IT Survey Shows 55% Of Companies Worry About Cloud Security

A survey of UK business IT chiefs commissioned by ramsac, a leading IT solutions consultancy based in Surrey, has revealed that fears over security are slowing the take up of Cloud Computing Solutions.

Whilst 94% of responders believe they fully understand the benefits and risks, only 44% believe it offers a secure enough alternative to more traditional on premises based systems. Despite these questions, a noteworthy 44% said they would consider implementing more Cloud elements into their IT services portfolio to realise its potential benefits.

Managing Director of ramsac, Robert May, comments, “Whilst there is a huge buzz around the potential benefits of using the Cloud there is also, understandably, a reticence to blindly passing over some of the most mission critical systems to be hosted and run by a third party. The traditional method of hosting your own servers and connecting them to the Internet has served most businesses well in the past, so the suggestion of such a massive change in the paradigm obviously raises a lot of questions and potential fears over the real-world connotations. It’s up to the IT industry to demystify exactly what the Cloud is and what it can offer, so customers can make informed choices and to help them find the right fit for their IT needs.

ramsac’s survey delved deeper into the specific concerns over using Cloud services with some interesting results. The most prominent fear highlighted by responders is the lack of liability for providers in the event of problems (cited by 55%). This was closely followed up by concerns over privacy, which was registered by half the companies polled. Understandably the loss of control over services and data ranked highly (39%) and uncontrolled or variable costs, as well as the availability of services and data were both cited by 22% of responders.

Another important consideration is the degree with which companies are prepared to rely upon Cloud services. The survey showed that of those looking to utilise Cloud services, a significant 83% want to use a hybrid Cloud model which uses both traditional ‘on premise’ servers for some applications, whilst hosting others off site in a secure data centre (allowing the retention of key systems in-house whilst making the most of other hosted services to find an ideal balance of cost and functionality). Robert May adds, “We’re not surprised the survey showed businesses are looking to mix both traditional and Cloud services. There is a vast range of choice available and we advise our clients that it is best to treat it like a menu, picking the items that suit your requirements best and offer the best mix to achieve value for money.”

The survey also suggested that the question of using Cloud Computing is very much dictated by the type of application as well. The results show Email was the top candidate for Cloud, with 77% of responders citing it as a key area. This was followed by CRM with 39%, Payroll with 17%, Accounts with 17%, Project Management with 16% and HR and Procurements both highlighted by 5% of responders as potential Cloud services.

Robert May concludes, “Despite the obvious concerns over moving completely to a Cloud Computing model there is an undeniable interest in it as an alternative to the traditional in-house IT hosting. It’s also something that once an organisation has its sights on it, it is often very keen to move at least some business functions over quickly to take advantage. Our survey showed that of all the companies making the decision to use Cloud, 50% want to do so within the next twelve months and the rest intend to do so within the next one to two years – so we are likely to see the trend really take off in the immediate future.”

By Robert May, Managing Director of ramsac

New Service Maximises Untapped Marketing Potential Of Corporate Email

Companies can now maximise the marketing potential of their employees’ emails using a new first of its kind service from email and web security company, The Email Laundry. The Brand and Sign service enables businesses to make every employee a part of their marketing team by transforming every corporate email sender into a relevant, targeted and accountable email marketer.

Nearly nine tenths of corporate communication (87 per cent) is via email, yet many companies still fail to capitalise on its untapped potential as a cost-effective marketing channel. This is a particular problem for companies whose employees increasingly check and send business email on smartphones, which rarely carry any company branding. Moreover the Companies Act 2006 includes provisions for Trading Standards to fine businesses that fail to include company registration numbers and addresses on emails from their employees.

Brand and Sign gives corporate marketing teams complete control of their company’s outgoing communications, ensuring departmentally relevant and consistent email for every recipient of their company’s email. The new cloud-based service automatically applies email signatures – including the legally required company registration details – to every message sent by a company, regardless of whether it is sent from a mobile device or a PC.

Individual employees’ emails from various departments within a business – whether sales, accounting, legal or human resources – can be branded with relevant marketing messages targeted to their specific audiences. Companies using Brand and Sign can then measure the performance of every staff member via open and click-through data gleaned from the employees’ email signature.

“Companies send millions of emails every day, but often the only branding they carry is the email address of the sender. Considering 87 per cent of all corporate communications are via email, businesses are failing to attain the most from their primary communications tool. The concept of cloud has now gone beyond computing to the human level. Companies need to maximise the potential of both the technology they use and their individual employees’ use of that technology,” Ken Bagnall, CEO of The Email Laundry, said.

Marketers simply set up company emails to pass through the Brand and Sign cloud server. The company marketer logs into the server through a portal and assigns marketing messages to email signatures of specific employees or departments. The Brand and Sign cloud server then attaches relevant branded email signatures to specific employees’ outgoing email.

Bagnall said: “Brand and Sign not only enables more effective and consistent use of marketing messages, but also helps UK businesses comply with The Companies Act 2006. This legislation requires companies to include their registered company name and registration number, place of registration and registered office address in every sent email, with penalties of up to £1,000 for non-compliance.

“Brand and Sign attains maximum value from every email employees send. It provides a consistent and measurable company-wide standard that not only ensures email is compelling to specific recipients and compliant with the law, but also makes every employee, and every email they send, a marketing resource.”

By Ken Bagnal, The Email Laundry

Enforcement Of “Cookie Law” Requires Action By All Businesses With A Website

UK businesses could face fines of up to £500,000 if they fail to meet tough new website privacy laws which come into force this month, according to EMW, the commercial law firm.

EMW warns that there are no exceptions to the law for smaller businesses.

The regulation will come into effect on 25 May 2012 and will mean that visitors to the website will have to give permission for the website to download ‘cookies’.

A cookie is a temporary computer file which gathers information about the user’s online activity. It is activated by a user when they access particular pages on a site.  The cookie is sent from the website to the user’s computer and remains once they leave the site. When the user returns to the site the cookie allows the website to remember their preferences and settings.

“The effect of this change in the law will be far-reaching; any business that has a website will almost certainly use cookies at some point or other. The upcoming deadline is a wake-up call for those businesses that have not yet updated their website to gain consent from users,” Matthew Holman, Solicitor, EMW, said.

EMW explains that the old law only required businesses to give users the opportunity to ‘opt out’ and was often done by referring to the cookies in a privacy policy.

“This law marks a major shift in responsibility for the use of personal data: previously the user had to opt-out, now the user has to opt-in from the beginning,” Holman continues.

EMW says that businesses need to take three practical steps to prepare for the new rules:

  • review what cookies are used by their website
  • decide on the appropriate course of action to ensure that consent is obtained for the use of cookies (i.e. using pop-ups or banners on the website to obtain consent)
  • ensure that these measures are implemented on or before the 25 May 2012

“The risk of a £500,000 fine for extreme infringements of the rules should send a strong message to businesses that they must be ready in time,” said Holman.

EMW says that those businesses that have already taken action to deal with the new law should make sure that the websites cookie message is clear, user friendly and understandable.

“For most businesses it is very important that web users enjoy using their websites, so strict compliance with the law is not enough,” adds Matthew Holman.

“To be successful, businesses need to make sure that their website also remains user friendly.  That can be quite difficult to do when asking users for permission to use their personal data. To this end, collaboration between web designers and lawyers is important to ensure that the website meets the legal requirements whilst remaining pleasing to the eye and user friendly.”

By Matthew Holman, Solicitor, EMW

The Death Of The Office Server

Once the lynch-pin of every single office, the every day server is now on the verge of being a mere relic, an eBay listing, a forgotten piece of technology. CIOs and IT managers will no longer have a use for it. This is not because there is anything wrong with it, but because technology is becoming more readily available and easier to use.

This is especially the case with cloud-based business applications, data storage, SaaS and PaaS becoming the norm for many businesses.

Storage stories

For so many years now, the office server has been a central part of the workings of any IT set up. Considered the brain or hub of a company’s network, facilitating back-up and storage of its most vital completed work, the failure of this server has proved catastrophic for many businesses. Overloading, power-outs, overheating and downtime all cause dips in productivity, lost business, problems related to the loss of vital data, and the list just goes on.

The traditional office server also takes up space, an expensive commodity these days, with many businesses diversifying and making allowance for flexible and home working to suit busy lifestyles and constricted budgets.

Up, up and away

The emergence of the cloud was initially greeted with some trepidation by businesses, with many fears about security and reliability surfacing. Understandably businesses wanted to ensure its safety and efficacy before entrusting their precious business data, processes and applications to it.

The concept of relying on an outsourced ‘invisible’ platform for everyday storage and business processes such as CRM, ERP and e-mail took a bit of adjusting to, but is now rapidly becoming a dominant business technology choice.

Software as a service (SaaS) innovators such as Safesforce, NetSuite and Oracle have provided cloud-based ERP, CRM, e-commerce, accounting, supply chain management and inventory software to businesses across all manner of sectors, both improving their operational effectiveness through simple to use applications, and reducing their IT support and set up costs. Retail businesses can also now see the benefits of NetSuite point of sale applications fully integrated their back office function, which provide instant visibility of vital business and inventory information across any store.

These applications have played their part in committing the office server to the annuls of history for many businesses, in turn also making the fallibilities of the back-up tape, VPNs, the IT department, patches, upgrades, maintenance, disk space, memory and uninterruptable power supplies a mere distant memory.

The application of efficiency

Increasingly, businesses are incorporating add-on applications to their businesses allowing them to integrate all manner of business functions through the cloud. These functions, which include sales dashboards, point of sale accounting and CRM to name a few, are often accessed by different staff in their relevant departments on varying scales. Cloud computing makes huge sense in these situations, as the required applications can be accessed by the staff via permission based access – passwords — through the cloud on a SaaS basis. This has a double edged efficiency saving for businesses.

Firstly, cloud-based software and services are more cost effective as the company only pays for the levels of actual software usage, as opposed to a company purchasing 30 licenses which are not all used, or used enough to justify the cost. The flexibility to ramp up and down the level of usage required removing and adding users dependent on business requirements maximises the cost effectiveness of the IT systems within any business. In addition to this, accessing cloud based platforms and software completely eradicates the requirement for on-site storage – an office server — and the associated support and maintenance costs. Any faults with the software are solved off-site and downtime is minimial. Equally, data is stored securely and businesses need no longer worry that a technical failure like a server explosion may damage their valuable data.

A good example of a company using cloud-based software to completely transform the way it does business is Reading-based Ecocleen. The eco-cleaning and support service franchise business implemented a cloud-based business management platform which saw it become completely server-less and streamline its operation, enabling it to work more effectively.

The company switched to a cloud-hosted integrated CRM platform which stored all corporate data in one single database, with access to KPI data, integration with back-office accounting and ERP through simple dashboards. The implementation of this SaaS cloud-based platform enabled Ecocleen to automate all customer billing in electronic format, adding to its eco credentials, and roll out a centrally-controlled e-marketing campaign.

The business, which has a number of regional offices, had traditionally operated disparate, regional IT systems which had hindered a uniform, branded marketing and CRM strategy and visibility of customer activity. The self-service portal within the new solution will allow the regional Ecocleen offices to quickly and easily access information relating to their transactions. The company had been using Sage Line 50 and Excel to collect and analyse KPI information, a time-consuming and complex process.

Replacing these systems has allowed the regional offices to access KPI information in real time and benchmark their own performance against each other or their own targets, which works as a motivational tool. This, together with the efficiency-saving impact of the platform is projected to play its part Ecocleen’s growth strategy, with predictions that the platform will assist it in going from 11 regional offices to an anticipated 25 over two years with a 120 per cent increase in revenue.

It is clear from examples such as this that the implementation of a cloud-based solution can help improve the efficiency of a business, providing the opportunity to focus on and expand its core business to meet financial and business targets. This ‘work smarter, not harder’ concept along with the reduced costs, worries and inconveniences associated with cloud-based applications mean that when it comes to eliminating the traditional storage and software hub, the server, or ‘brain’ of an operation, the decision really is a no-brainer.

By Andrew Peddie, Managing Director, First Hosted