All posts by Sabina Weston

Accenture ploughs $3 billion into cloud migration support group


Sabina Weston

17 Sep, 2020

Accenture has announced the launch of Accenture Cloud First, a $3 billion (£2.3bn) investment which will aim to help clients accelerate their digital transformation projects and become “cloud-first” businesses.

The new multi-service group will comprise 70,000 cloud professionals, combining Accenture’s cloud expertise and industry insights with its data and Applied Intelligence capabilities.

The goal is to provide its customers with cloud-focused upskilling over the next three years, the company said on Thursday.

The venture will be led by Karthik Narain, who is set to join Accenture’s Global Management Committee on 1 October. Narain previously led Technology services for the company’s Communications, Media, and High Tech industry segments. He joined Accenture in 2015 after a decade as VP at HCL Technologies.

The launch follows a steady rise in demand for cloud-based services during the pandemic and a steep decline in the use of physical offices and customer-facing stores.

“COVID-19 has created a new inflection point that requires every company to dramatically accelerate the move to the cloud as a foundation for digital transformation to build the resilience, new experiences and products, trust, speed and structural cost reduction that the ongoing health, economic and societal crisis demands — and that a better future for all requires,” said Accenture CEO Julie Sweet.

“Accenture Cloud First and our substantial investment demonstrate our commitment to delivering greater value to our clients when they need it most. Digital transformation requires cloud at scale, and post-COVID leadership requires that every business become a ‘cloud-first’ business,” she added.

The company said that the $3 billion investment will be used to create industry roadmaps and data models, and build AI-based architectures that customers can build on.

The hope is that, by 2023, the project will be providing customers with cloud tools, assets, and automation software to help drive innovation, as well as cutting-edge research into the latest cloud technologies, such as edge computing.

Paul Daugherty, Accenture Technology group chief executive, described the cloud as “the most disruptive and value-creating technology of our time” and a “foundation for the digital transformation”.

“With most businesses currently at only about 20% in the cloud, moving to 80% or more rapidly and cost effectively is a massive change that requires a bold new model,” said Daugherty. “Accenture Cloud First, along with our $3 billion investment and our market-leading Software as a Service capabilities in Intelligent Platform Services, ensures that we provide our clients with value, speed and innovation in every part of their cloud journey.”

The announcement comes just days after Accenture launched the latest version of its myWizard Intelligent Automation Platform, which allows organisations to create, implement and measure enterprise-wide automation strategies and reimagine their information technology systems for efficiency and performance.

Google bans ‘stalkerware’ from Play store


Sabina Weston

17 Sep, 2020

Google has issued a ban on any software that allows an individual to track the whereabouts of other users without their consent, apps often referred to as ‘stalkerware‘.

As a part of new changes to its Developer Program Policy, Google said that Android apps intending to monitor other users’ behaviour will be obliged to present the tracked user with a persistent notification and unique icon that clearly identifies the app.

They will also be banned from advertising themselves as a “spying or secret surveillance solution” and will be unable to “hide or cloak tracking behaviour or attempt to mislead users about such functionality”.

However, the ban, which comes into effect on 1 October, does not apply to apps used by parents to track the whereabouts of their children. Any software that allows companies to track employee devices, such as enterprise management apps, will also be excluded from the ban.

According to David Emms, principal security researcher at Kaspersky, apps which help monitor adults without their permission or knowledge “masquerade as parental control software and call themselves legal that way”.

“The whole category is tricky because we can’t label it as malware and report it as we would a backdoor trojan or similar, because in some jurisdictions it’s legal so it straddles a grey area,” Emms told IT Pro last month.

According to Kaspersky research, the period between January and August 2019 saw over 518,223 cases globally where the company’s protection technologies either registered the presence of stalkerware on user devices or detected an attempt to install it – a 373% increase in the same period in 2018.

Apart from the formal ban of stalkerware apps, Google also announced that it would be making changes to its policy in order to tackle the issues of misrepresentation and gambling.

Effective from 21 October, developer accounts will not be allowed to mislead users by impersonating any person or organisation, as well as misrepresenting or concealing their ownership or primary purpose of the app.

Google will also restrict online gambling to the UK, Ireland, France, and Brazil.

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Nokia simplifies Microsoft Azure integration


Sabina Weston

16 Sep, 2020

Nokia has announced a slew of new features for its Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) private wireless networking platform, including simplified integration with Microsoft Azure IoT modules.

Nokia’s new approach to software installation, described as  ‘click and deploy’, means that Microsoft Azure IoT Edge Modules such as Modbus can now be deployed on the Nokia DAC edge server.

The announcement comes almost a year after Nokia and Microsoft made their first joint solutions public. In November 2019, the two companies announced a strategic collaboration aiming to accelerate transformation and innovation with the help of cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT).

BT was the first global telecommunications service provider to provide its enterprise customers with a managed service integrating Microsoft Azure cloud and Nokia SD-WAN solutions.

According to Stephan Litjens, general manager of Nokia Digital Automation: “Microsoft Azure IoT services enable customers to address interconnected scenarios across multiple industries that include manufacturing, logistics, utilities, smart cities and transportation”.

The Finnish tech giant also announced that it would be extending platform capabilities complementing private wireless connectivity as well as providing new, integrated voice and video in order to facilitate campus-wide communications.

“With the new functionality and added value features introduced today, we further ease and accelerate customers’ transformation path towards Industry 4.0”, said Litjens.

Nokia’s DAC team comms and DAC VoIP will now offer voice and video solutions to provide customers with secure communication, regardless of how many people they are speaking to. The new on-premise applications are delivered over the platform’s scalable edge cloud and are expected to be especially useful for larger, asset-intensive locations such as ports, mines, and factories.

Nokia DAC Applications head Tuuli Ahava said that the new features will “address the questions facing organizations as they begin to implement Industry 4.0 use cases”.

“Data security, backward and forward compatibility, legacy system integration, ecosystem access, and ease-of-use are just some of the concerns that the DAC platform resolves in one optimized solution,” she added.

The announcement follows the launch of Nokia’s 5G SA private wireless network, which is used by Lufthansa Technik, Toyota Production Engineering, and Sandvik.

Xero urges UK gov to introduce digital tax relief for SMBs


Sabina Weston

15 Sep, 2020

Xero has urged the UK government to step and encourage SMBs to use digital tools to their fullest potential in a bid to help the economy recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a new report from the cloud-based accounting software provider, smaller businesses have been more dramatically impacted by the current financial crisis than larger enterprises, with job losses estimated to be almost twice as big. 

By analysing 300,000 customers’ anonymised and aggregated data, Xero found that resilience and recovery of SMBs is significantly influenced by their digital skills.

SMBs that used business management apps before the financial crisis had 12% smaller revenue declines as well as 12% less job losses. Moreover, businesses with at least five apps connected to their account suffered from losses a third smaller than other SMBs during the crisis, and had 40% fewer job losses.

The findings from the report have resulted in Xero calling on the UK government to encourage small businesses to use digital tools to their fullest advantage. The company’s policy recommendations include a digital tools tax relief, improved regional internet access, as well as an offset of technology expenses against tax in order to aid small businesses in digitising and building resilience for future economic challenges.

Managing director of Xero, Gary Turner, described the economic recovery as “at a crossroads now as furlough and eating out schemes come to an end”. 

“As unpredictable as this year has been, one certainty is that digitally-enabled businesses are likely to recover faster than those who aren’t,” he said.

“We’re calling on the Government to support business recovery with funding for tech adoption and the introduction of a tax offset for expenses against technology implementation. Driving digitisation will help countless small businesses to get back on their feet.”

The message to the government comes as Xero announces changes to its Starter Plan, aiming to facilitate cash flow management and growth for SMBs during the pandemic.

Xero users can now send up to 20 invoices a month and make as many bank reconciliations as they need. The company has also announced the launch of a new Xero Projects’ profitability dashboard, aiming to simplify the overview and management of projects and their profitability by showing total profit margin, all work invoiced, and costs. 

Xero’s chief product officer Anna Curzon said that the company wants “to help these new businesses that are starting off now to be set up for a digital environment right from the start by lowering the barriers of entry”.

“We also know that with COVID-19, being paid on time and controlling cash flow has become more important than ever,” she added. “We want to do all we can to ensure businesses stay strong by providing deeper cash flow insights and creating seamless experiences to help them get paid faster.”

Zoom finally rolls out two-factor authentication


Sabina Weston

11 Sep, 2020

Zoom has added two-factor authentication (2FA) to its video-conferencing platform in an effort to help organisations prevent identity theft and security breaches, as well as reduce security costs for businesses and schools.

Users who are part of an organisation can now use the additional security layer by choosing between one-time password (TOTP) apps, such as Google Authenticator and Microsoft Authenticator, or having Zoom send a code via SMS or phone call.

Admins can enable the tool by signing into the Zoom Dashboard, selecting Advanced, then Security, and enabling the “Sign in with Two-Factor Authentication” option.

They will then be able to enable 2FA for all users in their account, users with specific roles, or users belonging to specific groups, choosing the groups, and then clicking OK.

In a blog post announcing the update, the company outlined the benefits of the new tool, such as improved security, simplified credential management, being able to meet compliance obligations for sensitive data and customer information, as well as reduced costs of security.

“For small businesses and schools, it can be expensive to pay for an SSO service,” the company said. “Zoom’s 2FA provides a free and effective way to validate users and protect against security breaches.”

The announcement comes days after it was revealed that the company’s revenues were up 355% in the second quarter of 2020, making it one of the biggest beneficiaries of the global lockdown. The firm capitalised on the sudden need to communicate remotely with work, friends and family and averaged 148.4 million monthly active users in the second quarter, an increase of 4,700% year on year, according to CNBC.

However, its sudden success had also been plagued with security issues, such as the infamous Zoom-bombing trend, which recently affected the trial against the teenager accused of July’s mass Twitter hack.

The issue forced the company to improve encryption standards and password security, leading to the hire of former Salesforce and Microsoft security executive Jason Lee.

Blackberry to open new GDPR and EECC-compliant data centres


Sabina Weston

9 Sep, 2020

Blackberry will open additional data centres in France and the Netherlands as well as expanding its existing data centre in the UK to help customers comply with EU data protection regulations and the upcoming Public Warning directives.

The new Directive on the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), which was adopted in 2018, is to ensure that all EU member states establish a public warning system to protect citizens in cases such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks. 

The data centres will be used to store the personal data of citizens, ensuring that it is compliant with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Using its emergency mass notification system AtHoc, Blackberry aims to provide organisations with a secure way of communicating emergencies to their workforce. Staff will be able to be notified with the help of mobile apps, desktops, sirens, and building systems such as fire panels. 

Adam Enterkin, senior VP of EMEA at BlackBerry, said it’s vital for Blackberry to “adhere to new and existing EU data residency requirements per the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)”.

“With BlackBerry AtHoc’s new EU based data centres we are able to scale our infrastructure to better support our customers’ needs over a secure and reliable network,” he said, adding that “empowering [Blackberry’s] customers with the most secure communication platform for increasing resiliency and communicating swiftly is critical in a crisis”.

In July, the company announced that it was partnering with Vodafone to offer the BlackBerry AtHoc platform as a crisis communications solution for UK emergency services.

The mobile app is already used by military, government, and commercial organisations in order to provide their workforce with physical security, force protection, as well as personnel accountability. 

Greater Manchester Police and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service were the first two clients to benefit from the partnership, with the Greater Manchester Police inspector Darren Spurgeon saying that the system was chosen to allow the police “to share and receive real time information across our business and police operations”.

“BlackBerry AtHoc will help us rapidly respond to internal operational issues and ensure accurate information is shared across multiple police departments and personnel using both analog and digital channels,” he added.

Remote workers swap commute for productivity


Sabina Weston

7 Sep, 2020

More than half (60%) of small business employees who are working from home due to the pandemic are using the time they would be spending on their commute as work time, a new study by Vodafone has found.

According to the research, which was conducted by Atomik Research and surveyed 1,003 UK adults from SME companies, 40% of employees who are working from home have put in an average of 642 additional hours, equal to 26 extra days, since lockdown began back in March.

A quarter (25%) of the surveyed homeworkers are also contributing to their local economy on a daily basis by swapping major coffee retailers such as Starbucks or Pret a Manger for smaller cafes and coffee shops.

According to Vodafone UK business director Anne Sheehan, “the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped the working world, seemingly for the long-term”. 

“Workers are now contributing more where they live, and that will be a boost to local businesses during these difficult times,” she said.

The report follows the UK government’s campaign aiming to encourage employees to return to their offices and prevent city centres from becoming “ghost towns“.

However, research conducted by Cardiff and Southampton Universities found that nine in 10 people in the UK who worked remotely during the pandemic want to continue to stay away from the office. Between 6,000 and 7,000 UK residents were questioned in the survey, with 88% saying they would like to continue working remotely in some capacity, with 46% wanting to do so often or all of the time.

According to the Evening Standard, the government might try to convince homeworkers to return to the offices by providing them with free bus and train credit, as using public transport systems and its potential health implications is believed to be one of the main factors driving employees away from coming back into the cities. 

Digital Services Act: Google asks European Commission to clarify responsibilities


Sabina Weston

4 Sep, 2020

Google has responded to the European Commission’s public consultation regarding the Digital Services Act, submitting a 135-page document which points out the need to clarify the EU’s expectations towards tech companies.

In the submission, Google urged the European Commission to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, as well as elaborate on the responsibilities to which the tech industry will have to adhere if the legislation is passed.

The Digital Services Act, which was first unveiled in 2019, is expected to provide the EU with a raft of legal powers to influence how social media platforms govern hate speech, extremist material, and political advertising. 

The legislation would directly impact Google’s video-hosting service YouTube, which has been criticised in the past for spreading harmful conspiracy theories, fake news, and hate speech.

In the document submitted to the European Commission, Google agreed that tech companies should act fast in order to immediately remove or disable access to harmful or illegal content. However, the tech giant also raised the concern that hosting platforms may be forced to prioritise speed over cautious decision-making.

In a blog post announcing the submission, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker said that the Digital Services Act “should reflect the wide range of services offered by the tech industry”, as opposed to adopting a common approach for every company.

“No two services are the same and the new act should be rooted in objectives and principles that can be applied, as appropriate, across this broad, diverse ecosystem.  This will ensure that everyone – platforms regulators, people and businesses –  are responsible for the parts they play,” he said.

Walker added that Google is “committed to providing greater transparency for our users and governments so that they better understand the content they are seeing and how to notify us of concerns”. 

“The DSA should support these kinds of constructive transparency measures while ensuring that platforms can continue to protect user privacy, ensure commercially sensitive information is not revealed and prevent bad actors from gaming the system,” he said.

The consultation period for the Digital Services Act is set to conclude on 8 September.

 

New partnership lets users store Facebook data on Dropbox


Sabina Weston

3 Sep, 2020

Dropbox has partnered with Facebook on a digital transfer project which will allow users to import data directly from their social media accounts.

Starting today, the new integration will help users securely transfer photo and video libraries from Facebook, as well as organise the files in any chosen way.

The integration also offers customisable privacy settings, and although the imported files will be set as private by default, users can choose to share the albums with others.

Commenting on the release, Dropbox’s VP of Business Development Jamie Perlman said that the company’s goal was to “provide products and services that make our users’ digital lives easier and less chaotic, so they can really focus on what matters”.

“People no longer accept being locked into one service or product, and want the freedom to use the tools they love. We’ll continue to look for ways to seamlessly integrate with best-in-breed products so that we can serve as the connective platform for all of today’s leading productivity tools and devices,” he added.

The release of the new integration comes weeks after Facebook called for appropriate legislation to be introduced in order to make it easier for users to transfer photos and videos to a competing tech platform.

In comments sent to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Facebook said it planned to improve on its existing data portability tools “in the coming months”. A hearing on the topic is scheduled for 22 September 2020.

Currently, Facebook already allows users in the US and Canada to transfer photos and videos to Google Photos.

Meanwhile, in June, Dropbox unveiled several other features which aim to help users stay organised while they work from home. The updates included a password manager service called ‘Dropbox Passwords‘ and filing system called ‘Dropbox Vault’, as well as an automatic backup service, ‘Computer backup’, which saves Mac and PC folders to Dropbox for secure access on the go.

UK global tech exports to grow by a third by 2025


Sabina Weston

3 Sep, 2020

The UK’s global tech exports are predicted to grow by 35% in the next five years to £31.45 billion, according to a new report by Tech Nation.

The latest findings revealed that the value of tech exports is to increase by an additional £8.15 billion by 2025, despite potential inhibitors such as the coronavirus pandemic or Brexit.

According to the organisation, the UK digital tech services sector currently exports a much greater value of goods than they import, which last year led to a trade surplus of 55%, aproximately 7% more than the average trade surplus among the top 57 countries globally.

Last year, the UK was found to be the fifth largest digital tech services exporter in the world, at £23.3 billion, after India, the US, China, and Germany.

Commenting upon the estimates, Tech Nation’s chief executive Gerard Grech said that the UK “is a natural home for many scaling tech businesses”.

“The UK is also third in the world for the number of UK tech unicorns, and number one in Europe. These factors give us a strong conviction that UK founders, government and industry leaders should all be gearing up to double tech exports by 2025, in the aftermath of both the pandemic and Brexit.

“By doubling exports, UK tech could contribute an additional £23bn to the economy per year by 2025 and move up the ranks to become a top global exporter of tech,” he added.

The results mark a steady growth over the last four years, which led to the UK digital tech trade surplus to increase from £8.7bn in 2015 to £12.8bn in 2019 – a growth of 68%. This impressive performance has meant that the industry’s trade surplus is now the third largest in the UK, following Financial Services and the Insurance sector, at £43.4 and £16.9 billion, respectively.

According to Tech Nation’s Global Opportunities Index, a ranking of the best countries in the world for digital tech trading opportunities, the UK takes the second place behind the US – largely the result of the UK’s impressive online retail and e-commerce sales, which are valued at £688.4 billion.

The report argues that UK tech companies should be looking to the US, Israel, Canada, Germany and The Netherlands as the most attractive post-Brexit export markets, while also considering Brazil and Singapore as the fastest rising global opportunities for UK businesses to trade with.

Digital minister Caroline Dinenage described the UK as “Europe’s tech capital”, adding that “these figures reinforce our industry’s reputation as a truly global player”.

“It’s great to see our digital exports booming which will help create more jobs and opportunities for people up and down the country,” she said. “We are investing heavily in the nation’s digital infrastructure as well as in people’s digital skills which puts British firms in an unparalleled position to seize new, global opportunities on the horizon.”

Global Opportunities Index – Top 10

1 US
2 UK
3 Israel
4 Canada
5 Germany
6 The Netherlands
7 Australia
8 Switzerland
9 Spain
10 Sweden