also important that companies protect their businesses from these DDoS attacks and add a DDoS Mitigation service to their arsenal.

    Implications of IoT for bandwidth

    Many IoT devices operate wirelessly, while others are connected. Most IoT devices use very little bandwidth, but the sheer volume of devices going online means more bandwidth will be needed. As IoT grows, it will be necessary to make sure your network can accommodate these changes.

    The amount of data that IoT devices collect and transmit will increase as the technology continues to develop, which will in turn contribute to the need for increased bandwidth. (For example, when smartphones became capable of transmitting images and streaming video, the need for bandwidth jumped significantly.)

    Consumers expect that bandwidth will always be available at the fastest speeds possible, even as IoT increases demand. Companies like DQE that focus on bandwidth and scalable solutions will be critical as need explodes. Reliability is similarly important, and DQE’s self-healing fiber-optic network offers superior redundancy to automatically detect and redirect in the event of a fiber cut or other interruption.

    Count on DQE to continue to provide scalable, reliable bandwidth solutions for your business as your bandwidth needs grow.

  3. The Rise of E-Commerce

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    The rise of e-commerce has had powerful ripple effects throughout our increasingly digital society. Let’s take a quick look at the growth of e-commerce, and what it means for your business.

    Current e-commerce statistics are eye-popping. According to Big Commerce, almost all Americans (95%) shop online at least once yearly– but 80% of us do so every single month. What’s more, 51% would rather shop online than in person. We’re shopping on the go more and more, too. In 2015, only 40% of all online purchases were made via a mobile phone, a share that will increase to 70% this year.

    Traditional brick-and-mortar stores are suffering as a result – several famous chains have closed in the relatively recent past, and many more have downsized dramatically. This has had a profound effect on real estate market as well, as you might imagine. In 2010, there were 35 million visits to malls, according to the real-estate research firm Cushman and Wakefield. By 2013, there were just 17 million visits. Obviously, it’s significantly more expensive to maintain a physical store than a virtual one — and further, people often shop at physical stores, and then order the item online wherever they can get the best deal.

    Some stores, like Macy’s, J.C. Penney’s (which both recently shuttered multiple locations), Kohl’s, Target, and even Walmart saw double-digit percentage growth in online sales last Christmas. But it remains to be seen whether these retail giants can keep pace with e-commerce giants.

    A side beneficiary of all this e-commerce activity is shipping companies, including the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx. Amazon is exploring ways to circumvent these companies with drone delivery service, which is capable of delivering packages weighing five pounds or less to a customer in 30 minutes or faster. However, regulatory changes would have to occur for large-scale drone delivery to be feasible — currently, drones must remain in sight of the operator, and there are privacy issues related to flying drones over private property. But the prospect is tantalizing, and it will be fascinating to see if drone delivery becomes commonplace.

    Further innovations in the world of e-commerce could be related to the Internet of Things, and autonomous agents and things. Connected IoT objects could provide information that then enables businesses to give you personalized offers, while autonomous, self-driving cars deliver the parcels! But warehouse robots are already automating order fulfillment in e-commerce warehouses, increasing efficiency considerably.

    E-commerce is growing 23% per year, so it’s somewhat surprising that 46% of American businesses still don’t have an e-commerce website. If your business is planning to get into e-commerce, there are many different platforms, depending on your needs – everything from internet bazaars like eBay and Etsy designed for individuals to sell a few items, all the way up to enterprise solutions.

    If you sell items in a physical store and want to sell a few of them online, Amazon can list your products even if you don’t have your own e-commerce site. But if you’re ready to invest in your own e-commerce site, a variety of different platforms are available, depending on the size and scale of what you have in mind. Shopify, Big Cartel, 3D Cart, and Woo Commerce are a few of the most common for small to mid-size businesses. Enterprise-level solutions include Intershop, IBM Websphere, and Oracle’s ATG.

    In addition to delivering a superior user experience, an online store must be carefully marketed, integrated with Amazon and Google Shop, and the SEO must be effective. It’s a major challenge to get the word out about a new store – for most, e-commerce is not an “if you build it, they will come” proposition.

    Many factors influence where a customer will choose to shop online. But the three top influencers are price (87%), shipping cost and speed (80%) and discount offers (71%). To be successful, e-commerce sites must feature intuitive navigation, good photography, and ease of checkout with multiple payment options.

    Further, e-commerce sites require significantly more bandwidth than content-only sites. DQE can help by providing scalable bandwidth that keeps your site operating cleanly and quickly, which has a direct impact on sales – site slowness is a top reason shoppers say they would abandon a purchase.

    Reliability is critical. If your site is down, you’re missing potential new customers and turning off returning customers – they will shop somewhere else instead, and won’t return. Count on DQE for scalable, reliable bandwidth solutions to support your growing e-commerce business needs.

  4. What the Internet of Things Means for Your Business

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    Has the Internet of Things impacted your life? The answer is yes, if you own a FitBit, thermostat, alarm system or other device that communicates with your smartphone. First coined in 1999, the term Internet of Things, or IoT, refers to the way physical devices are increasingly built to collect and exchange data over the Internet – with profound and growing implications for the business world.

    As the McKinsey Quarterly put it, “When objects can both sense the environment and communicate, they become tools for understanding complexity and responding to it swiftly.” The potential for improved accuracy, efficiency and profits across almost all business sectors is incredible.

    Take manufacturing as an example. Notes Industry Week, “smart manufacturing is about creating an environment where all available information – from within the plant floor and from along the supply chain, is captured in real-time, made visible and turned into actionable insights.”

    The Wall Street Journal explains how early adopter Harley Davidson is using IoT technology in its recently renovated York, Pa. manufacturing facility. Manufacturing execution systems (MES), a form of software, tracks and documents all of the information gathered by sensors and other applications monitoring every step of the production process. Important environmental details like humidity and temperature are measured, and machinery automatically adjusts as needed to maintain optimal conditions. The data allows the company to streamline production, eliminate bottlenecks, and even anticipate problems before they happen – and in fact, Harley Davidson is now able to complete a new bike every 86 seconds.

    One of Harley Davidson’s competitors, Zero Motorcycles, is utilizing IoT technology by manufacturing bikes that are connected. Information Week explains that a mobile app allows the owner to transmit data from the bike to service professionals and to Zero in the event of mechanical trouble. Not only does this result in customers better able to maintain these high-end bikes, the resulting data is invaluable to Zero in product development.

    As we can see from these examples, the IoT utilizes a two-part process: gathering of information and utilization of that information. At the moment, the business world is doing a better job gathering the information than utilizing it, but this will change dramatically as the technology develops. The IoT is expected to have a huge impact in almost every field of business, but especially in infrastructure and energy, manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics. Media and advertising will become even more targeted, as data will enable advertisers to further refine when and where their ads are served, ensuring that they reach the most promising customers at the best possible time.

    Growth predictions for the IoT are staggering. The IoT Consortium expects that 30 billion devices will be online by 2020, and the worldwide market will grow from $591 billion in 2014 to $1.3 trillion in 2019. The volume of data will reach 403 ZB per year by 2018, up from 113.4 ZB in 2013. New and exciting uses for the data will continue to be refined — particularly in the area of automation, where human involvement with the data is not necessary for improved efficiency — which will spur further growth in the longer-term.

    Those growth statistics indicate the profound impact the IoT will have on the networking world, and on your business. IPv4’s limited address space will be exhausted as the number of online objects continues to multiply, which means the adoption of IPv6 will be imperative. Most importantly, the IoT is driving a drastically increased need for reliable, secure bandwidth.

    The implications of the IoT will be felt throughout your entire business model. The IoT can be used right now to improve energy efficiency at your facilities, and in some cases to optimize business processes. In the longer term, the IoT’s ability to capture and analyze enormous amounts of data will enable better control and automation of business operations, and creates a tantalizing potential to sell data as well as products. Network speed and data security will be imperative, both internally and on the customer side. Data storage will also become more and more important as the IoT gathers increasing amounts of information.

    With the coming of the IoT, DQE can help. Increasing bandwidth to provide the speed your customers demand — and that the IoT requires — is imperative. Fortunately, DQE offers a highly secure fiber network with unparalleled reliability, with business solutions that grow as your needs and the IoT require. Talk to a DQE network service representative about a customized network solution today!