What Does Your Digital Core Look Like?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on November 28, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The life of the CIO has been like a roller coaster in recent years. The strategic importance of information was probably only really appreciated in the 90s, when the CIO became a more common term than IT Director. It was then that the value of the information, and what a company did with it, became more important than the technology itself.

But in recent years, the CIO has seen cloud-based systems take over. So long as business teams had access to the Internet they could subscribe to pay as you go business services offering everything from CRM to ERP to data storage – software as a service. It seemed like the IT department was offering little of strategic significance for many companies, other than ensuring the business teams can access their Internet-based services.

Now catch up into the present and it seems that some organisations are thinking again about their IT infrastructure because the strong core approach is becoming a popular way to approach the way that technology is organised inside the enterprise. But what is the core, beyond just offering a secure network?

The core approach offers security, but also APIs into all business applications that the company uses, a single way to share data across applications, and a stable environment where automation/bots and tools such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can be applied. In short, the enterprise creates a core for data and applications and benefits from being able to share data across teams. This also offers the opportunity to automate processes and create efficiencies that are impossible if each individual department is just deploying cloud-based business solutions.

The digital core should in fact be a core for driving improved customer engagement with the business. By creating opportunities to manage enterprise data more effectively, insights can be created and customers can experience a far more personal service – the enterprise finds efficiency, but the customer experience is also improved.

Building a core requires a consistent approach to building a central platform, sharing APIs, applications that can work together, and data that can be shared and analysed. It requires an enterprise-wide approach to managing data and applications, which sounds a bit like the old days of central control from the CIO office, but the insights and efficiencies that can be achieved from this approach should outweigh any loss of autonomy for individual business units. In fact, individual business managers can continue to select and deploy their own software solutions so long as they can be plugged into the core system. Flexibility should still be promoted.

We are moving back to an environment where the CIO matters once again. Have you explored the core in your own enterprise yet?

Business Application Support With Artificial Intelligence

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on November 19, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I mentioned in my last blog that the very nature of jobs and employment is changing today because of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Tools such as AI in business application support, are fundamentally changing how corporate processes function – and this changes the skills that people in professional jobs need. This change is prevalent throughout many parts of the modern organisational structure, but the most important area of change is probably enterprise decision support.

The problem is, how do we get from here to there? Many organisations are overrun with data. They have so much that they just don’t know what to do with it all. Some have tried to focus on data analysis, creating a data-driven approach to their business, but even those who have moved in this direction need to rely on the skills of their data scientists to try turning data into information.

As data analytics evolved, it was clear that enterprises were changing from a backwards-facing approach where they analysed past events and described what happened, to an ability to be predictive – trends and patterns that help to predict future behaviour could be found. A similar change needs to take place in enterprises using AI today.

Today, the possibilities for AI-enabled decision-making are more prescriptive, with AI providing enterprises not just a look into the future, but also key diagnostics and suggestions on potential decision options and their payoffs. Such highly evolved applications of AI can help businesses make decisions that can potentially exploit more business opportunities, while averting potential threats much earlier.

This is the real opportunity for AI in the enterprise. To create the opportunity for automated decision-making, but where the system is designed to learn, unlearn, and relearn as often as required. Insights from automated AI business application support should be powerful because the system is trained to learn where insights may be found.

I believe we will be seeing many more AI business application support systems in future – its no longer a technology of the future. These are systems that are already installed and in use in enterprises globally – have you explored what AI can do for you and your decision-making processes?

When Will Your HR Team Start Learning To Code?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on October 17, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

There are many emerging technologies that are not only changing the workplace, but changing the way that jobs are structured and the skills that modern (or future) employees need. I believe that three of the most important changes taking place at present include:

1.    Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the workplace
2.    Remote working
3.    Creating tribes

There are technologies and systems emerging, such as AI in business application support, that are fundamentally changing how corporate processes function – and this changes the skills that people in professional jobs need. Employees need to become comfortable with the idea of AI delivering performance feedback, personal development, coaching and evaluation. This offers many advantages to both employee and employer, but it can still face resistance by some employees, especially when they feel it will change their job.

Forbes magazine recently published data from a study by the Center for Effective Organizations at USC Marshall School of Business. The study suggested that only 37% of employees would share innovation or automation ideas if they believed they would have to do different work as a result of such technology being implemented. However, when employees believed the technology would help make their job better, 87% of them said they would share innovation ideas with their employer.

Both AI and employees will help companies to reengineer their processes, but with AI exploring how to optimise systems there is an opportunity to change processes without the natural reluctance of the employees.

Remote working is increasingly a reality in many industries. Customer service companies are now actively promoting the Work-At-Home-Agent model instead of increasingly large contact centres. Companies with a large number of home-based employees can dramatically reduce costs for office estate and more easily scale up and down as the business requires.

The need to create tribes is partly related to the trend for home-working, but it is also linked to our increasing use of social networks. As we see people less in real life and more in virtual spaces, such as social networks, it becomes more important to be more methodical about socialising – both in person and virtually.

All these changes in the way we work are related back to the increasing intelligence of systems that can help us to perform more effectively at work. We are now reaching a point where coding skills are becoming useful for employees in almost any professional job – accounting, HR, and law companies will all be using AI business application support and this means that professionals need to learn how to manage their virtual tools.

A great change is coming soon. It’s not that every job will vanish as many are automated, but those that remain will become more interesting and more technical – the HR team needs to start coding soon!

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Will citizen developers really take over software development from the big IT companies in future? The market for citizen development is growing fast and what are often called ‘low-code platforms’ allow people to develop software without much knowledge of software development. The market for these systems is currently worth over $4bn, but is predicted to grow to over $27bn by 2022 – that’s extremely rapid growth for any market.

But let’s take a step back to understand what is going on. In the early days of software development programmers would need to use machine language (or code) to get computers to do anything. This machine language is exactly as it sounds, essentially instructions that are directly manipulating chip functions and data. It was extremely difficult to learn how to do this and because the code was hard to read it was not only hard to create, it was hard to fix problems and maintain too.

These days, machine coding is still possible, but it is only really used where speed is essential or there is some other very specific requirement – such as being able to directly address the functions of a video chip. Most software developers now use a programming language, such as C, Java, or Basic – many are available and they are constantly evolving. These languages are much easier to read and use and the developer can either use a system called a compiler to translate the code into the required machine code, or they can use an interpreter that converts the software in real-time as it is running.

These languages have dramatically increased the productivity of software developers, but to use one of these languages is still a specialised skill. The software developer not only needs to understand the language they are using, but also has to be comfortable with many other basic programming principles, such as how to use variables to store and manipulate data. This is not something that an untrained individual can do easily. So what is low-coding?

Essentially it is software development, but at a high level so the focus is just on business processes or queries. The developer doesn’t need to think about underlying issues such as graphics or data storage, they just need to describe what they want the system to do. A good example might be a Human Resource platform that offers the user the ability to create a filtered interface  – only show me candidates over 21 years old with a degree for example.

These queries are essentially basic coding and this will become an increasingly important skill in the modern workplace. It’s easy to argue that this is not really software development and therefore the companies offering software services can feel safe that their business is not about to collapse, but it does represent an important change in skills that will be required for jobs that are not traditionally connected to IT.

Automation is increasing across many industries, particularly Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This means that some basic coding skills will be required of accountants, credit analysts, lawyers, and HR professionals (to just name a few) if they want to be able to manage and control the software systems they are using.

So low-coding does not mean that citizen developers will be building the software that IT companies are now delivering. However, it does mean that almost all office-based professionals need to consider how they can learn about basic coding skills – their future employability depends on it!

AI Is Bringing Brands And Consumers Closer Together

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 18, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quite a pervasive technology in the present-day environment. Even regular consumers with no technical knowledge are becoming aware of AI and are comfortable interacting with these systems. Examples are all around, from Siri on the Apple iPhone to the movie recommendations made by Netflix and song playlists on Spotify.

But there are many other ways in which consumers are beginning to interact with AI systems and many of them are not so obvious, at least to the end consumer of the services. Think of self-driving cars. They may not be common yet, but they are being tested all over the world and they rely on AI to constantly monitor the environment outside the car and to decide what to do next to keep the vehicle safe.

AI can also help to predict what people will do in the future. Facebook can tell if you are likely to take your own life based on recent posts. Stanford University trained a system to detect if you are gay or straight based just facial photographs. The HR system designed by IBM can predict who is likely to quit their job. The implications for these insights are fairly clear – imagine what an insurance company or government could do with this data.

Perhaps more positively, there are now investment algorithms that outperform regular investment managers and AI-powered disease diagnosis means that your virtual doctor will be aware of any relevant research and drug trials – even if it was just published yesterday.

Most consumers will be largely unaware of these developments, but there is one area where people are creating a huge demand for greater investment and research into AI systems and that is personalisation – the interaction between consumers and brands.

Years ago it was Amazon that really started this wave of personalisation by offering deals or recommendations based on the specific shopping behaviour of the individual customer. This was extremely innovative at the time because most brands could only ever offer the same deal to all customers at the same time. Now this is commonplace and expected. A clothes retailer needs to know what the customer likes, dislikes, their shopping history, and what they have browsed and lingered over in the past. All these insights would be impossible for a person, but an AI system can figure out what to offer the customer – either as a recommendation or as a special offer – and ensure that the offer is made at exactly the time that the customer is most likely to respond positively.

Now these personalised insights are not only becoming more common, but customers know that brands have the data so they are expecting greater personalisation. Customer demand is creating a wave of IT research and development. AI is moving quickly from being interesting and innovative to becoming essential for brands across many industries and it is customer expectation that is driving this change.

IBA Spends A Day At The Zoo

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 4, 2018

On September 2, IBA Group organized a family festival for its employees and their children to celebrate the beginning of the new school year. The celebration took place at Minsk Zoo, much to the delight of young visitors and their parents.

This year, IBA invited children, their parents, and their grandparents to spend a sunny Sunday at the zoo, where they could get acquainted with various animals in enclosures, as well as at the terrarium, aquarium, and exotarium. The icing on the cake was a show at the dolphinarium.

IBA Group’s management congratulated children on the beginning of a new school year. First graders received makeshift medals and gifts with the IBA logo. All attendees got lunch bags and could satisfy their sweet tooth with ice cream.

As a part of the entertainment program, children could see exciting chemical experiments and use a trampoline, an inflatable slide or a swan ride.

Earlier, IBA held another festival called Igropolis (Game City) to celebrate Knowledge Day in 2017. In 2016, IBA Group invited children to City of Professions, where each child could try out a profession of his or her choice. In 2015, the company built IBA Eco City to share eco-knowledge among kids.

First graders received makeshift medals and gifts with the IBA logo

Digital Transformation Needs Great Technology

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 20, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Digital Transformation today can mean a lot more than just changing the way your brand delivers a service online. In many cases, companies many need to entirely redefine their business model to keep up with a changing industry that is being shaken by new market arrivals and constant innovation.

In some cases this means old brands die and new ones takeover the market. Instagram is a good example. The entire business of taking and sharing photographs is completely different today and the entire infrastructure that involved cameras, films, and development facilities has almost entirely disappeared in the last 5-10 years. However, in some cases a digital transformation can mean a completely new way of working inside a business that, on the surface, appears to be doing what they have always done.

This Forbes case study of Lufthansa Technik Logistik Services (LTLS) is a good example. LTLS provides logistics, transport, and warehousing services inside the airline industry. LTLS is itself owned by Lufthansa Technik, which provides maintenance, repair, and overhaul services for airline engines. On the surface these businesses sound like traditional engineering and logistics companies that exist to help keep airlines flying safely.

This remains true and nothing has changed in that regard since LTLS started a major digital transformation project a year ago, but there are some areas of process that have changed dramatically, especially around warehousing. Around half their revenue comes from their warehousing service so any way that innovative digital technologies can help to improve these processes will directly impact on the success of the business.

LTLS has implemented nine different projects all focused on assessing digital technologies. These include: using optical character recognition in combination with AI software to automatically fill in input screens and eliminate paper in the receiving department by scanning 10,000 documents each day; smart, light weight, gloves with 2D scanners that allow for hands free picking; integrating their warehouse management system to smart watches; and the use of mobile logistics robots to reduce worker travel.

One of the critical aspects the LTLS highlight about their own digital transformation is the cultural adoption of new processes. They tested the robot technologies in warehouses by buying a single robot and testing it alongside the existing processes, building cultural support for a complete rollout and replacement of the old practices.

This is where your approach to culture can be critical. Not every digital transformation springs from nowhere and transforms the industry overnight. This can happen, as we have seen, but most plans resemble the LTLS approach. There is a clear need to improve the way the business functions and digital technologies can help to transform the business processes – there is a clear sense of where we are now and a future state for the business.

In all these transformations you will require the team to support the changes being proposed, or the implementation is likely to fail. LTLS were smart by slowly introducing changes that could work alongside existing processes and the workers could quickly see how their life would be improved if robots did most of the heavy work inside the warehouse. It’s an agile approach that not only allows for support to develop, it allows for process errors for be fixed during the implementation and avoids the potential disaster of switching from one system to a new one and finding that it is full of errors.

Clearly this approach is worth some extra consideration by any executive team currently studying the opportunities for digital transformation in their business.

Can Your IT Deliver Great CX?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 8, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Take a look at what the industry analysts are all saying about customer experience (CX). It doesn’t matter which industry you are focused on, it is typical to see that improving CX is now considered to be one of the most important strategic priorities – often it is more important than the more traditional revenue maximisation and cost reduction strategies that most CEOs focus on.

But when you explore what CX transformation really means, it is clear that modern CX is largely supported by IT systems. To create a modern CX environment requires not only a major investment in IT and communication systems, it requires an understanding of these technologies and how they can blend with your people and processes so CX is improved.

This requires multiple skills. Executives investing in the technology systems that are now being used to improve CX may know the technologies, but have no personal knowledge of CX or customer service principles in general. So it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate just how much the various technologies have changed in the past few years. Supporting CX today is no longer focused just on Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems alone. This CMSWire article details five key areas where you might want to think again about the kind of technologies being used today – and where we were in the recent past:

  • Moving from websites to apps – it’s no longer enough to have corporate information on a website. If you really want to interact and build a relationship with customers then you need the interactivity of an app.
  • Moving from Web Content Marketing to Artificial Intelligence (AI) – online content is great for brands, but AI will allow brands to automatically share relevant content and to build their content library automatically.
  • Digital Asset Management (DAM) moving from a static repository to the centre of your digital assets – instead of just tracking all your digital assets using a spreadsheet, create a culture of sharing every digital asset, even photos and videos, and utilising the DAM database as a key asset throughout the business.
  • Moving from data use to help the marketing team to predicting what the customer will do next – don’t just use data on customers for marketing mailshots, study their behaviour and figure out what they will do next by using predictive data analytics.
  • Personalisation based on strict rules moving to AI – Machine Learning and AI allow you to get much closer to customers by creating a completely personal experience, not just the same experience every customer has. More and more customers are already insisting on this as an expectation.

Robotic Process Automation, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud delivery and Data Analytics. The list could go on. All these emerging and complex technologies are being deployed in solutions that are specifically designed to improve CX, but as this list suggests there is also a need for executives to think beyond what they knew as cutting edge two years ago.

When selecting a technology partner for a CX initiative you should keep in mind that they need to have expertise in the specific technologies you want to deploy, but also talk to their team about how they see these technologies evolving. CX is driving so much investment into these technologies that none of them are static. You need to consider how best to plan for a solution that delivers today and can flexibly grow with the business in future.

Digital Transformation Is Redefining Business Models

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on July 24, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The technology industry is in an interesting place right now. Industries across the world are facing a wave of digital transformation that is often redefining their entire business model and value proposition. In addition, the increased strategic focus on customer experience (CX) as a boardroom priority is creating a wave of investment in emerging technologies. There has never been a better time to be closely connected to the IT industry because IT is redefining so many industries at a scale that nobody has ever seen before.

Customer expectations have changed dramatically in recent years meaning that companies need to deploy every tool possible to increase both sales and loyalty. The Business to Business (B2B) environment research by Salesforce shows that 80% of customers are influenced by the way that a company is able to understand their individual needs. There is a clear need for organisations to explore how digital transformation and the use of more innovative technologies can create a better experience for their customers.

There are many examples of the changing digital environment and how emerging technologies are changing the interface between companies and their customers, for example:

1. Bots; intelligent chat bots are able to handle simple customer questions automatically deflecting calls that would need to be answered in a contact centre.
2. Automation; the use of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate manual processes makes life easier for employees and increases productivity.
3. Data Analytics; the ability to personalise service for customers because the system knows exactly what they like, when they like to buy, and which channels they prefer. Companies can use data insights to show their customers that they understand exactly what the customer wants.
4. Immersion; Both augmented and virtual reality systems are being used for solutions such as allowing customers to experience a luxury hotel before booking and how to find products inside a store.
5. Self Service; customers are increasingly searching for help online before ever asking a company for help with their products so there is an increasing need to create intelligent content that answers customer questions in locations such as Google.

It’s clear that the combination of increasing customer expectations and the emergence of these new technologies is driving a wave of digital transformation. More than ever, companies are turning to their technology partners for answers. Technology is no longer just a service that supports the business, technology is rapidly transforming how organisations function and redefining business models. Technology is rapidly becoming the most important driver shaping how organisations function and define a business model today.

The Six Key Factors For Success In Digital Transformation

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on July 16, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Digital transformation is a business strategy that has been increasing in importance in the past few years. The ubiquitous use of smartphones, access to fast mobile Internet, and the app store concept have all combined to create a platform where established companies can offer online services and new companies can go to market with innovative ideas extremely quickly.

In some industries, such as financial services, there is an arms race taking place. New companies are launching services that are free of the technical legacy a large company, such as an international bank, needs to manage. Freed from many of the traditional requirements – such as a chain of retail branches – these new services can offer better prices to customers and be entirely designed around the needs of the customer, not the legacy systems of an established company.

It’s clear that companies across all industries need to be exploring how digital tools can improve their service to customers, but digital transformation projects can be risky. If a company bets on the wrong type of service then they can quickly become irrelevant in their own marketplace. Alternatively, if a company fears the complexity of a major digital transformation and delays investment then they may find that entirely new market entrants steal their customers by offering a more customer-centric product.

There are some key areas of focus that should be analysed before commencing on a digital transformation project, both to mitigate against failure and also to increase the chance of success. New research published in Information Age highlights six key factors for success in digital transformation projects:

1. Leadership; is the company leadership really supporting change?
2. People; does your team have the skills you need?
3. Agility; are you able to change plan during the transformation?
4. Business Integration; how will the transformed business connect to the existing processes?
5. Ecosystem; what support do you have from suppliers and others in the value chain?
6. Value From Data; are you capturing the right data and analysing it at the right time?

These may appear to be obvious points that any executive team would consider before a major change, but it’s worth studying each factor in more detail because digital transformation projects do fail. Often the reasons for failure are clear – a lack of agility is a classic example. If your project is so large that it may take several years to implement then it is almost certain that the requirements in a couple of years will be different to now. Therefore agility is essential.

The increasing use of Artificial Intelligence is a good example why these six key factors are important. In the Information Age research 68% of respondents said that they had already had a positive experience of AI systems and 61% expected AI to be creating new jobs in the near future.

That 68% figure is quite high for a technology that is often talked about as a trend for the future. Technologies such as AI are becoming very important in the present-day business environment and many of these emerging technologies will lead to a fundamental change in business models and the competitive landscape. But digital transformation is not just about the integration of emerging technologies into your existing business processes, it is the enabling of new business models or services through the use of technology.

These six factors identified by Information Age really do speak to the way that a digital transformation project should be approached. Kodak was researching digital photography and yet they never saw Instagram on the horizon – digital transformation can completely change entire industries in a short period of time so this is an area of strategy that is essential to get right.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The growth in corporate robotics feels rather like an overnight trend, but automation using robots has been changing the manufacturing industry for at least three decades. The difference today is that robotics is no longer restricted to factory production lines. Automation today is far more advanced than a machine capable of spray-painting car parts.
The reality in today’s environment is that several technologies are blending together to create new possibilities and solutions. Robotics, machine learning, and Artificial Intelligence are naturally connected because automation no longer has to just be the simple repetition of programmed bots – we can now ask the system to learn how to get better.
The IBM Watson system is a great example of this. Watson is capable of reading 800 million pages of data a second. This capacity to absorb new information constantly makes it incredibly useful for complex environments that are constantly changing. Cancer diagnosis is a good example because a traditional doctor will train for many years and then will work with patients in a hospital so their capability to absorb new research is limited. By training real doctors to work with AI systems such as Watson we can support and enhance them – allowing doctors to access a second opinion that includes knowledge of all published research.
Softbank in Japan has connected their Pepper ‘general purpose’ robot to a Watson ‘brain’ creating the possibility for intelligent assistants that actually have a physical form. It’s easy to imagine nurses treating patients with Pepper offering additional advice, or a bank advisor explaining a mortgage to a potential customer and Pepper offering further information and automatically checking compliance to legal regulations.
But this convergence of technologies is not taking place at the same speed in every company, or even in every industry. EWeek magazine recently summarised five important trends that give a good oversight on the growing importance of robotics in industry today:

  1. Most companies are not yet using Robotic Process Automation (RPA), but are noticing those that are using it; Capgemini research suggests that 39% of companies are already using RPA and many are talking of extremely positive results – such as a reduction in repetitive work and an improvement in quality. The companies that have not yet tried RPA are noticing these reports and will move quickly.
  2. RPA works best when used to create a Centre Of Excellence (COE); RPA requires a cultural change so it helps to create a mindset that you are not just automating existing tasks, rather the plan is to improve how the company works.
  3. Once companies explore RPA they deploy it everywhere; companies that have piloted RPA initiatives find that it is not just useful in the back office – automation can be deployed everywhere.
  4. Human jobs are changed, not eliminated; as with the Pepper examples, in most cases RPA enhances and improves what humans can do rather than just eliminating their roles. In research published by McKinsey, they estimated that around 90% of work functions cannot be automated 100% – the role of automation is to increase quality and productivity, not eliminate humans from the workplace.
  5. RPA plus AI will lead to new cognitive opportunities; by created automated systems that can learn we are entering a new cognitive era of business. Research by OpusCapita suggests that 81% of executives believe that this combination of RPA with AI will significantly change their business inside the next 5 years.

This highlights two extremely important – and opposing – points. Executives mostly (81%) believe that automation and AI is about to dramatically change their business, perhaps even their entire business model. However, only a minority (39%) of companies have already launched an RPA project.
It’s clear that this is where the future lies for companies across all industries so the future seems bright for service companies with expertise in both these areas. I even think that the 5-year time horizon is rather long – in my opinion this will all change before 2020. RPA and cognitive systems are about to change your business forever – are you exploring the possibilities today?

Exploring Projects Where RPA Really Did Change A Business

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on June 20, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Why do companies really implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA)? The technology journals endlessly talk about robotics, framed by ‘Terminator’ images, but what are the benefits reported by those companies that have already explored RPA? According to the robotics consulting firm Symphony, these are the main benefits found after RPA has been deployed:

  • 86 per cent say RPA significantly reduces costs
  • 86 per cent feel RPA reduces risk and improves compliance
  • 86 per cent believe RPA improves process effectiveness and efficiency
  • 89 per cent believe RPA improves the quality of work
  • 91 per cent say RPA saves companies time on repetitive tasks

As you might expect from a system that is focused on automation, the focus is on saving time, improving quality, and reducing risk. RPA is often talked about as a technology that can replace people, but it is smarter to think in terms of how it can help people to do their job better – to always remain inside compliance regulations or to consistently deliver processes without errors.


This feature in IT Pro explores several RPA deployments and asks why the projects were successful and whether the companies involved achieved what they expected. Examples include:

  • A car manufacturer offering a bot that could answer questions about their vehicle, such as what a light on the dashboard means. Additionally the messenger bot maintains a relationship with the customer and sends reminders such as when it is time for maintenance or tasks such as an oil change.
  • A recruitment company used a bot to analyse CVs automatically and submit only those meeting all the required criteria. This allowed the recruitment consultant to scan far more CVs than would be possible manually.
  • A bot that could add information on music concerts to a website focused on music events. Instead of manually Googling for information on events and then copying information to the database, the bot could just search and populate the database automatically.

What’s interesting here is that these are all very different projects, but they previously required a large amount of repetitive manual work – especially the recruitment and music examples. In these examples, people would be performing repetitive manual searches many times. The bot allows them to focus more on the search results, rather than wasting time performing the searches. The car example shows that with a little thought, an existing process such as sending reminders to a customer can be performed in a more interactive way that actually should help to build a closer brand to customer relationship.


HfS Research believes that the RPA market will be big – around $1.2bn by 2021 – but they also exercise some restraint. HfS believes that many of the predictions linked to RPA are ‘ridiculous’ and typical of the hype we see whenever a new technology becomes trendy. This is always a danger when new technologies become popular. They are often seen as a solution looking for a problem. Executives start asking why we don’t have an RPA strategy without identifying where RPA can actually help to improve their business processes. However, as the IT Pro case studies demonstrate, it is possible to take specific processes and to automate them so quality and efficiency is improved.

RPA is not about a robotic takeover and a complete end to all manual work, but it is an opportunity to dramatically increase efficiency in any part of your business that suffers from a need to perform repetitive manual tasks. It will be an important business strategy, but let’s stop framing discussions about robotics with ‘Terminator’ images.

Click here for information on how IBA Group can help design an RPA solution that works for your business.

IT Companies Globally – Your Future Is In CX

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on June 15, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary
Customer Experience (CX) has become an important topic for IT companies in recent years. Technology that helped customers used to be restricted to little more than Point-Of-Sale (POS) systems in retail stores, but now there is an enormous industry focused on CX and technology underpins most of these services. For example:

  • CRM; Customer Relationship Management systems are increasing automated and help brands build a better relationship with their customers by having a better understanding of customer needs.
  • ERP; Enterprise Resource Planning has become increasingly important as complex supply chains need products to be delivered just-in-time to the right place.
  • RPA; Robotic Process Automation is allowing companies to automate large groups of processes – especially in the back office.
  • Contact centres; the traditional link between brands and customers is increasingly complex now that omnichannel service is becoming a customer expectation.
  • Data analytics; Big Data and expertise in studying customer behaviour is becoming an important way for brands to personalise the service they deliver.
  • AI; Artificial Intelligence is helping many brands to predict what customers will want, either to help improve the supply chain or to create a more personal service.
  • VR and AR; Many brands are exploring how Virtual and Augmented Reality can help customers locate more detailed information on their products.

This is just a short an immediate list, but the implication is clear. The customer to brand relationship is far more complex than ever before and it is increasingly these technology systems that are providing the ammunition for brands to improve their customer experience. IT service companies and advisors need to be increasingly aware of how important their role now is in creating a great experience for customers.

Many of these technological changes are helping smaller specialist companies to compete with the major players. Look at the Facebook Messenger and it’s automated bot system for one good example. Even a very small brand can configure the system to offer 24/7 customer support using automated bots – something that would have been unthinkable for a small company to offer just a couple of years ago.

Several major technology systems, such as CRM and ERP, have driven large parts of the technology industry in the past, but I believe that now the main driver is CX. Customer expectations on brands are increasing constantly, leading major companies to explore how they can deliver a better service than their competition. Likewise, many of these technologies are moving from just being used by early adopters to being more universally accepted – look at how Ikea now allows customers to view furniture using an AR system before purchasing.
The message is clear for IT experts – CX is going to drive your business for the next decade. Make sure you are tuned into what the CX experts are saying and what the upcoming CX trends are going to be, because many of them need IT expertise and that will not come directly from companies with experience of customer service.

How Is RPA Really Changing Your Business?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on June 6, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

How is automation such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA) changing your business? I’ve written here in the past about some of the automated solutions IBA Group has delivered to clients and how the use of automation can streamline various business processes, but what is the wider effect on a business when some processes can be automated?

In the short term some clear effects can be immediately observed:

1. Faster time to market; products and services can be delivered faster when a part of the value chain has been automated, allowing quicker delivery and an improved time to market for new ideas.
2. Productivity boost; more can be achieved with fewer resources, so the same team can boost what they were delivering before automation.
3. FTE requirements; if a significant part of your business processes can be automated then logically the number of team members required to process this information can be reduced.

But these are just the immediate effects, based on improving processes so everything works faster and more reliably. There are some additional changes that may not be immediately obvious, or even planned during the RPA transition, but will soon become important to any organisation that uses RPA.

  • Business re-engineering and transformation
  • Process streamlining
  • Improved governance framework and process controls – such as change management

The focus here is on the time after your RPA solution has been installed and is operational. Now that a significant section of your business processes are automated, how can you leverage on this achievement?

First is the ability to transform the business. Many industries are experiencing a wave of rapid change at present. Change really is the only constant for almost every traditional business model. Look at banks becoming apps, or news publishers searching for a revenue stream. Many traditional industries are finding that they need to change in order to survive in a very different business environment. If a significant part of your business can be automated then this facilitates innovation in the rest of your processes.

Streamlining the processes you have yet to automate is another significant advantage. Once you can see just how much of your business can be automated, there is a strong temptation to increase the processes your business manages using RPA. It’s important to create a period of stability once RPA is initially rolled out, but after that expansion should be encouraged.

Automating many of your systems allows governance checks to be applied automatically by the system and all processes and actions to be recorded. This can help with compliance and governance by removing the opportunity for manual errors and ensuring that a comprehensive audit trail exists for all automated actions.

Tools like RPA are often talked about as a way to streamline a business, or reduce cost. It’s rare to hear the opportunities for a complete transformation mentioned, but this is where automation is heading – one day it’s going to redefine what your business does and how all your services are delivered.

IBA Group Celebrates 25th Anniversary

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on May 23, 2018

On May 17, IBA Group celebrated its 25th anniversary with a big celebratory event in Minsk, Belarus.

Located at a picturesque lake, the venue included indoor and outdoor entertainment zones. Guests had a chance to interact with robots, try a variety of fast food from food trucks outside the restaurant, or indulge in molecular cuisine. They could relax and sit on bean bags, have a walk on the riverbank, and chill out inside the restaurant.

The newly gathered band Soft Skills, which consisted of IBA Group’s employees, performed for the first time to the public. Covering a kaleidoscope of hits, the band acquired a number of fans among their colleagues and was greeted with enthusiasm.

However, the real highlight of the celebration was a live set of the Belarusian State Academic Symphony Orchestra. Performing on the riverbank, the orchestra played a number of classical pieces, as well as soundtracks of modern movies and TV shows, such as Skyfall, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Game of Thrones. When the music started, the night sky of the lake lit up with fireworks, making the orchestra’s performance truly magical and unforgettable.

In his speech, Sergei Levteev, IBA Group CEO, thanked the company’s customers and employees, saying that 25 years many people doubted the company’s success, but IBA Group overcame all obstacles to be where it is now.

The party concluded with a discotheque, where employees of IBA Group could dance the night away to the sound of electronic music.

Belarusian State Academic Symphony Orchestra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belarus Drives IT Services Value

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on May 21, 2018

Peter Ryan

Technology is inherently democratic in nature.  There are very few countries in which a person cannot take an interest in IT from a hobby all the way to a prosperous career.  However, the global technology services market has never been more competitive, and standing out in a crowded field is challenging at best.  This is where forward-looking stakeholders in Belarus are coming to the forefront, in the provision of various technology offerings that are definitively oriented to export markets across the globe.  The Belarusian economy is steadily being moved toward technology, and there is a quiet confidence among its players that it will be successful in this modernizing agenda.

What immediately strikes any business visitor coming to Belarus is that the country is truly connected.  It should be remembered that Minsk was designated as the USSR’s technology hub in the 1970s by the then-Soviet government, and this culture continues to permeate.  With an estimated 100,000 IT experts living in Belarus, there is a vibrancy in the country’s atmosphere. Conference rooms and cafes bristle with lively discussions that take on both tech and entrepreneurial flavors.  And, forward-looking leaders in this space have laid the groundwork for both ongoing development and profit.

Consider the recently completed Hi-Tech Park Belarus, a modern facility that acts as a strategic incubator for entrepreneurs across the IT value chain. Current tenants include application developers, hardware manufacturers, and prospective disruptors, many of the latter focusing on crypto-currencies, an area in which Belarus’ IT sector is targeting for future growth. Each takes advantage of recently-passed tax abatements designed to help boost Belarus’ IT space.  Housed on the outskirts of Minsk, such a development would easily fit into Silicon Valley or Austin’s technology hub. But despite being uniquely East European in its flavor, the aim of the majority of this initiative’s members is to firmly implant their products and services in western markets.  And, based on historic precedent, there is reason to believe that they will achieve this end.

The ongoing success of Belarus-based IBA Group is testament to the opportunity that technology players from this country can find overseas.  With a list of services ranging from transportation management solutions through to RPA for leading financial services providers in South Africa, this company (which incidentally recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary) has become an example of how IT services can be successfully exported from an emerging European location.  That IBA Group has recently opened a brand new campus in Minsk’s technology hub speaks to its success.

Read the full article at Ryan Strategic Advisory.

Peter Ryan visits High-Tech Park

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I recently bought a Furbo. It’s a device that started life on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. You fill the Furbo with small dog treats and when away from home it’s possible to watch your dog using the camera and toss those treats remotely. It’s also possible to speak and listen to what your dog is ‘saying’.

It’s just a fun device, but it is also one more connection to the Internet. Our homes are becoming filled with connected devices and slowly our home environment is becoming far more technology-enabled than any office, where the focus is still on connecting little more than computers and printers.

Think about your own home environment. Do you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home system? That means you will have connected microphones dotted around the house. What about your phone, laptop, and Kindle? If you have a games console that that will also be connected and how else can your TV access Netflix if that’s not online?

Much of the traditional media we used to consume in the home such as records, movies, and books is now consumed electronically. We stream Netflix to a Smart TV. We stream Spotify music to a home theatre or speaker system. We download books and magazines to e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The connected home has slowly become a reality and is no longer unusual or cutting edge.
Data published last year by Cisco estimates that by 2021 each person in North America will be using 13 connected devices. Thirteen for each person! That’s a lot of Kindles and Furbos.

Naturally much of this growth is because everyday objects are gradually becoming connected. It would be unusual to buy a new car today and to find that it does not ask to connect to your wifi. Tesla cars regularly upgrade themselves when parked overnight. A new channel between products and their manufacturer has been created allowing automated updates and maintenance to take place without user involvement.

Smart leaders need to look beyond the devices and think about the data. When people are streaming constant information on their location and behaviour how can your business tap into that information to create genuine value? Insurance companies are one great example of a sector that is benefitting from this move to an Internet of Things (IoT) environment. If a car driver only pays insurance for their car when it is used and they are rewarded for safe driving behaviour then that helps the customer and the insurance company. Insurance is being redefined by this real-time data on the customer.

How is your business reacting to this connected environment? Can you see the opportunities or does it just seem like a threat to the established way of doing business?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last year the analyst firm HfS Research published a cautionary article on Robotic Process Automation (RPA). They warned that the technology and outsourcing market was hyping RPA beyond what it could possibly achieve – the talk of RPA changing the world is all hype.

This should be qualified by the more nuanced comments published by HfS. They stated that the RPA boom has been hyped, but not the more general focus on business automation. So the blogs and business journals that keep on breathlessly saying that bots will transform companies need to examine just exactly what they are saying. RPA cannot exist without a wider transformation of how a company functions.

Companies today need real-time data that converges across business functions. You cannot have a marketing database that is not connected to data your customer service team is using. You cannot drive business value today without your business data being real-time and accessible from across the entire business.

The hype around bots is that all this is automatic; but if your company still relies on paper documents then how are the bots going to process that data? To create a truly automated organisation requires more thought and planning than just the deployment of a bot in the back-office.

As more processes are digitised, more value can be created. More insights can be found. More opportunities to set bots searching for trends are created. HfS has actually been saying this for a long time and they have a digital office solution called OneOffice that broadly defines how organisations need to plan operations – if they want to use the data flowing through the company.

The real message is that RPA itself is not hype. There are many excellent examples of RPA deployments that have achieved genuine efficiencies for the companies using it – including customers of IBA. However, the idea that RPA is a silver bullet that can automate your business processes, making your team super-efficient overnight, is certainly hype. RPA is just one part of a transformation to a digital business environment. It is one tool in a complete arsenal of change related to the way that data is used.

We need to see a convergence of data analytics, cognitive solutions, and RPA. Big Data is another term that is often tossed around with very little understanding, but it needs to be understood by leaders. Big Data and data convergence are not just referring to smarter ways of using data. We are talking about the complete digital transformation of organisations so that data becomes the most valuable asset.

Many people have been shocked to recently discover just how much data Facebook has on their personal likes, dislikes, and preferences. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Facebook has offered a free service for years in return for data. That data allows them to know their customers inside-out, creating advertising opportunities that the traditional advertising industry cannot match. Facebook has redefined how advertising works and major advertising companies are struggling to keep up.

Whatever your business, you need to think about how data flows from customers to you and how it moves inside the organisation. How can you leverage this knowledge to create new opportunities – even a new business? RPA is just one ingredient and can help to automate some processes, but thinking about RPA should really just be your first step towards a complete transformation of how you are using data in your company today.

Can RPA Really Deliver Change Or Is It Just Hype?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on April 9, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The Horses For Sources blog has been a great place to read comment on outsourcing for many years now. It became so popular and authoritative that the founder, Phil Fersht, managed to launch the innovative analyst company HfS Research. The contrarian approach of the blog has allowed the entire company to continue focusing on innovative research that sometimes exposes false trends and hype.

And so it was recently when an article on the blog commented on growth expectations in the Indian ITO and BPO sector. The Indian technology association NASSCOM is predicting strong growth in the sector of 7-9% and yet all the industry analysts, including HfS, are saying that they believe it will be more like 4-5%. Who is right?

As the blog points out, some of the more level-headed executives have accepted that the days of rapid growth in this type of outsourcing are over. For example, the contact centres that were once endlessly growing now need to accept that customers would actually prefer self-service systems. The way that brands and customers interact is changing fast and this will impact on the service companies that are serving them.

But the blog also notes that many company executives will not accept that their growth is slowing and they will reach out for the latest fad to help give the impression that innovation is about to save them. Some of the ideas mentioned are Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This is typical executive behaviour. When a proven business model starts slowing down, reach out to “innovation” for a boost.

But some of the fads do have a genuine application. RPA for example. It really works and there are many examples of how it can be used to automate processes and deflect the need for a customer to interact with the brand through a customer service interaction.

The problem is that the executives who talk about these innovations as game-changing are not really accepting that the game has changed. They continue to talk about growth using old metrics, such as how many people work in their contact centre, and fail to see that in many cases, services are being delivered in a completely different way. New business models may be required and new charging structures are certainly required.

Strategies such as RPA are not just new services that can drum up additional revenue, they can entirely redefine how a business model works. As the HfS blog suggests, it’s time for executives to stop talking about AI, blockchain, and RPA as new sources of income and to start defining how these technologies might change, improve, or destroy their entire industry.

AI Can Transform How Companies Interact With Customers

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on April 5, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Chatbots have faced quite a challenge. Initially they were embraced, especially when Facebook championed how they could allow small companies to be available to customers 24/7 without the need for a contact centre. However, many customers and companies have also complained that they often fail to live up to the promise. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are just not good enough to replicate interactions with a real person.

But a recent feature in Financial Review magazine explores how chatbots are really just the beginning of a long journey into AI. Perhaps we should review our expectations and remember that we are only just starting to use these technologies for real business solutions. Mistakes will be made, but when the technology is effectively deployed it really does work.

Take a look at the National Australia Bank deployment of a chatbot to answer customer questions. The bank focused on the most common 200 questions that customers ask and the bot can recognise all these and another 13,000 variations of the same questions. Commonwealth Bank launched a chatbot in January of this year and by the end of the year they predict that it will understand 500,000 different ways to ask about 500 different banking processes.

The bots are learning. They are applying Machine Learning principles so that every interaction with a customer becomes an opportunity to learn and improve. This is very important, because many of the executives who have been critical of AI systems have not allowed the system long enough to learn how it needs to behave.

Organisations that need to interact with their customers often, like banks, will find that an enormous amount of basic enquiries can be handled by bots and customers will prefer interacting with bots because they get immediate – and accurate – service. AI has proven beyond doubt that it is more than just a fad. The smart use of a chatbot system is the first step on a path to creating a much more automated customer experience – an experience that most customers will prefer because of the immediacy of service.

Click here to learn about IBA Group’s EmailBot Solution.

What is RPA And How Can Automation Change My Business?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on March 29, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the automation of business processes using software ‘bots’ and allows simple, repetitive tasks to be performed by computers rather than people. RPA covers a wide range of tasks, such as sorting incoming email, responding automatically to chat messages, or extracting useful information from documents using Optical Character Recognition.

RPA offers a great opportunity to streamline your business processes. The wave of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) that has taken place over the last two decades means that executives are much more familiar with the concepts of workflow – determining how different parts of your business exchange information and interact. This awareness was built up as companies realised that some processes could be performed by a partner through outsourcing. To make these outsourced processes work it was important to define the information interface between the client company and the supplier managing the processes.

This knowledge can be translated well into RPA planning. Where do you have repetitive or rules-based processing in your organisation? Can you create an environment where you feed information to an RPA system and allow it to perform this work automatically?

The benefits of improving workflow in this way are multiple:

1. Optimise the time and potential of your employees by allowing them to focus on exceptions, not routine work.
2. Improve the customer experience by processing this information more reliably and quickly.
3. Achieve stronger control over your processes by ensuring that the system itself processes most work without failure – only a few complex situations need more analysis.

A new report from Forrester Research suggests that RPA will add 500,000 digital workers to the US economy – that’s the equivalent of half a million real workers, but in this case it’s software bots performing the work. In 2018, RPA-based digital workers will replace and/or augment 311,000 office and administrative positions in the US, and 260,000 sales and related positions. As a result, the RPA software market exceeded $500 million by the end of 2017 and will double to $1.06 billion by the end of 2018.

This kind of market growth is hard to ignore. Not only can RPA fundamentally transform your business, creating more engaged employees and more satisfied customers, it can reduce your ongoing cost of business too.

Click here for more information on how IBA Group can help design an RPA solution that works for your business.

Why Won’t Robots Replace Human Workers?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on March 14, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The business journals used to say that outsourcing and offshoring was replacing the need for companies to hire people. Now it’s the robots that are supposed to be taking our jobs. Business journals and commentators across the world are suggesting that a wave of automation driven by smart Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems will largely replace the need for workers.

But what is the reality? Forrester Research does believe that a big change is coming, especially to highly developed markets like the US. Their latest study on the global workforce suggested that in 2018, 9% of US jobs will be lost to automation, partly offset by a 2% growth in jobs supporting this automation – the systems need to be managed. The most impacted areas will be back-office and administrative, sales, and call centre employees. A wide range of technologies, from Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and AI to customer self-service and physical robots will change how people are hired and will create a need for different skills.

Analysis by McKinsey is cautious. They warn that just because it is technically feasible for tasks to be automated does not mean that every company will do so. This is similar to the earlier concerns about outsourcing. It is technically feasible to outsource almost every function of a company, yet few companies outsource everything.

McKinsey says that when planning what is possible to automate, first you need to rate jobs and tasks by their technical feasibility – is this a repetitive process that a robot or software bot could perform? For example, when thinking about manual work tasks such as a factory assembly line or food packaging are predictable and it is possible to consider how these tasks could be automated. Construction, forestry, or working with animals is highly unstructured and not predictable and therefore almost impossible to automate.

Let’s consider a simple example. IBA Group created an email bot that sorts incoming emails at the customer support centres. The EmailBot processes typical customer requests, grouping these by content, sending automatic responses, creating tickets, and gathering statistics. However, even a constantly-learning robot cannot process all customer requests. Roughly 50-70 percent of incoming emails are processed automatically and the rest are forwarded to the appropriate employees. Nevertheless, in this case the employees are relieved from repetitive operations and are able to focus on more complicated tasks so value is created.

But factories and manufacturing are just one part of the economy. In most developed economies services are a greater part of the economy. Here there are clear examples of how some automation can be introduced. Look at how customers in McDonald’s are now comfortable using a screen to order their own meal. Amazon has proven that an entire supermarket can be automated, so not even checkouts are required.

Computer Weekly recently published an interesting study of automation that draws the conclusion that the real story is not that robots will cause jobs to vanish. Some jobs will go, but millions will also be created because of the automation. The real story is that many of the jobs we are familiar with today will be transformed.

This rings true. Think about the skills needed by a finance assistant or Human Resources professional in an environment where many business processes will be automated. These office professionals need to be able to control the automation systems and improve them – the back office professionals you are now hiring probably need to be able to code software. That never used to be a requirement in HR, but it will be soon.

The McKinsey research analyses over 800 different types of job and explores the possibility of robots replacing these tasks. You can read the research here, but to my mind it is the transformation of skills that is the real story – not robots replacing workers. Workers need to understand how to work with the robots and control them so they can be more productive.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The difference between enterprise IT and consumer IT has been blurred in recent years. It used to be that managers used Blackberries as their mobile device of choice because it worked better with email than any other handset – now Android and IOS are dominant for both enterprise and consumer use.

Enterprise technology used to be completely unrelated to any of the systems we might use on a computer at home – think of ERP or CRM systems. Who would be building a CRM system at home, yet it’s a common tool in the office. However, now that many enterprise tools are delivered via the cloud using a web browser it feels remarkably similar to be using tools and systems at home or in the office.

So is the Internet of Things (IoT) any different? The IoT has largely been talked of as an automation tool to assist in the home – the smart home where every device is connected and controllable. But how does the IoT work in the enterprise environment and should it be approached differently to the home?

There are in fact many differences that enterprise IT managers need to be aware of and this interesting article lists ten talking points. I’m going to just focus on what I consider to be the most important three here:

1. Security; you might be comfortable capturing personal data, such as your heart rate, on devices at home and sharing that information with your own personal cloud, but in the enterprise environment systems handling highly personal information need strong protection – just assuming a password is enough is negligent.

2. Reliability; enterprise and industrial IoT systems may be deployed far from your headquarters in remote and hostile environments. You need to know that a sensor will have a lifespan that can be measured in years, not weeks.

3. Programmability; IoT systems produced for personal use at home are largely out-of-the-box solutions. Even systems that can be configured in many ways, such as the Amazon Echo used for controlling home devices, are generally used in default mode most of the time. In the enterprise environment it is critical that your IoT devices and general environment can be changed to suit your needs – the default setting is unlikely to meet your needs.

This is an interesting paradox. As we have observed consumer and enterprise applications becoming more and more similar, the world of IoT remains distinct. The CIO, or general IT management, need to create an enterprise IoT strategy that moves beyond just installing systems that would be more useful in a smart home environment.

Outsourcing To India or Europe – The Debate Goes On

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on January 22, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

There has long been a battle over the best international locations for IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) locations. Analysts in this area long ago stopped arguing about the merits of specific countries and started looking at cities and regions instead, with one of the constant comparisons being India compared to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) for clients based in Western Europe.

At times the debate has been rather tired. It’s obvious that Europe and India both have their advantages and disadvantages for outsourcing service delivery, however a recent editorial feature in IT Pro really backs the case for working with companies in the CEE. In fact, IT Pro goes so far as to suggest that for IT and BPO services, the CEE region “is a nearshoring Mecca.”

According to research by Deloitte, working with partners in the CEE region, rather than China or India, helps to avoid problems such as:

poor supplier performance; it’s hard to effectively control your supplier when they are so far away. Each problem may require a very expensive and long journey to visit in person – or you need to expatriate teams to oversee the supplier.
inability to realise cost advantage; cost advantages in low-cost locations are often overstated because they don’t account for errors, mistakes, and the cost of increased oversight.
time zone considerations; it can be difficult to manage a team when you only get a small window of time together each day. Emails may take a day or more to be answered and calls are very difficult.
social beliefs; especially true if your remote team is customer-facing. It’s far easier to work with Europeans if you are a European company buying services – even if they come from a different country the team will broadly have the same European cultural values.
government incentives; China and India are mature markets and the real incentives were on offer around 15 years ago – now there are more interesting government incentives in other markets.

Not much of this is new information. European companies have long weighed up the value of paying more to work with European partners they can be close to, both physically and culturally, but there is a strong emphasis on the gap getting wider. The BPO and IT companies are innovating at present and developing new delivery and payment platforms and this is where many Indian companies are getting left behind – relying on the same methods of IT sourcing that were in vogue a decade ago.

How do you think the India v Eastern Europe argument has developed recently? Will this change in 2018 and does the IT Pro analysis reflect what you see in the market at present? Please leave a comment here with your thoughts.

Blockchain Revolution: Not Just in Banking

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on January 16, 2018

Miroslav Suchopar
IT Consultant at IBA CZ

Though an interest in blockchain has grown lately, not everyone knows what it is exactly about. However, the basic principle is not so complicated to understand.

With a view to a rapid growth of the Bitcoin virtual currency, we hear the term blockchain with ever increasing frequency. The term has evolved thanks to the above mentioned crypto currency. Either it is an inflated bubble or a real potential, it’s undoubtedly the area that is currently swirling the global IT world and that we have to know more about.

From a technical point of view, the blockchain is described as a continuously expanding network of chronological records (blocks). The network is cryptographically secured and shared among all users. In other words, it is a distributed public database of unaltered encrypted records. In the context of cryptocurrency, the blockchain can be viewed as a virtual public accounting book where all transactions are recorded. Individual transaction logs consist of the transaction data, time stamp, and a part of asymmetric cipher. To ensure public accessibility, copies of the entire blockchain (accounting books) are kept by all users. Thus, constant availability of the blockchain and the best possible security are provided.

One of the key features is the verification by other users. After its creation, the record should be validated and then it is permanently assigned to the blockchain. Once the record is verified and eventually added to the blockchain as a block, it is distributed among other users. Concurrently, this block can no longer be processed or modified.

The increase of investment in virtual currencies implies that in the coming years, the capital in cryptocurrencies can be transferred in more extended amounts than today. Alongside with this, we can expect the increase of demand for the blockchain use.

However, blockchain has a wider applicability than just the financial industry. One of many possible use cases is a so-called smart contract. These are business contracts created automatically using blockchain. First, a distributed database finds out all the terms of the contract between a customer and a vendor. Then it determines whether the conditions have been met, uses the information from every network node, and authorizes the related payment.

This revolutionary approach is expected to be used not only in banking, but also in other sectors. The blockchain area is already being addressed by some IT companies that are trying to implement different use cases of blockchain in practice. Is it your future too?

RPA: The Robots Are Ready To Arrive in 2018

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on January 11, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has been talked about for the past couple of years as one of the hot trends that is about to change how companies in all industries undertake their business processes. The trend has never quite taken off as predicted, but I believe that 2018 will see the importance of RPA acknowledged by many more executives and IT professionals.

There are several important reasons why I think that companies will be ready to explore RPA now:

1. The systems are ready to buy; RPA doesn’t need a team of scientists and researchers. Technology experts have already built systems that are ready to be installed and configured. Look at how IBM has deployed their Watson system in a number of different industries. Tools like WorkFusion and UIPath are also making it simple to purchase the technology – all you need is to integrate the system into your workflow.
2. Case studies now exist; RPA is no longer a technology of the future. A quick online search will give information on many well-known companies using RPA to reduce the effort required inside their business processes. Insurance giant Zurich has found that they can issue standard insurance contracts to customers using RPA, with humans focusing on non-standard policies. Royal Bank of Canada has been using intelligent bots to assist with their customer service process. Just search and you are likely to find relevant case studies that reflect your own business and industry.
3. Machine Learning reinforces the value of RPA; RPA becomes even more valuable when it can shape and improve processes because of experience and learning. For example, in a customer service environment it is possible to teach the chatbot about how every problem ever encountered by a customer was resolved. And as new customer problems are fixed, the system learns more. Every time a customer asks a bot a question, the system has access to every question (and answer) a customer has faced in the past. Machine Learning allows the RPA system to continuously improve.

It’s very important to note these three changes in the RPA marketplace. Before 2015, hardly anyone was talking about RPA. RPA has often been dismissed as one of those ‘coming soon’ technologies, yet in 2018 it can be demonstrated that it is now a tool that is demonstrably offering value to well known organisations. I believe that as the case studies increase and the tools become easier to purchase and integrate, we will see an explosion in the use and importance of RPA. 2018 really will be the year that the robots are coming.

Top Three Strategic Trends in IT For 2018

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on January 3, 2018

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The IT industry has seen some enormous changes in the past five years. The increasing adoption of cloud-based services and payment by consumption has seen the industry pivot away from packaged software to complete solutions that can be delivered to any customer with an Internet connection.

But what are the big strategic changes we are likely to see in IT in the year ahead? The industry analyst Gartner has published their own predictions. Here are some of my thoughts on the most important predictions they highlighted in their analysis of the top ten strategic IT trends to watch in 2018.

Blockchain; mostly known at present because of the crypto-currency Bitcoin, there are many other opportunities to use the theory of Blockchain. Many industries require detailed ledgers and records of activity and Blockchain provides a way to detach the ledger from any individual app or platform. The currency applications will also be important if a major global network, such as Facebook or Google, can provide a smoother front-end making it easy to use a new virtual currency. If Bitcoin was easy to use as a currency, rather than just an investment, then would it take off?
Immersion; more and more IT systems will use immersive technologies, such as Virtual and Augmented reality, to blend the real world with information inside the system. This could be used to guide shoppers around a store, help surgeons train to perform a specific type of operation, or improve that way your car GPS system guides you to a destination. Immersion into information will be a major trend across all industries.
Conversation; homes are already going smart with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. These systems are now rolling out into the enterprise. We are already used to voice control on our smart devices. Voice control has been fairly limited so far, but as each year passes there is an exponential improvement in the capability of systems to understand speech and to react and respond.

These are general trends, but all will affect both the home and enterprise environment. Any company involved in delivering IT services today needs to be aware of these wider strategic trends if they want to remain relevant in 2018.

We will continue to see a desire to only pay for services as they are used, but the way that people interact with IT services is also changing. Acknowledging that both methods of payment and channels of interaction are changing will be important in the years ahead – we are now light years away from the days of a client commissioning some bespoke software from an IT supplier and paying for it based on the number of software developers involved.

Take a look at the Gartner list of ten trends and let me know if you think I have focused on the correct top three or if there are other major IT trends that have not been identified here? Please leave a comment here with your thoughts.

How Is Outsourcing Being Redefined For The Future?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on December 4, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Outsourcing has changed so much in the past decade. When my first book about outsourcing appeared in 2004 the emphasis was largely on the cost of delivering a service. Outsourcing was a strategy used mostly to reduce the cost of doing business.

That changed over time with flexibility and access to skills becoming as important, if not more, than the cost of service. But beyond this outsourcing has changed dramatically in the past decade. The way that companies work with each other, charge for services, and the way that services are delivered – it’s all dramatically different now compared to the last decade.

Yet, when I browse the news I still run into articles like this. Here there is a comparison between nearshoring to Eastern Europe and offshoring to India. There are differences between Europe and India, but the arguments in this articles don’t really explore anything beyond saying that the IT companies in Europe are better, closer, and more reliable. It’s the same argument that has been made in favour of nearshoring for about 20 years.

Now think about these three trends that are redefining how outsourcing really works:

1.    Delivery options; are you delivering services via the cloud? Are you creating an app? Are you using Agile to create frequent upgrades?
2.    Payment options; are you offering a freemium model where the client only pays for upgrades from a basic service? Are you offering a pay as you go model where the client can ramp up and down as they choose?
3.    Partnership; the client is becoming the user and this changes the relationship from one with a master and servant to a much more equal need for partnership.

These are just three key areas of change, but they are important. The delivery model, the payment model, and the relationship between client and supplier are all dramatically changing from the types of outsourcing being described in the article I mentioned. Most IT suppliers are changing fast. They have seen this change taking place in the market and they are working with their clients to deliver services using new methods. It’s a shame that many in the trade and business press seem to still be talking about outsourcing as a way to save money, rather than a way to run your business.

Where Will The Cloud Go In 2018?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on November 8, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have said for a long time that our ideas around outsourcing and partnership with expert companies needs to change. Most of the time when commentators talk about IT outsourcing there remains this idea of the powerful client and weak supplier, hoping to get a contract at any price.

This dated view has largely been modified by two changes in the way that companies consume IT services:

  • Complexity; many services today are so complex that only experts can perform them well. For example, it’s not possible to internally manage the technology needed to create a great customer service platform for most organisations. So suppliers have become more important because they are the experts with the answers across all areas of business.
  • Software As A Service; the way companies purchase their IT has dramatically changed thanks to the cloud and app store concepts. Now managers may buy software solutions without even asking the CIO because they are just buying a subscription to a service that sits on the cloud. Security is guaranteed and all they need is a connection to the Internet.

It’s noticeable that many trade associations and journals have been changing name recently. There is a strong move to disassociate their connection to outsourcing as a business strategy as this environment has become more complex – the new emphasis is just on sourcing. But nothing stands still, even the use of cloud-based systems is evolving.  A recent report in ZDNet advises three areas to watch in 2018 for those with an interest in the development of the cloud:

  • The Cloud Backlash; many companies will make mistakes when moving services to the cloud. Issues of control or compliance may cause a backlash so look for examples of companies who are further down the road when seeking case studies and examples of success.
  • The Hybrid Cloud; you don’t need all your infrastructure to be in the cloud. Explore what might be essential to keep close and what can be moved, for example important data might be safer if stored internally.
  • The CyberSecurity Impact; cloud services are generally more secure than in-house systems, but if you have a chain of different partners then this can be a source of weakness – is your system secure at all points?

I strongly agree with this analysis. It’s clear that buying IT services from cloud-based systems is the future (at least for now) but there is still plenty of scope for companies to get it wrong.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The industry analyst firm Gartner has just published their view on technology trends to watch in 2018 and it makes for some interesting reading. Their research summarises the trends into three main groups: intelligent, digital, and mesh.

Scanning across all the trends it is interesting to see how many are now very influential on customer experience (CX). Companies used to engage with their customers mostly through customer service functions – often just contact centres accepting calls and emails. Now there is a much more complex environment where customers expect intelligent interactions across many different immersive environments – technology is required to support all of this.

Consider these trends, all from the top 10 Gartner predict as important for 2018:

  • Conversational Platforms; Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri. People are getting much more comfortable just speaking to computers and expecting them to respond intelligently. Google has even demonstrated their Pixel Bud headphones that can translate 40 different languages in real-time, allowing a user to have a conversation with a person speaking another language.
  • Immersive Experiences; both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are really taking off as people get used to immersion into a new world. The success of the Pokémon GO game in 2016 boosted AR and VR is seeing a huge boost as the power of the new Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox mean that millions of people have VR systems at home.
  • AI Foundation; companies are finding that they can use AI to help with real problems. In particular a common machine learning and AI solution now is to capture every customer interaction – what problem the customer has and how it was solved – creating a smart system that over time learns how to answer almost any problem. The system knows about every question every customer has ever asked, and how the problem was resolved in the past.
  • Intelligent Things; the Internet of Things (IoT) means that many more devices will be connected and online. Often this is talked about as a way to ensure your fridge never runs low on milk, but the real story is that your devices will all be talking to their manufacturer all the time, diagnosing problems and fixing themselves or upgrading – without your involvement at all. Imagine if your car can just check itself and get advice from the manufacturer automatically?
  • Blockchain; Crypto-currencies are still a niche pursuit, but many big organisations are taking them seriously. If a large network such as Alibaba, Facebook, or Google started taking the idea of non-sovereign online currencies seriously then we could see big changes ahead in many industries – retail and banking first.

What is fascinating to see now is how many technology trends are becoming ubiquitous and consumer-focused. We are no longer talking about business-focused issues such as network strategy or cloud computing. Many of these changes are driven by technology, but are being demanded by the end customers. The divide between enterprise and consumer technology is becoming very narrow indeed. As we now enter the final quarter of 2017 I’m going to think a little more about this in some future blogs – where should the IT industry be focused next year?

Which 2017 Outsourcing Predictions Actually Happened?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on October 12, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Where did 2017 go? We have just entered Q4 and the budgets for 2018 will now be in progress – or possibly already be ready. What were the analysts predicting for outsourcing in 2017 and were they right?

I took a look back at a good list created by Stephanie Overby in CIO magazine. This was focused on ten key predictions for the year ahead in IT outsourcing, rather than BPO or more general non-tech predictions, however because most services are now delivered using technology the line is becoming far more blurred. IT outsourcing is no longer just focused on software development – it covers a wide range of technology-enabled services.

So let’s consider 3 of the 10 points that really did hit the target, especially when considering the European nearshoring market:

  • Security is top of mind; this is especially important in Europe now because GDPR enforcement will commence in less than a year. This is a huge change to data privacy across Europe and will affect how many companies do business.
  • Suppliers will pivot; suppliers that focused on a single area, such as software, are creating complete solutions and even branding solutions differently to emphasise that this is something new. Solutions not individual services is the answer now.
  • Cloud as normal; this has been a game-changer. Companies no longer need convincing that cloud-based services are the way forward, they are seeking out services that need no infrastructure and can be paid for only as they are used.

But the list also mentioned that call centres will fade into obscurity as automation and artificial intelligence replaces the need for human agents. This has not happened – yet. In fact the way that most companies appear to be using AI for contact centres is to enhance the performance of agents – so the agents are still integral to the call centre experience. I do expect that as voice recognition improves, we will see many more customer service calls answered directly by the AI, but it requires a very natural interaction to work well and we all know that our present-day conversations with Siri are not there yet.

In addition, I would add that a major outsourcing trend that has been developing over the past couple of years was not mentioned at all. That is the focus on partnership. Partnership used to be one of those terms thrown around by sales teams and forgotten about once a contract was signed, but times are changing.

Many of the services offered by IT suppliers today are incredibly complex. There is no question of comparing in-house against outsourcing because outsourcing to experts is the only way to deliver many solutions today. One analogy would be to ask, if you had more free time then would you service your own car? Almost certainly the answer would be no, because you don’t have the tools or expertise to do the job well. This is now the case in many areas of IT – it’s just not possible to deliver solutions without calling the experts and that is a big change from just a few years ago.

Essential Expansion of MS Power BI for On-Premise Environment

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on October 10, 2017

Šimon KvíčalaŠimon Kvíčala
The author of the article is Solution Architect of IBA CZ. The article was published in the BI supplement of IT Systems 9/217.

BI is an integral part of managerial decision-making. Šimon Kvíčala, Solution Architect at IBA CZ, writes about the benefits of a newly released component.

On September 5, 2017, Microsoft released an essential component of its Business Intelligence Infrastructure – the Power BI Report Server – that enables the Power BI to run On-Premise. The company expanded its portfolio to allow its customers to obtain all the benefits of interactive work with web and mobile devices without using Power BI cloud services and therefore without leaving sensitive data from internal company systems.

What is Power BI Report Server?

The Power BI Report Server offers a significant amount of Power BI features, namely:

  • Generation of reports using Power BI Desktop
    • Connection to data models of Analysis Services (spreadsheet or multidimensional)
    • Data visualization using built-in or custom visualization components
    • Creation of custom visualization components, which is an important difference from SQL Server Mobile Reports
    • Display and interaction with reports through a web browser
    • Export of report data to CSV
    • Print report pages
    • Display and interaction with reports in Power BI Mobile.

Please see the full information, documentation, and guidelines for users and developers on the Microsoft website.

License model of Power BI Report Server

The license model of Power BI Report Server offers two options.

The first option is for existing users of SQL Server 2008 R2 and higher Enterprise editions with active Software Assurance where it is possible to use the existing licensed kernels for Power BI Report Server. In addition, Power BI Report Server expands the existing portal environment of SQL Server Reporting Services, so there is no need to run two separate solutions (for paged reports and for web and mobile views).

The second option is to license Power BI Premium with Power BI Report Server. Power BI Premium delivers a dedicated cloud capacity and higher performance than Power BI Pro while not requiring individual user access licensing and includes Power BI Report Server for On-Premise reporting.

A common feature for both variants is that every author who hands over his/her reports for further processing to other users should also have the Power BI Pro license.

Alignment of Power BI Report Server with the Microsoft BI presentation tools

Alignment of Power BI Report Server with the Microsoft BI presentation tools

IBA Supports Sick Children

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on October 2, 2017

This year, the Belarusian children newspaper Polosataya Gazeta (Striped Newspaper) organized a charity event to support children who spent the summer in medical institutions. The list of institutions included the Republican Burn Center, Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Traumatology and Orthopedics, and Republican Scientific and Practical Centre for Pediatric Oncology, Hematology, and Immunology, as well as long-stay patients of children’s hospitals in the Belarusian cities of Grodno, Gomel, Brest, Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk, Bobruisk, Orsha, and Mozyr.

IBA Group took part in the event, buying all 1170 new issues of Polosataya Gazeta, and sending the newspaper to the children’s hospitals. In addition, IBA employees wrote warm messages for little patients.

Anna Granovskaya, editor-in-chief at Polosataya Gazeta, said that the children received the messages and were touched by the kind words in them. She thanked IBA Group for the help. Anna also highlighted the importance of those messages, saying that parents were thankful for them, as the messages brought joy for their children in such difficult times.

IBA Group strives to contribute to the sustainable development of the communities in which it operates, improving the quality and well–being of these communities. This provides a source of pride in the company for our employees and a focus for their involvement in community life. You can learn about IBA’s CSR endeavors on our website.

We would like to say thank you to everyone who participates in our charity events. It is always a pleasure to work with such caring and kind people.

IBA Group employees send warm wishes to sick childrenIBA Group employees send warm wishes to sick children

Outsourcing Is Business As Usual

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on September 21, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I was looking at the agenda for the Shared Services Outsourcing Network (SSON) Eastern European conference, which is taking place next month, and I noticed how one of the opening sessions is focused on business transformation. In particular, the session is exploring the Global Business Services model that is now so familiar to any executive familiar with outsourcing as a business strategy.

The conference looks interesting, but in my opinion the focus on outsourcing and the idea of global business services as anything other than business as usual feels a bit dated. Look at the rebranding of Professional Outsourcing magazine into Intelligent Sourcing for an example of what I mean. There is no longer anything special in deploying a global network of services or in the use of specialist suppliers. Sourcing expertise really is now just business as usual.

A decade ago things were rather different. Outsourcing was a strategy that demanded attention and endless books were published. I even wrote several of them myself. But if a major conference is devoting a 40-minute opening keynote session to talking about global business services then surely it must be important?

Forget business and think about your personal life. Have you ever questioned where Waze came from? Or Angry Birds? Or Skype? When we use software or tools in our personal life we don’t think about it as global services, yet these systems originated from Israel, Finland, and Estonia.

Tablets and phones from all over the world use software and applications from everywhere. The App store allows anyone to create tools and to make them available to a global audience. However, we rarely stop to think about this as a triumph of global services.

So why do we need to be talking about it at a business conference? If I need a partner with CRM expertise I will find the best company regardless of where they are based. Companies today are structured very differently to those of twenty, or even ten, years ago. Many people may be located in the same office, working together to the same targets, but receiving pay from different organisations depending on their expertise and role in the team.

What has really changed in the past decade is this concept of the edge of the organisation – in-house employees and contractors. Today it is far more fluid. You don’t work for the company or work for an outsourcing contractor. You all work together.

Most managers that need to lead teams already understand this. We don’t need a conference keynote to explain the obvious.

Using Automation To Protect Information On Your Network

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 22, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Companies across all industries face a wave of almost constant change as digital technologies redefine old industries and create new services we never even knew we needed. Think of any industry and it’s clear that digital transformation is creating a period of industrial flux that has no end in sight.

This does not help to create a secure business environment. Ideally your data and systems would be locked down and controlled, but as the recent global WannaCry attack proved, many systems are much more vulnerable than expected. In addition, many security experts are now advising that this type of chaotic information attack is something we should get used to.

So if your industry is chaotic and hackers are adopting chaotic methods of constantly attacking system vulnerabilities then how can you make sense of the chaos so your data can be protected?

This blog suggests several steps for executives worried about the threat chaos can bring to their business, but the main focus is on automating your network management and accepting that manually managing a network leaves it open to attack. Just one open port is enough for WannaCry – or similar – to get in and cause havoc inside your company.

Automated network segmentation is a reaction to the complexity of today’s enterprise networks. With many different platforms, systems, contractors, and a mix of a physical network and cloud the challenge of managing modern networks is huge. Add the potential for human error and the face pace of change and the threat is obvious.

Automating segmentation allows the system to look after itself. The network breaks into several different secure zones limiting the exposure any hacker would have. Even if a hacker gets into your business, by automatically creating these secure zones you can limit any damage.

Automation is often talked about in terms of productivity – allowing more to be done in less time, but when it comes to information security only automation of network security can really provide protection in a chaotic business environment.

How Insecure Are Your Passwords?

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on August 10, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Creating a secure environment for your information requires investment in technology and processes, but no matter how much you spend on systems it is your people that are the weakest link. Planning a secure information security strategy needs to include measures that fight social engineering and other methods used to steal data.

The most basic problem that occurs in every company is password security. According to research published in Inc magazine, each valid email address has around 130 password-protected services associated with it. That’s a huge problem if each one of us has to remember hundreds of different passwords.

The biggest problems are that people don’t change their password frequently and they often use the same password for many systems. The danger is obvious, but what should be done to make systems more secure when the real problem here is just user behaviour?

Inc has five recommendations for better password security:
1.    Update passwords regularly; apply operating system settings that force your team to regularly change passwords and also enforce a change if you suspect that a system has been breached.
2.    Never reuse passwords; it’s a common mistake, but this practice creates system vulnerabilities.
3.    Use passphrases; long phrases are much more secure than a short password and often are easier to remember – use a favourite line from a book or movie for example.
4.    Multifactor security; for sensitive systems don’t rely on a single password – use a system that creates a temporary password or uses biometrics to add a second level of security.
5.    Never store passwords in plain text; files can be copied and unencrypted files full of passwords are easy to spot. Use a secure password storage system if you really cannot remember every password you need to use.

This is good solid advice, but reality is that if each person has hundreds of passwords then they will almost certainly repeat them across systems. To really enforce information security inside a real company without ‘perfect’ people requires planning. I would advise the use of an enterprise-wide secure password management system so everyone is encouraged to use different passwords, but with the system to support them.

In addition, biometric systems are not expensive and are now very common – look at how the Apple iPhone allows a user to unlock the phone using their fingerprint. Consider protecting your most important systems, those using customer data for example, with multiple layers of security and not just a password.

A good password policy sounds simple, but enforcing good behaviour on users can be difficult. Use pragmatism and support your team so they can work securely.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last year the Ponemon Institute published research analysing the cost of information security breaches – the result of a business being hacked or attacked by ransomware or even just incompetence leading to data being exposed. The average figure for a data breach was found to be over $4m – that’s right, four million dollars. Some other estimates suggest an average of over $7m. Each customer record that you lose or expose costs around $158 to clean up according to this research.

That’s serious money and therefore this is clearly now a major issue. For small businesses a multi-million dollar clean-up operation could close the business. For larger businesses the expense may in fact be far higher than this average. Information security is now essential in an environment where ransomware and hacking attacks by criminals (and even state actors) are becoming more common.

But there are still several myths around information security that cause executives to invest poorly in protecting their business. It’s an issue that affects everyone in the business and needs to be treated just as seriously as the physical security of your office premises. These are the most common issues and mistakes companies make:

1. Not dealing with human error; human error causes 33% of data breaches and 36% are just because people don’t understand the need for information security. Everyone in the company needs to understand information security, why it matters, and what protocols must be followed. This is not just an IT problem.
2. Ignorance; ignoring your legal need to follow compliance regulations over the way that data is used will lead to major fines in addition to the lost business you may suffer as a result of the data breach.
3. Trusting brands online; just because an email with a link features the logo of a trusted brand, if you did not expect to receive contact from this brand, don’t click the link. Criminals are using highly sophisticated phishing techniques to install their software and just one infected computer can give access to your network.
4. Personal devices; allowing employees to use personal devices to access work email or work systems can promote efficiency, but even password-protected phones can be hacked. If a phone is lost or stolen and it was being used to access office systems then unless the device was encrypted you now have a criminal with access to your network.
5. Papers; paper is old fashioned right? But most offices are still filled with desks covered in printed reports and spreadsheets. Detailed information is left in the open allowing any contractor with access to your office access to all that information. Even your paper recycling bin can be raided so you should really have a clean desk and shred all trash policy in place – even better discourage the printing of any documents in the office.
These sound simple, but many organisations still don’t appreciate the need for information security to the extent that they are training every staff member. Data breaches can be extremely expensive so it pays to think about your systems, your people, and your processes. Where is your business vulnerable to attack?

How WannaCry Changed The Information Security Landscape

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on July 10, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Last month one of the biggest information security conferences in the world took place in London. InfoSec attracted 13,500 information security experts for 3 days focused on the latest security issues, but one topic dominated the conference – WannaCry.

The recent WannaCry ransomware attack hit hundreds of thousands of victims in over 150 countries. Users of infected computers found their systems locked and a demand for a ransom payment if the user wants to use their computer again – hence the term ransomware.

WannaCry is possibly the largest simultaneous attack on global computer systems and is a real wake-up call for executives with a focus on information security. Companies are extracting more and more data from their customers defining payments, preferences, and future plans – more detailed information is available for hackers to steal from corporate systems. This month the AA motoring organisation in the UK has been criticised as they accidentally made the personal details of over 100,000 customers visible on their website and when they realised their error they failed to inform customers that their card details may have been made public.

But users of devices in the home are just as vulnerable to ransomware attacks. Homes are now largely wifi-enabled and have many connected devices such as laptops, phones, Kindles, and home control systems like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Ransom attacks demanding a fee of $1000 to access your home systems again will be paid by many people because losing access to all your personal devices would be even more expensive – not only in replacement value, but because of the data we store on our devices.

The InfoSec conference delegates discussed WannaCry at length and the top tips cited for avoiding these attacks were:

1. Multilayered information security defence; in the office, ensure at least three levels of information security by managing everyday risk, compliance risk, and external risks in a coordinated way, but with different teams able to focus on each area.
2. Stay updated; at home or at work ensure that all software is up to date with automatic patching of updates. Apply a good anti-virus system and ensure it automatically updates itself. Ensure your data is not stored locally or is regularly backed up so you can recover if systems are lost.
3. Staff awareness; train all staff in the risks to the business, not just your IT team. Everyone uses IT in their function today and therefore anyone can be the access point to your business.

Data breaches and ransom attacks are now a serious threat to business and need to be treated as such. Information security no longer means running a virus check once a week, this is a complex environment that can create an existential threat to your business if you become a victim to an attack.

Brexit And Trump: Outsourcing In An Uncertain World

by IBA Group for IBA Group
Posted on June 28, 2017

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

We live in a world of political uncertainty. The British are heading for Brexit regardless of their recent general election and the American President surprises everyone on an almost daily basis with his early morning tweets. Does outsourcing continue to work as a business strategy in such an uncertain environment?

John Buyers from legal experts Osborne Clarke recently wrote a feature in Computer Weekly breaking down all the various international risks and his conclusion is that there is more stability than might be obvious at first. The analysis explore five key areas related to the present use of outsourcing as a strategy:

1. Brexit; IT spending continues to rise in the UK so there is confidence in the outsourcing market despite Brexit and the election, but it’s worth monitoring the British approach to migration. Preventing skilled labour from reaching the UK might have a negative or positive impact on how outsourcing is used – at present it is unclear.
2. Europe; The Macron victory in France appears to have halted the decline of Europe into instability that might threaten smaller economies and the viability of the Euro currency. Germany is the next big election to watch for, although there is less fear of extreme parties in Germany, compared to what happened in France.
3. Trump; The Trump dogma is focused on local jobs and big international sourcing giants will need to create more local US jobs if they want to avoid being frozen out of the American market. However, who knows how long he can last in office when so many problems are circling him after just a few months in the job.
4. India; Especially with regard to the British market, some commentators are suggesting that the tried and tested outsourcing to India model might be more popular when business with Europe becomes more expensive. Personally I doubt that any tariffs involved in EU business will outweigh the costs of doing business with India.
5. Data; Tough new data protection rules (GDPR) come into force in Europe in 2018 and this means that British companies will need to follow the rules regardless of Brexit – the earliest the UK can leave the EU is 2019. Pricing and tax of outsourcing contracts in Europe may need to take all these new procedures into account.

I certainly agree with the analysis. These five key issues could be expanded once you consider industry verticals – look at the enormous changes happening with European open banking regulations in 2018 for example – however as a summary of where outsourcing managers should be looking it is a good start. For Europeans doing any business with the UK Brexit will be a key challenge of the next two years. Companies are still investing in outsourcing partnerships so confidence remains and that’s still more important than anything the politicians say or do.

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Use of the word outsourcing has declined in recent years. In fact, if you compare searches on Google now to five years ago then there has been a 100% decline in how often people search for the word. However, this doesn’t mean that it has gone away.

In fact, although organisations like the National Outsourcing Association and Professional Outsourcing magazine have all rebranded to focus on partnership and sourcing in their names, there is really nothing new about what companies are doing when they work together.

A recent feature in The Next Web suggested the companies – especially smaller ones – shouldn’t fear the word outsourcing for a number of important reasons:

1. Brings familiarity to the unfamiliar; bringing in large experts in specific areas, such as IT, can be reassuring for your business. You might not understand how to deliver a global Big Data solution, but they have done it for many other clients and know exactly what to do.
2. Lowers the burden of bureaucracy; buying expertise as you need it with a service contract is much easier than hiring a large number of new recruits.
3. It keeps you local; dealing with multiple countries and multiple languages in a market like Europe can be difficult, but a partner with a multilingual workforce can make your business feel very local to your customers.
4. It impacts your bottom line; this improvement to your business will impact on revenue and profits – almost certainly!
5. Access to talent; accessing the best people where are when they are needed is possibly the single most important reason to use outsourcing as a strategy.
6. Staying lean; you can focus your own team on core competencies and buy in the additional expertise you need – important for staying focused on what is important for your business.

It’s true that many organisations have started dropping the term outsourcing in favour or partnership and there is a reason for this. Many new outsourcing contracts really are much more about corporate partnership, rather than just a client and supplier. There is still a client, but they really need their expert supplier. The supplier needs clients, but now they are working much closer to clients and creating innovative solutions now just agreeing a specification on day one and delivering the same thing forever.

I like this exploration of outsourcing in The Next Web. It’s a title that usually explores innovation and start-up culture so to see that they accept outsourcing as a part of the start-up environment and managerial toolkit is interesting and reassuring.