By Andy Bird CEO of Inoapps www.inoapps.com
Named after the mythical animal Unicorn businesses are, as their name suggests, extremely rare. To qualify, an organization needs a valuation of $1bn. These are companies that, through their continued success and ability to manage growth, attract many hundreds of millions of dollars from investors and banks alike. There is much debate though about how a business might become a unicorn and which ones are most likely to make it.
When it was reported recently that specialist technology investment bank GP Bullhound had identified my own company Inoapps, as one of twelve potential Scottish Unicorns; it was naturally an important milestone for us. We had been recognised for our rapid global growth as an Oracle Platinum Partner across EMEA, APAC and the Americas. This assessment had also recognised our potential to grow further and our ability to attract significant funding.
So it is speaking from experience then, as the head of a potential Unicorn, that I can see a number of opportunities and hurdles that either promote or negate a company achieving such significant growth. These are factors that will either sway or deter the favour of banks and other investors, differentiating a ‘potential unicorn’ from those organisations whose ambitions will always remain commercially mythical. To me, the key issue is one of getting the right IT infrastructure to support the levels of rapid and significant growth required. However, often, this need to transform a company’s financial and IT systems only becomes apparent to these organisations during key financial events, once new second stage investors start to get involved.
These are the financial events that transform the prospects of already fast growing companies, by catapulting them into a whole different league. This could be an IP listing or more often the need to identify new and significant sources of funding future growth. For rapidly growing enterprises, successfully attracting fresh funding is of paramount importance. Before an IP listing or signing off on a fresh funding round, banks and investors apply considerable scrutiny to the fast growing organisations that court them. However, this scrutiny doesn’t just apply to the finances or corporate treasury history. Banks and investors also closely examine the IT systems and administrative infrastructure that these fast growing companies have in place.
This systems scrutiny, by potential funders, seeks to reveal whether the right infrastructure is in place to support on-going growth should they choose to invest. It’s a natural process of risk reduction. Naturally, the investors’ fear is that the wrong systems will seriously damage the company’s prospects should they fail to keep pace when further growth is at hand.
Investors would like to see these companies upgrade to flexible Cloud based technologies that not only support growth and flexible working practices (such as mobile working) but that can also encourage innovation. Most importantly, such modern best-practice Cloud technology is incredibly scalable too – and able to cope with even the most rapid growth scenarios. As Unicorns are potentially quite different businesses, both banks and investors realise that if you are going to build something significant that is truly scalable globally, then you need a software core that really makes the most of the organisation’s potential. New back-office Cloud technology can enable this and do so quickly.
We frequently see this type of scenario occur with young, rapidly expanding Professional, Business and Financial services companies. Potentially, these include a number of companies that are ultimately destined for Unicorn status themselves. Typically, though, as these are organisations that have focused initially on securing rapid growth; a great deal of their early IT investment has been deployed to support their customer-facing and front-end operations. Thus, by the time they come to secure additional funding, they have often outgrown their original back-office systems and the back-office software they are using is wholly inadequate. Indeed, it is not unusual to find fast growing mid-market companies still cobbling their financial back-office data together with a mixture of entry-level accounting systems & spreadsheets.
The situation is little better with those using aging on-premise ERP systems. Here, over conservative FDs expect their IT staff to drive the choice of new back-office systems; whilst remaining fairly detached from the day-to-day implementation processes. The upgraded system could then take several years to get right and is deployed at considerable expense. Indeed, we have heard of long and complex on-premise upgrades costing more than £1m, which did not deliver any new functionality at all. These days the banks and investors just won’t wait that long and expect far more.
In contrast, by moving to the Cloud for application areas such as ERP and HCM, most systems’ weaknesses can be quickly overcome, often in just a matter of a few months. In addition, once transformed, the modern best-practice systems used in the back-office deliver superior levels of management reporting and analytics. This facilitates better business decision taking, budgeting and planning.
Another interesting factor, which we have noticed with these fast growing companies, is the appearance of a new breed of switched-on CFO. This new generation of CFO is far more hands-on and keen to identify new solutions that provide a structured, disciplined and future proofed alternative that is cost–effective. They are also aware of the kind of scrutiny they are likely to face. They have witnessed too how Cloud applications have permeated the mainstream and they are aware of the low entry-costs that this particular technology can deliver, together with a host of other best-practice benefits.
This new breed of CFO is also aware that there are a number of vendors that supply Cloud business software. With the technology’s incredible scalability, these modern CFOs see the clear advantages of buying multiple cloud applications from just one provider, where the apps are designed to work together, thereby eliminating any integration costs. As a result, the CFOs can acquire a complete range of modern and fully integrated best-practice Cloud systems quickly on a cash flow friendly OPEX basis. This approach also ensures an impressively low Total Cost of Ownership.
At Inoapps, we understand these benefits fully. We faced the same level of investor scrutiny in advance of our own financial event; receiving a £10 million investment of growth capital from BGF (Business Growth Fund), the independent company established to provide growth capital to UK businesses. For us an Oracle Platinum Partner we implemented integrated Cloud applications across our own finance, HR and sales & marketing operations. We made the move so that it was evident to investors that we had both strong financial control and a framework that supported growth through innovation. From a business point of view, this also gave us a very clear understanding of the needs of other fast growing companies seeking to achieve the same output.
So whilst not all fast growing companies might end up as Unicorns, it is clear to me that moving to the Cloud can provide a range of integrated cost-effective solutions that support the levels of sales growth and innovation required for commercial success. In addition, the cash flow friendly, methods by which these systems are available also fits naturally with a ‘need for speed’ once the pressure from investors gains momentum. The decision whether to carry on though with inadequate systems, or to make the move to the Cloud, is of course ultimately a choice that FDs, CFOs and their respective boards have to make for themselves. However, the chances are that in making the move to the Cloud, they will have the IT to deliver and support legendary performance levels for their business. If they don’t, they might find that their ability to generate & support further growth is purely just a mythical aspiration.
What does cybersecurity look like for the financial sector in 2021?
By Neill Lawson-Smith, managing director at CIS
The landscape is changing incredibly fast, with cybercriminals using the most up-to-date technology to hack systems. Here are the six areas those in finance should be watching out for…
The finance and insurance sector is increasingly becoming a notable target for cyber attacks. Many of these breaches happening are believed to be due to inadequate security measures when teams or businesses are using cloud services.
The financial industry is also being affected by changes in processes with more fintech, virtual banks, and other digital disruptors impacting the market. The landscape is changing incredibly fast, with cybercriminals using the most up-to-date technology to hack systems, so it is therefore up to the financial sector to keep up to avoid security breaches.
What does this look like for the year ahead in the financial sector? Here are the Six areas those in finance should be watching out for:
- AI securityand cyber defence
Both Cybercriminals and cyber defence are commonly using Artificial Intelligence (AI). In cybersecurity, it is used to identify new threats, as well as assess the effectiveness of the responses to threats, enabling them to foresee and essentially block attacks before they happen. It is also used to spot behavioural patterns and can quickly identify possible infiltrations.
Hackers have also started to use AI to make it easier for them to get past security systems in place. This year, it is likely that AI will be increasingly used as a means of gaining personal details (i.e. credit card details) as well as optimising spam phishing campaigns.
- Mobile cybersecurity in banking
With the number of consumers using their mobile devices for banking and financial transactions increasing, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has rendered society predominantly cashless, cybercriminals have been heavily targeting mobile systems. For example, mobile malware only targets mobile phone operating systems. The most common forms of mobile malware are virus and trojans, spyware and madware (mobile adware), phishing campaigns, and browser exploits.
This means it is now more important than ever to protect mobile devices to the same extent as traditional hardware.
The same protocols that are in place to ensure your staff PCs and laptops are secure now, need to also be applied to their mobile devices as well, such as:
- Ensuring the latest versions of the operating system and other applications are installed.
- Installing a firewall.
- Enabling mobile security software to protect against malware and viruses.
- Using password protected lock screens.
- Ensuring apps are only downloaded from official sites like Apple App store and Google Play.
- Multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to all your business networks by ensuring every transaction or login is supported by at least two security measures for access. It is one of the easiest security measures to implement within your business and is becoming more common within the financial sector for many transactions. The traditional username and password are becoming increasingly easy for cybercriminals to acquire, whereas adding an extra identification method, that is not easily accessible to the hackers, ensures an extra layer of protection.
The most commonly used multi-factor authentication methods are:
- Passwords – They should be complex and comprise at least eight characters and be a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters.
- One-time use code – A randomly generated code sent via SMS or email which is used only once. With weaknesses in mobile networks and email accounts, these can however be intercepted by hackers.
- App generated codes – a code generated by an app on a mobile phone often created by scanning a QR code that contains a ‘key’. As the key is stored on the phone itself this is less likely to be intercepted by a third party.
- Physical authentication keys – this is a USB which the user inserts every time they login from a new computer. Unfortunately, they don’t work on all devices without adapters (such as iPhone, MacBook or Android).
- Biometrics – Using a fingerprint, voice, or an eye dent is an effective identifier. They are extremely difficult to hack but if they are, they cannot be used ever again for anything.
- Information – this could be something that only the user would know – either a password or a piece of information.
Most of these methods are free or relatively cheap to implement and don’t require anything other than a mobile phone for the user. The added security of multi-factor authentication means even if a hacker has acquired a username/password combination there is still an extra security barrier preventing access.
- Refined testing
As the finance industry is constantly changing, then so too are the security threats. Financial cybersecurity is an ongoing commitment, so installing new anti-virus software and implementing MFA, and stopping there is not going to keep you protected for long. It requires ensuring software and firewalls are up to date as well as ensuring access is regularly updated. In addition to this constant maintenance regular testing of the systems is essential. All systems have vulnerabilities, and as these change, cybercriminals learn to overcome them, and therefore software develops.
One thing to remember is that it is not possible to be over-cautious when it comes to cybersecurity. Regular penetration testing essentially identifies any weaknesses in your systems before the cyber criminals do. It is essential to schedule penetration testing or vulnerability scans at least once a quarter unless compliance dictates otherwise. They can be carried out using a vulnerability scanner.
- Hiring the right people
It is crucial to have the right team on hand to ensure your systems are up to date, regularly tested and maintained is essential.
Your IT team should have the following skills and knowledge:
- Knowledge and understanding of the company’s IT infrastructure
- Knowledge of cybersecurity best practices
- Understanding of company processes and data flows
- Up to date knowledge of cybersecurity solutions
- Plan a Defence, Prepare for Attack…
Although businesses can take many precautions, there are limitations on skills, investment and timescales in implementing a comprehensive cybersecurity infrastructure, it is essential that appropriate procedures, policies and processes are established to ensure that an appropriate response is carried out in the event of a detection – whether manual or ideally automated – so that whenever an attack occurs, the appropriate and proportionate response is carried out immediately to limit any further damage or intrusion.
Data protection: it’s time to reassess your security strategy
By Tony Pepper, CEO of Egress
It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm of cybersecurity risk. External threats are heightened, but there’s also a higher level of internal risk too, exacerbated by home working. With most financial services organisations planning to continue with mass remote working for the foreseeable future, it’s important for security teams to review their strategy and assess whether it still works in this new landscape. When it comes to insider threat, there are three key areas that IT leaders should focus on: building a positive culture around security, understanding their organisation’s level of risk and protecting their people.
- Build a security-positive culture
Many organisations have unknowingly instilled a security-negative culture among their employees, where people are punished or shamed if they cause a security incident. While they might think that this would discourage employees from causing data breaches for fear of repercussions, this actually makes your organisation less secure. Our Outbound Email Security Report found that 62% of organisations rely on their people to report email data breach incidents – and if employees are too afraid to come forward, that means your business is at risk of developing a security blind spot.
A security negative culture won’t actually prevent data breaches caused by human error, something which organisations need to recognize as largely unavoidable without technological intervention; it just delays remediation, which makes every incident worse. By creating a security-positive culture, you can better engage and educate employees, as well as ensure you’re able to rapidly triage any incidents if they occur.
- Understand your risk
When mapping out your risk, you’ll likely find that the picture looks very different to how it did even a year ago. In the past, organisations have focused on their networks and their devices when it came to security strategy. While these are vital areas for consideration, what hasn’t been as well-addressed to date is the human aspect of risk, particularly human error. You need to look closely at the tools that your employees are using daily to facilitate digital communication with clients and colleagues, including when sending sensitive information.
Employees are specifically using email more than ever before – our recent research found that 94% of organisations are sending more emails due to Covid-19, with one-in-two IT leaders reporting an increase of more than 50%. With this expansion of email volumes comes an increase in the risk that an email containing sensitive data might be misdirected. Remote working has also heightened the threat – our research found that 35% of organisations’ serious email data breaches were caused by remote working. Why? The causes lie in their behavior and the environments in which they operate. Some individuals may feel they’re able to take more risks away from the “watchful eyes” of their Security team, and every employee is faced with a myriad of distractions that make them more likely to make a mistake.
It’s time for organisations to take stock of their risk by looking at where gaps in their security might exist – and provide safety nets for their employees that can automatically detect and mitigate inadvertent data breaches and risky behaviour.
- Protect your people
It goes without saying that not all data breaches are caused by malicious activity. An overwhelming amount of data breaches are caused by hardworking employees making honest mistakes, from sending an email to the wrong person to responding to a phishing attack. Unfortunately, human error is an unavoidable part of life, and mistakes will happen. In the past, many organisations have taken the approach that employee error can be ‘trained away’, embarking on comprehensive security training programs in the hope that security incidents might decrease.
Unfortunately, if that were the case, then employee activated data breaches would be a thing of the past! Organisations need to employ a multifaceted approach when it comes to avoiding accidental insider data breaches – education and training remain an important element, but ultimately businesses need to implement the right technology to provide a safety net for their people. Many organisations have legacy DLP solutions in place that cannot mitigate the risk as they fail to fully understand employees’ behaviour.
Often, these tools stand in the way of productivity, prompting users even when there isn’t a legitimate risk. When click fatigue sets in, these solutions become ineffective, with users ignoring prompts whenever they appear. Luckily, advances in machine learning mean that there’s technology available to prevent insider data breaches such as misdirected email, by deeply understanding the way that users behave and the context in which they share data, to ensure emails are sent to the right recipients with the right level of security.
The vast majority of organizations will never go back to every employee working full time within the office environment, instead post-pandemic we will see a myriad of different approaches – with some based in the office, while others work at home part or full-time, and as the world opens up again, their locations may change throughout the day. To mitigate risks from inadvertent errors to intentional data exfiltration, CISOs must address their security culture and protect their human layer with intelligent controls that mitigate employees’ behaviors and stop breaches before they happen.
Sumitomo Life Insurance Selects Talend to Build Company’s Data Infrastructure
Leading life insurer uses Talend in data lake environment for data analytics
Talend (NASDAQ: TLND), a global leader in data integration and data integrity, announced today that Sumitomo Life Insurance Company, one of the Japan’s leading life insurance companies, has selected Talend Data Fabric for its data analytics infrastructure.
Sumitomo Life aims to become the most trusted and supported company by its stakeholders, including its customers, and to grow sustainably and stably. Sumitomo Life’s vision is to offer advanced products to enable customers to live vigorously. To respond to that, the company is developing and delivering cutting-edge products that respond to its customers’ current and expected futures needs in areas focusing on nursing care, medical insurance and retirement planning.
“With the trust from our customers as the starting point of all our activities, Sumitomo Life is providing optimal life insurance services to every person through the sound management of the insurance business,” said Mr. Masakazu Ohta, General Manager in Charge of Information System Department at Sumitomo Life. “As a new approach, it was necessary to build a common foundation for big data management, and Talend is the driver. Talend’s superiority in cloud implementation, development productivity, features, and licensing model convinced us to be part of this journey together.”
To meet the needs of its customers and offer them innovative products and services, Sumitomo Life has decided to build a foundation for data analysis (Sumisei Data Platform) in the cloud for the promotion of new insurance products. The company evolved its legacy data environment to the new environment where they can store the data extracted from various systems both on-premises and effectively in the cloud.
In order to meet the needs of each individual customer and provide the best insurance for them, Sumitomo Life uses Talend Data Fabric as the hub of its data infrastructure. This manages data across the organization and integrates data into a data lake, which makes them able to utilize data across the company.
“We have been able to release projects with the continuous support of Talend, even amid the changing business environment in the Covid-19 crisis. We will continue to collaborate with Talend in order to actively promote company-wide data analysis projects,” added Mr. Ohta.
“The insurance market is one of the most competitive sectors. By facing tight regulations and complex customer needs, companies must be at the forefront of innovation to offer even more services and new products to its customers,” said Kenji Tsunoda, Country Manager Japan, at Talend. “Talend helped Sumitomo Life reinvent its data-driven infrastructure to provide a data management platform that enables the development of advanced products for its customers. We are delighted to support Sumitomo Life in the pursuit of their vision.”
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