Three Concerns for the VoIP Industry Heading Into 2016

Currently VoIP is a no-brainer for calling. The mix of more functionality at greatly reduced costs makes it the sensible calling choice for anyone paying attention.

While this should make the VoIP market reach $86.2 billion by 2020, according to Future Market Insights, it also is drawing attention from governments that to this point have given the technology a free pass, and hackers who are seeing a greater opportunity for mayhem and illicit gains.

One of the biggest trends that might face the VoIP industry in 2016 is increased regulation, according to Daniel McFarland at VoIP Innovations (News - Alert).

“Despite the communication confusion that the FCC is always trying to overcome, they have already placed a few regulations on the VoIP industry,” he noted in a recent blog post, Year-End Watch List: 10 VoIP Trends to Keep an Eye on. These include regulations on E911 service, number porting, calling records, universal service and accessibility. But McFarland suggests that FCC (News - Alert) regulations could be targeted toward further facilitation towards reciprocal compensation.

Reciprocal compensation, often used by Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLECs), allows call rates as low as $0.00 per minute. That’s much less than the $0.30 per minute that sometimes comes with traditional phone service, a big loss in terms of inter-carrier compensation. Regulation in reciprocal compensation could be a big blow to CLECs.

Governments also are trying to figure out how to better tax VoIP, another trend suggested by VoIP Innovations.

“Currently, the only tax imposed on VoIP is a regulatory fee for the cost of VoIP services,” McFarland noted. “The Federal Excise Tax applies a three percent tax to local services. However, due to the rising growth of the VoIP market, don’t be surprised if the government finds new ways to tax VoIP communications as a new revenue stream.”

Cybercriminals are a rising concern, too. VoIP fraud is becoming an increasing issue, especially for domestic calling. That’s because domestic calling patterns are easier for hackers to determine, and unlike international calls they require less carrier involvement. Cybercriminals are tapping into VoIP networks for auto dial campaigns and free calling, and 2016 could be the year that this threat gets larger enough that the industry must address it more directly.

None of these trends will put a significant brake on growth, but they could shake things up a bit for some in the industry.

Outsourced Call Centers Mean Unexpected Quality Developments

December 11, 2015

By Steve Anderson, Contributing Writer

Some inwardly cringe at the thought of call center outsourcing. Thick accents, ignorant call center representatives and a host of other, even less positive developments could follow. A new report in the JD Supra Business Advisor, meanwhile, notes that there are a lot of misconceptions about the outsourced call center, and addressing these means getting the most out of outsourcing.

National Association of Call Centers director of research Paul Stockford pointed out that, the higher the perceived value of the customer, the greater the likelihood that the call center involved would be in the United States. With an estimated 66,000 such call centers in place, that means a lot of high-value callers out there.

This points to the first big myth about outsourcing in call centers: outsourced doesn't always mean “off-shored”. Call center outsourcing does take place within the United States, and it operates just as well as an on-premises call center. Customers that believe the call center agent is speaking clearly will stick around even in the face of major issues; a hefty 88 percent will hang in there. When the agent doesn't speak clearly, that drops to just 35 percent.

Another myth is just how comparable business-to-consumer (B2C) call centers are to business-to-business (B2B). A B2B hotline might actually need to process calls equivalent to about three percent of its total employees per year, and that's a huge quantity less than a B2C call center. B2B callers, though, will have much more specific issues to address, and these can be prepared for in advance.

Some believe that a call center's quality is better when operated on an in-house basis, likely believing that if it can be observed and measured, it can be better controlled for quality. Yet there's a key misunderstanding in there; in-house systems face big problems in overall scalability and the level of training provided.  Adding or subtracting employees from a call center can be difficult, and expensive in terms of lost opportunity. Two major firms—Time Warner Cable and Comcast (News - Alert)—both operate in-house call centers, and neither company has done well in terms of customer service recently. Both are looking to change this, however, and it might be that the in-house call center will be one of the first points on the block. Couple together frequent turnover and high overhead, and the in-house call center can be a rough ride.

With businesses often looking to save money here, instead of regarding the call center as the face of the business—or even, as some have found, a powerful marketing tool—the call center can end up used as a sales floor strong-arm or a squad of poorly paid drones rattling off the company line. Once businesses get a handle on the various myths of outsourcing, and find the kind of value it can offer, there might be a lot more outsourcing done than ever...and that outsourcing may end up closer to home than some expect.

Hurdles to Software Renewal and How to Overcome Them

Hurdles to Software Renewal and How to Overcome Them

December 10, 2015

Software licensing is a topic that has many layers; those in the industry are aware of the challenges that come with the ever-changing models of how and when software is used. Among the concerns of developers and the companies that offer these software tools is how to stay current with software monetization. Indeed, software licensing goes far beyond just buying software and installing it and maintaining a license.

Organizations are tasked with staying compliant within the confines of licensing laws while developers are protecting their products to keep revenue flowing. It seems challenging to keep up with how things have changed, from subscription-based models and how they compare to traditional perpetual licensing. How does one maintain software renewal rates when there is no set standard to how software is used?

Flexera Software knows a thing or two about this subject; the software licensing experts have released part I of a series of posts dealing with the challenges of renewal success and how to overcome them.  The list is beneficial for those looking to understand the ins and outs of software licensing and renewal.

As the company notes, it’s helpful to have a valuable product and have the maintenance of said product clearly outlined at time of purchase. Enabling automatic maintenance purchases, and offering renewal dates for self-service customers for budget reasons all fall under the scope of mitigating what’s known as “maintenance leakage,” a common issue with software monetization. According to the post, this means that more customers have access to the “latest version than customers on active maintenance.”

For customers, it’s helpful to know that a perpetual license doesn't expire. Once you purchase it, you have rights to use the software for as long as you like. A term license expires after a specified period of time (often one year) and must be periodically renewed. For developers, renewal is a little more complicated, but Flexera Software offers helpful tips to overcome these challenges.

Software licensing is a complicated topic, but knowing a little about software licensing can help you make sense of the fine print and monetization issues that come with it. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Druva’s Solution Handles Data Availability and Governance on a Single Platform

Information protection and governance have traditionally been viewed as two separate processes and fall under completely different domains in many organizations. But as enterprises become increasingly distributed and mobile, handling data protection and availability alongside governance can be an efficient and cost effective approach.

Druva, Inc. provides a single platform for handling data backup, availability and governance through a central dashboard. With an increasing number of organizations moving large amounts of data outside of their data centers and into the cloud, having a streamlined solution to handle both business continuity and information governance makes a lot of sense.

“Whether you are a customer or a farmer or a consulting company, mobility and cloud are the biggest trends, probably in our lifetimes,” said Jaspreet Singh, founder and CEO of Druva. “And they are impacting not just how you do your business but how you also manage your information and what you do with it.” Singh spoke exclusively to TMCnet Group Editorial Director Erik Linask (News - Alert) at the recent Editors Day Santa Clara 2015 event.

Singh said that his customers’ main challenge is how to manage and protect all the information and data now residing outside the data center. Mobility, the cloud and increasingly distributed work environments are making it harder to manage and protect data.

“Even more compelling is the need for information availability and governance,” added Singh. Druva helps companies ensure their data is collected, preserved and able to be discovered outside of and independently of data centers. This is accomplished through a pure cloud-based service enabling instant accessibility along with long-term storage, on the same platform and at a single price point.

Last month Druva expanded its reach by announcing a cloud-based global MSP channel strategy. The move coincided with a new MSP management console for Druva’s inSync data availability and governance platform, as well as additional product capabilities. The company also simultaneously announced the PartnerSync program for MSPs, enabling service providers to offer Druva services easily and quickly.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

The Downside of ‘Good Enough’ Technology Solutions

The Downside of 'Good Enough' Technology Solutions

December 10, 2015

One dirty little secret about getting things done in today’s technology environment is accepting “good enough.” A cloud service, hardware solution or business process might not meet all needs or perfectly solve a problem, but good enough is just what it implies: It is good enough. This is the grease that gets things done.

One cost of the “good enough” methodology is quality, however. Sometimes a technology solution might fill the need adequately, but it compromises and something substantive is lost. This is okay if there still is room for solutions that make less compromises for those times when “good enough” is not really good enough. Unfortunately, however, many solutions today are meeting the minimums but sucking life out of more robust offerings that make less compromises. The technology is getting dumbed down.

There are many instances of this going into 2016, as Tim Banting of Current Analysis noted in a recent blog post, Future Collaboration and Communication Vendors Haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

When it comes to conferencing, devices with built-in cameras and easy to use technologies such as WebRTC are stealing the show, but vendors fixated on quality and specific video endpoints are finding it an increasingly hard market, according to Banting. The democratization of conferencing expands the use of conferencing overall, but it is slowly reducing high-end options make less compromises and are a better fit for some larger enterprises.

Premises-based communication also is taking a hit from “good enough,” as cloud-based real-time communications offerings are commoditizing communications. It is threatening established PBX vendors and solutions, and this is good inasmuch as it forced all vendors to simplify design and implementation. Premise-based solutions offer more control and customization, however, among other benefits. Yet this area also is being hit hard by “good enough” solutions.

The changing role of the IT department is a third example. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend coupled with cloud computing has changed the nature of business computing. Now employees use personal technology devices and often select their own IT solutions, with IT following along as a guide and a security worrywart. Overall this might be good, as it moves technology solution decision-making closer to those who actually need them. Yet, it also fragments corporate IT and presents a very real challenge for security. Often the result is enterprise IT that is less secure than it should be.

None of this should imply that there is anything wrong with “good enough” solutions, or that this mindset is spoiling tech a little more each day. But it should make us pause. In the application of solutions that are “good enough,” are we losing the option of more full-features, comprehensive solutions that go beyond just the minimums?

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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Amicus Briefs Challenge Recent Changes to TCPA

December 10, 2015

By Casey Houser, Contributing Writer

A number of companies in the financial, retail, information technology, and utility industries have filed eight amicus briefs – documents filed by an appellant on behalf of amici affected, in this case, by a law – to challenge the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC (News - Alert)) altered rules that affect the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

According to an article at JD Supra, appellants in the case, such as the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (also known as ACA International), that represent the amici use the briefs to address recent changes to the TCPA that have made it illegal for businesses to use autodialers to reach consumers’s mobile phones without those consumers’ direct consent. The FCC made this change in July of this year; the group also expanded the definition of an autodialer to include any device that may be capable of automatically dialing a number. The amicus briefs reportedly challenge the FCC on the grounds that the commission has overstepped its authority and has made the definition of an autodialer too broad.

ACA International leads the appellants and supports the following amici: American Bankers Association, American Gas Association, CTIA (News - Alert)—The Wireless Association, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the National Retail Federation. Those corporate groups appear to want to make the definition of an autodialer more manageable in order to better serve their customers.

This does not appear to be solely about the implications the FCC’s rules could have on marketing efforts. In one case, at least, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the rules could affect how drug stores in the U.S. reach their customers with information about medications and prescriptions. Similarly, utility companies have argued that the rules could bar them from notifying customers about power outages or service interruptions.

In addition to those matters, the briefs also reportedly address other provisions of the TCPA. Earlier this year, TMC (News - Alert) noted the struggle that companies may have when trying to determine consumer consent for contact, revocation of consent, and complications with reassignment of existing phone numbers to new clients.

JD Supra notes that the consolidated appeal docket will continue through February 2016. TMC should also continue to address the matter as the case unfolds and the FCC continues to face scrutiny with regard to its latest actions regarding the TCPA.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Forecast: Digital Ad Spending Will Overtake TV Spending by 2017

December 08, 2015

In yet another sign that the focus of society is moving away from traditional media sources in favor of online channels, a forecast by Interpublic Group’s Magna Global shows that digital ad spending will surpass TV spending by 2017.

Television ad sales are expected fall slightly this year and even more next year. However, online ad sales will continue to soar, according to the forecast.

The total ad spend this year will come in at $503 billion. Of that, 38.4 percent will go towards television ads. That number will drop to a flat 38 percent next year.

In contrast, digital ad spend will grow 17.2 percent this year and another 13.5 percent in 2016.

The trend line shows that, by 2017, digital will surpass TV as the largest advertising category.

“TV global growth is diminishing,” says Vincent Letang, the head of global forecasting at Magna Global. “In most major developed markets, TV growth is slowing and in some cases stagnating.”

In the United States alone, digital media ad spend will overtake TV by the end of 2016. The forecast predicts that there will be $68 billion in online ad sales next year versus $66 billion in television ad sales.

Another forecast, by Publicis Groupe’s ZenithOptimedia, predicts that digital ad spend will overtake television ad spend in 2018.

“Over the last year or so, that’s really been the first time we’ve seen money specifically coming out of TV and going onto digital,” says Jonathan Barnard, the head of forecasting at ZenithOptimedia. “We’ve been hearing about the loss of revenue from TV to digital for a long time, but the last year has been when it’s been fairly visible.”

Specifically, ad dollars are being spent on social media marketing, mobile ads, and video advertising. ZenithOptimedia forecasts that mobile ads will account for more than half (50.2 percent) of Internet advertising by 2018. That will be the first time that mobile ads surpass desktop ads.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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Mozilla Offers New ‘Content Blocker’ for iOS 9 Users

Mozilla recently launched a “content blocker” for iOS 9. In spite of the name, the app is actually designed to only block ads that are trackers.

The new app, called Focus by Firefox, takes advantage of iOS 9’s content-blocking feature. Users of the app will also need to access the Settings feature of iOS to set up content blocking. Fortunately, the app provides users with a step-by-step configuration guide.

Even though the app uses the content-blocking feature of iOS 9, it doesn’t block all ads. Instead, it just blocks ads that trackers.

Trackers are ad units that collect data about a user's activity across multiple websites or apps, some of which might not be owned by the data collector. Trackers also aggregate and share the data collected.

“This is our first effort,” says Nick Nguyen, Firefox’s vice president of product. “Just like everything we build, we’re trying to make the Internet better, long-term.”

Nguyen added that many other iOS 9 blockers are for-profit. Focus, on the other hand, is free.

Users can also control which types of trackers to block. The app categorizes trackers into various categories: analytics, social, ads, and “other content trackers.” The “other” option essentially blocks everything, and may prevent some websites from loading properly.

“The other content trackers category includes things like video, photo and embeddable content that tracks users,” Nguyen says. “Turning this category on will block some video embeds and may even break some sites completely.”

Focus also gives users the option to block Web fonts. That improves the mobile experience by reducing data usage and reducing load times.

The app employs the blocking list produced by Disconnect and published under the General Public License. That list is available for anyone to view on GitHub.

“We think Disconnect’s public list provides a good starting point that demonstrates the value of open data,” says Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Mozilla’s legal and business officer. “It bases its list on a public definition of tracking and publicly identifies any changes it makes to that list, so users and content providers can see and understand the standards it is applying.”

An important point to remember for iOS users, though, is that the app only works with Firefox. Users who prefer to visit websites using the operating system’s native browser, Safari, won’t see ad content blocked.

“This was not our choice — Apple has chosen to make content blocking unavailable to third party browsers on iOS,” Nguyen says. “Apple Developer Guidelines do not allow us to incorporate their Content Blocking API into Private Browsing on Firefox for iOS. We would love to see this API open up in the future. We are exploring how we can provide this feature on Firefox for iOS and will deliver it as soon as it’s possible.”

Nguyen says that he’d also like to build the new app “into anything that runs iOS 9.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle