Tony Virdi, VP and Head of Banking & Financial Services in the UK & Ireland, Cognizant
Big financial transactions have been virtual for a long time, moving around the world via banking and corporate systems, tallied up in spreadsheets. Now, however, we are seeing how everyday money and currencies are going digital with the rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, as an alternative to ‘hard cash’.
Crucially, the technology that underpins Bitcoin, Blockchain, has the potential to transform centuries-old mechanisms for transferring money. Our latest research, which surveyed over 300 banking executives on the current payments landscape across Europe, found that cryptocurrency and Blockchain technologies are now seen as real drivers for change. In practice, last month saw nine banks, including Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland, reveal that they may adopt the Blockchain system, due to the fact that “it is hard to fool, making fraud more difficult, could speed up trading systems and make deals more transparent”.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is the technology that enables cryptocurrencies and is built on the principles drawn from cryptography, game theory and peer-to-peer networking. This allows any unique monetary data exchange to get past the problem of double spend by making the ledger (the book of record) available to all participants in the network and by creating a process by which a consensus can be reached in changes to the ledger. However, the method through which consensus is reached for making changes to the distributed ledger differs from one cryptocurrency protocol to another. Bitcoin, for example, makes use of the ‘proof of work’ method, which depends on miners providing proof of computing resources expanded in verifying transactions before being allowed to make changes to the distributed ledger, essentially adding transaction records to the ledger of past transactions.
The Blockchain opportunity
The advantages of Blockchain are not only in its functionality, but also in its secure and resilient architecture that protects against some very powerful attacks, both actual and theoretical. Crucially, it offers the promise of addressing some of the key challenges and pain points experienced in the financial sector for many years. Beyond the security implications and increased transparency of transactions to all parties involved, whether institutions or customers, it can have a beneficial impact on pricing and costs in the market, along with the opportunity for more accurate tracking of customer repayment histories, across borders and banks, reducing the risk of defaulters. For example, Everledger, a permanent ledger for diamond certification, has adopted the use of Bitcoin as a mark of authenticity providing transparency for all parties involved – a clear attempt to prevent diamond fraud.
In the short term, it is essential that any financial services business works to develop specific use cases to understand how the technology could support their organisation. These types of test beds are already being developed around the world. For instance, ANZ is looking at experimenting with Ripple to understand the benefits along the whole customer value chain. Similarly, OCBC in Singapore has talked about identity verification that could be taken up for transactions across borders, using Blockchain technologies. These types of examples being explored have the potential to reduce the time for transactions, dramatically impacting costs, along with eliminating cumbersome back office processes, something which all organisations in this sector are looking to achieve.
Challenges to widespread Blockchain adoption
There are several challenges Blockchain will have to overcome before it becomes mainstream. These include scalability, the time taken to verify the transactions, the cost of transactions and security. A lot of attention recently has focused on incidents of hacking at Bitcoin-based companies and start-ups. However, what has not been covered in detail is that some of the thefts did not originate through the network but were initiated by individual customers. For example, a software wallet, which is basically the Bitcoin equivalent of a bank account, is installed on customers’ own computer or device and controlled completely by the customer. These wallets are stored unencrypted and have been attacked through the hacking of someone’s personal computer. However, if a fraudster wants to make any change to the distributed ledger, it cannot be done unless the fraudster also controls 51% or more of the participants on the network, which is next to impossible in the case of any large network. What’s more, regulation is still not very clear for settlement protocols involving cryptocurrency protocols.
On a positive note, regulators in a number of countries are increasingly taking steps to understand, contextualise and regulate digital currencies. Although there are no restrictions on how financial institutions can use Blockchain to build and manage their own internal networks, external use of Blockchain technology like payments and transfers will be impacted relative to how regulators approach regulating cryptocurrency-based networks. Recent indications from central agencies in the US and UK indicate that regulators are in fact taking a very pragmatic approach to Blockchain technology and the news from the major banks has added further evidence to this pragmatic approach.
It is certainly true that Blockchain has the potential to disrupt the way we bank today, transform traditional interbank and even peer-to-peer payments and open up opportunities to replace existing mechanisms for both the exchange of financial information and how customer records are stored and processed.
Although there are still numerous challenges to overcome before we see real change in how financial services use this technology, it seems certain that businesses need to keep a close eye on Blockchain and be prepared to adapt and transform their services accordingly.
Optimising and Securing Device Management in a Corporate Environment
By Nadav Avni, Marketing Director at Radix Technologies
The proliferation of digital devices used in every organisation has only grown in the past few years. Digital devices provide greater flexibility and mobility for companies, but they also create more of a burden on IT teams and administrators to manage it all. Is there a device management solution powerful enough to support your corporate needs?
What Is Mobile Device Management (MDM)?
Mobile devices have more capabilities than ever before – and they’re accessing more sensitive and property data, too. In fact, 42% of enterprises now consider themselves mobile-first. As more employees moved to remote work, it underscored the need for greater security. At the same time, it made device management more difficult for IT teams.
Mobile Device Management (MDM) allows the remote management of every device in an organisation’s fleet from a centralised platform that’s accessible from anywhere. It gives complete control of devices and provides a way to manage settings, policies, and security in one place.
The Importance of MDM
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of CFOs said they expect to keep some employees working from home and shift others to remote work permanently. The need to manage devices remotely isn’t going away even when the pandemic is over. Even when employees are working on-site, they still use mobile devices.
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other single-use devices all need management. Workers may be in different locations than IT administrators. MDM allows efficient remote management of every device in the fleet regardless of the administrators’ and employees’ location.
Some of the core functions of mobile device management include:
- Managing setting and policies
- Monitoring app usage and performance
- Updating equipment, software, and applications
- Monitoring health of equipment
- Monitoring equipment location, status, and activity
- Remote device control for diagnosis and troubleshooting
- Encryption of email and files
- Segregation for work and personal device use, creating separate and secured environments for work data.
More than Security
Most MDM solutions focus mainly on Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) and the security layer. A fully-featured MDM/EMM system adds another layer that provides comprehensive device management. This gives IT administrators the ability to manage nearly every type of device running on every major operating system from one platform.
Flexible solutions can be installed as an on-premises solution or on the cloud for reduced latency, redundancy, and end-to-end security with encryption. When you’re running a mobile device management platform in the cloud, the service provider automatically applies updates and patches. Hence, it’s one more thing you won’t need to worry about. It also makes it easier for administrators to access the platform remotely.
Mobile devices increase the possibility of data breaches or leaks. Besides the possibility of cyber-attacks, a staggering number of laptops and smartphones are lost or stolen. On average, 70 million devices are lost or stolen annually, with less than 10% of ever being recovered. This is an exceptionally big problem for managing compliance in regulated industries, such as healthcare, financial, and other businesses.
A robust MDM/EMM software provides end-to-end security and encryption to protect data. Devices can be tracked with geofence and anti-theft filters. If a device leaves an authorised area, it triggers a warning note to administrators, who can remotely lock the device or wipe the data. MDM/EMM apps with advanced security features also create snapshots on the fly even while devices are running to make restoring or recovery from virus attacks or system crashes easier.
Besides automated data audits, these functions help organisations comply with even the most stringent compliance regulations, including GDPR, the EU’s General Data Privacy Regulations. It also acts as an essential element in complying with HIPAA, SOX, FISMA, PCI DSS, and other regulations.
More Efficient Deployment
Devices can be deployed in batches with preset configuration, settings, and corporate policies. By automating enrollment tasks, the devices can be up and running in your environment without user intervention. It all happens in the background the first time a device is fired up and connected to a network.
Besides the platform’s native and priority enrollment modules, devices can also be deployed using a range of platforms. This provides an extremely friendly out of the box experience (OOBE) for employees without tying up IT teams for hours to configure new devices.
Tools for All Stakeholders
Modern MDM/EMM tools also provide sophisticated reporting tools to all stakeholders in the organisation. IT teams can manage the entire device fleet holistically or drill down to any individual device. Managers can look at adoption and usage rates. CFOs can look at the ROI. Each automated report can be customised to show what each group of stakeholders needs to make data-driven business decisions.
Tools for OEMs and Vendors
APIs are usually available for solution developers. That means the platform can be embedded in device firmware and integrated at the factory level for OEMs. System-level integration is also possible, so mobile device management software can be pre-installed and ready to go upon device delivery.
Managing Use and Content
Not every employee needs every functionality on every device. MDM software allows you to apply single-app or multi-app kiosk mode. This creates an encapsulated environment with access to the functionality and apps you determine.
It creates a consistent look-and-feel for devices and control device elements, such as locking down external ports or preventing unauthorised interaction of non-company installed apps. You can limit external internet use or enable/disable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections.
Device Management Solution
One of the biggest barriers to continued remote work is the lack of technology and infrastructure to allow remote employees to work productively. Therefore, implementing a modular and flexible MDM/EMM solution is key to successfully and efficiently managing your devices. Look for one that not only accomplishes the points listed above but one that also allows customisation for just about any use case. Take control of your entire mobile device fleet and gain the ability to finally manage nearly every aspect with ease.
2021: A year of digital enablement
By Peter O’Halloran, Vice President, Global Digital Commerce, Fiserv
In 2021, digital innovation will continue to accelerate, allowing businesses to shift to new ways of operating and adapt to changing consumer behaviour and expectations. We will continue to see an increase in digital commerce and alternative payment methods, and more intertwined physical and digital experiences. Here are my five predictions for the year ahead.
- Digital commerce will continue to rise
This year, businesses will be focused on ramping up existing avenues of growth and generating new ones, leaning into experiences and incorporating lessons learned during the pandemic. To stay ahead of the competition, drive sales, and continually engage with customers, we’ll see businesses send out special offers on a more regular basis, integrate loyalty and gift schemes, as well as offer additional value-added services, such as click-and-collect services that allow people to pick up online orders in store, free shipping and better options on returns.
- Physical and digital environments will blend
A growing consideration for businesses is how to optimise and connect digital and physical experiences. There has been an exponential rise in click-and-collect services, virtual queuing and appointment systems. According to 2019 research from Barclaycard, a third of retailers (34%) saw in-store sales increase after offering click-and-collect services. And by digitalising certain parts of the customer experience, businesses from restaurants to salons can operate more safely in their physical locations. Apps that allow customers to order and pay for food in advance, or book time slots for in-person services, are some examples of how businesses will continue to connect the physical and digital environments as they navigate the current landscape.
- Alternative payment methods will proliferate
Consumer payment habits have shifted significantly since the start of the pandemic. The recent Expectations & Experiences report from Fiserv found that a large number of consumers have increased their use of mobile payment apps and person-to-person (P2P) payments, and that they expect those changes to last. We will also likely see an increase in the adoption of proximity payments, such as mobile payments, NFC payments and QR codes.
In addition, the rise of digital payments could also accelerate the adoption of local or regional payment methods to better engage with customers. There are a number of methods that have emerged and already gained popularity, such as Klarna across Europe, Paytm in India and Brazil’s Boleto voucher system.
- Commerce-enabled Internet of Things (IoT) will grow
As consumers continue to expect new payment forms and digital experiences, businesses will continue to adopt more innovative capabilities. There is a growing usage trend for IoT in commerce, such as smartphone-based or voice-enabled capabilities. From grocery, fashion to other day-to-day activities such as paying for petrol, IoT devices can enable businesses to harness customer data to gain further insight into their behaviour and provide personalised offers and services. The new year will see commerce-enabled IoT increase, as well as further digital innovations to help grow revenue streams and enhance customer experience.
- Security will continue to be a priority
As more activity moves online, security is more vital than ever. 2020 saw a proliferation of COVID-19 related scams and fraud, such as phishing emails on relief funds or health information. These trends will likely continue, evolving to latch on to the concern of the moment, and we will see businesses, payment providers and financial institutions increasing their investment in the appropriate fraud solutions to protect both their organisation and customers.
Regulatory requirements will also continue to bolster security and fraud management. In Europe, regulations such as Strong Customer Authentication (SCA), which is part of the EU Revised Direction on Payment Services (PSD2), help ensure that payments are secured with multi-factor authentication, providing additional security and assurance for consumers.
A digitally-enabled future
Many businesses have successfully adapted to a new way of operating. As we go into the new year and continue to navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic, businesses will be able to rely on those learnings to adjust quickly to changes that come their way.
Viewpoint: Autonomous Cloud Security
By Scott Dodds, CEO Ultima
Moving to the cloud securely remains a significant challenge of flexible working
While the end may be in sight for full-scale remote working, most companies are looking to continue with flexible working in some form or other. The benefits that both employers and employees have reaped in terms of cost reductions and flexibility are unlikely to be given up quickly. But in a recent survey of customers, Ultima has found that many challenges still exist for companies if they are to embrace flexible working successfully in the long-term.
The pandemic has forced many companies to innovate at an unprecedented rate, and digital transformation has moved on in a year to a place it would have taken five or more years to do. But many businesses are still struggling with the new normal. They have become more susceptible to cyberattacks, and poor IT infrastructure has resulted in poor employee experience causing productivity and profits to fall.
In a recent survey of over 200 prospective customers, Ultima asked about the challenges they were facing due to current requirements for remote working. Nearly half (41%) cited security concerns as an issue and 17% application access.
IT infrastructure is a cause for concern too. While many companies have embraced the advantages of cloud computing during the lockdown, over a third (37.5%) of respondents, don’t believe they have the capability to move to the cloud. There were a variety of reasons why the respondents don’t think they have the capability, with 16% saying it was due to legacy applications and another 16% saying it was due to budget constraints or challenges. A further 12% per cent blamed lack of in-house technical expertise and another 10% on investment being made in on-premise infrastructure.
The pandemic has created exponential growth in companies requiring cloud services, but their IT staff don’t have all the technical skills to effectively and safely move them to the cloud. This leaves companies open to security vulnerabilities as well as meaning they are not optimising their cloud environment.
While many businesses have risen to the challenges of remote working, infrastructure and security remain an issue. But automated cloud services with in-built security solutions can solve these problems. They can be bought on a pay-as-you-go basis, addressing large CAPEX outlay issues and allowing companies to overcome legacy application issues and provide security that protects both employee and company from outside attack.
Lack of capability and capacity solved
For those companies who’ve still not made the leap to the cloud, automated cloud migration services exist that can overcome the financial and skills shortage barriers to entry. Managed Service Partners (MSPs) can provide technical expertise and technical solutions to make this possible. The results of moving to the cloud can be spectacular too: from an average 30% reduction in expenditure and up to a 750% increase in productivity. They also have no upfront costs.
Using Microsoft Azure’s open and flexible cloud computing platform, for example, combined with automated migration, you no longer need to look after and buy hardware, or sort out power and cooling. Your IT infrastructure and security can be run on a pay-as-you-go basis. And if you need increased capacity, automation means you can extend your on-premises data centres and infrastructure to Azure within a few hours, providing the extra capacity required for critical systems and applications.
Poor security solved
We know that traditional security solutions don’t work well in the cloud. When customers move to the cloud, they try and take their traditional security solutions with them. But as the cloud works in a very different way to on-premises, this leaves companies open to vulnerabilities. You need a made for purpose solution, based on cloud security best practice.
With the latest automation technology security and monitoring solutions are automatically applied to existing and new workloads. It scans the collected data and includes proactive monitoring around security events that will let you know exactly what’s happened in clear-to-understand alerts, and where action should be taken if needed, covering critical areas such as anti-malware. IT staff can view in real-time their security and compliance reporting. Soon we will be able to scan a customer’s environment for security-related bad practice or incidents and make recommendations on how to fix them and even give them a score as to how they are doing.
At Ultima, we’ve also found that on moving to the cloud customers have poor visibility of what is going on in their environment. We know about 25% of companies don’t even realise they have high severity patches missing. This is down to a skills shortage and a lack of time – as patches are often done manually.
With automated cloud services, patching happens automatically on repeat and even scales as your infrastructure grows. If a patch is due and fails for whatever reason the system will automatically create an alert. This information will go to the third line technical team, and they will investigate it themselves, whether that’s your MSP or your own IT staff. The time savings to the IT department are huge – often 100’s of hours a year – enabling them to focus on other projects and have peace of mind about security.
Traditionally, you would do a true-up every month or quarter of your IT environments to bring new things, including security issues, to the management. But when you are in the cloud, you can spin things up so fast, that you will have a gap if you are only doing a true-up every month or quarter. With an automated service, you can automatically onboard things, so you don’t have to wait for the true-up process, which means you have a more proactive security service and less vulnerability. We’ve found that customers who are using automated cloud services have a 66% reduction in security incidents.
Lack of visibility of critical data solved
With ever increasing cloud resources, it can be hard to get visibility into your cloud infrastructure. The technology exists now to automatically scan and configure your cloud resources with centralised logging and telemetry capabilities. As your environment grows, this process repeats itself automatically as it scans and configures itself when new resources are added. This means that all logging information is available, and you can also see on one dashboard insights into your security posture. Usually, it’s hard to see what’s happening from a security perspective – what data is coming in and going out, top destinations, any malicious activity detected in the last 24 hours, etc. Automated services give customers a dashboard that centralises all the information to see what is happening in a simplified format and how your infrastructure is performing at a high level.
These new autonomous cloud services enable companies to free up 100’s of hours of IT staff time and reduce security incidents. Moving to the cloud has previously been a struggle for some companies as costs escalated for support, maintenance and security. New technology has changed that and is ensuring security and infrastructure are no longer barriers to successful cloud deployments and productive, flexible working.
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