All posts by Bobby Hellard

Slack launches Workflow Builder

Bobby Hellard

16 Oct, 2019

Slack has introduced Workflow Builder, a tool to create a customisable channel within a channel.

This, the company says, will remove productivity “roadblocks” by streamlining projects within Slack.

It’s been a busy year for the communications platform, with new productivity features launched every other month, such as tighter security controls and user-friendly upgrades such as dark mode.

Here, the company is going after workflow productivity with a feature that enables users to get information from their team sent straight to them, instead of creating an extra, temporary channel.

“Raise your hand if you rely on other people and teams to get work done,” Slack rhetorically asked in its blog. “By our count, there’s a 70% chance you do. Coordinating projects with others requires getting the right information to the right people in real-time. Yet steps like making requests, asking for updates, and providing context to teammates are hardly instantaneous – and often halt progress altogether.”

Slack’s answer to this is Workflow Builder, a “visual tool” for users to automate routine functions with custom workflows – essentially a channel within a channel to collect specific requests for your projects.

Slack uses a new starter as an example, where rather than tracking down the relevant people, whom you might not know yet, or trying to find specific documents relating to a project they’re now on, Workflow Builder provides a quick and accessible repository where the newbie can get up to speed.

Alternatively, the organisation can set up a “welcome workflow” that allows the new person to fill out a form letting the rest of the team know about them, which is one way to cut out awkward getting to know you chit-chat.

These custom forms are also a way of working out what your channel’s needs are. For example, finding out everyone’s thoughts on team meetings: Each member can fill in the form and let each other know about their availability and so on.

This is also useful for incident reports, recording issues with your company’s website for instance, where you let the team know something’s wrong and you create a shareable file of the issue for the IT department.

This is also a very quick feature, requiring just a minute and a reasonable amount of clicks (it took us only five clicks to create our own workflow).

Cloud too expensive for the “vast majority”, claims Zuckerberg

Bobby Hellard

11 Oct, 2019

Mark Zuckerberg has questioned the cost of cloud computing and storage during a discussion about bio sequencing.

The Facebook founder specifically referenced AWS, joking “let’s call up Jeff and talk about this”.

Zuckerberg and his wife Pricilla Chan set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) in 2015 to find ways of using technology to advance health, social and scientific research.

In a chat between the research centre’s co-presidents Dr Joseph DeRisi and Dr Stephen Quake, moderated by Zuckerberg live on YouTube, the group argued that progress in initiatives is often blocked by the exorbitant cost of cloud subscriptions.

“In our bio board meetings, one of the things we talk about is the cost of the compute, and our AWS bill, for example, is one of the specific points,” Zuckerberg said. “Let’s call up Jeff and talk about this.”

“It’s interesting, the bottleneck for progress, in medical research at this point, a lot of the cost for it, is on compute and the data side and not strictly on the wet labs or how long it takes to turn around experiments.”

The CZI is part-funded by billions of dollars from Facebook and also investment from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.

However, Dr Quake noted that most other organisations and research labs around the world are unable to secure this level of funding, and are therefore hamstrung by the price of cloud.

“This is no more apparent than in the developing world or low-income resource settings,” He said. “The cost of the sequencing and the lab work has gotten to the point where you can do this almost anywhere in the world. It’s gotten that cheap.”

“The compute to be able to analyse that data is unfortunately not available to the vast majority of the people that do that. It’s very often the case that you’ll go to one of these low-income resource settings, they’ll have a sequencer but its collecting dust because they can’t compute. Even if they can access the cloud, they can’t afford it.”

According to Synergy Research Group, the cloud market is heading for a world-wide revenue run rate of $100 billion per year. The big providers have capitalised on digital transformations and the need to store and analyse data with AWS consistently at the top of the market.

Companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Alibaba and Oracle are all competing for the rest of the market. This is no more apparent than in the race to provide the Pentagon with cloud computing services. Amazon’s cloud arm was set to be the winners of the $10 billion JEDI contract but after complaints made by Oracle and IBM, the decision has been put on hold.

Box: We’re in the business of protecting companies from themselves

Bobby Hellard

10 Oct, 2019

“We’re 30,000 employees, we’re the size of a small village… there will be crime, or there will be people that do things that they shouldn’t do.”

Box CIO Paul Chapman recalls a conversation he once had with a company executive, who broke the mould somewhat by being more concerned by the actions of rogue employees than threats coming from the outside.

This was at a time when cyber security simply meant protecting against external threats. That doesn’t mean to say the executive wasn’t bothered with external attacks, only that he identified that plenty of development had already gone into creating robust outward-looking defences over the years, while little attention was paid to the workers.

In today’s environment, we are seeing time and again that the biggest threat to security is often a company’s own employees. According to Box, around 55% of breaches are due to negligence in the workplace.

“People often say, ‘what’s the thing that worries you the most?’ Actually it is what we would call ‘negligent users’,” Chapman explains. “People don’t wake up and say ‘hey, I think I’ll be a negligent user today’, they’re just doing their work and what happens is risk builds… part of what keeps me awake is users doing negligent things, without knowing they’re doing them.”

Safety net

Jeetu Patel, Box’s chief product officer, shared a few examples of what the company considers common negligent actions. The first was sharing content to personal email accounts. So, for instance, Rachel wants to invite John into an internal folder full of private company documents. She begins typing ‘Jo’ into the search bar and his email addresses pop up. She picks the first one which happens to be John’s personal Gmail account, sending company documents to a non-company account.

In a second example, John, who is working remotely, might decide to download company documents on a personal device. He doesn’t select the specific documents he needs and instead puts the whole folder onto his unsecured personal device. Without realising, John may have placed sensitive company info, such as financial details, on a device that sits outside the company’s firewall.

It’s this concern that led Box to develop its Shield platform, released in August this year. It aims to fix the many problems and risks that crop up when sharing and collaborating. While it is mainly marketed as an external-facing security product, Box Shield is actually just as useful for preventing these types of human errors filtering through – whether accidental or intentional.

Force preview, for example, gives users access to files in preview before they are given permission to download. So if somebody receives an email with a malicious attachment, it will be flagged by Box’s security system before it’s ever downloaded to a company’s network.

Although the employees should be aware of basic security practices, software needs to account for laziness, according to Box.

“We know it’s better to point to content, we know its better to use links to control content and chain of custody over content, but you still have in an organisation of 20,000 – 35,000 people and someone who goes ‘oh, I think it’s easier to send an attachment’, and off he goes,” Chapman says.

In-house phishing

Chapman and his team at Box accept that we can’t all be experts, particularly when it comes to digital security. And, as clever and intuitive as Box Shield is, it’s not going protect you from everything.

“To me, Box is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, it’s not the jigsaw puzzle when it comes to how to think about security potential,” he says. “It’s partners, it’s integrations… you have to have people inside your organisation that are thinking through what the architecture is… you can’t just put it in Box and be done. It’s how you configure Shield, how you set it up, it’s a combination of things.”

The workforce at Box is subjected to regular tests from Chapman and his team. They are even tested using dummy internal phishing attacks as a way to train people on how to identify and deal with threats as they arrive. This is the same tactic we’ve seen deployed across other security-savvy organisations, only, as a security specialist, Box is able to take it one step further.

“There are different levels of sophistication, but it is surprisingly scary how easy it is to spoof people,” he says. “We’ve got a red team that will actually try to break everybody’s passwords at least once per month. We will do our own phishing attacks, we look at the results, share them with the company, we don’t do a wall of shame or anything, but we do have a security ‘hero’.”

We’re only human

These ‘heroes’ seem to be in short supply if the latest figures are anything to go by. According to Telstra’s 2019 Security Report, 89% of cyber security risks are now internal. Add to that, a recent Carbon Black report that suggests that hacking and data breaches are becoming the “new normal”, with hackers now turning their attention to vulnerable end-users, rather than trying to break through company firewalls directly.

What’s more, it only takes one lapse in concentration, or one employee to not know the danger, for your business to be crippled by malware. Many towns and cities in the US have been plagued by ransomware attacks that have been specifically designed to target employees that are, for the most part, illiterate in cyber security. For example, Florida’s Riviera Beach lost control of its entire municipal network after a single police department employee opened a malicious email attachment.

In 2017, the average worker made 118 mistakes a year, according to a report from Identity Guard. Predictably, many of those errors revolved around technology and as more and more businesses adopt digital services, that trend is only going to continue. After all, we’re only human.

Oracle looking to hire 2,000 for new cloud regions

Bobby Hellard

8 Oct, 2019

Oracle plans to hire some 2,000 additional workers as part of further expansions of its cloud computing services, according to reports.

The cloud giant is said to be rolling out computing services in more locations around the world as it seeks to better compete with AWS and Microsoft Azure.

Jobs will be added in Oracle’s software development hubs in Seattle, San Francisco and India, along with positions being made available at new data centres, according to Don Johnson, executive vice president of the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure unit (OCI) – an area of its business that was subjected to job cuts at the beginning of the year.

Oracle also plans to open 20 more cloud regions by the end of the year, which Johnson said it was “driving very aggressively”.

“We are very rapidly converting what’s a complex footprint to be a very simple footprint: Everything everywhere runs on our generation two cloud infrastructure,” Johnson told Reuters.

IT Pro has approached Oracle for more details, but it is believed the company will expand on its current 16 cloud regions, with new builds in emerging markets such as Chile, Japan, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates and reportedly in other Asian countries and Europe.

Just seven months ago, in March, the company announced job cuts of more than 350 so it could better focus on its cloud business. This was despite having already trimmed its infrastructure as a service (IaaS) business.

As always, the plan was to stay as close as possible to AWS which is the largest provider of cloud storage infrastructure, according to Gartner. At the time, it meant Oracle had to make cut-backs in other areas of its business, specifically the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) unit and its IaaS business.

Johnson, who spent seven years in Amazon’s cloud unit, joined Oracle in 2015 and has helped build out its second generation of cloud infrastructure after a difficult first attempt.

Some 352 jobs disappeared on 21 May, including 255 at its headquarters in Redwood City, California and 97 jobs from its Santa Clara campus.

“As our cloud business grows, we will continually balance our resources and restructure our development group to help ensure we have the right people delivering the best cloud products to our customers around the world,” an Oracle spokesperson said to Bloomberg.

View from the airport: Boxworks 2019

Bobby Hellard

7 Oct, 2019

As I leave San Francisco International Airport, with Boxworks 2019 all done and dusted, I’m struggling to think of what was actually showcased this year, because it certainly didn’t feel like Box had anything “new” on offer.

The two big announcements from the cloud firm made were Box Shield and Box Relay, two products that were actually launched well before Boxworks. The actual “new” parts were integrations with partners.

These partners, some of the biggest and brightest in tech, proved to be the real stars of the event. Boxworks felt more like being in the audience of a chat show, which is due at least in part to the charm and wit of CEO Aaron Levie.

“I think if you spend $35 million buying anything, you can talk about it all you want,” he joked when IBM boss Ginni Rometty asked if it was okay to bring up the acquisition of Red Hat. This was one of many big laughs he earned during the two-day event, quipping his way through keynotes and panels. He may be the boss of a huge cloud firm, but he has the knack of entertaining an audience while getting details out of guests that’s more common from the likes of Graham Norton or Ellen DeGeneres.

While he joked, he also let Rometty discuss the Red Hat deal, arguably one of the biggest acquisitions of the last two years. She talked about how it has changed the way IBM approaches work. From there, Big Blue’s CEO touched on data ethics, automation and the future of work.

IBM featured heavily in the announcements for further integrations and features for Box Shield and Box Relay, with Watson AI integrations. These now offer its users greater security and more efficiency with data and content sharing.

The companies taking these services in and running with them are collaboration and productivity outfits Slack, Zoom and PagerDuty.

“Do you believe that Skype and Microsoft Teams is providing a better experience than Zoom and Slack?” Levie said during a press briefing. “The answer is no in my opinion because I think that Skype only works half the time. I’m going to bet on the world’s best communication tool with Slack and the world’s best video tool, which is Zoom. And I’m going to bet that those experiences iterate at a much faster pace.”

Microsoft may still be winning in terms of user numbers compared to Slack, but the fact it’s bundled into the company’s Office 365 productivity suite has undoubtedly given those figures a boost. Slack, meanwhile, is a standalone platform and one that’s seen rapid growth in the past few years from a little-known startup to a major force in the world of business messaging apps.

During a press panel, Slack’s CEO Stewart Butterfield spoke about the “deathly silence” that the company’s staff work in when in the office. He said visitors were “perturbed” by the quiet and people seemingly chatting via the app to others next to them rather than talking, but they were actually being inclusive. A small part of it, he admitted, might be introverted engineers, but largely its people conversing with colleagues who aren’t in the room, keeping them abreast of the details in channels. These channels become transcripts for people not there to catch up with a day or week later, he said: Not so much an ‘always-on’ culture but more an ‘always-available’ one.

This is just one example of how these companies have changed the way offices work. Box helps this along, providing the tools and security to share documents, and championing these disruptive startups. While the company didn’t have lots of new products to showcase itself for 2019, its partners did. The next twelve months could be really big for these companies but will have to wait til Boxworks 2020 to see just how well they do.

Ginni Rometty: ‘New collar’ jobs are needed in the digital age

Bobby Hellard

4 Oct, 2019

IBM boss Ginni Rometty has warned that new technologies could create an ‘era of job exclusivity’ if people aren’t prepared for the digital future of the workplace.

The CEO suggested creating “new collar” jobs where people wouldn’t be required to have a four-year degree for their future careers.

Rometty made the comments on stage at Boxworks, during CEO Aaron Levie’s keynote in which the pair chatted over the current trust issues with technology companies.

She said that one of the issues around trust is preparing people to live in the digital era and avoiding technological exclusion.

“If we don’t do something this is not going to be an inclusive era,” she said. “This is true in every country, in the United States, all the riches can not go to the west and the East coast. If people look at the future and say ‘this technology is great but I don’t have a better job’ then that isn’t going to be good for anyone.”

Jobs losses to AI and automation is a talking point without an end, mostly because there’s no definitive answer on when and how much is going to go to machines and software.

Seemingly speaking for all technology companies, Rometty said that it’s their job to help deal with the fallout of this. She said: “I feel like as a company if I’m going to build this technology I’ve got to bring it in safely into this world.

“We’re working with 500 other companies on the idea that you don’t have to have a four-year degree to live in this digital era and have a good job. We’ve coined something called ‘New collar’, not in the negative way of white or blue-collar, it would be that you could get a really great paid job in cloud, security, or data.”

This isn’t an IBM initiative per se, but a collective venture where companies help the poorest performing four-year high schools in the US and enable students to learn and gain practical digital skills.

It’s crucial that this work is done now, as technologies such as cloud computing are rapidly growing and splitting into highly specialised sub-parts in most businesses. Rometty pointed out that a big challenge in this area will be getting to grips with not only the different systems within a cloud infrastructure but the various cloud infrastructures themselves as more and more businesses move towards hybrid models.

“It’s like if you’re going to remodel your house; unless you have infinite money, you don’t knock it down and rebuild the whole thing overnight,” she said. “You’re going to look at all your workloads and you’re going to say ‘you know what, some of these are not getting investment, I should just let them run, some of these are going to be a private cloud, some could go to Amazon, some to Google, some to the IBM cloud, some to Salesforce, some to Box and before you know it, it’s a hybrid cloud.”

Box announces new data compliance and security features

Bobby Hellard

3 Oct, 2019

Box and IBM have revealed a slew of integrations to help customers deal with strict data regulations.

With legislation like the GDPR and the soon to be implemented California Consumer Privacy Act changing data regulations, both companies are looking to enable greater compliance when it comes to sensitive data. As such, updates have been made to Watson Knowledge Catalog and integration of IBM X-force with Box Shield.

“IBM and Box have a history of partnering to bring clients greater collaborative and data capabilities,” said Rob Thomas, GM of IBM Data and AI, as Box’s annual Boxworks conference in San Francisco. “Today, we’re extending that work further to integrate a new Watson technology that automates the process of identifying sensitive data, helping to speed compliance and provide Box users greater trust in the data.”

For Box customers, the company says that IBM’s Watson Knowledge Catalog InstaScan tool will give them the ability to identify sensitive data throughout their Box folders. InstaScan lets them set parameters for what type of data is allowed based on corporate policy, enabling them to run risk assessments and check folders are compliant with data regulations.

There are also plans to integrate IBM X-Force threat intelligence and QRadar with Box Shield for advanced threat intelligence, investigation, and response. According to Box, these integrations will help detect abnormal file access and transfers as well as flag techniques used by known cyber criminals.

IBM is not the only beneficiary of new Box announcements as the company has announced more integrations with Slack and Microsoft Teams.

For Slack, the integration will provide contextual information on shared files with content cards and the ability to set file permissions within the comms app to provide users with access and enforce Box permissions in Slack with granular controls.

For Microsoft Teams, the integration will enable users to share Box content or local content directly to Channels and Chats, automate folder and permission mapping, and enable previews and edits in all Channel files in one central place.

What to expect from Boxworks 2019

Bobby Hellard

2 Oct, 2019

Some 6,000 IT professionals are descending on San Francisco this week for Box’s annual conference, where digital transformation and collaboration are on the agenda.

Marking its ninth year in the city, delegates and speakers at the conference will explore how enterprises can transform their business by streamlining operations. The event, hosted at the Moscone Centre, will kick off with a keynote from CEO Aaron Levie, who will be waxing lyrical about the future of work and how cloud management powers intelligent enterprise.

Joining him on stage will be IBM’s CEO, Ginni Rometty, who will be talking about all things content and digital transformation. Big Blue is a regular fixture at Boxworks and it’s highly likely there will be announcements and details about work the two companies are looking to get into in 2020.

Levie will also be joined by award-winning director Ryan Coolger. Nothing has been announced and the reason for his attendance is shrouded in secrecy, but I have fingers crossed for some Black Panther 2 details/footage – that would be marvellous!

Box will have a second celebrity on site, too, with football star Abby Wambach attending the Women’s networking luncheon. As well as being the all-time leading international goalscorer (that’s for men and women), she is also an activist for equality and inclusion.

Taking it back to tech, there’s a real focus on communication platforms this year with the CEOs of both Slack and Zoom attending. Stuart Butterfield, who co-founded Slack, has enjoyed a rapid rise over the last few years thanks to his company’s popularity with startups. It’s been heavily linked to the “always-on” culture, with suggestions that it enables unhealthy work habits, but but its popularity also highlights well received the platform has been by businesses.

Zoom, on the other hand, is a little less well known, but still very popular with startups. CEO Eric Yuan will be attending as a speaker and we assume he’ll be discussing the latest innovations his video conferencing platform has to offer.

Many of the 6,000 or so attendees will be riding across the Golden Gate Bridge in an Uber for the conference and the ride sharing app will have a representative at the event. Head of information technology, Shobhana Ahluwalia will be speaking at the event, presumably discussing the recent changes to the company’s app, which is now an integrated platform for both the transport and food delivery services.

This is likely what we can really expect from Boxworks over the next two days; discussions about simplifying services in the cloud from those that have done it.

Almost £9m wasted on under-utilised cloud tech every year

Bobby Hellard

25 Sep, 2019

European businesses are wasting £8.8 million every year on unused cloud services, according to research.

The findings also suggested that a large number of businesses feel IT is being set up to fail as it handles both transformation projects and legacy tech.

The research was conducted by research firm Coleman Parkes, on behalf of the Insight Intelligent Technology Index (ITI) and featured 1,000 IT decision-makers at companies with 500 employees or more.

In Europe, organisations are spending £29.48 million on cloud computing, but the survey suggests 30% of that is being wasted.

“Under-utilised technology has been a problem for decades, so it’s not surprising to see the problem spread to the cloud,” said Wolfgang Ebermann, president of Insight EMEA. “However, by putting the right controls in place, organisations can optimise cloud consumption and ensure they only pay for services they are using.”

The research highlighted that investment in digital innovation is increasing. Enterprises invested an average of £32.23 million on digital innovation in the last 24 months, and plan to invest £42.12 million in the next two years.

However, 66% of respondents said they feel that IT is being set up to fail as it takes on more responsibility for transformational projects, while still keeping core systems running effectively – which is an increase from the 57% that thought so in 2018.

According to the report, unless there is a change in corporate culture and responsibility for digital innovation is truly shared across the business, this trend is likely to increase.

Boardroom demands to deliver digital projects has placed a lot of pressure on IT teams, particularly to keep costs and security under control. When asked to choose their top three challenges around digital innovation, 46% of respondents chose monthly costs, such as operational expenditure, 44% selecting upfront costs like capital expenditure and 38% pointed to insufficient budgets. Similarly, 60% said security is the main factor that keeps them up at night with 68% saying it’s the biggest challenge in globally managing IT operations.

“The strategic importance of IT as a key enabler for future business success is clearly becoming more understood at board level,” continued Wolfgang Ebermann.

“The role of the CIO is clearly evolving from managing IT to business partner. They have become the ‘digital transformation change agent’ and a core member of the executive board. Yet the CIO and IT cannot solely be held responsible for digital innovation; the entire business has a role to play.”

Gap in cloud skills doubles in three years

Bobby Hellard

20 Sep, 2019

90% of organisations have reported a lack of skills in multiple cloud disciplines and that the deficit has doubled over the last three years.

The lack of public cloud platform expertise is also driving organisations towards managed service providers.

While cloud computing has accelerated digital transformation, forcing companies to invest more in IT teams and systems, it’s also created more niche and specialist jobs and functions.

This has resulted in a widening gap where certain cloud roles are not being filled simply because not enough people have the skills for it, according to a report from 451 research.

Demystifying cloud transformation: Where enterprises should start‘ is a pathfinder paper, commissioned by Dell’s Virtustream.

“While enterprise companies are astutely aware of the breadth of cloud options available to them today, they are looking to cloud managed services partners to bridge their own in-house skills and resources gaps, and for access to their deep expertise across cloud assessment, planning, migration and domain experience,” says Melanie Posey, research VP and GM for 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise.

According to the report, skills shortages in areas related to the cloud are in platform expertise, DevOps, cloud architecture and security. These were seen as challenges to both cloud transformation and adoption as businesses struggled to find skills and resources in-house.

As such, businesses are increasingly looking for outside expertise where managed service providers are filling that gap. Rather than attempting to find and match employees to specific operations within public and private clouds so that they work in a holistic manner, businesses are favouring third-party support to manage the entire lifecycle of their migration and digital transformation.

Nearly two-thirds of organisations that currently use cloud also use some type of managed service, with 71% of respondents suggesting that managed services will be a better use of their money in the future.

What’s more, a strong majority said that managed services free internal IT staff from mundane chores, enabling them to focus on more productive and strategic activities in IT generally.