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While the International Monetary Fund is staying close-lipped in response to speculation about who might have perpetrated the cyber attack on its systems (perhaps the most serious of recent security failures), industry experts say that it is likely that an international government was behind the breach, due to the complexity of the intrusion. The hackers seemed intent on obtaining information, not destroying the IMF’s systems, John Bassett, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute told Reuters. China and Russia top the list of likely culprits for many analysts, countries where the government often turns a blind eye to hackers who only take on foreign targets. The IMF is in the middle of a number of critical decisions and, with its leadership in flux, the list of who might want to read the organization’s mind is long. Read more at the Wall Street Journal.
Over the past five years mobile computer users have benefitted — nay, relied upon — wireless high-speed connectivity in the home, office, and various “hotspots” around the globe be it your local coffee house or an airport lounge in Moscow. Now a standard feature even among entry-level laptops, wireless Internet or Wi-Fi (802.11) frees the computer user to work where and when they want, no longer restrained by a cord and a wall to access the Internet at broadband speeds. Get ready for the second major Wi-Fi wave, as the connectivity is beginning to appear in smartphones. This feature is already built into popular handsets including Apple’s iPhone, Nokia’s N95, and Research in Motion’s BlackBerry 8120, 8320, and 8820. Better for business Whether they’re used in a private space (such as a home or office) or commercial location (like a coffee shop or airport), Wi-Fi-capable smartphones are capable of downloading data at much higher speeds than what your cell phone provider is offering, be it global system for mobile communications (GSM) or code division multiple access (CDMA) connectivity. Sure, this is handy from a consumer perspective, such as quick music downloads to your phone or smoother video streaming, but consider the work-related advantages to accessing data faster and more reliably. “Wi-Fi is faster than most cellular data connections, even 3G, so bandwidth intensive things such as web browsing and downloads are a lot faster,” says Gary Chen, senior analyst for small and medium enterprise IT infrastructure and applications at the Yankee Group, a Boston-based technology research firm. Not only is Wi-Fi faster but also cheaper, adds Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at the Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, a research and consulting group. “If the organization is on a fixed price per minute, avoiding cellular charges can save money with Wi-Fi.” Chen agrees: “If you don’t have an unlimited data plan and are charged by the kilobyte, then using Wi-Fi can help save on your data bill for sure.” Voice service, too Some GSM-based carriers — such as O2 in the U.K., T-Mobile in the U.S. and Rogers Wireless in Canada — are letting users of Wi-Fi phones use voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology when in a wireless network. Often referred to as Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA), these supported handsets can seamlessly switch from a GSM call to Wi-Fi, or vice-versa, without dropping the call. Though this service usually costs a few dollars a month, they offer unlimited Wi-Fi access, therefore a UMA call doesn’t eat away at a customer’s monthly airtime minutes. Call quality is also better over Wi-Fi. It can be used in spots without good cell reception (such as a high-rise office tower or basement office). And Wi-Fi takes less of a toll on the phone’s battery compared to GSM. Not necessarily trouble for cell providers When asked if UMA could be the beginning of the end for cell phone providers, Delaney and Chen agree it’s not likely. “No one can cover the large swaths of territory covered by cellular other than cellular,” says Delaney. “There are too many Wi-Fi operators and Wi-Fi is unlicensed meaning that you cannot deliver quality of service guarantees because no one party owns the spectrum.” “Wi-Fi won’t end the need for cell providers,” predicts Chen. “Wi-Fi is a local area technology and was not designed for the wide geographical coverage of cellular.” Chen says that devices will be smart and choose the best connection it can. That means Wi-Fi when you are at fixed locations like home or office or happen to be near a hotspot, and cell for the rest, he says.
Outsourcing can allow even the smallest company to go after big game. Just ask Jack Sands. The chief executive officer of Intrep Auto Club Renewals, a Columbus, Ohio-based telemarketer, Sands has outsourced his firm’s website design, logo design, software design, and phone system design. His 75 employees, all of whom work from home, are paid through an outsourced payroll system. Even the company’s telemarketing software is outsourced. Piece by piece, Sands has outsourced to technology service providers in India, China, Turkey, Russia, and the U.S. In seven years, his business has grown to the $5 million to $10 million range. “It’s allowed me to portray an image of being a very large company when I wasn’t one, and at a very low cost,” Sands says. Sands then landed the American Automobile Association (AAA) as a client. “Most small firms couldn’t get a client this big,” he notes. Reasons technology outsourcing is on the rise A growing trend among larger firms for decades, even the smallest businesses are now turning to technology outsourcing as a way to improve efficiency and boost their bottom line. According to Yankee Group, 61 percent of firms with 20-99 employees use a contractor or business partner for IT services alone. In addition to IT, firms are outsourcing marketing, Web design, human resources, accounting, and administrative functions like data entry or customer service. And firms are just as likely to find their needs met by a North American firm found on Craig’s List as by a call center in Southeast Asia, industry watchers note. For many small firms, outsourcing just makes sense, explains Gary Chen, senior analyst and specialist in small business IT issues at Yankee Group. Many small and mid-size businesses “just don’t have someone to do these jobs, or they only have enough of a certain type of work to justify a one-fourth-time position,” says Chen. “You can’t hire someone to a one-fourth-time position.” Outsourcing can also give a company more flexibility. Intrep’s Sands outsourced his payroll operations to Rochester, N.Y.-based Paychex because his work-from-home employees are spread out across the country. “I couldn’t keep track of the different workers comp laws and tax rules,” he says. Outsourcing this allows him to hire the best telemarketers he could regardless of their location. Challenges of outsourcing One of the biggest challenges to outsourcing is losing local control over technology functions. If something isn’t working, you have to learn to rely on your outsourcer to fix it. Business leaders need to determine whether they are comfortable with leaving something to a company in India, Russia, or even in another part of the United States. There’s something to be said about being able to walk down the hall to the IT department and asking someone to fix a problem. When outsourcing, businesses also need to appoint someone to oversee the outsourcing relationship. Problems often arise and you need to make sure that your contract with the service provider allows the flexibility to make adjustments in your service, if need be. Lastly, leaving certain vital business services in the hands of another company can mean you are at their mercy if their service goes offline for any amount of time. You may need to have contingency plans. You may also need to read the fine print in your contract to make sure that you don’t have to pay for services that you don’t receive. Few outsource providers offer to compensate you for the business you lose when their service goes down. How to decide whether to outsource IT So, what should companies consider before they take the outsourcing plunge? Here is a checklist to help your business through the decision-making process: Cost. “Cost should be the first consideration,” says Chen. “It should be cheaper to outsource: that’s the bottom line.” To determine this, companies may need to do a little homework—checking into the potential cost of outsourcing, but also taking a hard look at how much the company is losing by trying to do certain tasks itself, says Chen. Can someone else do it better? “Do what you do best, and outsource the rest,” advises Fabio Rosati, chief executive officer of Elance, a Web-based firm that plays matchmaker between companies seeking to outsource and skilled service providers and freelancers. “You need to acknowledge that you can’t do everything well,” and that sometimes your company will need help, Rosati says. Will you lose control over your business? Are you comfortable with loosening the reigns and leaving control over certain functions to someone else? What will you do if there’s a problem? Businesses need to ensure in their service-level agreements with outsourcing firms that the firm will be responsive and will fix problems within a certain time frame. You also need the flexibility in your contract to do some fine tuning, especially if this is the first time you are outsourcing payroll or customer service. Will this help your business? Ultimately, you need to weigh whether outsourcing certain technology functions will help you focus on your business and improve profit margins. If the cost, time-saved, and expertise doesn’t result in business benefits, then you may need to think twice about outsourcing. Conclusion Outsourcing technology functions must be made after a review of your business. Some businesses, such as Sands’ company, have found that they are able to better focus on what they do best and leave the technical matters involving telecommunications and software to someone else. “We didn’t have anyone to do this stuff for us,” says Sands. “This way, we were able to find the best in breed for every task.” SIDEBAR: Improving Your Odds for Success If you’ve decided to look into outsourcing, where do you look? And how can you ensure success? Check online job-hunter sites. Sands used Elance to find many of his service providers, but settled on Paychex and Saleforce.com separately. Other providers include Careerbuilder, Monster.com, and other sites that specialize in freelancers or per-project workers for specific fields. Check skills, references. Exposing your business to newcomers can be risky. Approach choosing a service provider like you would hiring a new employee. Does the firm have the best match of skills, quality and price for your business? If across many time zones, is their location an issue? Do they have good references? Best not to rely simply on eBay-style rating systems provided by some sites. Articulate your needs. This may sound basic, but Elance’s Rosati says that firms need to be a specific as possible about what they want to get the best product and the best price. Develop a relationship. If you find good providers, treat them well so they’ll want to work for you again, say Sands. “Don’t cheat them on price,” he says. “You need them, and want them to put your needs first.”
Bulletin Board Matthew Upchurch travels a lot — a lot. As CEO of Virtuoso Travel, which provides marketing and technical-support services to luxury-travel agencies in North and South America, he roams the world to cut deals with hotels, cruise lines, and resorts. Upchurch, who has a heavy schedule of clients at every stop and must keep in touch with his 125 employees as well as his family back home in Fort Worth, needs a portable phone. What he doesn’t need is the headache of finding local providers in the tangled web of overlapping cellular networks around the world. His solution? Rent phones from IMC WorldCell, a Silver Spring, Md., company that maintains contracts and roaming agreements with service providers in more than 120 countries around the world. Like its British competitor CellHire, which offers similar services in nearly 100 countries, IMC WorldCell offers the convenience of operating in many places with one phone and one number. However, if Upchurch is traveling to Japan, Korea, Mexico, or Brazil, each of which has a cellular platform incompatible with the platforms in the rest of the world, he needs to order a separate phone for that country. IMC WorldCell delivers the phone in advance, so Upchurch knows his phone numbers in Seoul or Tokyo before he leaves Texas. After renting phones for about four years, Upchurch purchased an IMC WorldCell phone with a permanent number in countries running the GSM (which stands for “global system for mobile”) platform, the operating system used throughout Europe. IMC WorldCell’s prices are sometimes steep: calls to the United States range from 55Â¢ a minute for preferred customers in the United Kingdom to $5 or more a minute in Kosovo. But the company can give travelers reliable access in countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, and China, where service is otherwise hard to arrange. Bulletin Board See Bot Run Rent a Phone, Lose a Headache No Receptionist Necessary Things We Love: Home-Phone-Line Networking Log On, Turn Off, Spend Less Acronym Watch A Network for Networkers A ‘Black Box’ for Your Car Please e-mail your comments to email@example.com.