Digitising the high street, part two: How?

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In part one of this two part blog series, we looked at why "bricks-and-mortar" retailers are embracing Digital Transformation in order to compete with the new breed of online retail giants.

In part two, we look at the specific challenges Digital Transformation is throwing up for the high street, and how these challenges can be addressed.

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Digitising the high street, part one: Why?

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As highlighted by a Retail CIO roundtable discussion held by Exponential-e, in order to compete with e-commerce "bricks-and-mortar" retailers will have to personalise their in-store experiences - and they'll need to do so with the aid of Digital Transformation.

In part one of this two part blog series, we look at why the high street needs Digital Transformation to survive and prosper.

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Digital Transformation in the Legal sector: some key takeaways from BLTF 2019

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Attending the British Legal Technology Forum (BLTF) in London last week highlighted the increasing importance and emphasis on Digital Transformation (DX) within the Legal sector. 

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Why a stable network should be every bricks-and-mortar retailer’s bread-and-butter

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According to the latest PwC report, about 14 shops are closing every day in the UK as the high street faces one of its toughest seasons in five years. It’s no secret that the convenience of online shopping has been challenging retailers for some time now. With the world of technology ever changing, retailers need to adapt in order to keep up with both their immediate competitors and the wider industry.

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Challenges for Digital Transformation (DX) in the Architecture industry

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With technological innovation heightening client expectations, one of the biggest challenges architects have is to convincingly show their clients how a finished structure will look. As such, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Mixed Reality (VR / AR / MR) applications have now become an integral part of the design process as well as the client presentations.


These state-of-the-art technologies are being used by architects to effortlessly showcase realistic project images to potential clients and stakeholders, enabling the latter to make any changes they want and give feedback on designs (or approval) in no time. 


But VR / AR / MR is just the latest flowering of Digital Transformation (DX) to be adopted by the industry - and depends upon the same underlying technology.

Digital transformation: opportunities and challenges

By nature, architecture is an industry defined by evolution, so its early adoption of DX should come as no surprise. In firms across the world, the design process has moved away from drawing boards and tracing paper towards computers. In turn, clients have become more demanding, making collaborative simulation and visualisation a key - almost compulsory - part of the design process.
Consequently, computers have had to become more powerful and graphics greatly improved to keep up with the rendering requirements; architects also require access to a centralised graphic store, and this access similarly requires a lot computational and networking power.

The Fourth Transformation: opportunities and challenges

As the Fourth Transformation takes hold - bringing forth advances in VR / AR / MR - technology is becoming increasingly immersive and collaborative. For the architecture industry, this means that seamless cloud-based collaboration between contractors, engineers and architects is both possible and highly desirable.

Such collaboration entails not only simple file transfers and data conversion but also, increasingly, the embedding of VR / AR / MR into business operations. The popularity of such technology has risen in the sector, thanks to its emerging value as an educational tool.

However, this brave new world of unified communications and virtual desktop infrastructure is powerless without the right network. Across the industry, gigabit requirements are becoming the norm; by contrast, only three years ago, 100mb would often suffice. In a bandwidth-hungry digital landscape, the network is the cloud - so it's easy to see why a cloud can only be as good as the network it traverses.

Conclusion

By harnessing the power of cloud computing and a robust, reliable network in tandem, architecture firms can set themselves apart from their competitors and respond super-fast to those last-minute emergency requests that can suddenly arise from contractors all over the world. By partnering with the right supplier as well, firms can stop worrying about business continuity, getting back up and running if their systems fail.

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Beyond the buzzwords: why you should be paying attention to tech if you’re in Legal.

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What a time to work in the Legal sector! There's so many new technologies to think about; perhaps too many. There's cloud, there's automation, there's AI/Machine Learning, there's agile working, there's digital transformation… any more buzzwords you care to think of?

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Technology Led Construction – The Expert Opinion: Interview with Aarni Heiskanen

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I spoke to a globally recognised thought leader on the role of technology and innovation in the Construction industry. Aarni Heiskanen shares his thoughts and vision with me, which are no doubt helping to shape the construction landscape today and more importantly, the future.

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How partnering with Exponential-e can make you a go-to business for data centre solutions

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While the improvement of IT management remains a goal for all enterprise IT teams, the true aim for IT departments today should be to simplify IT in order to drive business agility. Unfortunately, simplifying IT isn’t so simple.

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Cloud and the top 3 technology considerations for business transformation strategy

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In the final instalment of this story of innovation and Cloud computing, it’s time to explore how a successful transformation strategy yields the best of both worlds -- that is to say, harnessing both Public Cloud and Private Cloud to create a fruitful Hybrid.

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Beyond boundaries: what Darwin and Xerox can teach businesses about limitless innovation

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When it comes to business strategy, nothing is certain except change. Darwinism – otherwise known as “survival of the fittest”, rather than merely the biggest – is as prevalent in the business world as in nature. Rather than the biggest businesses, only the most adaptable survive; as ever, history tells us as much.

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Why technology is vital for future-proofing the broadcast and media industry

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Today, innovation in technology is changing the way digital media is consumed more quickly than ever before. Tech-savvy consumers are creating an ever-growing market for data-intensive HD and UHD content, consuming content online, on the move and on-demand.

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There’s an app for that – but is this what the NHS really needs?

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New health secretary Matt Hancock has been beating the technology drum. As well as announcing that almost £500 million would be made available for technology, he's also asserted that the service needs more apps. However, it’s fair to wonder: is this the right avenue to funnel resources?

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Forget the hype: here’s 3 ways you can actually save money with SD-WAN

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Saving money with SD-WAN (part two)

"SD-WAN is an exciting, transformative technology that can do a lot of amazing things for your business – but it needs to be used correctly."

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Why a people-first, technology-second approach is vital for powering the recruitment industry

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In many ways, thanks to technology, it has never been easier to connect people. For the recruitment industry, this is particularly pertinent, as meaningful connections are precisely the foundations on which the industry is built. After all, people don’t trust companies - they trust other people. In our digital age, however, the industry faces a host of technology-based challenges.

By nature, recruiters always strive for effective communication; in a world where it’s so easy to hide behind a screen, they understand the need for a personal touch and taking the time to meet face-to-face. However, the very technology that now connects us is also in some ways to blame for our workforce seeming more disparate than ever.

For example, candidates often might not work near a recruiter’s office - indeed, they might be an ocean away - so video interviews have become increasingly popular over coffee-conversations.

Unfortunately, these are easily scuppered by poor connectivity, as offices within the sector tend not to have particularly complex IT environments. This means that recruiters find themselves stuck with legacy landline phones, turning instead to FaceTime on their iPhones to conduct interviews.

Problems also arise when it comes to communicating with clients. Customer service is key, but it can be difficult to deliver when the internet speed is too poor to handle Google Hangouts. For an industry that trades on professionalism, a crackling line can cause untold embarrassment. What’s more, the common practice of sharing files insecurely through shadow IT can cause all sorts of compliance issues. To recap, shadow IT describes IT solutions used within an organisation without the approval, or even the knowledge, of IT decision-makers; in our post-GDPR world, it’s easy to imagine the ramifications of its use if left unchecked.

With the UK recruitment industry growing rapidly yet recruiters simultaneously struggling with the quality of hire and talent scarcities, it’s clear that recruitment firms must maximise productivity and efficiency of its people and operations in order to remain competitive. This is where the value of Unified Communications and telephony service, underpinned by a robust and reliable network, becomes most apparent. Equipped with these tools, recruiters can carve out new ways to communicate with candidates and clients alike, future-proofing their business in the process.

This is especially important when considering how the recruitment industry is a barometer for the global economy; when there’s a slowdown in recruitment, there’s a slowdown coming in the relevant sector. As such, a people-first approach with technology at its core – one that promotes the importance of effective human interactions while harnessing the power of technology – is vital not only for the recruitment industry but also companies across all sectors throughout the world. With the right IT support network in place to facilitate this, siloed technologies no longer need to get in the way and prevent recruiters from doing the job they do best: bringing people together through unparalleled professionalism.

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The bottom line: the financial & operational benefits of complete Cloud estate visibility

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In our last blog, Jonathan Bridges talked about how Exponential-e’s Cloud Management Platform (CMP) could simplify your Cloud estate by providing a single-pane-of-glass view of different Cloud environments.

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Busting the #1 myth about SD-WAN

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Saving money with SD-WAN (part one)

Software Defined WAN, or SD-WAN for short, is the new big thing in business networking. Everybody’s talking about SD-WAN, and about what it can do for businesses.

Well, there’s no doubt that SD-WAN can do a lot for your business; in fact, we’ll be talking about exactly that in part 2 of this 3 part blog series. But before we do that, we need to talk about what SD-WAN can’t do.

Right now there’s a popular misconception among businesses concerning SD-WAN – a misconception fed and sustained by headlines and marketing hype - that could lead them to take damaging shortcuts in incorporating SD-WAN into their business.

The Myth: SD-WAN is a magic box: just plug it in and you’ll save money!

 

As with many myths, there’s an element of truth to this one. SD-WAN can save you money – just not in the way you might have been misled to believe.

SD-WAN is a technology with great potential. It allows you to monitor and manage network performance, for example, while you can use it to centrally control policies and prioritise applications - and that’s just for starters. What SD-WAN isn’t is an adequate replacement for good networking in of itself.

But here’s the thing: private, business-grade WAN/MPLS is expensive (or at least is perceived to be). And – since the headline on the typical SD-WAN article will be something like: ‘Save 40% on your networking with SD-WAN!’ – SD-WAN is perceived as cheap.

It’s no wonder that for SMEs, the ‘SD-WAN is a magic box!’ myth is an attractive one, since – unlike larger enterprises with resources to burn – SMEs are less inclined (and able) to pay for full SD-WAN integration.

‘Save money!’

... that's an attractive prospect for any organisation. However, while large enterprises can afford to fully integrate SD-WAN with their network infrastructure, SMEs are easily tempted by the myth. No big surprise, either, that some SD-WAN vendors are telling these SMEs not to waste money on an expensive MPLS when you can get something just as good by buying a cheap broadband connection and plugging it into an SD-WAN box.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Bingo!

Here’s why…

There are no shortcuts: consumer vs business internet

Think about your broadband router at home. Silently running in the hallway, green signal-light flashing inconspicuously. Seems fairly harmless, doesn’t it? You basically forget it’s even there.

 

Most of the time, it will run fine; the lights will remain green. Sometimes, it will slow-down, or even stop working. This happens maybe once or twice a week. You don’t ring up your service provider because it’s unlikely to cause too much damage.

But imagine that humble, harmless home router sitting, not just in your business but at the centre of your business. Suddenly, seeing a light go red instead of green will send a shiver down your spine. A drop in speed now has real financial repercussions. And an outage? Even worse.

And then there’s security…

 

Obviously, businesses need the internet. But do they need consumer internet - even if it’s being managed through an SD-WAN box? The answer is NO.

Business-grade internet: the price is right

If plugging the internet into SD-WAN really did make consumer-internet as secure as business-internet, business-internet would become obsolete. This isn’t going to happen, however: a pseudo-MPLS service running on the Internet will never be able to replace a good network.

Yes, it’s true - business-grade internet is expensive. But it’s expensive for a reason. Unlike consumer-internet, it’s fully managed, with SLAs in place to ensure against latency and packet loss, and underpinned (if you pick the right service provider) by intelligently designed networking using nothing but the best technology.

SD-WAN can compensate for some of these shortfalls, but not entirely – or even adequately.

Will you save money in the short term by opting for an SD-WAN box over a business-network with an underlying physical bearing? Sure. But in the long term, going for the cheaper option might end up costing you a lot more.

So, how do you really save money with SD-WAN?

When you truly understand what SD-WAN is (i.e. not a magic box), you can save money in the long term, too. At Exponential-e, our approach to SD-WAN is to take good, solid network underpinnings and insert SD-WAN into them, using the technology intelligently in order to make networks more efficient – which saves money and boosts revenue.

I’ll demonstrate some of the ways we might use SD-WAN to improve a network in the next blog in our series. In the third part, we’ll look at some real-world instances of SD-WAN being applied intelligently to networks.

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Cloud control: the perils of running a multi-cloud environment

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​The key ingredient for any organisation looking to drive digital transformation is Cloud. Actually, scratch that: it is Clouds. But how do you manage multiple Clouds without getting bogged down by digital paperwork?
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Cyber security expertise and the global skills gap

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By 2019, 1 to 2 million roles within cyber security will be unfulfilled. That’s a figure that should strike fear into the heart of even the most stoic of business people. The threat of cyberattacks is growing quickly, and there aren’t enough skilled people in place to control the wildfire.

This global cyber security skills crisis isn’t exactly a new problem, though. Over the last 2 years, 40% of cyber security roles remained unfulfilled, despite an increase in job postings of over 74%. This is a problem, then, that’s been smouldering in the background for a long time, and consequently now has the potential to create some serious destruction.

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What’s fuelling the fire?

Although there is a growing understanding of how vital cyber security is, organisations still don’t necessarily understand exactly how fundamental it is to the success of their companies. Just look at cyber security budgets, which usually account for only 25-30% of an organisation’s total IT spend (according to the IDC.)

With the number of attacks only growing, this is clearly not enough money. Every time a company gives an employee a take-home device, they’re exposing themselves to a lot more than 25-30% of the total security threats!

Even if there were enough people applying for cyber security roles, the relatively meagre budget allocated to cyber security by most organisations still wouldn’t be sufficient to hire all the cyber security professionals they need.

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Out with the in-housing, in with the out-sourcing!

What with the lack of applicants and budget allocation, many companies are now choosing to outsource their cyber security teams. By the time we get to 2020, it’s likely that most organisations won’t have their own in-house cyber security skills.

For most companies, the best way to plug the cyber security skills gap is to call in organisations that offer an offsite security service. Even better, they can call in an organisation which provides the cyber security element on top of other useful offerings, like network and virtual data centre services (conveniently).

Going this route is making organisations’ total IT spend more efficient.

This is because you don’t have to invest in the infrastructure. By outsourcing, you can be flexible with the scope of the estate. You are also going to get better quality responses from analysts because they are keen to make sure you want to maintain the service.

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These analysts add an extra dimension to the organisation – you don’t have to hire them but they’re there. To cut a long story short, if and when the big alarm goes off (and something goes wrong), there’s always someone there to help fix it. An outsourced security team is probably going to give your organisation a lot more value than the 25-30% you’re currently spending on your IT budgets – their expertise will really give you more bang for your buck.

And crucially, you can switch this service on and off as you wish. The job of a Cyber Security Operations Centre (CSOC) is to be there to protect what really matters - when it matters.

Anyone can buy the tools to offer a cybersecurity service. You can buy a firewall quite easily – just pop onto the internet and order one. But the value lies in knowing what the output means – and which next steps to take. Your recently purchased firewall isn’t going to do you much good if you don’t know what it’s telling you. Therefore, most organisations need to bring in expert cyber security monitoring and advisement in order to get the best use out of their technology. And who wouldn’t want to do a better job whilst saving money?

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Multi-cloud and security challenges

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76% of organisations are implementing the cloud or already operating in it. And no wonder: Cloud can do great things for your organisation. It can provide increased data storage capacity, improved business continuity, and potential cost reduction. However, using the cloud brings significant security risks with it, including data loss and threats to data privacy.
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HSCN – A digital aid to vital health and care organisations

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When N3 contracts expired in March 2017, NHS Digital was faced with the challenge of replacing it. The idea was to replace a long-term single supplier contract with a marketplace of network options. 

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