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By Steve Cox, Chief Technology Officer at TSG

When the IT Services company 2e2 collapsed into administration I don’t think anyone was prepared for the kamikaze way they handled the situation and especially the fright they gave their customers.

However, I’m more surprised that this type of situation hasn’t happened sooner, and that such a big datacentre provider has been the first to run into trouble given the way in which many go about building their business through such rapid acquisition strategy, funded by bank debt.

Plenty have jumped on the bandwagon, and I’ve no doubt that more will, but what’s happened highlights the risks involved when it seems that many of those involved at a senior level (I’m not pointing the finger at specific people) don’t really understand what’s entailed in being entrusted with such valuable assets.

Being trusted to take care of other people’s data brings with it huge responsibility.

So whilst it’s fantastic to hear that ‘the knight on a white charger’ – in the shape of Daisy Communications – has come to the rescue, and will hopefully save a significant number of the livelihoods that were on the line, there are important lessons to learn.

Trust is essential.

But on the basis of tactics that could probably be described as bullying, at least some level of suspicion is a reasonable starting point for anyone considering transferring their ‘crown jewels’ into this ‘virtual’ environment.

Virtual suggests that something isn’t real; cloud gives the impression that data is floating around in the ether; but datacentres are very real and very physical. They need to be looked after and maintained.

So, it’s perhaps not the short term, quick win, high return investment that some may have imagined. Running a datacentre and providing cloud services is a long-term proposition.

There are some key questions that you should be asking before you make the step into this brave new world (not forgetting that many of us will already be using cloud services either in our business or personal lives, albeit unconsciously). Much of it is simple risk management; planning for the worst case, unimaginable scenario.

What if you want to get your data back out of the Cloud or maybe just move it from one Cloud to another? How difficult will that be? What does your service level agreement really mean? And will the data be in a format that can easily be used by another provider?

Are the people you’re talking to in a position to answer these questions? I suspect that some of those involved during the last couple of weeks weren’t suitably qualified. And if we’re being honest the data in question wasn’t really their first priority.

I hope that it doesn’t come to regulation but I guess that depends on whether the industry adopts best practice or falls into the trap of lowest common denominator.

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TSG’s Chief Technology Officer Steve Cox shares his thoughts on the recent launch of Microsoft Windows 8

Everyone else is talking about it so we thought we probably should too.

Although, we won’t be rushing out to upgrade our own users to Windows 8 or push it out to our customers just yet.

Why? While others will jump on the launch day of any new product, our priority is to ensure that we get confirmation from the software vendors that their applications are signed off to work on the new operating system.

Our techies have been working with Windows 8 for some time, evaluating its features and most importantly developing a clear standard for configuration and implementation so that we get every installation right first time.

With thousands of possible configurations the whole process, both for TSG and our software vendors, can take several months and hundreds of man hours.

Even if we’re ready for launch, we often have to wait for the vendors to complete their testing and we won’t rush into adopting any technology until we’re totally confident that it allows us to deliver the right solution at the right time.

Let’s not forget that Windows 8 comes hot on the heels of Microsoft’s last big launch with Server 2012 landing back in September.

Thankfully at TSG we benefit massively from our scale, giving us the capacity, the people and the wide range of technical skills that mean we can invest the time and effort in to truly understanding these products so when we deliver to our customers you don’t just get the latest and greatest you get something that truly adds value to your business.

The really big question, in what has undoubtedly been a big year for Microsoft with more new product launches than at any other time, is whether the launch of Windows 8 will be one of the biggest potential game changers in their history.

According to some the entire firm’s future could rest on the success of new operating system.

Over time, I think that Windows 8 has the potential to eat in to Apple’s market dominance in the tablet space as compatibility with business software and integration will be much greater than that of the iPad.

Windows 8 brings a single user interface, common across desktop, laptop, tablet and phone allowing users to run the same apps on all compatible devices and that could allow Microsoft to build on their current dominance in the desktop market.

It also runs on a multitude of manufacturers’ devices, not only Microsoft’s own Surface tablet, and that’s what could make the difference.

The hardware manufacturers have been spending the last few months touting their new devices with a mind-boggling mixture of touchscreen laptops, convertibles, tablets and more innovative devices than I have ever seen.

I have to ask whether all of them are necessary as it seems a little like if we make every combination of device from tablet to all-in-one desktop then whatever happens we will have a best seller on our hands.

All of this leaves the consumer with lots of choice and with a lot of these new devices not available until December or January the true benefit comes then.

If you are considering migrating to Windows 8 then you’ll benefit from a whole new interface with a raft of new features and the platform is in place for some really cool apps to be developed over time.

The new interface means that you’ll definitely need to give some consideration to staff training as your team will be used to working in a certain way through in a familiar environment.

If it’s not properly planned, with a partner who knows how to execute, the disruption brought by the change may well outweigh the benefits.

For those who aren’t planning to adopt Windows 8, it’s still important to understand that it may have an impact on your IT environment.

Why? Back to the proliferation and range of new devices that will almost inevitably find their way into your business – known in the industry as ‘bring your own device’ or BYOD. It’s essential to evaluate and address the compatibility and security issues that could result.

As with all things technology, the key is in getting the timing right and ensuring that it fits with your business strategy and goals.

Every business will be different and any change should be based on an evaluation of your requirements, so now is a good time to talk to your IT supplier – they should have done their homework, trained their people and be ahead of the game. If you need some advice then please do get in touch, one of our specialists will happily have a chat with you on whether it’s right for your business or not.

Above all, it’s essential to make sure that all of your applications are supported by the software vendor on the operating platform you’re running so if you should run in to problems you know that you have somewhere to turn.

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Steve Cox, Chief Technology Officer at TSG explores the growing paranoia around IT Security and explains why this should be viewed as a business issue, not a technology issue.

The dictionary definition of ‘paranoia’ – a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion.

And probably a good starting point for any conversation about IT security.

That’s not to belittle or not take the subject seriously. We certainly do at TSG. Very seriously.

Security is fundamentally critical to the integrity of any system or solution and the value that it creates for your business, your people and your customers.

Our concern is that the ‘propaganda’ (is that too strong a term – maybe not?) surrounding IT security must never deflect us from making well considered, strategic and, most importantly, rational decisions about the steps required to protect systems, people and data. (We’ll come back to data, or more specifically ‘big data’ later.)

It’s a phrase that we keep repeating, and will continue to repeat, but ‘the pace of change in technology is increasing’ and the way we work has transformed massively in the last couple of years.

What’s most significant about these most recent changes is the implication that they blow conventional wisdom around security clean out of the water. Or rather they could do.

But again, that doesn’t mean that we should panic or throw away the key principles that still apply to IT security. It’s certainly not the time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Paranoia occasionally leads to drink! But now isn’t the time to ‘bring your own bottle’ although it is increasingly ‘BYOD’ – that’s ‘bring your own device’ – that’s creating security challenges.

The last couple of years have witnessed an explosion of devices; tablets, smart phones, iPhones, etc.

Many people now use multiple devices to manage their work and social lives. And this is a significant element, albeit not the only element, of the challenge.

These devices are mobile, data is stored locally and the divide between work and personal is becoming increasingly blurred in the world of social media.

Their use is often not (in fact, virtually never!) linked to strategy; they’ve just arrived, so the result is that many businesses are infested with inherently insecure devices (no, that’s certainly not too strong a term). And insufficient, if any, consideration has been given to what’s acceptable use of company data.

We’re certainly not suggesting that you ban all devices or consign them to the bin. There’s no doubting their considerable value in improving efficiencies, accommodating flexible approaches to working and capturing valuable data. However, it’s imperative that they are included in an holistic and strategic approach to IT security and broader data policies.

Unfortunately, devices are just the starting point. More significantly, and potentially far more confusing, the proliferation of mobile devices often leads directly to the Cloud. (Don’t pass go. And definitely don’t collect £200!).

Cloud is a subject that we could rant on about for hours. And it’s probably better if we just refer you to our commentary document ‘Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground’ – it’ll provide you with a concise overview of our thoughts on how to get the most from this new technology platform.

In brief, cloud is an overused and oversold term. Not even the industry really knows what it is. And out of context it actually means very little.

As ever, when there’s drama and confusion, there’s been a bit of a gold rush. Perhaps the phrase should really be ‘where there’s bulls**t, there’s brass!

There’s a risk that it could become another dot.com or a Y2K – an opportunity for a few to make a quick buck at the expense of the uninformed.

Thankfully, the big difference now is that there are people around with decades of experience and a clear head, who can help you navigate your way around the issues, challenges and solutions.

Sadly, with lots of people offering lots of ‘must-have’ services, not all advice is equal.

Something else to consider (that I suspect many won’t have even thought of) is that it’s imperative to understand who you’re buying services from.

There’s a huge amount of white-labelling and that means you may be some distance removed from the real provider and your seller may have limited, if any, control over the services that they’re brokering.

As the market develops, there’s a significant amount of private equity money swilling around, probably on the basis that there are swift and impressive returns to be made as consolidation takes place.

And with consolidation comes change. So, your provider of choice in a competitive environment may suddenly become one and the same with a company that you were desperate to steer clear of. And your contractual terms could make it complicated and frustrating to migrate to your preferred alternative.

The risk of getting ripped off or stuck down a blind alley is almost as great as the potential security risks to your system that you’re trying to prevent in the first place.

So the question is how do you de-risk the process of de-risking?

The simple answer is to find a partner you can trust. A partner who has already done the research, can invest the time it takes to keep pace, can cut through the jargon, and has developed and applied solutions for countless of your peers.

Another key issue, and one that drives us on a daily basis at TSG, is that nothing exists in a vacuum. Not one single element of your IT system exists in isolation. Or if it does then it’s probably redundant or valueless.

Whether you realise or not, the world of IT systems, large and small, inevitably requires integration.

The performance of one part of your system is inextricably linked with numerous others, so if you simply try to bolt on a security solution the chances are it won’t work (how often have you experienced the frustration of installing software on your home PC to only to be stalled by compatibility issues. If you haven’t, you’re either lucky or have never tried!).

The great news, if you’re actually a bit of technophobe, is that IT security is not really a technology issue. It’s a business issue.

A trusted partner should work with you to understand how security issues could impact within the context of your business operation. They’ll worry about the technology that sits behind the solution while you get on and run your business. So no more paranoia.

There’s a possibility, albeit unlikely, that you may not need to do anything different.

Why unlikely?

In simple terms. Change.

The nature of security threats is evolving, so what provided a secure platform and protection yesterday may not work today.

And if your business practices and processes haven’t changed then perhaps it’s time you tapped into the huge competitive advantages that can be gained from applying new techniques and technologies. (Something else we’d be happy to discuss with you!)

A very basic example of evolution – and forgive us if this appears too simplistic – is the practice of protecting the perimeter. At one time, in most businesses, the perimeter was fairly easy to define – even though the alarmingly primitive 3.5 inch floppy disc represented a potentially significant security breach.

Today, the boundary of almost any IT system is an infinitely variable shape and size and as a result is almost impossible to protect.

What that means is that we need to think again and think differently about the security solution. What it doesn’t mean is that we need to overcomplicate the solution.

Simple solutions are usually both elegant and effective. And simplification is a word that you’re like to hear again and again over the coming months, particularly in relation to the imminent arrival of Windows8 (a conversation for another day, but a conversation we’d certainly like to have).

The challenge? If it’s not a contradiction, achieving simplicity is not simple.

Which is probably a good time to return to the subject of ‘big data’.

Whilst experts consider data measured in petabytes as the starting point for Big Data, volume is arguably not the best indicator.

For those businesses with relatively modest volumes of data the other two of the ‘three Vs’ are more significant. They area: velocity and variety.

Velocity is about the rate of change in the data and how quickly it must be used to create real value.

Variety refers to the many different data and file types that need to be managed and analysed including sound and movie files, images, documents, geo-location data, web logs, and text strings.

The link with security? These files types are traditionally associated with the potential spread of security threats. And capturing and sharing these types of data has become far more widespread thanks to the increase in the number of mobile devices.

Not only is big data, by its very nature, often captured remotely, it can also be accessed on laptops, mobiles and tablets, in airport lounges, taxis, cafes,……take a guess at how many devices are lost or left behind each year and I suspect that you’d need to multiply it considerably to reach the actual number.

So it’s not only the digital threat from malicious files that’s a major problem. It’s the negligence, ignorance or plain stupidity of those who don’t appreciate the value of the data that’s in their trusted possession.

On another level, even those huge enterprises that have been dealing with big data for years are encountering problems as they use analytical tools that now appear to be inherently insecure. Unfortunately, security wasn’t built in from the outset and they’re discovering that attempting to bolt on security as an afterthought just isn’t effective.

The lesson? If at all possible, security should be built into a system from the ground up.

One final thought on security is that it’s very similar to insurance.

In spite of the threats and risks, hopefully you’ll never need to claim and hopefully you’ll never have an IT security breach.

Unfortunately, you’ve got little or no option other than to pay the insurance premiums or the combination of consultancy fees and software licences that will keep your systems protected.

Sadly, we’re all too well aware of the mis-selling that’s pervaded the insurance marketplace.

So find and work with a trusted partner. And avoid the paranoia!

 

 

 

 

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We’re excited to announce that TSG has recently become the first Sage Business Partner to be awarded the title of Sage CRM Accredited Developer on the new Sage Developers Programme.

The Developer Accreditation scheme was launched by Sage in January of this year with the objective of giving developers with a Professional Level subscription a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in Sage CRM development.

With a wide range of experience in delivering CRM solutions, the TSG CRM team develops powerful and highly customised CRM implementations using a variety of CRM packages.  Sage CRM is a highly innovative product and we have a real diversity of customers using this software.  As well as deploying it as a ‘traditional’ CRM solution, we’ve developed some powerful and highly customised implementations based on the product. These include membership management for clubs, societies and institutions, plus a combined CRM and claims management system for a high profile customer with over 600 users.

Having taken the course and the exam, Jag Bohania, a member of our CRM Development Team, is now a firm advocate of the Sage CRM Developer Accreditation

“Although I already had a good understanding of developing for Sage CRM, the certification course has increased my product knowledge much further.  It’s made it easier for me to develop against Sage CRM and to meet the needs of the Company and our clients.  All in all, it was valuable training for me, which resulted in a fantastic qualification for TSG”

Paul Ince, CRM Customer Services Director explains the value of this new accreditation to TSG

“Good quality training is a fundamental part of the TSG culture. We signed up for the Sage Developer Accreditation programme because it’s great for our staff; it improves their skills, gives them recognised qualifications, improves job satisfaction and helps them be more productive. This in turn helps us as a company raise the level of skills within our workforce, and meet customer needs and requirements more accurately and efficiently. It also provides credibility to our customers and prospects. Having this accreditation demonstrates that we work closely with Sage, and that Sage formally acknowledges our abilities and expertise. We’re in a position, thanks to our knowledge of the Sage CRM product and the expertise of our development team, to be able to adapt industry standard applications and tailor them to the specific needs of our customers.  And with this new accreditation I’m very proud to say that we now have the badge to prove our skills!”

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Pegasus have just announced details of Opera 3 Subscription – allowing new customers the flexibility and choice on how to access Opera 3.

Using this model, customers will now be able to opt for subscription over 1, 2, 3 or 4 years on a term licence with affordable monthly payments to spread the cost. The subscription method will allow new Opera customers the benefit of spreading the cost into monthly payments with the opportunity to gain a quick return on investment. For many businesses it may be more cost effective and affordable to spread payments and pay monthly versus one large upfront cost.

As your business needs change, you can add more to Opera 3. Add applications, users, companies and employees to Payroll. Choose from a wide range of integrated applications:

  • Supply Chain Management
  • Payroll & HR
  • Document Management
  • Business Intelligence
  • CRM and Service & Helpdesk Management

To continue to use the software after the end of the term, you simply renew your subscription.

A maintenance contract is also included in the subscription so you’re entitled to free upgrades. Offering your business the peace of mind that you have the very latest Opera 3 product enhancements and maintenance releases.

If you would like to learn more about how your business can benefit from Opera 3 Subscription please contact TSG, a Pegasus Platinum Partner on info@tsg.com or telephone 0845 11 11 888

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We’re very excited to announce that TSG has been invited to present at the UK Microsoft SharePoint ISV Roadshow.  These events will be taking place during February and March 2012 at venues across the UK with the first one kicking off today at Microsoft Edinburgh.

Justin Short (TSG SharePoint Managing Director) will be presenting a session at each of the events on “Building Smart Business Process Automation Solutions” which will demonstrate how businesses can quickly and easily automate business processes in SharePoint using Nintex Workflow software.

This event series has been designed by Microsoft to showcase the power of SharePoint when combined with leading ISV solutions such as Nintex and the seminars will be very much focused on the ‘SharePoint customer journey’, from deployment and user adoption through to the tailoring of business solutions to best meet the needs of the business.

The main objective of the sessions will be to demonstrate how users can get the most value from SharePoint and how they can efficiently extend SharePoint to improve business performance.

The invitation to be involved in these events is a brilliant endorsement of where TSG now stands in the UK SharePoint world and is a wonderful recognition of our growing SharePoint expertise, knowledge and experience.

The events are free to attend and places still remain:

Manchester – 28th February 2012

Reading – 29th February 2012

London – 1st March 2012

For any more information please contact info@tsg.com

We’re really looking forward to these events and the opportunity to show businesses around the UK just how valuable SharePoint can really be!

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We understand that payroll year end can often be a very hectic time for many businesses.   To help you get prepared we have scheduled a series of Pegasus Payroll Upgrade Briefings to take place during March.  These free events, ran in partnership with Pegasus, will provide useful help and guidance on how your business can best prepare for the 2011/2012 payroll year end and let you take a look at Opera 3, the latest release of software from Pegasus.

These briefings will offer your business the opportunity to:

  • Prepare for the 2011/2012 Payroll Year End – Learn how to submit End of Year Returns using the Pegasus Online Filing Manager.  Benefit from helpful guidance on legislative changes coming into force for the 2012/2013 tax year including Automatic Pension enrolment and Real Time Information.  
  • View the new features of Opera 3 – find out how Opera 3 can offer your business a unified view with fully integrated accounting and business software. Opera 3 can solve a range of business issues and will eliminate the need for separate finance, payroll, CRM, supply chain or service systems.

These events are taking place in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Newcastle, Kettering, Solihull and Southampton – if you would like more information or wish to register your attendance please click here

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