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Organise your life with Trello

13 Feb, 2020

To do, doing and done: that’s Trello in a nutshell. The tool is based on Kanban, a project-management and development method named after the Japanese word for “billboard”.

That’s a fair description of what Trello looks like: just as a community noticeboard will be covered in notices of events, jobs and announcements, so a Trello board holds lots of small “cards”. Each one usually details a single task, with your various cards grouped into lists to help keep everything organised.

Here’s a practical example of how Kanban works. When editors on our sister site Expert Reviews want to cover a product or news story, they create a Trello card and place it in a list entitled “Ideas”. Once the feature has been commissioned, the card is dragged onto the “Writing” list. When the copy is received, the card is moved into the “Editing” list, after which it will go into the “Publishing” list and so on. 

What makes Trello so powerful is that there’s no requirement to follow a particular workflow. You can create as many lists as you like and structure your Trello board to suit your needs. That flexibility has helped Trello gain more than 50 million users, including large organisations from Adobe to UNICEF – as well as individuals seeking to stay on top of their personal projects. If you haven’t yet considered Trello, it’s time you did. Here’s how it can help you to organise your life.

Creating your account

Getting started with Trello doesn’t have to cost a penny: you can create a free account here. You’ll see that there are also Personal, Business and Enterprise plans at various prices, but for individuals and small businesses the free service may be all you need. It offers an unlimited number of personal boards, cards and lists, and allows you to attach files of up to 10MB to your cards. It also lets you create up to ten team boards, which can be shared between users.

Being signed up to the free service doesn’t limit your ability to connect to other boards, either. If you use Trello both at work and home, your login gives you convenient central access to all of the boards to which you’ve been granted access – including both paid-for and private ones. 

Setting up a personal board is easy. Once you’ve logged in, you just need to click the plus icon at the top of the interface and give your new board a name when prompted. Your board will immediately appear. If, later on, you want to remove a board from your account, you must first close it (by selecting Show Menu | More… | Close Board…). You can then delete it by clicking the menu button on your Trello dashboard, followed by More | Delete Board….

New boards appear empty, with a prompt to create your first list. Enter a title for this and then move on to create as many additional lists as you need. When you’ve finished, click the “X” to close the new list dialog. Don’t worry if you’re not sure at first exactly how to structure your board as you can always reorganise things later. You can reorder lists by simply grabbing their headers and dragging them around, and you can add extra lists via the “Add another list” button that appears at the right end of your board. 

Now you’ve got at least one list, it’s time to populate it with some cards. You can do this by clicking the three dots at the top of a list and selecting “Add Card…” – or you can click the “Add a card” link at the bottom. Once you’ve named a card, you can click into it to give a more detailed description, add notes, attach a file or link and so on. One particularly useful feature is the ability to set deadlines and reminders for individual cards: to do this, click “Due Date” from the “Add to card” menu. Once you’ve got several cards in a list, you can drag them into any order you like, and drag them between lists as needed.

You can also create new cards by email, which can be convenient if you quickly want to add an item to your board while you’re out and about. To make use of this feature, you’ll need your board’s unique email address: to find this, click More and pick “Email-to-board Settings”. Copy the address shown and save it in your contacts for convenient access later on. Note that this address is unique to you, so if other people have access to the board, they will need to use their own address.

You can now create a card by simply sending or forwarding any email to this address; the contents will be added to a new card, along with any attachments up to an overall limit of 10MB. You can set which list emailed cards are added to by clicking List under “Your emailed cards appear in…” and picking from the menu. If you want more control over Trello via email, plugins are available for G Suite and Outlook, which allow you to customise new cards from within your email client.

When a card reaches the end of its workflow, you can archive it from the main dialog menu that opens when you click on it, or from the context menu that opens when you right-click. Archiving a card removes it from the board, but it won’t actually be deleted unless you click the Delete button that appears on archived cards. You can review, restore or purge archived cards from the list that appears when you click Show Menu | Archived Items. 

Use Trello Power-Ups

There are plenty more clever things you can do with Trello, courtesy of the plugins it calls “Power-Ups”. If you’re on the free plan, you can add a single Power-Up to your boards, while paid users can enable as many as they like.

As an example, if you use Slack to communicate with your colleagues, activating the Slack Power-Up allows you to click and drag Slack content directly onto a card. Other supported platforms include Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and Mailchimp. In fact, just about any popular business tool will happily integrate. 

Integrations can also work in the other direction. Every Trello board has a calendar, which records the due dates applied to your cards. You can incorporate these into Outlook or Google Calendar using the Calendar Power-Up: to enable it, point your browser here and click Add Power-Up.

Once it’s enabled, return to your board and click on the gear icon, followed by Calendar Settings. Click “Enable sync” and copy the calendar address from the iCalendar Feed box. In Outlook, you can now open your calendar, click Open Calendar in the Home tab, click From Internet… on the menu that appears and paste in the address you copied. Events from your Trello calendar will now appear alongside those already in your Outlook calendar. You can hide them by unticking the Trello calendar in the sidebar’s My Calendars section.

Google Calendar users, meanwhile, simply need to click the three dots beside “Add calendar” in the sidebar, then paste the copied calendar address into the URL box and click to save their settings.

Save time with Trello templates

We’ve mentioned that Trello can be adapted for any type of workflow, but if someone else has already developed a board that serves your needs, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Click here and you’ll find a broad selection of ready-to-use boards for jobs such as managing a marketing calendar, planning a trip, generating ideas in the early stages of a project and propagating a corporate overview.

Note that, although a template may be free to integrate, it might rely on Power-Ups. The Learn A Language template for example – created by the CEO of Duolingo – uses the Google Drive and Calendar Power-Ups, while the Etsy Order Fulfillment template uses the Dropbox, Custom Fields and Automate.io Power-Ups. As we’ve noted, free users can only use a single Power-Up so you may need to create your own workaround, or subscribe to a paid plan to take full advantage of Trello’s potential.

Automating Trello

A lot of what you do in Trello will be repetitive – and we don’t just mean dragging cards from one column to another. For example, it’s likely that you will have weekly or monthly maintenance tasks to perform, and when you create cards of a certain type you might want to give them all default due dates. However, rather than laboriously doing this for every single card, you can apply automation using Trello’s Butler Power-Up.

Simply put, Butler works on the principle of triggers and actions, as its developer Oscar Triscon explains: “Imagine having an assistant that can be instructed to react to your actions on the board. You tell him: ‘When I move a card to the Done list, please mark the due date complete in a card, add a green label and post a comment saying ‘@board I got this’.’ Then, every time you move a card to Done, those actions are performed on the card – as if by magic. You can set up rules just like that one using Butler, which is built into every Trello board. Importantly, you don’t need to know any computer programming: the rules are entered in plain English.”

There’s plenty more you can do with Butler: it lets you add buttons to cards and boards, create schedules and manipulate due dates. So you can, for example, configure it to create a series of standard cards at the start of each day or week, or add a button to your dashboard that organises all of your tasks by deadline. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that free account users only have access to basic Butler actions, such as setting due dates, creating checklists and moving cards automatically. Paid subscribers get the full feature set, but Personal users can run only 200 commands per month performing up to 2,000 operations, while those on the Business and Enterprise plans get much higher limits.

Connect Trello to other apps

If Trello’s built-in automation doesn’t do quite what you want, you can use the IFTTT automation platform to expand its capabilities using third-party tools such as Evernote, Pocket and the Google Assistant. Get started by heading to and clicking Connect. Read what rights you’ll be granting IFTTT and, if you’re happy with them, click “Log in”, followed by Allow.

You’ll also need to connect the third-party services you want to integrate with Trello, assuming you haven’t already done so. To do this, click in the search box at the top of the screen, enter the name of the service you want to use – we’ll use the Google Assistant for this example – click Services and again click Connect to log in to your account.

Once you’ve connected both Google Assistant and Trello to IFTTT, you can then use the former to control the latter. Go here and click Connect and then customise the commands you can speak to your Google Assistant to create a new Trello card (see screenshot opposite). The “$” in the preset commands represents a spoken variable, which will be used as the title of the card you create. So, if you said “Okay Google, add tax return to the Trello list”, the card would be titled “tax return”. Scroll further down the screen, choose which board and list you want new cards to appear in, then click Save.

Convert Post-it notes to Trello boards

If you’re currently relying on a forest of Post-it notes for your project management needs, the transition to Trello shouldn’t be too difficult – after all, a Trello board already looks like a wall covered in notes. What’s more, 3M (the firm behind the ubiquitous yellow stickers) has built a handy feature into its free Post-it app for Android and iOS that lets you capture and digitise up to 200 notes at a time using your phone or tablet’s camera and export them directly to Trello. Download it here.

It’s also possible to send captured content to PowerPoint, Excel and Dropbox, or export it as PDF. You can scan things other than Post-it notes, too – but the app is optimised for square content so rectangular notes will be squashed. 

Microsoft overhauls its privacy policy amid EU concerns

18 Nov, 2019

Microsoft has said it will be updating its privacy provisions for commercial cloud contracts after a report from EU regulators last month questioned the company’s ability to comply with data laws.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), an independent authority that oversees the application of GDPR, launched an investigation in April to assess whether the company’s contracts with EU institutions violated the rules.

The results of that investigation, released in October, raised “serious concerns” about Microsoft’s ability to provide appropriate safeguards for the processing of data done on behalf of the EU bodies it services.

In a statement on its website on Monday, Microsoft said: “We are announcing today we will increase our data protection responsibilities for a subset of processing that Microsoft engages in when we provide enterprise services”.

Last year the company worked alongside the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security to amend contractual terms of a services agreement after authorities raised similar concerns about the lack of technical safeguards for the processing of data.

Monday’s privacy policy update is designed to extend those amendments across all commercial cloud contracts globally for both the private and public sector, the company explained.

“We will clarify that Microsoft assumes the role of data controller when we process data for specified administrative and operational purposes incident to providing the cloud services covered by this contractual framework, such as Azure, Office 365, Dynamics and Intune,” the company said.

“This subset of data processing serves administrative or operational purposes such as account management; financial reporting; combatting cyberattacks on any Microsoft product or service; and complying with our legal obligations.

“The change to assert Microsoft as the controller for this specific set of data uses will serve our customers by providing further clarity about how we use data, and about our commitment to be accountable under GDPR to ensure that the data is handled in a compliant way.”

Microsoft will remain the data processor when providing its services, fixing bugs, operating security services, and providing software updates, the statement added.

The policy overhaul comes just days after the company committed to applying the California Consumer Privacy Act to all US states once it comes into force in January 2020, although it has no legal obligation to do so.

The company expects the new policy terms to be applied to all commercial cloud contracts by the beginning of 2020.

View from the airport: Commvault GO 2019

22 Oct, 2019

Data and backup specialist Commvault devoted a large part of its annual GO conference redefining itself in the eyes of its partners and customers. Inevitably, there was a lot of buzz about what this ‘new Commvault’ actually meant.

The first and most obvious part of that mission was the company’s subtle rebrand, something it clearly hoped would serve as the signifier of a new chapter, and a move away from the recent stagnancy into which it had slipped. With slight changes to the colours and typeface – it improves the aesthetic somewhat. I have to say, though, it was a little underwhelming.

The second, more important aspect, was to use the event to address the growing unease among customers and partners. Our discussions with partners, by and large, suggest this was a moderate success, and there was certainly a sense of energy lacking in Nashville last year, beyond that emanating from the music scene.

This excitement was perhaps encapsulated most by the launch of Metallic, a standalone software as a service (SaaS) venture that pointedly departs from the Commvault brand and forges its own identity. I wasn’t the only one confused as to why Metallic wasn’t released under the wider product umbrella. The rationale was that it grew from within the company like a startup, with its own dedicated team, and that certainly adds up. Yet, reading between the lines, it’s clear the firm recognises it has work to do in addressing a set of issues tied to the Commvault identity.

Connotations that its technology is hard to use, that pricing is too high and confusing, and that Commvault itself is something of a throwback compared to the new kids on the block, are – as one partner put it – three fairly “crippling” attributes. This isn’t to say Commvault hasn’t moved to address these, with Mirchandani stressing numerous times the ‘complexity’ notion is a “myth” that he’s now striving to bust, given recent changes to the platform.

The firm as a whole must now face the reality of the hand it’s been dealt. It’s good, then, that we saw evidence of a strategy that could pave the way for a change in its fortunes. Recent changes to its channel programme, and new hires in the form of industry veterans Mercer Rowe and Edison Peres, should go some way towards addressing the barriers resellers face.

The new venture, Metallic, of course, smacks of a gimmick, but it actually addresses a gap in the market, and seemingly trumps alternative SaaS backup options. Its distribution, too, will be entirely channel-led, starting with select US partners, with successes fed back into Commvault’s existing programme.

Moreover, the broader idea to integrate data management with storage management was the real cornerstone of Mirchandani’s long-term vision. Following the Hedvig acquisition last month, Commvault laid out its ideas for the future, but we’ll have to reserve judgement on this front until a solid model for integration is released.

Broadly speaking, these sorts of ideas and announcements were what I expected to see from Commvault after a shaky 12 months; something shiny to get the conversation going, but reinforced with a sense of substance that partners, who deal with the technology day-in and day-out, can shout about too. 

Recognising the realities of an increasingly multi-cloud landscape was reassuring, as was Mirchandani’s statement that Commvault is happy to work with existing Hedvig customers who use rival backup services, such as those offered by Veeam. It must be said that there’s a risk that Commvault’s confidence, as it follows through on its strategy, may again slip into a familiar sense of complacency.

Persistent repetition, for instance, that Commvault sat at the pinnacle of the Gartner magic quadrant, as well as Forrester’s equivalent, grew fairly tedious. After all, Commvault’s standard of technology has never been a problem, rather, it’s the many elements that coalesce around it.

Q&A: Scott Murphy, Ingram Micro

17 May, 2019

The UK Cloud Summit is now in its third year. What made Ingram Micro put the event on in the first place and how has the event itself evolved in that time?

The UK Cloud Summit 2019 is the perfect opportunity to showcase the great advancements our partners in cloud solutions have made over the past year – which we’re excited to recognise at our Gala Awards ceremony – and to acknowledge the evolving technologies that will take us into the future of cloud.

To those that joined us last year at The Institution of Engineering and Technology in London, we thank you for being part of an exciting year for us and invite you to join us again in 2019 for an even bigger event and year.

The UK Cloud Summit 2019 promises to be a game-changing event in the UK, as we bring together over 300 executives, industry disruptors and fellow thought leaders. You can find more information and sign up here

Why should people attend this year’s event?

This year’s Cloud Summit will be over two days and brings together both our cloud and advanced solutions partners to discover new, disruptive technologies fueled by the cloud (Infinite Possibilities), explore ways that they can benefit from category-leading cloud solutions (Infinite Ecosystems), and grasp the challenges of transforming their business in the digital economy (Infinite Growth).

By attending, people will: 

  • Gain actionable tactics from practical learning sessions
  • Network and idea share with top industry experts
  • Discover the latest cloud solutions
  • Hear world-class speakers explore the infinite possibilities of cloud
  • Learn how to streamline cutting edge SaaS, IaaS and IoT technology
  • Discover how CloudBlue accelerates XaaS monetisation

What industry trends and changes have you witnessed in the same period?

With the surge of AI, IoT, Big Data and other emerging technologies, we are ensuring that we not only have the people with the right expertise, but also the capability to deploy these solutions through our platforms. Ingram Micro Professional Services is then there to support partners in their conversations with end-users and to enable them to deliver these solutions from start to finish.

Conversely, what opportunities have you witnessed/harnessed? Either as a company or in terms of your customers?

IaaS continues to explode. We’ve seen our Azure Accelerate Elite partners drive growth of over 270% YoY, however, we see SaaS also continuing to accelerate.

Cyber Security isn’t something new however more and more clients are looking at this as a key priority, whether it’s securing the cloud or simply securing business. Ingram has invested heavily in this area to transform how we bring value to channel (VAD to Solution Provider).

Ingram Micro Services is a key focus area for us and our partners. Whether that be Professional or Managed Services or other services such as Financial. All of which continue to grow across our partner base.

Can you provide a bit more detail for those not familiar with your company?

Ingram Micro Cloud (IMC), a division of Ingram Micro UK Ltd, was established in 2014 to help its partners realise their share of the cloud market opportunity. Ingram Micro Cloud is a master cloud service provider (mCSP), offers channel partners and enterprises access to the leading global Cloud commerce platform, expertise, solutions and enabling programmes that empower organisations to realise their potential in the digital economy.

Ingram Micro Cloud is the leading Cloud aggregator in the UK and powered by CloudBlue, a foundational cloud software and services platform destined to transcend every aspect of the new, as-a-service economy.

What does cloud mean to you and what benefits do you think it brings to businesses?

I heard an expression which for me sums up the cloud well. Cloud is an experience, not a destination. Initially might sound anti-cloud however it’s about supporting clients on their digital transformation journey. Benefits include enabling clients to win more business, drive differentiation and reduce complexity from daily IT tasks across AI, ML, Big Data and IoT by harnessing the power of the cloud.

Are there any stumbling blocks to success?

Businesses require correct tools, people, industry knowledge, systems and training programs to capitalise on the digitalisation opportunity. This lends itself to an immense challenge for the channel to fulfil yet with the right mCSP partner, solution and business plan it’s possible to embrace the infinite potential of Cloud to infinite reality.

How is your company helping customers address key challenges in these areas and take advantage of opportunities?

We are helping in a number of ways:

1.              Training

Upskilling and training staff is key to ensuring growth in 2019 with fresh and more advanced technology emerging via the channel. While talent can be difficult to obtain with the challenge of a digital skills gap in the UK, current staff can acquire new skills as well as perfecting existing abilities, helping fill these skills shortages.

Making one employee proficient in multiple roles increases their value to the business by enabling them to take on extra tasks with new technologies should they be required to. We provide a number of technically and commercially led training and enablement for our partners across a number of solution areas and cloud categories. Whether a fundamental level or advanced in knowledge, we have a team of experts on hand to help upskill our customers’ businesses.  

2.              IaaS

While many organisations still perceive IaaS as a colossal move from what is considered a ‘traditional IT infrastructure setup’, IaaS is critical to realising the intelligent future of the cloud. Building confidence in selling IaaS, such as Microsoft Azure, and championing the innovation and growth it can bring – without being afraid of new technology – will be important this year and beyond. We’re supporting our partners with key advanced workload packages and plays to help deliver solutions quickly and easily in-market with a host of Solution Architects and consultants. In addition, supporting partners to find new opportunities across IaaS Lifecycle service categories. 

3.              Understanding vertical specialisation

Getting to know your own vertical is something that often gets little attention. It’s not only knowing about the sector, but it’s also knowing the surrounding environment too. Make sure you become an expert in your specialisation while also considering the global and international factors that affect economies and sectors and analyse the impact of customers, competitors and suppliers on that vertical.

Get under the skin of what makes your customers – and their industry – tick. We’ve recently created a series of 8 vertical eBooks to help understand the challenges and opportunities across industries such as manufacturing, finance, retail, media legal, healthcare telecommunications and education.

How do you think the cloud landscape has evolved in the past five years?

With a generation of millennials and centennials being born into a world of digital technology, their positive attitude to the escalation of AI, robotics and automation reflects an understanding of its potential to make working life easier, safer and more productive. Due to their familiarity with cloud-powered applications and collaborative tools, the younger talent is helping to push digital transformation drives of organisations across the world.

What do you think has driven this shift?

Their progressive attitude is proving essential in encouraging employers to embrace the future and ramp up investment in the technologies that can harness the power of AI and robotics and improve the modern workplace by enabling flexible and remote working for all staff.

What other trends and patterns do you see around cloud computing and related technologies?

Adoption of cloud-first strategies, cloud consolidation and Hybrid partnership motion across businesses.

Partner to Partner collaboration across ISVs, MSPs and VARs will help build more robust and commercial solutions which are transforming industries. Focus across IoT, AI and cyber security are where we see the best opportunity. Supporting clients on their digital transformation journey and ensuring complimentary cloud solutions are bolted together is where we see our channel partners succeed.

What technologies will be driving business change and success five years from now and why?

Key tech plays we believe will drive success in five years from now is IoT, AI and cyber security and UCC. These are the areas we see as transforming the cloud sector an opportunity for the channel to maximise.

IoT is empowering businesses to improve customer experience and make better-informed decisions based on connected “things”. AI is much more than just automation of processes and the real opportunity to leverage AI is across the IT environment to improve efficiencies and reduce risk. UCC for us is empowering people to collaborate, regardless of location to accelerate wider relationships.

Do you have anything else to add? 

Ingram Micro is dedicated to making partner transformation simple and by leveraging the Cloud Awesomeness Roadmap which highlights four key stages of partners in their cloud adoption journey we’re striving to bring value to our partners, vendors and clients with practical, business generating initiatives. Across three key unique investments in people, platform and portfolio we’re helping more partners win in the digitalisation era.

5 reasons you should attend the UK Cloud Summit

2 May, 2019

It’s now less than a month until the UK Cloud Summit takes place in London so if you haven’t already registered for the event, now is the time to sign up.

This two-day event is a must-attend for those looking to find out how to start driving or continue to drive business success using cloud and related technologies. 

“Discover new, disruptive technologies fuelled by the cloud (Infinite Possibilities), explore ways that they can benefit from category leading cloud solutions (Infinite Ecosystems), and grasp the challenges of transforming their business in the digital economy (Infinite Growth),” said Scott Murphy, director of cloud and advanced solutions and Ingram Micro in the UK and Ireland.

“You’ll learn about the extraordinary shift that’s taking the channel in a bold, new direction. Where the unknown becomes known. Where your business can leap forward in cloud enablement, and where the infinite potential becomes infinite reality.”

So, if you’re still thinking about attending the summit – which takes place on 21 and 22 May at the Landmark Hotel in London – here are some compelling reasons to attend:

1)Hot topics discussed and debated

There’s even more to talk about now the summit is in its third year. That’s why we’re pleased to have the event running across two days rather than one.  By expanding the duration, it means we can do even more topics justice.

Indeed, there are 18 sessions across the two days, with three learning tracks – Infinite Possibilities, Infinite Ecosystem and Infinite Growth – so that we really can quench your thirst for knowledge.

There will be plenty of talk, as well as answers to questions around cloud generally, AI, analytics, BI, blockchain, cyber security, IaaS, IoT, SaaS, XaaS and more.

2)Feast on more than just information

While we know the main reason you would want to attend the summit is to feed your hunger for knowledge, we also know how important it is to relax in between the two days.

It’s also important we take time to reflect as individuals and as an industry collective on our achievements and successes.

That’s why, this year, we will be hosting a luxury gala dinner in the spectacular Grand Ballroom. In addition to a delicious dinner in a fantastic setting, we will also host our first partner awards and recognition ceremony.

3)Myths debunked

The world of technology innovation moves at a rapid pace and it can be very easy to get swept along in the sea of hype. But jumping on the next big thing for the sake of it rather than with a reasoned business case can be a very dangerous thing indeed for businesses.

That’s why, in addition to talking about myriad of benefits on offer, we will also be talking honestly about the challenges and how you can best overcome them or navigate your way away from them altogether.

4)Networking opportunities galore

More than 350 like-minded individuals will be attending the event. That’s a fantastic opportunity to network, exchange ideas and opinions and bounce ideas off of one another.

It’s very often the connections made through networking opportunities like this that really give you the insight and additional support you need to drive your business into its next phase of success.

5)World-class speakers

This year’s event is hosted by Alex Hilton, CEO of the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF). He’ll be joined by some really engaging keynote speakers who will all give their perspective on the world of cloud. That’s in addition to some really enticing breakout sessions that offer deeper dives on certain subjects.

Nimesh Davé, executive vice president of global cloud at Ingram Micro will be joined by other industry luminaries such as:

  • Alexis Conran, TV presenter and former conman, best known for presenting The Real Hustle
  • James Chadwick, director of channel sales at Microsoft
  • Ronan McCurtin, vice president of northern Europe at Acronis
  • Richard Agnew, vice president of EMEA at Code42
  • Tim Britt, head of UK channel at Dropbox Business
  • Scott Murphy, director of cloud and advanced solutions at Ingram Micro
  • Leigh Schvartz, head of cloud and MSP offerings at Fujitsu

 

Innovation: The financial industry’s best-kept secret?

18 Apr, 2019

The financial services sector (FSS) has reached a tipping point; should it stay the same and hope for the best or should it embrace disruption and associated technologies and emerge different, stronger and better from its legacy cocoon?

But do FSS firms really need to change at all? Perhaps what does need to change is how they are perceived. Indeed, with a reputation of being not just slow, but reluctant to change, FSS organisations have actually been innovating all the while behind the scenes. Their downfall, perhaps, lies in not shouting loudly about it as many other sectors have done.

So, why are those in the industry now starting to talk much more openly about technology and the impact it can have not just on operations, but the customer experience?

We have reached the point where banks, in particular, must consider and position themselves not just as financial entities, but as lifestyle brands too, according to Bharat Bhushan, CTO of banking and financial markets at IBM’s Financial Services division.

“The industry has been innovating in a pull and a push manner. Our ability to interact with our banks using mobile devices doesn’t sound like an innovation, but it isn’t that long ago that we were walking into branches and checking ATMs. Now, people can check their balance several times a day while waiting for trains/planes etc.” he says. 

“It’s important to distinguish between the incumbents and the challengers. FinTech has been one of the reasons for banks to innovate – if they don’t innovate, their lunch will be eaten.”

The devil is in the detail when it comes to moving innovation from theory to reality, though, with execution becoming the real differentiator, according to a recent blog post by Bhushan.

“An organisation with a culture of innovation, collaboration and true customer focus will be able to maintain differentiation and identity in the digital world as they do in the physical world. The winners will use their digital capabilities to draw intelligence from data in real-time and use it to drive behaviour change or, convenience,” he added.

Turning adversity into opportunity

With an industry changing almost beyond recognition, despite historic innovation, many FSS organisations feel somewhat unsettled.

Indeed, most of those in the sector entered 2019 feeling less certain about the future than ever.

“[This uncertainty can be] quite uncomfortable for some organisations. They’re thinking ‘we’ve got to change, but we don’t really know where to start.’ We really try and structure the way we help companies by looking at those opportunities. Sometimes they just need a bit of help to figure out how to combine the technology with the business aspects and the user side of things. We can help them get started on the road and often getting started is the hardest bit,” adds Holly Cummins, worldwide development lead of the IBM Cloud Garage.

“Once companies see they can innovate and nothing terrible happened that is a seed for something that can then ripple out through the organisation and help them innovate in other ways. It’s testing the water and seeing what happens and that takes away a lot of the fear.”

In engagements with businesses, these pilots or test cases are dubbed ‘minimum viable products’ according to Cummins.

Cummins adds: “We worked on a project years ago with a bank that had quite a large budget set aside for something. It was really innovative around allowing their customers who collected loyalty points to pay with them…

“We tried something smaller. Everybody said it was wonderful, it was innovative but they didn’t want it – their partners just weren’t able to digest it – even though everybody agreed it was great. So, even though the project failed in one sense, the bank was actually delighted as they hadn’t wasted money and knew what to do differently if they tried it again. A good thing came out of something that could be perceived as a failure or negative.”

It will be the types of organisations that turn negatives into positives that, ultimately, win out.

Open banking, for example, means the industry has much more to gain than it stands to lose.

“When everyone becomes digital, the big challenge for financial institutions is how to differentiate themselves from the nearest competitor. That’s where the magic will start to happen,” Bhushan adds.

“Open Banking requires a cultural shift in a financial institution. Once you form a culture where you are not just behaving like a bank… Open APIs and banking are a fundamental shift from a very closed industry to one on its way to becoming an open platform.

“Historically, you and I have been generating data for these banks for the last 60/70 years since computers were used. That data belonged to the bank. But with open APIs, that data belongs to us. Regulations like GDPR have helped empower that.”

Levelling the playing field

Advanced technologies are now no longer the preserve of large enterprises or those with infinite pots of cash. Now, all organisations can benefit from the speed and scale of subscription-based services that deliver business-level results in almost a consumer-friendly consumption model. 

“Financial institutions need to address how ideas are generated and executed. It’s about failing fast. They should be using the cloud, for example, as a fundamental mechanism. Cloud and everything that goes with cloud is fundamental to that change,” according to Bhushan.

“DevOps in itself is a big shift for some banks – globally not just in the UK. The idea of bottom up and top down innovation [is very new].”

Continuous delivery is an important weapon to have in your arsenal as an FSS organisation, according to Jim McKay, worldwide solutions architect at IBM SoftLayer.

“Ultimately, it’s about how quickly Solutions can be developed. How can you evolve the [old] ways to become more agile? And that’s really where we’re seeing the opportunity for cloud,” he says.

The cloud and emerging technologies such as AI and machine learning serve as both a catalyst for and a reason to change for the financial industry. Customers, ultimately, expect the same – if not greater – level of tech sophistication they’re used to in their consumer lives when it comes to everyday tasks such as banking.

Every element of work carried out in the FSS is being transformed by technology and AI represents a $16 trillion opportunity, according to IBM’s Tiffany Winman reporting on all the industry news and views coming from IBM’s Think 2019 event earlier this year.

It’s an opinion industry experts share, with analyst firm Gartner suggesting that AI implementation grew by 270% in the last four years and 37% in the last year alone. This, says Winman, is helping firms digitally reinvent themselves and using AI to reduce costs, create new revenue streams and enhance the customer experience.

But there remains some fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) around AI, with concerns specifically focused on job loss or displacement.

“IBM’s approach to AI is not to replace humans, but rather to create augmented intelligence that helps amplify human cognition,” Winman wrote.

“Companies should ask: How do you leverage technology to help humans do what they do, better? And how can technology bring value in such a way that it allows them to do higher value things?”

Rob Thomas, IBM General Manager of Data and AI, has another way of looking at it, saying at Think 2019: “AI is not going to replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace the managers who do not.”

Thomas said AI was the “new electricity” which should certainly serve as a warning to those who are still in any doubt as to the transformative powers it possesses for businesses of all sectors but, specifically, the financial industry.

Partnering remains key to success

Like every other industry, it’s important for those in the FSS to recognise they don’t have to go it alone. 

“Banks need to open up to the idea of partnering with other companies and find the right balance between investing in FinTech or partnering. Finding that balance of using FinTech to innovate incrementally or in a process means we finally have a win/win scenario,” Bhushan says, adding its an innovation inhibitor if those organisations are so proprietary that they simply can’t – rather than won’t work with anyone else.

Blockchain, for example, is a key innovation that offers much to FSS firms. However, up until recently, its brilliance had gotten mixed up and somewhat lost in the hype surrounding crypto currencies, according to Bhushan.

“I’ve certainly seen a shift [in that thinking] now,” he says. “Blockchain works really well when you have multiple parties. In a mortgage situation, for example, you can have the land registry, banks – all of them participating in the Blockchain. But, it needs all of those parties to come to the table and agree to the standards.”

The real 21st century currency 

Against the backdrop of disruption and innovation, those in the FSS are facing the same security threats – often intensified – as many other industries.

“Cyber security is as much a business problem as a technology one. Every employee is a cyber security manager,” Sean McKee, senior manager of cyber threat management at TD Bank, told delegates at Think 2019.

“What can an organisation do to prepare? Your plan is not worth the paper it’s written on if nobody knows how to use it… TD Bank did a five month workup for a two day test. The president of the US bank immediately saw the results of their decisions,” he continued.

McKee outlined four key steps to effective implementation:

 

  1. Exercise and test your strategy and plan. Come to a cyber range and bring your playbook

  2. Technical security controls testing (ethical hacking committee)

  3. Resource for success. It takes a long time to produce a proper exercise

  4. Continuous improvement

Security and resilience can often be seen as more of a burden than compliance in the FSS sector, but it can also unlock many positives, according to Bhushan.

“I think security can be a very empowering mechanism to enable trust between you and your customers and partners at all levels,” he says.

“In the 21st century, information is money. So, by being secure you are actually accelerating the trust your suppliers and partners have in you and accelerating business results.”

In a world that is travelling in all sorts of different directions at 100 miles per hour, the temptation to simply hit the pause button to take stock can be incredibly tempting. However, by embracing the cloud, continuous development and DevOps, FSS firms can continue to keep the lights on, defend against threats and innovate, too.

“Organisations can no longer look to their competitors to decide what to do next. Innovation and reinvention is key to existence in this rapidly changing world. Delivering customers’ needs with agility and pace is vital. Organisations should start on their journey by exploring how data and AI together can uncover the value hidden in their data and then deliver features with simplicity,” Bhushan adds.

“Digital is a prerequisite and a journey, it is not the destination. Creating magical experiences that consumers will pay for is the end game.”

Why DevOps is the future of your business

21 Feb, 2019

If you’ve spent any time at all in the IT world, you’ll likely have heard about DevOps and how it’s the future of enterprise software development. Companies both large and small have adopted DevOps processes and methodologies as part of their organisation, chasing faster development cycles and greater application stability.

For the uninitiated, DevOps is a software development method that involves merging development and operations teams together. The goal is to shorten the time it takes to build, patch, and update software by monitoring and testing it as it’s being built. This allows problems to be caught earlier, leading to a shorter time-to-market.

Multiple advantages

DevOps has a number of advantages over traditional software development approaches like the waterfall method. The first and most obvious is speed; DevOps can radically accelerate development cycles, which means software can be delivered to users faster.

“Reducing the time between inception and value when delivering services is the key benefit,” says Guy Smith, CDW’s head of technology solutions. “In addition, bringing application developers closer to the operational challenges of running a live system can provide a useful feedback loop that results in applications that are designed to be operated, with consideration for proper abstraction, state handling, failure tolerance, and simple scaling.”

Because it’s also based around smaller and more frequent releases, users can also get used to new changes gradually, rather than having to acclimatise to lots of new things at the same time. It’s also easy to roll back to a previous version in the event of an unexpected bug and ensures that fixes for said bug can be issued faster. This shouldn’t be required that often, though, as DevOps generally has a lesser failure rate than waterfall development.

In many ways, DevOps is the cornerstone of digital transformation. Among the most common goals of a digital transformation project is for the company to become software-driven, with an agile approach to both its strategy and its IT, and DevOps is essential for all of those goals. Without being able to rapidly iterate on the software and apps that a business creates, it can’t be truly agile or software-driven, as it will constantly be behind the curve and slowed down by clunky, outdated methodologies.

Many major organisations have already embraced DevOps as a way to speed up their software pipelines; Companies like Hertz, American Airlines, Accenture and more have all implemented DevOps methodologies, using them to drive greater efficiencies, faster workloads and more frequent releases.


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An agile world

DevOps isn’t just applicable to IT, however. It’s closely tied to the agile movement, and many of its principles are effective across the business as a whole. Take the Scrum method, for example; this framework involves taking a project-based approach to solving business challenges.

A cross-functional team is created, made up of members from every relevant area of the business. The team establishes the end goal of the project, then works towards accomplishing this goal in a short series of ‘sprints’ lasting from two to four weeks, in which a small series of tasks are devised, planned, completed and tested.

The idea is to break a project up into more manageable chunks, with regular testing and monitoring throughout the process. Although this is generally applied to software development, it can be equally suited to projects like marketing campaigns, IT refreshes or quarterly reporting efforts.

Implementing DevOps can be extremely beneficial for a business, but it can be a rather daunting undertaking too, especially for a mature, established organisation that already has a more traditional development structure in place. As with any major organisational change, it’s crucial to ensure that the implementation is meticulously planned out beforehand and carefully managed during the roll-out itself.

“Be really clear about what problem you’re trying to solve and exactly how the new model will improve service delivery to users,” Smith says. “It’s very easy to get sucked into the dogma and fashion of DevOps/Agile but it isn’t always the appropriate approach or done with the end-user in mind. In addition, clear expectations need to be set about where responsibility lies, not just with ‘make stuff live faster’ but how real world problems such as bugs, operational issues and security incidents will be dealt with at 3am.”

Are you ready for DevOps?

One of the most important elements of moving to a DevOps approach is making sure the culture and management style of the organisation is ready to support it by obtaining buy-in from all the necessary stakeholders within the business and establishing a set of guiding principles that everyone is on board with. Beyond that, however, there are a number of technical tools which comprise the foundation of a successful DevOps organisation.

Version control systems, for example, are the bedrock of DevOps. One of the most essential principles of DevOps is rapidly deploying code, testing it to see if it works and then rolling it back and trying again if it doesn’t. By using a version control system like Git, CVS or Team Foundation Version Control, this process is made infinitely easier, allowing you to easily track iterations of code and work collaboratively on them without having to manually shuffle between multiple near-identical files.

Similarly, code-sharing platforms like Github or the aforementioned TFVC are a must-have for any DevOps team. Close collaboration is essential for speedy software releases, and the ability to have an entire DevOps team collaborating simultaneously on one piece of code will make the process much, much faster. Modern code-sharing platforms will also integrate with a swathe of other tools to help speed up and automate your workflows.

Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) tools, for example, are another essential part of the DevOps toolchain that work in concert with code-sharing platforms and version control systems. Tools, such as Jenkins, are designed to automatically assemble and test a new build of a piece of software every time a developer commits a change to the version control system. This ensures that developers working on different features don’t accidentally break each others’ work when they commit changes to the main branch, resulting in fewer bugs and faster working releases.

Another key pillar of DevOps is Infrastructure as Code. This principle involves treating the various components of infrastructure – such as VMs, networks, and so on – in the same way as the code that’s running on it. New environments are spun up according to a pre-set template using the same version control model as the code itself, which means all your environments will be identical unless expressly designed to be different.

DevOps teams will need to spin up new test environments quickly and often, and spinning them up and administering them manually can mean that, over time, you’re left with a large number of environments which are all subtly different to each other. This can often lead to deployment issues, but using Infrastructure as Code platforms like Puppet prevents this by ensuring consistency across your environment.

Every organisation is different, and building the right DevOps toolchain can be a tricky business. Working with a skilled partner, however, can dramatically reduce the complexity and hassle of implementing a DevOps structure. CDW can offer not just the toolsets you need to get your DevOps pipeline moving, but also the expert strategic guidance to help make your DevOps journey a success from the word go.

“CDW can help you navigate the challenges of delivering services quickly, cost-effectively and securely whilst focusing on user-need,” explains Smith. “We have a significant breadth and depth of products, in-house expertise and partner relationships that allow us to think ‘outcome first, approach/tool second’ and provide solutions that offer true business benefit.”

To learn more about CDW Cloud Services, download your free guide or contact CloudEnquires@uk.cdw.com

The truth behind managed services

14 Feb, 2019

Managed service providers (MSPs) have received an unfair deal over the years. Despite being a mainstay of the IT landscape for decades, many practitioners still look down their noses at MSPs and the companies that use them, often viewing them as poor relations to the in-house IT department.

This is partly caused by a number of incorrect and damaging myths, such as the idea that MSPs are solely suited to managing in-house IT equipment and on-premise infrastructure deployments, or that they’re not suited to cloud-based IT models.

In fact, this could not be further from the truth. The modern MSP can actually support companies of any size in deploying personalised, enterprise-grade cloud strategies – and at a rate that actually offers greater value than maintaining your own IT department.

“Sometimes organisations can perceive cloud MSPs in a similar way to the more traditional approach,” says CDW’s head of cloud services Joel Berwitz. “However, the ability of MSPs to share their experiences with other customers, advise on best practice and ensure that investments are made correctly will make an organisation’s cloud transformation gather pace. This, alongside the scale that MSPs can bring to the more traditional values of maintenance and monitoring, is a way of mitigating risk and saving time.”

Far from being a sub-standard compromise for companies without the budget or skills to fuel an in-house IT department, partnering with an MSP can actually be the perfect solution for businesses who want to kick-start their digital transformation into a modern, cloud-driven organisation. MSPs such as CDW can offer these companies not just a wide-ranging level of strategic expertise and world-class support, but also battle-tested experience.

Major companies such as Atos, Hovis, and the Estee Lauder group have all partnered with CDW to provide various elements of their IT, and with good reason. MSPs can offer far more than simple commodity procurement or IT support services. Indeed, the best MSPs act as end-to-end partners, taking companies from the planning phase through to successful deployment, and supporting them on an ongoing basis. This is especially true of cloud migrations, where MSPs can help their customers cut through the complexity to help organisations meet their business goals.

Bridging the skills gap

Contrary to the idea that they’re jacks-of-all-trades, one of the biggest advantages to partnering with an MSP is a deep level of expertise. Thanks to a widening skills gap within the UK technology industry, hiring talented, qualified IT staff can be a struggle for some companies, and tight budgets can prevent them from hiring specialists in every area they need.

Partnering with a managed services provider can solve all of these problems and more. That’s because MSPs have a large number of people to hand with a range of skills and certifications, allowing businesses to draw on a wide pool of talented IT specialists. It also means they can make use of specific skills like cloud architecture as and when they need them, rather than hiring a member of staff who may end up being under-utilised for most of the time.

Strategic expertise is also one of the key benefits of engaging with an MSP. Having an MSP involved at the planning stage of a cloud rollout can be invaluable; because it is intimately familiar with the cloud industry’s full range of tools and services, and can draw on that knowledge to craft a unique package tailored to your specific business challenges.

“Change is a constant, certainly with public cloud providers, and therefore the ability to keep up to date with the advancements in the services available is difficult for any organisation,” says Berwitz. “MSPs who are close to their customers have the ability to advise on only the changes which are relevant to their organisation and therefore save time and increase efficiency in each case.”

Another misconception about MSPs is that moving to managed cloud services means outsourcing your whole IT organisation and getting rid of all its existing staff. Again, this is most certainly not the case. While MSPs can offer a full-service package to do the job of an internal IT department, they can also provide a huge advantage to businesses by working in unison with a company’s existing tech teams.

With an MSP taking care of essential, everyday tasks like printer maintenance, network monitoring, and cyber security internal IT staff are freed up to focus on projects that can deliver additional value to the business – such as upgrade programmes, cloud deployments and training courses.

“Organisations nowadays have somewhat expensive resources that are best utilised in building the services and applications in the cloud which are key to differentiating their organisation and adding value,” Berwitz explains.

“MSPs can help where there is a skills gap internally or to take care of the more mundane maintenance tasks, alongside ensuring that optimisation and cost management/forecasting is under control.”

The true value of partnership

One of the biggest – and least accurate – myths is that partnering with an MSP is more costly than using an in-house IT model, but this assumption can be safely put to bed. Indeed, partnering with an MSP is generally more cost-effective. As previously discussed, companies that work with MSPs don’t have to spend vast sums recruiting technical specialists, nor do they need to invest in training existing IT staff to use new technologies.

MSPs can also scale up at no cost to the end-user company, while in-house IT cannot. Companies that make use of an all-you-can-eat service package are free to expand their business at whatever pace they see fit, without the worry of overstretching their IT resources or having to invest in more support capacity.

This is also true of cloud services; many MSPs will offer the option of rolling cloud-based services like backup, infrastructure or SaaS apps into a customer’s monthly subscription, which means that (within reason) the customer doesn’t have to sweat about incurring extra costs as they scale.

The savings from all of these cost reductions – recruitment, equipment, subscriptions, et cetera – mean the IT department will have a lot more room in their budget, which smart managers will invest in expansion of the business and its IT capabilities – whether that’s hiring more in-house team members, upgrading existing equipment or adding new capabilities with the help of their MSP partner.

“CDW has an established cloud practice, having been through hundreds of cloud migrations,” Berwitz says. “This experience has helped us to mitigate risk for our customers, ensuring that their cloud transformation is timely and, regardless of the business drivers and reasons for migrations, the organisation has a successful outcome.”

To learn more about CDW Cloud Services, download your free guide or contact CloudEnquires@uk.cdw.com

Are you really ready for the cloud?

7 Feb, 2019

The rise of cloud platforms and services has arguably been the most important development in business computing since the birth of the internet. Cloud vendors now allow organisations across the world to take advantage of cutting-edge IT capabilities with little more than a credit card.

Moving to a cloud-based IT model has a huge amount of advantages. There’s a much lower cost-of-entry than a traditional approach, and the ‘pay-as-you-go’ consumption model makes it much easier for companies to scale up as they grow. On top of that, there’s more flexibility and greater choice, and access to a much wider range of capabilities than would be possible with on-premise infrastructure.

With this in mind, it’s not very hard to see why, according to a survey of IT professionals, 77% ranked cloud technologies as the most important tool in their arsenal. However, migrating your IT to the cloud isn’t an easy process. In fact, if not properly managed, it can become a black hole of time, money and effort which ends up adding stress rather than reducing it.

There are many moving parts to consider when planning a cloud migration, and it’s imperative that you fully think through your migration strategy and plan out your roadmap. Without a comprehensive roadmap, you run the risk that your migration could fall at the first hurdle.

The first step is to ensure that all of the organisation’s primary stakeholders are in agreement about the migration, including the board, the IT department and so on. This may sound like a simple and obvious step, but skipping over it can lead to major trouble later on, if one of your board members decides to oppose the project when it’s already underway.

For Joel Berwitz, the head of cloud services at CDW, this dovetails with some key questions that arise when considering cloud migration: “Is the organisation setup to understand, migrate and run services in the cloud, and is there sufficient skills and desire from the business to undergo the changes required?”

With everyone on board, you can start planning your migration in earnest, and the first decision to make is whether you want to use a public, private or hybrid cloud infrastructure. Public cloud infrastructure involves renting server capacity from a third-party provider like Microsoft or Google, while private cloud infrastructure involves hosting your own cloud servers in your own data centre (or a third-party host’s). Hybrid cloud, as the name suggests, is a mix of both strategies.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Public cloud gives you effectively infinite capacity without having to purchase expensive hardware, but it also means you’ll be sharing server space with other clients. Private clouds, however, are more expensive to set up and maintain but allow for greater customisation of the stack itself, ensuring that problematic but essential legacy apps can be supported.

Hybrid is proving to be a very popular option, as it can offer a ‘best of both worlds’ approach – workloads that are high-volume but non-critical can be run in the public cloud, but anything particularly sensitive can be hosted on a private cloud for security and peace-of-mind.

Once you’ve decided on a cloud strategy, the next step is to take a full inventory of all of the workloads that run in your data centre. This is an excellent chance to do some spring cleaning; work out which workloads and apps are still useful and which ones you no longer need to support. This can trim down your consumption significantly, saving you money when using metered public cloud services.

In addition to data centre workloads, you should also make a note of what business software is in use by your staff. It’s worth incorporating cloud-based replacements into your roadmap so you can ensure compatibility with the rest of your IT estate.

With a full catalogue of your workloads, identify which ones can be ported over to the cloud with minimal fuss, which ones will need to be tweaked, and which ones will need to be revised or replaced altogether. This is a crucial step, as you don’t want to get halfway through the process only to find out that a critical workload won’t run on your new cloud.

Berwitz also notes that businesses need to ensure that their migration is underpinned by a solid commercial strategy, and that all of their services and applications are properly cloud-optimised, “whether that’s a lift-and-shift to Infrastructure-as-a-Service or re-architecting the applications into code which can be run more effectively.

“We’re seeing organisations who are migrating to the cloud hit some common hurdles along the way,” he says. “Certainly, ensuring that the services and applications are right sized in the first instance is key to making the move commercially viable. Network architecture, alongside resilience/backup and DR should also be discussed, as utilisation in the cloud can mitigate many of the risks that companies traditionally see on premise.”

At this point, you should start comparing cloud providers. It’s tempting to just go for the lowest-cost provider, but take some time to talk to them about your specific requirements to be sure that they can fully support you – not just now, but in the future. It’s worth looking outside the ‘big three’, too – unless you’re a giant multinational company, you may find that a smaller local cloud provider is actually better-suited to meeting your individual needs.

Once you’ve picked your provider, you’ll want to start working on the roll-out, but pacing is key. Stagger the deployment of your new cloud tools, making sure that each one is running as expected before moving on to the next one. This makes it much easier to test each one thoroughly, and minimises business disruption; rather than your staff having to learn how to operate multiple new systems all at once, they only have to learn one at a time.

Speaking of which, staff training is paramount. Make sure that team leaders and department heads are briefed and trained on how to use any new tools and systems that are relevant to their roles, before they’re deployed to the rest of the company.

Once a system is rolled out, you’ll need to make sure that all staff have easy access to user-friendly guides and documentation on how to use it, and training courses are a good idea for anything particularly complex or business-critical. Adopting a new cloud system is pointless if your staff don’t utilise it effectively, and if they don’t know how it works, they’re not going to use it.

Naturally, it’s important to thoroughly test your cloud-based workloads – not just to make sure they’re working, but to make sure that they’re delivering the efficiency, performance and value that you anticipated at the start of your cloud journey. Ensure that you continuously monitor and tweak your cloud estate – identify new technologies and tools you want to deploy, and regularly check that your cloud tools are serving their intended purpose.

As you may have gathered by now, migrating to a cloud-based infrastructure model isn’t as simple as it may first appear. There’s a whole range of hidden pitfalls that an unprepared company could fall foul of. Making sure that your cloud migration roadmap is airtight can be a big task, especially when you’re also trying to run your business at the same time – but you can make this mammoth undertaking quicker and easier by working with a capable and experienced partner.

Thanks to its team of experienced cloud architects, CDW can work together with your business to draft and implement a migration roadmap, offering an end-to-end service to support you at every stage. CDW understands that cloud deployments should be built around business needs rather than the other way around, and has the experience and expertise to help you craft the cloud model that’s perfect for your specific business goals.

“We have a portfolio of cloud services which can help organisations understand their current environment and help to make the right decisions on which services and applications are right for which platforms,” says Berwitz. “We also represent the market, helping make the transition more risk free by using our experience across the many hundreds of customers who we’ve assisted in their migrations to cloud services. Alongside the technical design, we’re also able to assist with the managed services to optimise and transform customer environments as they continue to make the most out of these investments.”

A well implemented cloud solution could deliver your business improved efficiency, productivity, availability and resilience, and with the right planning and partner, the migration needn’t be a worry.

To learn more about CDW Cloud Services, download your free guide or contact CloudEnquires@uk.cdw.com

The power of anonymous data

4 Feb, 2019

A popular phrase usually found alongside “big data” is “smart city”. This is because a large conurbation with hundreds of thousands or millions of inhabitants will be a significant source of data, and could also greatly benefit from the effective analysis of that data. Traffic information from city dwellers’ use of personal vehicles and public transport is just the beginning. The sheer volume of people habitually found in a given location can help city planners manage resources, assist retailers to know where they can most effectively place outlets, when to open them, and much more.

One of the most significant sources of this information is the smartphone. In figures cited by Consultancy.uk, Deloitte has claimed that, in 2017, 85% of the UK population owned smartphones, and this figure has been increasing every year. A smartphone is packed with sensors and connects to external ones as well. It knows our location, is increasingly the conduit for our travel and retail transactions, and forms the hub of our social interaction. This makes it the perfect device to supply the big data for a smart city.

But smartphone users are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of data their devices collect about them, and who it is being shared with. Even when we are sure where our data is being sent, we still worry that big corporations know too much about where we are going and what we’re doing when we get there.

Although it’s very easy to see these kinds of news stories as a valid impetus to restrict all our data from being shared with anyone, this will be preventing some of the most significant advancements afforded by contemporary technology. The benefits for our lifestyles and work needs can be very real. The data collected doesn’t have to be directly linked to specific individuals, and in fact some of the greatest potential can be available from looking at the trends found in large aggregations with no need to drill down to individual records.

The key word here is “anonymous”. Your data can be separated from your identity, so you become merely one sample amongst millions that are grouped under categories such as demographics. For example, O2’s Smart Steps uses anonymised, aggregated smartphone geolocation data from over 24.5 million O2 mobile network customers to track the number of people who visit a location. All of the data collected by Smart Steps is secure, anonymous and aggregated so no personal information can be extracted. Whilst anonymous, if its customers have recorded their preferences, it can be referenced by time, gender and age. It can also track where its users have come from and where they are going, using data that spans back to 2013.

Without needing to know who individuals are, this kind of information can pay huge dividends. O2’s Smart Steps has been harnessed to tap into real-time and historical data on over 100 daily journeys to help one company to advise clients much more accurately and quickly than when they were using their previous data collection methods. This helps clients decide whether to go ahead with airport, building, road or high-speed rail schemes, saving four months of work on a typical 16-month project. Thus the planning of city infrastructure can be much smarter and faster than before, with adjustments according to where people actually go in their daily lives.

A lot of information is available without needing to identify individuals. Records may be tagged with an ID, but this will still be securely separated from which user it is referring to. There are benefits from this, as it can provide details about whether visitors to a location are newcomers or returning, and when they come. Shops can work out whether their marketing is working to bring in new customers, and at what times to employ more retail staff to cope with demand. This is likely to be of benefit to the customers as much as the retailer, since the former won’t find themselves stuck in check-out queues or unable to find an assistant to help them because the shop is too busy, and the latter will be able to better manage their people.

However, there are also potential benefits that are more directly targeted at the individual, without specifically requiring them to part with their anonymity. Where historical mass travel data can make public development schemes smarter and more finely targeted, retailers can use similar generalised real-time data to plan the best times and places to offer discounts – either to attract customers to an underutilised outlet, or reach them where and when they are gathering in large numbers, such as a shopping mall or venue with associated restaurants. They can then track the effectiveness of these endeavours.

This concept gains particular power when end users don’t have to wade through a massive list of offers, many of which aren’t relevant to their tastes or current location. O2 Priority, for example, uses geo-location to present offers and savings that are tailored to where the customer currently is, making them more relevant and likely to be of benefit. Especially if the customer has also registered what’s important to them.

The offers are essentially tailored to your lifestyle as you travel. For example, you might be attending a concert at the O2 Arena, so Priority presents a selection of restaurants near the venue that are currently offering discount deals. This isn’t an intrusive system like the personalised advertising shown in science fiction movies such as Minority Report. People choose to be alerted, and can also access the service purely on demand.

This really is just the tip of the iceberg of what is possible when you allow your smartphone to share information with aggregators that apply the necessary, regulatory safeguards to anonymise your data. Real-time traffic details derived from smartphone locations can help route drivers away from congestion. Dynamic variable speed limits can react to smooth out flow ahead of a bottleneck. Environmental controls in enclosed public spaces can be adjusted to suit the volume of people visiting. So long as customers can be assured that their data will not be abused, and will remain anonymous when requested, the power available to manage city life more smartly can be huge.

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