SAP and Qualtrics debut Concur Experience Optimizer for hybrid workplaces

Praharsha Anand

28 Oct, 2021

SAP and Qualtrics have joined forces to streamline travel and expense management for hybrid workplaces.

Dubbed Concur Experience Optimizer, the jointly developed solution combines Qualtrics’ employee experience management platform with SAP’s Concur data.

Organisations can also capitalise on the expertise of SAP Concur Experience Management consultants, included within the platform, to implement continuous employee feedback loops.

“Our research shows that demand for business travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels, but getting the employee experience right is more nuanced and complicated than ever before,” said Jay Choi, chief product officer at Qualtrics. 

Choi added, “It’s critical for organisations to understand how employees feel about the new world of travel and use that experience data to meet their evolving health and safety needs.”

Concur Experience Optimizer offers critical insights into employee buying decisions and organisational spending patterns, allowing early detection of potential saving opportunities and better coordination of policies and processes.

Businesses can also track employee sentiment with science-backed feedback templates and analyse the results with simple, intuitive dashboards that correlate sentiment with operational data metrics.

Additionally, the platform aids organisations in identifying risk factors in employee programs, preventing non-compliant and potentially fraudulent expenses.

“People are a company’s greatest asset, and it’s no secret that retaining employees has become even more critical,” said Mike Koetting, area lead of SAP Concur solution at SAP. 

“A company’s travel and expense programs can directly impact an employee’s experience. Concur Experience Optimizer helps organisations understand the reasons behind employee behavior so they can make adjustments that are in line with both employee sentiment and business objectives.”

LinkedIn rolls out freelance marketplace globally following successful US trial

Sabina Weston

28 Oct, 2021

LinkedIn has rolled out a new feature designed to help freelancers access new job opportunities, akin to services like Fiver and Upwork.

Service Marketplace, which was previously only available as a beta to select LinkedIn users in the US, can now be accessed by freelancers all over the world, including the UK.

The feature allows users to find freelancers or project providers through a vast variety of 250 job categories, with opportunities ranging from accounting and consulting to information technology and software development.

Freelancers and project providers can find each other through the Search function, or by exploring the project categories, with all projects described in the Details. If interested, freelancers and project providers can then communicate through messages to find out more about the job, and after it’s finalised, they can rate each other through a five-star system.

Service Marketplace is based on LinkedIn’s pre-existing ProFinder tool, with the Microsoft subsidiary having started integrating “the best elements of Profinder into the LinkedIn platform” in 2020, according to LinkedIn senior communications manager Amanda Purvis.

“We’ve begun helping our service providers integrate their Profinder data to Service Pages and this will continue over the coming months. This will be an incredible opportunity for providers to increase their reach and gain more visibility to the LinkedIn community. Providers can expect to get regular updates from us as we evolve our service provider experience,” Purvis told the AIM Group last month.

Service Marketplace can be seen as LinkedIn’s response to freelance-focused platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork, which have capitalised on the growing number of workers joining the so-called gig economy.

Although severely hit by the financial downturn during the pandemic, freelancers constitute approximately 4.3 million out of the 32.4 million people employed in the UK, down from just over 5 million in January 2020, according to Statista.

In the US, where Service Marketplace was first trialled and rolled out, the pandemic fuelled the popularity of the gig economy, with the growth of temporary contracts attributed to the mass shift to remote working. In April 2021, the US saw a 25% increase in the number of gigs completed per day, raising questions about the sustainability of the type of work post-pandemic.

The news follows LinkedIn’s quarterly earnings report, with the company announcing this week that its revenue for Q3 was up 42% year over year.

Google and Microsoft smash estimates on strong cloud growth

Connor Jones

27 Oct, 2021

Google and Microsoft reported their latest quarterly earnings on Tuesday with cloud services and hybrid work proving a boon for both tech giants. 

Microsoft announced that for Q1 2022, it recorded $45.3 billion (£32.9 billion) in revenue, an increase of 22%, while profits were also up an impressive 48% at $20.5 billion (£14.9 billion).

Google’s Q3 2021 earnings revealed a continuation of its long-running track record of smashing revenue figures year after year. It amassed reveue of $65.1 billion (£47.4 billion) for the three month period, which represents a a 41% increase compared to Q3 in 2020 which stood at  $46.1 billion (£33.5 billion).

Following the earnings announcement, Google’s share price soared just shy of 18 points (0.65%) while Microsoft enjoyed a similar increase of 0.64%.

Commenting on the news, Sundar Pichai, CEO at Alphabet and Google, said: “Five years ago, I laid out our vision to become an AI-first company. This quarter’s results show how our investments there are enabling us to build more helpful products for people and our partners.

“Ongoing improvements to Search, and the new Pixel 6, are great examples. And as the digital transformation and shift to hybrid work continue, our Cloud services are helping organisations collaborate and stay secure.”

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said: “Digital technology is a deflationary force in an inflationary economy. Businesses – small and large – can improve productivity and the affordability of their products and services by building tech intensity.

“The Microsoft Cloud delivers the end-to-end platforms and tools organisations need to navigate this time of transition and change.”

One commonality from both companies’ earnings is that cloud services drove figures higher, and in Google’s case, much higher than ever before.

Google generated an additional $1.5 billion (£1.09 billion) revenue for Google Cloud this quarter compared to Q3 2020 with a total $4.9 billion (£3.5 billion). That said, Google Cloud is still operating at a loss with income down $644 million (£469.06 million) – quite a considerable drop and a bigger loss than last quarter which stood at $591 million (£430.6 million). Though the figures are improving year-on-year as Q3 2020’s losses stood at $1.2 billion (£874.6 million).

“With more than 40% year over year growth, Google experienced a huge jump, and one that even surpassed Wall Street’s original forecast,” said Anthony Denier, CEO at trading platform Webull.” The company’s earnings per share grew 71% year over year to $27.99 (£20.38) – way past the original estimate of $23.48 (£17.10).”

Microsoft’s cloud revenues continued to impress investors with Intelligent Cloud up 31% to $17 billion (£12.3 billion) while revenue from server products and cloud services increased 35%, driven by a business-leading revenue growth rate of 50% thanks to Azure and other cloud services.

Consumer and business Office services also enjoyed a strong quarter, factoring into rising cloud revenues too. Office Commercial products and cloud services revenue increased 18%, largely driven by the 23% revenue growth of Office 365 Commercial. Office Consumer products and cloud services revenue increased 10% with consumer subscribers increasing to 54.1 million.

Other strong areas for Microsoft included LinkedIn revenue which increased 42% and Windows OEM revenue which increased 10%. Google reported consistently better results across most corners of the business. Search revenue was up to $37.9 billion (£27.6 billion) this quarter, a staggering $11 billion (£8 billion) increase year-on-year. 

AWS and Google win Japanese government cloud contract

Zach Marzouk

27 Oct, 2021

Japan’s Digital Agency has selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud to run its first nationwide cloud computing project in the country, as the government tries to implement digital transformation across its ministries.

The two providers were chosen as they met around 350 requirements across security, legal issues, and data management, an official from the agency, according to Nikkei Asia. AWS and Google will first be used to run the agency’s website as well as by eight municipalities on a trial basis.

The government cloud project is aiming to unify and standardise digital infrastructure across ministries and approximately 1,700 municipalities, which run their own systems. Domestic system integrators have usually been selected to manage data centres and business applications, which the government believes has led to customised systems with high maintenance costs and overlapping functions.

The vendor lock-in has also prevented the rollout of public services and hampered the country’s COVID-19 response.

It was also revealed that the budget for government cloud computing until next March is around 2 billion yen (£12.3 million) with the budget for upcoming years still to be determined.

The Digital Agency was launched on 1 September and is set to control most of the government’s IT budget. It is aiming to move local governments to the cloud by 2025, which could reduce the annual IT budget of £5 billion by about 30%, according to a government official. 

“As a cloud services provider directly contracted by the Digital Agency, AWS will help the Japanese government to modernize IT by directly offering advanced technologies and global best practices,” an AWS spokesperson said to CloudPro.

“It will also enable us to continue to work with Japanese AWS Partners and startups to accelerate innovation in citizen services, drive local economic growth, and solve some of the biggest challenges in society.”

CloudPro has contacted Google for comment.

The move comes as part of a push by the Japanese government to implement digital transformation across its ministries, which have tended to lag behind.

The government has only just begun to phase out the use of floppy disks, according to a report from Nikkei Asia, as officials saw the outdated tech as ultra-reliable, saying they almost never broke or lost data. Sony stopped producing the disks in 2011 but, thanks to their reusability, there are still plenty to go around. However, various subdivisions of the Tokyo government have already started moving the data from floppy disks to other online storage formats.

Zoom rolls out live transcription to all users

Sabina Weston

26 Oct, 2021

Zoom users will now be able to benefit from a new live transcription tool, the video conferencing giant announced today.

The feature, which automatically generates speaker subtitles on Zoom video meetings or webinars, is now available across all free and paid Zoom Meetings and Zoom Video Webinars accounts.

However, the tool is currently only available in English, the company stated, with plans to expand live transcription to other languages in the future. Zoom also supports third-party captioning services which might offer auto-generated captions in other languages.

Zoom’s live transcription can be enabled by users through the Zoom web portal, or privately requested during a meeting session using the toolbar.

The feature not only has the potential to make communication easier but is also a crucial tool in making video conferencing more accessible to those with hearing impairments.

Zoom Meetings and Chat product marketing manager, Theresa Larkin, said that it’s important that “everyone can successfully connect, communicate, and participate” using the video conferencing platform.

“Without the proper accessibility tools, people with disabilities face tremendous barriers when using video communication solutions. That’s why we are focused on building out a platform that is accessible to everyone, and features such as auto-generated captions are an important part of that mission,” she added.

Zoom has also set its sights on enabling real-time, multi-language translation capabilities for its users in an effort “to deliver happiness to our users and improve meeting productivity”. In June, the company announced the acquisition of Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions (Kites) – a startup focused on the development of real-time AI-powered translation technologies.

Prior to that, Zoom also unveiled a new range of desk phones fit for the office and the home that includes high-definition video as well as built-in collaboration software. The new offerings, with live transcription being the latest, are part of the company’s efforts to retain users as lockdown restrictions are eased and more workers return to the office. 

Microsoft and Oracle slammed over ‘anti-competitive’ software practices

Connor Jones

26 Oct, 2021

A leading expert on competition law has published a report illustrating the “unfair” and “anti-competitive” licensing practices enforced by major tech firms on customers globally.

Microsoft and Oracle are the primary targets of the report, which details the alleged long-running anti-competitive practices used by major firms in the software and cloud services industries.

Professor Frédéric Jenny’s research on cloud infrastructure service providers in Europe (CISPE) has been distributed to MEPs, the European Commission (EC) and the European Council as they debate and vote on the Digital Markets Act (DMA).

“Our research has shown that the position of certain large cloud infrastructure providers in the adjacent markets, notably Microsoft and Oracle, has enabled them to engage in potentially anti-competitive strategies to exclude other cloud infrastructure providers from the market,” the report authored by Jenny reads. “Moreover, these strategies have been an engine of growth for those integrated cloud service providers.”

The DMA is a legislative proposal brought forward by the EC to stamp out unfair and anti-competitive practices exhibited by digital platforms, typically those with dominant market positions looking to increase their share in adjacent markets.

It has been proposed following the recent high-profile US antitrust cases brought to the likes of Facebook and Google, but Jenny’s report takes aim at two other tech giants in particular.

Among other industry-wide unfair practices, the report accused Microsoft of enforcing unfair licensing costs and charging customers more to use Office and Server software on third-party cloud platforms, citing the case brought to Microsoft by the Danish Cloud Community and the European Commission in 2018. In this case, Microsoft raised the price for software subscriptions but left them untouched for customers using said software within its own cloud environments, Azure and Windows 365.

The report also accused Oracle of enforcing licensing restrictions which lead to a 10x increase in price when using Oracle software in a third-party cloud platform compared to running it on Oracle Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Oracle has also been criticised for enforcing technical and billing requirements on a per-CPU basis. 

“If Oracle software is used in Oracle IaaS then companies are only require to pay for the number of actual CPUs used while it used on third-part IaaS equipment, the company is required to pay for a licence for each CPU that could be used to run the software, whether or not it actually is,” the report said.

The researcher also conducted a series of interviews with cloud customers to gather further evidence against the unfair practices in the sector. These revealed additional practices such as limits to interoperability involving technical limitations such as enforcing proprietary languages to make migration more difficult, and switching costs which may be significant both in monetary and time-duration terms, the report notes.

Exclusionary licensing practices were also highlighted in the report with one case study reporting that Microsoft imposed an ‘after-the-fact’ change to its licensing policy after the customer decided to switch to Amazon Web Services (AWS). This saw the customer forced to pay for individual Office licenses on each computing instance, raising the annual cost tens of millions.

These examples of exclusionary licensing can also be found in third-party interfacing – accessing a service through a third-party application. SAP’s Indirect Access was cited as an example of this, whereby users incurred additional surcharges for accessing the SAP ecosystem through a third-party application, effectively creating an active log of ‘indirect usages of SAP software.

Other notable unfair practices include: artificially limiting data portability to make it expensive if not impossible to use competing cloud infrastructure and the removal of Bring Your Own Licence (BYOL) deals whereby customers are forced to pay again to use software they already own on competing cloud infrastructure.

“This independent study by Professor Jenny, a recognised economist, objectifies the observations made consistently by Cigref members over many years,” said Henri d’Agrain, Secretary General of Cigref, the French CIO Association.

“It provides a factual assessment of the economic consequences of the unfair practices that Cigref regularly denounces. It is important to regulate these practices, which are mainly carried out by non-European providers. These practices constitute an illegitimate drain on the European economy and contribute to stifling the digital innovation of European players through killing acquisitions.”

Alban Schmutz, Chairman of CISPE, concluded: “We’d heard from our members, and from their customers, that certain legacy software providers were limiting choice in cloud infrastructure through unfair license terms. We commissioned Professor Jenny to make a study of these practices and their impact, to support the Principle of Fair Software Licensing we crafted with Cigref. The Study clearly demonstrates the need for the Principles, and for the DMA to include them within its provisions. This is a significant issue which requires legislation as well as voluntary adoption of our Principles to ensure compliance and a better deal for European businesses and consumers.”

CloudPro contacted Microsoft for comment but it did not respond at the time of publication. Oracle declined to comment on the matter.

UK spy agencies supercharge espionage efforts with AWS data deal

Connor Jones

26 Oct, 2021

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has signed what is likely to be a lucrative data deal with the UK’s top intelligence services to store and analyse information for the purposes of espionage.

GCHQ, MI5, and MI6 will store information using AWS’ cloud services, according to the Financial Times, which reports that the deal has been made so the UK spy agencies can harness the data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) tools the AWS platform provides.

AWS will also reportedly equip the agencies with tools that enable easier data sharing between overseas field locations and rapid translation of audio recordings.

Other government departments such as the Ministry of Defence will also use the cloud service offering during joint operations, according to the FT‘s report.

GCHQ was leading the calls for a cloud security platform which could be used across the intelligence services, the report added. The deal was signed this year and all data will be stored in the UK, with Amazon’s main e-commerce company having no access or oversight of the data at all.

IT Pro contacted GCHQ and AWS and both declined to comment on the matter.

GCHQ’s ambition to further embed AI into its intelligence practices was highlighted in a 2020 Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) report in which it claimed UK spies would need to use AI in order to stymie modern-day cyber attackers.

The report claimed there were three key areas in which AI would be able to benefit the GCHQ; analysis of intelligence, cyber security operations, and the automation of administrative tasks.

Echoing this claim, panellists including Moonpig’s head of cyber Tash Norris said during a 2021 IT Pro Panel that the best AI applications for cyber security will be in detection and response tasks like SIEM, SOAR, and EDR. The sentiment is echoed in the Rusi report, which stated that AI will never replace strong human judgement. 

Commenting on an October 2021 claim made by the Pentagon’s former chief software officer that China has won the AI battle with the US, Jeremy Fleming, director at GCHQ, said he doesn’t subscribe to the idea, though he added that “China by more or less any measure is doing well in the development of AI capabilities”.

Addressing delegates at The Cipher Brief Annual Threat Conference on Monday, Fleming also claimed the UK saw twice the number of ransomware attacks in 2021 compared to 2020. Attacks are proliferating “because it works; it just pays,” he said.

Microsoft resellers warned of Nobelium attacks on IT supply chain

Zach Marzouk

26 Oct, 2021

Microsoft has warned its resellers and managed service providers that the hacking group behind the SolarWinds cyber attack has now turned its attention to the company’s global supply chain.

The tech giant said that it believes the Russian state-backed hacking group, known as Nobelium, ultimately hopes to piggyback on any direct access that resellers may have to their customers’ IT systems and more easily impersonate an organisation’s trusted technology partner to gain access to their downstream customers.

Microsoft said that the attacks used well-known techniques, like password spray and phishing, to steal legitimate credentials and gain privileged access. It began observing Nobelium’s latest campaign in May 2021 and has been notifying affected partners and customers.

So far, the company has notified over 140 resellers and technology service providers currently being targeted by the group. It also believes as many as 14 resellers and service providers have already been compromised.

These attacks have been part of a larger wave of Nobelium activities this summer, the company said. Between 1 July and 19 October, Microsoft believes that 22,868 attacks were conducted by the group against 609 customers, with a success rate in the low single digits. As a comparison, before 1 July, approximately 20,500 attacks from nation-state hackers were recorded over the course of three years.

“This recent activity is another indicator that Russia is trying to gain long-term, systematic access to a variety of points in the technology supply chain and establish a mechanism for surveilling – now or in the future – targets of interest to the Russian government,” said Tom Burt, corporate vice president of Customer Security & Trust.

From what it has learned over the past several months, Microsoft is working to implement improvements to better secure and protect its technology partners. This includes launching a programme on 15 October to provide two years of an Azure Active Directory Premium plan for free to strengthen security controls, and it’s piloting new granular features for organisations that want to provide privileged access to resellers.

It’s also piloting improved monitoring to help partners and customers manage and audit their delegated privileged accounts and remove unnecessary authority, as well as auditing unused privileged accounts and working with partners to assess and remove unnecessary privilege and access.

The company also revealed it has been coordinating with the security community to improve its knowledge of Nobelium’s activity, including government agencies in the US and Europe. It believes it is in a much better position to defend against these threats thanks to the US cyber security executive order and information sharing between industry and government.

In September, it emerged that Nobelium was stealing data from Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) servers, with Microsoft warning that the group was found to be using a post-exploitation backdoor dubbed FoggyWeb to remotely exfiltrate sensitive data.

The group was also blamed for an attack on a Microsoft employee’s computer in June, implanting malware on a device belonging to a customer support agent to obtain information belonging to customers.

Switch from Zoom: How to run your own videoconferencing platform

Nik Rawlinson

1 Nov, 2021

For most businesses, the pandemic has been a huge disruption – but some have benefited. Delivery services, online supermarkets and streaming sites have all boomed. Perhaps none has seen such a meteoric rise as Zoom.

Zoom’s growth isn’t simply a case of offering the right service at the right time. There were plenty of online meeting platforms to choose from, including 8×8, Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, but Zoom was the one that broke out of the business realm to facilitate remote pub quizzes, online fitness classes and virtual family get-togethers.

A key reason is the ease of use. Zoom made it supremely easy to invite non-subscribers into your meetings, and for those people to join. In the first half of 2020, as its name became synonymous with video conferencing, it became an obvious default option for businesses seeking a reliable, familiar way for employees to communicate during lockdown.

Now, although pandemic restrictions are finally easing, many organisations intend to allow employees to keep working from home, at least part of the time. And for businesses that settled on Zoom – or some other service – at the start of the pandemic, that raises an important question. Is the service still the right solution for an era where video calls are not a stopgap solution but an integral, ongoing part of your working practices?

As Stefan Walther, CEO of communications solution provider 3CX points out, the downsides of Zoom are starting to become apparent. “A lot of people don’t need the extent of the feature set,” Walther told PC Pro. “It’s a great platform; it works very well, but it comes with a hefty price tag, per-user licences with a lot of add-ons, and a quite expensive dial-in feature.”

It’s time to explore your alternatives – and one you might not have considered is hosting your own videoconferencing service.

Free and easy

You don’t necessarily need to pay for fully functional conferencing software. Jitsi is a complete free-to-use open-source option that includes end-to-end encryption and integration with Google, Microsoft products and Slack. First appearing under the name SIP communicator in the early 2000s, it’s now run by communications specialist 8×8, which supports the ongoing development of Jitsi alongside its commercial hosted videoconferencing solution.

To get started with Jitsi, you just need something to run the back-end on. Server code for Debian/Ubuntu and Docker can be downloaded for free, along with a range of support packages on GitHub, plus Chrome extensions, iOS and Android apps. Jitsi rooms can be embedded in your own website, and there’s a hosted web front-end at for anyone who doesn’t want to host it themselves.

If you’re wondering whether Jitsi is good enough for your company, be reassured that some big names rely on it – including Wikimedia, which hosts its own public portal. In choosing a video platform, the organisation said it found that, for meetings of 10-15 participants, Jitsi’s performance was “subjectively on par with Google Meet and Zoom”.

Indeed, the developer says the platform is suitable for hosting unlimited free meetings with up to 100 simultaneous participants – although if you need a bigger capacity, or advanced features such as closed captioning, moderation and analytics, it recommends you step up to the paid-for 8×8 Meet service.

While Jitsi can be appealing for certain scenarios, it’s not your only free option. Google Hangouts, Cisco Webex and others allow free meetings for limited numbers of participants or limited times; 3CX only starts charging for its hosted conferencing solution after the first year’s use.

Web conferencing for education

Another free, open-source option is BigBlueButton. It’s a popular choice in education settings: having emerged from the Technology Innovation Management program at Canada’s Carleton University, it’s now supported by more than three quarters of the worldwide market for learning management systems (LMSes).

BigBlueButton is straightforward to deploy. The server runs happily on 64-bit Ubuntu 18.04 inside a Docker container, and it uses no client software at all, relying instead on native browser features. This makes it ideal for home-teaching environments, but also for businesses seeking an easy way to ensure that employees can stay in touch, regardless of what device they’re using or where.

As you’d expect, some of BigBlueButton’s features have a distinctly educational flavour. It supports online whiteboards and allows hosts to pick a random user to answer questions. Like many videoconferencing platforms, it allows the participants to raise a digital hand to ask a question or offer a response, and the host can click to lower all raised hands at once.

However, BigBlueButton sports a range of business staples, such as document sharing and breakout rooms, along with screen sharing and integration with CMS software as well as LMS tools.

Reasons to run your own server

Installing and managing your own videoconferencing solution is more complex than opting for a ready-made alternative, but it has benefits. Businesses and educational establishments can more finely tune their spending and back-end management, as well as gain greater control over add-ons and the location of data.

With third-party services, this type of control varies considerably between the different providers. Zoom account owners and administrators can customise which data centre regions they use for hosting real-time meetings and webinar data, although the default is locked to the region in which your account was originally provisioned.

With 3CX there’s more flexibility. CEO Stefan Walther told us that, on his company’s platform, “you’re always 100% in charge of your location, your data and the people you invite”. There’s no need to install a dedicated app if you’re happy to host meetings in the browser, and British users’ data will stay within the UK while European user data resides within the EU.

Skype for Business is another service that supports a self-hosted back end; however, owner Microsoft is currently encouraging customers to ditch Skype and move onto Teams instead, which resides wholly on Microsoft’s own servers.

Another factor to consider is the breadth of services you require. Buy into 3CX’s integrated communications service and you’re getting more than just a videoconferencing solution: it’s a fully featured PBX with a lot of extras, including VoIP for regular phone calling, messaging and presence tools, with support for both software clients and physical phones. Skype for Business has a similarly wide-ranging feature set. Having all of this in one place can help productivity, as employees don’t need to mess about switching between multiple tools, but smaller businesses often won’t need to go beyond video, group chat and messaging.

Managing your own service – even if it’s not hosted on your own hardware but cloud services such as Azure or AWS – means that you’re free to switch providers when you choose, or even migrate to an alternative videoconferencing platform entirely. Should you instead choose to roll hosting and app provision into a single payment, you don’t have this flexibility: there might be a minimum lock-in, and even if you migrate because your current provider no longer meets your requirements, there may be residual bills to be paid.

Support and hosting

While features are an important consideration when choosing a conferencing platform, another critical issue is support. A communications server is a key piece of business infrastructure, and you’ll need the expertise to keep it running. In many instances – but by no means all – a charged-for service will often be easier to get up and running more quickly. Likewise, less tech-savvy end users may find it easier to work on the move if they can do so using apps, rather than a mobile browser.

Some services have quick setup wizards for easy deployment, but others expect a significant level of technical know-how on the part of administrators, which may make them an impractical choice for smaller organisations, at least as far as self-hosting is concerned. Even for the larger enterprise, an option that requires constant monitoring could justify adding one to the head count which, over the course of a year, could end up costing just as much as opting for a provider-hosted alternative.

At the same time, depending on which path you choose, you may also have limited recourse to external support. Jitsi, for example, warns that “neither the immediate Jitsi team or 8×8 provide commercial support for Jitsi. Jitsi does enjoy a large developer community with many development shops and individuals that provide support and commercial development services. If you need help, we recommend you do a search or post a request on our Community Forum.” It’s better than nothing, but you might have trouble convincing the board that this is a viable solution.

You’ll need suitable server hardware too. Thankfully, this isn’t a big ask: most services don’t need a ton of resources and will run in a container or virtual machine. Alternatively, you can use a very lightweight dedicated system; Jitsi and 3CX can both be installed on Raspberry Pi devices, for a terrifically cheap one-box solution.

TrueConf is another commercial service that supports the Raspberry Pi – and even allows you to download a ready-made Linux-based image that’s preinstalled with the conferencing software and all necessary documentation.


Running an on-site videoconferencing solution can cut ongoing costs, but it risks creating a single point of failure if your local infrastructure goes down. For this reason, even if you’re happy to own and manage your own communications services, it can make sense to let someone else host the server: cloud-based services should have contingencies for outages and multiple lines with automatic failover.

Many of the solutions discussed here can be hosted on the Azure, AWS or Google Cloud platforms. Amazon’s own Chime communications service, which runs on AWS, goes one step further, offering an SDK that developers can use to integrate its features into their own web or mobile applications, including SIP trunking, chat, collaboration and screen sharing.

Zoom out?

If you’ve only ever thought of videoconferencing as a closed, third-party service, the potential of setting up and operating your own services can be liberating – and economical. However, it also means taking on responsibilities – for installation, for maintenance, and possibly for loss of business if your system goes down.

Taking a cloud-hosted approach reduces that risk, but brings ongoing connectivity and capacity costs to consider, even if the software you’re running is itself free. And if you opt for a system without professional support then a misconfiguration or corrupted upgrade could also prove costly in engineer hours and lost productivity.

We’d recommend therefore that you don’t rush to ditch your current conferencing service. Today’s crop of commercial systems are robust, well-supported and easy to use – and often easier to roll out within an organisation than a self-managed solution.

Rather, the point is this: in past years, online videoconferencing might have seemed like a luxury or a gimmick. That’s no longer the case. Videoconferencing is right at the heart of business, and likely to remain there for a long time to come. It’s time to take a fresh look at your needs, and weigh up whether the time is right to take these crucial services into your own hands.

AWS makes its Panorama Appliance generally available

Praharsha Anand

21 Oct, 2021

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced the general availability of its Panorama Appliance.

The device integrates computer vision into on-premises internet protocol (IP) cameras, allowing fast and easy visual inspections of production lines, drive-thru queue management, layout optimisations of physical stores, and more.

“While some smart cameras can provide real-time visual inspection, replacing existing cameras with new smart cameras can be cost prohibitive. Even then, smart cameras are often ineffective because they are limited to specific use cases and require additional effort to fine-tune,” explained AWS.

“Alternatively, some customers send video feeds from existing on-premises cameras to third-party servers, but often the required internet bandwidth is costly or facilities are in remote locations where internet connectivity can be slow, all of which degrades the usefulness and practicality of the analysis.”

AWS’ Panorama device minimises costs by enabling customers to pair the solution with existing on-premises cameras and monitor video streams locally through computer vision.

Customers can update their computer vision application in Amazon SageMaker and deploy the model to the AWS Panorama Appliance, thanks to the device’s full integration with Amazon SageMaker.

Together, AWS Panorama Appliance, Amazon Monitron, Amazon Lookout for Equipment, and Amazon Lookout for Vision deliver the most comprehensive cloud-to-edge machine learning solution for industrial applications.

AWS offers its Panorama Appliance in Virginia, Oregon, Canada, and Ireland. Support for additional regions will follow soon.

“CVG Airport is committed to providing a world-class traveler experience through continuous innovation and strategic cooperation,” said Brian Cobb, chief innovation officer at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Cobb added, “By using TaskWatch’s application on AWS Panorama, we are able to bring machine learning to our existing IP cameras and automatically monitor congestion over 70,000 square feet of airport traffic lanes. Once an issue is detected, such as a disabled vehicle, TaskWatch sends real-time alerts to airport staff so they can provide assistance, keep the traffic flowing, and reduce delays for our passengers.”