All posts by Dale Walker

IT Pro 20/20: Meet the companies leaving the office for good


Dale Walker

31 Mar, 2021

For this issue of 20/20, we wanted to address a problem that most businesses will face in 2021 – the return to the office.

You’ve likely seen that a handful of companies have taken the bold decision to close their offices for good and extend the remote working policies that have worked so well during lockdown. The jury is still out on whether this will lead to long-term success, but to better understand the thought process behind such a drastic approach, we’ve spoken to those companies taking the plunge.

Elsewhere we look at the best ways to measure success in a cloud-first business, what green cloud might mean for the industry, and the pros and cons of using Slack and Microsoft Teams for inter-company communication.

We hope you enjoy reading this month’s issue. For more insight and advice, head to www.itpro.co.uk.

DOWNLOAD ISSUE 15 OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on 30 April – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

Microsoft Azure Percept promises to make edge computing a doddle


Dale Walker

2 Mar, 2021

Microsoft has announced a new platform designed to make it easy to build and operate artificial intelligence-powered technology for use in low-power edge devices, such as cameras and audio equipment.

The Azure Percept Development Kit (DK), which is available in public preview from today, promises to provide a single, end-to-end system that enables customers without coding knowledge to develop an AI product from the ground up.

The hope is that this new platform will help create a Microsoft-powered ecosystem of edge devices designed for low-power implementations, in essence replicating its success with the Windows operating system in the PC market.

The platform, announced at Microsoft Ignite, will run alongside Azure Percept Vision and Azure Percept Audio, two bolt-on services that can connect to Azure cloud services such as Azure AI, Azure Machine Learning, Azure Live Video Analytics, and Microsoft’s various IoT services.

Early concepts suggest the platform is initially aimed at use-cases involving retail and warehousing, where customers can take advantage of services like object detection, shelf analytics, anomaly detection and keyword spotting, among others.

Microsoft explained that the DK “significantly” lowers the bar for what is required to build edge technology, particularly as most implementations require some degree of engineering and data science expertise to make them a success.

“With Azure Percept, we broke that barrier,” said Moe Tanabian, Microsoft vice president and general manager of the Azure edge and devices group. “For many use cases, we significantly lowered the technical bar needed to develop edge AI-based solutions, and citizen developers can build these without needing deep embedded engineering or data science skills.”

Customers signing up to the platform will also be provided with a range of edge-enabled hardware that allows for processes like speech and image recognition to take place without requiring a connection to the cloud. Initially, this will be built by Microsoft, however, the company also confirmed that third-party manufacturers will be able to build equipment that’s certified to run on the Azure Percept platform.

“We’ve started with the two most common AI workloads, vision and voice, sight and sound, and we’ve given out that blueprint so that manufacturers can take the basics of what we’ve started,” said Roanne Sones, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s edge and platform group. “But they can envision it in any kind of responsible form factor to cover a pattern of the world.”

Microsoft’s own hardware also uses the industry-standard 80/20 T-slot framing architecture, which it claims will make it easier for customers to run pilots of their ideas with existing edge housing and infrastructure.

Elevators that are able to respond to custom voice commands, cameras that notify managers when shelves have low stock, and video streams that monitor for availability in car parks are just a few examples of how the technology could be deployed, Microsoft explained.

Azure Percept Studio, another bolt-on service, will provide step by step guides taking customers through the entire lifecycle of an edge tool, from design to implementation. Perhaps most importantly, customers using Percept Studio will also have access to AI models created by the open source community.

IT Pro 20/20: Keeping the lights on


Dale Walker

2 Mar, 2021

Welcome to the 14th issue of IT Pro 20/20, our sister title’s digital magazine.

Now that we have a better idea about when the lockdown will finally end, many of us will naturally be thinking about our return to the office. It’s likely that, having grown accustomed to remote working, for most of us this return will be phased and, depending on your role, you may find yourself able to negotiate how often you make the commute in. Some will be desperate to get moving again, while others will have taken cues from the past year to take advantage of new-found flexibility.

However, before the conversation shifts towards life after lockdown, we’ve taken the opportunity to highlight areas of our industry that have played crucial, yet often overlooked roles in this great remote working experiment.

In this issue, we look at how data centres have coped with immense pressure from customers, the benefits and pitfalls of onboarding new staff remotely, how smart cities will underpin life post-pandemic, and much more.

DOWNLOAD THE 14TH ISSUE OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on 31 March – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

IT Pro 20/20: The technology powering 2021


Dale Walker

3 Feb, 2021

Welcome to the 13th issue of IT Pro 20/20.

January always brings with it the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which serves as a showcase of emerging technology and helps set the tone for the coming year. Although 2021’s roadshow felt a little anaemic, as it was forced online for the first time, it still did the job of creating a much-needed distraction.

A part of this month’s issue covers some of our highlights of the event. CES is always a mix of technology that seeks to break the mould, and technology that reflects the zeitgeist. We saw plenty of the usual suspects, with new PC hardware, IoT technology, and new breakthroughs in TV design capturing the spotlight as they always do. Yet a great deal of technology also sought to capitalise on the pandemic, or at least the greater emphasis on remote work.

It’s important to remember that there’s plenty of innovation going on outside of CES. January also saw the release of the Raspberry Pi Pico, an even smaller addition to the already tiny family of miniature computers. The device is built from a new microcontroller technology, boasts a wide range of programmable I/O options, and supports a wide range of peripherals. We take a look at its design and use cases to see what all the fuss is about.

While the new year has brought with it shiny new toys to play with, many of you may also be feeling that same need for change in your careers. Ongoing economic disruption has made it more difficult to transition away from comfortable work and, likewise, has forced businesses to think carefully about what roles and skills they need in order to flourish. We’ve taken a look at the current market to help job seekers make sense of what skills are in demand, and help businesses create a future-proof hiring strategy.

DOWNLOAD ISSUE 13 OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on 26 February – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

IT Pro 20/20: Why tech can’t close the diversity gap


Dale Walker

1 Dec, 2020

Welcome to the tenth issue of IT Pro 20/20, our digital magazine that brings all of the previous month’s most important tech issues into clear view.

Diversity has always been a challenge for the technology industry. It’s one of those few industries that struggles to maintain a varied talent pool, with white males still taking the single biggest share of the employee demographic.

This is a problem we’ve known about for a long time, and even though the figures have improved very little in recent years, awareness has. Unfortunately, there’s a very real danger that what work UK businesses have put in to make their workforce as diverse as possible could be entirely undone by the pandemic.

When faced with shrinking budgets, it’s easy to imagine companies choosing to sideline or even close some of the newer, more costly, diversity initiatives. We also know from recent research in the US that women are more likely to be furloughed than their male colleagues as, by the nature of recent diversity efforts, women are more likely to be holding those very vulnerable entry-level positions.

In this month’s issue, we aim to show why a struggling business should start thinking of diversity as less of a business luxury and more as a route to recovery and, ultimately, a competitive advantage in a fractured post-pandemic market. We appreciate you taking the time to download IT Pro 20/20, and we hope you enjoy this month’s issue.

DOWNLOAD ISSUE 11 OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on Friday 18 December – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

IT Pro 20/20: Building a future-proof business


Dale Walker

3 Nov, 2020

Welcome to the tenth issue of IT Pro 20/20, our digital magazine that brings all of the previous month’s most important tech issues into clear view.

The coronavirus has forced every single company to re-evaluate how they do business. Strategies, verticals, and even the way employees work have all been disrupted, and the tried and tested products and services that have likely come to define your business may be in jeopardy.

It’s important to remember, however, that disruption is not inherently a bad thing. Being forced to reshape your business to fit the current climate presents an opportunity to demonstrate resilience. Businesses have spent months in damage mitigation mode – it’s now time to grow once again.

In this issue, we show that a business is only as agile as the data centre it relies on, and how new designs that embrace cutting-edge computing are providing the flexibility businesses need to enter new markets quickly. We also assess the volume of options available on the cloud market and whether this is causing fatigue for customers. You’ll find a handy guide to managing all the various risks associated with employees working outside the company firewall, and a run-through of some of the technology your business should consider investing in to really hit the ground running in 2021.

DOWNLOAD THE OCTOBER ISSUE OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

We appreciate you taking the time to download IT Pro 20/20, and we hope you enjoy this month’s issue.

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on Monday 30 November – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

IT Pro 20/20: The future of augmentation


Dale Walker

30 Sep, 2020

Welcome to the ninth issue of IT Pro 20/20, our sister title’s digital magazine that brings all of the previous month’s most important tech issues into clear view.

Given all that’s going on in the world right now, it’s easy to forget that technology is still evolving. Whether it’s changes to how we work, how we interact with the world, or how we communicate with one another, the next decade will likely be drastically different to the current one. It’s this idea that is at the core of this month’s issue.

In the first of our three exclusive features, we take a look at the role of augmented technology in business, and how transformative the technology has already been. Unlike the much-hyped virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) has proven to be an exceptionally powerful tool for many roles across a business, from front line workers to executives in a boardroom.

Elsewhere, we examine the surge of interest that many ‘touchless technology’ companies have enjoyed ever since it became apparent how dangerous the coronavirus truly was.

We also examine a technology described as the most serious AI threat we face today – deepfakes. What danger does this tech pose to society and is it really a threat to our democracy?

DOWNLOAD THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

We appreciate you taking the time to download IT Pro 20/20, and we hope you enjoy this month’s future tech-themed stories.

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on Friday 30 October – previous issues can be found here. If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.

Microsoft now has a managed service for adding chat tools to existing apps


Dale Walker

23 Sep, 2020

Microsoft has announced the launch of a fully managed service that allows developers to add an array of communication tools to existing applications in a bid to help improve how businesses connect with their employees and customers.

Described by Microsoft as a first of its kind from a major cloud provider, the fully managed service, dubbed Azure Communications Service, lets businesses add voice and video calling, SMS text messaging, and instant chat support to mobile, desktop, and web apps, regardless of platform or device.

It’s currently possible for developers to add chat capabilities to existing applications, for example, by using Azure Functions. However, this is a fairly lengthy and laborious process involving sourcing code from GitHub and manually testing the application.

Microsoft claims the new set of APIs cuts much of the complexity out of the process, allowing for new integrations to be created “in a matter of minutes” using “just a few lines of code”.

Perhaps its biggest selling point is that these functions can then be integrated alongside other Microsoft services, including Azure Cognitive Services. This means businesses will be able to deploy tools like sentiment analysis and translation on top of any chat functions they add to their apps.

New chat functions will also benefit from any tools the base application has access to, which could be particularly powerful if those apps already have access to wider business operations, such as the company’s website.

Azure Communications Service will run off the same global network that underpins Microsoft Teams, the company added, allowing for much of the backend work and ongoing maintenance to be handled entirely by Microsoft.

Microsoft also confirmed that all communications, regardless of how they are delivered, will be encrypted and adhere to GDPR and similar frameworks.

The Azure Communications Service is the latest move from Microsoft to try and expand its footprint across business communications, having already opened up Microsoft Teams to third-party applications – apps that customers may have been reluctant to abandon in favour of Teams.

According to Nick McQuire, senior vice president of Enterprise Research at CCS Insight, Microsoft has managed to position itself as a major player in what is traditionally a telecommunications role.

“Azure Communications Services takes all the experience Microsoft has gained from its remote development and communications solutions during the pandemic and turns them into key developer services,” said McQuire.

“The shift to remote everything during the pandemic has meant that developers are now more attracted by communications-based features in their applications. It’s an area of opportunity that telcos worldwide have failed to grasp over the past few years and above all, shows that Microsoft has ascended to become one of the world’s most important communications companies as well.”

Voice and video calling and live chat functionality are available today, and support for both SMS text messaging and dedicated phone numbers will arrive in October.

Microsoft simplifies security portfolio with Defender rebrand


Dale Walker

23 Sep, 2020

Microsoft has announced a host of new security updates to coincide with a strategic shift that pulls all of its detection and event management services under the new Microsoft Defender brand.

Microsoft Defender represents the “broadest resource coverage” of any security portfolio in the industry, the company claims, spanning identity protection, endpoints, cloud applications, and infrastructure, to name a few.

This means all of Microsoft’s extended detection and response (XDR) tools will now sit alongside its suite of security information and event management (SIEM) software, offered as a single umbrella brand in a bid to reduce complexity.

For customers, this new direction will take the form of two separate packages, namely Microsoft 365 Defender, tailored for end-user environments, and Azure Defender, built for cloud and hybrid infrastructure. Both of these packages bring their own product name changes, with Microsoft effectively abandoning the ‘advanced threat protection (ATP)’ theme for most products.

Microsoft 365 Defender will replace all instances of Microsoft Threat Protection, the name given to the suite of products covering identity, endpoint, email, and app security, launched just two years ago.

Included in that Microsoft 365 Defender suite is an updated version of Microsoft Defender ATP, now known as Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, bringing with it expanded support for Android and iOS devices.

Microsoft Defender for Office 365, previously known as Office 365 ATP, and Microsoft Defender for Identity, previously known as Azure ATP, will also feature as part of the Microsoft 365 Defender suite.

The second package, Azure Defender, is described as an evolution of the Azure Security Center (ASC) and repurposes a number of its tools, although the original version ASC still exists. Firstly, Azure Defender for Servers will replace the standard version of ASC, while both Azure Defender for SQL and Azure Defender for IoT will both replace their respective ASC versions. All of these will be packaged inside Azure Defender.

Aside from the name changes, Azure Defender will bring a new look with a unified dashboard inside ASC, as well as expanded protection coverage for SQL on-premises, Kubernetes, and Azure Key Vault. It will also cover industrial IoT, operational technology (OT), and building management systems, largely thanks to the acquisition of CyberX in June.

“Today we’re delivering a new set of security, compliance, and identity innovations to help all customers simplify and modernize their environments by embracing the reality that the past seven months have likely reshaped the next 10 years of security and digital transformation,” said Vasu Jakkal, corporate vice president of Microsoft Security, Compliance, and Identity, announcing the rebrand.

“We hold a differentiated view among our peers that security should not only encompass all critical aspects of security — including cybersecurity, identity and compliance — but that these components should be tightly integrated, and built right into the products and platforms that businesses are already using.”

Also updated, but still separate from the Microsoft Defender branding, is Azure Sentinel, a tool that collates all of an organisation’s security logs and threat data into one window. This has been given an updated search functionality and the option to create watchlists for specific threats. It’s also now possible to create user and entity behaviour profiles that can be paired with Microsoft’s own security research to monitor for unseen threats.

Beginning in November, Microsoft will also be cutting the cost of Azure Sentinel for a limited time, which it estimates will help a typical organisation of 3,500 users save around $1,500 per month.

IT Pro 20/20: The learning revolution starts now


Dale Walker

1 Sep, 2020

Welcome to the seventh issue of IT Pro 20/20, our digital magazine that brings all of the previous month’s most important tech issues into clear view.

The A-levels fiasco is by no means the first example of UK leadership woefully misunderstanding technology or viewing it as a panacea. Whether it’s arrogance over the development of a centralised coronavirus contact-tracing app, or senior ministers accidentally leaking Zoom IDs over Twitter, the public sector is not exactly inspiring confidence in its ability to create a tech-savvy society.

As ever with technology, it’s going to be down to the private sector to drive this change. The coronavirus has forced many companies to shrink or close entirely, leaving likely hundreds of thousands of people out of work – although unemployment is notoriously difficult to monitor.

Yet, what we’re also seeing is a surge in the number of schemes offering retraining or courses in highly-sought after skills. In fact, in this month’s issue we argue that the coronavirus pandemic is likely going to create a learning revolution. Whether it’s a surge in the use of coding websites or encouraging veterans into technology, the fractured job market could prove fertile ground for those retraining into STEM-based roles.

DOWNLOAD THE AUGUST ISSUE OF IT PRO 20/20 HERE

The next IT Pro 20/20 will be available on Wednesday 30 September – previous issues can be found here.

If you would like to receive each issue in your inbox as they release, you can subscribe to our mailing list here.