Feed aggregator

IoT attacks still posing a major threat to UK businesses

IT Portal from UK - 3 hours 1 min ago

You wouldn't let a stranger sit inside your company, looking all suspicious and stuff, right? So why would you allow a shady device on your company network? You obviously shouldn't, but according to Forescout's latest report, almost half of 5.7 million businesses in the UK are doing just that, having unknown connected devices on their networks.

The report also says that it is witnessing a two per cent jump, or 110,000 more companies with unknown devices on their networks, compared to April last year.

A vast majority of CIOs and IT decision makers agree that a lack of visibility and control of the devices on their network poses a real risk to their security infrastructure. At the same time, 1.6 per cent of UK businesses admit they're not using any type of cybersecurity solution to protect themselves, their business or the data that they possess.

The icing on the cake comes as the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and operational technology (OT) devices connecting to corporate networks. More than two thirds of organisations say they now have more than 1,000 of such devices, and a fifth have said to have more than 10,000 internet-connected devices on their network.

“Our latest research shows that, despite various new regulatory benchmarks and many notable attacks on industry giants in the past twelve months, UK businesses are still painfully unaware of the huge threat vector that connected devices present,” commented Myles Bray, vice president of EMEA, Forescout.

“To properly protect themselves, it is imperative that organisations in the UK are able to not only identify, but also fully manage and control every single third-party device that accesses their network. One way in which they can achieve more comprehensive insights is by implementing a centralised management platform that can provide real-time device visibility and control for enterprises across all industries.”

Image Credit: Maksim Kabakou / Shutterstock

Google launches hybrid cloud beta

IT Portal from UK - 3 hours 32 min ago

Remember Cloud Services Platform (CSP), Google’s hybrid cloud solution introduced late last year at Google Cloud Next?

Well, it’s available in beta as of today. Google believes this platform will simplify building, running and managing services both on-premises and in the cloud. It is built on open APIs and Google hopes it will be less disruptive and more compliant than the competition. It hopes CSP will speed up innovation and improve both operational security and governance.

CSP is built on top of Google’s Kubernetes Engine (GKE). It includes GKE On-Prem, a managed Kubernetes service providing remote lifecycle management for on-prem clusters. Google also says CSP’s design will allow users to integrate existing networking, storage and identity capabilities.

The CSP Config Management allows for the creation of multi-cluster policies ‘out of the box’, that set and enforce role-based access controls, resource quotas and create namespaces. Another important selling point for CSP is visibility. Stackdriver Monitoring and Istio policy management capabilities give users a single management console.

IDC’s latest reports claim that almost nine in ten companies (87 per cent) have adopted hybrid cloud capabilities. At the same time, there still hasn’t been a seamless stack that can run both in the cloud and on-premises. Hybrid cloud usually means new expenses and hunting for a vendor, which is a difficult feat in its own right.

Google says that with CSP, it’s taking a different approach, with a software-based hybrid offering.

Image source: Shutterstock/Omelchenko

Major Wordpress security flaw discovered

IT Portal from UK - 4 hours 1 min ago

Popular website builder WordPress was affected by a major security flaw that went unpatched for six years.

The flaw, which was rendered unexploitable, allowed attackers to execute arbitrary code on the server.

They could do that because of the way WordPress image management system handles Post Meta entries used to store description, size, creator, and other meta information of uploaded images.

Any registered WordPress user can modify entries associated with an image and set them to arbitrary values. This leads to what's known as the Path Traversal vulnerability.

The trick with this vulnerability is that the attacker needs to have a registered account on the WordPress blog which, in a way, reduces the threat level.

However, it was said that it still poses a serious risk because login credentials could be obtained through phishing, or trying out the victim's old passwords for credential recycling.

Simon Scannell, a researcher at RIPS Technologies GmbH which uncovered the flaw, says the code execution attack became non-exploitable in WordPress versions 5.0.1 and 4.9.9 after patch for another vulnerability was introduced.

"An attacker who gains access to an account with at least author privileges on a target WordPress site can execute arbitrary PHP code on the underlying server, leading to a full remote takeover," Scannell says.

The Path Traversal flaw is still unpatched, it was added.

Image Credit: David M G / Shutterstock

Microsoft launches new Windows 10 Office app

IT Portal from UK - 4 hours 31 min ago

Microsoft has launched a new Office app that should serve as the starting point for anyone who wants to use Office products.

Simply called 'Office', it is designed to replace the 'My Office' app that's currently on offer, and should serve as a gateway to recent documents, Office desktop applications, or accessing the free version of Office, available online.

The new app will allegedly come preinstalled on Windows 10 devices, and won't require an Office 365 subscription to be used.

Functions aside, Office will also come with a bunch of tutorials, tips and tricks, and other helpful information for Microsoft's office solutions. IT administrators will be able to customise it, brand it and allow third parties access.

Those interested in downloading the app can do so on the Microsoft Store. Others will get it, eventually.

One of the goals of the app, according to The Verge, is to better promote Microsoft's free version of Office that can be found online. Apparently, Microsoft has struggled to properly promote the feature in the past, and is hoping to draw everyone's attention to it now.

“A number of consumers also assume Office simply comes as part of Windows, so renaming this app to Office and surfacing online versions of Office apps will certainly help there, too,” it argues.

Image Credit: Microsoft

5G can solve worldwide 4G congestion

IT Portal from UK - 5 hours 1 min ago

One of 5G’s key selling points is obviously the download and upload speed it offers, but that’s not the only major advantage this new mobile internet technology will bring.

It will also solve consistency problems, and according to Opensignal’s new report, the whole world suffers consistency problems, at least to some extent.

The company’s latest report claims that 4G download speeds vary throughout the day. They are usually faster when the majority of people are asleep, and drop during the day.

The report says that the Czech Republic is the most consistent, with its speed fluctuating a ‘mere’ 20 per cent throughout the day. According to the report, that’s not enough for the majority of users to feel any significant change. European countries are generally pretty stable in their 4G speeds. A total of 77 countries were analysed, and ‘established 4G powerhouses’ in Asia and Europe, South Africa and North America were most consistent.

The US didn’t do that good, though. It landed ‘in the middle’ of the consistency rankings, which will make the country ‘very interesting to watch’ in the next year, when first 5G networks start popping up.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Asia Pacific region, which shows ‘the greatest differences in download experience’. While South Korea and Singapore have speeds above 40 Mbps, India and Thailand can’t reach double digits.

Latin American countries are also generally moving towards the bottom half. Of the 12 countries, Chile has the fastest speeds during non-peak hours, and the slowest speeds during peak hours.

Image Credit: O2

Increase the ROI 10x faster with these personalised app marketing strategies

IT Portal from UK - 6 hours 2 min ago

Personalised app marketing strategies offer mobile owners an opportunity to reach right customers at the right moment.

Targeting the right audience and reaching them at the right time is key. It is crucial in improving app usage and therefore the ROI on the app. So you need to choose the right mobile app strategies to boost your ROI. There are actually some marketing strategies that can help you increase your ROI tenfold.

Below are eight personalised app marketing strategies to help you increase the ROI 10x faster.

1.Research your target audience

The success of your app lies in addressing the pain points of your audience. But how are you going to do that if you do not understand your audience? You need to conduct thorough research and determine who your audience is, how they are going to benefit from your app, and how you can easily reach them.

Understanding their demographics, spending habits, psychographics and recreation habits is equally important in selecting the right mobile app marketing plan. It will also help you create an app that your users will fall in love with If you market your app to a specific market, you are bound to increase your ROI faster than marketing your app to just anyone. You can learn the behaviour of your target market by following influential blogs, websites, groups and taking part in discussions on major forums.

2.Do a competitive analysis

Identifying and evaluating what your competitors are doing will help you avoid mistakes and set you on the path of success by doing what is right. Check on what your peers are doing to successfully reach and endear themselves to their target audience. The mistakes they have don. And the best practices they observe to make sure they increase their ROI.

While learning from your competitors is crucial for your success, stay away from copying what they do. Duplicating your competitor's actions will only portray you as a weak brand before your customers. Just strive to improve on their strengths while staying original and you will be good to go!

3.Start app marketing pre-launch

Once your app concept and design are complete, you should be having an idea of who your target market is and immediately begin your mobile app marketing campaign. Marketing your app pre-launch will create anticipation and increase the chances of having a high ROI.

You can start by notifying your users on social media and releasing video development diaries. Later on, as you near completion, you can build excitement by using teasers like short videos and trailers. Apple's App Store offers its users a pre-order option for 105 apps so that the app gets downloaded immediately it is launched. Going by this, early marketing campaigns for your app increases chances for more downloads and therefore increased ROI once you launch the app.

4.Create a high converting landing page

Creating a selling landing page for your app can increase the ROI of your app faster. Make your mobile app landing page informative, creative and interesting for your readers. A good landing should have the following elements:

  • App name
  • Essential App features
  • Interesting promo video trailer
  • Call to action

5.Start a blog

A blog provides a chance to inform your app users about your mobile app. Always provide as much information as possible about your app through your blog. Keeping your users updated about your mobile app development process makes them to feel included in the process. You should use the best SEC practices for the content you share on your blog. Provide quality content, use the right keywords, videos, and add links to influencers in your niche. This will improve your search engines rankings and increase the visibility of your app on app store.

6.Optimise your app for app store

App store optimisation is very crucial in increasing the ROI for your app. This process involves optimising your app to rank top on app store for more users to see it and easily find the app when they search on app store.

User visibility for your mobile app on 105 and Google app store is affected by the factors below.

Title: Should be a short catchy and easy to read title.

Description: Make it simple yet appealing to the users. It should also highlight why the app is useful to customers. Ensure you use keywords in your description.

Screenshot: It should highlight the features of your app and its benefits.

Icon: Use an appealing icon that represents the unique design of your app.

App quality: Your app should be small to be easily downloadable. Equally, it should be tested and have bugs fixed, and updated regularly to accommodate user needs.

7.Use social media to reach your audience

Social networks provide an avenue for your app to go viral fast. You can make use of social media targeted advertising to reach your potential customers.

Tools like Facebook ads enable you to reach the exact audience you want to target for your app. The result of this is high conversion and therefore a fast increase in ROI for your app. When your users share your app, other users on their friend list get to see your app and thereby increasing visibility. Also, effective social media of hashtags can help your app to go viral.

8.Focus on specific KPIs

Your main goal in personalised app marketing is to increase your ROI. But how will you know whether you are moving towards the right direction in achieving your main goal? Key performance indicators will give you an idea of how well your app is performing. However, not all KPIs will be beneficial to your marketing campaign. So be use to select the useful performance indicators and focus on those.

Time and again you should closely monitor your KPIs to see the actions of your users to understand their feelings.

Important KPIs you might consider include.

  • App store rankings
  • Organic and loyal user acquisition
  • Daily downloads
  • Daily active users
  • Daily sessions per daily active user Retention rate
  • Cost per action

Also, check what your customers are saying and make adjustments as per the user's feedback. The performance of other mobile app marketing strategies is equally important. You should channel more resources to the mobile app marketing plan that is bringing in more users for your mobile app.

Conclusion

Getting news of your application out there is the first thing to enable your potential customers to download and make use of it These personalised app marketing strategies should help you reach a great customer base and increase the ROI of your app 10x faster.

Mercy Livingstone, marketing manager, Dot Com Infoway
Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock

How UK's exit from the EU will impact upon HR practices for tech companies

IT Portal from UK - 6 hours 2 min ago

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills estimates that 1.2 million new technical and digitally skilled people will be required by 2022 to fill roles in the UK industry. With the Government announcing that there will be no preferential access to EEA workers post Brexit, and with insufficient supply from the domestic labour market, how will the Tech industry plug the talent gap?

With the clock ticking down to 29 March, there is relatively little that is known for certain.  Deal or No Deal is the burning question on everyone’s lips.  Even if we have a deal, there is no certainty that it will be the current deal, although it looks likely, if Theresa May remains Prime Minister, that it will be a deal based on the existing Withdrawal Agreement.

Into this maelstrom businesses have to make important plans regarding how they will meet their obligations and continue to drive their businesses forward, continuing to recruit and be an employer of choice. 

So just what do HR teams need to consider both in the event of a deal and also in the event of a No Deal exit from the EU?

DEAL

The most straightforward outcome is for there to be a deal.  A deal allows things to continue, very much as they are now, at least in the immediate aftermath of an exit.  One thing we do know is that with or without a deal there is not going to be any wholesale reform of employment legislation.

Staffing

There are many EU workers in the UK currently filling important roles.  In the event of a deal the Government’s EU Settlement Scheme will provide for a transition period  in which all those who are living in the UK on 31 December 2020 to apply for Settled or Pre-Settled Status.

Under the current deal scenario, applications can be made from 30 March 2019 up to 30 June 2021.  Settled Status is open to all those who have been resident in the UK for 5 years (at least 6 months in each 12 months).  Those with Settled Status will be able to work, use the NHS and have access to public funds.  They will also be able to bring close family members to the UK after 31 December 2020 if their relationship with then began before 31 December 2020 and the individual is still in that relationship when they apply to come to the UK.  Those with Settled Status can also leave the UK for up to 5 years.

Those with less than 5 years’ residence can apply for Pre-Settled Status, which allows them to stay in the UK for a further 5 years and, therefore, apply for Settled Status.  They can work, use the NHS and access public funds.  Importantly those with Pre-Settled Status can only leave the UK for a continuous period of 2 years. 

Whilst the EU Settlement Scheme deals with the issue of those arriving in the transition period, it does not solve the problem of what happens after 31 December 2020.  Those arriving after that date will have to apply under the Points Based System, under which there will be no preferential treatment for EU/EEA citizens. 

In addition those who have “Permanent Residence” must apply for EU Settled Status.  Those with Indefinite Leave to remain may choose to apply to obtain the benefit that they can leave the UK for 5 years without losing their settled status.  

Importantly, employers will need to have a Sponsor Licence in place in order to be able to employ non UK nationals.  Whilst 31 December may, today, be some way off it is inevitable that as the date approaches there will be a rush to register.  Prudent employers should consider putting their HR systems in order to ensure that they can apply for a Sponsor Licence and having done that apply for a Sponsor Licence.

Whilst the focus of this article is about employees working in the UK there is also a need for businesses to consider whether they can continue to send employees to work abroad.  With a deal there will be a transition phase allowing matters to continue as they are currently.  However, employers will need to begin planning now for what happens at the end of the transition period to those UK employees who are now or will during the transition period be working abroad and continue to work abroad at the end of the transition phase.

Data

A deal will allow personal data to continue to flow smoothly within the EEA.  That is important because it means that for those businesses who house their European centre of operations in the UK, although the UK will be outside the EU, it will not prevent personal data transferred to the UK by business operations which are inside the EU.

NO DEAL

In the event of a No Deal Exit the UK will leave the EU at 11 pm on 29 March 2019, with no transitional period.  The suggestion is that this may cause significant dislocation of services and transport systems, as the UK will no longer be covered by EU Agreements.

Data

Currently the UK is bound by GDPR however a no Deal exit will mean EU businesses will no longer be able, lawfully, to transfer personal data about employees to UK data centres. 

Employers are faced with a choice, either to move the place where personal data is held and processed or put in place Model Clauses, and appropriate systems and safeguards to ensure that the business remains compliant with its data obligations.  Matters become more complicated when third party providers are involved and it is important to ensure now that all necessary agreements are in place to allow the free flow of data to continue lawfully.  That might, for some, mean understanding how and where data flows to and from. 

Staffing

The Government proposal is the EU migrants who can prove they were living in the UK as at 29 March 2019 will be able to remain in the UK and apply for “settled status” but only up till 31 December 2020 (as opposed to June 2021 under the deal scenario set out above)

During this time, they will still have the right to live and work in the UK and will still be able to bring their family members over to live with them until 31 December 2020.

EU migrants who come to the UK from 30 March 2019 onwards will be subject to the new Points Based System. 

Travel within the EU may also become more problematic, but the good news is that travel to Ireland will be unaffected.

The Schengen Countries have their own rules, but on 1 February 2019 agreed that British nationals could have visa free entry into the Schengen area for 90 days in any 180 days period.   In addition, passports must be no older than 9 years and 6 months old on the date of travel and it seems likely that those wishing to travel within the EU immediately after 29 March 2019 will need to have at least 6 months left on their passport before it expires.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania will have their own entry requirements.

Another consequence of a no deal Brexit will be that those planning to drive or hire a car in Europe will need to have an International Driving licence.

Unlike a deal scenario there is no transition with a No Deal Brexit.

Until recently, it was unclear what would happen to those arriving after Brexit day on 29 March 2019. However, on 28 January 2019, the Home Secretary announced that transitional arrangements would apply so that EU citizens who arrived after 29 March 2019 and who wished to stay in the UK longer than 3 months will need to apply for temporary leave which will be valid for 3 years. They will be subject to identity, criminality and security checks. Those wishing to stay for longer than 3 years will have to apply under the new Immigration system from 2021.

For  UK nationals who are working in other EU states,  it is likely that this will be determined on a country by country basis.  It seems that many are beginning to prepare for a No Deal Brexit and are preparing emergency legislation.  Employers, or Groups who have UK nationals living and working in other EU countries should ensure that they have prepared for a No Deal Brexit and have organised their affairs to ensure that their employees can continue living and working abroad.   There may well be steps which employees need to take individually and employers should ensure that their employees are aware of what steps they need to take, either through Brexit surgeries or circulating updates or links to appropriate websites.    

A new Immigration System – 2021 onwards

Regardless of whether there is a Deal or no Deal there will be a revamped  Points Based System

The UK already operates a Points Based System (PBS) to regulate the entry of non-EU citizens who wish to come and work in the UK. This involves UK employers registering as sponsors for those they wish to employ.
From 2021 this will also apply to EU citizens, they will not receive any preferential status.

This means that all employers wishing to recruit from outside the UK will have to register as sponsors. Sponsorship under the PBS brings a number of hurdles for employers including:

  • A cap on the number of visas to 20,700 per year
  • A resident labour market test (a recruitment test to ensure the UK domestic labour market is not undercut); and
  • Minimum skills and salary criteria

The Government has proposed some concessions under the new immigration system to assist employers.
In particular, the removal of the cap and Resident Labour Market Test and lowering of the skills requirement to A-Level and equivalent qualification level.

It has also proposed a new short-term work visa – aimed at helping employers who are reliant on low-skilled workers from Europe to transition to the new system. This new route will be temporary and reviewed in 2025. It will provide a visa for up to 12 months, after this, the migrant must return to their home country for a 12 month “cooling off” period before they can apply again. While in the UK, they will not have to be sponsored or have a definite job offer but could not switch categories, bring dependents with them and/or acquire the right to settlement.

Filling the skills gap

With employees likely to be at a premium employers should consider how best to retain their employees and the sources from which they will recruit the next generation of talent.  Is it realistic to source, recruit and train suitably skilled talent locally?  If they are going to do that how are they going to recruit and train in sufficient numbers?

Tech Employers need to consider both the long and short term to ensure that their business is not starved of the talent base it will need in future years.

What should tech employers do now?

  • Register as a sponsor: If you are not already a sponsor you should register now to beat the rush. There are currently over 900,000 employers in the UK who will need to register under the new system.
  • If you are already a sponsor: Invest in compliance training - sponsorship brings with it strict onerous compliance and reporting obligations. Sponsorship can be revoked for non-compliance and employers can be banned from re-applying. Ensure you know your obligations.
  • Assist your existing staff with applications under the EU settlement scheme or their local country scheme

For advice or assistance with all of the above, please contact Barry Stanton or Claire Taylor-Evans Business Immigration group on 0118 952 7284 or email us at big@boyesturner.com.

Barry Stanton, Partner, Boyes Turner
Claire Taylor-Evans, Senior Associate
Image Credit: KurKestutis / Shutterstock

Data security will continue to be a big deal in 2019 - Here’s what you can do to protect your data now

IT Portal from UK - 6 hours 32 min ago

By now, the incredible cost of a cybersecurity incident is well understood. According to a 2018 study by the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a data breach approaches $4 million, with cascading opportunity and reputational damage that can far exceed this number. Unfortunately, despite the terrible consequences, data loss events are increasing as the treasure trove of customer data that companies store has immense value for those brazen enough to steal it.

In the digital age, data loss events are a “when” not “if” proposition. As evidence, every week seems to present a new eye-catching headline about a devastating data breach that compromises customer data in a profound way.

Most recently, Marriott, the largest hotel chain by market cap, became the latest company to endure a catastrophic data loss event. The Marriott hack, which compromised the passport credentials, credit card numbers, social security identifications, and addresses for 500 million users, is the second worst breach in history, following only Yahoo’s 2016 data disaster that impacted three-billion users.

While companies and media pay significant attention to external threats, one of the most potent risks is often lurking in the office cubicle. Shred-It’s 2018 study on data security concluded, “69 per cent of breaches reported by C-Suites and 71 per cent of breaches reported by SBOs are at least in part attributed to employees—whether through human error or accidental loss.”

Moreover, this problem is exacerbated by the state of the modern workforce as remote employees and third-party vendors access company networks and compromise their data’s integrity.

When it comes to data security, CNBC rightfully concludes, “Hackers are no match for human error.”

Data loss events may be horrendously normative, but that doesn’t mean companies can’t take steps to protect their data. As a result, many companies are turning to employee and user activity monitoring software, an established oversight practice that is making a comeback in our perilous digital moment.

When applied to protecting against internal threats, employee monitoring software can be a highly effective tool for protecting customer data. Here’s how:

1. Employee monitoring software can identify and reinforce data movement boundaries

Employees misuse company data both maliciously and accidently. Gartner’s 2018 report on employee monitoring software indicates that some employees steal company data to help generate a second income while others take information as a last act of rebellion on their way out the door.

In a particularly outlandish example of data theft, an Australian software engineer loaded 120,000 company files onto a flashdrive, which the law firm Meerkin and Apel described as a “trophy.”

Of course, not all employees are so cunning.

In 2017, a Wells Fargo employee inadvertently transmitted 1.4 gigabytes of data to a lawyer outside of the bank, including the detailed information on 50,000 of the bank’s high net worth individuals.

Fortunately, both the malicious and the accidental can be averted by creating data movement boundaries. For instance, employee monitoring software can prevent employees from saving company information to personal cloud storage sites or from copying it to a flash drive. Using smart activity and behaviour rules, any company can configure employee monitoring software so that it prevents specific emails from being sent, attachments from being forwarded, files from being uploaded or websites from being accessed.

What’s more, it can notify IT administrators when this activity occurs, giving them an opportunity to address the situation directly.

2. Employee monitoring software can restrict access to sensitive data

A company’s data is one of its most valuable commodities, but too often it is not treated with the care and concern it deserves. Just as a bank only opens its vault to certain employees, so should companies limit employee access to certain data.

Companies can put employees on a need-to-know basis for data access, and they can use capable employee monitoring software to place boundaries around the information that they do not need to know.

By developing smart rules around data access, companies can ensure that their data is dynamically protected against inappropriate access or movement. While this doesn’t eliminate the threat entirely - after all, someone with privileged access can still attain sensitive data - it mitigates the threat, lessening a company’s overall security exposure.

In addition, this allows organisations to provide additional security protocols and training for employees with access to sensitive data.

3. Employee monitoring software can gather forensics to understand flaws and hold users accountable

Indeed, many things could change by the end of 2019, but the scourge of data breaches is unlikely to abate. Obviously, employee monitoring software can’t solve every security concern, but it is a critical part of a holistic approach to data security. When combined with the right personnel and the proper protocols, it provides organisations with confidence that they are protecting their organisation from a damaging data breach from within.

Data security is a fluid endeavour with motivated criminals always striving to find ways to subvert the system. Therefore, the forensic capabilities of employee monitoring software are an especially influential deterrent that also provides essential evidence should a data loss event occur.

Employee monitoring software provides companies with the insight they need to understand what went wrong and who to hold accountable. With real-time screen session recordings, IT administrators have the evidence they need to take action.

When coupled with other abilities like keystroke recognition, printed document tracking, and file transfer tracking, employee monitoring software collects a cadre of digital forensic evidence that provides the insight needed to adequately understand and respond to any malfeasance.

This is especially important as companies look to quickly respond to an embarrassing data episode.

Isaac Kohen, Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Teramind
Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock

How will studying cognitive development shape the next big innovation in AI?

IT Portal from UK - 7 hours 1 min ago

Once associated with negative connotations - such as unemployment due to job automation and industry redundancy, or sci-fi movie plot-lines to ‘destroy the world’ - AI is now widely accepted, adopted and better understood by people outside of the technology sector. An array of accessible mainstream AI applications means it has been seamlessly integrated into many elements of our daily lives. Whether through a virtual assistant that helps to book doctor appointments; an email service that can accurately suggest the end to a sentence or predict the next word in text; or a system that suggests content we might like to stream and watch - artificial intelligence is now pervasive and growing in capability.

As a result of mainstream AI applications like these, there can be a false perception that the technology has, for the most part, mastered human language. In truth, AI has proven to be successful in natural language-based use cases, where it is designed and trained for a specific purpose. This is because the problem definition is clear and narrowly defined in scope, which enables the use of scripted techniques, and or statistical neural network-based approaches. But there has been less success with general conversation capability, or with techniques to understand the meaning that humans express through their use of natural language. We are far from AI-based systems that can reason the way humans do.

The current nascent state of the technology is evident even in the leading consumer products. Alexa Siri, and other voice and digital assistants use AI to interact with users. These products, though widely adopted, can execute only a limited number of tasks and are incapable of offering meaningful user experiences based around conversation. Instead, they enable users to execute tasks and actions through them but not to engage in dialogue with them or grow their understanding over time. The limitations of approaches used by these products are glaringly obvious. Delivering the value and experience consumers want from natural language-based experiences, requires us as practitioners and industry leaders to make new breakthroughs. It seems that cognitive development may reveal answers.

Last year, Josh Tenenbaum, who leads the Computational Cognitive Science Lab at MIT, announced plans to study the minds of children to inspire ‘the next big innovation in AI’. Tenenbaum claims that by studying how young children see the world and learn, we can apply similar techniques to develop an AI that will be truly ‘intelligent’ - or, at least, intelligent in a way that is more useful to consumers.

In a talk at the EmTech MIT conference last September, Tenenbaum discussed the idea in depth. "Why do we have all these AI technologies, but fundamentally no real AI?" Tenenbaum said. "We have machines that do useful things we used to think only humans could do, but none of these systems are truly intelligent, none of them have the flexible, common sense [of] . . . even a one-year-old."

Huge potential

Artificial intelligence that acquires and processes information in the same way as children in their earliest stages of cognitive development has the potential to change our lives and our interaction with machines existentially. An AI that has been trained to learn directly from a specific user; emulating their thought processes and model of the world to become, essentially, a digital sounding board; would be life-changing and invaluable. To do this well requires greater emphasis on small data and individualised human models with a greater need for dataset design to get suitable training sets for machine learning models. In my opinion, only once AI becomes human-centred and multi-disciplinary in its definition, design, research and development, will humanity be able to truly reap the full benefits it can offer.

It’s unsurprising that few noteworthy breakthroughs like this have been made, because the growth in natural language, as an interface, is dominated by Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google. Each has a legacy way in which it generates revenue and uses its voice-based experience to reinforce this. The rapid growth in smart home devices is a land grab to own the user; and how they access digital products and services. Data shows that many of these devices end up merely as voice-activated speakers and kitchen timers and offer little more than convenience. It doesn’t seem that true product-market fit has been achieved by any. It’s a form of corporate protectionism through subsidy, more than it is innovation.

Modern-day innovators, like Tenenbaum and numerous others, perceive a significant responsibility to build an artificial intelligence that is truly human-centric to its core; in both what it does and how it learns. I believe that it’s not only our duty, but is also the largest opportunity to create and capture value; crucially, it’s the path that will force us all to be more creative and make technological breakthroughs. By asking better questions - such as “how can we use natural language to add meaningful value in people’s lives?”, instead of “how do we sell more ads and capture more data?” - you will get better answers.

Artificial intelligence has the potential to extend human life and evolve our own intelligence. Rather than purely being a functional layer within our lives, it should be helping us see our blind spots; enabling us to become more capable over time and more able to figure out better solutions to the challenges we face in life. A technology that could objectively make links between the different elements of our lives - human relationships, financial issues, health problems etc. - through learning from each individual user, would help humanity all over the world, regardless of the distinctly varied issues we all face day-to-day. Based on the progress I’m seeing with cognitive science-based approaches, this future may not be so far away.

Tom Strange,CEO and Founder, Constellation
Image Credit: Enzozo / Shutterstock

[SRP-2018-02] Details of a vulnerability in STMicroelectronics' chipset

Security Updates from SECLISTS - 10 hours 34 min ago

Posted by Adam Gowdiak on Feb 20

Hello All,

Technical details of ST chipset vulnerability has been released
and are now included in our technical report pertaining to the
security of NC+ SAT TV platform.

As indicated last week, the release is made as a direct result
of no interest in this research.

Updated version of the report, associated Proof of Concept codes
and tools can be downloaded from SRP-2018-02 project location:...

[SAUTH-2019-0001] - Micro Focus Filr Multiple Vulnerabilities

Security Updates from SECLISTS - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 23:02

Posted by advisories on Feb 20

SecureAuth - SecureAuth Labs Advisory
http://www.secureauth.com/

Micro Focus Filr Multiple Vulnerabilities

1. *Advisory Information*

Title: Micro Focus Filr Multiple Vulnerabilities
Advisory ID: SAUTH-2019-0001
Advisory URL:
https://www.secureauth.com/labs/advisories/micro-focus-filr-multiple-vulnerabilities
Date published: 2019-02-20
Date of last update: 2019-02-20
Vendors contacted: Micro Focus
Release mode: Coordinated release

2....

Samsung unveils folding smartphone alongside new Galaxy S10 devices

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 15:31

Samsung has launched a major salvo in the smartphone war but unveiling several new mobile devices - including its first-ever folding smartphone.

In its 10th anniversary of the original Galaxy smartphone, the company revealed a range of new devices at its Galaxy Unpacked event in New York, with the new Samsung Galaxy Fold stealing the show away from the hevaily-rumoured Galaxy S10 and S10+.

However Samsung also revealed the budget-friendly Galaxy S10e, which packs all the features you need into a more compact build, and a specially-equipped S10+ designed with 5G networks in mind

The Galaxy Fold was the undoubted star of the show, sporting a 7.3in Infinity Flex Display that can be folded in half on a hinged connection. This, coupled with Samsung's App Continuity feature, means apps can be expanded from the small screen when the device is fully unfolded, as well as allowing multi-app functionality.

The device sports two batteries (one on each half) and is powered by an octa-core processor, 12GB RAM and 512GB storage, all backed up with a 4,380mAh battery that Samsung says will provide "all-day" life.

The Galaxy S10 and S10+ come with an upgraded dynamic AMOLED display (6.1in and 6.4in respectively) that the company says marks a "new generation of display technology". Stretching across the entirety of the front of the device, the display also features Samsung's new 'hole-punch'

There's also an all-new 'ultrasonic' fingerprint scanner under the screen, which Samsung says again is a world's first, and should provide an added layer of security, alongside a built-in AI security systems that can detect fake fingerprints, and a new system that can detect insecure Wi-Fi networks in real-time.

Running Android 9.0 Pie, the Samsung S10+ will offer up a choice of 8GB or 12GB RAM, all powered by an octa-core Exynos 8nm processor. There's also up to 1TB storage that thanks to microSD can be expanded even more, which Samsung says is "like having a supercomputer in your pocket".

This is all powered by Samsung's biggest batteries yet, with the 4,100mAh unit in the S10+ lasting more than 25 percent longer than the S9+ thanks to a new learning AI that learns how you use your phone to help consumer less power.

The device also offers wireless charging for your watch, ear buds or smartphone, and the S10+ itself can be powered up wirelessly as well.

The Galaxy Fold will go on sale on April 26th, starting at $1,980 (around £2,000), with the Galaxy S10 (£799), S10+ (£899) and S10e £669) available from from March 8th.

Ryuk ransomware "still going strong"

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 11:00

It’s almost March 2019, but the Ryuk ransomware is still going strong.

Latest reports from McAfee and Coveware claim that there are still “several” hacking groups using Ryuk to extort money out of their victims.

Ryuk has become popular after its users targeted US newspapers, but this time around, the report states that IT hosting, as well as Freight and Logistics industries, have been particularly interesting for attackers.

“IT Hosting companies are of note as the size and number of their servers can make them appear like a large organization,” it was said.

The groups behind the attack ‘have a relation with one of the post-Soviet republics’, it was said, mostly because Russian text was found in one of the encrypted files. Also, there were some cultural references being thrown around during ransom negotiations.

Researchers believe the attackers have some relation to those behind the Trickbot banking trojan.

The ransomware itself seems to descend from Hermes2.1. It’s not designed to target large corporations but still, the attackers demand 10 times more money than your average cybercrime organisations.

Usually, they start with a $145,000 demand, but some companies get a 60 per cent discount, if they can be granted negotiation privileges.

“In a world where cybercriminals are forced to constantly adapt and seek new weaknesses in systems to turn into profits, we have been observing that ransomware is once again on the rise,” commented John Fokker, Head of Cyber Investigations at McAfee.

“This is a prospect that is especially worrying given the rise of synergistic threats, where malware is written to include various malicious components with the intention of blurring the vision of the primary objective – just as a smokescreen would. As ransomware threats evolve, our advice for victims is simple: always seek professional advice when you are faced with a targeted ransomware attack such as Ryuk. A wealth of advice can also be accessed via the NoMoreRansom initiative’s website.”

Image Credit: Christiaan Colen / Flickr

 

Keep your business centre operations running 24/7 with restore on reboot software

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 08:00

Modern day business centres face a myriad of system maintenance issues almost on a daily basis. In such multi-user computing environments, system changes take place rapidly and the risks associated with such changes remain hidden until there’s a major outage. Damaged or malfunctioning computers severely disrupt the continuity of critical operations at your business centre.

Importance of maintaining system availability at business centres

With multiple employees using the business centre computers simultaneously for varying requirements, it is quite difficult for the IT team to ensure their safe and appropriate usage. Disruptive use of devices induce issues like system malfunctioning and subsequent performance degradation which can cause unplanned downtime and affect employee productivity. Consequently, the IT team is frequently overburdened with numerous service tickets. Also, the time taken to respond is slower which results in inevitable service delivery delays.

It’s a recurring scene at business centres to see the IT staff juggling multiple tasks to keep computers up and running. Routine IT tasks such as configuring and maintaining systems, deploying patches, resolving break-fix issues, and managing updates are tedious and time-intensive. In a large business centre, manually executing these processes significantly increases the workload of the IT team.

Even with watchful system monitoring and management, it is difficult for the system admins to keep business centre computers safe and free of vulnerabilities arising from both internal and external sources. Hence, your IT managers in charge of business-critical systems need to use effective restoration tools that can enable them to provide open and continuing access to employees while ensuring high system availability and integrity.

How a restore on reboot software simplifies computer management at business centres

Software solutions built on reboot to restore technology offers faster and effective system restoration mechanism than conventional programs. These solutions restore computers to their pristine state upon a simple reboot, which accelerates the recovery process, enhances the availability of services, and ensures business resiliency in the face of a crisis.

Here are the six best ways in which restore on reboot software tools can help your IT admins achieve 24/7 uptime of business centre workstations and manage them more effectively:

Ensures configurational integrity

Manually maintaining uniformity in configuration across all workstations is a persistent challenge for the enterprise IT team. Reboot restore software solutions simplifies this job by allowing IT admins to set up the desired system configuration state and secure it as the baseline. Once the baseline is established, these software solutions revert the computers to that predefined baseline after every reboot, thus effectively reversing any accidental or incidental configuration changes. As a result, your employees always get to work on a clean and fully functional system with standard configuration. Your IT professionals can also modify or change the baseline settings as per the changing requirements at your centre.

Ensures non-restrictive usage

To maintain system integrity, IT admins often place limitations on features that an employee can access on a device at the business centre. Quite naturally, this narrows down the employees’ computing experience and might affect their productivity in the long run.

However, solutions deploying the reboot restore software allow your employees to work in an unrestricted IT environment. It stores all user-made changes in a separate temporary location and deletes the content of this storage entirely when systems are restarted. These solutions thus erase all traces of employee-made changes and restore the baseline configuration of the system on a simple reboot. Your IT team can thus provide complete system access without worrying about system availability.

Boosts system protection

With business centres going all digital, cyber threats can cause serious and lasting damages to systems. Even when internet access is disabled, unauthorised actions and changes made to the system, malicious or otherwise, result in vulnerabilities in the devices. With a restore on reboot software, such issues can be taken care of immediately. Irrespective of how the devices are being accessed, the pristine state of the device will be restored with a simple restart, thus reducing the scope of downtime to zero. As a result, the risks of delays in providing services due to unforeseen application crashes or operating system malfunction are virtually nil.

Reduces dependency on the IT team

Software solutions that leverage the power of reboot to restore technology require no step-wise execution. When faced with a technical issue on their systems, employees can just restart the malfunctioning computer to revert them to back their optimal functionality. This allows them to resolve common system issues on their own without the requirement of any on-site tech support. This not only enhances the productivity and system availability at your business centre but also provide the IT team with more free time to focus on other complex technology jobs.

Minimises system maintenance costs

With one or more systems malfunctioning or going out of order, your business IT team often need to engage in time-intensive system recovery and troubleshooting processes leading to an increase in the system maintenance costs. Most IT personnel working in at business centres are under constant pressure to maintain the availability of targeted endpoints within a stipulated budget.

Restore on reboot solutions enable the IT team to not only carry on their support on a limited budget but also help to reduce operating costs without compromising on the performance of the systems. Whenever a system starts showing certain signs of malfunctioning, a simple restart can instantaneously revert it back to its baseline configuration. This will enable your IT admins to maximise system availability without exceeding the allocated budget.

Enhances remote system management capabilities

To make optimal use of the digital resources at your business centre and save time in the process, your IT team will need solutions that will help them control, configure, and manage the business centre workstations from anywhere and anytime. Remote management of systems will provide the IT personnel with the capability to keep standardised configurations secure in real-time.

With an advanced restore on reboot software solution in place, the IT team at your business centre can schedule and automate system maintenance tasks. Business centres should look for reboot restore software solutions that come with a centralised management console. These consoles facilitate remote management of all devices registered in the network.  Elimination of manual intervention reduces downtime and simultaneously permits your employees to continue working in a secure IT environment.

By deploying robust solutions that operate on the reboot to restore technology, the IT team at your business centre can quickly resolve system-related issues and combat potential threats. Not only do these solutions keep computers secure and extend their lifecycle, but they also relieve both your employees as well as the IT staff from the disruptions caused by frequent system issues. As a result, system downtime can be minimised drastically with these restore on reboot solutions in place.

Jose Richardson, Marketing, Reboot to Restore Software
Image source: Shutterstock/niroworld

Microsoft uncovers major hacking attempts against EU organisations

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 07:30

Microsoft said it spotted hackers targeting ‘democratic organisations’ and non-profits, and is offering its help to keep them safe.

In a blog post detailing company findings, Corporate Vice President, Customer Security & Trust, Tom Burt, said the organisations were being targeted between September and December 2018. Among the targets were the German Council on Foreign Relations, The Aspen Institutes in Europe and The German Marshall Fund.

Microsoft spotted the hackers through its Threat Intelligence Centre and Digital Crimes Unit. It’s saying more than 100 employees in Belgium, France and Germany, but also Poland, Serbia and Romania, were under attack.

It is believed that Strontium was behind the attack. Strontium is a cybercriminal group being linked to the Russian government. You may know them as APT 28, Fancy Bear, or Sofancy.

That being said, Burt said the company will start offering AccountGuard to 12 new European markets. AccountGuard is Microsoft’s cybersecurity service, which will now be available in a bunch of EU countries, including Germany, Spain, France, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia.

Microsoft took the opportunity to draw everyone’s attention to the upcoming European Parliament elections, this May. It says the attack is an ‘ongoing effort’ to target democratic organisations.

“These attacks are not limited to campaigns themselves but often extend to think tanks and non-profit organizations working on topics related to democracy, electoral integrity, and public policy and that are often in contact with government officials,” Microsoft says.

Image Credit: Sergei Bachlakov / Shutterstock 

Qualcomm unveils most powerful 5G modem

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 07:00

We haven't even gotten our hands on the first 5G-enabled smartphones, and we already have a second generation 5G modem courtesy of Qualcomm.

Called the Snapdragon X55 5G, the modem comes with a couple of welcome improvements, and will be offered to the company's partners 'in the coming months'.

First and foremost – speed. It's significantly faster than its predecessor, the X50. Unlike the older model which could achieve maximum speeds of 5 gigabits, Qualcomm claims the X55 can develop up to 7 gigabits per second.

Keep in mind that these are absolute maximum figures in a controlled environment. Don't expect these speeds out in the wild just yet.

The second big upgrade is its efficiency. According to The Verge, the Snapdragon X55 is more power efficient, and that is achieved by offering support for adaptive antenna tuning for sub-6GHz 5G.

The device is also smaller, as it is now compatible with Qualcomm's new mmWave antenna module. That means it should take up less space in mobile phones and similar devices.

But The Verge also says that this device isn't designed with 5G smartphones in mind. Sure, it will probably be used in smartphones as well, but its primary use case should be connected cars and other IoT devices.

Those are the biggest upgrades to the modem lineup, with a couple other minor ones which you can find on this link.

Image Credit: Jejim / Shutterstock

12 billion devices will be internet-connected by 2022

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 06:30

Millions more devices will become internet-connected within the next few years, according to new research from Cisco.

The networking giant's latest Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI) Forecast estimates that there will be more than 12 billion mobile devices connected devices across the world by 2022 - up from nine billion today.

Roughly eight billion of those will be personal devices, with the remaining four billion being IoT devices.

Consequently, that means that mobile traffic will also experience significant growth. Right now, we’re expecting a zettabyte of data for the period of 2017 – 2022. By 2022, mobile traffic will account for some 20 per cent of global IP traffic and will reach 930 exabytes, every year.

That is, according to the report, 113 times more than all global mobile traffic generated just ten years ago.

Telcos will see this as an opportunity and improve their mobile network performance. With that in mind, we can expect mobile network speeds to increase more than three times, from 8.7 Mbps two years ago, to 28.5 Mbps by 2022. 5G will play a major role in achieving this growth.

“As global mobile traffic approaches the zettabyte era, we believe that 5G and WiFi will coexist as necessary and complementary access technologies, offering key benefits to our enterprise and service provider customers to extend their architectures,” said Jonathan Davidson, senior vice president and general manager, Service Provider Business, Cisco.

Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

UK companies still worried about cyber risks

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 06:00

Businesses in the UK are afraid 5G networks may be vulnerable to cyberattacks, but it won’t stop them from investing in the technology. 

This is according to a new report by EY which claims that some businesses worry about cyberattacks, while others are more wary of IoT connectivity problems. They expect that the amount of spending that goes into 5G will catch up to IoT within two years, but there are doubts when it comes to its readiness and relevance. Some believe 5G is still immature, others aren’t sure if it’s even relevant.

That being said, half of the businesses surveyed plan on investing in 5G technologies within the next 24 months. Some are already investing. Almost a third of businesses surveyed had already adopted IoT tech, and a third are planning on investing within two years.

The report says this is ‘encouraging’ for both 5G and IoT.

It also argues that there is a feeling that 5G and IoT’s potential isn’t being fully utilised. Two thirds of businesses claim suppliers need to articulate a ‘more coherent’ vision of both technologies.

“It’s not surprising that businesses are most concerned with the threat of cyberattacks,” said Adrian Baschnonga, Global Lead Telecommunications Analyst, EY.

“The introduction of 5G will help organisations unlock new growth opportunities, but this transition comes at a time when fears regarding data breaches and network security are especially pronounced. Our survey also shows that 5G has an image problem. The challenge for technology and service providers is to position 5G as much more than just a faster mobile connection, but instead a driver of strategic change and a critical enabler for a variety of new services.”

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Don’t let the tech takeover: Time rich, mindfulness poor

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 06:00

The industrial revolution was not the start of our obsession with productivity, but the changing of gears when it came to our musings on time – and how we get the most out of it. Turbocharging capitalism with steam engines, the creation of household devices and more efficient modes of communication, technological innovation serves as the pivot around which we leverage our time. With today’s data-driven on-demand economy, we are winning back some of that precious time. But are we getting the most out of it? As technology transforms our grip on time, it’s up to us to make it work for us.

Contemporary lifestyles rotate at a dizzying pace from work to play, with technology blurring the boundaries between the two while offering the essential oil to the chain. Filling our lives with efficiency boosting checklists is an activity in itself, as we strive for greater productivity in order to gain more time. But the more efficient we become, the more ‘tasks’ that end up on our ‘to-do’ lists. Like energetic mice running on the slick wheels of modern life, we imagine what we would do if we had more time – as though it were the equivalent to winning the lottery.

But where is this drive for productivity coming from? With technological innovations tapping into the need for a greater grip on time, that intangible element that seems to slip through our fingers like sand, we must look to Silicon Valley. It is the birth place of the now infamous “Inbox Zero” concept that has driven the daily churn of emails since 2007, when Merlin Mann advised audiences at Google to process emails until no more remain in order to remove the anxiety of growing task lists and get on with the rest of your day. Moreover, it is the major tech hub, in which these tools are not only developed, but the culture of innovation and productivity flourish – an exhaustive loop beamed out to the rest of the world via cloud-based apps.

Clock watching: where we spend our time

The reality is that the number of hours we work is decreasing. According to OECD figures, between 2000 and 2017 the average number of hours worked per year globally decreased by 5.3 per cent or 92 hours per year – amounting to 20 minutes less per day, based on 260 working days per year. With only 1.2 per cent or 4 minutes, this decrease is less visible in the UK. Nevertheless, with flexible working practices becoming more common and the gig-economy taking off, it is fair to assume that time spent working will continue to decrease, particularly as automation and AI technologies begin to unburden employees from the more time-consuming administrative tasks.

Where is this extra time being spent? When we are not entertaining ourselves? Last year Netflix subscribers around the world watched a whopping 1 billion hours per week and Brits watched 3 hours of TV per day – we are using our devices to organise ourselves and save time. Despite the controversy around Uber, there are 3.5 million users and 40,000 drivers in London alone utilising the ride-share app to soften their journeys. From Evernote to Wunderlist, there is an endless array of productivity apps to help us manage our time inside and outside of work, so we can optimise productivity and fit more in. Even fertility is a tick-list job with the contentious Natural Cycles app claiming to help women to ascertain when they are most fertile – or not depending on desired outcome. By inputting personal health data apps, we can sync with our bodies, giving us a sense of control over our destiny and the ability to make life-changing choices.

Data sits at the heart of this modern manifestation, the powerhouse of contemporary existence. Out of sight, its exponential growth is shaping our futures, expanding like our very universe and changing our perception of time as we know it. The technologies that are both turbocharging and feeding off the explosion of data are worth noting.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) plays an important role in the digital transformation of major industries. It is the biggest new kid on the block in terms of sustaining data-heavy businesses. It helps make it possible for us to scroll through Instagram as we wait for an Uber in a rush to get the yoga class we booked via the ClassPass app. Hyperconvergence is an IT framework that combines storage, computing and networking into a single system in an effort to reduce data center complexity and increase scalability. This means that those essential cloud-based apps we rely on are constantly available. With essential services always-on, we won’t be late for yoga and our Game of Thrones marathon might never end.

Elements of time: social constructs with social impacts

With no down-time and hurtling through life at the speed of our data, it is not surprising that even those milestone moments marked with hefty news coverage are clocking in fast – or is it simply that the reporting is in real-time leaving no time for reflection? The combination of instantaneous echo chambers on social media and rolling news coverage, means the so-called fourth estate and ultimately the foundations of our democracy are starting to look a little shaky.

While facilitating human productivity, could it be that technological innovations are also creating a hyper-reactive world that despite fighting for more time, does not truly value the power of time? As we increasingly buy ourselves time, through the purchase of services, increased personal efficiencies and less working hours, extracting quality time will be essential for our own well-being and that of society.

Soon we’ll be accustomed to collaborating with an AI workforce fueled and accelerated by increasingly sophisticated technologies, with the discussion around the universal income serving as an important reminder of how much time we could have on our hands. This is why it is important that we practice using our extra time now to stop and reflect. What do we want and how can we use this time in a meaningful way that will truly bring us happiness? Only then will the time warp flex towards the betterment of society, making our technical innovations truly worthwhile.

Laurence James, Products and Alliances Manager, NetApp
Image Credit: Still Life Photography / Shutterstock

The technology trust gap that’s hurting sales efforts

IT Portal from UK - Wed, 02/20/2019 - 05:30

With more than 20 per cent of the UK population employed in sales (either directly or indirectly), salespeople as a demographic, are a hugely important technology user group. But they’re also one of the most poorly served! 

Nowhere is this truer than for field sales people — the men or women who spend at least 75 per cent of their time on the road selling products or services to customers. As a consequence, technophobia is often rife in this unique and challenging sales environment!

Unsurprisingly the majority of field sales reps regularly use technology as part of their day-to-day job. However, regardless of the technology they are using, over a third (38 per cent) of the 251 UK-based reps my company, Skynamo, surveyed (in October 2018 via research firm Censuswide) believe technology is “more of a hinderance than a help”. This perspective is creating huge resistance to any new technology in the sales environment, fuelled by the bad experiences reps have had using the tools deployed by their organisation.

In this article I’ll explore the underlying reasons why technophobia is so rife in field sales and outline my five key steps to overcoming tech resistance and recalibrating your sales team’s perception of technology as something that’s empowering them with the time and information to be successful.

Who brings a knife to a gunfight?    

Fundamentally the problem is simple. Time and time again firms are forcing field sales reps to use what are clearly the wrong tools and yet expecting them to somehow be able to do the right job with them. It’s the sales equivalent of using a chocolate teapot in the desert.

Our survey found that sales organisations are placing a high reliance on ‘low-tech’ such as Excel spreadsheets (48 per cent), email, and instant messaging (41 per cent) for day-to-day updates. Many of these spreadsheets and emails are printed onto paper and used as the basis for formal reporting. A further 7 per cent admit they rely purely on paper-based filing and handwritten notebooks. 

On top of this, almost half (43 per cent) of sales reps are required to use more sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, often alongside enterprise resource planning (ERP) software/accounting packages in addition to their sales reporting tools – be they paper, excel or email.

It probably doesn’t take a genius to realise that entering data into all these disconnected systems inevitably means that mistakes and anomalies are commonplace, especially where on-the-road access isn’t available to reps and they’re left relying on their fatigued memory and note-taking at the end of a long day.

One in five of the reps we surveyed specifically stated that cumbersome technology directly impacts their ability to enter work-related data accurately. 89 per cent admit to flaws in the accuracy of the data they themselves record in notes, meeting reports and their company’s CRM system. As a result, more than a quarter (28 per cent) don’t trust their company’s CRM data.

Using a disjointed mix of tools that aren’t designed for use in the sales field sets both reps and managers up for failure. Not only does it breed distrust in field data but also mass resistance towards any field sales management software and mobile sales apps, even those which have the potential to help sales teams sell more.

But let’s be clear — most of the problems field sales people experience with technology aren’t due to poor quality technology but more to do with the way it is being deployed.

Mobile first: choosing the right tools for the field sales job

For salespeople on the road it’s really no wonder they find technology a hinderance. They don’t have the luxury of a comfy desk, a powerful desktop PC and superfast broadband. The reality is that reps are constantly on the move from meeting to meeting. They’re often working on more entry level mobile phones, tablets or laptops and battling with bandwidth poor WIFI hotspots and patchy phone signal while tethering their laptop in a motorway service station or pulled up on the side of the road on the outskirts of an industrial estate. They need focused simplicity and access to just the information and features they need, not the complexity they get from a full CRM and ERP system.

Field sales reps need a single interface they can use to access data and functionality in both CRM and ERP systems instead of jumping between two different applications on their mobile device — something that can bridge the gap between the two. They need an app designed specifically for use on a mobile device and that supports the unique set of tasks they perform while on the road.

Massive advances in technology provide us with all the components needed to make it easier for salespeople to gather and have access to high quality data – but this isn’t happening – because experience has taught reps and their manager that tech just makes life more difficult, not easier. We need to champion the cause and show how the right technology can make all the difference.

Mobile technology designed specifically to support field sales reps is proven to dramatically reduce the time reps spend on admin, freeing them up for more customer relationship building and selling. A single, user-friendly interface which fits in their pockets, provides them with access to accurate information about products and customers, the latest pricing and stock information, and the ability to act on that data will improve their sales performance. They will have all the functionality they need to nail their job.

So how do I think we can overcome the massive resistance that stands between struggling sales reps and the technology that will empower them to sell better? Here are my five key steps to get salespeople onboard with technology projects:

1. Involve rather than impose

If you’ve got negative or suspicious reps and you’re trying to adopt a new technology that you’ll expect them to use - be completely open and involve the whole sales team at every stage of the adoption process.

Transparency communicates trust and respect from management and invites trust and respect from employees in return. When everyone is treated as a stakeholder you’ll achieve a much more open attitude towards adopting the technology.

2. Make the benefits obvious

Take the time to communicate how a mobile sales app will transform both office-based and field sales activities for the better. Show how this will help them, not just how it will help you as a manager or business owner. For example, accurate and readily available customer history and product information empowers reps to be sales consultants - enabling them to provide each customer with unique solutions to their business challenges. On top of this, simplified order taking and report writing processes have proved to help field sales reps work productively, freeing them up to enjoy more downtime.

3. Track the impact

Be sure to keep track of changes as the new technology is being employed. Communicate these visually to help reinforce the positive results. Compile graphs to compare before and after time spent on admin, hours needed to reach weekly targets, number of weekly visits completed, and any other metric that will show the value added by newly adopted technology.

4. Listen to what the users have to say

Technology deployments are rarely perfect. All new systems require minor adjustment and user adaption before running optimally. Feedback from sales team users will be crucial to a successful adoption and setup process. It is their user experience that will determine, not only how willingly they adopt new technology, but also how much the entire business benefits from their ability to utilise new tools.

5. Nurture (training) over nature

Give the sales team the support they need to use the tools they’re given. Tech resistance often stems from tools being thrown at the sales team with the expectation that the reps will just know intuitively how to make it work. Don’t cheap out on training. It absolutely worth supporting and helping sales reps improve their proficiency in the field.

Field reps reject sales technology when it stands in the way of their selling efforts, which often happens when a technology wasn’t developed specifically for field sales work in the first place. Adopting mobile field sales technology, and managing the adoption process well, will see field reps welcome new technology and their sales performance will skyrocket as a consequence.

Brian Howe, Alliances Director, Skynamo
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa

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