Tech experts share their advice on all things business IT
The tech industry is incredibly fast-paced, and over the last few years, the business technology landscape has evolved rapidly. The impact of AI, specifically Chat-GPT, is being seen everywhere, and solutions that developed and grew in prevalence through the pandemic are now powering the widespread adoption of remote and hybrid working.
Sean Williams, infrastructure director at Akita, a leading provider of business IT support, managed IT services and business applications, with offices in Kent, Surrey and London, explains that this has presented unique opportunities. “New technologies have revolutionised the way businesses operate by enabling employees to work from anywhere, reducing the need for physical office spaces and delivering flexible working arrangements. As a result, we have witnessed increased productivity, and businesses have been given access to a much wider talent pool.”
These changes have made businesses more receptive to the potential of digital transformation within their operations. “Applications such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom were a necessity for pandemic working,” says Sean. “But the ease with which they’ve integrated into operations has left many organisations exploring what other solutions are available. Those that are doing so are now giving themselves a real competitive edge.”
The technology shift has, however, presented challenges. Sean recognises that organisations’ approach to cyber security has generally failed to keep pace with the changes. Remote working and access to business information across mobile devices now pose an increased risk to data security. Sadly, he points out, it often takes a security incident or financial loss for businesses to fully understand this.
Sean adds that, going forward, AI poses one of the biggest challenges for business. “On one hand, the productivity gains that we’ve already achieved at Akita with these tools are truly exceptional, but on the other, AI is also driving increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks and phishing campaigns that are far harder to detect by the average person. Thankfully, relatively simple and cost-effective IT security measures and practices are still effective against the large majority of these threats.”
Canterbury-based managed service provider (MSP) ADM Computing also identifies hybrid working as the biggest change to the digital landscape. “Up until three years ago, every ADM staff member was based at our Canterbury office or a client’s site,” explains IT advisor Warren Dunham, who boasts over 25 years of experience in the IT industry. “Now, unless you are a new starter, or in a role which requires you to be onsite, we offer hybrid working. Some staff prefer being primarily in the office while others like the flexibility that comes with hybrid working. We accommodate what we can. Now, if you multiply this experience over the majority of our clients, you will get an idea of the change for us as an IT services provider, as well as for our clients.”
Whilst flexible working can be beneficial to retain staff and improve services, at the same time, it provides challenges in terms of connectivity and security. “Information that can be used and accessed from home means staff who may not be able to work certain hours or shifts due to care responsibilities could now be available,” says Warren. “This is a significant benefit, however, the delivery of and access to information has to be as good as if the worker was in the office. Customers do not wish to experience a reduced service simply because the technology is not up to scratch.”
Reflecting on the ADM experience, Warren explains that a large part of the transition to flexible working was ensuring the company’s 50 service staff had everything required to fulfil their role efficiently. “Dual screens, docking stations, noise cancelling headsets and much more were shipped out to employees’ homes at the start of the pandemic. One thing which was essential for both internal communication and inbound/outbound phone calls was Microsoft Teams. Teams enabled our service engineers to stay connected from home, without compromising their ability to collaborate. I speak about our ADM experience, but it was very similar to what we delivered to our clients – sometimes on a much larger scale with hundreds of users, as well as with smaller businesses whose need for information is equally important.”
ADM Computing is one of the longest-established IT support companies in the South East. The firm provides a complete service to clients. This encompasses supporting IT infrastructure, managing workflow, connecting offices and homes, and ensuring data is secure. “We can provide what is called a managed service, whereby we take full responsibility for a client’s IT,” says Warren. “However, many clients start with us on a single area where they currently have gaps. For example, there may be excellent in-house IT staff who understand the business thoroughly, but their personal exposure to the best practices in data management is limited to their current employer. In this situation, the use of a company like ADM complements internal IT staff but does not replace them.”
Both cyber security and artificial intelligence are increasingly a focus for ADM Computing. The IT specialist has been running seminars across Kent and at Microsoft’s offices in London to advise clients and guests on what they should be aware of. “This has proved very beneficial because guests relax and learn from each other as well as us,” says Warren. “ADM staff will share IT best practices, and many of the organisations we work with share the same desires and challenges as you. We invite people to join us at the events we run.”
Kent-based Select Technology works with businesses across the South East, offering a full IT package that includes an award-winning service desk, digital transformation consultancy, cyber security support and a source and supply team that can hunt down the latest tech and equipment for clients.
Director Nick Potter explains: “For most people, IT is a necessity, almost akin to water! This seems like an over-exaggeration, but have you seen my kids after I’ve taken their phone or tablet off them!? For a business, IT is like an organ. When it’s working, you don’t notice it, but when it stops working or starts to slow down, suddenly everything unravels. This can have a direct effect on your customer’s experience and your team’s productivity, and be a monetary cost. Your IT needs to be reliable. That means investing to ensure that you have the right support when things go wrong and having an IT team behind you proactively monitoring and resolving potential issues.”
Lately, the Select Technology team have been working on a range of projects, including a full cloud migration for a smaller client, which, Nick says, will have a massive impact on their ability to scale, offering flexibility and saving in the long run. “We have also been supporting a few clients within the fresh produce industry with big location moves (one has a massive 137,365 sq ft building). This involves lots of new IT infrastructure, networking, wireless and system selection. The great thing is we can make sure that it’s future-proof, right and well-implemented. What’s more, our cyber security team have been supporting clients through their Cyber Essentials certification, which is always interesting, because each year the process develops as the security landscape changes. It’s not big changes, but subtle variations, and these are important to get right.”
To be successful in 2023 and the years to come, Nick advises keeping in constant communication with your IT partner and utilising the vast variety of digital tools available that can help to improve business processes and systems. “Consider AI tools, as an example,” he says. “Chat-GPT is now embedded in Bing and Edge. It’s also going to be released into Microsoft 365 (Word, PowerPoint and Excel) in the form of Co-Pilot, offering an amazing tool for supporting your teams to do more. If businesses can embrace AI as a tool to support their team, and not replace them, then they are likely to see higher output, improved quality and potentially greater growth opportunities.”
Nick, like many of us, acknowledges that tough times are on the horizon, with high interest rates, inflation and a cost-of-living crisis. “All together, it can make us want to reduce our spend and tighten our belts. However, continual investment is needed if you want to stay ahead of the competition. In my opinion, the key areas to invest in are technology, people and marketing.”
Cyber security solutions are the most popular IT investments
The purchase of cyber security solutions and services (66%), as well as cyber security training (57%), are the most popular IT investments among British businesses this year, according to research by NordLayer, a network security solution for businesses.
The majority of UK companies (61%) have in-house cyber security specialists to take care of that, while 22% outsource such services.
The same research shows that the most prominent types of cyberattacks in the UK from the last year were malware (43%), phishing (31%) and data breaches (26%). As a result, financial damage varies from losses of up to 5,000 GBP for 24% of companies and to over 10,000 GBP for 17% of surveyed UK companies. Numbers could be even higher because as much as 25% of companies could not disclose how much they lost due to cyber incidents.
So, what cyber security solutions are currently in use among UK companies? NordLayer’s research reveals a combination of different measures. Nearly eight out of 10 companies utilise antivirus software (79%), while password (63%) and file encryption (66%) managing solutions are the second-highest priority when creating security policies within organisations at the moment.
Business virtual private networks (VPNs) maintain their popularity in securing organisation network connections, with over half (55%) of companies using them. Cyber insurance (56%) is a relatively new solution making its way to business cyber security, although its focus is on covering the consequences of an incident rather than preventing it.
Spending on cyber security solutions, services and applications will remain a priority (66%) in the 2023 budget. However, British companies will devote less budget to employee cyber security training (57%), hiring dedicated staff for cyber security questions (47%) and external cyber security audits (45%).
The research shows that more than a quarter of UK companies (26%) plan to allocate up to 24% of their organisational budget for IT needs in 2023.
Google is offering free AI training courses, but will this be enough to overcome the UK skills shortage?
Following new research from Salesforce, which finds a staggering 75% of UK workers do not feel ready to operate in a digital world, tech giant Google is launching a set of training courses to show Brits how AI can be used at work. This comes as the Digital Exclusion report finds five million workers will be acutely under-skilled in basic digital skills by 2030.
With AI now becoming a key focus for economies on the global stage, Claire Trachet, tech industry expert and CEO of business advisory firm Trachet, highlights the need for a combined effort between tech giants and the government to focus on upskilling its tech workforce.
There remains a skills shortage across the UK, with two-thirds (66%) of large UK businesses stating they struggle to recruit employees with the skills they need. Therefore, the need to recruit experts and professionals in technology roles becomes increasingly essential. To combat this, Google’s sessions help teach and provide Brits with information about how AI can boost productivity in the workplace.
AI continues to serve as a cause for optimism, having contributed roughly £3.7bn in value to the UK economy, as well as attracting almost £19bn in private investment through 2022. However, the need for skilled workers in this sector is crucial to safeguard consumers and businesses from any potential risks.
According to Claire, whilst it is pleasing to see the UK capitalising on the economic benefits of AI – it is also important for the government to create a sufficient workforce that can work effectively with this technology.
Claire explains: “Whilst Google’s approach in helping the UK workforce is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done to ensure the workforce can effectively use and manage AI. It would be great to see the government partnering with tech firms in this area to provide better support for companies across the UK, helping them to unleash AI’s potential positively and safely.”
Due to the fast-growing nature of AI, the government also needs to propose clear regulation that will balance driving innovation across the economy and safeguarding the interests of consumers and businesses. “As the AI space is so fast-paced, establishing effective regulation can be difficult,” says Claire. “One thing that can be done, is to put a clear responsibility onto the boards of these AI companies so that they prioritise the safeguarding surrounding their products at all times.”
Areas of IT SMEs should be focusing on in 2023
Fluidity is a managed service provider (MSP) that extends comprehensive IT support and services to businesses, encompassing IT infrastructure management, network and security solutions, cloud services, data backup and disaster recovery, IT consulting and full IT support.
Director Adam Kenton explains that, lately, the team have been engrossed in several stimulating projects aimed at enhancing the IT capabilities of Fluidity’s clients. “We have been focusing on implementing cloud-based solutions for improved scalability and remote accessibility, as well as strengthening cyber security measures to protect against evolving cyber threats. On top of this, we have assisted businesses in integrating a Microsoft 365 first approach and automation to optimise workflows and decision-making, and have developed IT strategies to align with our clients’ specific business goals. We provide proactive support, monitoring and continuous maintenance to ensure seamless operations and minimise downtime for our clients.”
As a modern-aligned MSP, Fluidity’s most valuable piece of IT advice to SMEs is to prioritise digital transformation and IT security strategies in 2023. “Embracing technology and leveraging its potential can significantly enhance your competitive edge and operational efficiency,” says Adam.
Here are some key areas that SMEs should focus on in 2023:
- Digital transformation: SMEs should assess their current IT infrastructure and processes to identify areas for improvement. Embracing cloud computing, automation and advanced analytics can streamline operations and boost productivity.
- Cyber security: As cyber threats continue to evolve, SMEs must invest in robust cyber security measures. Implementing next-generation firewalls, regular security audits and employee cyber security training can fortify their defences against potential cyberattacks.
- Data privacy and compliance: With stricter data privacy regulations coming into effect, SMEs need to ensure compliance with these laws. Proper data management, encryption and access controls should be implemented to protect sensitive customer information.
- Remote work and collaboration: As remote work becomes more prevalent, SMEs should invest in secure remote work infrastructure and collaboration tools. This will enable their teams to work efficiently from anywhere while maintaining data security.
- Customer experience: SMEs should prioritise improving their digital customer experience. Adopting customer relationship management (CRM) systems and leveraging data analytics can help them gain insights into customer behaviour and preferences.
- AI and automation: Integrating artificial intelligence and automation into business processes can lead to increased efficiency and accuracy. SMEs should explore AI-driven solutions to enhance decision-making and optimise various tasks.
- Scalability and flexibility: A modern-aligned MSP can assist SMEs in building scalable and flexible IT solutions that can adapt to changing business requirements. This allows them to grow without being limited by outdated technology.