By Ritam Gandhi, CEO and Founder, Studio Graphene\
In just a few short months, coronavirus has brought our working culture into the spotlight. While flexible working had been an ongoing topic of conversation within the professional community, it was impossible to foresee how close we were to the brink of a working revolution.
The lockdown experience has pushed us firmly towards remote working, and the consequences are going to be substantial. Technological developments have sharply diminished the need for all office staff to be located in a central building, and many workplaces have woken up to the fact that it really is possible – if not more efficient – to conduct business from the remit of employees’ own homes.
The shift to digital, however, has also uncovered a massive tech divide within, and between, businesses. Here at Studio Graphene, we recently conducted a survey to uncover the difficulties that businesses have faced as they made the transition to remote working. Here’s what we found…
Businesses were unprepared
One thousand UK businesses were polled to better understand how they responded to the official lockdown announced at the end of March 2020. The standout finding from our research is that businesses of all sizes were not adequately equipped for this sudden change – from not having the right hardware and software in place, to lacking the digital skills needed to adapt, half of UK businesses admitted they were unprepared.
Over a third (39%) of businesses did not already use technology that made remote working easy when the lockdown began, which meant that many were forced to quickly adjust to the new conditions. 72% of large businesses, those with over 250 employees, had to invest in new hardware such as laptops and smart devices so that their staff could work remotely. This compares with just 19% of microbusinesses and 56% of small businesses.
Large companies were also caught out by a lack of appropriate software, with almost two thirds (62%) having to invest in new software solutions such as Zoom and Slack.
On a more positive note, businesses have also taken the opportunity to upskill their staff to help them better manage the transition. Four in ten businesses have offered digital skills training in light of the move to remote working, with this figure reaching 72% across large companies.
Here’s how to close the digital divide
There is a big difference between flexible working and effective flexible working. As the research demonstrates, while many companies were able to successfully pivot their operations, many difficulties arose in the process that hindered employees’ abilities to effectively manage their workloads from home.
A big opportunity exists here for businesses to rethink their models. Lockdown has required businesses to invest more heavily in technology and supporting staff, and we must continue to build on this momentum.
As a starting point, maintaining a minimal level of digital literacy across the entire business is key to adopting a long-term digital strategy. All employees should be comfortable and confident using hardware and software that is common to their business operations – whether this is Microsoft Office products or communications software like Slack.
Instead of taking a blanket approach to training, I would also encourage business leaders to tailor their digital training based on the specific requirements of the workforce. Take time to uncover what skills are already present within teams, and understand where gaps might exist in employees’ capabilities.
In this respect, smaller-scale initiatives could prove more effective at helping employees get up to speed in different areas. Managers need to create high quality development programmes that chime with employees’ individual career aspirations, the requisites of the business, and the wider needs of the labour market. For instance, some professions might require higher degrees of literacy; comprehensive training in more complex and specialist technologies such as AI and VR will help those employees nurture their skills and remain competitive.
To create a workforce of the future, the duty to enhance in-house skills should not be viewed as a one-off job. In today’s business environment, continuous learning is an essential tool for developing a competitive workforce. Indeed, according to Deloitte, employees at all levels expect flexible and ongoing learning opportunities from their employer. The digital world is constantly evolving, and successful companies will be those that can adapt quickly and effectively – ensuring that all workers have a solid base of digital skills to rely on.
As companies embrace remote working, there is one final point to note: the importance of connectedness. Studio Graphene’s research revealed that 29% of employees have felt isolated and out-of-the-loop from the rest of their organisation since working remotely, despite keeping in touch through business communication technologies.
This just goes to show that effective digital strategies also require managers to constantly review and upgrade their digital systems to ensure they truly serve their purpose. If they do not foster collaboration and allow colleagues to work together seamlessly, it might be time to replace platforms that no longer meet the needs of the team. With large sections of the labour market potentially seeking more permanent flexible working arrangements, businesses cannot overlook the importance of keeping their teams positive and productive.
Not everybody can work from home and there are some activities that necessitate being physically present on site. I encourage those businesses that are able to facilitate remote working, however, to wake up to the benefits on offer and support their staff as they find working arrangements that work best for them.
How sustainable AI improves the triple bottom line
An investment in green AI enables financial services firms to align people, profit, and planet
By Nick Dale, EVP business development, Verne Global
Green investing is widely regarded as a mega trend, with chief executive Larry Fink of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, stating, “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects … awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”
The recent seismic shift in public opinion about climate change has not only increased attention on the sustainability and societal impact of investing in a company, it’s also influencing the decisions being made in finance industry boardrooms overall, whether that’s implementing innovative business models or adopting new partnerships and technologies. However, as business leaders strive to make green choices, many are unaware of the hidden environmental costs of the technologies they are employing.
AI in the finance industry
The use of AI has become ubiquitous across industry sectors, and is now an integral part of the technologies being used in financial services, from optimising asset portfolios and underwriting loans to assessing risks.
AI is especially beneficial for things like quantitative trading, which uses large data sets to identify patterns that can then inform strategic trades. AI’s machine learning models can analyse vast and complex data and make predictions accordingly. But AI models are not only data-hungry, they are power hungry.
Supercomputers train and test mountains of data for AI models, and can run 24-hours a day, for hours, days, or even weeks. These applications consume huge amounts of energy, and as AI technology continues to grow and develop, the computations behind it are also increasing in size and complexity. The carbon emissions from training a single AI model for language translation is roughly equivalent to 125 round-trip flights from New York to Beijing (AI Now 2019 Report).
The carbon cost of AI becomes even higher when you factor in the energy required to keep the computing equipment housed in data centres cool – overheating can impact performance and damage equipment. As a result, in a conventional data centre, at least 40% of all energy consumed goes towards cooling.
But sustainable AI is possible if financial services organisations take positive steps to minimise its environmental impact.
Minimising AI’s carbon footprint
Location, location, location
Many tech giants are committing to reducing their carbon footprint, with Amazon pledging to reach 80% renewable energy by 2024, and Google investing in data centres in Nordic countries specifically for better energy efficiency.
This is because in the Nordics, data centres are largely powered by renewable energy sources. Iceland, in particular, uses 100% renewable hydroelectric and geothermal power – with no nuclear power sources – and is connected to a reliable power grid. These renewable energy sources are much less harmful to the environment because, unlike fossil fuels, they don’t cause pollution and don’t generate greenhouse gases. Not to mention, renewable energy is based on natural resources that can be replenished within an average human lifetime, as compared to fossil fuels, which can take thousands—or even millions—of years to replace.
Over 80% of compute doesn’t need to be near the end-user, and in those situations, choosing data centre locations in cool climates has a significant impact on carbon emissions. AI compute can be located in places like Iceland, which can utilise all-year-round, free cooling due to its temperate climate.
Data centres that are located in hot climates, like Arizona in the US, require high-powered cooling systems in operation around the clock. With average high temperatures of 40° Celsius in the summer, these data centres can use up to 4 million gallons of water a day to absorb heat through evaporation into cooling towers. Consequently, when location doesn’t hamper performance or accessibility, housing AI compute in data centres with natural cooling is a no-brainer.
Energy efficient and cost-effective
Many in the financial sector have traditionally viewed sustainability as a trade-off between profit and planet, but when it comes to green AI, financial services firms can have it both ways. By housing the servers that train AI models in data centres powered by renewable energy sources, businesses can substantially reduce energy expenses and benefit from long-term, fixed pricing.
And when renewable energy sources are combined with year-round, cool climates, the energy demands and costs of AI can be dramatically reduced. AI is here to stay, but by making the right choices, companies in the finance sector can still drive profitability whilst making real and measurable progress on sustainability.
Survey of IT decision makers exposes the increased pressures IT organisations face amidst covid-19
Independent Survey Uncovers the Limitations Traditional IT Infrastructure Imposes, Exacerbated by a Remote Workforce
Nebulon, Inc.®, the pioneer of Cloud-Defined Storage, released today the results of an independent survey completed by IT decision makers at 500 companies in the IT, financial services, manufacturing, retail, distribution and transport industries across the UK, US, Germany and France. Conducted in June of this year, the survey exposes the biggest challenges enterprises face in transforming their on-premises application storage environments, which have only been exacerbated during this COVID-19 era. While IT organisations cite multiple restrictions, the survey reveals limited infrastructure automation and high CAPEX as the most significant challenges for those deploying enterprise storage array technology, forcing them to re-examine IT spending and operations even more so than usual amidst the pandemic.
While increasing automation and reducing costs may seem like mainstream initiatives for any large organisation, the pandemic and resulting workforce restrictions mandate significant progress in days or weeks, versus months or quarters. The results of the survey, undertaken by Vanson Bourne, further reinforce this as respondents also highlighted their on-premises application storage environments are difficult to maintain, and reveal that they lacked the in-house expertise necessary to manage them. Even more disconcerting, respondents indicate that their traditional external storage arrays are not suited to handle new workloads, including containers and NoSQL databases. This is unsurprising as modern workloads have been architected for local versus shared storage resources.
British IT decision makers specifically ranked “expensive” highest, with 57% making this one of their top three challenges, followed by “time consuming to maintain” (50%) and “difficult to automate at scale” (49%). Respondents from smaller organisations (1,000-2,999 employees) were more likely to mark “lack of in-house expertise” highly compared to larger organisations (3,000+employees) (59% compared to 31%) while these larger companies were more likely to consider cost a top challenge (61% compared to 35%).
“The impact of the pandemic is forcing CIOs worldwide to reconsider their operations,” said Siamak Nazari, Co-Founder and CEO of Nebulon, Inc. “Reducing costs through server-based storage alternatives without the restrictions of hyperconverged infrastructure, and reducing operating cost pressure through cloud-based management of the application storage infrastructure are crucial initiatives for IT organisations looking to survive this new normal.”
For companies with a growing class of mission-critical data that cannot or should not move to the public cloud, Cloud-Defined Storage is an alternative to expensive storage arrays, offering enterprises a cloud-managed, server-based approach for mission-critical storage. By combining a cloud-based control plane, called Nebulon ON, with server-based storage that is powered by the Nebulon Services Processing Unit (SPU), Nebulon enables organisations to reduce cost for enterprise storage by up to half without compromising on enterprise data services. This is made possible by Nebulon’s unique architecture that makes use of commodity SSDs in industry standard servers, Ethernet in favour of Fibre Channel, and by eliminating operational complexities by moving management to Nebulon ON with an as-a-service model.
Nebulon ON uses AI to analyse application workloads during operations, provides actionable recommendations for IT organisations and provides a single API endpoint that greatly streamlines automation at-scale. Customisable application templates, tailored for customer’s application clusters, eliminate the guesswork in configuring infrastructure and produce repeatable, reliable infrastructure services for modern, mission-critical workloads. With the architectural and operational simplicity of Cloud-Defined Storage, application owners gain a self-service infrastructure provisioning that is unmatched with existing on-premises storage solutions.
“IT organisations have been seeking a cost-effective alternative to external storage arrays for years,” said Nazari. “With our Cloud-Defined Storage offering, they finally have the opportunity to reduce costs while also deploying a self-service solution for application owners that also reduces the operational burden.”
Are you ‘prescribing’ the right security solution to your merchants?
By Sandra Higgins, Chief Marketing Officer at Sysnet Global Solutions, draws parallels between taking multivitamins for the body to keeping small businesses ‘healthy’ using an all-in-one security solution
When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, eating the right food, taking regular exercise, and maintaining a positive mindset are key. However, despite these best intentions and practices, you still might not get all the nutrients your body needs to ensure it is working as effectively as possible. To combat this, a doctor might suggest taking a daily multivitamin as an insurance policy, to guarantee the body gets all the minerals and vitamins it needs, avoiding any shortfalls. Makes sense, right?
This same logic can be applied to businesses and the importance of cybersecurity and compliance solutions, especially in the current climate and the risks associated with remote working. Like a doctor prescribing a multivitamin to help their patients’ minds and bodies function effectively, in the same way, acquirers can offer security ‘prescriptions’ to help merchants keep on top of business health. The prescription is then deployed by a security software provider, much like a pharmacy would, dispensing the multivitamin of data security services and tools to help keep businesses in good health.
Just what the doctor ordered
With a wide variety of data security and compliance solutions available, like the streams of vitamins you see on pharmacy shelves, smaller businesses can often become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of available tools and may forego sourcing their business ‘medication’ altogether.
Taking the stress out of trying to understand what the business needs, it’s an acquirer’s responsibility to prescribe one solution that allows merchants to stay security fit and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed at the choice available. That way, merchants don’t end up buying the wrong solutions or supplementary add-ons at additional cost, that they don’t actually need.
The benefits of an all-in-one solution
Like with medicine, merchants need to know the long-term benefits of prescriptions before administering it, and with an all-in-one solution, the benefits are vast. In addition to easy compliance with payments standards such as PCI DSS and access to security tools that are appropriate to business set-up, other benefits of all-in-one security solutions include;
- Increased energy levels. With business security taken care of, business owners will have more time to focus on what matters, giving them more energy to run other areas of the business.
- Reduced fatigue. If a business has to work hard to manage its security levels, or its owner is losing sleep over not managing it at all, resulting in overdrive just to perform simple tasks, being compliant with regulations, like the PCI DSS standard, becomes much harder.
- Long-term healthy lifestyle. By taking an all-in-one security solution, businesses will become ‘compliance and security fit’. Everything will run more efficiently, without security issues slowing things down and preventing a business from moving forward.
- Improved mood. Certain studies have shown that a daily multivitamin has positive effects on a person’s mood and emotional well-being. Not having to think so much about security and compliance lifts a burden and has the same effect – business owner don’t feel guilty about not paying it enough attention and there’s no need to worry about breaches or facing fees from not being PCI compliant.
- Reduced stress and anxiety. Similar to having an improved mood, by simply attending to security matters, businesses will have one less thing to worry about.
Strength in numbers
Not only is there a multitude of long-term benefits attached to having a fully managed data security solution prescribed by acquirers, allowing businesses to be faster, simpler and more profitable, it also means that costs are kept low. Many people buy vitamins in bulk to help share the cost with family or close friends. By buying security tools at scale, costs are kept down for merchants. This means that when a business is weighing up their budgets, they can be sure their compliance and security cost is entirely affordable.
When buying a multivitamin, customers will likely buy from a reputable brand so that you can rely on the quality and effectiveness of the daily dose, as reputable multivitamin providers undergo meticulous analysis and rigorous quality controls during the manufacturing process. In the same vein, humans wouldn’t want a substandard multivitamin for their own body, so businesses wouldn’t expect this from an acquirer’s prescription.
Easy to consume
Multivitamins can provide patients with numerous health benefits but the biggest benefit of all is having these solutions in one place. It makes it easier to ensure the body gets all it needs to stay healthy. It is the same thing for businesses. Taking a security ‘multivitamin’ will greatly take the stress out of addressing compliance and security, and provide a business with more time to focus on other pressing tasks. If small businesses, in particular, can get into the habit of taking a regular multivitamin, a straightforward all-in-one solution, to address compliance and security at their business, they will be more open to trying other things too that may lead to an evolution of the business.
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