Managing your way to success with Beacon on Azure

The rate of change in technology is accelerating. It is unprecedented, it is unpredictable, and in this – the brave new world of technology revolution – it can be a challenge to keep up with the play. With so many technologies emerging, and so rapidly, the expectations on those who both provide and enable them is greater than it ever has been.

In order to keep step with soaring customer expectations, organisations are taking huge steps to embrace and employ new technologies. The cloud has become a major force – its platforms standing at the pinnacle of digital transformation. Certainly now, with the rapid escalation of COVID-19 worldwide, businesses are clamouring to improve their core operations by leveraging its power. While many have maintained a robust remote structure for years, this has largely been limited to only a few restricted employees. Now entire business units and functions are required to operate in a fully remote mode and interactions are digital rather than physical. The flexibility and agility of cloud solutions are a perfect fit.

While the ability to move faster and hack value is well documented, the reality is that when it is badly managed, the cloud can blow out budget and increase technical debt. An evolving cloud system can be difficult for an IT department to manage, particularly with an accelerated and unprecedented surge in usage. An inability to curbsprawl and initiate effective management practicesoften tarnishes the gilt. In order to keep operational and performance targets on track and within budget, businesses must develop a deep understanding of the interdependencies of the various moving parts of their IT infrastructure. Then policies must be implemented, without compromising on security.

Managed appropriately, a cloud environment offers stakeholders a comprehensive view of all assets – including software and cloud services – which encourage its efficient, effective use. A robust cloud management platform presents to businesses the ability to firmly grasp a complex and fast changing environment: spending and historical trends can be tracked and monitored, security vulnerabilities can be uncovered, data can be secured, and inefficiencies highlighted.

A cloud management platform helps to manage cloud resources, using a combination of software, automation, policies, governance, and people to determine how the cloud services are made available. Beacon on Azure, Datacom’s managed services offering on Azure, enables all users to access the information they need – when they need it. All stakeholders have a central location from where they can view and understand exactly what is being used in their subscriptions. This ensures that every resource being used is optimised, reducing the amount of wasted spend.

Beacon on Azure is pivotal in managing the security status and vulnerability of your IT assets. Backed by clever application management, wide Azure expertise, innovation, and a security first approach, the platform ensures delivery of a consistent set of rules to make certain that the right levels of control are in place. Monitoring is essential for any organisation leveraging the cloud, both in terms of security and performance. If a business monitors early, data can be used to troubleshoot problems and implement repairs swiftly. Monitoring, alerts and governance are built into each Azure subscription and environment deployed. Log and performance data are aggregated in near real-time and customised reports are generated. This allows for a consistent set of rules to ensure the right level of control is in place.

Many businesses don’t have either the budget or appropriate resources for a dedicated cloud team. Our Co-Pilot programme offers a Datacom Azure expert on hand, not only to provide guidance, but also valuable insights on ways Azure should be consumed. In addition, Level 1 and Level 2 support is provided for Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider customers.

Presenting information into meaningful and contextual information, Beacon on Azure allows businesses to track spend limits, analyse usage patterns and manage their costs effectively.

Beacon on Azure will help you to unlock the true power of Microsoft Azure to better navigate your cloud transformation journey. Contact us to find out how.

Not a tech whiz? How you can manage Azure like a pro

Most smart organisations are already harnessing the considerable power of cloud to glean competitive advantage. Not only are their operating costs lower, but their productivity is amplified as they are analysing data to deftly identify business opportunities and potential commercial threats. 

These are the businesses that are building environments capable of rapid, integrated and automated development, empowering them to step up to the fore and disrupt their industries with powerful new solutions. Failure to join the revolution presents a palpable and deadly threat. Those who are harnessing cloud effectively already will be the first to reap its rewards.

Given the exponential shift to cloud, departments other than IT are spending money on technology. They are identifying more intelligent software and applications to increase business efficiencies and to give them the critical edge against their competitors. Experimenting with, or seeking out, the relevant technology is therefore no longer just the remit of IT. Every position is a technical role and, to stay both relevant and significant, each decision maker must become tech-savvy to nimbly navigate the rapidly growing ecosystem of applications, security tools and networking systems. While it is true that everything within the cloud can be automated, these leaders will still need to manage and monitor the tools involved to enable them to unlock its real and actual value. 

With a lack of technical support and expertise available to them in-house, visibility is key to these leaders. Lack of clarity can hinder efforts to track or diagnose application performance issues, delay the detection and solution of security vulnerabilities, and fail to monitor and deliver against service-level agreements. Without the right insight into services – and how any variations can impact pricing – the business can quickly accumulate unseen and unbudgeted expenses.

Visibility of cost is crucial, and the lack thereof is often cited as a major concern. Cloud costs can sometimes be difficult to estimate, often due to the perceived complexity of the cloud infrastructure. Exceeding consumption forecasts, as well as cloud mismanagement, can lead to a significant unbudgeted spend. Knowing where and how to begin the journey towards cloud cost governance can be a real challenge. Understanding what services are being used, what they cost, how they are used, and how they are being accounted for, is a demanding undertaking, particularly with no single management platform where all stakeholders can access the information they need.

Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t need to be.

Beacon on Azure, Datacom’s community of managed services, gives Azure cloud users the choice and broad expertise they need to seize cloud’s real worth. It enables key stakeholders to view, understand and manage their Azure cloud applications on one dashboard, in one place. This single pane of glass allows users to correlate and visualise data across multiple sources (and user-defined business dimensions) in near real-time. With 24/7 alerts, monitoring and governance – as well as Level 1 and Level 2 service desk support included – the end user is firmly in control. By removing the complexities of managing the cloud, and allowing customisation through service blocks, they can add-on multiple other offerings to build a tailored cloud service catalogue, specific and tailor-made to their business.

With the ability to add, remove and scale the service according to individual requirements, Azure users can leverage its full scope and possibility, with the confidence of being supported by the breadth of expertise of the Datacom team. All of this is delivered with minimal personal effort, so even the most tech-shy organisations can become tech-confident in no time. 

Beacon on Azure will help you to unlock the true power of Microsoft Azure to better navigate your cloud transformation journey. Contact us to find out how.

Contact Tracing for COVID-19 for businesses in New Zealand

As New Zealand enters an extended period of managing the impact of COVID-19, effective contact tracing will be critical to the success of our efforts to contain the spread. There are two primary goals to contact tracing:

  • Stop the spreading of the disease through timely containment
  • Where spreading has occurred, identify potentially infected people.

As the nation changes alert levels and the protocols that need to be observed, businesses need flexible systems so they can adapt. These systems incorporate people, processes, resources and information systems.

The uncertainty of the situation and the constraints of the alert levels will continue to have a pronounced effect on people. Any contact tracing system needs to be sensitive to these factors if it’s going to achieve optimal compliance.

This discussion paper outlines an approach that businesses can take to strike a balance between robust contact tracing systems and disruption to business activity.

NOTE: This discussion paper is intended for businesses that do not normally operate under high consequence Health and Safety conditions. Businesses such as hospitals, construction sites, forestry, transport, etc., need to incorporate health and safety requirements that extend beyond the scope of this document.

Structure

Businesses are complex organisations. At its simplest level, contact tracing for a business is maintaining records of who was where, and when. The business activity is the ‘why’ they are interacting. This provides a basic structure to frame up the design of contact tracing systems:

A flow diagram to represent the design of a contact tracing system.

Workplace Contact Tracing

By defining zones for workplaces, it is possible to implement different contact tracing procedures appropriate to each zone or location. A circulation zone may have rules that mitigate the need to contact trace because close contact is avoided. A dedicated work zone may only be occupied by named personnel, and meeting zones may require detailed record keeping.

Some system factors to consider are:

  • Sign In/Out/Registration on site – perimeter identity and access management
  • Perimeter procedures – advising new/changed policies and protocols on entry. Consider options such as contactless proximity cards, contactless motion opened doors, voice interfaces, digital signage, and facial recognition to eliminate physical contact with kiosks, pens, doors, lift buttons etc.
  • Location Alert Level Policies – organise policies into alert level descriptions, to simplify communications and understanding
  • Oversight and incident reporting – assign personnel to be responsible for monitoring and handling of incident reporting
  • Onsite Surveillance options:
    • Passive systems such as
      • Wireless Access Point device tracking
      • Security Camera and Video Analytics monitoring (observing occupancy, crowd and individual policy compliance)
      • Access Card log monitoring – Active Directory Security Group activity logging
    • Active systems such as
      • Bluetooth beacon monitoring systems
      • Self-trace mobile applications, SaaS tools, bespoke systems.

Workforce Contact Tracing

Businesses have a duty of care for their staff when they are working for the business. Business activity often occurs in places that are not managed by the business. Contact tracing from this perspective requires a workforce monitoring approach.

Some system options to consider are:

  • Check In/Out: confirm location/destination, wellbeing, receive important notices about the location
  • Notification – mechanisms to report suspected COVID-19 infection, spreading, or risky behaviour
  • Activity tracking – record of meetings and locations. Record of location changes and times
    • Passive monitoring of systems such as calendar schedules, timesheets, job scheduling
    • Active monitoring systems such as self-tracing mobile applications, business specific online registers/forms, SaaS tools.

Public Contact Tracing

Where a business is operating in an area where people movement is typically unmanaged, there are unique challenges to contact tracing. Fundamentally, if a business is responsible for a space and it cannot enforce policy or identify occupants, it is unable to operate at that location under COVID-19 constraints. To overcome this, businesses can erect barriers with perimeter controls to create managed zones, or leverage workforce systems such as location/proximity beacons to enable people tracing.

Some system options to consider are:

  • Self-Trace
    • Bluetooth Beacon logging – capture details of Beacons encountered
    • QR/NFC perimeter registering. Restricting access enables sign in/sign out tracking
  • Location Surveillance
    • camera recording/AI pattern recognitions of social clusters (closer than 2m, for more than 10 minutes)
    • Triangulation/Vector recording: Wifi/cell tower device logs (device ID, router location, time entered, time exited, signal strength spot measures).

Investigation support

High trust approaches can work, even with less than ideal compliance.

The main goal of tracing contacts is to quickly inform the investigation after an infection or cluster has been identified. This enables investigators to identify close contacts as quickly as possible and reduce the time contagious people are circulating. Where compliance to protocols is difficult to enforce, having more than one point of observation (tracing people, monitoring locations) can yield a high coverage level.

A square diagram to compare workforce compliance and workplace coverage.

Approach

Contact tracing systems and practises can serve a few purposes:

  1. Identify potential spreading and contain within a workforce, workplace, or public place
  2. Support investigation efforts by authorities
  3. Enforce and observe compliance with protocols
  4. Reduce business impact

The approach is to establish the systems necessary to enact contact tracing, rather than just taking the actions that need to be performed. Systems can be adapted as requirements change, whereas an actions-oriented approach will require constant allocating of resources and reinvention to adapt.

Principles first – save lives first, then save livelihoods. Save profits last.

Systems can be performed manually or automated. Some guiding principles to urgent systems design:

  • Assign authority to make decisions
  • Start with a low maturity model and rapidly evolve. Only automate systems that have low errors/exceptions
  • Experiment to resolve uncertainty. Consensus takes too long.

Notes

People will typically encounter others in one of four places:

  • In their home
  • In a managed workplace
    • Workplaces will have physical separation, hygiene protocols and require some level of contact tracing in place that will enable them to operate under different Alert Levels
  • In an unmanaged space (e.g. public place).
    • These spaces present real challenges to contact tracing, as they are designed to serve social gathering in an open way. Spaces that are unable to meet contact tracing will likely remain closed if contact tracing is required
  • In Transit from one place to another.
    • Travelling typically happens as pedestrians, in private vehicles or public transport. For public transport providers with contactless payment systems have a level of record keeping that can support Contact Tracing
    • Pedestrians are unlikely to encounter close contact clusters (close together for more than 10 minutes)
    • Public Transport providers may be able to achieve a level of contact tracing through existing contactless payment systems.

To perform adequate contact identification, an investigator needs to be able to qualify the following risks:

  • Transmission risks
    • Time and place of potential spreading: when and where have probable or confirmed infected people been
  • Infection Risks
    • If there are times and places where transmission was possible, what was the risk of others getting infected?
      • Close contact: e.g. closer than 2m for more than 10 minutes
      • Casual contact: at the same place and time, but not identified as a close contact
      • Surface contact: identify surfaces that may have been contaminated (door handles, food service, shared equipment, etc).

Rapid deployment

In a crisis, rapid response is crucial to the outcome. A system is only useful if its operational and being used. To enact changes to a business that involves everyone requires special attention to communications to get the message out as fast possible. Another key factor is decision making. It can be impractical to use traditional business decision making and communication approaches to implementing contact tracing systems. They are typically oriented to other needs, such as de-risking investment or optimising operations.

One way to leverage the existing organisation and resources is to overlay COVID-19 specific roles and responsibilities, with a simple three step process:

  1. Organise
    • Define roles and responsibilities, identify support system requirements, define workforce and workplace controls
  2. Activate
    • Stand up systems, communicate changes to workforce, experiment to resolve any uncertainties
  3. Operate
    • Ensure some level of oversight is in place to make sure contact tracing is operating and being used.

Start

This discussion paper is intended to provide some structure and process to forming, implementing, and operating a successful contact tracing system for a business. This is only useful if a business makes a start and moves quickly.

The nature of situation means mistakes are inevitable. Unlike business as usual, these are not failures. These mistakes are learning opportunities – a partially effective contact tracing system today that can be improved tomorrow will become a fully effective system.

There has never been a time like this in our living memory, so everyone is learning as we go. Share ideas and thoughts with staff, customers, and suppliers. We share a common goal.

An artistic representation of a COVID-19 framework.

The 5 w’s of phishing

It’s known as one of the oldest and still one of the most prevalent forms of cyberattack. This is because phishing largely relies on a vulnerability we can never completely get rid of: human error.

It deploys the same basic tactic that scammers have been using for decades – faking the identity of an individual or business to get victims to divulge sensitive information, or to send money. Phishing has evolved since the early days of the internet and is now a catch-all term for a variety of attacks.

For you to understand these attacks in all their forms, here is the ‘who, what, where, why and when’ of phishing to help you protect your business.

Who is usually targeted in a phishing attack?

The targets of phishing attacks vary, but the traditional model was to spam as many people with the same scam email and see who took the bait. This has become less effective over the years as we’ve all grown accustomed to spotting scam emails when they appear.

Spear phishing involves targeting individuals with specific content related to them, such as an unrequested ‘forgotten password’ email from their favourite online retailer. Attackers may work for weeks in advance to learn as much as they can about their targets before then sending personalised scam emails to trick the individual into revealing confidential information. The most famous spear phishing attack was the targeting of Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials during the 2016 US presidential election.

Whaling takes the fishing puns to its logical conclusion. The ‘whales’ in a phishing context are senior executives and even CEOs. However, the difference here is that the scam emails appear to come from the CEO. This is an effective form of social engineering as employees are incredibly unlikely to deny a request for information from their boss.

What do attackers want?

In the majority of cases, attackers are after financial gains, either directly or indirectly. They may just head straight for credit card details, or they might use access to servers and mail to gather information that can be sold. According to Verizon’s 2019 Data Breach Investigation Report, 88 per cent of phishing attacks are financially motivated and 10 per cent are espionage efforts.

Where do phishing attacks come from?

This is difficult to say definitively. In the early days of phishing emails, they were easy to spot due to their relatively poor use of grammar. Phishing attacks these days are much more sophisticated, and when we consider the enormous budgets behind state-based espionage, an attack can come from literally anywhere in the world. The introduction of phishing kits has also lowered the skill barrier for attackers to spoof website domains for capturing credentials.

Why are phishing attacks still so effective?

Phishing attacks are the most common form of what are broadly known as social engineering attacks. All of these attacks use our own psychology against us, as is the case with baiting, which involves tempting us to click on malware infected media, or scareware, which bombards users with fake threats and alerts until they hand over their credentials. Each scenario is difficult to prevent because people aren’t robots and we’ll always respond to stimuli in very human ways.

When will we ever learn to spot phishing attacks?

The good news is that our awareness is far better than it was in the early days of the internet, when mysterious foreign princes could fool us into handing over our life savings for a lucrative diamond investment opportunity. But there is still a long way to go, particularly when we consider phishing attacks are still the first-choice method of cyber attackers.

All of this demonstrates that cybersecurity awareness training is more essential than ever if we want to keep our organisation’s sensitive data secure, especially our customer data. If our employees don’t have the knowledge or awareness on how to prevent phishing attacks, then no amount of money spent on enterprise security software will change how vulnerable businesses remain.

Datacom can partner with you to help you avoid the potentially catastrophic costs of a phishing attack. Our experienced team is here to help you evolve your people and processes through both targeted and organisation-wide cybersecurity awareness training modules. Speak to us today to discuss how we can help you become more resilient against a growing array of threats.

The A to Z of cybersecurity

New Zealand businesses recorded over four thousand cybersecurity incidents last year, including 53 per cent more scams and fraud reports compared to 2018. This resulted in businesses losing NZ$16.7m.

Cybersecurity is more important than ever. With new forms of attacks appearing every year, and so many security solutions on the market, it can be difficult to keep up with all of the different terms in play.

If you need to know your malware from your ransomware, we’ve put together a glossary of essential terms you need to understand in order to protect your organisation.

Antivirus – A good introduction to both our glossary and the world of cybersecurity. Antivirus software is designed to prevent, detect and remove malware. If your computers aren’t running reputable antivirus software already, then you’ve got real problems.

Botnet – A group of computers or internet-connected devices that are collectively compromised and used to perpetuate DDoS attacks (see below), or to steal data and generally wreak havoc.

Cybersecurity awareness – These are vital training modules that ensure your employees are aware of the many cyber threats to your business, including phishing (see below) and other social engineering attacks.

DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) – In a DDoS attack, a botnet inundates an application, system, or website with internet traffic, making it impossible to stop the attack simply by blocking a single source. These devastating attacks can bring down even the most well-protected banking and government services.

Encryption key – An assortment of letters, number and symbols that is purposefully created by algorithms to disarrange and rearrange data, so that each key is random and distinctive.

Firewall – A firewall acts as a defence for your device. Depending on your security settings, firewalls manage and assess what information your device receives, and filters and blocks suspicious attempts from other users through apps to access your device.

Hacktivist – These are attackers who hack or force their way into computers and networks, often for political or disruptive reasons. ‘Anonymous’ is the most well-known hacktivist group for their DDoS attacks on governments and other large organisations.

Insider threats – Whether your employees intend to be or not, from the CEO all the way down, each member of staff can be considered an insider threat to your organisation’s security. Cybersecurity awareness and user monitoring are essential to maintain your company’s safety.

Keylogger – A malicious tool that records what is typed (a keystroke) on a keyboard. Keyloggers are used to capture passwords, secret question responses, and any other sensitive information.

Logic bomb – This is a nasty piece of code in a virus or piece of malware that will set off a malicious function in software when certain conditions are met, such as beginning to delete important files.

Malware – A catch-all term for any type of code that has been designed specifically to cause harm in a system. This includes viruses, spyware, trojan horses, logic bombs and ransomware, among many others.

NIST framework – The US Government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The NIST framework is considered cybersecurity best-practice, including its model which promotes the need to ‘identify, detect, protect, respond and recover’.

Phishing – One of the oldest tricks in the cybersecurity handbook. Phishing involves fraudulently claiming to be an individual or business in order to gain sensitive information or financial gain. These attacks are a common form of social engineering and are usually carried out via phishing emails.

Quarantine – A function of your antivirus software that involves storing files that may contain malware in isolation for either further examination or deletion.

Ransomware – An increasingly popular form of malware that holds data or applications hostage on computers through advanced encryption. A demand for payment is then sent before attackers will release control of the captured data.

SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) – A group of systems, software and managed services that provide real-time analysis of security alerts generated by applications and network hardware, while automatically identifying systems that are out of compliance with security policies.

Trojan horse – A common form of malware where a malicious payload is imbedded inside a seemingly normal file. When this file is opened, the malicious threat is automatically unleashed into the system.

UEBA – User and entity behaviour analytics is a growing field of software that monitors user activity data and analyses using threat intelligence to identify behaviours that could be malicious. These applications are implemented to lower the risk of insider threats.

Virus – A well-known form of malware that attaches itself to a host file as a parasite. When this file is accessed, the virus is activated and it begins to infect other objects. The majority are engineered to infect the Windows operating system (OS), and some viruses are also designed to ensure they are impossible to detect 

Worm – Similar to viruses in that they’re a form of malware that focuses on replication and distribution, however worms are different as they’re a self-contained malicious program. While not necessarily malicious themselves, a worm can be designed to spread other types of malware.

Zero-day vulnerability – These are previously unknown bugs or flaws in software that provide a potential backdoor entrance for attackers. By targeting these flaws, attackers can release devastating malware before the flaw can be patched.

With so much to learn about cybersecurity, you need a partner to help you stay one step ahead of the threats your organisation faces. Datacom can help you create a robust cybersecurity strategy that includes security management (via SIEM), phishing solutions, cybersecurity awareness training, and vulnerability assessments. Contact us today to learn how we can help you evolve your people, processes and technology to become more resilient.

Building smart cities with Churchill

 

Barcelona

 VP of the Australian Smart Cities Association, Brook Dixon travelled the world as a Churchill Fellow last year, studying the drivers of digital transformation in leading global cities. In this extract of his report, which he has curated and prepared for Datacom, he looks at the principles, which need to be applied to be considered a smart city:

The digital revolution is ablaze in cities around the world.  The fires of big data, open government, smart city, digital innovation, cities 4.0, and the internet of things, burn bright.

But what is the object?  How can cities most effectively engage with digital?  And what lessons from international experience are there for Australasian cities?

These questions I explored last year as a Sir Winston Churchill Fellow, visiting eleven leading smart cities – Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Seoul, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm, New York, Raleigh, Lima, San Francisco and San Jose.

This study trip was a remarkable journey of digital city exploration and discovery.  From the evolution of civic democracy in Seoul, to partnerships in New York transforming 7,500 old pay phones into new digital hubs (unlocking billions of dollars in new value), to portable digital labs made from shipping containers for schools in Lima.

However, the key lessons relate less to such wonderful digital projects, which are specific to each city, but to the principles of purpose, planning and process, which can be applied in any city.

Principles such as – be a digital democracy.  Easy to say.  Much harder to do.  But in Seoul, they are making real progress with initiatives such as mVoting.  This digital platform (smart-phone app and website) allows rapid polling of citizen opinion through votes on policy and municipal matters.  Polls can be targeted by various demographic factors and citizens can set preferences for areas of voting interest.  mVoting has been used for hundreds of polls with direct influence on city policy, and enshrines Seoul’s philosophy of participatory democracy and ‘the citizen as Mayor’.

A second principle, and oh so important!  Get a smart city plan!  The digital cosmos is vast, its philosophy and technology concerns every part of the city – people, processes, services, administration, economy, and places.  It covers infrastructure, networks, data collection and analysis.  It can be applied to health, education, municipal services, utilities, justice, transport, the environment, and more.

Facing such breadth of scope, and depth of opportunity, without the focus and direction of a digital plan, digital actions will easily be fragmented. To plan is to examine the particular circumstances of each city, and to concentrate attention where digital transformation can make the most difference.

Beyond planning is dynamic reality, and the principle of innovation – being open to change, redesign, new ideas, doing things differently, and connecting things in fresh ways.  So to be a digital city is to embrace innovation, and to be innovative embraces digital.  This symbiosis is well understood by leading smart cities.  And their efforts to encourage, promote and support innovation are a pillar of smart city plans the world over.

Barcelona has a beautifully expressed innovation goal of “creating a dialogue and experimentation agora” where anyone can progress smart city innovation and research.

This goal is epitomised by the Barcelona Urban Lab, which facilitates use of public space to trial innovative products and technology to support commercialisation and improve municipal services for the community.  Pilot projects to date have included traffic lights adapted for the blind, remote utility meter readings, and smart street lights fitted with presence, vibration, temperature, humidity, sound and pollution sensors, GSM aerials, Wi-Fi Mesh access point and webcam for video surveillance functions.

Another principle, oh so important, but too dry for much attention here, is establishing strong leadership and governance.  Leading cities universally attested the value of this principle; and where it lacked, it was lamented, and where it was sound, it was lauded.

Now a final principle for those with smart city aspirations, and much more exciting than governance: to leverage new business models.  Think beyond the old paradigm of government spending and taxation, to new models of asset regeneration and shared value.

In San Jose for example, the Council recently partnered with Philips Corporation to upgrade 800 street-lights to modern LED luminaires, with big energy, financial and CO2 savings, and zero cost to Council.  How?  Because Philips installed micro cell equipment on 50 poles, and sold this data capability to the telcos.  And so we see improvements to lighting amenity, public assets, energy efficiency, commercial opportunity, mobile connectivity, and budget sustainability.  New value, created, captured and shared by leveraging a new business model and partnership.

Now that is a smart city!

Photo / View over the Passeig de Gràcia Avenue, Barcelona By Ralf Roletschek – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44339377

Closing the customer experience (CX) gap

 

Passengers motion

Photo / GraphicStock

By Caroline White

People worldwide are finally waking up to the importance of customer-centricity. Forrester estimates that 84 per cent of organisations aspire to be CX leaders and Gartner says that for the third consecutive year marketing budgets are on the increase in a bid to improve it

Mercedes-Benz USA President and CEO Steve Cannon described CX back in 2015 as ‘the new marketing’ and every year Gartner report that it is increasingly on people’s agendas.

Hundreds of CX events are popping up worldwide and they are attracting all of the C-Suite – not just the marketing teams.

Unfortunately there is a gap between customer expectations and what they are actually experiencing. Famous research by Bain and Company in 2005 highlighted the staggering difference – 80 per cent of companies believed they were delivering  a ‘superior experience’ whereas only 8 per cent of customers agreed with them. This gap has closed slightly but there is still a long way to go, particularly as nowadays customers expect to be able to interact with a brand via multiple channels.

But why does CX matter?

Forrester defines customer experience as ‘how customers perceive their interactions with your company’. Tony Hillson, chair at Auckland’s recent  Customer 3.1 Summit said the industry has changed a lot over the past few years due to a shift from focussing on traditional service design and delivery towards what was described by keynote speaker, futurist Anders Sorman-Nilsson as a ‘transformation economy’’.

This transformation economy has been born out of a steep rise in the number of digital disruptors, e.g. Uber, AirBnB and shopping apps such as Wish. Digitalisation is making the world smaller –  another example is US retailer Amazon who is expanding across Australia and rumoured to hit New Zealand soon too.

These disruptors raise the bar for more traditional organisations who will need to enhance their CX to keep up – and that’s not just B2C but B2B too.

By implementing CX principles into strategy, technology, processes and people management, it is possible to keep up with disruptors, reduce costs and increase revenue. Forrester estimates that companies who excel at CX grow a staggering 5.1 times quicker than those who don’t.

And how do we improve it?

Here are ten top tips to taking your customers on a journey across mulitple channels:

  1. Plot the customer journey and work out where the most value can be added. Forrester says customers are willing to pay 4.5 times more for excellent CX. Look for ways to give them an memorable experience which makes them feel special. This doesn’t necessary mean the experience is bespoke but rather personalised on a large scale, e.g. Google remembers details such as where you visit frequently so it can provide you with updates and information relevant to you.
  2. Hone both the left and right brains. Left is the logical analytical side and right is the creative side. Both are needed to solve problems and communicate with everyone, e.g. when Benji Karsch first started working at US healthcare company, Cigna, there were no metrics relating to any CX initiatives. This meant they had no idea what was successful and what wasn’t – so the board didn’t value them. As a result he worked on a left-brained solution to impress the board and ensure buy in to future initiatives.
  3. Don’t spread yourself too thin, focus on one main metric, e.g. the net promoter or customer satisfaction score and link it to financial metric, e.g.  10% increased revenue if it is achieved.
  4. Work on two levels of buy-in. Start at the top with metric-based business cases for the decision makers, e.g. we will lose $5m if x happens. Have case studies from previous projects worked on and use storytelling to evoke emotion. Sign up at least one senior person to help drive CX initiatives and make sure their buy in is visible.
  5. Accenture report that 89 per cent of customers want a consistent CX across all channels, a seamless omnichannel. As soon as there is senior level buy-in, push to make CX and digital experience part of the same strategy. Hamish Nuttall, founder of the Naked Bus said ‘digital is just how we do business nowadays.
  6. Now it is time to get everyone else involved. People are more engaged when they come to the project early. Forrester say that companies with engaged employees have operating margins 4.1 times larger than those whose employees aren’t. Also CX initiatives should come from all departments, particularly from frontline employees who are interacting with customers on a daily basis. Encourage an experimental and adaptive culture. Benji Karsch, started a successful internal marketing campaign for employees at US healthcare firm, Cigna, called ‘Go You’. It challenged employees to go above and beyond with customers. To help foster this, they were allowed to choose specially branded t-shirts and decorate their name tag to express their individuality.
  7. Benchmark regularly so progress is visible and get feedback at different points of the customer journey so gaps can be found.  There are lot of mechanisms for feedback including pulse surveys, forums and social media. Jason Delamore, Marketing GM at Auckland Airport said an impressive 400,000 people have given feedback via a tablet in the airport in the last year.
  8. Boost customer trust so you can collaborate and innovate together. Rod Moynihan, Director of Sales at Zendesk says customers value empowerment, transparency and responsiveness above anything else so look at developing these traits. Once trust is formed, test the water with some small CX changes, e.g. a stripped-back, low cost prototype on a small section of people so there is little impact if it goes wrong and then expand from there.

    CXGroupPic

    Panel discussion: Lto R: Benjamin Karsch, EVP & Chief Marketing Officer, Revlon David Hughes, ‎General Manager e-Commerce and Customer Insights, Briscoe Group Moderator: Kat Hardisty, Design Lead, Optimal Workshop Roxanne Salton, Head of Digital Strategy and Delivery, Mercury. Photo / Scott Clegg/ Conferenz

  9. Balance innovation, analytics and common sense. Although it is important to listen to customers, don’t just implement their suggestions blindly. Get to the root of whatever the pain-point is and work out the most efficient way of solving it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your solution has to use new technology such as blockchain, artificial intelligence or machine learning – technology is just a means to an end.
    In some cases it can work really well, e.g. When Lowes Innovation Labs showed people how to do DIY with a Hololens it resulted in 36 per cent better recall than when they watched an instructional video, but often you can be better off sticking to more tried and tested technology. That said, consider the analytics opportunities that are available with Internet of Things devices – just be sure that are completely secure and enhance CX too.
  10. And finally never underestimate the importance of getting insights firsthand from the customer – it is much easier to empathise with them this way. David Hughes, ‎General Manager e-Commerce and Customer Insights at Briscoe Group has access to the customer feedback inbox from his email account. Natalie Kerschner, Senior UX Specialist at BNZ made whole teams of people go into branches posing as real business customers and Roxanne Salter, Head of Digital Strategy at Mercury had once worked where senior people had to do a monthly shift on the shopfloor. It was important, said Roxanne,  not to be afraid of asking stupid questions – since this is how issues were picked up on.

The Datacom Digital Experience team works with organisations to discover which CX strategies are best for them. We have a wide range of tricks in our toolbox from alignment workshops to journey mapping to concept testing.

Interested in knowing more? Email digital@datacom.co.nz.

 

To smartcities and beyond – 10 steps to get your public sector organisation ready for Digital Transformation (DX)

Digital Transformation Banner

By Caroline White

Technology is moving fast in today’s world. Every organisation is expected to know about – if not use – things such as the Internet of Things, blockchain, and artificial intelligence. Every city or town is now expected to aspire to be a smart city.

As newer types of technology emerge, this pace will only start to quicken. Brett Roberts, Associate Director of Datacom Auckland’s Digital, Customers & Collaboration Group likes to use Heraclitus’s quote – ‘‘the only constant is change’ so keep up or get left behind!

Digital Transformation (DX) is not just a catchphrase – technology is being employed successfully by the public sector worldwide to address important safety and security concerns and improve processes.

Body-worn cameras can protect parking officers when out in the field, sensors can be used to highlight buildups at traffic black spots and drones can be used to check tall buildings when people apply for building consents.

Compared with other countries, New Zealand has been slow on the DX uptake. PwC New Zealand say that just 50 per cent of Kiwi organisations are integrating digital and corporate strategies compared to 70 per cent  worldwide. Steffan Schaefer lists the areas where great improvements can be made: air and water quality control, environmental monitoring, energy saving, renewable energy solutions, and the prediction and prevention of natural and man-made disasters. Gartner also says councils could become a hub for technological innovation as they have access to swathes of data which could be valuable – if collected and analysed properly.

You know your organisation needs to start digitally transforming.  But what about the other people in your organisation? How do you convince the decision-makers? Here are ten tips for implementing change in  a public sector organisation.

1. Evaluate the pros and cons of digitising processes
The most common blocks for digital transformation are lack of budget, a lack of time or resource, reliance on legacy systems, a lack of technological skills and “siloed” data. However these problems will only get worse if action isn’t taken to move into the digital space.

Product Manager, Anthony Sidwell recently presented Antenno, Datacom’s new mobile app at PCA Smart Cities Conference 2017. One of the key messages of the conference was that DX isn’t just about implementing technology – it’s a way for councils to improve people’s lives as well as reduce costs and increase efficiency.

It’s an iterative process – so start small and work up. Look at where current issues are and where customer feedback can be improved. Then work out where technology can be used to solve them, e.g. does your team face a battle when dog licensing comes around as it is still done on paper rather than online?

In most cases, the pros far outweigh the cons and the sooner implemented, the sooner improvements can be made.

2. Actively look for and find solutions to any roadblocks
Once you know where the areas for DX are, look for any roadblocks – these could be change resistant or non-tech savvy members in the top team – or holes in your own rough ideas that you hadn’t thought of. Find the five most problem-focussed people you work with and ask them to pick holes in your rough plans – according to research just five people will pick up 85% of issues with a product, service or idea. Find solutions to those issues raised.

3. Impress with stats and bust myths
So now you’re armed with a reviewed rough plan, it is time to wow decision makers with some great ideas. It is important to work out how to sell it to them – find out what problem they would most like to solve, e.g. are they sick of all the complaints that the customer services teams are getting? Then find their preferred communication style so you can frame your ideas in a way that works for them. Prepare a ‘mythbusters’ pack of stats and common questions, e.g. why moving to cloud is safer and better than on premise systems?

4 . Set up a change management team
Once you have support from the decision makers, it is time to set up a change team of like-minded people to help you on the road to success. Each area of the organisation should be represented by a ‘change champion’ – someone to voice concerns for their area, make sure their requirements are covered and generally aid the change process. These people should be fully committed to the idea of change and ready to cajole those more risk-averse members of their team that change is necessary.

5. Foster an innovative culture
In his keynote at the DX2017 summit in March, Brett Roberts stressed the interlinkages between innovation and DX, advising companies to drive an innovative and adaptive digital culture at all times – it’s not just for the top team. Now is the time to reach out to the whole organisation, not just your change management team and let them know that DX is afoot. Encourage all generations and levels to get involved – particularly digital natives. You may find extra skills, expertise and ideas to add to the mix, along with new ways to problem solve.

6. Investigate different options and budgets
As a team, look into the problems you are trying to solve. Refine the requirements identified in step one, add some rough metrics and prioritise.  Once the list is complete, seek outside advice from a reputable DX expert who will be able to discuss the different options and give advice on the best possible digital strategy to fit your needs.

Don’t be afraid of speaking to people who don’t fit the normal council mould – it’s important to know what other councils are doing and where money could be saved via collaboration but it is also important to think outside of the box.

There is no reason why the public sector can’t do this too.  Antenno was born out of a need to solve communication issues between local government and their communities. Councils needed new ways of reaching people. At the same time, their customers were complaining of information overload and wanted to only have access to relevant information.

7.Write a plan with metrics
Once all options have been evaluated, it is time to write the DX plan. Datacom’s Head of Digital Experience, Fiona Monks, recommends that this should be a guiding vision or a ‘north star’ for the next three to five years with only the first six months described in detail. Every six months the team can get together and assess whether the organisation is on the right track.

Don’t forget to…

  • Include the metrics stating where you are now, where you want to be and how frequently you are going to measure them.
  • Consider all stakeholders and situations. Make sure all workflows have been reviewed and mapped – there is little point transferring archaic paper process to digital.
  • Include a disaster recovery plan – it shouldn’t be needed but as calculated risks are needed with DX it is best always to be prepared
  • Invite as many people to review it as possible before finalisation.

8. Get communication right
Communication is often cited as a reason for failure from DX projects. Plan meticulously and far in advance, working out what the best mediums for reaching different stakeholders are. Go interactive via social media aiming to build enthusiasm, excitement and confidence. Make sure there are clear avenues for feedback so worries can be quickly addressed before they fester.

9Look out for people resistant to change
However much communication is done beforehand, there will always be some people who are resistant to DX – particularly frontline employees who have not been involved with the decision- making process. Anticipate who these people are and make sure they feel safe and comfortable. Plan onboarding sessions for new technology and listen to them.

10. Have fun
A recent study by Gallup found that just 29 per cent of government workers are engaged in their job. Use DX as a time to turn over a new leaf and boost engagement levels. Share metrics and celebrate successes as a team. Have change champions at each site to drive changes forward and consider some sort of gamification, e.g. prizes for teams who adopt the new ways of working quickest. Points system with league tables and weekly updates can foster some healthy competition.

Ready to transform your organisation? If you need some inspiration, email us at digital@datacom.co.nz or find out more about our local government products including some impressive case studies here.

Datacom kicks off Microsoft’s Global Integration Bootcamp

By Tim Nelson

It started in Auckland on Saturday, then followed the sunrise across the globe.

Dawn on Saturday 25th saw Datacom stop the countdown clock on the Microsoft Global Integration Bootcamp website.

Starting at 210 Federal Street in Auckland and following the sunrise across 12 locations across around the world, the Global Bootcamp brought the Microsoft integration community together for an intensive day of interactive labs using the latest Azure technology.

With a dual opportunity to lead and learn alongside co-hosts Adaptiv and Theta the team added hospitality and plenty of coffee to create a warm collaborative atmosphere for everyone in attendance.
MicrosoftBootCamp.Presenter

Photo / Datacom’s Craig Haiden presenting at the weekend’s Microsoft Global Integration Bootcamp.

Independent consultants and integrators from both vendors and corporates turned the café into a hub of concentrated activity, augmented by a constant flow of online appreciation from around the globe as successive centres kicked off their day.

Plenty of knowledge was shared and new skills were learned. Hands-on labs covered the full Azure integration stack: enabling hybrid integration scenarios to surface data to the cloud; setting up Service Bus and Logic Apps to orchestrate data flows; configuring API Apps and API Management to present and secure data access; and working with IoT Hub, Stream Analytics and Power BI to provide both deep insight and responsive control of data and devices in real-time.

A big thank you to the dedicated team of organisers and presenters who made it happen: Craig Haiden, Mark Brimble, Mahindra Morar, Mike Howell, James Corbould, Morten Velling and Abhishek Kumar. Literally world-leading…

Check out more about the Global Integration Bootcamp here.

Digital Transformation 101: Insights from DX 2017

By Caroline White

Business leaders from across New Zealand came together to discuss their challenges at the Digital Transformation summit  in Auckland this month. The key themes were:

  • Understanding innovation and transformation and how they work together
  • Unlocking value by leveraging technology and new business platforms
  • Understanding changing audiences for customer-centric digital transformation
  • Recruiting and retaining the right talent and unlocking real competitive advantages

The Datacom sponsored event saw Brett Roberts, Associate Director of Datacom Auckland’s Digital, Customers & Collaboration Group, take to the stage for his keynote advising companies on how to drive an innovative and adaptive digital culture. Digital Transformation means companies need to act fast to ensure they aren’t left behind.

BrettRobertsDX2017CloggCloseupBrett Roberts speaking at DX2017. Photo / Scott Clogg: Conferenz

What is Digital Transformation?

Digital Transformation is the latest hot phrase to be bandied round in offices across the world – but it is also a commonly misunderstood term. Basically, it’s the act of transforming businesses digitally from end to end – from operations to infrastructure, meshing together technology, processes and people.

DX2017 featured 24 speakers in total, each offering advice that can be loosely packaged into five C’s: competitive pressure, the confluence of ideas, customers, culture and continuous learning, and finally the biggest C: communication.

Competitive pressure

Firstly, why do businesses have to digitally transform? Technology and innovation is moving at a faster pace than ever before. We live in an uncertain world – A study from the John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University estimates that 40 percent of today’s F500 companies on the S&P 500 will no longer exist in 10 years.

Foxtel’s Brett Cooper said digital disruptors are everywhere – the most well- known one for his company being being Netflix.

Competition has come from leaders who have shunned traditional business models and dared to do things differently – Uber, Amazon and Airbnb are just three examples.

Nicki Raistrick, Head of Digital at Fletcher Building looked at the same issue, raising concerns about traditional businesses making assumptions they shouldn’t. You may know the names of your customers and their likes and dislikes, but what do they really know about their customer’s customers – is there a new disruptor just around the corner?

Andre Guyer, Head of Digital Transformation for the Zurich Insurance, believes companies need to use money and experience as leverage against new entrants to their industry – to attack, rather than defend their market share.

New Zealand companies need to look at their products and services and work out where they are adding value to their customers – which enable them to innovate and provide a better service, and thus larger margin than foreign counterparts.

DX2017AudienceThe challenge of digital transformation – Brett Roberts speaks at DX2017. Photo / Scott Clogg: Conferenz

Confluence

At the heart of Digital Transformation is a triad, a confluence of people, business and process. It’s not possible to change one without considering impact on the other.

  • People – Robotics will feature heavily in the future, but nothing can substitute for the human brain. Algorithms are not the solution to all our problems.

Digital leaders still have a tough job in shaping the workforce of the future.  Traditional roles such as system administrators, operators, programmers, and help desk employees will decrease in demand and these people will need to be retrained and moved elsewhere.

New people for jobs which haven’t even been dreamt up yet will need to be sourced and an organisation is only as good as the people who work for them.

Quote of the day: “Never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER compromise your hiring.” Hire diverse people with good attitudes who are ready to slot into an innovative environment. And don’t be afraid to hire people who don’t fit the mould – the best innovations don’t tend to come from when people stick to the mould.

  • Business – Transforming to digital can often unearth all sorts of issues that weren’t apparent beforehand. Go back to basics, make sure the company vision is clear, and map out all your processes to how they would work in the real world.
  • Technology – Big data, blockchain, and artificial intelligence were all discussed prominently – and will need to be a part of any future plans.

Lots of companies are using all of these technologies already. Google Maps combines AI, robotics and big data. Starbucks and Amazon are teaming up for an AI, chat and voice app.

Trevor Delany, Head of Information Technology & Services for BP New Zealand said that customers had even arrived at its petrol stations asking to pay with bitcoins. It’s impossible to commit to all of the good ideas out there, but the smart people are those who see how this could fit into existing business models in the future.

Customers

Customers should be first priority for every organisation; but for many busy organisations, they are often the last. Every speaker at DX 2017 called for companies to be more customer- led rather than focusing strictly on products. Customer centricity was frequently discussed, especially innovation labs and collaborative programmes.

Culture and continuous learning

The one fundamental kickstarter is having an innovative culture. Allow everyone in the company to get involved and have their voice heard.

If staff feel are empowered in an innovative culture, they will rally and try to solve issues themselves. They certainly won’t sit by and let disruptors take over. Encourage staff at all levels to be curious and ask questions. You need to accept that you’re not always going to get it right – as Brett Roberts puts it ‘experimentation’, rather than ‘embracing failure’.

Don’t get complacent – embrace constant learning. For example, millennials often have a different way of looking problems compared to other generations. Don’t disparage that, encourage it. Datacomp, Datacom’s yearly hackathon has been so successful that it has become a blueprint for hackathons at other companies, such as Genesys and ASB.

And finally, the big C, communication

The overwhelming message from DX 2017 is to start focussing on people. A major part of that is communication.

Digital transformation is terrifying. Frontline employees can feel hopeless and removed from the decision making process. They’re often wondering: What is going on? Is my job safe? I’ve been here for 20 years – what are all these crazy decisions that the company is now making?

There will always be resistance to DX, said Gerard Smith, Senior Digital Manager for Teachers Mutual Bank.

You need buy in; to get your employees to embrace the model you’re trying to adopt. You need to educate and reassure them, and offer the appropriate training to enable them for the new model.

There is a human being behind every change the business makes, and they need to be engaged – help them celebrate successes, actively promoting your digital projects and highlighting the importance of the change.

My three takeaways:

  1. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Start with small changes and then work up. Review your legacy systems and grade the changes needed into levels of urgency and importance before implementation. If there is kick back from the top team, ask them what else they’ll spend their money on if it isn’t DX.
  1. DX is the whole package, not just the tech – people and business processes are just as important
  1. Uncertainty is a certainty –  Organisations need to be agile, nimble and ready to experiment or else they will die

What do you think? If you’re looking for some ideas on transforming digitally please email us at digital@datacom.co.nz.

Main photo/ Brett Roberts speaks at DX2017.  Photo: Scott Clogg: Conferenz