Remote Working – A solution to population control for Channel Island businesses?

At a recent Jersey business event, the sustainability of the current economic model was questioned, in light of the level of population controls. I presume that Guernsey has a similar debate given their even stricter controls.

Whilst it was great to see 2017 had the highest number of holiday visitors to Jersey since 2001, the primary economy is still dominated by international Financial and Legal Services. In discussions with our CI finance customers, we often hear that one of the biggest barriers to growth is the lack of access to the candidate pool one might be used to in an onshore environment.

Whilst the Channel Islands have many ‘draws’, relocation will certainly not be for everyone. I for one love to visit, but would I want to move my family long term for work? Probably not. Individuals like me, with families, structure, a close network of friends and other business interests in their country of origin, won’t be bothered with the hassle and upheaval of moving – unless the reward for doing so is substantial! However, there are still plenty who would consider migration, though maybe they are attracted by more exotic destinations such as UAE or Singapore?

For the benefit of the Channel Islands, it is right and proper that local businesses look to the island’s residents and ‘wannabe residents’ as their first port of call for new recruits, but the real challenge is:

In the absence of local recruits, how do you attract the right calibre of individuals to live and work in the Channel Islands, even before any consideration of population controls imposed by government?

But what if you didn’t need to? Many businesses do not need their workers to be present in the office and so, with the right Business License and fees duly paid, could remote working be the answer?

100’s of articles, not necessarily specific to the Channel Islands, have been written on the benefits of remote working. secureVirtual are no exception and have written a few of our own. However, all predominantly have the same conclusion – that it is entirely dependent on the business, the type of work needed to be performed, the business’ appetite for supporting remote workers and their ability to integrate them in to the company seamlessly, without creating silos, envy [from office- based colleagues] or other productivity barriers.

If you run a Channel Island business, or any business, and are considering remote working, we would be very happy to have a no obligation chat about the benefits and some key things to watch out for when implementing a remote working policy.

Whilst it may not be the only option (and businesses should definitely be considering emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to improve productivity and reduce reliance on labour markets) we’re very interested in the views of business leaders in the Channel Islands as to whether they see benefit to the economy and to their businesses by employing remote working as a potential solution; or what the barriers might be?

FATCA/CRS RegTech roll-out for global Accountancy firm, Langham Hall

Langham Hall Group has been a valued customer of secureVirtual for nearly 10 years and recently extended their commitment to retain secureVirtual as their IT Managed Services Provider partner to 2021. Langham Hall value sV’s input on understanding how IT can benefit their organisation to meet various business requirements in all areas of the business.

In late 2017, Langham Hall approached sV to help them implement Flyingboat, a FATCA & CRS [RegTech] reporting tool that would help them automate much of the process for meeting their annual reporting obligation to various global tax authorities.

Langham Hall had already been reporting for the purposes of FATCA and CRS for a number of years and had found that simply using spreadsheets to manage this was becoming increasingly difficult. Langham Hall’s reporting volumes had been steadily increasing and the amount of human resources needed to enter details for up to 400 funds/2000 investors and reporting to almost 100 countries in producing the ever-increasing numerous reports required did not make commercial sense. By 2018, Langham Hall recognised that the process in place could be improved through automation and systemisation, so a decision was made to implement a system ahead of the upcoming reporting period.

On consideration of any solution, security is of primary importance to Langham Hall. It was therefore essential that any solution would need to have the ability to hold client data within their corporate network environment whilst satisfying internal security policies and regulatory compliance. Langham Hall thus opted for secureVirtual to host the solution and a software partner (ISV) sought, whose software could be deployed in a more secure manner as opposed to a purely, ISV-led, cloud hosted solution where the location of the data or quality of the hosting service was unknown.

After consulting with secureVirtual, Langham Hall chose Flyingboat Tax Data Exchange (fb-TDE) due to its lightweight application footprint and ease of use approach. This approach makes the application easy to deploy, use and setup. Running costs are also kept low as it is frugal on server resources. Additionally, Fusion’s Flyingboat support team were efficient, helpful and their offices located in a UK time-zone jurisdiction (Guernsey) which was particularly useful during the setup and implementation phase.

SecureVirtual had provided the virtual infrastructure, configured the new virtual server, and installed the software, in preparation for Langham Hall to test.  Running initially for a 1-month “Proof of Concept” (PoC), the service was successfully made live in April 2018. Here is what Langham Hall had to say about the solution:

Selecting FlyingBoat became a simple process due to their efficiency in demonstrating the system and their ability to meet  our requirements.  Their continued support throughout the process also proved invaluable and key for us to work together, not just in Jersey but across our other jurisdictions where Flyingboat was being implemented.

 Once the system was selected, working with sV was key to ensure the system was deployed efficiently. This was as always a smooth transition and we were supported fully from the proof of concept stage through to our go live date.  sV understand our requirements and endeavour to simplify the process which supports our user interaction and positive usability of this new system, and all systems we use” Carlos Rebelo, Associate Director, Langham Hall Fund Management (Jersey) Ltd

In summary, secureVirtual is able to implement and support all RegTech solutions and business critical software, from the bespoke to those more established solutions including implementation of Sun Accounting and Sage, to name just two. If you would like to discuss how to achieve a 100% uptime for hosting your business critical application, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

Email Security and Email Continuity. What is it and why is it important?

Email security

Email security covers a number of areas – not just protecting unauthorised access to your email account and all the content within it. Without the appropriate measures in place, you leave your business open to risks from:

1. Phishing attacks: Fraudsters will endeavour to obtain sensitive information from you, or your staff, such as credit card details, usually with emails disguised as being from legitimate sources, such as payment processors, social media sites, etc.

2. Spoofing: Similar to Phishing, but usually more audacious! Here is a fictional example: A Finance Director receives an email from the MD to transfer money to a bank account for a legitimate sounding reason – e.g. pay a new supplier for a current project. The FD carries out the instruction and, goodbye cash! It wasn’t the MD but a fraudster posing as the MD. How? Either crudely (but effectively) using an email address which is almost identical except one small digit change (e.g. 1 for an l), or more sophisticated – depending on your email security – may have hijacked the MD’s actual email address (e.g. see man in the middle attacks below).

3. Malware: Short for Malicious Software, used to describe a number of harmful software, such as Viruses, Worms, Trojan Horses, Spyware, etc. The vast majority of businesses who suffer a malware attack do so because an employee has (usually unwittingly) introduced it to the network by clicking a dodgy link in an email.

4. Ransomware: Essentially the same as any other form of malware – but because it is particularly harmful to your business – both financial cost and reputation, we have given it its own listing. Ransomware is specifically designed to encrypt company documents/files, and then elicit a ransom payment to release these files, which often doesn’t work, so companies end up paying but still losing data (and credibility, if the attack gets out into the open).

5. Man-in-the-Middle attacks: Someone intercepting emails to/from your business, such that they can alter the content to their own gain, or they are simply seeking to learn – e.g. to mimic senior individuals by copying their style, for a more cunning and larger spoofing attack later on. Often MITM attacks are possible due to emails sent over unencrypted WiFi.

6. Social Engineering: Fraudsters may engage with their victim(s) before carrying out the fraudulent act, to build trust and confidence that they are genuine – including subtle Phishing emails. A type of confidence trick, with potentially dire consequences for your business.

There are a number of ways in which you can help protect your business, start by downloading secureVirtual’s free poster for the office wall – a user’s guide to keeping their email safe.

Email continuity

Email continuity is a form of email security for your Exchange Server (or mail server). It is important to have a service in place to act as safety net, should your email service or mail service provider crash. For example, Microsoft 365 Exchange Online offers a 99.99% SLA, meaning there will very likely be at least 1 hour’s downtime at some point during the year. However, what if your mail server or service was out of action due to a DDOS attack, power failure at a data centre, or similar? Having email continuity means that you could continue to access your email during this period, and still be able to send and receive email from an alternative system – in effect a backup mail service, allowing you and your business to carry on as usual.

Learn more about how secureVirtual can help your business minimise email security risks and business interruption. Contact us for a check-list, which can help you put in place robust security policies.

Optimising and backing up your database

Many of secureVirtual’s customers use databases to maintain, manage and organise information as part of their business-critical applications. Almost all will either be using Microsoft SQL, MySQL or some other variant of SQL (Structured Query Language). However, all of these databases will have one thing in common – they are all continuously growing and evolving.

As databases grow, over time they become slower – eventually grinding to a halt unless they are optimised or have more server resources assigned to them. This is true of any database, on any platform. For the basis of this post, we are focusing on Microsoft SQL.

Often when this happens within a business-critical application, staff will very likely blame the quality of their office internet connection, their server or even their IT Team! And often quite unfoundedly! As well as employee disgruntlement and negativity, loss of productivity is a big risk – we have seen instances of customer employees “nipping off” to make a cup of tea whilst the query they are running works away! If that query is performed 10x per day, by 10 individuals, that is a lot of wasted time.

Very few companies proactively optimise their databases, mainly because they don’t know about this issue or they are aware, but don’t know where to start. So often, following poor advice, they throw money at server resources to try to get around the problem – but that is all it is, getting around the problem, it doesn’t fully resolve it.

Additionally, throwing more CPU at the problem is a very inefficient and costly way to run an SQL database and, ultimately, organisations will still have a slow performing, unmanaged and sub-optimal database.

A better option is to optimise the database such that it can perform computations in a flash! Right then, so how do you do this and where do you start? There are specific tools that can identify the most frequent database queries (i.e. most popular, and by length of time taken to perform each query) and subsequently optimised – e.g. re-indexing could be one way to improve performance.

It is also important for businesses to backup their database in case of corruption, server failure or other technical problems. To do so requires a suitable backup tool and, ideally, one which can provide certainty that the backup is a bona fide copy without any problems, i.e. the data is not corrupt and therefore suitable to restore from, if required. This was a key part of our decision when looking for a backup tool. We wanted a test feature that could confirm that any backup copies were likely to work upon restoration. In addition, it is vital that backups do not exceed the backup window, minimising risk of backup failure or loss of access to staff (or customers, depending on the function of the application/database).

We set about reviewing suitable tools on the market for MS SQL database optimisation – monitoring & management, and specialist SQL backup tools with built-in restoration testing and encryption capabilities. We identified 3 options for trial in-house, and from there we selected Redgate as our preferred supplier, specifically, various components of the Redgate SQL Toolbelt suite.

Redgate logo In addition to Redgate fulfilling our functional and technical requirements, we were impressed with their longstanding brand, fair pricing and partner support. This gives our customers an additional level of confidence and assurance that secureVirtual are a safe pair of hands for the support and management of their database.

secureVirtual have a number of customers taking advantage of our in-house SQL support engineers, working with the Redgate product stack. What’s more, we are extremely proud to say that in every case, we have been able to increase the query return speed, improve the backup window or reduce the backup failure rate!

If you would like to understand how sV (and Redgate) could support your business-critical database and applications, please get in touch now – we’d love to hear from you!

secureVirtual chooses Duo for multi-factor authentication

secureVirtual needed a supplier-partner to provide multi-factor authentication as part of our wider cyber security strategy offering to customers, and to replace an existing service.

The commercial considerations:
One of the key factors in the selection process was that the application had to be unobtrusive and intuitive – i.e. easy to use for the end-users such that it did not generate an additional support overhead.

In addition to this, the solution needed to be ‘fit for purpose’ for both existing and future customers, as well as being compliant with a variety of regulations for various industries but particularly the Financial Services industry, where secureVirtual specialise.

Additionally, we were looking for a supplier who was well-funded with a good research & development roadmap and who delivered their product on a simple reseller model, ideally per user per month, and with flexibility to add new users co-termed to existing contracts, and to remove users without financial consequence.

Finally, the chosen supplier had to offer great support, be easily contactable and the product needed to be cost competitive such that it would not be a barrier to customers choosing to improve their security.

The selection process:
Once we established our needs, we set about reviewing suitable suppliers: researching online; participating in various specialist forums; and speaking with existing supplier contacts to understand their offerings or seek recommendations. From this we shortlisted Duo - multi-factor authentication 10 possible suppliers offering products in this space, but shortly this was whittled down to three, by applying our requirements criteria in priority order against each of the suppliers. The top three suppliers’ products were then trialled extensively, in-house, and from that testing, we chose Duo.

 

The result:
We chose Duo because they ticked the most boxes from our stated requirements and we ran a successful trial using their product. We now have numerous customers using the service and will be rolling out to many more.

Duo two-factor authentication (2FA) is very easy to use. We can whitelist customer office machines if we want to (i.e. certain users or all office domain PCs) but for the majority of users, including laptop and remote workers, we chose the Duo Push method – a simple smart-phone app, which works on all phones. The user sees an alert on their mobile screen (even when locked) and they simply tap the green box to confirm that it is them, or the red box if they get the alert and it is not them (followed by a call to IT Support in case an imposter is trying to access their session).

For those without a smartphone or for workers who do not want to use a BYOD device, then Duo can support a wide range of methods to support 2FA including: U2F (Universal 2nd Factor – e.g. Yubikey Neo), Bypass Codes, Phone Callback (to any chosen number), Security Tokens and SMS Passcodes.

On top of a simple-to-use application with an easy setup process, we found the Duo team to be proactive and knowledgeable.

If you would like to hear more about 2FA, or specifically the Duo service, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Remote Working vs Office Working

Remote working has rocketed since the early 2000’s in fact data from the ONS shows that 4.2 million people regularly work from home in the UK. The improvements in technology has increased the ability to communicate globally, at a pace never seen before. But technology is just the enabler of this culture – what are the key business drivers for shrinking your office based teams in favour of remote teams and individuals?

1. Grow the talent pool: Acquire resources beyond geographical limitations, journey times, borders and political constraints – why not have the best people for the job, rather than selecting from a narrow pool of local talent?
2. Product reach: as companies expand and want to deliver their product to the four corners of the world, they need to add scale to their business quickly. Placing local boots on the ground by adding new team members to your secure corporate domain network wherever they may be on the planet, on any device, has never been easier or quicker (with the right technology in place)!
3. Flexible Workforce: Offering workers the flexibility of working from home or whilst out of the office, is a great perk and a motivator, meaning happier staff and less staff attrition. Additionally, if the option exists to log in at home, staff may wish to finish off work in the evening that they couldn’t complete in the day due to an over-running meeting, or similar. Without this flexibility, projects could be delayed.

However; there are still many companies whose staff work from a central office or group of offices, and there are even cases of businesses who have tried a remote working policy and then reverted back to office working. So, the question is which is better for your business?

Anecdotally you’ll most likely have heard a variety of tales surrounding remote working, from those who find it so much more productive and helpful to work outside the constraints of an office; to others who say working from home is full of distractions and they can’t get anything done.

Surepayroll a US firm conducted a report which proposed that remote working, in general, is more beneficial in terms of productivity, 86% of staff said working alone helps them reach ‘maximum productivity’ and crucially their managers agree, with 66% saying they believe their remote staff are more productive. Another 2016 American study by TINYpulse, an employment engagement company found 91% of employees said they were more productive working from home, however, they may have an ulterior motive so perhaps a better study to reference is a Chinese travel company who monitored the performance of remote and office based workers, they found remote workers made 13.5% more total sales calls with a higher success rate than their office based colleagues.

Office working has its benefits too:
1. Company culture: It is more likely to result in the support of building a coherent company culture and values system; conversely, for staff working remotely, possibly from different countries and cultures, this will likely be more difficult to achieve.
2. Peer to Peer support: Any minor issues – e.g. user doesn’t know where a file is kept, or ‘how to do xxx in Word’, can often quickly be resolved by asking a colleague sitting nearby. However, this can also be a negative – considering distractions limit productivity.
3. Collaboration: Arguably, people are better able to work on projects and problems together, when sat in a room together. However, this is not always the case! Consider if your subject experts happen to live miles from the office, and their commute is over 90 minutes, they may feel demotivated and tired – whereas if they had the flexibility to work from home they could be far more energised! Often of course, there is a simple geographical limitation – e.g. project resource in one country and delivery team in another.

Offices are also very good for enforcing time management, there are generally fixed hours and an expectation to start at a certain time. Additionally, if something requires someone to work late, it’s easier to stay in the office than it is to carry on working at home, when the kids are back from school and want to see you!. Arguably, communication is better in an office environment, staff quickly learn how to interact with each other on a day to day basis whereas remote workers can become reliant on email and messaging services, and office staff may be reluctant to call remote staff.

So, what should you do? Ultimately, as with most things, there needs to be a balance. Here are some thoughts/ideas off the bat:
1. Offer a flexible working policy – your staff will love you for it! But ensure the policy is managed and staff know the boundaries – i.e. when they can work from home/remotely and when they cannot.
2. Some roles will always be more suitable for remote working, and there may be some that are completely unsuitable, e.g. Office Front of House Reception – how do you meet and greet remotely? It’s possible in that example if staff have split roles (e.g. front of house/ office admin) and there is sufficient cover for front of house.
3. Try a time split – e.g. 3 days a week in the office and 2 days a week working remotely, but at the same time operate a hot/shared desk policy to save on wasted office space.
4. The golden rule: monitor on an on-going basis, both in terms of productivity, KPIs, and staff satisfaction/motivation/attrition.

What IT Setup is Most Suited for Fast Growth Start-ups?

Every year the UK sees an abundance of fresh, creative and ambitious start-ups enter the UK market. In fact, at the time of writing Startup Britain’s Calculator is forecasting 487,208 start-ups have been created this year. secureVirtual even share an office space with one! But how can you ensure you can manage your start-up growth efficiently and securely in relation to your business’ I.T needs?

A managed service provider (MSP) can offer an attractive and scalable solution.

Why? MSPs deliver a huge spectrum of capabilities for your company, quickly, without the need to hire any technical staff as cash will be tight in the beginning. From traditional computing to helpdesk support and cloud services to disaster recovery, managed services ensure your IT systems run smoothly whilst also utilising the years of experience from industry professionals should any issues occur. What’s more, this type of service is ideal for growing businesses as the capacity of managed services can be increased and decreased according to your business’ needs, and is paid for on a monthly basis with little or no upfront CapEx.

Let’s have a look at the benefits of a managed service to your start-up business in a bit more detail – here are five quick wins:

  1. Save money – a benefit that any start-up will find hard to turn down! Reduce capital expenditure and remove ‘trial & error IT’. Whilst the tangible monthly costs still need to be covered, it is the intangible costs where you truly save. E.g. How much time would it take to research and implement a new application, such as a CRM or Finance Package? MSPs will have a wealth of knowledge already built up over the years and can be a trusted advisor saving you hours/days/weeks of your time – and time is money, right? Allow yourself time to work on your business, not in it.
  2. Security – compliance and business contingency – What would happen if all your business data were lost or corrupted? Most MSPs include data-management and managed back-ups (often to multiple locations) to ensure all your data is protected. With increasing cases of ransomware and other cyber-attacks, cyber security has never been more important and your MSP should provide vital provision in this area. Similarly, many industries are regulated and maintaining compliance with legal regulation is hard to keep up with – chose an MSP experienced in your industry and they should be able to take care of this for you.
  3. Consultancy & support on demand – having a team of experienced professionals to support your business can hugely improve your productivity through IT. Your MSP can provide a range of applications and software suited for your business’ needs. Your team can also easily submit and have their tech issues fixed, rather than having to waste time in either trying to solve problems themselves or bothering other members of your staff.
  4. Remote working – as discussed in our previous post on ‘Should I let my staff work remotely?’, remote working can have huge benefits to your organisation. Whether it’s increasing the productivity of your workforce or being able to extend your recruitment talent scope, remote working offers more flexibility for your company and staff.
  5. Cloud computing – cloud services can have many additional benefits, especially for start-ups that are planning to grow. If your company requires more capacity for instance by using remote servers you can immediately increase server space. Additionally, as your company grows so may your need for physical space, using the cloud means no server hardware on site so far easier to move office – you just need connectivity and WiFi as a minimum and you can still access your corporate and client data. What’s more, using hosted desktops with thin client devices will save energy, reduce heat in the office and reduce your carbon footprint.

If you wish to learn more about managed services and how they could help your business book a call today for a free consultation.

5 Challenges of Remote Working and How to Overcome Them

Following our recent articles that have both defined remote working and presented the many benefits of implementing this type of policy, here we look at 5 common challenges businesses will face, and tips for how you can overcome them.

By now, if you have been reading our previous posts, you will hopefully understand the benefits but, to briefly recap, we have found remote working can benefit your business by: Expanding your businesses access to a wider, potentially international, talent pool, decreasing your company’s office space & carbon footprint, reducing costs, providing flexibility to your workforce and, hopefully, increasing productivity – to name a few.

So, what are the key challenges of implementing a remote working policy and how can you overcome them?

1. Productivity
A big concern for business leaders considering remote working. Will remote staff will be less productive, given possible external distractions (e.g. young family, daytime TV, etc)? There have been numerous studies that directly oppose this view, showing that staff show considerable improvements in their work output. Reasons for increased productivity include: Not having to do the daily soul destroying and energy sapping commute, less distractions – not interrupted by gossip, chatter and noise, and (for many people most importantly) flexibility to work at times which suit them most.
How to overcome: What are you trying to overcome? The fear of potential lower productivity or, is there an issue of low productivity in the first place? The first is easiest to address – some ideas are: Chat to other business leaders at networking events to see what has worked for them and the types of roles they think work well remotely. Make sure the tools, systems and processes needed to support remote working are in place before rolling out. Carry out a home office/remote worker risk assessment (including connectivity to the workers home is adequate).
Overcoming an existing productivity issue is something else entirely, which needs to be investigated and root cause understood – simply adding remote working in to the mix will almost certainly not fix this!

2. Team Cohesion
Staff that work from home will inevitably have less physical and social interaction with their office-based colleagues. If building a company culture where unity is key amongst your staff, this could be an issue. Additionally, some roles require regular face to face meetings, and others may not work at all (e.g. call centre operators). For roles that should easily work remotely, the simple way to overcome this is to organise regular office based meetings and team activities & socials to keep up the levels of direct interaction amongst team members. If you’re a little nervous about moving to a full remote working policy you could consider a part-time policy, such as, 2 office days/ 3 remote working days, to give you the best of both worlds.

3. Security
With cyber-attacks, hacking and on-line fraud becoming increasingly common, and some of the world’s largest institutions falling victim to such attacks, the need for businesses to improve their digital security has never been more important. Having your team all based in the office and using the same IT system can seem an easier way to manage cyber security, however, if done correctly you can overcome this and maintain security properly for remote staff (and office staff). For example, by ensuring only approved devices are used for company business, and these devices have the correct security tools installed, you can reduce risk significantly. At the bear minimum, a good standard for companies to follow is that their policies and working practices comply with the government backed Cyber Essentials scheme, or better, Cyber Essentials Plus. IT service providers, like secureVirtual, can help organisations to understand their specific threat landscape and provide recommendations (e.g. which tools to use) to reduce or mitigate risks, and can also provide consultancy help to pass the Cyber Essentials audit process.

4. Communication
We’ve discussed team cohesion, which of course includes elements of communication. However, more instant and day-to-day communication with remote workers can be tricky – staff can’t simply turn to one another at the next desk and ask a quick question (although this can be a good thing to reduce distractions). To help overcome this possible communication disconnection, utilising instant messaging tools such as Skype for Business (SfB) can ensure that simple, quick contact is still possible. Such services can also provide a complete company dashboard for who is available, e.g. who is on vacation, or who is in a meeting. Furthermore, extending your IP phone system (e.g. soft-phones) to the home/remote workers, can further increase the breadth of communication and the same familiar experience of being in the office. Although remote workers often work more varied hours you may wish to set some defined or core hours where they must be available to contact. Should you have any remote staff working internationally you’ll also need to take time differences into account. This is normally a simple case of being aware of the difference and synchronising your working hours as best as possible. The key to successful communication is, ironically, successful communication, of your policies, expectations and procedures for remote working…

5. Tools
Without the right tools in place before launching a remote working policy you’re likely to encounter problems. Working away from the office removes a lot of the simplicity and familiarity that your staff will have become accustomed to when working from the office. Tools such as the communication apps mentioned above plus, document sharing solutions, and project/task management software are all key to remote working success. So how do you overcome this challenge and put in place a suite of standardised tools which will enable and empower your staff? Remote Desktops are a great way to implement centralised control and deploy tools for use across the staff base, both remote and office staff. In addition, and often in combination with remote hosted desktops, the use of virtual application delivery or applications packaged as a SaaS (Software as a Service) product, can offer remote and office workers a shared, familiar experience.

These are 5 common challenges secureVirtual have identified when considering facilitating remote working within your business. If you have any other concerns or want to find out more please do contact us on 020 8099 1502.

How To Enable Remote Working For Your Business

In our previous post we looked at what remote working is and how it can benefit your business, we now explore the various methods you can use to deploy this type of working policy. With more and more staff requesting a level of flexibility from their employer, it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to accommodate such work practices to ensure you can attract and retain the best talent.

Having said that, offering remote working isn’t something to take lightly. There are many factors to consider and elements you should have in place before taking the plunge. Here are some areas to consider when thinking about implementing remote working within your business.

Communication Tools
Essential to any remote working policy – what tools will you need? Video Conferencing, Screen Sharing, Instant Messaging, Unified Communication systems, Conference Call Services, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and all manner of collaboration tools…the list is almost endless!

All can help to improve communication and productivity within your business without your employees having to be in the office; but they need to be thought through and put in place carefully, since rushed or badly implemented systems can provide the exact opposite – i.e. loss of productivity and negative employees forced to use systems which aren’t fit for purpose. What you need, of course, will depend on the type and size of your business.

At the very least, the ability to share screens and hold conference calls will enable collaboration with your remote/diverse teams. Video takes things a step further – body language, for example, and just the simple fact someone can be seen, makes the experience more human – i.e. people are not just ‘that voice’ at the end of the phone, allowing for more effective communication and inclusion. With screen sharing software, such as Skype for Business or TeamViewer, you can easily share documents, presentations and imagery. In addition, collaboration tools such as Microsoft OneNote can be edited by multiple people at the same time and it also offers an inbuilt filing and organisation structure that can offer real productivity benefits.

Project Management
Even when employees are working in the office it’s important for many businesses to have some sort of project or task management system in place, but this can be even more vital when the team member is working remotely. The benefits of such software can be huge – helping with scheduling, assigning tasks within individual projects, and mapping all projects or sub-projects so that team members know what is coming up and how their part will play out and affect other projects (Program Management).

There are all sorts of tools which can be used to help manage a project and keep teams up to date. E.g. Microsoft Project (including Project Pro 365), Microsoft Teams, Slack, Flock, Salesforce, Dynamics, etc, etc. Which tool you chose, depends on the requirement and budget.

Employee Monitoring
It may sound a bit ‘Big Brother’ but when staff are working remotely it isn’t easy for managers to know whether their teams are working to their maximum potential. Although studies suggest remote workers are generally more productive, you need to be certain that this is the case for your team/business.

Regular feedback and reviews will help with this and for many businesses this trust based approach is all that is needed. For those environments needing a little more granularity there are software solutions that can be used to track user behaviour, such as how often their mouse has moved or number of keystrokes. As a secondary benefit if employees are aware that their activities are being monitored they are much more likely to spend their time on task!

One major benefit to the employer, of using behavioural analysis software, is security. A recent IBM study says that 60% of all malicious cyber-attacks on businesses are propagated from within! Tracking behaviours will alert you to events like, an employee decided to download or copy a whole bunch of your data to a USB device. Whilst this may be perfectly innocent; it could also be a cause for concern. Armed with the data, this can be addressed and dealt with properly.

File Sharing
One of the most useful things to have in place is a common file sharing system. I’m sure you’ve experienced the inefficiency of sending emails back and forth with attachments to update a document. Much easier to use a file sharing system, or application such as Microsoft OneNote. Remote Desktops offer a traditional Windows file system with a flexibility that VPN solutions cannot, and are more secure and reliable. However, there are other systems which may work for your business, for example, SharePoint, or CRM tools.

Employee Feedback
Using all the tools available on the planet won’t make remote working a success for your business if the staff aren’t happy. Be open, and welcome feedback from both your remote staff and office based staff on how they feel the organisations working practices, equipment, systems and policies are working for them. It is essential, to have regular face-to-face meetings with your remote workers, and hold team events, to ensure inclusion with your business and your brand.

The above are some of our generic thoughts to launching a remote working policy, but of course there will be specific needs for your business to consider. However, by adopting remote working practices, and offering flexibility, you are offering choice and in this current market, we believe that the additional flexibility will help you stand out from your competition who do not, to help attract and retain the best talent in your industry. For free no obligation advice, give us call on 020 8099 1502.

What is Remote Working?

With Amazon announcing in May 2017 it’s hiring 5,000 part-time customer service employees to work from home, and a study published that suggest 93% of workers are more productive when working remotely, it’s hard to ignore the benefits of having a policy that encourages remote working.

Having said this, remote working is not something every business sees the value in adopting. Perhaps due to a lack of trust within the business, the nature of the work involved or the fact that some work places simply don’t have the technology required to facilitate working from home. Remote workers today, make up almost 14% (4 million) of the UK workforce according to a ‘recent study’. According to ‘another study’ this is a number that is set to rise in the future.

To help you decide whether working remotely is something your business can adopt, we explore what remote working is, the benefits, and what to consider.

What is remote working and how can it benefit my business?

A remote worker is someone who works outside of a traditional office. This can be from home, from a coffee shop or a co-working space. Generally, this style of working would use a device with access to a secure VPN or, ideally, using a secure hosted desktop service protected with multi-factor authentication.

There are a whole host of benefits an employer can gain from having employees that work remotely. To name a few:

Talent – Through not having to be in the office, remote workers can be anywhere in the world. This opens up the talent pool and means there are a whole host of new candidates that are suitable for the job. With certain industries having such talent shortages, including financial services, this can play a critical factor when recruiting top talent.

Expense – Remote workers cost less, you don’t have to cover the physical desk space or utility costs an office-based employee incurs. In addition to this, remote workers often use their own laptop and smartphones, subject to meeting company security policy.

Productivity – It has been argued in the past that employees who work from home are more productive, work longer hours, use less sick time and quit less than those who work from the office on a regular basis. In one study from Vodafone where they asked 8,000 business professionals across small, medium and large-sized companies in 10 countries, 83% of companies reported an improvement in productivity.

Three core areas to consider when implementing remote working.

Remote working, if properly prepared for, can be implemented with relative ease within a trading business. However, there are a number of different areas to consider when deciding to go ahead prior to launching remote working.

Internal Communications – Communication changes vastly when working remotely, you can’t just turn to a colleague and ask their opinion. Regular calls, email updates and the use of Instant Messaging and task management software, can all help things run smoothly and keep remote colleagues up to date and help them to feel that they still belong to the business. ‘Microsoft Skype for Business’ can also help with calls, remote presentations as well as instant messaging. Ensuring employees are made aware of the company policy, whereby you outline what is required from them, should be mandatory.

IT – Will remote staff be using their own laptop, pc and/or smartphone? Who is responsible for upgrading and updating these devices? As they’ll be using an internet connection where they are based, is this fast enough or of sufficient quality to allow them to do their job? Do they need a backup service (e.g. 4G or similar)? Many people don’t have landlines these days – can they get a 4G signal at home, or good mobile coverage if that is needed?

Data Protection and Security – How to access company data in a reliable but, more importantly, in a secure way? In a world where hackers are penetrating some of the world’s biggest institutions with seeming ease, the need for security and data protection is an absolute essential. There are many questions, such as, is their home internet connection safe? How do you manage firewall policies? How do you ensure that data cannot be accessed by flat-mates or family members using the home computer?

Interested in finding more about remote working and how secureVirtual can help? Feel free to call 020 8099 1502 and speak with one of our friendly experts.

How To Choose Your Hosted Desktops Provider

Ok, you’ve decided hosted desktops (otherwise known as remote desktops or virtual desktops) are the right solution for your business, either for the first time or you just simply want to switch supplier. Now you have the tricky decision of which provider to go with, so how do you make that decision? There are several areas you should consider before signing on the dotted line.

Fit

Does the supplier meet your business needs? For instance, can they support your user numbers? Do they operate 24/7 and cover overseas jurisdictions? Additionally, some providers will have an industry specialism aligned to your business sector, for example, at secureVirtual we work with a number of financial services companies offering 24/7 UK based support. The more aligned and knowledgeable a supplier is of your industry, the better they can truly understand your business needs rather than trying to be all things to all businesses.

Approach

How do you like to deal with your suppliers in particular relating to IT? Do you prefer a hands-off approach, and simply have the comfort of knowing they are there when you need them or do you want a proactive supplier suggesting new ideas and services, that could save your business time and money and help to push your organisation forward from an IT perspective, helping to meet your business goals? At secureVirtual we have regular face to face client reviews to ensure we’re doing just that. We know how important it is that your IT systems are running well at all times and are fit for purpose.

Longevity

You should consider if the provider is going to be there for the long-haul with key members of staff likely to stay around delivering the service you expect, year after year. Always seek out case studies and ask to speak to at least 2 reference customers from your prospective supplier. You should also ponder whether the supplier is agile enough to adapt and change as your business grows and develops.

Migration

A vital aspect of moving to hosted desktops for the first time, or from one cloud based solution to another, is the migration from your current IT setup. You’ll want to know your chosen provider can offer a safe pair of hands and provide a well-planned and smooth transition with minimal-zero disruption your business operations. Again, references can really help with this, the most daunting part of changing any supplier. At secureVirtual we offer a hassle-free migration, using our years of experience and expertise to ensure your staff will barely notice the switch and are up to speed on the new system in no time at all.

To setup a Free, No obligation, 14-Day Trial of our Hosted Desktops for your business, call us now on 020 8099 1502.

The Role of Leadership in Cyber Security

You may be surprised to learn that only 21% of directors believe that their company is managing cyber security risk well. Why is that? Surely it can’t be for lack of awareness, cyber security is receiving more publicity than ever before, it’s rare you won’t read of a serious cyber-attack in the Sunday papers, or scroll across an attack on your favourite news site, even TV has programming highlighting the issue such as a recent cyber-crime feature on BBC Crimewatch.

So, if not awareness, then perhaps capability? As a leader in your business, ask yourself a serious question, do you have the knowledge to create, implement and monitor a cyber security process suitable for your business? If the answer’s no, you need help and fast. Far from trying to scare monger it’s a reality that your business particularly if in the financial services sector, will be attacked, if it hasn’t been already (perhaps you don’t even know about it).

Of course, capability won’t be the only reason. As business leaders, you will likely be an experienced manager and may have good technical knowledge in the area you do business, but I’m sure you’re well versed in bringing in support such as marketing, sales or accounting to fill your knowledge gaps. You will also likely undergo regular risk management and if you were to identify a risk, such as say one client providing too large a portion of your company’s revenue you will react by increasing marketing activity to reduce that risk. So why is you’re not reaching out for support when it comes to cyber security?

Trust? Of course, it makes sense you need to trust a company or individual to have them access your IT systems but that is no different from trusting an accountancy firm with access to your company’s finances or trusting a marketing agency to spend your budget effectively.

The truth is we don’t know, and the best person to answer this question is you! Call us and let us know will you. The fact you’re reading this tell us you’re one of the more forward thinking business leaders and likely to take steps towards protecting your business on-line. If so, here’s what you should be doing next.

5 Key Steps to Leading on Cyber Security

1. Acknowledge and accept that Cyber Security is a real and active risk for your business.
2. Understand the exact risks your business faces and the possible consequences.
3. Expand your knowledge in the area, bring in a specialist company to help you do so.
4. Implement a policy from the top-down which outlines clear processes to minimise risk.
5. Plan and practice what you would do in case of an attack.

Reference Articles:

Forbes – Cyber Security Leadership
McKinsey – Senior Leaders Against Cyber Security

How Can I Use IT To Reduce My Business Costs?

In our previous blog, ‘How to reduce your company’s IT costs’ we focused on saving expenditure on IT. However, a potentially more valuable question is to flip that question on its head and ask – How can I use IT to reduce my business costs?

By the way, cost does not simply manifest itself in obvious pounds and pence – that would be nice. You have to look deeper – identify tools that can boost your existing resource, your staff, productivity – thus saving cost by reducing head-count and/or drive more value, more productivity from each staff member by allowing them to focus on what is important and not the ‘doing of tasks’.

IT is a vastly powerful resource for business, we don’t need to go into detail as it’s abundantly clear for all businesses in today’s world, that IT will play a critical role in the organisation, from being able to deliver your products and services, to managing your business. However, many businesses are missing out on the opportunities that IT presents with respect to time-saving and/or increasing the productivity of their teams.

Let’s take a simple example. Think about your company’s ‘staff time-off’ booking procedure for a minute. Do your staff send in requests for various dates, as and when they require, via email or in passing comment during your busy day, does someone need to manually check the calendar to see if there’s conflicting holidays and then someone else has to decide if they can have the time-off?

But, I hear you say, I already use IT to support this function – we use Outlook and Exchange, we use spreadsheets to record the information and store in a secure file on our network.

Yes, you are using IT but, could you be using IT in a smarter way? The answer is of course, YES! Just about every single task or process can be improved and in our example above, there are a load of simple solutions on the market you can use to help with this, such as Timetastic, or Appogee to name just two.

How valuable would it be for someone to come into your organisation and identify a bunch of business activities, deliver them in a different way, and walk out of your organisation saving your business 50 days effort per annum? What could you do with an extra 50 days of staff resource time? A lot, right? Well, it is not as hard as it sounds, but you must be willing to embrace change and try new solutions as well as make an initial investment in resource time to identify these savings.

If you (or an external consultant) can recognise the issues faced by your staff in day to day activities, then you don’t need to re-invent the wheel. There are invariably loads of businesses who have come up with the same issues over the years and an application or tool will have been developed to help deal with those issues. If you suddenly find that is not the case, and your issues is not unique, then that might be a Eureka moment! Bottle it immediately and get in touch with an app developer to help you to exploit the opportunity!

Specialist tools or software, are designed to take the hassle out of managing systems and processes. E.g. in the case of staff time-off, if you can make this self-serve as much as possible, whereby your staff can see all the available dates in a single view, request time-off with minimal clicks, their manager gets a quick one-click approval and if approved the details automatically populate into the staff calendar. It may sound trivial but think about it. If you have 50 staff, and the process that the above software can do is being done the team, how many hours would this save? I would estimate that 50 staff, generate around 4-8 requests for leave per annum. Let’s say each request can take 10 minutes per request, then you have between 200 and 400 requests per annum which boils down to 33-66 hours or somewhere in the region of 5-10 days per annum! If by implementing software you brought the per request time down to 2 minutes, think how many more days are available for more productive and valuable work?

There’s plenty of different IT solutions which can have the same time-saving (and therefore cost-saving) effect, from your accounting package to office productivity applications, document sharing and social media management. Due to your busy schedule, you may not be able to find the time to identify which software or applications could help your business and that’s where a business IT use audit from a reputable company can pay dividends. Your consulting firm should be able to identify not only cost-cutting opportunities but also time-saving opportunities that IT can enable.

For a friendly discussion about what areas IT could improve your company’s productivity give us a call on 020 8099 1502.

How to Reduce Your Company’s IT Costs

In an ever more technologically focused business world, there is an increased pressure on IT budgets to go further. According to consultancy firm Alinena, small businesses currently spend, on average, 5-7% of their total annual revenue on IT services.

There are also hidden costs of IT to be mindful of, Samsung conducted a survey in 2016 and found that on average each employee spends 2 hours and 47 minutes on IT related issues each week, significantly harming productivity. The same study also found that 9 in 10 employees claim they regularly lost concentration at work, having to come to the aid of a colleague with an IT related issue.

There are other hidden costs which can come from a number of sources but the most common is sometimes referred to as ‘IT by the back door’.

How many SME businesses sign off on projects to implement software tools for a specific function (e.g. HR, Payroll, etc) using their departmental budget, but don’t consult with their IT team? We expect this is almost 100% to a greater or lesser degree.

Ultimately, the costs of signing off projects which have not been reviewed by IT can be much higher than expected, since no assessment for compatibility has been made and any integration issues could end up costing far more than anticipated because a few simple questions were not asked. (Not to mention this is very dangerous as IT by the back door can be a big problem to businesses – e.g. who knows what level of unstructured data sits on systems which are not compliant with regulation – e.g. GDPR – but that’s another topic!).

So, how can you keep a handle on IT costs whilst ensuring operational capability, staff productivity and of course maintaining security? As ever there isn’t a single answer to this question… However, by implementing a number or all of the below suggestions you can begin to get a better return for your IT budget.

5 Steps to Reducing IT Spend

Regularly review and consolidate where possible: As a business grows, naturally it’s IT requirements will change. At various times it is likely you will utilise more software and applications to run your business. It is useful to conduct a regular audit of your IT systems (annually is a good start) and identify if any products/services can be removed. You will be surprised how much software is paid for that is no longer used, even if only one or two licenses – it all adds up! Consolidate services to fewer suppliers. Much like your insurance, if you have several family members needing car/home/health insurance you have more clout with a supplier to drive a discount.

Move to the cloud – Hosting your data within secure virtual server environments is becoming more common as business demand changes. It is no longer cost effective, secure or productive to have physical services in your offices; they can be cumbersome for office moves; increase the risk of data loss by damage caused by overheating, fire, flood, etc; not to mention the capital cost of sourcing and implementing. Virtual servers and hosted desktops are an effective alternative. Your data is housed away from your office in secure data centres offering resilience (dual power supplies, backup services, etc) and control is centralised and costs usually fixed on a per user or per service basis. i.e. You can purchase the required services you need as your business grows, flexibility and at a known cost.

Outsourced IT Support – As Samsung’s study has shown, your staff are wasting too much time on often minor IT issues. Much better to utilise an expert who can solve the problem in fraction of the time, although it may seem an additional cost, packages can be flexible on a ‘call as you need us’ basis and the time saved by your employees will far outweigh the investment.

Embrace the idea of Multi-Cloud services – Applications such as email, Accounting, and Microsoft Office can be run from the cloud and, as you add users only when you need them, this flexibility ensures you’re not wasting money and can keep a clear eye on your costs.

Alternative Office Hardware – Of course it’s essential your IT equipment can perform the tasks required reliably, without issue, but there are smarter options. For example, using the cloud and hosted desktops you only need purchase thin client devices rather than PC’s. They are available at a lower Capex, use 60-80% less electricity to run than a standard desktop, and also produce less heat in the office that then needs cooling, which all drive down cost.

As ever, please feel free to call us for a friendly, no obligation discussion if you have queries on any of the above – 020 8099 1502.

What is Ransomware?

What is Ransomware? – And how can I protect against it?

After an increasing number of high profile cases including that against the NHS in the UK more people are asking the question, ‘What is Ransomware?’. And most importantly, ‘How can I protect myself and business from it?’.

Simply put Ransomware is; a type of malware (malicious software) that prevents a user from accessing their system or files, this is commonly done by encrypting data (converting information into a code) and holding the user to ransom by asking for funds to unencrypt their data and therefore providing access to their files once more.

Ransoms can range from anywhere a few hundred pounds to several thousands, as you may have seen from the NHS attacks in May 2017 they were only asking for $300 per computer. Fortinet, a US based cyber security company, suggest ransoms are becoming less (in the region of £50-£200) to make them more like a parking ticket, where the victim simply pays the amount to avoid the hassle.

So, how can you protect yourself and your business against ransomware?

As with any cyber security policy or action there is no ‘silver bullet’ which will guarantee your safety, however there are some simple actions you can take to reduce the chances of an attack, such as;

Be vigilant with your emails, 33% of attacks in the UK come from users opening malicious emails. Request a free copy of our ‘Email – Is It Safe?’ poster for a step-by-step guide and what you should be asking yourself to check if an email is safe.

Back-up your files, this is a massive one and still hugely underutilised. By having copies of your file elsewhere the impact on files being encrypted is minimal, particularly if you back-up daily the worst case is you lose a few hours of data. Critical here is that you back-up to a server not directly linked to your original data otherwise the infection could reach your back-up files too.

Update your system and software, please ensure you update as soon as a program offers a new update. You can set Windows to automatically update to the latest versions, this prevents hackers using potential vulnerabilities in outdated software.

These are just a few areas to get you thinking about how to prevent a ransomware attack, please call us if you have further concerns or need more advice on how to stay cyber safe.

Please request a copy of our Free ‘Email – Is It Safe?’ A2 printed poster for your office.

Should I Let My Staff Work Remotely?

It is becoming increasingly common for company staff to work remotely, either because they have asked for the flexibility to, or the business requires it. According to the Office for National Statistics nearly 15% of the nation’s workforce are now working from home as part of their current role. A recent survey by the British Chamber of Commerce found 91% of businesses have at least one staff member working from home. Inspired by books such as Tim Feriss’ 4-hour work week, a generation of staff are asking to work remotely, the question you should be asking is ‘is this good for my business?’

As a business owner or senior management team, there are many reasons why you would consider allowing remote working amongst your team. Not only does it save on costs in relation to the office space and having a permanent desk but remote working has been shown to increase productivity by at least 20% with 90% of remote workers believing they get more done according to a survey by Forbes magazine. However, there are many considerations too.

What are these considerations? There are a number – physical (tangible), policy and standards, as well as possible tax implications.

Here are some of the main considerations from an IT perspective:

IT Equipment – Who will supply the laptop/PC and any mobile devices the remote worker will use? If the company, are these insured away from the office and can you be sure they are being looked after correctly? What security is in place, particularly if the remote worker is using their own equipment (BYOD)? What happens if devices crash, who will supply the back-up and how quickly? What is the cost of downtime of the remote worker?

Connectivity – the bedrock of anyone’s ability to work remotely is a reliable internet connection. Who is supplying this, the individual or the company? Who within your business will assess the quality of the broadband available to the prospective home-worker? If broadband is not suitable, can a 4G mobile network work? Again, who is responsible for the contract with the 4G provider?

Cyber Security – On your office network it is easier to manage security, no doubt with office firewalls in place, monitoring and antivirus installed across all networked office devices, etc. However, for remote workers – can you be sure their devices are safe? How do you ensure adequate firewalling is in place? How will users access corporate systems? E.g. secure VPN? Hosted Desktops? Packaged Applications? Lots to consider.

Internal Threats – We hope you don’t have to face a member of your team intentionally trying to hack your system and use data for criminal use, however, in the context of remote working , many internal threats can be accidental where a remote worker is unaware their device has been hacked or their device is lost or stolen. Remote workers are more likely to use mobile devices (laptops, tablets and phones), so the risk to the business, of loss of data/information, increases significantly. Therefore, systems (such as Mobile Device Management, 2FA) and policies need to be in place to mitigate these increased risks.

One of the best ways to ensure you can deliver the user experience your remote worker needs, whilst maintaining centralised security, is to use hosted desktops. In combination with desktop centralisation, you can add additional layers of security, e.g. not allowing copy/paste between hosted desktop session and local machine; implementing a multi-factor authentication service (or 2FA) where users need to input a code or click a button using a token or app on their phone, in addition to their username and password.

If you have questions around your IT and Cyber Security requirements for remote working, feel free to give us a call for a friendly chat, on 020 8099 1501.

Why You Should Update Your iPhone Straight Away

You receive the notification as you do every so often that the latest iOS software upgrade is available and you should perform an update. It’s likely you’ll be using your phone at the time and think ‘I’ll do it later’ tapping the ‘remind me later’ button. That evening your iPhone gives you it’s promised reminder that it’s time to update but you’re scrolling through Facebook and put if off once more, and so on and so on…

Here’s why you should change your ways and hit the update button as soon Apple asks you to!

Primarily this is a security risk. As with any software, there will always be flaws and loop holes in security. Over time, Apple will identify these and create solutions which they then release as updates in their latest iOS software update. The urgency is high because these loopholes are found and published on the dark web very quickly so any hacker will know what vulnerabilities exist in the previous version and so this means you’re more prone to an attack if you do not update right away.

Secondly you will ultimately achieve a better user experience. Updates often provide useful new features such as ‘night mode’ which you’ll want access to get the most from your device. Also, 3rd party apps will update their features in line with the iOS update, so without first updating your iPhone software you won’t be able to utilise many of these new benefits either.

So, check now! Go to ‘settings’, ‘general’, and finally ‘software update’ and check if your iPhone is up to date. If not, sacrifice checking your emails on the go for a while and update now! But remember to ensure you always have a current back-up of your phone either via iTunes or iCloud before proceeding with an update…