All posts by Bobby Hellard

Analysts: Salesforce could use Slack Connect to expand networking ambition

Bobby Hellard

26 Nov, 2020

Salesforce‘s interest in acquiring Slack could be the answer to its long search for a customer collaboration service.

The deal, which is reportedly being discussed by the two companies, could potentially see a B2B collaboration network built within Slack Connect, according to analysts.

Salesforce has added a variety of companies to its portfolio in recent years, using its expanding market cap to branch out into new sectors. MuleSoft was acquired in 2018 for $6.5 billion, and a further $15.3 billion was spent on data visualisation company Tableau in 2019.

However, a deal to acquire Slack would represent one of the biggest ever acquisitions in tech. The comms platform is currently valued at around $20bn, but it’s thought that the full cost of the acquisition could be on par with Microsoft’s $27 billion purchase of LinkedIn in 2016, or even IBM’s $34 billion deal to take over Red Hat in 2019.

A deal for the comms platform would play well with Salesforce’s strategy, according to CCS Insight principal analyst Angela Ashenden, particularly with the potential of a B2B collaboration network based on Slack Connect – the company’s fledgeling external messaging service.

Salesforce has been in the market for an employee collaboration opportunity for some time, according to Ashden. In 2010, the cloud giant tried to launch its own service, ‘Chatter’, and later ‘Community Cloud’, but neither provided an extended reach outside of sales.

“In order to maintain the high rate of growth that it has achieved for the last few years, Salesforce has been investing in initiatives that will enable it to expand its footprint in customer organisations,” Ashenden told us. “However, the majority of its current applications portfolio doesn’t allow it significant reach beyond the sales and marketing organisation.”

Sophos warns customers of potential data leak

Bobby Hellard

26 Nov, 2020

UK cyber security firm Sophos has notified customers that data has potentially been leaked online due to a misconfigured database.

The company said it was alerted to the misconfiguration by a security researcher, and that it fixed the issue immediately.

However, a “small subset” of the company’s customers were affected, with first and last names, email addresses and phone numbers thought to have been accessed. Earlier this week Sophos began emailing those customers thought to have been affected.

“On November 24, 2020, Sophos was advised of an access permission issue in a tool used to store information on customers who have contacted Sophos Support,” an email to customers read, as seen by ZDNet.

It added that additional safeguards had now been implemented to ensure access permission settings can’t be exploited in the future.

This is the second major security incident in 2020 for Sophos after cyber criminals exploited a zero-day vulnerability in the firms XG firewall in April. Attackers used this to deploy ransomware but were eventually foiled by the security firm.

“At Sophos, customer privacy and security are always our top priority. We are contacting all affected customers,” the company said. “Additionally, we are implementing additional measures to ensure access permission settings are continuously secure.”

While the breach may cause some embarrassment for Sophos, the incident will unlikely lead to any major consequences for its customers or regulatory action for the company itself, according to Ilia Kolochenko, founder & CEO of web security company ImmuniWeb.

“No highly sensitive information, such as banking, health or credit card data, was reportedly exposed,” Kolochenko told IT Pro. “Moreover, many users that approach support, commonly use central phone numbers or even fake emails that are of not much value to hackers. Sophos’s open reaction to the incident seems to be swift and professional, taking accountability for the incident with adequate mitigation.

“Compared to the countless data breaches with disastrous consequences in 2020, this minor incident will unlikely to attract the attention of law enforcement agencies or regulatory authorities.”

IBM acquires cloud app monitoring service Instana

Bobby Hellard

19 Nov, 2020

IBM has said it has reached an agreement to acquire cloud application management startup Instana for an undisclosed sum.

The Chicago-based company’s main product is a service that can monitor the performance of complex cloud applications over both public and private environments, on-premise and mobile devices. It has an ‘observability platform’ that can analyse cloud applications to both prevent and fix IT issues, such as slow response times or even services that are fully down.

IBM says it plans to integrate Instana’s system into services such as Watson AIOps, where AI would be used to trigger alerts and speed up IT remedies. Such a service would eliminate the need for employees to manually monitor and manage the applications, freeing them up to focus on more innovative or “higher-value” work, according to IBM.

The deal represents IBM’s first major cloud move since its decision to fully separate its cloud and infrastructure units by the end of 2021, spinning the latter off as a public company. It’s thought that the acquisition of Instana will be used to offer customers new ways to manage complex hybrid and multi-cloud environments, particularly as the service can be used for monitoring containerised environments running Kubernetes.

“Our clients today are faced with managing a complex technology landscape filled with mission-critical applications and data that are running across a variety of hybrid cloud environments – from public clouds, private clouds and on-premises,” said Rob Thomas, senior vice president, cloud and data platform at IBM.

“IBM’s acquisition of Instana is yet another important step that we are taking to provide companies with the most complete portfolio of AI-automated solutions to tackle this enormous challenge and help prevent unforeseen IT incidents that can cost a business in lost revenue and reputation.”

Zoom tackles ‘Zoom-bombing’ with new security features

Bobby Hellard

17 Nov, 2020

Video conferencing service Zoom has added a set of security features to help users combat ‘Zoom-bombing’ attacks. 

The new controls will help account holders remove unwanted guests and also spot if their meeting’s ID number has been shared online.

Zoom-booming has been an issue for the company throughout the year with hackers exploiting its mass adoption. This has affected both personal and professional meetings, including legal proceedings, and many will see this fix as long overdue. 

Starting this week, hosts and co-hosts will be given an option to temporarily pause their meeting and remove unwanted guests. Users can click a new “Suspend Participant Activities” button, which stops all video, audio, chat functions, screen sharing and recording. 

Hosts and co-hosts will then be asked if they want to report a user from their meeting, with the option to share a screenshot of them. They will then be removed once ‘Submit’ is clicked. Zoom’s security team will be notified and hosts can continue with their meeting by individually restarting all the features. This service will be set as the default for all free and paid Zoom users. 

Hosts and co-hosts can already report users with the security icon in the top corner, but this can also be enabled for non-hosts by account owners and admins. The option is available via the web browser on Mac, PC, Linux and on Zoom’s mobile apps. 

Soon, users will also be able to see if their meeting has been compromised with an ‘At-Risk Meeting Notifier’ which scans public social media posts and other websites for publicly shared meeting links. When the tool spots a meeting that’s potentially at risk of disruption, it automatically alerts the account owner by email with advice. This will most likely be to delete the vulnerable meeting and create a new one with a different ID.

AWS ditches Nvidia for in-house ‘Inferentia’ silicon

Bobby Hellard

13 Nov, 2020

Amazon Web Services (AWS) will ditch Nvidia chips responsible for the processing of Alexa queries and will instead use its own in-house silicon, the company confirmed on Friday.

The cloud giant will also be shifting data processing for its cloud-based facial recognition system, ‘Rekognition‘, over to these in-house chips, according to Reuters.

Alexa queries, issued through Amazon’s Echo line of smart speakers, are sent through the company’s data centres where they undergo several stages of processing before coming back to users with an answer, including translating the processed text into audible speech.

The company said that the “majority” of this processing will now be handled using Amazon’s own “Inferentia” computing chips. These were first launched in 2018 as Amazon’s first custom silicon-designed chips for accelerating deep learning workloads.

Amazon has said that the shift to Inferentia for Alexa processing had resulted in a 25% latency boost and 30% lower cost. The firm hopes the same will happen with its Rekognition system, which has also started to adopt the Inferentia chip.

The cloud giant didn’t specify which company previously handled Rekognition processing, but the service has come under some scrutiny from civil rights groups for its involvement with law enforcement. Police were temporarily banned from using it earlier in the year, following the Black Lives Matter protests.

Nvidia and Intel are two of the biggest providers of computing chips, often for data centres, with companies like Amazon and Microsoft included in their clientele. However, a number of firms have begun to move away from vendors and are bringing the technology in-house. For example, Apple has recently moved away from Intel chips in favour of the A14 Bionic processors, which will be used going forward.

Salesforce UK to create 100,000 new digital roles by 2024

Bobby Hellard

12 Nov, 2020

Salesforce has said it aims to add over 100,000 new skilled jobs to the UK market over the next four years through a partnership with training provider QA.

Three apprenticeship programmes and a developer Bootcamp will be created to boost the country’s digital skills and produce a cohort of graduates trained in Salesforce certifications, the company announced on Thursday.

The initiatives could potentially add over 100,000 skilled jobs in the UK over the next four years, according to IDC, with Salesforce boosting its own ecosystem of customers and partners.

Demand for digital skills has been high for years but it has become particularly acute during the pandemic and the greater use of cloud platforms. QA, which is an established provider of Salesforce training, is aiming to bridge the gap by expanding its work with the company.

In the UK, there is a growing demand for Salesforce technology, according to QA, which is fuelling the need for businesses to quickly find and hire new skilled Salesforce talent.

The Developer Bootcamp is a 12-week intensive course that provides specialist skills required to design data models, user interfaces and security for custom applications as well as the ability to customise them for mobile use. The first boot camp is expected to start in March 2021.

The apprenticeship programmes will provide practical learning closely aligned to specific career paths, namely service desk engineering, marketing professional, and business analytics roles within the Salesforce ecosystem.

All three apprenticeships are available for immediate starts and both initiatives will be complemented by content from a Salesforce’s online learning platform Trailhead, which allows participants to continue to develop their Salesforce skills after they have completed their programmes.

“We care passionately about developing the next generation of skilled professionals for our industry,” said Adam Spearing, Salesforce’s EMEA CTO. “The Salesforce ecosystem represents a growing opportunity and urgent need for talent within our customers, marketplace, partners and developers, and we want to kick-start the careers and pathways for young adults. We are excited to be partnering with QA to launch the Developer Bootcamp and Apprenticeship programmes.”

Remote working is here to stay, says Ginni Rometty

Bobby Hellard

11 Nov, 2020

Remote working and digital transformation plans won’t go back to normal following the release a COVID-19 vaccine, according to IBM’s former CEO Ginni Rometty.

Speaking to CNBC, IBM’s executive chair said that remote work was “here to stay” as part of a hybrid model of working. 

The comments come just days after reports of a potential coronavirus vaccine with a 90% success rate in late-stage trials. Shares in services that had been heavily used during the pandemic, such as Zoom, Amazon and Netflix, all slumped after the announcement, suggesting a return to the old ways once the vaccine is ready. 

However, Rometty doesn’t believe that will be the case, saying it would be hard to go back to the old ways now the world had seen what is possible. 

“I actually don’t think these technology trends are going to reverse themselves,” Rometty told CNBC. She said that a vaccine “allows us to return to perhaps a bit of a more new normal. But a number of these things in the hybrid way of working I believe will remain, and the digital acceleration will continue because people have now seen what is possible.”

A number of businesses began welcoming employees back into the workplace after the first lockdown, with the government also urging a return to work to help boost the economy. However, a second national spike in coronavirus cases has led to a second autumn lockdown

The promise of a vaccine is seen as the safest way to move out of the pandemic, but many want a more balanced home-work setup. Early in the year reports suggested the UK public wanted to move to two or three days in office, with many keen not to go back at all.

Not everyone agrees, however. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella warned that switching fully to remote working could have negative effects on wellbeing, learning and collaboration – despite his own company ushering in more varied remote working policies. 

“Learning, reskilling, onboarding is going to become a huge issue and we need to be able to incorporate the learning content into a workflow that is natural,” he said.

Adobe buys marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5 billion

Bobby Hellard

10 Nov, 2020

Adobe has announced its intent to acquire Workfront for $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion) as it looks to add collaboration tools to its marketing business. 

The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of Adobe’s 2021 fiscal year, subject to regulatory approval, Adobe said

Utah-based Workfront develops project management software for enterprise customers. It will add some 3,000 corporate customers and around one million users to Adobe, with Bloomberg suggesting the takeover could potentially be completed within a week. 

Whenever the deal goes through, it will be the first major action by executive vice president Anil Chakravarthy, who joined Adobe in January.

“Adobe is the undisputed leader in content creation, management, delivery, and measurement and a trusted partner to digital leaders around the globe,” said Chakravarthy. 

“The combination of Adobe and Workfront will further accelerate Adobe’s leadership in customer experience management, providing a pioneering solution that spans the entire lifecycle of digital experiences, from ideation to activation.”

The deal is seen as Adobe’s biggest effort to boost its Experience Cloud division, which includes its marketing, advertising and analytics services. The idea is to make its creative and business applications more collaborative, enabling teams to work closer on projects as they continue to operate remotely

Workfront has seen growing interest in its services during the pandemic as marketing firms have sought more insight into their operations. The company’s CEO, Alex Shootman, called the Adobe takeover an “awesome outcome”.

“When you have an opportunity to work with the company that CMOs rely on to run their business, which is Adobe, and you’re a company like Workfront, that takes us forward years in terms of what we would have been able to accomplish on our own,” he said.

Zoom settles with the FTC over ‘deceptive’ encryption claims

Bobby Hellard

10 Nov, 2020

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reached a settlement with Zoom after it sued the company for “unfair and deceptive security practices”. 

Following the FTC’s announcement, shares in the video conferencing service tumbled. Zoom closed at 17.4% lower on Monday, with news of positive coronavirus vaccine data also having an impact, according to CNBC

This also affected a number of stocks for service that had been boosted by the pandemic, such as Netflix (8.6% decline) and Amazon (5.1%), but Zoom appeared to be the worst-hit.

With the onset of the pandemic, and the sudden need to stay home, Zoom saw a massive spike in users, turning into a household name almost overnight. This brought greater scrutiny on the firm and highlighted a number of security issues, one of which being a lack of end-to-end encryption

In its settlement reached with the FTC, the company was accused of collecting user data during recorded conferences. Zoom initially said it had “end-to-end, 26-bit encryption”, but in fact, it “provided a lower level of security,” the FTC said. 

“During the pandemic, practically everyone – families, schools, social groups, businesses – is using video conferencing to communicate, making the security of these platforms more critical than ever,” said Andrew Smith, the FTC’s director of consumer protection.

“Zoom’s security practices didn’t line up with its promises, and this action will help to make sure that Zoom meetings and data about Zoom users are protected.”

The FTC has called on Zoom to “implement a robust information security programme” as well as a “prohibition on privacy and security misrepresentations”.

Zoom is arguably one of the biggest success stories of the year, reportedly recording a 355% revenue increase in the second quarter of 2020. The figures are even more impressive when considering the number of privacy issues it also had to deal with, such as ‘Zoom bombing‘ where unwanted actors invade meetings. 

The service has been used by both remote workers and those stuck at home, to keep in touch with friends and family, but the announcement from Pfizer and BioNTech of a vaccine candidate with a 90% success rate during late-stage trials have suggested Zoom might not enjoy continued success beyond the pandemic. 

UK gov urged to help SMBs with digital adoption incentives

Bobby Hellard

9 Nov, 2020

An advocate for tech startups is urging the UK government to find ways of incentivising tech adoption for SMBs to boost the country’s productivity. 

The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) have called for a digital adoption fund that provides tax reliefs to SMBs and greater collaboration from the UK’s startup ecosystem. 

In its report, ‘Hidden Figures‘, Coadec refers to the UK as “the sick man of Europe” due to its stagnated productivity. The organisation suggest that unless more is done to make digital adoption easier and more attractive to the country’s small and medium-sized businesses, the UK will fall further behind others in Europe. 

“Although most nations have experienced slow productivity growth since 2008, the situation in the UK is by far the worst amongst our peers and one of the worst performances in UK history,” the report states.

“However, the British economy hasn’t always been characterised by slow productivity growth, but performance has fluctuated compared to that of our peers across the last 60 years. In 1960, the UK had the highest level of productivity in Europe before suffering a slowdown in the 1960s and 1970s which led to the UK becoming known as the “sick man of Europe”. 

To get the country back to health, Coadec recommends the government put in place four incentives for SMBs. The first is a fund that works like tax credits for companies that want to adopt new technology – helping to reduce the cost. 

For those that are perhaps not confident on what tech their business needs, or unsure what value they will offer, the report recommends creating a sector-by-sector ‘tech matrix’, a list of approved products and services. This also ties into its recommendation that tech startups offer support to SMBs on what tech to adopt and how.

Finally, the report urges the government to create a post-COVID-19 tech adoption strategy, so businesses can be more agile in the face of future challenges.