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Simplifying business security while remote working 

Simplifying business security while remote working  1

By Kurt Glazemakers, SVP Engineering, AppGate 

As the dust settles on the initial shift to working from home, it is clear that for employees and business the switch will be permanent for many. Already we have seen Google and Facebook announce that they won’t be expecting employees back in the office this year, while Twitter has gone further and stated that its employees can now work from home permanently.

Naturally, with such big changes in how organisations function, there are bound to be challenges and problems. One of the biggest was security. At the start of the lockdown phase many organisations rushed out and updated or added Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to their security set up in an effort to make sure the workforce remains productive, while also secure. However, with band widths being stretched to breaking points, some businesses are seriously feeling the pinch. While VPNs may have alleviated the immediate security concerns, their design now means that they are impacting productivity levels.

More VPNs, no less problems

It is not hard to see why VPNs have typically been the go-to tool by businesses for employees to connect to internal systems. For nearly thirty years they have been trusted for keeping networks and data safe. In recent weeks in particular, VPN usage has drastically increased as businesses adopted it as a known quantity. However, with today’s bandwidth-hungry applications and the high volume of traffic that is coming through as everyone tries to connect from home, VPNs simply are not coping.

One of the biggest challenges of VPN use lies in the fact that there is a single shared access point through which every user has to authenticate and connect to directly. Consequently, when there are a large number of users – as is currently the case – it is incredibly difficult for new connections to be made and employees end up having to wait to establish a connection. In addition, much like with a DDoS attack, if the VPN is overloaded with a high volume of users attempting to connect simultaneously, it can freeze and crash, leaving users having to wait even longer when trying to connect.

To complicate matters further, for a VPN to work efficiently, the connection must be stable. With employees relying on their home wifi which is often at a lower bandwidth than that in an office environment to begin with, the added strain of dealing with work and other family members usage is often just too much. As connections drop out, the link between the user and the VPN is severed, resulting in employees being left frustrated and unconnected to the tools and data they need.

Failing to find a fix 

With VPNs struggling to keep up with the demand brought about by mass remote working, some businesses have tried to overcome these problems by having employees simply turn it off for certain tasks. For example, for application uses that require a huge amount of bandwidth such as video calls. This is not an ideal solution for any businesses, but it is especially impractical for financial or legal institutions where the documents and data they are handling are extremely confidential. While the disabling of the VPN may allow for productivity levels to remain high, employees are left open to security vulnerabilities and further risk from the ever-increasing malicious threats that have occurred throughout the pandemic.

In efforts to make sure employees are not left unprotected, should they need to disable their VPN, some companies have adopted interim solutions such as a TLS tool. However, the last thing that employees or businesses need during this time is to have to worry about what security tool they are using and having to regularly switch between them. The reality is, the current tools being used to keep employees safe are causing more complexities and risks than needs be. It’s time for a simpler solution.

Keeping it simple 

For businesses to truly provide a comprehensive, yet easy to use security solution for their employees as they work from home, they need to stop turning to VPNs as the answer.

Using a zero-trust formula, a software-defined perimeter (SDP) is designed to micro-segment network and application access, dynamically creating a secure one-to-one connection with multiple locations, at the same time. In doing so, an SDP completely avoids the possibility of slow running connections due to a high volume of users. What’s more, due to running on a decentralised system, SDPs can scale directly in order to cope with an increase in concurrent users or bandwidth-hungry applications, avoiding any need to disable the tool depending on the employee’s use. With the ability to successfully cope at scale with the demands of today’s workforce, adopting an SDP tool enables employees to work securely and productively – without the need for a complex toolbox of solutions.

Whatsmore, by switching to SDP solutions, businesses benefit from instantly reducing their attack surface. Couple this with fewer rules to manage and adjust and businesses can actually see productive increase as network access and auditing processes are greatly simplified.

Hassle free security 

In the face of huge user numbers and band-width draining applications, VPNs are failing to make the mark as organisations continue to work remotely. As a result, businesses are at risk of increasing their exposure to security threats and spiralling into a web of ineffective quick-fix solutions.

While working from home can certainly bring about its challenges and complexities, your business security shouldn’t be one of them. With the right solutions in place – such as an SDP solution, organisations can feel confident that their employees are working effectively and securely, without compromise.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 2

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   3

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 4

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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