The Future of CX in Retail - Expert Opinion: An Interview with Manuela Pifani

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Manuela is the founder of the CX consultancy CXellence and has been working with prominent organisations across private and public sectors to help them improve their customer experience focus and capabilities (www.cxellence.com).She is a multi-award winner and CCXP certified executive business leader with a strong track record of over 15 years of experience in leading and transforming the customer experience for the FTSE100 international organisations she has worked for during her corporate career in Financial Services and Retail.

From your perspective as a CX expert, what would you say are the main challenges retailers are facing in 2019?

My personal view is that many retailers have not taken seriously enough what is happening in the sector and the fundamental changes in consumers' expectations, which are defining the way they want to shop. Firstly, customers now expect the ultimate convenience, in terms of ease of access to what they need through online 1-click purchases, real time click & collect or seamless cross-channel interactions. Secondly, they want immediate gratification, where the prompt availability or delivery of products at the best prices is taken for granted - compounded by very low levels of tolerance for bad service or poor quality. Thirdly, they have developed a 'me' mentality, expecting a personalised and relevant service, tailor made to who they are and what they need. Finally, all this is augmented by the fact that the internet has given consumers power by democratising information, providing them with access to product choice, information and ratings, so if you fail to meet those expectations, they will shop elsewhere.

These trends have been either underestimated or misunderstood by many retailers, like the recently collapsed Maplin, Toys'R'Us and House of Fraser, who seem to have made three big strategic errors:

  • Introducing technological solutions as an end in themselves, without starting from customer needs, e.g. creating online purchasing channels as a duplication of the offline ones;
  • Ignoring the fundamental question of why customers should purchase from them rather than from Amazon - and therefore not capitalising on any value-adding differentiators;
  • And linked to the above, failing to rethink the role physical stores should play in an omnichannel shopping experience.


Do you feel that bricks-and-mortar retailers are 'behind the curve' when it comes to the adoption of technology?

Probably yes, as they have been hiding behind the perceived strength of their high street presence. Many have developed online capabilities to replicate what customers can do in store, without truly rethinking how the two channels should be redesigned and seamlessly integrated to deliver a complementarily improved customer experience. Only offering online purchase and click & collect services is not enough to optimise this.

But also, many retailers are very slow in rethinking the role of the store within the omnichannel shopping experience. In a world where they can select and buy everything online, customers often go to stores to complete what they cannot do online (at least yet) to finalise their purchasing decision, like touching and feeling the products, assessing quality or fit, asking technical questions, planning or visualising the end result etc. However, most stores still offer only a crammed display of products lined up on dusty shelves, without enough expert staff or the type of experiential immersion or educational overlay customers expect.

What are some of the limitations you see in how retailers are currently using technology? (For example, adopting technology to reduce costs rather than empowering the customer experience, or only selling their products rather than added value.)

Many still don't even get the basics right, with clunky purchase, delivery or collection processes, which are the result of poor stock, data or service management. Who wants to wait for weeks for an item to be dispatched, then stay at home a whole day for the courier to show up? But also, the lack of clear customer-centric strategic focus means that they are not able to explore the opportunities presented by technology to revolutionise the shopping experience, both online and offline, to meet those expectations of convenience, immediacy and personalisation.

Can you give an example of a retailer who is using technology to its full potential to improve its customer experience and add value?

I do not think anybody is using technology to its full potential yet. However, some organisations have used it well in some areas. For example, Argos, who as an old-fashioned catalogue-based retailer was at risk of ending up in the list of recent casualties, has cleverly evolved its business model to transform the store into an extension of the online experience, to cater for some of the reasons I mentioned above - immediate collection, product inspection, easy returns, while maintaining wide choice at good prices. They also improved accessibility, by creating small collection points within partners' premises in high traffic areas like supermarkets and stations. Simple and functional, but effective.

How do you see the role of the physical store evolving in the future - and do you agree that physical stores will fail without incorporating the Omnichannel experience (AR, AI, ML)?

No, I don't think they will fail because of that, but they will not prosper neither. As I mentioned before, I believe that physical stores need to offer the immersive and relevant experiences customers expect. Whether it's Lush's explosion of the senses or Lego's engaging environment, or it's IKEA's physical or AR home recreations, the store is no longer only about selling products, but it also needs to sell experiences and facilitate the customer journey. Using that type of technology is not essential, but can definitely help with improving the customer experience.

How can retailers introduce AR, AI and Machine Learning in order to leverage data and improve the customer experience?

Using that technology in the right way within physical stores can add an extra level of interactivity, personalisation or audience engagement, e.g. through touchscreen display content, virtual reality experiences, immersive product demonstrations or AR stands. The key is to introduce these as solutions to clearly identified customer needs rather than as stand-alone gimmicks or marketing campaigns. These capabilities are equally important online to deliver rich, relevant and interactive content or transform conventional websites into immersive VR experiences.

Where do you see the industry going forward, both this year and beyond?

Unfortunately, I believe that there will be more casualties in the sector, as too many retailers are not rethinking strategically enough the complementary role of physical stores and technology to meet customers' expectations and improve their experience. They need to understand that stores and websites are no longer only about selling products.

I also believe that technology will be increasingly use­d to create rich, interactive and immersive experiences both online and offline. It will enable retailers to play on the senses and stimulate and engage customers in a much more immediate and personalised way. It will also enable them to teach and educate customers, and to communicate with them in more effective ways, translating complex information into insightful and easy to understand content. The added value and experiential benefits delivered by the right use of technology will enable these retailers to deliver rich and differentiated customer experiences, and therefore drive sustainable value growth.

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Making sense of the Cloud-buzz: what quick wins are available to establish Business and Security value?

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On Thursday 25th April, Exponential-e held a Financial Services and Insurance roundtable event at 'M Restaurant' in Victoria, London. The event brought together leading figures from these two sectors to share their experience of Cloud adoption and the benefits it can provide to businesses.

The conversation was kicked off by guest speaker Steve Deakin, Head of Development and Operations at Lloyds of London, discussing his experiences of Cloud and the client perspective. Next followed Nick Robinson, Systems Engineering Manager at Palo Alto Networks, who provided a view of real world innovations and shared Cloud success stories that he has seen from his clients across EMEA.

Here is a high level summary and description of the quick wins that were discussed:

The Process:

  • Learn -> Hack -> Iterate


Horizon Scanning & DevOps with an AGILE mind-set

  • Microsites and Micro services that are already trialled, tested and robust from an architecture and security perspective - this enables one to rapidly deploy new products and services, websites etc. with security peace of mind.
  • Serverless - just focus on writing codes and you can make changes in microseconds! It is easy to deploy, low cost, gives you more time to focus on UX and is more efficient for developers by ensuring you are keeping code backed up and in a secure environment.
  • Grid Data Analyst - overcome floods and complexity of big data and unlock the power of analytics with the right data in the right place.


Cybersecurity

  • OWASP Top 10 - whilst the threat landscape remains consistent year on year, everyone should make sure they are aligned to the latest as it evolves. Assuming the top 10 remains unchanged or that changes are incremental such as low priority to action, can lead to vulnerabilities. www.owasp.org
  • NCSC - The National Cyber Security Centre is an organisation of the United Kingdom Government that provides advice and support for the public and private sector on how to avoid computer security threats. www.ncsc.go.uk
  • Ethical Hacking - this should be continuously implemented - leverage Pen testers and vulnerability scanning as much as possible in order to follow best practices and processes - Learn -> Hack -> Iterate.
  • Social Engineering was also discussed, not so much as a quick win due to the complexity (get the simple things right first) however, advised to leverage Pen testers to protect your business from bad actors that use social engineering tactics.
  • Multi Factor Authentication – we discussed how this is a very low hanging and important measure to put in place. Leverage MFA to 1) require individuals to provide two or more authentication factors to confirm their identity for online transactions or to gain access to corporate applications, networks and servers and 2) insight and reports on the user's activity. Identity (IAM) and Privilege Access Management (PAM) were also mentioned as a further way to secure your business.
  • Security Information and Event management (SIEM) - leverage SIEMS as a means to log attacks. An IT Service Provider can provide an important layer of service to proactively manage, monitor and report on what the SIEM is seeing on a 24/7 365 basis.


Cloud Patterns


Data Lakes

  • Building out centralised repository for enterprise data, for tasks such as reporting, visualization, analytics and machine learning - leveraging cloud partners to build out big data solutions.


A debate for another day

  • DevOps and Open Source software is and will continue to be the main target for bad actors, they hold the code (the crown jewels). Should such resources have locked or unlocked internet access? On one hand it offers flexibility and agility, on the other it is more locked down and has a stronger argument from a security perspective.


#Azure #AWS #CloudPatterns #Cybersecurity #OWASP #NCSC #DevOps #HorizonScanning #EthicalHacking #Digital Transformation

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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.

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.

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.

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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