Mobile device ‘support gap’ challenges IT, employees

NOTE: This first appeared in the Dec. 23, 2013 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Your employees are relying more and more on their mobile devices today to do business. Are they confident you’re supplying them with all the tools necessary to successfully do that?

What they think may be different from your perception, according to a recent survey by Vernon Hills-based IT solutions provider CDW. In fact, CDW’s Mobility at Work report found that both employees and IT department staff see a “support gap” in their company’s mobile device management programs.

The survey found that only 41 percent of employees who use personal devices at work gave their IT departments a grade of “A” or “B.” IT professionals were a bit more positive, with 64 percent giving their departments an “A” or “B” grade.
However only 18 percent of the IT group said they deserved an “A.”

Joe Woods, director of mobility solutions at CDW, notes that the support gap is likely more of a perception issue that is tied awareness, trust, and support. However, it underlines the need to have a comprehensive mobile device management plan in place, and to make sure that plan is clearly understood by employees.

“IT believes they have the tools in place to support employees, yet employees don’t feel like they have all the tools they need,” Woods said. “Part of that is a communication issue. Many users are unaware of even basic guidelines for use, and our survey found that only half of IT professionals actually talk with employees about what they want to do with their devices.”

Compounding this perception is the impact increased mobile usage will have on existing IT networks. The survey found that 90 percent of IT professions expect increased mobile use to have an impact on their networks. Among the issues they note are increases in bandwidth requirements (63 percent), network latency (39 percent), server requirements (44 percent) and storage requirements (37 percent). Thirty-none percent of the IT respondents said they are already seeing network performance suffer.

“According to Cisco, global mobile data traffic grew 70 percent in 2012 and mobile video traffic exceeded 50 percent for the first time in 2012,” Woods said. “With such a surge in mobile and video-based content, it’s natural for service issues to arise.”

That can translate into issues like the inability to access the network or very slow response time.

While companies have been adopting mobile device management (MDM) programs that address security, Woods notes that is only one part of the overall plan. Other key aspects of a complete strategy include enabling the strategy efficiently, supporting users and IT, and empowering users.

“Companies are realizing that MDM is a first step, but they also need to step back and understand where they want to go with mobility,” Woods said. “From there, they can establish a plan and take the appropriate steps to implement a broader mobility strategy.

“MDM implantation requires a solid plan to be in place, including mobile device and application strategy, governance, policies and procedures,” he added. “Customers often initiate large, organization-wide MDM implementations only to realize they have a lot more work to do when it comes to strategy, which results in a slower rollout than anticipated.

“Instead, they could use an MDM implementation to force all of the stakeholders in their company to “get to the table” to determine use cases and set a mobile vision.”

CDW is among companies offering MDM and mobile application management (MAM) solutions to business. The survey found that 37 percent of organizations have deployed or are deploying MDM, and just 36 percent have deployed or are deploying MAM solution.

“The important first step is to define both appropriate use guidelines and the security policies to implement,” Woods said. “Both of these must be communicated to employees so they know what is expected of them as employees who are using the company’s network and data.

“They must also understand what the company will do to protect company resources, such as monitoring app and data use, location-based-services monitoring, and wiping data in the event of a lost device,” he added.

Once a company puts a comprehensive MDM program in place, Woods said they can determine how to take full advantage of mobility in order to empower employees and increase productivity and revenues.

“This is possible if you provide the right tools and apps to enable your employees to more effectively engage both with the company and with customers while they’re mobile,” he said.

The CDW Mobility at Work Report is based on a survey of 1,200 IT professionals and 1,200 workers who use personal smartphones and tablets at their jobs, conducted in the first quarter of 2013. The total sample of each group represented eight different industries. The full report can be found at

3-D library adds depth to Lisle-based Gladson’s business

This first appeared in the May 27 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Think 3-D is still all about wearing cheap glasses in a movie theater?
The technology has expanded into business applications as well, creating a new … pardon … dimension in the way manufacturers, retailers and marketers create and sell products to the consumer.
And Lisle-based Gladson, which has provided product images to the consumer packaged goods industry for the past 30 years, has stepped into the third dimension by releasing the world’s first 3-D database of CPG products for use by manufacturers and marketers. The database includes 3-D versions of the more than 150,000 product images Gladson already owns in traditional formats.
Gladson CEO Susan Sentell said 3-D imaging has grown because it allows a business to create virtual environments, which can allow them to do everything from gauging consumer reaction to a new product on a store shelf, to enhancing the consumer experience on their e-commerce sites and even developing virtual store layouts to maximize product exposure and shopper convenience.
“If a manufacturer like Proctor and Gamble or Kraft was going to come out with a new type of product, they would show pictures of products and engage in market research,” Sentell said. “Now they’re actually creating simulated store environments and the consumers will actually see that product as how it would look in the store.
“Those 3-D objects allow the consumer to virtually take that product off the shelf and take a look at it,” she added. “That’s driven a lot of efficiencies and sends real-time information back to the manufacturer as to the openness of the consumer and how they’re reacting to the package design.”
The images are of products you likely have sitting on your kitchen shelf or in your closet. The majority of Gladson clients are in the grocery, drugstore and mass merchandising fields.
“It’s typically anything you’d see in a grocery store, a drugstore, or a store like Target. Those are the type of products that we specialize in,” said Steve Cole, Gladson’s chief marketing officer.
Sentell adds the items are “the ones consumers buy and use the most every day.”
In addition to market research, Sentell said 3-D images are also used in store and promotion planning. Businesses can create virtual floor layouts when planning new stores. They can also experiment with product promotions in a virtual environment, so that they maximize customer exposure and convenience before the actual promotion is placed in the store. The result is a more efficient, faster process of getting the product into the consumers’ hands, she said.
“It’s all about speed to market,” Sentell said. “In these simulated environments, they’re able to get insights more quickly, make decisions more effectively, and get products and services out to the market quickly.”
Gladson partnered with U.K.-based Red Dot Square to convert the database to 3-D. Red Dot, which has U.S. operations in Chicago, has been a leader in 3-D technology, according to Cole, and the company also creates and provides software to help businesses utilize the 3-D experience.
Cole notes the agreement benefits both Gladson and Red Dot, as each company can offer Gladson’s database and Red Dot’s software services through the other’s customer base. Red Dot’s parent company is global advertising agency WPP Group, he notes, so their client reach is wide.     “There’s revenue for both of us in this relationship,” Cole added.
Cole said Gladson is getting an enthusiastic response from their customers for the 3-D library.
“It has exceeded our expectations in terms of the level of response we’ve gotten,” he said.
Sentell pointed out that while the technology is changing and customers are looking for more 3-D imagery, the new database will be an addition to the company’s offerings, and not replace the current 2-D products.
“We see (3-D) as a strong growth driver for us into the future,” she said. “We see this as really nice, steady growth as more and more customers adopt it. And it’s meeting a need that we’re heard from our customers.”
And that’s been paying off for Gladson. Sentell said business growth has led her to hire about 30 new employees in the last year — ranging from image editors and database coders to a new HR director, staff attorney and sales product managers. The company is also planning to open a second office in DuPage County soon, she added.
Area nonprofits have also benefitted from Glasdon’s growth. Products Gladson receives to create images are collected and donated to area agencies, Sentell said. Agencies such as DuPage Animal Control, the Northern Illinois Food Pantry and Operation Support have received some of the 25,000 pounds of food, health and beauty, and other products Gladson has collected, and the company recently received the Outstanding Food Rescue Partner for 2012 award from the West Suburban Community Pantry.
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Try tweeting if you’re looking for the right person for the job

NOTE: This column first appeared in the May 13 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

You already know how the Internet has changed the way you hire new employees. You already know how LinkedIn has changed the way you find qualified people for your business.
But Tom Gimbel says don’t neglect Twitter if you’re looking to fill or find a job.
Gimbel, founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing and hiring agency with offices in Arlington Heights, Oak Brook and Gurnee, says Twitter is a valuable tool for both the employer and the jobseeker.
For the jobseeker, it’s a cheap, easy way to research a company, simply by following both the company’s Twitter feed and the feeds of its employees.
“What you have is access to information about a company that’s free, that’s put out by the company and employees of the company, about the company,” he said. “You get an idea of what the company and the people who are working there say about it.
“If you’re not using that for your jobs search, you’re just not using all the tools at your disposal,” he added.
For the employer, Gimbel said Twitter is an excellent avenue to not only get a job opening out to potential talent, but also to check if a potential employee is a good fit for the company. The key for a business using Twitter, he stresses, is to build a sizable following to your Twitter feed.
As you build your network credibility, you are more likely to have your job openings retweeted by followers, getting the word out quickly to an audience that is interested in your company, Gimbel said.
“The more followers you get, the more (tweets) are passed along,” he added. “And it’s so easy to retweet posts that you can get something going pseudo-virally fairly quickly.
“If you use it appropriately and you have people following you, that job will reach people who may or may not be looking for a job and may not have seen it on a normal job search mode.”
Once you’ve found a candidate, you can also search his or her Twitter feed to see if they would fit your company’s profile, Gimbel notes.
“If somebody’s tweets are so off-kilter, they might not represent your company image. It’s similar as what was going on two or three years ago with Facebook,” he added. “If somebody’s tweets aren’t in line with what you want your company to be, that can rule somebody out as well.”
Gimbel offered some other tips in finding candidates and hiring employees using Twitter:
Be consistent: Whether it’s your personal or company account, make sure you designate one Twitter handle as the sole source of posting jobs.
Be direct: You only have 140 characters to get your message across so make every character count. Tweets should be direct.
Use a hashtag: By adding a hashtag, you are categorizing your tweet so that it’s searchable, which will make it stand out among the rest. Consider #job, #jobpost, #employment, #recruiting, #hiring, #career, #staffing, #salesjob.
Know who to follow: You have to be strategic in who you follow so that other followers can be redirected to you. For example, consider following hiring managers/recruiters who can be a direct source to be job candidates.
Gimbel stresses that Twitter is a reciprocal network, meaning you should be following people who follow you. He suggests making sure you follow people who you find interesting professionally or are in line with your business, and making sure your content is of interest to them so they will follow you back.
“You need to view Twitter posts and your tweets as brand management,” he said.

Vietnam businesses finding key to IT success in Volo-based Atom

NOTE: This posting first appeared in the April 29 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

From its beginnings near the bogs of Volo, Atom AMPD is now finding its way into the rice paddies of Vietnam.
The Lake County-based developer of the AtomOS Kwick Key operating system has recently expanded into the Southeast Asian country, extending its global reach in that portion of the world, which already includes China and Singapore.
Atom AMPD CEO Daniel Field said Vietnam’s economic growth over the past 10 years — the country’s annual GDP growth rate has been 7.2 percent in that time — makes it a good market for AtomOS, as fast growing companies there are looking for a business-focused operating system that can be quickly set up and maintained. The Linux-based AtomOS system, which is contained on a 2 gigabyte USB ‘Kwick Key” flash drive, has drawn a lot of interest since their initial visits to the country.
“We started (meeting) with about 12 to 15 people and that grew to 35. Now it’s up to 75 to 80 people,” Field said. “It sounds like we found the pulse and the right buttons to hit with it. They appear to be really liking the product.”
And that interest is turning into potential dollars, as Field said he anticipates about $9.5 billion in combined revenues from businesses that have already signed agreements.
“Vietnam’s market is strong and its really growing well right now,” Field said. “But they’re making decisions pretty quick over there, so we’ve been pretty content with what we’ve been able to do.”
Field attributes the company’s success in Asia to having partners that know the region and its varied cultures. Through them, company representatives have been able to make initial contact with C-level executives at a number of Vietnamese businesses and government agencies.
“Part of it is knowing the culture and that’s why it’s good to have partners that help with that,” he said.
And while AtomOS was originally targeted for small to medium-sized businesses, Field notes even large companies in the region have become interested in the system for its capabilities and lower overall IT costs. Unlike systems from companies that Field refers to as “big boxes,” the AtomOS can be used without upgrading existing servers and hardware, and elements can be turned on or off to meet a specific business need.
“They’ve picked up on it right away,” he said. “They like the fact that — in a sense — they has a Swiss Army Knife where they can pull out a blade that they need. Here, they can pull out what networking piece they need without having a high price tag that goes along with it.”
Although they are still establishing themselves in Vietnam, Field noted the company already has its next step planned — Malaysia. He said the company has already been contacted by a Malaysian firm that has heard of what they’re doing in Vietnam.
“He’d be the first one in Malaysia, so we’re working on getting that deal finalized while (the team) is out there,” he said.


Elarasys continues to find a niche

NOTE: This first appeared in the April 1 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

More than a decade ago, Elarasys Inc. found its niche amid a bad economy and the dot-com bust, reselling and leasing IT equipment obtained from the closed dot-com companies at a large savings to its customers.
Fast forward to today, and Elgin-based Elarasys Worldwide — as it is now known — again finds itself in a changing IT world, where a recession has forced businesses to tighten their IT budgets. But the company is finding a new niche for itself, branching out from its core business of leasing refurbished IT hardware and components into providing IT products and services for what CEO Steve McCarthy calls “all ranges of the life cycle.”
Elarasys still sells refurbished equipment from IBM, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and Dell, among others. But it has expanded into selling new equipment through a subsidiary company, IThardwareplus. In addition, the company offers post-warranty system maintenance services and a unique asset disposal service that goes beyond simple recycling.
The company’s current evolution was a result in the foresight of McCarthy and Elarasys President Tom Hansen. They purchased the company in 2008 and soon noticed that the leasing industry was declining as a result of several factors, including the slipping prices of new equipment closing the savings gap between new and refurbished.
“We have to be flexible. The business Steve and I bought in ‘08 relied 80 percent on equipment coming in from leasing companies. That’s not happening anymore,” Hansen said.
By providing products and services from sales through disposal, Elarasys’ niche helps businesses get the most value out of their equipment.
“We now can help customers make the right choice whether they’re buying it, choosing to maintain it or choosing to get rid of it,” McCarthy said. “We’re helping them to make smart choices in the ownership process.”
The uniqueness of Elarasys’ services is in the disposal of old equipment. Hansen said the company will take away old equipment, break it down to its components, then determine if the parts can be sold as refurbished or sold to a certified electronics recycler. The proceeds then are split 50/50 between Elarasys and the customer.
“We want to maximize value,” Hansen said. “We want (customers) to get more from it than had we just said ‘here’s 10 cents on the dollar.’”
Hansen notes that many companies don’t realize the value of old equipment when they upgrade IT systems. It often sits in the corner of a room while the company’s IT professionals are focused on making the new system work properly, he said, and they don’t realize they could get some of their investment back from the old equipment.
“They tend to forget that there is an asset that could be valuable to someone else,” he said. “Unfortunately, too many companies don’t know that asset disposition companies like ours are out there.”
Hansen also notes they work only with EPA R2-certified electronics recyclers to assure no potentially hazardous materials end up in landfills or are shipped to other countries. Elarasys also wipes all data off the hard drives and memories using software certified by the U.S. Department of Defense.
All parts destined to be sold as refurbished go through a thorough testing process by staff members who specialize in specific manufacturers. All are certified by the companies they specialize in.
“They are responsible for knowing the products and knowing the pricing of the markets,” Hansen said. “We are very fair and try to re-market (products) at the maximum value we can.”
One big issue in the refurbished market is counterfeit components, but Hansen said Elarasys’ techs are especially aware of what to look for and, if they discover counterfeit parts, they are quarantined so they do not go back out into the market.
“We watch it like a hawk,” he said. “We are very diligent on assuring that everything that comes in the door gets tested and, if not authentic, is quarantined.”
While the price of new equipment has dropped over the years, McCarthy and Hansen note there could still be value in buying refurbished equipment as a way to get more out of a company’s tight budget. And, he stresses, buying refurbished does not mean you’re buying someone else’s problems.
“We want to totally diffuse any thought that used computer are like used cars,” Hansen said. “In reality, it’s more that somebody’s just outgrown it and they decided to take on something new.”
Elarasys’ evolution has proved successful as McCarthy and Hansen foresee the trend in refurbished components, post-warranty maintenance and asset disposition continue. But hey note they’ll likely be ready for any changes down the road.
“We are a solid organization because we have watched and adjusted accordingly, and we will continue to do so,” Hansen said.


Your business isn’t too small or too local for hackers

NOTE: This first appeared in the March 18 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

As a small or medium-sized company doing business regionally, you probably think you’re too small to have your conference system hacked by international criminals.
Or, while you’re running your weekly sales strategy conference call with your sales team, you’re probably not thinking someone outside the company could be listening to your group discuss sensitive or confidential material.
But Robert Bellmar says it’s that approach that makes small and medium-sized businesses vulnerable to hackers and corporate spies. Bellmar, senior vice president of Chicago-based conferencing services provider InterCall, notes telecom fraud is a global problem that is feeding international organized crime.
“It’s an everyday occurrence,” Bellmar said. “The conference call is the perfect place for (criminals) to continue to fraud and make money.”
Telecom fraud has become a huge problem. Losses to global businesses are around $40 billion, according to the Roseland, N.J.-based Communications Fraud Control Association, while Houston, TX, tax consultancy UNY Advisors estimates annual fraud costs in the neighborhood of $1 trillion.
As a result, telecom security has grown into a is big business, according to industry analyst Gartner Inc. Corporate spending worldwide on security in 2012 was up 8.4 percent to $60 billion, and Gartner estimates spending could reach $86 billion by 2016.
Bellmar notes there are typically two types of fraud that result from hacking conference lines. The first is called a calling card scheme, where the hacker will call a business’ conference bridge and continually enter passcodes until he finds one that works. The hacker will then sell the passcode, which is used as a calling card, only the hacked business is charged for calls.
“They make money on the transaction of the passcode,” he said.
The second type is what Bellmar calls a “classic call pumping scheme.” The criminal uses international premium rate number — similar to a 900-number in the U.S. — but that number would not be recognizable to an average business. Hackers use the business’ conference bridge to access that premium number, so charges are occurred by the business.
“It looks like a normal number, just that it gets charged at a premium rate,” he said. “So what happens is they’re making money on the number they own, but they’re generating revenue through the hacking of someone’s system.
“You can be liable for those calls, and that can rack up very fast,” Bellmar added. “It’s not that uncommon for an hour or two of usage to bring you up to $10,000 on your phone service. It can happen quite quickly.”
Bellmar said companies across the U.S. are constantly being hit by hackers, primarily from countries like Belarus and San Marino, using call centers and “war dealers” — phone systems with hundreds of dealers constantly entering sequential phone numbers.
“The scale of organized crime in this is huge. On a weekend we’ll see hundreds of simultaneous connections from fraudulent organizations trying to compromise us,” Bellmar said. “That’s call centers and war dealers shooting at our environments trying to compromise them in order to build up their base of codes they can sell.“That’s not a small organization.”
Another area of concern is corporate espionage, when a hacker breaches a conference call. Bellmar notes this issue gained notoriety in 2012 when an international conference call on corporate espionage hosted by Scotland Yard in London was hacked by the group Anonymous, who recorded the meeting and posted it on YouTube. An investigation found an officer attending the event had forwarded information to his private email, which was hacked.
“It’s a case in point that even the most security conscientious people, if they’re not making the right tool choices, are at risk,” Bellmar said.
Bellmar said business owners can take some simple steps to make their conferencing safer:
1. Use a 10-digit code that is randomly generated.
2. Don’t use a PIN number that has the last four digits of your phone number.
3. Never post conferencing details on the Internet.
4. Lock your conference once you start so no one else can join, and use your roll call function so unknown people can’t join.
5. Use visual tools to manage a call. “There are a number of apps out there that can take control of call,” Bellmar said. “You can take the call and see (on your smartphone) who is on bridge. They’re out there and they are the best way to manage your call.
Bellmar stresses that small or regional businesses are just as vulnerable as global corporations, and even more so if business owners take an approach that they could never be targets.
“For the average organization, it’s a very small problem until you’re compromised,” he said.
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