Ahead of Digitech19, we’re turning the spotlight onto two of our public sector experts, Alex Larcombe and Paul Mathews, who have many years of working with the sector under their belt. I spoke with them about their experiences…
Ben Rogers (BR): Can you tell us a little about what you do at AdEPT – how you came to work here and in your field?
Alex Larcombe (AL): I’m a Sales Director responsible for the public sector at AdEPT, so my main focus is building strategic partnerships with our clients and partners. I’ve been in this industry from the start of my career, having worked at BT and Virgin Media Business prior to AdEPT.
Paul Mathews (PM): …And I’m a Head of Business Development, also specialising in the public sector. Like Alex, I’ve been at other technology and telecoms companies before AdEPT, including hSo, Century Link, PGi…
BR: Why do you work in the fields you are in? What interests you about the work?
PM: For me, and I’m sure for all of us, it’s the opportunity for problem solving – the ability to build bespoke solutions. I can visit a client – ranging from a doctor’s surgery to a large health trust – and develop a solution that doesn’t just give them value for money, but will work for them well into the future.
I think the reason I love being at AdEPT so much is that I can really get involved – with some other, larger, companies this perhaps doesn’t happen as much. At AdEPT, we’re encouraged to develop customer-focused solutions. That mentality starts at the top with our chairman Ian Fishwick and works its way through all the teams and people. And that’s why we’ve been successful with HSCN despite being a relatively small player.
AL: From my perspective, telecoms and IT is the most exciting industry out there because it’s got so much going on – certainly over the last 20 years the amount of innovation that’s happened probably outweighs any other sector. Yet at the same time, it’s a very people-orientated field of work and with AdEPT it’s very much about having that personal, consultative-led approach. I believe that people who work in the public sector are looking for the personal touch – not least because the market’s so complex: there’s too much technology and so many suppliers. So for me, it’s about properly investigating the client’s issues with them – and really understanding where they want to go as an organisation – before developing a meaningful solution. That’s the challenge and it’s incredibly rewarding.
BR: So you’re both in senior positions, but you both get hands-on with solving problems?
AL: Exactly that – we’ve got everything in our kit bag to solve our clients’ problems. Whether that’s internal capabilities or through our ecosystem of industry-leading partners.
BR: A lot of companies talk about the personal touch and their consultative approach. How is AdEPT different?
PM: One of the main things is that we don’t discriminate on budget. All of our clients are treated equally, no matter the size of their budget or company. Our solutions are based on what the client wants. It allows us to develop a solution that will work for the future, not just something for now.
AL: You’re absolutely right – there is a lot said about having a consultative approach and sometimes it is empty talk – so I think what Paul’s said is very important. Another thing that can get in the way of being truly consultative is red tape. Perhaps because we’re a smaller business, we can make decisions more quickly – so it means we’re agile and responsive and can build solutions that are genuinely tailored to each client.
BR: In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing these organisations?
AL: There are a number of challenges. Obviously the biggest one is budget, and having to do not just more with less, but better with less. Often, IT is one area that can offer savings, so it does come up a lot in our line of work.
There’s also Brexit. There’s so much uncertainty in the market and often we find that, understandably, people are holding onto their budgets.
At the same time as these challenges there’s also the issues of legacy kit. Every public sector organisation will have IT equipment that’s coming to the end of its life and will need to be replaced.
Of course then there’s security. Take for example the Wannacry attack of a few years ago – that demonstrated the significance of IT security. And then there’s the GDPR, which is another challenge.
One more is the shutdown of legacy voice. In 2025, the traditional copper telephony environment is being switched off. And there is so much out there in the public sector that is reliant on this infrastructure that it is quite astounding. So those organisations will have to look to future-proofing their telecoms systems – in the future they won’t be able to pick up the phone and get a dialling tone from a traditional phone line.
And I guess one final theme that links all of these challenges is that there is an overwhelming level of technology, and there are so many vendors which can cause confusion to anyone unfamiliar with it all.
Obviously we can talk about the ways that AdEPT can help, but I think it’s worth turning the attention from us for a moment and talking about the culture within the public sector. There is an enormous appetite for innovation and underlying all of it is a huge passion for serving the public. These two things drive an extraordinary level of determination to overcome the challenges.
PM: I think that’s why we like to consider ourselves as a ‘trusted advisor’. We’re there to help the public sector get on with their core business and not have to worry about the technology. It’s certainly the approach we take with our existing clients.
BR: So that goes back to what you said earlier – about helping organisations irrespective of size? Do you think with the public sector, it helps to work with smaller and larger organisations of different types, such as health, local government, and central government? Does it allow you see the bigger picture?
AL: Absolutely. Take, for example, our work with about 800 GP surgeries right up to our work with large NHS authorities. Or, our work with smaller, individual local authorities, right up to large county councils. There are definitely lots of common challenges across the public sector – especially the challenges I described earlier – and often, knowing how to tackle something with one public sector organisation can provide valuable lessons for another public sector organisation. Of course, while every organisation is different, I think the days of working in isolated silos are coming to an end.
BR: Technology is really the tool that enables change – and for the public sector, those changes can affect communities and people’s lives. How does AdEPT fit in with this?
PM: Where we help, primarily, is with technology as a backbone. We help put the backbone in place so organisations can get on with what they do best – with faster, more reliable connectivity and communication tools. We do our job so they can do their job.
AL: Another challenge that’s relevant here is about the Cloud. There’s a lot of public sector organisations that use on-premise equipment, particularly from a voice and contact centre perspective, but they want to move to the Cloud – or need the flexibility of both. So for that reason we’re investing a lot in our own Nebula solution, to provide voice, data and IT services, either on-premise or in the Cloud. There’s no one-size fits all with public sector organisations so, as a partner, being as flexible as possible is really important.
BR: Let’s consider people for a moment. I’ve recently been reading a report by Deloitte, called ‘The State of the State’, which is all about the public sector. It includes some interesting quotes from senior public sector officials. One, for example, is from a police crime commissioner, who says: “In terms of technology, we’ve come from a bad position. Getting a chief constable to focus on their back office is hard when all they want to do is fight crime. It’s like pulling teeth to get chief constables to talk about technology.” How do you, and AdEPT, respond to such experiences?
PM: It really is about investigating the organisation’s problems properly and to do that, you need to talk to the right people and ask the right questions. We’ll find out what works for them and what doesn’t work. We don’t believe you can advise without talking to people who are doing the day-to-day business. And that means as many stakeholders as possible.
AL: That statement is interesting because although it sounds negative, it’s actually what we want. We want our chief constables to focus on their core work of fighting crime. We don’t want them worrying about their IT, or their telecoms system. Whatever it is, we don’t want them worrying about it all. They’ve probably got six or seven vendors all trying to get their attention and being very confusing – so that’s why we prefer an outcome-led conversation with the stakeholders. In a way, it doesn’t matter about the technology – it’s about the people and finding out what works for them.
BR: On the subject of people and the IT department, earlier this year, there was a report by Socitm that explored some of the key trends within public sector technology. One of them said: “2019 is likely to see significant pressure on IT to make fundamental shifts from past operating models”. What’s your take on this?
AL: One of the things this hints at the role of IT within an organisation becoming more flexible. For example, if you consider a typical local authority workforce, there’ll be a mixture of care workers out in the community helping vulnerable people, there’ll be other workers with minimal technology in their working day, and then there’ll be people who are entirely office based. To meet the needs of this workforce, the IT department will have to work more closely with other departments and develop a more agile, flexible approach.
PM: We’re seeing that happening with our existing clients and what’s impressive is that they’re doing this despite budget restraints.
BR: So there’s a transformation in culture and mindset that’s happening?
AL: Definitely. Of course, there’s a lot of historic ways of working that are embedded in the public sector – as there is with any sector. But that appetite for innovation – that we talked about earlier – is incredibly strong in the public sector. And it’s that appetite that matters now, and will make a difference in the future.
- You can meet Alex and Paul at this year’s Digitech19, being held in the Manchester Central conference centre on Tuesday 19 November. We are the title sponsor of this event and you’ll find Alex and Paul at our stand in the central hub. But, if you’d like to say hello before then, you can call them on 0333 400 2490, or connect on LinkedIn:
The Bett Awards are a celebration of the inspiring creativity and innovation that can be found throughout technology for education. The awards form an integral part of Bett each year, the world’s leading showcase of education technology solutions.
Produced in association with BESA, being a Bett Award-winner is simply the best way to showcase your organisation with this sign of excellence.
AdEPT Education have been shortlisted for two awards at Bett 2020, for ‘Services and Support’ and ‘Leadership and Management Solutions’ for our WebScreen service.
Bett is the first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape, bringing together over 800 leading companies, 103 exciting new EdTech startups and over 34,000 attendees. People from over 146 countries in the global education community come together to celebrate, find inspiration and discuss the future of education, as well as seeing how technology and innovation enables educators and learners to thrive.
AdEPT Education are exhibiting at Bett 2020 along with our partners at LGfL and Netsweeper.
As a result of sales success in the Avaya year ending 30th September AdEPT has achieved the status of top tier partner – Diamond.
Alison Hastings – Head of Channel, Avaya UKI:
“Avaya are delighted to promote AdEPT to our ‘elite’ Diamond status as part of the Avaya Edge partner programme in the UKI. There are only 8 Diamond partners in the UK with only 30 across EMEA, an exclusive club.
Avaya’s Edge programme recognises our partners for revenue growth and investment of skills in the Avaya portfolio – enabling our key channels to deliver a superior customer experience in the market.
AdEPT have had a stellar year with substantial revenue growth YOY. We look forward to a great year ahead, with a wider Avaya portfolio, as we look to take our customers on the digital journey to cloud – our thanks go to AdEPT for their support and investment in Avaya in FY19”.
AdEPT and Avaya
The AdEPT relationship with Avaya began over 20 years ago and during that time AdEPT have had no hesitation in recommending Avaya voice solutions to customers that demand scalability, reliability and functionality from either a cloud or on-premise solution.
Avaya solutions range from relatively simple IP telephony solutions to full UC (Unified Communications) deployments. With solutions that encompass; messaging, chat, audio, video, conferencing & collaboration.
Avaya have an excellent record of staying at the forefront of technology and the requirements of the growing AdEPT customer base. With clients such as HCA, Somerset House, Beaumont Business Centres and Islington Borough Council, Avaya solutions have been an important part of the AdEPT portfolio for many years.
An Exclusive Club
Richard Burbage – Managing Director, AdEPT Communications comments:
“It is incredibly satisfying to see Avaya recognise our achievements by awarding AdEPT Diamond status. This promotes AdEPT to an exclusive club of resellers in EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa).
This enhanced relationship will only further strengthen our engagement with Avaya and improve our ability to satisfy the dynamic requirements of our customers”.
Businesses are built on the experiences they provide, and every day millions of those experiences are built by Avaya (NYSE: AVYA). For over one hundred years, Avaya have enabled organizations around the globe to win – by creating intelligent communications experiences for customers and employees. Avaya builds open, converged and innovative solutions to enhance and simplify communications and collaboration – in the cloud, on-premise or a hybrid of both. To grow clients’ business, Avaya are committed to innovation, partnership, and a relentless focus on what’s next. Avaya are the technology company you trust to help you deliver Experiences that Matter. For further information please visit Avaya at www.avaya.com.
If you’d like to discuss an Avaya solution with a member of our team, please see our Avaya page and get in touch.
If you’re considering outsourcing your IT but have been hit with a wall of baffling jargon, difficult decisions and complex concerns, we’ve got just the thing for you.
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It is often said that technology is advancing exponentially and in every walk of life. Technology in schools is no different.
When I started my career in this field some 20 years ago, schools were using overhead projectors and whiteboards. Now, they use interactive flat panels. Two decades ago, encyclopedias came on laggy CD-ROMs. Now, through the internet, the world’s information is available in a second.
Throughout this evolution, countless school technology providers have emerged. And many of them have made the all-too-common mistake of focusing on the latest technological crazes. And in doing so, they can often overlook the unique demands placed on our schools from every direction.
My own experience has taught me that helping schools with their technology is best achieved through learning from the challenges they face. Here are some of my discoveries…
Challenge 1: technology that is not designed specifically for schools
Schools have the enormous task of developing our children – the future of our country. They are at the heart of our local communities and must help every student grow as an individual. So it stands to reason that, although facing similar daily challenges, no school is like another. And no school partner or supplier – of technology or otherwise – should shoehorn generic products and services into these unique organisations.
Unfortunately, many schools do not have the time or resources to research and filter the generic technology products and services from those that are specialised for schools. So often, it’s the biggest suppliers – and those that shout the loudest – whose technology products make their way into our schools. And frequently, it’s only then that schools realise their expensive new service doesn’t quite meet their specific requirements – hardly ideal qualities for schools facing ever-growing and ever-changing demands.
Let’s be clear here: this isn’t a blog setting out to criticise the major technology suppliers to the education sector. In fact, as the following example shows, we work closely with those very suppliers…
The solution: products and services that are truly tailored to schools
One example that illustrates the importance and benefits of bespoke solutions for schools is our WebScreen service. It’s specially designed to help schools overcome the dilemma of allowing students and staff to browse the internet safely, without restricting them from useful sites and content.
Building on the industry-leading Netsweeper software and tailoring it for the education environment, our in-house programmers created the service after we listened and learned from our school clients. They had told us that many web filtering services were too black-and-white, complicated, and not focused on their specific needs.
The service actively learns from the information gained in real time from across the 3,000+ community of schools using WebScreen, and shares this knowledge ensuring that each school benefits from the findings. And it does this in the background, with minimal input from school staff.
For instance, one school in the north wanted its students to use a particular educational gaming website, but the site was initially classified as ‘gambling’ – a category banned by the school via their filtering policy setup. So with a few clicks, the school reported this and the website was reclassified, the artificial intelligence that handles on-the-fly website classifications updated, and the newly-adjusted – and more education-setting-specific – knowledge was shared across the entire school community that subscribes to WebScreen.
This whole process is ultimately designed to help schools ensure lessons run safely and smoothly, without interruptions that distract and derail students from their learning – after all, we know this is incredibly important to schools. And as an extra layer of reliability, the service is built to handle huge demand – it analyses more than a billion internet access requests every day for our 3,000+ school clients.
Challenge 2: technology that diverts teachers away from teaching
Whether it’s gadgets in the home or systems in the workplace, technology nowadays is more intuitive and user-friendly than ever. However, this is no excuse for introducing technology into a school before abandoning staff to figure it out for themselves. Teachers must be allowed to do what they do best – teaching – and not be burdened with the responsibility of managing their own IT.
Of course, some schools have their own IT managers and bigger schools might even have their own IT team, but that again does not justify the sometimes common practice of supplying a technology product or service and leaving staff to their own devices – literally!
The solution: proactive support that understands and respects schools
For the reasons explained above, we take a tailored approach to supporting our school clients and reject the break-fix model that’s the basis of too many IT support programmes.
One way we do this is to provide not only onsite support technicians, but also remote support and monitoring – or dedicated IT surgeries at times that suit staff, such as inset days. We’ve done this because we know that, due to their timetables, teachers cannot wait endlessly for answers to their helpdesk responses. They cannot hang on the phone listening to hold music, or repeatedly check their emails to see if their helpdesk enquiry has been addressed.
St Dunstan’s College, for example, is one school where having an on-site technician has proved invaluable. In the words of the one of the school’s employees, we are not just there for if things go wrong, but have been ‘proactively working to ensure the future-proofing, scalability and resilience of’ the school’s IT systems for years to come.
This leads me to another point – about being proactive.
It’s a word that’s often thrown about casually in working life, but for a technology partner to schools, being proactive is vital. For me, it means having a virtual crystal ball into tomorrow’s technology and being able to interpret what’s ahead for our school clients.
This future gazing might, as an example, be knowing about something as seemingly small as a software upgrade that requires all computers to be restarted. Knowing this in advance means we advise our school clients so they can plan for the onerous task of an organisation-wide technology reboot – and choose the right time to do it. This again minimises disruptions to teaching and learning.
Another instance of being proactive could be seeing ahead to extensive industry changes, such as new telephone infrastructure. Again, by advising our school clients in advance, we can help them prepare properly – and not at the last minute, when choices are limited and the risk of being held to ransom over prices becomes very real.
Challenge 3: technology that doesn’t evolve with changing behaviours
It goes without saying that technology has changed the way we work, the way we behave as consumers and the way students learn. And one of the changes in education is the use of video. Not only can it help explain complex subjects in entertaining and stimulating ways, it also responds to the younger generation’s insatiable appetite for video.
The obvious place to feed this appetite is YouTube. And with 400 hours of video uploaded to the site every minute, every imaginable subject in every possible style is covered making it an undeniably powerful resource.
But there’s a darker side. YouTube is awash with content that, sadly, should not be viewed by adults, let alone young people. Despite YouTube’s policing efforts, the site has an ever-increasing catalogue of videos that span from mediocre and poorly made, to downright inflammatory and irresponsible. And to top this off, advertising on the site often has the same traits, appearing unexpectedly and playing all kinds of tricks to hook in impressionable minds.
So for schools, it’s a dilemma: taking advantage of the rich content available on YouTube means navigating the minefield of unsavoury videos.
The solution: technology that recognises and supports changes in education practice
One product that we’ve developed specifically for and with our school clients is myVideos. It’s a powerful tool that helps schools take advantage of YouTube while removing the risk of exposing students to the wrong content.
Through a secure platform, teachers and staff can log in to view YouTube content themselves to judge the suitability of videos for the classroom. Then with staff approval, students can watch the approved videos via the same secure platform without the risk of encountering inappropriate content.
Schools have the option of restricting content to items only approved by the individual school, or, by allowing content deemed appropriate by the entire community of myVideos users nationwide, they can increase the amount of allowed content available to watch, all accruing as a trusted suite of approved videos.
Additionally, through myVideos, adverts and comments are restricted, and the tool can be used in the classroom and at home, meaning students can complete their homework using videos that are endorsed by their school.
myVideos is a great example of helping schools keep up with changing behaviours brought about by technology, while respecting the unique requirements of our schools.
The bottom line
I’ve offered three examples of very real technological challenges faced by our schools and how we’re helping them overcome those challenges. Notably, there’s three qualities that are common throughout – and are traits you should look for in your school technology partner: service and solutions that are personal, passionate and proactive.
I know only too well that the one challenge that supersedes all of these is that of budget cuts and austerity. It’s a topic that deserves at least one blog of its own – so I hope you’ll look out for that in the future.
And there’s one final point, which I hope is apparent in this blog. A technology partner to schools must be willing and able to learn from school clients just as students learn every day. And those partners must share that new knowledge for the benefit of their other school clients, becoming an enabler of new innovations. It’s learning, and sharing knowledge like this that makes working with schools so rewarding and I look forward to more of this in the future.
- If you look after technology for schools, I’d love to talk with you. You can find out more about me through my LinkedIn profile, call me on 01689 814700 or email me on email@example.com.
- My team and I are also joining a number of leading education events in the coming months – so if you’d prefer to meet face to face, and are visiting one of them, please look out for AdEPT Education and say hello:
On the 4th December 2019 we will be hosting our first ever AdEPT Group Conference and Exhibition.
From a small back room in 2003, to an AIM-listed Group of 9 businesses with over 300 employees across the UK, with customers such as Coca Cola, The Houses of Parliament, Talk Sport Radio and the Kent NHS, we’ve been on an incredible journey.
We are now a business supporting 12,000 customers, with telephony deployments across the globe, networks across the country, over 2 million users in education and over 1 million Office 365 users.
The AdEPT Group capability is vast, and ever-changing. Like the world of technology. We are hosting this conference and exhibition to say thank you to our customers, show them the new-look AdEPT, and demonstrate to everyone what we can do.
We are delighted on the day to be joined by key partners, such as Avaya, Datto, Pragma, Virtual 1, BT, SMART, ViewSonic, BenQ, InVentry & Clear Asset Finance.
We’ll be covering a range of issues facing the technology world of today; The Internet of Things, AI, Unified Communications, Cyber Security, The Cloud and more…
It is also our pleasure, to announce that Sir Andrew Strauss OBE will be our keynote speaker, and will be joining us for some awards and an evening drinks reception as part of the event.
The event will be hosted at The Drum, Wembley, the UK’s greenest public sector building.
For all the info, and to RSVP please see our registration page.
We hope to see you there.
The Matrix trilogy is being extended with the return of Keanu Reeves – a great film series that challenged the audience to consider whether we’re living in a real or virtual reality world where humans are actually drugged, living in a virtual world, whilst in ‘reality’ they are connected to a huge machine as fuel for a mythical superbeing.
Sometimes I wonder how far from the truth the basis of the film actually is? what is real? What is merely the product of our imagination?
A bit of a leap? OK, maybe. But bear with me.
In today’s world we are increasingly surrounded by images, sounds, stories all with the potential to truly confuse our senses. I was prompted to write this blog whilst on a visit to a National Trust shop in Cornwall. I was on holiday and came across some amazing photos on the wall. Stunning scenes of rolling hills and the Cornish sea.
However, on closer inspection, they turned out to be photorealistic paintings. (Yes, that picture – left – is actually a painting!). It was an exhibition of truly amazing talent; my senses were truly confused, and I was tempted to ask whether the label attached to the painting was accurate.
A chap called Kelvin Okafor is doing the same with a humble pencil. Look at the picture – right – he has the patience of a saint but after over 220 hours per picture he manages to create pictures that are quite simply stunning, and immensely realistic. I challenge anyone to confidently tell the difference with reality.
It’s a modern version of ‘Fake or Fortune?’ where Fiona Bruce, surrounded by luminaries from the art world hunt for the truth, attempting to determine the provenance of artwork and the fortune within, with forgeries and fakes often revealed – deceiving even the most renowned art historian.
OK, if it were to stop at simple pictures and paintings then fine, but this ability to deceive is going much, much further. There are now virtual celebrities. Yes, you’ve read that right. These are purely a visual representation of a mythical being. An artists’ impression of a phantom – but they are so incredibly detailed. You are driven to keep looking – surely it’s (she’s?) real?
Look up Dagny (pictured left) and Shudu if you want to join their cult (@dagny.gram & @shudu.gram). These virtual celebrities have over 180,000 Instagram followers combined. They are ‘employed’ to boost and endorse a whole range of products. They’re not real. They’re digital Supermodels. But wow, are they realistic.
This ability to deceive isn’t some harmless fun – sadly. In the virtual world Phishing is commonplace. At first these were easy to spot. Fiona Bruce wasn’t required to spot the fake or fortune. Poor rendering, inaccurate spelling, strange web site behaviours – all giving off massive clues that they were clearly fraudulent.
But digital con merchants are determined to deceive and have become far more sophisticated. They replicate companies web presence in the hunt for personal details. Capturing personal information through on-line competitions, stealing data through fake web sites, presenting on-line experiences that are a mirror image of the real thing – and wow, are they realistic.
For proof here’s a few statistics from AdEPT partner, Sophos.
89% of Phishing attacks are orchestrated by professional cyber-crime organisations. Phishing emails have six times the click through rate of genuine marketing emails. Whilst people open 30% of phishing emails!
Scary statistics – fraudsters are more competent than the so-called professionals.
Is it any wonder then that we are beginning to doubt all that we see?
Technology is helping, as companies find ways for us to prove that we are who we say we are. The most commonplace being two factor identification.
With this technology you need to prove who you are. Combining passwords with something that only you own (mobile device, PC) or a unique physical characteristic – facial recognition or a fingerprint. Incontrovertible two-part proof that we are who we say we are.
But how does this work in reverse. How do we get absolute proof that the company we are engaging with is real, with substance, and not a fake? Though there is a ‘lock’ attached to web sites on browsers, with web site certification to show that sites are trusted.
AdEPT is active in this space. With Microsoft advocating Two Factor Identification this is becoming a hotter topic and we are being asked to set up tooling for companies across all markets.
Perhaps the world is going to go full circle? Are we going to require physical proof?
I doubt it, but was reminded of a project I was involved in back in the 1990’s.
I was leading a project to set up a new telephone-based insurer in Milan for Royal Insurance (as was). Their MD was determined to find a suitable office but was fixated on the need for a tall building near a motorway. I asked him why? “You’re a telephone insurer. You can be out of town.”
It turned out that Italian’s doubted insurers that just lived behind a phone. They didn’t believe the advert in the newspaper. If it was too good to be true it probably was. They didn’t trust companies they couldn’t see or touch. They needed to see evidence.
Will we all become Italian? Will we begin to doubt virtual companies? Will we demand physical proof that they exist? Or are we actually living in the world of the Matrix?
London, Easter 2015, and a crew of ageing criminals led by ringleader Brian Reader pull off an audacious heist from a vault in Hatton Garden. Diamonds, gold, jewellery and cash amongst a haul of over £20m according to Scotland Yard. A burglary that, according to the presiding Judge, Christopher Kinch, ‘…stands in a class of its own’.
What on earth does this have to do with Cyber Crime?
Well it’s great to have a physical parallel to the ethereal world of technology, and there are many lessons to learn that apply to both.
And here at AdEPT we think it’s a risk that deserves attention. It’s estimated that, on average, a cyber incidence costs an organisation $369,0001 with the loss of critical data, intellectual property and source files that can cost a company its reputation, let alone financial loss. Research also suggests that 27.9% of organisations will have a data breach in the next two years, with 61% reporting a cyber-attack in the past year.
In any risk assessment there’s a simple equation – Risk = Likelihood x Impact. With Cyber the equation is High Likelihood x High Impact = so, High Risk, therefore High Priority!
Yet, Cyber Readiness (as measured by the insurer, Hiscox) remains low – that’s despite intense regulation (GDPR et al) and a mass of education. In the Hiscox survey only 10% reached their defined Expert threshold with 74% classed as novices. This in-depth study looked at two dimensions of readiness; technology / process on the one hand, and oversight / resourcing on the other, and is well worth a read.
Back to Hatton Garden – during the heist the alarm actually went off! A security guard was dispatched to the building to investigate. After wandering round, on a quiet weekend evening, he reported that the building appeared secure and no alarm was sounding, a false alarm was declared.
The heist continued...
Human ill-discipline, lack of attention and poor processes are incredibly common as causes for cyber-crime. For example, the most common password in 2018 was ‘123456’2, with ‘password’ a close second! It’s no wonder then that every 14 seconds a business will be attacked by Ransomware, with the frequency and type of attack rising every year. Criminals are targeting the weakest link – us humans!
So, the cheapest, but potentially the most difficult, defence against Cyber Crime is trained employees. Any Cyber defence strategy should look first at making people aware of the risks and the consequences. As data files grow exponentially, with thumb drives & memory sticks allowing information to be so easily downloaded and shared, the impact of complacency can be widespread and crippling.
It’s no wonder then that there’s been a rise in Identity and Access Management (IAM) tooling. AdEPT are increasingly delivering two factor identification solutions – demanding fingerprint / evidence of ID using a second device – to prove an individuals’ identification before they are allowed to open the ‘digital door’.
The most common form of cyber protection helps here too, Endpoint Security / Antivirus. AdEPT are deploying a range of tools from market leaders such as Sophos, Symantec and McAfee that scan incoming threats and halt them before they get to that precious data.
Physical – the morphing boundary
Our Hatton Garden master criminal, Brian, and his crew spent two years planning the robbery. They visited the vault several times and obtained blueprints of the vault. They learnt that the building had been re-designed, leaving a weak point of entry – a lift shaft that gave easier access to the building. Leading in turn to a metal doorway. The thieves abseiled down the lift shaft, prized open the metal door and entered an area covered by CCTV – more on that later – a hallway perfect to house a massive drill.
So, despite the security firm’s best endeavours the ‘edge’ of the secure area in Hatton Garden had changed. This is not unlike businesses that are constantly morphing in terms of; technology, employees, buildings and working practices.
In the world of cyber, firewalls were deployed to create a clear technical ‘edge’ defence. An insurmountable barrier, digital barbed wire patrolled by cyber guard dogs. Firewalls remain a necessary defence, AdEPT deploy this technology across thousands of schools for example, but they’re no longer a solid barrier. The ‘edge’ now changes constantly with employees bringing their own devices, using their own applications, browsing the web from work devices, sharing data using memory sticks and working from home. The digital world has created a porous barrier.
Physical – the challenge of age
In Hatton Garden the vault security was old, with out of date CCTV, poor alarm systems, and weak doors. The criminals had identified all the weakness in ageing physical infrastructure.
This is no different to the systems embedded within businesses across the UK which can at times be unloved and un-maintained. There’s a great recent case study that demonstrates the risks of lack of maintenance.
The case study relates to a virus called WannaCry, where ageing Microsoft software created a technological open door for criminals.
In May 2017, IT Directors and Security professionals went white as a sheet as they learnt of the WannaCry ransomware attack, infecting unpatched systems running Microsoft. Although the NHS was not the specific target of the attack, the impact in this world alone proved significant: 34 trusts were directly infected, 80 trusts experienced some indirect disruption, and 603 primary care organisations suffered.
6,912 patients had to cancel or re-arrange appointments (including 139 patients with an urgent cancer appointment).
As a result, the NHS increased spending towards cyber by over £150m3. Truly a case of bolting the door after the horse had bolted.
It’s clear that there is no silver bullet to this type of crime but there are some basic actions that build defences, and removing the risk by continuously updating the IT estate is a necessity – not an option. It’s like fixing a car following an MOT to ensure that its safe to drive.
Can Cloud help?
At the end of the Hatton heist the criminals grabbed the hard drive, which was stored locally near the vault, and destroyed it – along with all the CCTV footage from inside the building. Yet again a low-tech security solution was easily foiled by the criminals.
Yet the risk of loss of images could, potentially, be easily remedied with storage of CCTV in the Cloud.
The Cloud is certainly a haven with expensive defences – AWS, Azure and all those other public cloud players invest massively in Cloud security. Microsoft alone fends off 7 trillion cyberthreats per day and allocates over $1 billion each year to cybersecurity4. It’s like a massive data vault – far bigger and more secure than a Hatton Garden hard drive for sure!
“Through 2022, 95% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault” Gartner
Are criminals becoming more intelligent?
You can lock and bolt the front door, electrify the fences and buy in guard dogs. But, if you leave the back door open or invite the criminal fraternity into your data ‘house’, then all that security goes to waste.
The battle is constant, evolving, and with the advent of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics cyber-attacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication.
Just like ‘Basil’, supposedly the red headed, bewigged, brains of the team, the criminals are getting more and more clever.
OMG – what can be done?
Cyber security is about people, processes and technology. We can’t blame ignorance anymore – the search term Cyber Security reveals 548,000,000 Google hits. There’s a mass of information out there.
Prevention is certainly better than fixing the resultant mess.
If Hatton Garden had undergone a risk appraisal, a cyber MOT if you will, I suspect they’d have spotted the out of date kit, the old-fashioned security and the flawed processes. They’d have probably fixed it for a little less than the £20m stolen? A range of tools exist to reduce that risk & probability equation. At AdEPT we’d recommend;
• Undertaking a risk assessmente
• Continually educating employees
• Evaluating and deploying tools
• Proactively maintaining the entire IT estate
• Understanding the boundary of your organisation
• Remembering that it’s a continuous process, as the threats morph and change/VoIP
According to the Telegraph in 2015 the Hatton Garden vault saw a floor “strewn with discarded safe deposit boxes and numerous power tools, including an angle grinder, concrete drills and crowbars.” Of the £20m stolen in the Hatton Garden robbery some £9m is apparently still unaccounted for.
Cyber-crime doesn’t leave such a physical mess, but it does leave a financial, psychological, and in many cases brand, mess. So well worth checking those people, processes and technology.
1 Hiscox Cyber Readiness Report 2019
2 SplashData annual list
3 For local services, from 2018/9 to 2020/21
4 Tech Republic article – Feb 14th 2018
If you work in IT you may have heard about Birmingham City Council ending a 13-year IT and HR contract with Capita. It’s significant news in technology circles – after all, Capita is a multi-billion-pound outsourcing giant and Birmingham City Council is the largest local authority in Europe.
Many have already questioned if the Council’s decision is a sign of things to come. Some argue that in the future, more and more organisations will abandon the long-running practice of outsourcing functions that are not core to the business. You may even be considering bringing your own services such as IT back in house – a process called ‘insourcing’. Or you may have written off the idea of ever outsourcing your IT.
Is it really that straightforward? Do IT outsourcing firms and managed service providers (MSPs) like us need to hang up our hats?
But MSPs shouldn’t rest on their laurels. So it’s worth exploring why a polarising ‘outsourcing versus insourcing’ debate is not useful for anyone, including you and your business.
Paving the way: the iPhone and Office 365
Before we consider how companies might work with MSPs in the future, we need to look back.
Let’s start with the first iPhone. Released in 2007, it is one of the few modern gadgets that I consider a true disruptor. It transformed many of the time-consuming, laborious functions of our desktop machines into an elegant, accessible mobile format. Overnight, our love-hate relationship with technology became a love affair with the smartphone. Thanks in large part to the arrival of the iPhone, we would no longer settle for unreliable internet connectivity, clunky productivity tools and fiddly email processes.
By the time smartphones had really got into full swing, including the arrival of Google’s Android, something else happened that’s crucial to the story of outsourced IT: Microsoft Office 365.
Prior to the arrival of this Cloud-based software in 2011, most businesses were wary of the Cloud and many still relied on physical software. This meant CD-ROMs or on-site servers; licensing and installation headaches; and painful upgrade processes.
When Office 365 arrived, it introduced businesses and their workforces to the Cloud. And most importantly, it did so on a huge scale.
Of course, we’d all been using the Cloud previously. The internet, emerging social media and iPods had been gently ushering us towards the concept of data being up there, somewhere. But because Microsoft Office was, and still is, so widespread, it meant there was simply no escaping the new era of the Cloud. It had arrived in the workplace to stay.
The turning point in our collective mindset
You may wonder why I’ve talked about the iPhone and Office 365. Ultimately, one is a handheld device that’s immensely popular around the world, and the other is a piece of productivity software that’s integral to the modern workplace. But it isn’t so much the literal function that matters here. It’s how they have transformed the mindsets of many.
In the case of the iPhone, it has spawned a world where people expect seamless user experience. They won’t tolerate inefficiencies in technology. They expect reliability, insist on simplicity and won’t tolerate speed that’s anything less than instant. And all of these expectations will only increase.
Meanwhile, Office 365 has shown businesses in droves that having their data in the Cloud needn’t be scary. It’s demonstrated that Cloud-based software and services are ideal for the modern workforce, where people no longer need to be chained to their desktop computer. It’s proved that Cloud software can easily grow with a business, in what’s now termed as ‘scalability’. And let’s not forget the cost savings. Like most Cloud-based services, Office 365 offers a way to reduce or remove certain aspects of capital expenditure. It can also do away with the expense and hassle of relying on, and maintaining, on-site servers.
Arguably, Office 365 has played a huge part in transforming business software – and by extension, business life. Companies large and small have now embraced the Cloud and want more of it.
What has this got to do with outsourcing and MSPs?
I’ve been working in technology for more than 20 years – through all of my career. I’ve seen the widespread adoption of mobile phones. I’ve seen the dot-com bubble burst. I’ve seen IT emerge from the dark depths of the hardware cupboard and into the boardroom.
And now, I see a common theme with so many businesses: the C-suite declaring ‘we need to move to the Cloud’.
Why is this happening?
Sometimes, senior management learns of another company, or competitor, migrating to the Cloud. And this brings out a sense of rivalry, or even prompts a reckless race to keep up.
Furthermore, using Office 365 has given the business an irresistible urge to go all-out Cloud.
Other times, the idea to move to the Cloud comes from the iPhone and Office 365 mindset that I’ve explored earlier. In such cases, staff are desperate for their business technology to mirror their personal user experience of their smartphones.
And it can go further than this. Employees are now demanding the service they experience at home in their workspace. With fibre-to-the-premise providing fast internet access, Wi-Fi coverage in every corner of the home (and garden!) and devices powerful enough to stream high-quality content and video, the workspace has to, at least, be on par.
Whatever the cue, these Cloud migration aims are totally understandable – as I’ve discussed, there are numerous, huge benefits from making the move. But, the Cloud is not an overnight fix, or a matter of a few clicks. And it shouldn’t be a decision based on the Cloud migration of a peer or competitor – especially as every organisation is different in every possible way.
Additionally, moving to the Cloud is much, much more than a matter of technology. It affects every business area: from production to HR, logistics to customer service.
It is this final point that brings me to MSPs. While some technology matters are perfectly suited to, and should be, the domain of in-house IT, a full Cloud migration requires business expertise that goes far beyond the technology department. And it’s for this reason that many businesses consult an MSP.
The changing role of the MSP
Returning to my opening gambit – the decoupling of Capita and Birmingham City Council – I’m very aware that outsourced IT firms and MSPs have attracted their fair share of controversy over the years. Some of the complaints about them – such as exorbitant fees, millstone-like contracts, lack of transparency – are entirely justified.
The positive news is that MSPs are evolving, doing so to meet the changing needs and expectations of the businesses they serve.
One example of this is the impact of the GDPR, which means MSPs now and tomorrow must take a much greater responsibility in supporting their clients’ information management and security. Another example of the changing MSP is the move away from only selling boxed hardware. This is because many companies are fully capable of handling the hardware aspect of technology – and quite rightly, will no longer accept the traditional ‘break-fix’ model of IT outsourcing of old.
As these business needs have evolved and diversified, the MSP market has been opened up. Naturally, this means there’s more choice than ever for a business looking for support with any kind of technology change. But with more choice, comes more confusion. And I see that confusion every day with businesses of all sizes and industries.
How does this all relate to your business?
I’ve focused on Cloud adoption here because it’s a dominant part of my work and one of AdEPT’s specialist areas. But if your business needs external help with any aspect of its technology, you might find yourself being baffled by choosing an IT supplier or indeed an MSP. This is because not only are there so many more providers to choose from – it’s because many providers do themselves no favours when it comes to explaining what they do and how they can help.
This is perfectly illustrated by the number of ‘as-a-service’ options now available from MSPs. There’s ‘DaaS’ or desktop-as-a-service; ‘ITaaS’ or IT-as-a-service; ‘CIaaS’ or Cloud-infrastructure-as-a-service; ‘PaaS’ or platform-as-a-service… the list goes on. My personal favourite is ‘BADaas’ which sounds like some kind of rebellious rockstar – it’s actually Biz-Application-Development-as-a-service…
It’s no wonder then, that businesses find navigating the world of MSPs intimidating before they’ve even found a provider. But it doesn’t stop there. Often, when an MSP is chosen, the negative experience can continue. And one reason for this is because too many MSPs fail to ask the right questions.
As I’ve described above, I’ve encountered many companies whose reason for getting in touch is ‘we want to move to the Cloud’. It’s at this point that the plan of action can go the right way or the wrong way. So, when I’m faced with such a statement, I’ll ask ‘Just what is it you want to achieve?’ or more simply, ‘Why?’
I never ask this to be obstructive. Instead, I’m playing my role in being a responsible MSP – one that goes beyond pushing technology for technology’s sake. It’s a question that sets out to unearth the real business needs and ensure, as a MSP, we’re going to make a genuine difference to your business.
Asking the right questions at the start is, of course, the tip of the iceberg and I could say much more on this, but that’s a blog in itself.
Instead, I’ll touch briefly on the other aspects of an MSP that should be a dealmaker for your business – now and in the future. A good MSP takes time to understand your business from the outset; a great MSP is ahead of technological evolution, not reacting to change when it’s too late; and an exceptional MSP invests in every phase of the relationship, from presales to support. These are the qualities that will make or break tomorrow’s MSPs and the businesses they serve.
By reading this blog, you’ve hopefully learned why the ‘outsourcing versus insourcing’ debate that’s spilling over from the public sector isn’t black and white. You’ve hopefully seen why and how MSPs are changing – and what businesses should now expect from those providers. And above all else, I hope you’ve had a taster of how an MSP should be helping your business.
Microsoft Office has been one of the largest industry forces for a long time and their subscription-based SaaS, Office 365 is no exception.
One of the reasons for this is that it has been designed specifically to help businesses of any size grow.
What is Included in Office 365?
First and foremost, Office 365 includes the ability to download and install desktop versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote (as well as Access and Publisher on PC only). This is backed up with 1TB of cloud storage as well as 50GB of dedicated email storage.
Each license allows for 5 registered devices to have the Office apps installed and they will always be kept up-to-date.
The Benefits of Using Office 365
Small businesses can easily become the target for hackers. This is due to the difficulty these companies often face when it comes to investing in strong cybersecurity.
Office 365 comes with strong encryption that will protect your data at the same level as enjoyed by large enterprises.
Helps with Work Organisation
Office 365 will ensure that your company’s emails, calendar and contacts are always synchronised so everyone knows where to look in case of any last-minute changes.
This works across all devices too, so it is possible to make a change using a smartphone straight after a meeting safe in the knowledge it will be available immediately on the office computers.
Large Backup Storage
The professional Office 365 package comes with 1TB of cloud storage that can be used to back up anything. This is on top of a dedicated 50GB allowance that is set aside for emails. With 1TB of space, it is a simple matter to back up the entire contents of one or more hard drives.
Even if there was no storage plan in place and every single file was always backed up and no email ever deleted, it would take a long time to use up all the available space. With a little forward planning, there is little reason to ever need more.
Flexibility is the key word when it comes to running any modern business. It is no longer enough to be limited to a single office with several computers. For any business to do well, everyone involved needs to be able to access software and materials anywhere at any time.
Thanks to its cloud-based software, Office 365 allows you to work anywhere with an Internet connection with little to no fuss.
One of the major advantages of cloud-based software is the ability for multiple users to collaborate in real time. With Office 365, it is possible for lots of different people to be working on the same document.
This is thanks to OneDrive which is Microsoft’s cloud storage platform which not only allows files to be edited after they have been uploaded, it will also allow for synchronisation so that files can be worked with offline too.
Office 365 boasts an impressive 99.9% uptime. Between this and your SLA (service level agreement), you know that you are always going to have access to what you need.
Should there be any issues or maintenance on the horizon, you will be notified well in advance and there is a specialist dashboard that you can check just to make sure that everything is currently operating as it should be.
While there is no denying Office 365’s flexibility and power, minor problems can still arise. This will always be true regardless of which software package is used and so the best solution is often to have external IT support on hand to ensure that minor inconveniences never progress into anything worse. Dedicated support companies like Our It Dept will have the experience and knowledge to solve any issues pretty much immediately.
It always pays to utilise a service that provides more than simple tech support. The best thing for a small company is to find ways to optimise the software and solutions they have available. The most effective way to go about this is to use a company which is capable of providing advice on a broad variety of topics as well as updates on the latest cutting-edge technologies.
Office 365 is an industry leader for good reason and the software made available alongside the flexibility of cloud-based software and ample backup space make it the perfect SaaS package for small businesses.
All that is needed to get the most from it is the assistance of dedicated industry experts who can take all the extra time to troubleshoot problems and lead the way on innovative solutions so that your business can focus on fulfilling its maximum potential without having to worry. Get in touch below to find out how we can help.