Why Cybersecurity MUST BE your new business priority.


It reads like something from a thriller movie trailer and yet it’s the headline of a recent article in Reuters highlighting what many political and business leaders fear most:

“Destructive hacking attempts target critical infrastructure in Americas”

What’s so remarkable about the most recent hacking attempts in the US, is that the hackers are no longer trying to steal data, instead opting to try to shut down computer networks, delete files or control equipment.

So great is the concern about this, that it was the driver for a recent executive order and proposed legislation to encourage greater information-sharing about threats between the private sector and government.

And yet, in spite of all the growing threat to Cybersecurity, only one in three HR professionals report providing Cybersecurity training to staff.

Is your organization doing everything it can to protect itself? Continue reading

Sales: From Sandbagging to Motivating

What’s the best way to compensate and motivate your sales team?

Whether you’re a manager or a sales professional yourself, I’ll bet you have some thoughts on the matter.

This month’s Harvard Business Review offers up a fresh take that I wish I could’ve benefited from when I first started out. Continue reading

UK Failing to address the digital skills shortage

Our industry has done so much advocacy in the last few years trying to get students interested in IT and considering our strong efforts to bridge the digital skills gap, it is almost inconceivable that we are still so short of achieving our goals.

Yet, as we make our way into spring 2015, the digital skill shortage is still a big issue. According to the House of Lords Digital Skills Committee, 35% of UK jobs will be at risk of being automated over the next 20 years. What’s even more worrying is that the committee says the UK government is failing to address the issue.

Committee chair Baroness Morgan describes the report as a wakeup call to the next government following this May’s general election.

What’s even more surprising is that digital literacy is still fighting to become a core competency at schools alongside English and maths.  For the UK to solve this issue and become a digital leader, the report recommends making digital literacy a core subject at schools. It also recommends that the internet should be regarded as a utility, similar to electricity or water.

The report also emphasized another glaring setback, the lack of women in digital studies. With 4,000 people studying computer science, fewer than 100 were girls: 2.5%. Some recent research completed here at CompTIA demonstrates an average of 13% females taking our exams in Q3 2014. This was in international study and highlights that the UK is lagging behind other regions.

Despite the success of IT apprenticeships and the new computing curriculum – which commenced last September – the overarching issue appears to be that the UK does not have enough teachers confident in delivering digital skills. Over half of the UK’s IT teachers do not have a post-A level qualification relevant to IT.

Ensuring our teachers are qualified surely begins at higher level education level where there needs to be input from industry recognized organizations. This was also observed by Baroness Morgan who added that there is urgent need for industry input, so graduates are learning skills relevant to digital jobs. As the voice of the world’s information technology industry with industry-leading vendor neutral IT certifications, CompTIA is ideally placed to support.

CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) certification, is an international, vendor-neutral certification that covers core instructor skills, including preparation, presentation, communication and evaluation in both a classroom and virtual classroom environment.

The exam covers planning prior to the course, methods and media for instructional delivery, instructor credibility and communications, group facilitation and evaluating the training event.

Dell, Microsoft, Ricoh and IBM recommend that their trainers be CompTIA CTT+ certified.

We are at a pivotal moment in the UK’s economy. With the general election in May, the new government will need to build a digital workforce capable of competing with the rest of the world. Failure to do so will result in the UK falling even further behind in the digital age and the race to skill its workforce.

IT industry must collaborate to solve IT skills gap

As close as we are to the problem on a daily basis, the IT industry alone cannot solve the skills gap. However, when we team up with or gain the support of influential politicians, that’s when things can start to change for the better.

As I currently live and work in the US, I’m interested in ways the skills gap is being addressed here. I recently came across a story highlighting the need for our industry and elected representatives to work together to develop the IT skills needed for our profession to succeed.

Senior staff at leading technology companies including Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Salesforce.com recently wrote to the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, offering to partner with the state to increase computer education in kindergarten and 12th grade schools.

Currently, 90 percent of these schools do not teach computer science. That’s an astonishing fact in the home of the tech industry. Here we see how leading IT companies have identified how a skills gap will hit them hard, as the US-tech industry tries to keep ahead of competitors now and in the future.

I had to admire the fact that industry took the lead here to highlight to politicians that by not tackling the skills gap at source – in this case an education system not for the purpose – there could be economic ramifications in the future.

Of course, the more forward-thinking politician can also come up with a bright idea to tackle the ever-present IT skills shortage. Step forward a former US Secretary of State….

At the recent VentureScape conference in San Francisco, Condoleezza Rice spoke about tapping the human potential that is necessary for our “great march toward a better future.” Rice likened human potential to a country’s resources or its imports and exports, and said that the US has had a better track record at mobilising this potential than any other country in the world.

“Forty percent of the startups in this area have one foreign founder. That says something about the power of attracting the best and brightest. And, I just don’t get it when people want to make immigrants, somehow, the enemy,” Rice said.

When asked about what the specific next steps should be, Rice called for open season on H-1B visas for anyone who wants one. The H-1B visa is one of the standard work visas that employers use to bring workers from other countries to the US for specialty work. Thus type of visa could benefit tech companies looking to bring in the skills needed short and long term to get ahead in the IT industry.

Whether or not the efforts of the tech companies in California or Condoleezza Rice’s view on visa changes helps address the skills gap, at least these are two positive examples of action taking place. We all know that tackling the IT skills problem will take time, effort and resources, but a collaborative approach between politicians and industry leaders highlights that two combined heads are at least better than one. I for one think that’s a good thing.

 

 

IT job market is bright, but fresh skills are needed going forward

It’s now approaching the sixth year of the global economic downturn. We’ve seen banks and even our favourite high street chains go to the wall. However, depending on who you speak to, the job market is looking rosier in certain sectors.

One sector that has to a degree bucked the trend is IT. Research from US-based Burning Glass Technologies found that Q4 2013 IT job openings numbered over 500,000. Additionally, research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the IT unemployment rate was 3.3% in the US compared to the overall national average of 7% across all sectors. We’re the lucky ones it seems.

We’ve perhaps not faced the uncertainty or threat of redundancy that other sectors have had to deal with. That’s a good thing, but we do face a different challenge though – a skills gap.

This gap is a global issue that needs to be resolved in the short and long term. In the UK, Joanna Shields, chair of Tech City UK, is keen to ensure the next generation of digitally skilled professionals is nurtured the right way. She feels that via a revitalised schools curriculum this can happen. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment.

I work closely with the education sector with CompTIA and the curriculum needs shaking up. We’ve got to ensure that the teaching of IT is made compelling and exciting.

I feel our industry, politicians and the media have major parts to play in championing IT role models that students can look up to. Without belittling IT, it needs to look more sexy.

Young people are very concerned about youth unemployment, debt and uncertain careers. The IT profession is a strong fire way of offering a creative and interesting career that offers stability and the chance for global employment. Pretty exciting.

So in summary, it’s time to collaborate and champion our own industry, as it will offer the new digital generation great scope to learn and succeed. There’s no time to lose. Let’s get started!

Business success 2014: Selecting the right technology

In my last blog post I championed the human being the most important element in the workplace. That view certainly hasn’t changed, but the technology deployed in the workplace is almost as essential as having motivated and driven staff. The two need to marry each other, without divorce!

 

A huge ongoing challenge in the workplace is managing data. Big data, metadata, ever-increasing data – it’ll not go away, so learn to manage it. Now and in the future, a real headache is loss of business data.

 

Most of us now have a device, a tablet or smartphone that contains both personal and business data. What happens when you accidentally leave your phone on the bus and need to get it wiped? Nightmare, that’s what. Thankfully, there is software designed to wipe confidential data without a Mission Impossible-style combustion of devices! This’ll save your precious business data from getting in the wrong hands.

 

Another key challenge is planning to ensure all forms of data can be synchronized without too much of a headache. It also worth employing the right technology to ensure you can ‘comb’ through vast amounts of data to find what you’re looking for, without using up a lot of valuable staff time. Look at legacy systems if you want to switch to new, faster hardware. Don’t be afraid to ask all the right questions before purchasing, to avoid two incompatible systems.

 

Whilst we’re on the subject of systems, the costs involved in upgrading technology are vast. Again, make sure you are about to buy the right infrastructure that will allow you to stay competitive without glitches that could slow you down. Look at customer case studies to see the situation, problem and how the technology helped solve this challenge. Any decent vendor will have case studies on their website, on social media or in the form of a DVD so you can ‘try before you buy’.  Look at helpline support as well. Does it suit your needs? if not, look elsewhere.

 

The final important element to success is keeping up with ever-changing customers’ needs. Today, e-commerce is on the menu. Tomorrow, who knows, but be prepared to move with the times. A key challenge here is to make sure you don’t completely throw away your existing system every year. A great way to pre-empt this issue is to buy solutions that can be easily scaled up as and when required. Another option is to use cloud-based software that includes upgrades in the contract price. Read the small print! In summary, no single solution will meet all your needs, but make sure flexibility is part of the package.

Business success 2014: The human touch

Now that the often-sluggish month of January is behind us, it’s very much a case of knuckling down to address the business challenges we face in 2014. In this blog I want to address the human element of achieving success.

 

We all may confess to be addicted to technology in our lives. We can pay bills at 4am, stream music and films to devices all around the home. In short, our machines are vital to us. But let’s not forget who designs, communicates, operates and improves our tech-dominated office: human beings.

 

It’s easy to go through each working today without much face-to-face contact with colleagues. Of course, e-communication is ubiquitous, but I try to meet face-to-face with other human beings – where possible! Business technologies have made our lives easier. I’m not disputing that for a second. But we must not lose the ability to network, collaborate and communicate in person.

 

The human touch makes a huge difference in my opinion. Personally speaking, it’s people not just our software infrastructure that makes the difference. I like to think it’s the right people in the right place, at the right time. You need to make sure staff feel supported, challenged and motivated in the workplace. This can be achieved by setting clear goals, agreeing appraisal schemes and rewarding staff – a social night for example.

 

If you create a positive working environment, with everyone rowing in the same direction, tasks and targets will be easier to reach. It’s about getting everyone on board. One of the most common challenges linked to this is getting buy-in from employees.

 

Often, people are creatures of habit; especially if they’ve been in a company for many years and are reluctant to change. This type of employee will naturally feel threatened if there’s a cultural shift in an organisation. This type of change is common in today’s business climate as takeovers and mergers occur fairly frequently.

 

So if you find yourself heading up a change management programme, you must put staff feelings and feedback at the top of your list. Where possible, acknowledge their comments and reassure them you and the ‘suits’ are listening. Engage in employee forums and suggest representatives from each business team are involved to ensure all voices across the company are heard. Failure to do this will lead to gossip, mistruths and demotivated staff – something the best technology cannot solve when installed or rebooted.

 

A final point to consider is training. As discussed above, having a relevant appraisal system must be linked to training, if budgets allow this. I thoroughly recommend a training programme. If you’re on a tight budget, experienced staff can run internal mentoring and workshops. Seriously, order in pizza and you’ve got a captivated audience – even if initially it’s to determine who can eat the most pepperoni slice! But seriously, this type of workshop doesn’t take long to develop and helps nurture skills in both the ‘teachers’ and the ‘pupils’.

 

In the next blog I’ll address key business and technology challenges we will face in 2014 and how best to manage them. Key to this of course is our humans and human interactions! Don’t let the technology totally dominate the workplace!

Helpdesk is at hand to nurture students’ IT career skills

It’s often argued that many education systems do not adequately prepare students to enter the workplace with the right skills. Fact. However, I recently came across a school that is bucking this trend.

 

West Leyden High School in Chicago wanted its students to understand the IT skills needed in the business world. With this in mind, Leyden set up the Technical Support Internship (TSI) to provide a live IT helpdesk for the school.

 

The mission was clear: to be the first contact point for IT queries; to be academically focused; to be customer-centric; to place technology at the heart of teaching, learning and productivity. Wow, I’m impressed!

 

The resource operates in a similar way to helpdesks you’d find in your workplace. Incoming queries are recorded via a ticketing system. The students’ work on a rota system, to ensure there is ample cover. If they can’t solve a problem, they can seek assistance from a peer, enabling them to learn as well as problem-solve.

 

The helpdesk is unique because it demonstrates a live, hands-on approach to using technology; it operates in real-time; it exposes students to diverse projects and challenges them to develop IT career interests and opportunities.

 

So far, the initiative has proven to be very successful. By the end of Summer 2013, over 7,000 requests were successfully handled by the helpdesk. Completed projects included server upgrade work and development of a new app featuring the day’s lunch menu! I can only hope the food is better than my time at school!

 

The students gained CompTIA, Microsoft and Google certifications, they learnt Java, Python, and HTML programming skills and gained guidance in job interviews, resume writing and creating a LinkedIn profile to support their imminent careers. The TSI encourages innovation by hosting a business start-up class called Entrepreneurship. This is so relevant in today’s business climate, as 18-25 year olds have created over 20% of start-ups in the last 12 months, according to Forbes.

 

The real fundamental benefit of the scheme is the link to local employers. This is encouraging to hear, as Leyden students will be one step ahead of their rivals when they seek employment in just a few years time.

 

Currently, many of the students have expressed an interest in getting directly into the ‘working world’ rather than further education. The school wants to increase its connection with employers to support its desire to find students immediate paid positions, both local and beyond. Now that is real success from humble in-house helpdesk beginnings.

Light-fingered iPhone 5S hackers need heavy-handed counteraction

Unless you have been living under a truly analogue-shaped rock of late, you will know that Apple recently launched its new iPhone 5S. You know the situation by now: Apple worshippers queuing outside stores around the globe, desperate to get their hands on the latest must-have device.

 

Some would argue that the cult of Apple should lead to being aware of false Gods – a case of the iPhone being bigger than Jesus, and indeed The Beatles. What Apple devotees should in fact be aware of are hackers ready to attack the latest consumer device they adore.

 

Last week, German hackers Chaos Computer Club claimed to have used biometrics to take a photo of a fingerprint and reuse it to unlock the iPhone. This was a few days after it’s launch. These hackers don’t hang around, do they?

 

What I found alarming in this situation were two things. Firstly, the speed at which these alleged hackers have cracked a facet of security of the very latest consumer device. Secondly, how biometric technology – with uses in medical and defence fields – was rendered unsafe.

 

In the tech word, the good (cyber security experts) versus the bad (hackers) fight will continue indefinitely. Every time a newer, more desirable device comes onto the market, groups of cyber criminals lick their lips in anticipation that they will be able to hack it first. Flipping the coin, on a more positive note, the cyber security industry’s profile has never been higher, leading to the brightest minds choosing a career battling so called hacktivists.

 

There are many encouraging cyber security programmes being supported by major Western governments – an issue of crime fighting not taken as seriously say five to ten years ago. We now are seeing cyber security challenges that offer prizes and incentives to student to become the good guys and girls on the right side of the law.

 

We’re finally seeing schools starting to look at their curriculums, with an onus on making computing more now and less then. Trends and market issues are slowly being addressed, allowing tomorrow’s graduates to be ready to hit the job market with the relevant skills.

 

Regarding the job market, cyber security professionals are very much in demand. I bang the very battered drum regarding the IT skills shortage often, but this is a real positive if you’re about to enter the job market, or harbour desire to go into computing as a career.

 

Additionally, I’m confident that the mass media will start to commission more dramas about cyber crime. Hollywood likes to pick up and follow societal issues. Just cast your mind back to Cold War inspired movies of the 1980s, such as War Games (younger readers, please visit Internet Movie Database for enlightenment!).

 

Any media exposure about cyber crime, even if it’s sensational, will raise awareness of this pressing problem. I think this is a good thing. Personally speaking, I dream of a society where the cyber security professional could be in the same league as a James Bond figure. Hmm. A new Bond film solely about cyber security; I wonder if I should put myself forward as 007!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyber crime ‘black hole’ must be filled in

Not a day goes by now, it seems, without news of a fresh, more deadly, cyber attack. Cast your mind back to a decade ago and you may recall that e-crime would crop up in the media only occasionally.

Once an issue such as cyber crime threatens to undermine our lives – cynically you could argue affecting how we vote – the politicos’ ears prick up and take notice. This was the case recently with the publication of a new e-crime report.

The UK’s Home Affairs Committee found that Britain is still complacent about this nature of crime. The report even went as far as suggesting there’s a cyber crime ‘black hole’, with the war being lost in combating its detrimental effect on our businesses and lives.

The committee’s chief, MP Keith Vaz, went as far as saying: “The threat of a cyber attack to the UK is so serious it is marked as a higher level threat than a nuclear attack.”

Mirroring the report’s findings were those of a recent Ponemon Institute study concluding that cyber crime is very costly. The Institute benchmarked 38 organisations and found that the median annual cost of e-crime totalled £2.1m.

The work of our aforementioned elected representatives is key to tackling such new threats – for example cast your mind back to Y2K. Today, it was the Home Affairs Committee alerting us to a major problem. Those with a cabby-like ‘knowledge’ of Westminster will know we should hotfoot it over to the other side of SW1 to a department where future solutions to e-crime lie – education.

In the UK, we have a great opportunity to review and improve how cyber security is taught in our schools as part of the computing curriculum. The geeky, nerdy computer boffin image is now changing. If we can tap into the silicon roundabout cool to inspire tech icons of tomorrow, I’m all for it.

I’d like to image a future where our young people’s role models are tech pioneers, fighting crime, as opposed to the current obsession with footballers. Children look up and listen to their idols, so I’m hoping those in the ever-developing tech world get their deserved time in the spotlight. It’s not churlish to imagine Cyber Security Idol – I really should trademark this – appearing on our screens in the future. Here’s hoping!