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  1. Mobility — The Great Wireless Migration

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    The business world is becoming more wireless – this phenomenon is often called enterprise mobility, where employees are working out of the office using mobile devices and cloud services. But the great wireless migration also means that businesses must adapt to the fact that their customers are using mobile phones much more than desktops to access websites, read email, and buy things online.

    Telecommuting

    People are now working from home more often than ever, and the impact is undeniable. According to GlobalWorkPlaceAnalytics.com, 50% of the workforce holds a job compatible with telecommuting, and 20 to 25% of workers regularly take advantage of that option. The number of regular telecommuters has grown 103% since 2005, not counting those who are self-employed (self-employed people are more likely to work from home – in fact, 22% of the self-employed work from home all the time). Today, 3.7 million employees, almost 3% of the workforce, now work from home at least half the time.

    Employees may be interested in working from home for a myriad of reasons – some of the most common include avoiding the time and expense of commuting, or achieving a better home-life balance, by for example trading off childcare duties with a spouse by working different hours. Flexible hours mean a worker can run errands or schedule appointments without having to take a personal day.

    It’s pretty easy to imagine the many ways telecommuting benefits employees, but employers benefit as well. Employers can save on workspace, sure. It’s also easier to adjust the scale of your workforce by using telecommuters, which can be a major advantage in some industries. But the real benefit is being able to employ highly qualified people who are unwilling to relocate for a job — and improved employee satisfaction and retention.

    Productivity can be enhanced, too. For example, employees who have a minor illness, such as a cold, often choose to work if they can telecommute, because they can get their job done without infecting their co-workers. Further, employing telecommuters means at least some portion of your operations can continue normally in case of a weather emergency, such as a heavy snow, or other disaster. The cost savings can be significant. As an illustration of this, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the entire 5-year cost of implementing telecommuting throughout government is $30 million – while a single snow day costs $100 million.

    What’s more, there’s a significant benefit to society as a whole. Reduction in car traffic reduces pressure on overcrowded highways and reduces emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, it’s been estimated that if everyone who was interested and had a compatible job worked from home just half the time, the national savings would be $700 billion per year.

    Data security in telecommuting

    For any business that employs telecommuters, data security is an important issue to consider. For starters, workers will be using devices that are not physically located at the company’s offices, and mobile devices are easily lost or stolen. Enterprise mobility management is a set of systems that helps secure corporate data on mobile devices. These can include password protection and remote wipe technology, in which a device’s memory can be cleared from a lost device. But managing security issues can be significantly more challenging if employees are working with their own devices, as sometimes happens with smaller companies especially.

    In addition to securing devices, the data itself must be secured. Enterprise mobility also refers to data being mobile – so, for example, a worker could access the same digital presentation on her desktop, laptop, and mobile phone, perhaps through cloud computing. Sensitive information that is transferred over the internet should be encrypted. Enterprise mobility management often includes VPNs, or virtual private networks, which provide security and privacy to employees accessing and sending data remotely.

    If telecommuting is part of your company’s current or future plans, be sure your technology is aligned with that goal.

    Mobile meeting technologies

    The evolution of live video streaming technology has been incredibly rapid and has changed business profoundly. Simply put, you no longer have to be in the same room to have a face-to-face meeting.

    Video calls can be useful for communicating one-on-one with a worker, conducting a remote job interview, and so on. Video conferences take that idea a step further, and enable full-scale presentations and meetings — they can include shared screens, chat via text, file exchanges, digital whiteboards and more. A variety of different kinds of meetings are possible, ranging from lecture-style meetings in which only one person is speaking, or forums where different attendees can speak. Collaboration on documents or diagrams can be enabled.

    Videoconferencing can be an excellent option to meet with clients or co-workers when travel is time-consuming, difficult, or expensive. Virtual meetings can be less desirable in some situations, such as if the meeting is sensitive and the meeting participants don’t know each other, or if reading body language is important.

    A wide range of videoconferencing services are available, ranging from free and relatively unsophisticated services to more robust paid solutions. PC Magazine has identified some of the most popular and versatile services as ClickMeeting and Cisco WebEx Meeting Center. Many such services have a free trial period.

    Implications of mobile phones in the wireless revolution

    Almost everyone has a mobile phone connected to the internet available anytime, anywhere, and is reachable via phone or text anytime. This has revolutionized the way people live — and the way they do business. Some 80% of internet users own a smartphone, and they are spending increasing amounts of time online using their phones.

    Mobile web use has grown 400% in the past decade, and web design has had to change accordingly. The term “responsive website” means that the website responds automatically to the device accessing it – so the site will look and work great on the tablets and smartphones available now (as well as new devices not invented yet), regardless of screen size. If your website is not responsive, you’re missing customers, even if you’re a business-to-business operation and expect that most people browsing your site are doing so from a desktop. Google Analytics tracks what types of devices are used to access your site – if you haven’t looked at that figure lately, you might be surprised.

    We’ve all had the experience of accessing a website that isn’t optimized from mobile on a smartphone and giving up in frustration. According to Google, 61% of customers are unlikely to return to a site if they had trouble accessing it on mobile – instead, 40% go straight to a competitor.

    Mobile e-commerce is catching up as well — 40% of all online purchases in 2015 were made from a mobile device, but this is expected to grow to 70% by this year. If you sell online, your website must be responsive.

    Email newsletters are somewhat behind websites in becoming optimized for mobile, because it is technically more complicated to design email newsletters that render well on small screen sizes. But people read email on their smartphones at an increasing rate. Some 70% of consumers delete emails that don’t look good on a mobile device. It’s predicted that by 2018, eight in 10 email users will access email exclusively from mobile devices. Thus, it’s increasingly important that your e-newsletter is responsive, too.

    How DQE can help

    DQE Communications can help your organization adapt to the great wireless revolution with customized, reliable network solutions dedicated to your business needs. With guaranteed symmetrical upload and download speeds, you can be sure your business offices stay connected, giving your organization the ever-changing flexibility and bandwidth scalability it demands. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

  2. Emerging Technologies: Autonomous Agents and Things

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    One of the hottest trends in technology is autonomous agents and things. That nebulous-sounding term is actually quite precise – it’s a technology that takes advanced machine learning a step further, so that it can make complex decisions on its own, or autonomously. This is beyond simple automation, where something happens automatically according to hard-and-fast rules. Instead, autonomous agents and things make reasoned decisions based on multiple factors about the current situation – they choose actions designed to meet a certain goal without the involvement of people.

    Examples include technologies like self-driving cars, advanced robotics, certain computer programs (including some viruses), or even something like a smart thermostat that senses when people are home and when they’re not, as well as other environmental changes, and adjusts accordingly – as opposed to one that is merely automated, running on a pre-programmed schedule.

    This is an emerging technology, but we can see its evolution in technology most of us encounter every day. For example, virtual assistants like Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft) and Now (Google) began as little more than voice recognition search functions, but are now much more sophisticated. In fact, in 2016 Apple announced that it is allowing third-party apps to access Siri, so that users will be able to ask Siri to accomplish tasks such as sending payment or searching images. Eventually the user experience of a smartphone will likely have an autonomous agent as the entire user interface, rather than a screen full of buttons for different applications.

    Autonomous agents and things builds on the Internet of Things, in which devices are connected to the internet so that actionable data can be gathered. But the deluge of data provided by the IoT is becoming so overwhelming that it’s too much for humans to process. That’s where autonomous agents and things comes in — in the autonomous world, many technologies are interconnected and share data, and then act on it without the involvement of people. In fact, we’re now starting to refer to the Internet of Autonomous Things, or IoAT.

    Challenges with the technology

    We’re not close to the point where an autonomous agent could take over the world, as has been depicted in numerous sci-fi movies (2001: A Space Odyssey, or Her). But there are some significant, albeit more pedestrian, challenges to be addressed.

    Data security on the devices themselves is a significant problem, in that data can be easily recovered from decommissioned items such as smartphones – and people upgrade their phones at an extraordinarily rapid rate. And all kinds of IoT devices with capacity for storing and transmitting data are discarded frequently as well.

    But virtual data security is an even more significant issue. As we’ve seen, the IoT is vulnerable to hacks and security breaches. Currently, the most pervasive problem is that devices are inadequately protected by passwords, leaving them open to be recruited into giant, impersonal botnets used in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. But as we move toward the Internet of Automated Things, where decisions are being made based on data collected by these devices, the potential implications of such hacks – either to the devices themselves, or the cloud where the data is stored – could become more directed, and even more serious.

    Furthermore, security issues – perceived as well as actual – might impact the growth of the technology in that they could cause people to distrust automated systems and things. We’ve already seen this effect with the IoT. It will be important for designers of automated consumer goods to learn from the mistakes of the IoT and effectively address security issues early in the technology’s evolution.

    Another potential issue for automated consumer goods is that people might find them too complicated to use. If, for example, consumers pay extra to buy cutting-edge automated thermostats but get frustrated trying to program them, they’ll give up on those advanced features and just use the manual settings – and might think twice before choosing an automated product again. To avoid this, designers will need to pay special attention to the user experience as they roll out new products.

    In the longer-term, liability will become more of an issue as systems become more and more autonomous – in other words, who will be held responsible if the system makes a decision that has harmful consequences? The manufacturer, or the owner of the system? It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which an autonomous system makes a decision that truly couldn’t be foreseen, especially as systems become more sophisticated. The regulatory framework will need to evolve along with the technology.

    Current applications of autonomous agents and things

    Computer programs are among the most well-developed applications of autonomous technology right now. For example, sophisticated supply chain management programs are capable of evaluating and reacting to needs such as ordering supplies, scheduling workers and so on without human involvement – going beyond simple automation.

    Driverless technologies are already utilized in cars – for example, cars that can park themselves into tight spaces, or automatically brake when they get too close to another car or object. Evolution of truly driverless cars isn’t far behind — in fact, experts think this is possible by 2021. Ford, Nissan, Google, BMW, General Motors, and Daimler are just a few of the big names working toward this goal. Data security is of particular importance with this potential application, as the implications of hacking could be dangerous or life-threatening.

    The world of autonomous agents and things is ever-changing. Keep up with your business’s advancing bandwidth demands with DQE’s secure fiber optic network services, where scalability is unlimited and customization is key.

  3. The 2017 Outlook for DQE

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    Q: With data communications and networking needs only continuing to grow for businesses small and large, what is the outlook for DQE Communications in 2017?

    A: In 2017, we’re going to focus on three areas:

    1. DQE will continue to build the expansion of our fiber footprint, according to customer demand, by opening up edge-out markets.
    2. DQE will be launching new service offerings in response to increasing business demands, as well as continue to fully customize each and every network solution for our customers.
    3. DQE will continue to operate with safety as a top priority to our employees, their families and our customers.

    DQE is committed to making businesses succeed, and we’ll continue to do so by making their data communications top notch.

    Jim Morozzi, President & CEO of DQE Communications

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