Could You Boost Your Cybersecurity With Blockchain?

Posted on : 28-11-2017 | By : Tom Loxley | In : Blockchain, Cloud, compliance, Cyber Security, Data, data security, DLT, GDPR, Innovation

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Securing your data, the smart way

 

The implications of Blockchain technology are being felt across many industries, in fact, the disruptive effect it’s having on Financial Services is changing the fundamental ways we bank and trade. Its presence is also impacting Defense, Business Services, Logistics, Retail, you name it the applications are endless, although not all blockchain applications are practical or worth pursuing. Like all things which have genuine potential and value, they are accompanied by the buzz words, trends and fads that also undermine them as many try to jump on the bandwagon and cash in on the hype.

However, one area where tangible progress is being made and where blockchain technology can add real value is in the domain of cybersecurity and in particular data security.

Your personal information and data are valuable and therefore worth stealing and worth protecting and many criminals are working hard to exploit this. In the late 90’s the data collection began to ramp up with the popularity of the internet and now the hoarding of our personal, and professional data has reached fever pitch. We live in the age of information and information is power. It directly translates to value in the digital world.

However, some organisations both public sector and private sector alike have dealt with our information in such a flippant and negligent way that they don’t even know what they hold, how much they have, where or how they have it stored.

Lists of our information are emailed to multiple people on spreadsheets, downloaded and saved on to desktops, copied, chopped, pasted, formatted into different document types and then uploaded on to cloud storage systems then duplicated in CRM’s (customer relationship management systems) and so on…are you lost yet? Well so is your information.

This negligence doesn’t happen with any malice or negative intent but simply through a lack awareness and a lack process or procedure around data governance (or a failure to implement what process and procedure do exist).

Human nature dictates we take the easiest route, combine this with deadlines needing to be met and a reluctance to delete anything in case we may need it later at some point and we end up with information being continually copied and replicated and stored in every nook and cranny of hard drives, networks and clouds until we don’t know what is where anymore. As is this wasn’t bad enough this makes it nearly impossible to secure this information.

In fact, for most, it’s just easier to buy more space in your cloud or buy a bigger hard drive than it is to maintain a clean, data-efficient network.

Big budgets aren’t the key to securing data either. Equifax is still hurting from an immense cybersecurity breach earlier this year. During the breach, cybercriminals accessed the personal data of approximately 143 million U.S. Equifax consumers. Equifax isn’t the only one, if I were able to list all the serious data breaches over the last year or two you’d end up both scarred by and bored with the sheer amount. The sheer scale of numbers here makes this hard to comprehend, the amounts of money criminals have ransomed out of companies and individuals, the amount of data stolen, or even the numbers of companies who’ve been breached, the numbers are huge and growing.

So it’s no surprise that anything in the tech world that can vastly aid cybersecurity and in particular securing information is going to be in pretty high demand.

Enter blockchain technology

 

The beauty of a blockchain is that it kills two birds with one stone, controlled security and order.

Blockchains provide immense benefits when it comes to securing our data (the blockchain technology that underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has never been breached since its inception over 8 years ago).

Blockchains store their data on an immutable record, that means once the data is stored where it’s not going anywhere. Each block (or piece of information) is cryptographically chained to the next block in a chronological order. Multiple copies of the blockchain are distributed across a number of computers (or nodes) if an attempted change is made anywhere on the blockchain all the nodes become are aware of it.

For a new block of data to be added, there must be a consensus amongst the other nodes (on a private blockchain the number of nodes is up to you). This means that once information is stored on the blockchain, in order to change or steel it you would have to reverse engineer near unbreakable cryptography (perhaps hundreds of times depending on how many other blocks of information were stored after it), then do that on every other node that holds a copy of the blockchain.

That means that when you store information on a blockchain it is all transparently monitored and recorded. Another benefit to using blockchains for data security is that because private blockchains are permissioned, therefore accountability and responsibly are enforced by definition and in my experience when people become accountable for what they do they tend to care a lot more about how they do it.

One company that has taken the initiative in this space is Gospel Technology. Gospel Technology has taken the security of data a step further than simply storing information on a blockchain, they have added another clever layer of security that further enables the safe transfer of information to those who do not have access to the blockchain. This makes it perfect for dealing with third parties or those within organisations who don’t hold permissioned access to the blockchain but need certain files.

One of the issues with blockchains is the user interface. It’s not always pretty or intuitive but Gospel has also taken care of this with a simple and elegant platform that makes data security easy for the end user.  The company describes their product Gospel® as an enterprise-grade security platform, underpinned by blockchain, that enables data to be accessed and tracked with absolute trust and security.

The applications for Gospel are many and it seems that in the current environment this kind of solution is a growing requirement for organisations across many industries, especially with the new regulatory implications of GDPR coming to the fore and the financial penalties for breaching it.

From our point of view as a consultancy in the Cyber Security space, we see the genuine concern and need for clarity, understanding and assurance for our clients and the organisations that we speak to on a daily basis. The realisation that data and cyber security is now something that can’t be taken lighted has begun to hit home. The issue for most businesses is that there are so many solutions out there it’s hard to know what to choose and so many threats, that trying to stay on top of it without a dedicated staff is nearly impossible. However, the good news is that there are good quality solutions out there and with a little effort and guidance and a considered approach to your organisation’s security you can turn back the tide on data security and protect your organisation well.

A few tips to securing data in the cloud

Posted on : 30-11-2016 | By : john.vincent | In : Cloud, Cyber Security, Data, Uncategorized

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In our view, we’ve finally reached the point where the move from internally built and managed technology to cloud based applications, platforms and compute services is now the norm. There are a few die hard “remainers” but the public has chosen – the only question now is one of pace.

Cloud platform adoption brings a host of benefits, from agility in deployment, cost efficiency, improved productivity and collaboration amongst others. Of course, the question of security is at the forefront, and quite rightly so. As I write this the rolling data breach news continues, with today being that of potentially compromised accounts at the National Lottery.

We are moving to a world where the governance of cloud based services becomes increasingly complex. For years organisations have sought to find, capture or shutdown internal pockets of “shadow IT”, seeing them as a risk to efficiency and increasing risk. In todays new world however, these shadows are more fragmented, with services and data being very much moving towards the end user edge of the corporate domain.

So with more and more data moving to the cloud, how do we protect against malicious activity, breaches, fraud or general internal misuse? Indeed, regarding the last point, the Forrsights Security Survey stated:

“Authorised users inadvertently exposing sensitive information was the most common cause of data beaches in the past 12 months.”

We need to think of the challenge in terms of people, process and technology. Often, we have a tendency to jump straight to an IT solution, so let’s come to that later. Firstly, organisations need to look at few fundamental pillars of good practice;

  1. Invest in User Training and Awareness – it is important that all users throughout and organisation understand that security is a collective responsibility. The gap between front and back office operations is often too wide, but in the area of security organisations must instil a culture of shared accountability. Understanding and educating users on the risks, in a collaborative way rather than merely enforcing policy, is probably the top priority for many organisations.
  2. Don’t make security a user problem – we need to secure the cloud based data and assets of an organisation in a way that balances protection with the benefits that cloud adoption brings. Often, the tendency can be to raise the bar to a level that both constrains user adoption and productivity. We often hear that IT are leading the positioning of the barrier irrespective of the business processes or outcomes. This tends to lead to an approach of being overly risk adverse without the context of disruption to business processes. The result? Either a winding back of the original solution or users taking the path of least resistance, which often increases risks.

On the technology side, there are many approaches to securing data in the cloud.  Broadly, these solutions have been bundled in the category of Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), which is software or a tool that sits in between the internal on-premise infrastructure and the cloud provider, be that software, platform or other kind of as-a-service. The good thing about these solutions is that they can enforce controls and policies without the need to revert to the old approach of managing shadow IT functions, effectively allowing for a more federated model.

Over recent years, vendors have come to market to address the issue through several approaches. One of the techniques is through implementing gateways that either use encryption or tokenisation to ensure secure communication of data between internal users and cloud based services. However, with these the upfront design and scalability can be a challenge given the changing scope and volume of cloud based applications.

Another solution is to use an API based approach, such as that of Cloudlock (recently purchased by Cisco). This platform uses a programmatic approach to cloud security on the key SaaS platforms such as  to address areas such as Data Loss Prevention, Compliance and Threat Protection with User and Entity Behaviour Analytics (UEBA). The last of these users machine learning to detect anomalies in cloud activities and access.

Hopefully some food for though in the challenge of protecting data in the cloud, whichever path you take.

Broadgate Predictions for 2015

Posted on : 29-12-2014 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation

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We’ve had a number of lively discussions in the office and here are our condensed predictions for the coming year.  Most of our clients work with the financial services sector so we have focused on predictions in these areas.  It would be good to know your thoughts on these and your own predictions.

 

Cloud becomes the default

There has been widespread resistance to the cloud in the FS world. We’ve been promoting the advantages of demand based or utility computing for years and in 2014 there seemed to be acceptance that cloud (whether external applications such as SalesForce or on demand platforms such as Azure) can provide advantages over traditional ‘build and deploy’ set-ups. Our prediction is that cloud will become the ‘norm’ for FS companies in 2015 and building in-house will become the exception and then mostly for integration.

Intranpreneur‘ becomes widely used (again)

We first came across the term Intranpreneur in the late ’80s in the Economist magazine. It highlighted some forward thinking organisations attempt to change culture, to foster,  employ and grow internal entrepreneurs, people who think differently and have a start-up mentality within large firms to make them more dynamic and fast moving. The term came back into fashion in the tech boom of the late ’90s, mainly by large consulting firms desperate to hold on to their young smart workforce that was being snapped up by Silicon Valley. We have seen the resurgence of that movement with banks competing with tech for the top talent and the consultancies trying to find enough people to fulfil their client projects.

Bitcoins or similar become mainstream

Crypto-currencies are fascinating. Their emergence in the last few years has only really touched the periphery of finance, starting as an academic exercise, being used by underground and cyber-criminals, adopted by tech-savvy consumers and firms. We think there is a chance a form of electronic currency may become more widely used in the coming year. There may be a trigger event – such as rapid inflation combined with currency controls in Russia – or a significant payment firm, such as MasterCard or Paypal, starts accepting it.

Bitcoins or similar gets hacked so causing massive volatility

This is almost inevitable. The algorithms and technology mean that Bitcoins will be hacked at some point. This will cause massive volatility, loss of confidence and then their demise but a stronger currency will emerge. The reason why it is inevitable is that the tech used to create Bitcoins rely on the speed of computer hardware slowing their creation. If someone works around this or utilises a yet undeveloped approach such as quantum computing then all bets are off. Also, perhaps more likely, someone will discover a flaw or bug with the creation process, short cut the process or just up the numbers in their account and become (virtually) very rich very quickly.

Mobile payments, via a tech company, become mainstream

This is one of the strongest growth areas in 2015. Apple, Google, Paypal, Amazon, the card companies and most of the global banks are desperate to get a bit of the action. Whoever gets it right, with trust, easy to use great products will make a huge amount of money, tie consumers to their brand and also know a heck of a lot more about them and their spending habits. Payments will only be the start and banking accounts and lifestyle finance will follow. This one product could transform technology companies (as they are the ones that are most likely to succeed) beyond recognition and make existing valuations seem miniscule compared to their future worth.

Mobile payments get hacked

Almost as inevitable as bitcoins getting hacked. Who knows when or how but it will happen but will not impact as greatly as it will on the early crypto-currencies.

Firms wake up to the value of Data Science over Big Data

Like cloud many firms have been talking up the advantages of big data in the last couple of years. We still see situations where people are missing the point. Loading large amounts of disparate information into a central store is all well and good but it is asking the right questions of it and understanding the outputs is what it’s all about. If you don’t think about what you need the information for then it will not provide value or insight to your business. We welcome the change in thinking from Big Data to Data Science.

The monetisation of an individual’s personal data results in a multi-billion dollar valuation an unknown start-up

Long Sentence… but the value of people’s data is high and the price firms currently pay for it is low to no cost. If someone can start to monetise that data it will transform the information industry. There are companies and research projects out there working on approaches and products. One or more will emerge in 2015 to be bought by one of the existing tech players or become that multi-billion dollar firm. They will have the converse effect on Facebook, Google etc that rely on that free information to power their advertising engines.

Cyber Insurance becomes mandatory for firms holding personal data (OK maybe 2016)

It wouldn’t be too far fetched to assume that all financial services firms are currently compromised, either internally or externally. Most firms have encountered either direct financial or indirect losses in the last few years. Cyber or Internet security protection measures now form part of most companies’ annual reports. We think, in addition to the physical, virtual and procedural protection there will be a huge growth in Cyber-Insurance protection and it may well become mandatory in some jurisdictions especially with personal data protection. Insurance companies will make sure there are levels of protection in place before they insure so forcing companies to improve their security further.

Regulation continues to absorb the majority of budgets….

No change then.

We think 2015 is going to be another exciting year in technology and financial services and are really looking forward to it!

 

Highlights of 2014 and some Predictions for 2015 in Financial Technology

Posted on : 22-12-2014 | By : richard.gale | In : Innovation

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A number of emerging technology trends have impacted financial services in 2014. Some of these will continue to grow and enjoy wider adoption through 2015 whilst additional new concepts and products will also appear.

Financial Services embrace the Start-up community

What has been apparent, in London at least, is the increasing connection between tech and FS. We have been pursuing this for a number of years by introducing great start-up products and people to our clients and the growing influence of TechMeetups, Level39 etc within the financial sector follows this trend. We have also seen some interesting innovation with seemingly legacy technology  – Our old friend Lubo from L3C offers mainframe ‘on demand’ and cut-price, secure Oracle databases an IBM S3 in the cloud! Innovation and digital departments are the norm in most firms now staffed with clever, creative people encouraging often slow moving, cumbersome organisations to think and (sometimes) act differently to embrace different ways of thinking. Will FS fall out of love with Tech in 2015 – we don’t think so. There will be a few bumps along the way but the potential, upside and energy of start-ups will start to move deeper into large organisations.

Cloud Adoption

FS firms are finally facing up to the cloud. Over the last five years we have bored too many people within financial services talking about the advantages of the cloud. Our question ‘why have you just built a £200m datacentre when you are a bank not an IT company?’ was met with many answers but two themes were ‘Security’ and ‘We are an IT company’…. Finally, driven by user empowerment (see our previous article on ‘user frustration vs. empowerment) banks and over financial organisations are ’embracing’ the cloud mainly with SaaS products and IaaS using private and public clouds. The march to the cloud will accelerate over the coming years. Looking back from 2020 we see massively different IT organisations within banks. The vast majority of infrastructure will be elsewhere, development will take place by the business users and the ‘IT department’ will be a combination of rocket scientist data gurus and procurement experts managing and tuning contracts with vendors and partners.

Mobile Payments

Mobile payments have been one of the discussed subjects of the past year. Not only do mobile payments enable customers to pay without getting their wallets out but using a phone or wearable will be the norm in the future. With new entrants coming online every day, offering mobile payment solutions that are faster and cheaper than competitors is on every bank’s agenda. Labelled ‘disruptors’ due to the disruptive impact they are having on businesses within the financial service industry (in particular banks), many of these new entrants are either large non-financial brands with a big customer-base or start-up companies with fresh new solutions to existing issues.

One of the biggest non-financial companies to enter the payments sector in 2014 was Apple. Some experts believe that Apple Pay has the power to disrupt the entire sector. Although Apple Pay has 500 banks signed up and there is competition from card issuers to get their card as the default card option under Apple devices, some banks are still worried that Apple Pay and other similar service will make their branches less important. If Apple chose to go into retail banking seriously by offering current accounts then the banks would have plenty more to worry them.

Collaboration

The fusion of development, operations and business teams to provide agile, focussed solutions has been one of the growth areas in 2014. The ‘DevOps’ approach has transformed many otherwise slow, ponderous IT departments into talking to their business & operational consumers of their systems and providing better, faster and closer-fit applications and processes. This trend is only going to grow and 2015 maybe the year it really takes off. The repercussions for 2016 are that too many projects will become ‘DevOpped’ and start failing through focussing on short term solutions rather than long term strategy.

Security

Obviously the Sony Pictures hack is on everyone’s mind at the moment but protection against cyber attack from countries with virtually unlimited will, if not resources, is a threat that most firms cannot protect against. Most organisations have had a breach of some type this year (and the others probably don’t know it’s happened). Security has risen up to the boardroom and threat mitigation is now published on most firms annual reports. We see three themes emerging to combat this.

– More of the same, more budget and resource is focussed on organisational protection (both technology and people/process)
– Companies start to mitigate with the purchase of Cyber Insurance
– Governments start to move from defence/inform to attacking the main criminal or political motivated culprits

We hope you’ve enjoyed our posts over the last few years and we’re looking forward to more in 2015.

Twitter.com/broadgateview

 

 

Cloud as an “Innovation Enabler”

Posted on : 30-06-2014 | By : john.vincent | In : Cloud

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It seems that most people we come across in our daily activities now agree that cloud computing is a key disrupter to “traditional” technology service delivery. We no longer start conversations with “let’s define what we mean by cloud computing”, “cloud means different things to different people” or having to ensuring all documents have descriptions of public, private and hybrid cloud as laid out by NIST (the  National Institute of Standards and Technology).

People get cloud now. Of course, there are still naysayers and those that raise the security, compliance or regulatory card, but those voices are now becoming fainter (Indeed, if you look closer you’ll often find that what it actually stems from is a cultural fear, such as loss of control).

If we look at the evolution and adoption of cloud technology, it has predominantly been focused around two business drivers, efficiency and agility. The first of these took some time just from an economic business case perspective. As with most new technologies or ideologies, economies of scale create the tipping point for accelerating adoption but we have now reached the point where the pure cost benefits of on-demand infrastructure are compelling when compared to the internally managed alternative.

The agility angle requires more of a shift in the operating model and mindset for technology organisations. CIOs are generally used to owning and managing infrastructure in “tranches” – deploying additional compute capability for new applications or removing it for consolidation, rationalisation and changes in business strategy.

What cloud technologies provide is the capability for matching demand and supply of compute resource without step changes. To deliver this, however, requires improved forecasting, provisioning and monitoring processes within the technology organisation.

So that’s where most organisations have positioned the cloud. However, what about using cloud to drive business innovation?

A recent McKinsey study on Cloud and Innovation made the following point:

The problem in many cases is that adopting cloud technologies is an IT initiative, which means that cloud solutions are all around improving IT and IT productivity. But that’s not where growth is going to come from. . . Incremental investments in productivity don’t drive growth. . . Investments need to go into innovation and disruptive business models . . . Unless companies are asking themselves how to use the cloud to disrupt their own business models or someone else’s, then adopting the cloud is just another IT project.

This observation encapsulates the current situation well – we often see cloud in the category of “another IT project”. We also saw similar with the whole “Big Data” hype (not that we like that label) in recent years when some IT organisations were building capabilities with products like Hadoop without really knowing what the business objectives or value were. Sound familiar?

Building further on this, we see the problem with driving innovation through cloud based technology as two-fold.

Firstly, many organisations still struggle to foster innovation, whether within the company boundaries or via external ventures and partnerships. We have written about this in previous articles (here as related to innovation in banks). Although things are developing with companies building “Digital Business Units” as a complete separate entity (staffed with both business and IT stakeholders), or sponsoring/funding start-up programmes, it is still too slow. Sadly, innovation is too often just an objective on a performance appraisal which was “achieved” through something fairly uninspiring.

The second point is that relating cloud technology as an enabler to innovation requires a high degree of abstraction between current and future state. It needs people to work together that understand and can shape;

  • The current value of a business and history from a people, process, asset and customer perspective
  • How cloud technology can innovate and underpin new digital channels, such as mobile, social, payments, the internet-of-things and the like
  • How to change the mindset of peer C’level executives to embrace the “art of the possible” – to take decisions that will bring a step change in the companies client services

The challenge facing many organisations is that the shift to innovative cloud based services, which connects clients, services, data and devices on a potentially huge scale, is not supported by traditional technology architectures. It jars with the old, tried and tested way of designing technology infrastructure within a defined boundaries.

However, if organisations do not adapt and innovate then the real threat comes from those companies who know nothing more than “innovating in the cloud”. They started there and use it not only as an efficiency and agility tool but to deliver new and disruptive cloud based business services. To compete, traditional organisations will need to evolve their cloud based innovation.

Sinking in a data storm? Ideas for investment companies

Posted on : 30-06-2013 | By : richard.gale | In : Data

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All established organisations have oceans of data and only very basic ways to navigate a path through it

This data builds up over time through interaction with clients, suppliers and other organisations. It is usually stored in different ways on disconnected systems and documents

Trying to Identify what it means on a single system is a big enough challenge, trying to do this across a variety of applications is a much bigger problem with different meaning and interpretations of the fields and terms in the system

How can a company get a ‘360’ view of their client when they have different identifiers in various applications and there is no way of connecting them together. How can you measure the true value of your client when you can only see a small amount of the information you hold about them.

Many attempts have been made to join and integrate these data sets (through architected common data structures, data warehouses, messaging systems, business intelligence applications etc) but it has proved a very expensive and difficult problem to solve. These kind of projects take a long time to implement and the business has often moved on by the time they are ready. In addition early benefits are hard to find so these sorts of projects can often fall victim to termination if a round of cost cutting is required.

So what can be done? Three of the key problems are identification of value from data, duration & costs of data projects and ability to deal with a changing business landscape.

There is no silver bullet but we have been working with a number of Big Data firms and have found a key value from them is the ability to quickly load large volumes of data (both traditional database and unstructured documents, text, multi-media). This technology is relatively cheap and the hardware required is both generic and cheap and again can be easily sourced from cloud vendors.

Using a Hadoop based data store on Amazon cloud or a set of spare servers enables large amounts of data to be uploaded and made available for analysis.

So that can help with the first part, having disparate data in one place. So how to start extracting additional value from that data?

We have found a good way is to start asking questions of the data – “what is the total value of business client X does with my company?” or “what is our overall risk if this counterparty fails?” or “what is my cost of doing business with supplier A vs. supplier B?” if you start building question sets against the data and test & retest you can refine the questions, data and results and answers with higher levels of confidence start appearing. What often happens is that the answers create new questions and so answers etc.

There is nothing new about using data sets to enquire and test but the emerging Big Data technologies allow larger, more complex sets of data to be analysed and cheaper cloud ‘utility’ computing power makes the experimentation economically viable.

What is also good about this is that as the business grows and moves on – to new areas, systems or processes then loading the new data sets should be straightforward and fast. The questions can be re-run and results reappraised quickly and cheaply.

As we have discussed previously we think the most exciting areas within Big Data are the Data science and analytics – find which questions to ask and refining the results.

Visualisation of these results is another area where we see some exciting developments and we will be writing an article on this soon.

 

 

Education – How can technology help?

Posted on : 28-03-2012 | By : richard.gale | In : General News

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The development of the Raspberry Pi, (a £30 computer designed to give the next generation of children programming skills) started a few of us at Broadgate thinking about technology and education – Are there ways that schools and other organisations could utilise some of the current technology trends?

 

Background

ICT in the classroom has changed radically over the last 30 years. In the 1980s there existed  ‘the school computer’ where a select group of students could spend lunch-times and evenings writing programmes in incomprehensible languages resulting in simple calculators or battleship type games. Now computers are embedded in homes, offices and schools – the UK GCSE ICT course now includes a full project management lifecycle study from initial requirements gathering to system implementation. Outside the classroom computers are used for all the usual business processes including pupil records, finance, scheduling and communications.

In the UK the Professor Steve Furber of Royal Society  criticised the skills of ICT teachers (for example only 35% have a specific qualification in the subject contrasting with 74% of maths teachers) and teaching and proposed the standalone subject be scrapped. He said that IT was so important it should be part of the core curriculum integrated into schools to improve digital literacy alongside reading, writing and arithmetic.

 

Our Broad Thoughts

Integrating technology into the core of the curriculum is key and we think the opportunities for technology to improve, accelerate and enhance the educational experience for both pupils and teachers are huge.

A few of our ideas are below and we’d welcome your thoughts on these and other areas.

 

1. Social Media – collaborative approach

This is an area were the pupils excel and, as a rule, are ahead of the teachers. These technical natives have grown up with technology and the use of social networks is a natural extension of them. They are used for updating friends, promoting themselves, discussing & arguing and sharing information. Are there ways schools can utilise this technology and more importantly energy & enthusiasm?

The key element of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc etc. is socialising and sharing ideas. Discussions started in the classroom can be extended to home/remote working. These often happen informally amongst pupils but could have added value if teachers could interact and assist. Schools could create ecosystems for collaborative working. Initially it may be difficult to attract pupils to the school created areas so a more successful approach may be for the pupils to create and teachers to join. Obviously there are risks to this but the idea that there be a shared area for thoughts and ideas without negativity in a safe space.

 

2. BYOD/Mobility – help or hindrance?

Many pupils now carry smartphones some are starting to carry iPads too. These can be viewed negatively from a school perspective as they can, at worst, be a distraction in class and potentially a cheating and bullying device.

So, accepting they are not going away, how can the positive aspects of smartphones be utilised?

Simple techniques such as using calendar facilities to upload the class timetables, reminders for homework, coursework etc. Alerts for taking in gym kit could be pushed out to pupils (and parents) devices. Obviously this does not completely remove ‘The dog ate my blackberry’ issue for teachers but it should help!

Coursework, homework and useful reference material & links can be also pushed up to phones to consolidate knowledge and aide pupils.

Even more useful would be to think how people use their phones and tablets, as well as communicating they are great research tools and could be used within the classroom situation helping finding different viewpoints on historical events for instance (and so helping improve the critical thinking of children as there are so many different and potentially inaccurate ‘facts’ out there –  “Always check your sources!” as my history teacher used to say).

Tablets and iPads in particular are very exciting tools for learning. They move away from the conformity of keyboards and mice and can make learning truly interactive. They are starting to be adopted in schools but we think there is a great potential to radically change the classroom and learning experience.

Obviously not all pupils can afford smartphones so to avoid technology related poverty trap, less well-off pupils should be provided with the same phones/tablets. Cash rich technology organisations should be approached to assist and a need mechanism could be introduced such as that for school dinners. Also parents’ wishes need to be taken into account as the age that a child is allowed to use a phone can vary widely.

 

3. Data Intelligence – Capturing Trends

As with any organisation there are large amounts of data contained in multiple stores. Also as with any other organisation that data is often not connected with other relevant sources so the information value of that data is lost.

One of our colleagues moved from financial services to education and was surprised by the lack of management information available to the teaching team. The data is there but it was not being translated into meaningful information.

There must be potential to link an individual teachers/class/subject results to identify trends. E.g. if the interim test results for the year 8 history class is going down, is it because the course work has been modified, there is a new teacher or the pupils socio-economic make up has changed? A good business intelligence application can trawl the data to identify the causes and so the appropriate remedial actions taken.

Similarly if maths A level results suddenly improve, what are the reasons for this and how can then they be applied elsewhere (internally or externally see Communications below)

If an individual pupils attainment levels started dropping off then additional attention could be provided to that student to help them get back on track and also identify and help hopefully resolve the underlying cause of the issue.

Other areas which may be more radical may involve gathering the information and identifying the better performing areas within or across schools including measurements such as a ‘cost per GCSE’ or ‘Entry/Exit attainment improvement’ of pupils.

 

4. Communications – sharing

Schools can sometimes be inward looking. Often teachers stay in one school for a considerable time. This is great for continuity and progression but may result in lost opportunities for innovation and changes that are happening in the extended educational community. Some schools encourage visits to other schools, conferences and courses can help here and there is big opportunity to take this further.

Businesses utilise management consultants to help improve organisations for efficiency or growth with the view to build revenue and profits.

Could information sharing, more inter-school communications, best practice and teaching artefact sharing help schools and teaching? Information is now available locally, nationally and internationally so can be shared and used amongst educational establishments.

 

5. Cloud Computing – Who needs infrastructure?

Most schools have a room/office with the computers/servers. As IT requirements grew in terms of finance, pupils’ records, assessments, operational and staff information the amount and complexity of equipment expanded often requiring dedicated resources to support and change. As we have been saying to our clients, with the advent of Cloud and Software as a Service the need for this is reducing to the point where the default should be for someone else to host, manage and support a schools technology infrastructure.

Obviously, as with any sensitive information, the question of student data privacy and security needs to be addressed. This should already be the case and the existing policies should be proved by any potential vendor and tested regularly by the educational authority.

 

6. Security – Paramount

The most important part of the use of technology is pupil safety and confidentiality. This is obvious and needs to be kept in the forefront of any discussion in regard to the introduction of a system whether it is IT or other mechanism.

 

Final thoughts

The opportunities for technology to help improve schools is both immense and exciting, this is not an area we have worked in but are really interested in stimulating a debate and seeing if we can assist in any way. Every time we help people outside our core business areas of finance IT we find not only do we enjoy it but we too learn a great deal from different working structures and cultures.

“If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow” John Dewey – innovation & technology can help us help the next generation.

 

 

From CIO to CEO – Can clouds break glass ceilings?

Posted on : 24-11-2011 | By : richard.gale | In : Cloud

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As technology becomes even more entwined in the fabric of organisations, the opportunities for technology executives will increase. Will a CIO’s potential promotion to CEO be as commonplace as the CFO or COO in the next few years? Historically, with a few technology industry exceptions, it is rare for CIOs of organisations to become CEOs. CEOs either come from the profit-making, client side of the business or the financial area. CIOs are generally seen as managing a silo and being a cost centre rather than being a part of business growth.

How can cloud computing change this? Cloud infrastructure has been hyped to be the answer to almost every technology issue and we think it does have great potential. However, will it change the make-up of a CIO and go as far as to alter the way businesses view them enough to take the chair at the top table?

Well, we think that the IT department in a significant number of organisations will transform radically over the next few years. Let’s take universal banks as an example. Why would a global bank build and operate £200m datacentres? It is nothing to do with their core business and has significant financial, personnel and regulatory complexities. They only do it because they have to. They have vast processing requirements and need to support a huge level of increasing demand. Furthermore, new technologies are always breaking through so the equipment, skills and services constantly have to be upgraded and renewed.

Cloud or Utility computing fundamentally changes this model. If computing is seen as another resource to be switched on and off as required (with an associated usage based charging model) then the basic questions to be answered are:

–          What is the cost of supply compared with others?

–          How reliable, safe and secure is the supply?

–          How flexible and appropriate are the providers?

Obviously it is unlikely that all of the major banks’ IT operations would be placed in the cloud, but it will become the exceptions that are not in the cloud rather than the default.

The traditional IT department would then shrink down to very specific IT functions that were not suited to be run elsewhere. Obviously business-focused change and delivery teams will be the core functions and will keep on growing. Another focus of the ‘IT Department 2016’ will be on management of the demand and supply of technology with vendors. Infrastructure IT will become a relationship management and negotiation function requiring people to change their skillset radically or a different set of resources altogether. The emphasis will be on finding the most appropriate execution venue with external suppliers for an application rather than building the disk or server farm to house it.

So how will this impact the CIO and their future career direction?

–          The move to utility computing will enable CIOs to focus more or real business value and change.

–          CIOs will have to be even more business-orientated, managing external suppliers and their internal customers.

–          CIOs are less likely to be dismissed as ‘techies’ as they will no longer manage large technology-led departments & datacentres.

–          They will be more involved in the strategic future of organisations as the commodity aspects fall away

The modern CIO is already on this road and the future will further embed IT into the backbone of firms.

However, being an essential part of the fabric of an organisation is not enough in itself to get the leading role. Other aspects which are common to CEOs are needed such as the ability to have an external focus, international or overseas experience and proven business experience and qualifications. The business sector also matters – technology & manufacturing organisations currently have many more CIO to CEO promotions than financial services, for instance. But there can be little doubt that the impact of cloud could play a small but important part in ensuring that more CIOs become CEOs in the future.

 

The virtual workforce for the virtual company – The People Cloud

Posted on : 25-09-2011 | By : richard.gale | In : Cloud

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Many companies now embrace working from home and there can be several drivers for this, motivation of the workforce, flexibility, geographical factors and the basic cost of an office desk. A major factor in allowing the growth of this has been technology and communications improvements.

Now companies are moving to the next stage, utilising the technology to revolutionise business sectors allowing organisations to grow and thrive where a few years ago they couldn’t even exist.

We are monitoring and have worked with a number of these fledging organisations and are encouraged by the game changing world they are bringing to their clients whilst forcing the incumbents to think and improve their businesses.

Arise – A virtual call centre

The growth in call centres, the subsequent migration to off shore centres and the falling rates of customer satisfaction has been well documented elsewhere. Aspire (www.aspire.com) is a fast growing virtual call centre organisation that, through the use of clever technology, allows organisations to have a flexible, cost effective solution to changes in demand for their support & customer units whilst also providing an on-shore service. In addition the workforce has complete control over the hours and times they work encouraging many more people back into the workplace.

  •  Clients can switch on demand whenever they like with a same country workforce with knowledge of their industry
  • Workers can work when they like for however long they want. There is no commuting or time wasted allowing work really to fit around home life
  • Technology is integral to this firm – in addition to training all the team need are a computer and internet connection

Aspire – A virtual legal firm

The Economist recently published an article (http://www.economist.com/node/21525907) outlining the success of Aspire (www.aspire.com) – a Washington DC based law firm that invested heavily to create a usable and productive virtual workplace, allowed lawyers to work the hours they wanted and most importantly provided fixed price quotes for their clients. This provided certainty for the users, enabled a wider net for the workforce (including highly qualified and experienced parents of young children) and by the separation of the selling/support from the legal work allowed the laywers to focus on what they knew – the law.

  • Technology enabled the organisation to exist (multiple millions of dollars were invested before the company started trading)
  • This same technology allowed and encouraged part-time/flexible working whilst delivering the clients results
  • Data capture and analysis from previous work to allow fixed priced deals to be offered with small amounts of error

Flexforce Professionals – a virtual staffing firm

This company (www.flexforceprofressionals.com) shows how to get value from highly capable, skilled people that may not be available to work full-time (and more) at conventional firms. Parents cannot or do not want to be committed to careers which require extended days in the office or travelling. Flexforce was founded by three working mothers highlights the value for clients of using this ‘missing’ talent. Its clients get a highly skilled and motivated workforce and their team can work alongside family commitments with a high degree of flexibility.

The cloud should not just be seen as a computing concept – the workforce can now be in the cloud too – the power of switching on additional call centre, legal and many other services are already there and will be a significant part of the next stage of evolution of business and technology.

 

Clouds, Grids & Meters – The commoditisation of computing. Are there blue skies ahead?

Posted on : 07-05-2011 | By : richard.gale | In : Cloud, Data, Innovation

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In the last year or so Cloud technologies seem to be everywhere, every bank’s technology department is desperately building private clouds, and most vendors are re-badging  their services as Cloud products.

Cloud computing is advertised on television &  the Underground in London – even my mum knows about the Cloud.

Gartner’s Hype Cycle shows Cloud technologies are currently near the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ and are ready to fall into the ‘Trough of disillusionment’.

Gartner Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing, 2010 (c) Gartner Inc

Cloud computing is and will be a significant part of the future of computing technology – basically because it makes sense to utilise only what you need when you need it – as you do with electricity, water and gas.

Without the hype Cloud will become a utility.  Why would anyone want to spend money on hardware, infrastructure, real-estate, support, licences and resources when there are computing utility companies out there ready to supply you with reliable, secure computing power on demand from their extensive, global grid.

We think a couple other references from the supply of utilities and the market place are crossing over to the computing world:

Metering

 

The location of a electricity meter within your home is a given. It provides both you and the supply company with common reference point the amount of power consumed.

In most IT organisations the usage processing power is more granular, it is generally bought by the server, the processor or maybe a proportion of the machine and charged whether the power is utilised or not. This is changing with the provision of first virtualised and now cloud based services but does metering make sense in this context?

A number of challenges need to be addressed in order for this to work. Your household supply is generally from one provider supplying all the power. The electricity company itself will purchase power from multiple suppliers and sources but you have one retailer.

With Cloud there are multiple vendors potentially both internal and external to your organisation that want to supply you directly with computing resources. It is likely the larger organisations would have more than one supplier for different purposes, pricing or risk mitigation purposes – the hybrid cloud.

There are opportunities here for service companies to provide the metering capability whilst managing the wholesale suppliers of computing – this model could result in better prices for clients as the metering company’s bulk purchasing power should drive the ‘cost per CPU tick’ down.

Smart metering is currently a hot topic in the utilities world and a convergence of computing, electricity & other utilities is likely in the near future.

­­­Virtual Marketplace and Exchanges

 

Amazon constantly innovates to provide new services and products which has kept it the number one online retailer for years. The success of the ideas varies but the introduction of a virtual marketplace where other vendors can sell using the Amazon site now provides a significant slice of revenue for the company.

Could this be applied to computing power & resources? There is no reason why not – sellers of product could advertise their products and organisations could ‘click and buy’.

As these products are commoditised then the next logical step is the construction of a Cloud Exchange with many buyers and sellers in the market with a constantly changing price depending on demand and supply. A futures market of computing power with derivatives trading on trends and market intelligence would surely follow.

Cloud computing is growing significantly and Forrester expect it to expand from $40B today to $240B by 2020 (differing slightly from the Gartner view) with the significant part of that Software as a Service. We think that Business processes as a Service are the area where a significant advantage can be created from the Cloud and are currently working with our partners to build a strategy to progress this.

It will be interesting to see if and how far organisations will use the cloud for their core revenue generating applications – currently the appetite is very limited due to concerns over security, control & reliability as highlighted in Amazon’s cloud recent outage.

Concerns over hidden costs (such as transition/migration costs, architectural changes & integration aspects) are starting to rise as maturity of the model progresses.

The book is open on how long it is before Cloud becomes so part of the normal world that it ceases to be mentioned – on the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ in Gartner’s words.