The pros and cons of adopting a ‘work anywhere’ approach to business computing

By Dean Guida, President and Chief Executive Officer, Infragistics

There is much talk about the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, but what does it really take to embrace the mobile revolution? Businesses need to weigh up the benefits of increased productivity and job satisfaction versus the resources required to manage a mountain of tablets, not to mention the security risk of employees accessing sensitive corporate information on their own devices.

Tablets are quite rightly considered to be extremely convenient for the user and they do foster a ‘work anywhere’ ecosystem. The flexibility and portability of a tablet empowers employees to take their work on-the-go and fit it into a changing workweek, where clocking 9-to-5 hours is less important than productivity. Continue reading

Bring Your Own Device Will Free Workers

Employees should be liberated and be given the opportunity to use their own devices at work, according to communications specialist and cloud computing company Qubic. The company’s Managing Director said that an archaic IT policy is unhelpful for workforces that want to be more flexible.

As more businesses consider the introduction of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to enable staff to use their laptops, tablets and smartphones at work, managers are being warned that old fashioned IT protectionism is no longer relevant. As long as due diligence is paid to security issues, workers should have the freedom to work across a variety of devices, it is argued.

Chris Papa, the Managing Director of Qubic, said, “BYOD is an incredibly useful concept. Our working patterns and environments are changing and as a result, we need access to tools that will enable us to cater for that. Accessing networks via a remote cloud system really showcases the capabilities that cloud computing provides.  As long as a secure private cloud is used, and data security remains stringent, it provides a great deal of freedom for workers and can deliver cost savings for businesses in terms of equipment costs.

“BYOD will be as successful as the security that underpins it. The risks should be assessed and devices monitored. This way, employees can be productive without putting their companies in unnecessary danger.”

Chris warns that there is still a large amount of awareness that needs to be created in regards to compatibility issues when it comes to using an employee’s own device to connect to a Local Area Network (LAN).

“One issue that can become problematic and can in some cases slow things down is when companies overlook the suitability of their personal devices for work, particularly when it comes to laptops. Quite often this process can be made easier at the buying stage to ensure that workers know the right equipment and specifications they should look for. Of course, current machines can be upgraded but if it is the employer left with the bill for this, it could become a stumbling block for adoption. When these aspects are taken into account, firms can benefit hugely from employees using their own devices in a professional capacity.”

Chris Papa, the Managing Director of Qubic

Cyber Security In The Wake Of Consumerisation

The dawn of the Internet brought with in many things, including the birth of cybercrime – providing criminals with a new way of conducting wrong-doings. There’s also no doubt that cyber-attacks, whether internet or intranet-based, continue to grow in sophistication. Unfortunately, cybercrime costs the UK economy £21bn a year, affecting businesses, enterprises and organisations, everywhere.

In light of this, businesses need to be able to understand what can be done to safeguard and protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of their information assets – especially as end users are becoming more mobile, moving sensitive data along with them. However, the disturbing reality is that many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are unaware of, or appear unconcerned by, the security risks they face with regards to information assurance.

These risks have been increased by the latest trends such as  Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the increased usage of uncontrolled and unauthorised, internet based file repositories, such as Dropbox in the enterprise  – which are rapidly being incorporated into the workplace. In fact, this move towards a more flexible style of IT governance, combined with an increasingly mobile culture, is creating a lucrative portal for cyber criminals to exploit – offering them a far lower likelihood of prosecution when compared to traditional crimes.

However, as business users start to use multiple mobile devices more expansively than ever before, IT departments have to keep up with the pace of change, by finding ways to combat this problem. An effective security defence is required; one that is a nimble tactical approach that can react rapidly to the threat of a security breach and act decisively and automatically when a response is required.

Moreover, businesses need a strategic approach to cyber security to balance risk management with business opportunity. Even the smallest businesses need to learn from previous infiltration, exfiltration and business disruption attacks and take practical steps to combat cyber threats.

Traditional cyber security measures remain critical – patching regime, antivirus, perimeter defences are all necessary – but contemporary threats demand enhanced and innovative responses if they are to deter hackers; indeed, one must now assume that someone ‘will’ get in. One thing that may help is having an agile cyber security solution that is designed to consider eventualities before they occur and deal with them when they do.

Once a secure and effective solution is in place – one that works with the business – companies can reap a number of benefits including: fast breach identification, contained and isolated localisation of issues, rapid and automated resolution and uninterrupted productivity – without full system lockdown and full incident lifecycle visibility to support impact analysis.

There’s no doubt that hackers are getting smarter. It’s no longer feasible to only do patch updates on current systems and hope that this will do the job. By bringing in additional defences and responsive technologies, for instance, non-signature based malware detection, application execution control or even a virtual security engine that can adapt to business changes, organisations can build a defence-in-depth capability. IT departments need to learn to identify both internal and external threats or engage someone with the necessary skills to get the job done.

In the wake of consumerisation, no matter the size of the company, you need cyber assurance.

By John Green, CTO at Prolinx

How To Harness The Power Of Cloud

Jonathan Edwards, managing director of Integral IT, which recently launched YorkshireCloud.co.uk, a cloud computing service tailored for small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), gives his tips on how to harness the power of the cloud.

1. Cloud computing is 100 per cent reliant on an internet connection, so you should always have a plan of what to do when your main connection fails. A cost effective method is to buy a 3G capable router and pay around £10 per month for a broadband dongle. For larger organisations, always have more than one internet connection.

2. Make sure you’re certain that all your company applications and software work in the new cloud environment. Moving most of your IT into the cloud and then spending £8,000 on a new onsite server, because one of your applications doesn’t work, is a waste of time, money and effort.

3. Most people don’t know that cloud computing can be delivered using several different pieces of technology. These products have different pros and cons but more importantly, different pricing. Don’t pay over the odds for wonderful technology that you won’t use.

4. More often than not, you will be charged per gigabyte of data that you host in the cloud. It is always best to cleanse your data before you migrate. You will probably find data that isn’t needed anymore or can be archived onto different media. Is your company server really the right place for your wedding video?

5. Cloud computing becomes a utility similar to your electricity and you pay for what you use. If you have ten users, you pay for ten users. Make sure you understand exactly what your tariff consists of. How much are you paying per gigabyte of data? You don’t want any nasty surprises at the month end.

6. If your current IT company lets you down, then you can hire another one. It’s not as easy in the cloud. Your provider holds all your data. Make sure you ask them how long it takes for them to respond to any problems and ask if they have an uptime guarantee. It should be 99 per cent.

7. Six months after buying a new server for the office and replacing all your PCs isn’t the right time to make a move into the cloud. Consider cloud when your hardware and software are ageing and a refresh is needed.

8. Google and Microsoft are big cloud providers; but where is your data being kept? Somewhere in Europe or somewhere in the world is the best answer you’ll get. Chose a cloud provider who can tell you exactly where your valuable company data is kept and even take you to the data centre if needed.

9. Cloud computing is a service. Don’t be forced into long contracts. There is absolutely no reason why you should be signing a three or five-year contract with your provider. You should be able to leave freely with a month’s notice.

10. Many cloud providers don’t provide IT support. There will be still times when you need help with IT issues like printers or the internet connection in your office. Make sure you try and chose a provider who includes this in your monthly fees.

Jonathan Edwards, managing director of Integral IT

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 Importance Of Data Management In Organisations

We live in an information age, where the volume of data processed by organisations increases exponentially.

According to IDC, the total amount of information worldwide will reach 35,000 exabytes in 2020. Businesses currently use approximately 1,200 exabytes, which means information processing will increase at least 29-fold over the next decade.

Managing this plethora of information is a complex task for businesses and it also leaves large corporations highly vulnerable. Only last year, electronics giant Sony was prey to computer attacks which led to the theft of over 77 million PlayStation users’ bank details. Online retailer Amazon suffered a drop in sales after it unintentionally deleted its own customers’ details. After unsuccessfully trying to recover the information, Amazon announced the data had been lost forever.

Data loss is a risk that is frequently overlooked by businesses. It is important for companies to know what processes to follow should data loss occur. It is a risk that is both external, as demonstrated by the Sony hacking incident, and internal, as Amazon’s experience shows. Studies show that potential threats lie within every company. Human error, employee negligence and theft are all likely risk factors.

Every organisation, whether public or private, needs to review its systems and data management processes regularly. As volume and value of information grows, an up-to-date data protection and recovery plan becomes increasingly important.

The difficulty is that IT infrastructures are increasingly complex. There are multiple outlets used by companies: data centers, storage areas, servers, applications, computers, mobile devices, and thousands of files. In the case of public organisations, interoperability issues between various administrations can further increase the risk of data loss.

Designing appropriate security procedures, while crucial, is not sufficient to safeguard a business. Each procedure should be checked regularly to confirm they are fit for purpose. It is crucial to make backups and store data correctly, but there are certain practices that may hinder data recovery. It is often these unnoticed flaws in a data protection system where data loss actually occurs.

Here are some recommendations to help reduce the risk of data loss, protect confidential information and ensure business continuity:

1) Document and maintain procedures for backing up the organisation’s data

2) Test procedures and backups regularly to ensure they work

3) Include the details of a trusted data recovery provider in a contingency plan, who can provide advice and help should data loss occur

4) Create a map showing the location of the data, file names, where it is stored, and the individual that is responsible for the information

5) Establish a mindset that promotes information security within the organisation. Human error is the leading cause of data loss

6) Know when to delete. Keeping unnecessary data is poor management of the IT department’s budget, so make sure the data in storage is there for good reason

No matter what the cause of data loss, all organisations would benefit from the creation of a thorough and up-to-date data management plan.

By Robert Winter, Chief Engineer, Data Recovery, Kroll Ontrack

The Power Of Cloud Computing For Small Businesses

Cloud computing has fast becoming a buzz word amongst small business owners, but is it really transforming the way business is being done or is it just a fad? This article explores the true value of cloud computing to the modern entrepreneur.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the facts:

- 51% of British small businesses recently surveyed say that IT is an integral part of their drive for business growth and innovation (Epson UK)

- UK SMEs earmarked an average spend of £30,000 on IT in 2011 (GE Capital)

- Gartner Executive Programs research showed that SMEs are increasing spending on cloud services faster than larger enterprises (January 2012 research)

Cloud computing is broadly defined as remote computing power provided by third parties. End users access cloud based applications through a web browser or mobile app while the software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. This is particularly appealing to small businesses for the following reasons:

Cloud computing provides small business owners with the flexibility to operate anytime and anywhere that has an internet connection

Cloud computing removes the need to invest in hardware and software licences; an expense which is often too costly for SMEs to front

Cloud computing gives small businesses access to a wide array of online services that make running a business more efficient: customer relationship management, payroll systems, online back-up, web hosting, application management and collaboration tools to name but a few

However, as always with IT, there are limits to cloud computing. Principally, users must place their trust in third parties and rely on the robustness of their servers. Business users also need to proceed with caution when entrusting third party suppliers with their sensitive business data; obtaining a written security guarantee is advisable.

Overall, it seems cloud computing is here to stay, and what’s more, small businesses will be at the forefront of driving its growth because the opportunities it brings to reduce costs and increase agility are too great to be missed.

By Carole Wood, Marketing & PR Manager At BCSG

Pay-As-You-Go Cloud Delivers Agile Budgeting To UK Businesses

Cloud computing services have become incredibly popular for consumers today by virtue of the fact that they are so easy to use and easy to pay for (sometimes free). This means you and I can make easy choices that are reflective of our disposable incomes. In just the same way, UK businesses have come to value the newly available cloud services that help them to transform their business operations, while increasing their ability to forecast and budget for IT more accurately than ever before.

But becoming more agile is not simply about putting specific processes in place. It is much more far reaching than that. In fact, it is a whole new mindset and approach. In an agile world we stop worrying exclusively about how much things are going to cost or how long processes will take and, instead, focus on spending money wisely and working in a timely manner.

This means accepting the reality that requirements are likely to change over time and the processes we use may need to be refined or even re-engineered to help react to those changes. Companies must be more dynamic than ever before in our history and having the capability to adapt and change in line with the challenges of the environment and market opportunity is critical to success.

It’s not all good news

However, having the capability to make decisions and change business practices has a cost. That cost is likely to be very high if the cost of ownership of the underlying infrastructure is always included. Most organisations have a high degree of investment in their own IT and communications systems, which is purchased using company capital, fully owned and usually run on the company’s own premises. All these factors are restrictive to making future decisions and re-assigning resources to where you need them most. This way of working does not lend itself well to running a dynamic company with agile capability and flexible finance options.

The biggest barrier to success is the self-interested IT department. Typically it is the IT department that proactively blocks all mention of cloud computing, smothering any such notion before it has a chance to resonate with the leaders of the business. Typically this is due to a lack of understanding about what cloud can do and the misleading conclusion therefore that it is a threat to the IT department. Instead of stifling an idea because of job security issues, IT departments would do well to embrace the opportunity that cloud computing services can bring by way of better utilisation of resources and delivery of value, at a time when IT budgets are under pressure.

The counter argument IT Managers tend to use is that of data security. But, in reality, data is more secure in a data centre facility that cost millions to build and run than on a company’s own premises. There is one real issue that must be addressed, who can you trust in the cloud when all the usual global vendors do not have a local version of their solution? This is why we now see a range of UK based and UK focused service providers available to meet the needs of UK businesses. This will take the intervention of the leadership team of any company to educate and motivate their IT departments to learn more about what cloud can do for them and adopt the services that make most sense and frees up resources to focus on core activities.

Agility in action

A great example of a company that has addressed the issues of utilising cloud services to provide the ability to scale up or down, in line with growth or contraction, is Richmond Events. By partnering with Star for managed cloud services the switched-on team at Richmond Events was able to realise a new level of business agility to cope with good times and bad. Its story clearly demonstrates how cloud computing matches costs to market forces. After all, just as it is critical for companies to be able to scale up their capability in the good times, it is also a great benefit to be allowed to shed costs in line with negative results when times are tough — a story less often told.

Getting the right advice

Organisations can look to their cloud service providers for robust and honest consulting and change management support when they are considering their cloud service procurement needs. Get things right from the start and cloud computing has much to offer to businesses of all shapes and sizes.

By Martino Corbelli, Director of Marketing, Star

1001 Free Cloud Apps For Small Businesses

There are thousands of Cloud applications out there that can help a business or a team work more effectively, and many of them have free, starter options that might be perfectly adequate for a small business. That’s the “Freemium” business model, where the company offers a free service for a small number of users, or a limited set of options in the hope that your business will grow or you will roll the solution out to a larger group, and so upgrade to a paid for premium or enterprise edition. There are some apps that every business should be using, but at the very least you should consider trying some of these to test how the cloud can help your business. Here are a few ideas along with a pointer to some directories where you can search for several thousand more:

Collaboration

Google Docs - Allows a group of people to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings up in Google’s cloud for free. All you need is a Google account and you can invite people in to share the document you are working on by email. All of the changes are tracked by user. You can upload existing office documents and spreadsheets and straight away you are avoiding the syndrome we are all used to – if you emailed the spreadsheet to 4 people, the second it left your inbox you were out of control with 5 copies of that same document, so who’s got the latest version? With Google Docs you avoid all that. After a while you will consider upgrading to Google Apps for Business.

Writeboard – You create a sharable, web based text document that lets you save every edit, roll back to a previous version, and compare changes. It’s like a whiteboard in the cloud that everyone you’ve invited in can see and use. It’s completely free. It’s from 37Signals who hope that using it will trigger you to consider their other collaboration products.

Wikispaces – If you want to create a free wiki for a project, or a team or maybe product documentation, then try this. It has a all of the features you would expect from a good wiki, allowing a group of people to create and organise the content to create a “Wikipedia” style web space on the topic of your choice. The basic version is free supported by adverts, but you can upgrade to remove the ads and make your wiki private for as little as $5 a month.

Doodle – This is a free service that helps you schedule a meeting by email. You create a date/time poll of when you are free, mail it to a group and they all fill in when they can meet (in one place). It can dramatically cut down the back and forth that can turn in to a scheduling nightmare. The free version is ad supported, but you can upgrade for more features and to make it ad-free.

Skype – I hope you are using Skype already. If you aren’t you (or your company) should be ashamed of yourselves. It gives you free skype user to skype user chat, calls, videoconferencing and screen sharing. It’s great for customer support and collaboration. It doesn’t have all of the features of commercial web meeting software like Webex or GoToMeeting, but it’s free! You can buy additional services, like low cost International calls to landlines and mobiles.

Business Apps – CRM, ERP, Invoicing

Really Simple Systems - RSS is Europe’s largest provider of cloud based Customer Relationship Management software. If you are used to things like ACT! or Goldmine, then this does more than those for less. It’s free for 2 users and up to 100 accounts (customers, suppliers, partners) and additional users start at £10/month.

Zoho CRM – Like RSS, this provides comprehensive sales force automation, marketing and customer support too. It’s free for up to 3 users, and the paid for version gives you more users and added features like inventory, workflow and additional security. It’s also part of a family of products that cover collaboration including wikis, documents, chat, calendar management and more.

Freshbooks - This is an invoicing solution that can help you track time, organize expenses and create professional invoices for print or for online billing and payment collection. It’s free for unlimited invoicing of up to 3 clients, and then you can upgrade to 25 clients for $19.95 a month.

myERP - This is an integrated CRM, invoicing, inventory, expenses and accounting solution (although the accounting hasn’t yet been fully Anglicised). It covers a fairly comprehensive set of functions for the average commercial business, and it’s free for 2 users. It integrates with Google apps and has quite a novel, search based user interface. The premium version gives you additional users for $29/month.

Cloud directories

If you want to find more than 1001 cloud based options, then here are two places to look:

AppStorm - Reviews and explanations of the web tools that are available, and covers mobile devices, Macs and PCs too.

GetApp.com - A business software marketplace with 4,557 applications and tools across just about every application area you can think of in the directory at time of writing.

And so in conclusion, there are plenty of excellent cloud based productivity, collaboration and business tools with a free option to get you started. For some small businesses that could provide a lot of support and help with no cost other than the time and effort to set them up. At the very least you should be using some of these to help you do your job better. You should also use this as a route to start exploring what commercial cloud apps can do for your business.

By David Terrar, CEO of D2C Limited, Co-founder of Cloud Advocates

Eight Ways To Dip Your Toe In The Cloud

Do we continue with the company server room and manage our technology from a single static location? Or, do we embrace the revolution that unshackles us from the desktop computer? Most CEOs and IT directors are ready to dip their toe. They don’t even realise they’ve already been there.

You’ve been using cloud services for years – whether you realise it or not. We’re so used to services like Hotmail that we never stop to think about where our emails are stored and now, Apple and Amazon are becoming the natural repositories for our music, films and books.

In the business world, the growing reliance on mobile devices makes cloud an ever more compelling offer for businesses. Many companies have already taken the leap. According to research collected by hosting firm UKFast, 80% believe they’ve seen improvements within the first 6 months. We may not yet throw all of our IT into the cloud but here are the top eight ways that businesses currently adopt cloud services.

1. Email – 46% of cloud users in the business arena are happy to place email in the cloud. We’ve had webmail for years and the move is a no brainer for business owners with a smartphone workforce who can be reached in the office or out-and-about at any time of the day.

2. Technology R&D teams were early adopters of cloud because scalability means they can develop and test projects cost effectively; winding up and down the capacity they require. 40% of cloud users apply the technology this way.

3. One key purpose for 38% of cloud users revolves around data protection. As we find more and more of it in the virtual space, every savvy IT manager is finding ways to back-up this crucial asset. Many are developing cloud-based disaster recovery solutions.

4. Using the cloud for collaboration is currently adopted by 34% of cloud users. This is set to increase though with 60% of SME owners viewing the cloud’s ability to improve IT collaboration as critically important to the growth of their organisation.

5. Salesforce led the way with 33% placing their CRM systems into the cloud. Allowing client data out of the in-house vaults was originally a large concern for CEOs but the advantages of availability and remote working have tipped the scales.

6. 31% have discovered that the elasticity of the technology makes it an excellent place to store data. Because information is such an asset to the modern business, we have plenty to store and usage is set to soar in 2012.

7. Software as a Service or SaaS is central to the idea of cloud convenience. 28% of cloud users are accessing our applications through a ‘thin client’. Alongside Infrastructure and Platform as a Service, SaaS is part of the fabric of the cloud.

8. Remote working is hugely attractive to business owners and the cloud allows them to deliver every element of the IT infrastructure into employees’ homes. As such, it’s no surprise that 24% of cloud-based businesses are adopting the virtual desktop.

For 50% of business owners, cloud actually means flexibility. It’s the biggest driver of adoption – above cost savings, which materialise in the short term. Dipping your toe is also just the start. 72% of companies already using cloud computing solutions are planning on moving additional applications to the cloud in 2012.

For most SMEs this flexibility means more freedom and increased efficiency. It’s a winning formula for any business that needs to tighten its operations in the face of recession. And, as seen above, there are at least 8 ways to get started.

By Neil Lathwood, IT Director, UKFast