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The State of Tech in Post-Brexit Britain

March 22, 2017

The state of tech in post-Brexit Britain is looking promising, according to a KPMG report exploring The changing landscape of disruptive technologies.

State of Tech in Post-Brexit Britain

We always do our best to find the positives in any situation here at Select Technology, as you may remember from last month’s post Got the Brexit Blues? Select Technology has the Antidote in Five Fantastic Flavours.

There are obviously some downsides to Brexit, and the UK is hardly in the best shape of its life.

Our NHS is in an almost perpetual state of crisis, our currency is on the backfoot, and the division in our society has never been more apparent.

But there is a silver lining!

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

According to KPMG UK’s Head of Technology, Tudor Aw: “The research shows the UK’s technology sector drew more investment than that of any other European country in 2016 and that London is seen as a major hub for big data, fintech and a variety of digital technologies. Despite the uncertainty presented by Brexit and other economic factors, the UK and London has not lost its shine when it comes to its technology pedigree.”

The survey, which involved 841 business executives, ranks the UK fourth globally – just behind the US, China, and India – in terms of the promise it shows in the tech industry.

Aw goes on to say, “Technology underpins the competiveness and development of almost every sector. It is a key battleground for most economies and the UK must ensure it is a leader in this field. The Government’s £2 billion R&D fund for emerging tech, such as artificial intelligence and robotics, is therefore hugely encouraging and will make a real difference to the UK being seen as a tech destination of choice for scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and tech companies.

The State of Tech in Post-Brexit Britain

The British tech sector is in very good shape, with increasing investment and positive sentiment from Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and more.

There is obviously very little certainty as we move ever closer to a post-Brexit Britain, but things look promising.

If you’re unsure how to incorporate a Brexit strategy into your IT infrastructure, then talk to us today and let’s get your business Brexit-proof in 2017!

State of Tech in Post-Brexit Britain

Slack Vs Microsoft Teams: Office 365 Takes On the Collaboration King

March 17, 2017

Microsoft’s latest productivity tool Teams has been in beta since November, and this week it went live for Office 365 users around the world.

office 365

Some have been touting Teams as Microsoft’s Slack-killer app, with others slightly less enthused about the enterprise offering.

Today we’ll do our best to demystify the subject so that you can stop slacking and figure out which is the best option for your team!

Pricing

Pricing is probably the best place for us to start because Microsoft Teams does not exist as a standalone service in the way that Slack does.

Microsoft Teams has been integrated into Office 365 as a default feature for certain subscription levels.

This means that if you already have an Office 365 Business Essentials, Business Premium, Enterprise E1, E3, or E5 subscription, you now have access to Teams at no additional cost.

You can log into Teams using your existing 365 credentials. There is no additional registration or onboarding necessary.

On the other hand, Slack adopts a freemium business model that incorporates a free tier for users to trial the app or roll it out in a smaller team.

Depending on what kind of online storage, email, and productivity apps you want to integrate with Slack, the annual cost sits at around $140-270 (£115-220) per user.

Microsoft Office 365 pricing starts at $60 (£49) per user per year for its Business Premium tier.

This includes Microsoft Teams on top of Skype for Business, Exchange email, and 1TB of OneDrive for Business storage.

…and the winner is:

Looking at pricing alone, Microsoft Teams is the clear winner.

Even if you upgrade your Office 365 subscription to E3 with full access to the Office applications, you’ll still only be paying $240 (£196) per user per year.

office 365

Third-Party Integration

The Slack App Directory is currently a whole lot more expensive than the Microsoft Teams integrations, of which there are approximately 150 at launch.

Despite Teams boasting many partners, there are currently only a handful of default integrations built into the application.

One of the standout features of Teams is its tab-based interface.

Tabbed navigation enables users to add their own custom tabs based on the specific integrations they need access to.

An example of this would be your Support or Helpdesk teams using a tabbed instance of Zendesk, while your Marketing guys open a Hootsuite tab or two to monitor social media streams and publish content.

A downside to Microsoft Teams is the lack of integration with other third-party tools like Google Drive and Dropbox.

The biggest drawback is the fact that you can only interact with people who are already within your Office 365 network.

office 365

Slack, on the other hand, allows you to invite users via email, with the option to limit their access to particular channels if necessary.

Microsoft has promised us that cross-platform integration is coming, but for now we’ll have to sit tight.

…and the winner is:

This is a tough one; let’s break it down:

  • App Directory Pricing: Teams Slack
  • Cross-Platform Integration: Teams Slack
  • Built-In Integrations: Teams Slack
  • Tabbed Integrations: Teams Slack

There isn’t much to set the two apart in this area.

The main distinction is whether you need a platform that will enable collaboration with groups and individuals outside of your organisation.

If so, Slack is the way to go. Otherwise, let’s keep reading.

office 365

Bots

Slackbot

If you’ve used Slack for any amount of time, you’ll no doubt have dabbled with Slackbot.

Slackbot is a separate private conversation that can answer simple questions, as well as acting as a test environment for integrations.

Microsoft Teams introduces not one, but two bots: T-Bot and the yet-to-be-released WhoBot.

office 365

T-Bot

T-Bot works similarly to Slackbot, enabling you to ask questions about members of your group and other topics. You’ll likely notice some parallels with Cortana in Windows 10.

Moreover, T-Bot offers a choice of user-interfaces, with a tabbed browser-like instance accompanying the more standard chat-style interface which acts more like a conversation with the AI.

WhoBot

Far more impressive is WhoBot, which unfortunately doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet.

WhoBot uses the Microsoft Graph AI as its framework, accessing data from Active Directory and sucking it into Teams to answer your questions about individuals within your organisation.

If you’re looking for someone with a specific skill set or area of expertise, Teams will comb through your organisation’s directory for personal records, communications, or other details that may be relevant.

After finding the personnel you need, you’ll see information such as their department and which manager they report to so that you know exactly where they stand in the pecking order.

…and the winner is:

It wouldn’t be fair to compare our contenders based on a feature like WhoBot which hasn’t been released yet.

Nevertheless, T-Bot already holds its own against Slackbot, and with WhoBot incoming it looks like Slack will have to up its game in the bot department.

WhoBot’s integration with Active Directory is one of many examples where Microsoft Teams benefits greatly from calling Office 365 its home.

This one goes to Microsoft Teams.

office 365

Security

Microsoft has long been dominant on the security front, and Teams is no exception.

Both apps are compliant with ISO 27001, and incorporate two-factor authentication for granular teams and entire organisations.

Teams boasts additional Microsoft SharePoint encryption, as well as a host of other certifications:

  • Cloud Security Alliance (CSA)
  • EU Model Clauses (EUMC)
  • HIPAA
  • ISO 27018
  • SSAE16 SOC 1
  • SSAE16 SOC 2

Teams also integrates with Microsoft Intune, providing a decent level of mobile device management.

One of the defining aspects of Microsoft Teams is the level of functionality in the Office 365 Admin Centre.

Within the Admin Centre, you can adjust features like screen sharing, content access, and profile configuration. You can determine who can use integrations, video, bots, and even Microsoft Teams as a whole.

…and the winner is:

Microsoft Teams.

office 365

Funzies

Microsoft Teams has a meme generator, need we say more?

office 365

But seriously, you can really tell that Microsoft has gone that extra mile with the multitude of memes, stickers, and Emoji goodness in Teams.

Facebook Messenger will come to mind when you use the stickers in Teams. There is a library of sticker sets, designed specifically with business in mind and including categories such as Dev, Legal, and Office Drama.

Slack is well known for its many / commands, with /gif and /giphy commands making it easy to insert your favourite Emojis and animations into chats.

office 365

This is an undeniably solid feature of Slack, but Teams goes a step further by implementing a preview feature along with a scrollable list of search results.

…and the winner is:

Microsoft Teams does more than Slack in this area.

Slack’s /gif and /giphy features are great, but being able to preview content before inserting it into a message is a must-have feature.

Above all, there is now a meme generator built into Office 365!

Microsoft Teams takes this one.

office 365

User-Interface

The screenshot below shows what the Microsoft Teams interface looks like:

office 365

So, on the left-hand side you have tabs for Activity, Chat, Teams, Messages, and Files.

Activity essentially acts like a social media feed for your organisation’s Intranet. The threading and overall appearance is somewhat akin to Yammer.

Teams is like Slack here, so if you are mentioned by name in a post you will see a notification icon appear beside the relevant message.

Chat and Teams, as the names would suggest, are where your conversations are found. There is a text box at the bottom along with icons you can click to access GIFs, stickers, and files.

…and the winner is:

Slack offers far more UI customisation than Microsoft Teams. There are loads of skins and themes to choose from, while Teams only currently offers light, dark, and high-contrast themes.

The Teams interface isn’t terrible but it certainly has some way to come.

Slack wins this one.

office 365

Conclusion

As a Microsoft house, we’re admittedly a little biased.

Having said that, I have plenty of personal experience with Slack, and I’ve always been a fan. It looks great, and offers an awesome array of dependable features.

Slack paved the way for business chat and collaboration, but I’m very impressed by what Microsoft has achieved with Teams. 

Teams is the obvious choice if you’re already working in a Microsoft environment with Office 365.

The only exception to this would be if you need a collaboration tool for chats and meetings with people from outside of your organisation.

Slack is a great choice for smaller teams that aren’t already using Office 365. It is worth taking a moment to consider scaling, however. Office 365 may become a necessity as your organisation grows, making Teams a more viable option.

Either way, these are both fantastic tools with loads more great features on the horizon.

The collaboration competition is certainly heating up, so it will be interesting to see what Microsoft and Slack can come up with.

Talk to us today about your favourite collaboration tool, or let us know if you’re unsure which one to choose and we’ll provide some expert guidance.

How to Ensure Cybersecurity With IT Service Providers

March 15, 2017

With cybersecurity at the forefront of most IT leaders’ attention, it has never been more important to consider GDPR compliance when speaking to IT service providers.

cybersecurity

I recently read a great piece over at CIO from last year featuring an interview with Mayer Brown legal partner, Rebecca Eisner.

Eisner talks about some of the challenges faced by customers of IT managed service providers, particularly larger organisations with a more complex staff and network structure.

She discusses that although data protection measures need to be included in IT service contracts, “Suppliers are understandably concerned about not paying damages that are disproportionate to the revenue received, and therefore seek to limit or disclaim their liability.”

Eisner goes on to say that, “Customers are equally concerned, particularly where suppliers do not have the same incentives to protect customer data as the customer, and because the negative impacts of a security incident are generally far more significant to the customer than to the supplier.”

This highlights the importance of establishing a clear set of guidelines with your providers so that everyone understands their responsibilities.

The Growing Complexity of Cybersecurity

The global infrastructure of data centres continues to grow and become more dispersed across the globe.

From your smartphone to the cloud and back again, there is a far greater margin for error and far more opportunities for your data to become compromised than ever before.

Eisner remarks, “The points of access and potential points of security failure multiply with this ever-expanding ecosystem. In addition, many of these systems are provided or managed by third party suppliers.”

cybersecurity

Consider also the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its far-reaching implications.

Every access point that your data touches must fall in line with the regulation that will come into effect next year.

Everything from your contracts, to your day-to-day operations and the handling of customer data must be considered and kept up-to-date.

How to Mitigate Risk When Outsourcing IT

I recommend checking out the full article linked above; however, here is a summary of Rebecca Eisner’s recommendations for improving cybersecurity in your relationships with IT service providers:

  • Make sure every member of staff from your secretary to the directors is trained and educated on the importance and practicalities of data security and customer privacy, as well as methods of minimising risk.
  • Gain a clear understanding from your provider exactly who will be handling sensitive data; this includes client information and any data that is integral to the business’ finance, operations, and so on.
  • Query your provider’s own cybersecurity measures, including the policies they have in place for identifying potentially high-risk third-party relationships.
  • Review your existing service contracts to ensure they meet both your updated internal cybersecurity policies, and GDPR when it lands in 2018.

cybersecurity

Periodic reviews should also be conducted by both your organisation and your providers to ensure policies are kept up-to-date.

A Little Due Diligence Goes a Long Way

This post is by no means comprehensive, and is intended mostly to get you thinking about your own approach to cybersecurity.

This is particularly important in the changing landscape of data protection regulation.

Make your IT managed service provider work for you by having them ensure the necessary measures are in place to secure your data in situ and in transit.

If you’re not sure how to approach a discussion about GDPR with your service providers, then call us today and we’ll be happy to help.

Ransomware: What You Need to Know for 2017

March 10, 2017

Ransomware has become an increasingly prevalent topic in IT circles and the mainstream media at large.

If you still don’t quite understand what ransomware is then be sure to check out this video before reading on:

Today we’re going to look at recent research to help you understand the implications for your business.

What Does the Ransomware Research Say?

Datto’s 2016 Global Ransomware Report did a great job of highlighting some of the perceptions surrounding ransomware.

The whitepaper reports that 88% of the IT channel identify as ‘highly concerned’ about the threat.

So why do only 34% of small businesses feel the same way?

Around half of businesses were targeted by ransomware in 2016, so it’s basically a coin toss to determine if you will be hit this year.

Moreover, an IBM survey of 600 business executives shows that a whopping 70% of targets paid the attackers to regain access to their systems.

What does this mean for you?

Endpoint antivirus software like AVG and Symantec offerings need to be combined with cloud-based backup and monitoring tools.

Proactively monitoring your infrastructure will allow ransomware attacks to be identified and quarantined. Backing up with a platform like Microsoft Azure will provide the option to access a virtualized version of your environment, often within mere seconds.

ransomware

Compare this to the hours and even days that may be wasted without these measures in place, and you can clearly see that you need to protect your business against ransomware in some way.

If you doubt the impact of downtime on businesses, then be sure to read our short post on The (Frighteningly) Real Cost of Downtime to UK SMBs.

Will You Become a Statistic?

Consider the following:

  • 88% of the IT channel are ‘highly concerned’ about ransomware
  • Just 34% of small businesses feel the same
  • 49% of businesses were subject to an attack in 2016
  • In another survey, 70% of targeted businesses had to pay the ransom to regain access

Security measures are improving but attackers are quickly growing more sophisticated, so it is unclear if these figures will change in 2017.

Do yourself a favour and don’t let your business become a statistic.

Speak to us today about how you can incorporate cloud-based solutions into your business.

Improve efficiency, manage costs and most importantly, stop worrying about security and downtime!

Take These 5 Steps for Cloud Migration Success

March 8, 2017

With the recent hullabaloo surrounding last week’s AWS S3 outage, some of you may be wondering if cloud migration is an appropriate next step for your business.

man-person-clouds-apple

We are major cloud evangelists at Select Technology, but we absolutely acknowledge that things can go wrong when moving your business to the cloud in the absence of understanding and correct planning.

Despite its perceived imperfections, some level of cloud migration will benefit your business in almost all cases.

We’re going to look at steps you can take to avoid the pitfalls of cloud migration and ensure your business gets the most out of this amazing technology.

1. Know What You Need

Take a moment to think about what kind of demands will be placed on your connection.

Is your business seasonal or marketing-driven, with surges of traffic based on public holidays or marketing campaigns?

One of the amazing features of public cloud services – especially with a platform like Microsoft Azure – is automation or auto-scaling.

If you can anticipate when your periods of highest demand will be, your cloud service will automatically activate appropriate computing resources during those times.

On the other hand, do you need consistently high bandwidth for live streaming video or hosting VoIP calls with clients and partners?

If so, you might be better off using a private cloud setup that requires less automation.

Cloud computing is a very, very general term, covering literally hundreds of different services.

Taking the time to think about exactly what your business needs will help you reap the fullest benefits of cloud migration, while ensuring you’re not paying for anything you don’t need.

2. Test Before Going Live

Test, test, test before deployment!

Storing data and setting up automation in Azure and other cloud services is a relatively simple affair.

One of the biggest pitfalls of cloud migration lies not in moving your data, but in making sure your applications perform as expected once shifted up into the cloud.

The way your apps operate on-site gives little indication as to how they will act off-premise.

This point overlaps with our next one because it is so important to remember that cloud migration for businesses is often a step-by-step process.

Moving your business into the cloud one workload at a time will give you the feedback you need to anticipate all eventualities before they have the chance to affect your business.

cloud migration

Pre-deployment testing of this sort is best performed by someone with the relevant experience and foresight, so we highly recommend seeking advice externally if your business lacks the skillset in-house.

If you have the IT resource onsite for pre-deployment testing then you’ll be pleased to know that Microsoft offers online instructions on topics like how to Create an Office 365 Dev/Test Environment in Azure.

3. Take Your Cloud Migration Step by Step

The point about testing is a crucial one that illustrates the importance of taking one step at a time.

Running before you can walk, so to speak, will give you far less agility. If you rush to shift your apps up to the cloud, then you will have no idea how they will operate when push comes to shove.

Cloud services are quickly becoming a business necessity but don’t worry if your competitors beat you there.

Performing your cloud migration in a step-by-step fashion will also provide a betting understanding of which services you require.

You may find that some workloads are better off remaining on-site or even automated to reduce costs.

You won’t know unless you take the time to find out!

4. Pay Attention to Security and Regulation

Every workload you move to the cloud should be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure your business’ security requirements are met.

Are you storing sensitive client data or other confidential information such as health or financial records?

GDPR is changing the way data is handled, so keeping your business compliant should be a vitally important part of your cloud migration strategy.

cloud migration

The security of your data, applications, and identities is well protected with Microsoft Azure Security.

“Security and privacy are built right into the Azure platform, beginning with the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) that addresses security at every development phase from initial planning to launch, and Azure is continually updated to make it even more secure. Operational Security Assurance (OSA) builds on SDL knowledge and processes to provide a framework that helps ensure secure operations throughout the lifecycle of cloud-based services. Azure Security Center makes Azure the only public cloud platform to offer continuous security-health monitoring.”Azure Security

5. Choose the Right Cloud Partner

It is highly recommended that you seek to a managed IT services provider to identify what kind of cloud infrastructure is the best fit for your business.

Those of you who have already figured out what you need will likely also know which environment you want to run; Azure, HPE Helion, AWS, etc.

Be sure to plan ahead with your prospective provider so you can be sure they will be capable of supporting the full functionality your cloud infrastructure as it scales up.

At Select Technology we can look at and simplify your cloud requirements from a business perspective.

Call us today to talk to better understand cloud migration and your place on the modern technological landscape.

THIS is the Morning After Pill of Managed IT Services

March 6, 2017

Not everyone will relate to this post but the message is an important one for anyone looking at managed IT services.

The point I want to make today is that solely relying on an ad-hoc arrangement to support your business IT network is like using the morning after pill as your only form of contraception.

Sure, Plan B works, but it is just that – Plan B.

It’s a last resort.

It will usually do the trick, but it’s not much of a contingency, and it’s probably not the best thing for your health either!

managed IT services

You could also think of it like tightrope walking without a pole for balance: you’ve still got the safety net to (hopefully) catch you, but you’re ignoring the proactive steps you could be taking improve your chances of success.

What is Ad-Hoc IT Support?

Ad-hoc arrangements can take on various forms in managed IT services.

The most common incarnation of ad-hoc IT support is where you pre-pay for blocks of time, essentially purchasing a number of hours which are used up as you raise support tickets.

Schools and businesses will typically use ad-hoc support to supplement or run alongside a proactive monitoring and support contract.

This is usually done to cover unexpected outages, project work, or any other tasks that may fall outside of the pre-agreed SLA.

This pay-as-you-go approach to IT managed services can also be used to account for gaps in the skillsets of your in-house IT team.

After the Horse Has Bolted

As we discussed in It’s Time to Start Viewing IT as an Investment, NOT an Expense, there are many business owners and directors who cannot or will not see the value that IT support can provide.

This leads to an attitude of minimising cost rather than maximising opportunities that could benefit the business.

But what happens when your server goes down and your 50, 150, or 300+ employees are unable to work?

As much as eight (eight!) Internet connectivity failures occurred in the past year for 72% of businesses, causing downtime of more than 40 hours.

Multiply that by your staff numbers and you can quickly see how much of an impact downtime can have.

managed IT services

Click here to learn about The (Frighteningly) Real Cost of Downtime to UK SMBs.

IT is undeniably integral to just about every modern business, regardless of size or industry.

A purely reactive ad-hoc approach to support means that issues will only begin being addressed after they’ve arisen.

Compare this to contractual managed IT services where your servers and systems are proactively monitored on a continual basis, catching issues before they prevent your employees from being able to do their job.

Ad-Hoc Support or Managed IT Services?

This post isn’t about bashing ad-hoc IT support, because a pay-as-you-go model can work brilliantly in some situations.

It should, however, serve to illustrate the point that only using PAYG IT support can be risky business!

We will explore the topic of Ad-Hoc vs. Contractual IT Support in a future post, as there are some circumstances where the former might be the better choice.

If you’re still not sure whether you need ad-hoc or contracted IT support, Give Us a Call and we can discuss which is the best option for your business.

The Select IT Projects Team is Growing! Let’s Meet Svet Vidinski

March 2, 2017

I recently interviewed our Sales Manager Guy Webb on the importance of viewing IT as an investment rather than just another expense.

Continuing our series of staff interviews, we’re moving over to the more technical side of things – the Select IT Projects Team.

Svet Vidinski recently joined the dedicated Projects team at Select Technology, so I thought what better way to welcome him into the fray than by subjecting him to a thorough interrogation!

The Projects Team’s Latest Member

Svet previously worked for one of our clients, and was quite familiar with us having already spoken to our Director Nick Potter a number of times.

He was looking to join an IT company when a position opened up on our dedicated IT Projects team.

Mark: So Svet, to start off I wondered if you could tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in the IT industry.

Svet: Okay, sure.

I have been interested in IT for around 25 years now.

It started off as more of a hobby but my first role was a two-month internship at a school that I completed as part of my MCSE training.

<For those uninitiated amongst us, an MCSE is a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. The certification involves examination on Windows 2003, BackOffice, and other Microsoft products.>

IT projects

Mark: You mention starting off in IT as a hobby.

IT definitely seems to be a field that you need to be pursuing with a genuine passion.

Would you agree?

Svet: Yes, and that is part of what led me to work with Select.

Mark: I was just about to ask about your role here – could you elaborate?

Svet: Well, working in a company’s IT department means that you often only ever complete large projects once.

Things like server migrations only occur every few years so there isn’t enough repetition to really master what you’re doing.

Mark: So I guess working on our Projects team is exposing you to similar projects on a regular basis?

Svet: In a way, yes.

For example, I recently worked on Office 365 migrations for two clients, and this repetition definitely helps the learning process.

Mark: It sounds like you’re being thrown in at the deep end so far.

Svet: Actually I’m not being given more than I can handle right now but my role will develop as I learn more.

For now, the senior Projects technicians are delegating tasks to me, and I hope to become more client-facing. This will enable me to relay the knowledge I’m gaining in a way that customers can understand.

Mark: That sounds great!

Speaking of knowledge, tell us about your own areas of expertise and what you’re bringing to Select.

Svet: Well I’m not sure how I feel about that question.

Mark: How do you mean?

Svet: I don’t like to use the word ‘expertise’ because you’re never really an expert in IT.

The technology is constantly advancing, making it impossible to know everything and really call yourself an expert.

Mark: That’s a great answer actually. It shows that you’re humble enough to know your own limitations, but confident that you can continually learn and develop to fill the gaps.

Svet: Yes, that’s fair. I see this a lot in the team here.

In this kind of environment, you’re only as good as your team.

The IT Projects Team here gives me access to a lot of talent, so I can keep asking questions and learning along the way.

It’s all about teamwork.

IT projects

Mark: Yes! I’ve experienced this myself as well, so I couldn’t agree more. My team is incredibly patient with all the questions I throw at them!

So what goals have you set yourself so far

Svet: It’s not a very exciting answer, but I’m focused on learning as much as possible at the moment.

Mark: Ditto, it never stops!

Well I really appreciate your time today, I hope we can catch up later in the year for an update on how you’re doing?

Svet: Thanks Mark, I like the sound of that.

Mark: Great, see you there!

Let’s talk about your plans for the year – Call Us Today and find out how the Select IT Projects Team can help you!