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.Read more

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!Read more

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.Read more

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.Read more

Cyber criminals hacked off by spy funding

If you were to play word association with ‘spy’, many stereotypical images spring to mind. Eastern Bloc figures swapping briefcases in London parks and James Bond villains are just two. This rather dated perception is however now due for an overhaul.


Key to this is their representation in modern culture. In the UK, we’ve been wowed and thrilled by ‘spooks’ portrayed in TV drama series. They are often the good guys and girls fighting to protect our safety and wellbeing against an increasing number of terror threats.


A case of jumping from fiction to fact was the recent announcement by UK Chancellor George Osborne that intelligence agencies such as MI5, MI6 and Government Communications Headquarters are to get nearly £2 million to fight terrorism. Part of this funding will support the battle against cyber attacks.


Judging by Osborne’s ongoing campaign to make unprecedented public sector savings in the UK, this is no mean feat. A Whitehall source commented: “This has been one of George’s personal priorities. It is vitally important we look after these budgets and they were settled last week with agreement at the very highest level.”


In a time when young people across the world are having a real battle of their own to find employment, or forge careers, this funding is welcome. Jobs and opportunities in cyber security are continuing to rise. Just visit for proof. This gives hope to our future IT pioneers.


So we know there are jobs and demand in cyber security. The key challenge is ensuring students get the right education needed to enter this profession. In the UK, the schools curriculum is currently undergoing a review. I’d like to see the teaching of computing become more inspirational, focusing on industry roles models, to ensure young people are eager to enter cyber security.


I’ve banged the drum about the global IT skills gap many times. Something I’ll continue to do until we see a change. It’s clear that the need for cyber security professionals will only increase in the future. Let’s look at this with clarity – it’s a golden opportunity to create thousands of global jobs. This will help the worldwide economy and is an opportunity not to be missed.


So, the next time you find yourself sitting in a park in London and see shady figures swapping information, possibly to endanger our safety, here’s hoping there’s a cyber security spook nearby to counteract such threats. Stay vigilant!

…and the 250,000th winner is: you?

As you sit by your computer, smartphone or tablet reading my latest blog, you may not be aware of a substantial milestone about to occur. CompTIA is set to announce the 250,000th IT professional gaining its Security+ certification.

Wow. This really is a milestone worth celebrating. To mark this achievement, CompTIA and Knowlogy Corporation will award one year of free IT training to the person gaining the quarter of million number accolade.

This landmark achievement has got me thinking about how our industry has changed since Security+ was introduced back in 2002. Also, it’s crossed my mind just how important it will prove to be in the future.

When this certification was introduced, cyber security was a term not many of us knew. Certainly not outside of tech circles, anyway. It was a term and indeed a threat that we as industry had the foresight to plan against. When there’s a new threat on the horizon, it’s always tough to predict how damaging this could be.

At the time, we didn’t have the level of access to the internet that we have today. Just look around you. If you’re at work, on the bus or sneakily tapping away at the cinema, it’s apparent that the internet has become ubiquitous.

We’re now dealing with a very different threat of attack than say five or ten years ago. The term cyber security is everywhere in the media. Just take a moment to reflect; a few years ago the term was only the realm of computer trade magazines and perhaps the serious ‘big’ papers. Now it’s the domain of mainstream breakfast television shows and light-hearted entertainment magazines.

The threat of such attacks is becoming more complex, more sophisticated; it’s no longer one person locked in a dark bedroom with only the glare of the PC monitor screen for company. This new threat is why CompTIA will continue to evolve and innovate its Security+ certification.

Another thought that has sprung into my head today is just how many people we’ve helped become more employable via Security+. This surely is the key strength of its impact to industry. We all know there’s a skills gap and that demand for security skills is set to increase. By setting a high standard in this field, I feel CompTIA is helping worldwide economies by developing security professionals across all avenues of employment.

So there you have it. A milestone worth celebrating whilst looking ahead to 500,000 trained under Security+ in the future. Good luck to those about to sit Security+. If you’re not the lucky winner, rest assured your career will be more rewarding and prosperous once you get yourself certified.

Make Every Day in the Workplace Worthwhile – Part 2

So, since my last blog, I hope some of you have had time to digest the first five commandments of the worthwhile workplace. If not, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to do so. For those that have done this, here are the final five…

Let’s kick off with a golden rule that’s still so important today: achieve work life balance. We work long hours, but family and friends – and your pets – need your attention too! Also, we’re all guilty of claiming to be too busy to leave our desks and go for a walk at lunch for even five minutes. Seriously, get up and take that time, your corporate world will not fall apart if you do this! You will feel better for taking that mini break.

Enjoy living the moment, in the present day. It’s very easy to reminisce about how great the past was, or how you preferred working for ‘X’ company back in the day. Make your present job the best it can be. Savour the now and the positives you get from going to work. Try not to dwell on what could have been; instead, concentrate on the present and how you can make fresh business connections that will serve your future well.

Where appropriate, in the right context, touch can break down barriers and provide benefits for the mind and spirit. This facet of communication helps us to engage at work and at home, enabling better connections to be made, essential to our success in life.

If possible, investigate meditation and reap the benefits. Once – unfairly – seen as a hippy activity, reflective exercise is quickly becoming a regular part of medical and well-being treatments. The ability to relax the body and mind is vital to performance. Even if you’re flat out during your working day, set aside five minutes (see above) to mediate. This will lead to better concentration and performance.

Finally, think creatively. Where possible, gather team members together for a brainstorm. Many heads are better than one. It’s important to remember that creativity does not have to be limited to those in the artistic world. We can all think with imagination and apply the outcome in the workplace.

So there you have it. Why not try to incorporate one, or all ten, ideas into your work and private lives. You’d be amazed how a new way of thinking can unlock new ideas and improve your output. Feel free to challenge the set way of completing a task, especially if it has always been tackled in the same way day after day, year after year. I’d be interested to hear back form you in the future with feedback on how you get on. Good luck and have fun with this new approach to your corporate and personal lives.

Making Every Day in the Workplace Worthwhile - Part 1

If you’re sitting at your desk reading this blog, please take a moment to reflect on your performance today. I’ll hazard a guess you’re pretty good at your job. Sometimes, when you have to focus very hard, you’re output could reach the magical 110% mark.

But, in all honesty, you may at times do your job on autopilot. In the words of the great attorney, educator and visionary Hugh B. Brown: ‘if you have a desire to be mediocre, you will probably find that you have already achieved your ambition’. Ask yourself this – do you enjoy what you do and could you improve on the situation to realise your vision?

We all go through phases in our jobs where we enjoy it thoroughly and when it can be a bit of a chore, a necessity, or a routine. If you’re experiencing the latter three phases, I want to try and help you improve by following the steps outlined below. The aim: to make each working day truly worthwhile.

Firstly, let’s look at how we make connections – key to succeeding personally and professionally in life. Good connectors keep in regular contact with loved ones and work colleagues. The networkers. My advice is make that effort to keep in touch with your peer group, as you’ll need their help and advice at some point soon.

It’s an obvious one, but aim to think positively. Park the ‘what if’ mentality and shift it to the ‘what I can do’ mantra. A positive outlook across life’s rich pageant will truly determine the difference between life and death, success or failure and happiness or despair.

Next up, try to live with a strong sense of purpose. This helps us move forward in life – or not if you choose to tick the ‘no purpose’ box. Spend time defining your fundamental purpose in life – drawing on work and personal matters. This could be to help others, or to strive for the best you can do in life. Give it a go. It’s harder than you think, but ultimately very rewarding.

Embrace vision. The most accomplished people I know have a vision for their lives. Fear not if you haven’t developed this yet, it can be done at any time, but I’d advise you to do this sooner rather than later. Your plan – with its vision – should have an executive summary detailing who you are and what you want out of life. This guide doesn’t have to be written down, as long it’s easy to recall from the old grey matter.

Finally, in life don’t be afraid to the point that you limit what you want to achieve. It’s important to acknowledge fear, discover where it comes from, then confront it and move on with your head held high.

So there you have it – your initial pointers to achieve workplace and personal harmony. Now don’t forget that you’ve got an important role to play in your corporate career. Next time we’ll look at the next five aims; until then, go forth and spread the ‘work can be worthwhile everyday’ gospel! Thanks, as always, for your time.

The CIO could be the next CEO

In today’s society, IT and technology careers are very much in vogue. For example, David Cameron and Boris Johnson have both championed Silicon Roundabout in East London as one way to boost our flagging economy. The future, it seems, is tech-shaped.

Linked to this potential rise in IT careers is a myth that I’d like to shatter. It’s simply not the case that you must know programming and hold a computing degree to succeed. Yes, of course, the aforementioned skill is required, but technical programming skills are only one part of what IT can offer as a career choice.

IT is no longer about sitting in a basement working alone. It’s about collaboration, solving problems and how you market and manage your start up or enterprise. The tech community comprising creators, designers and sales people all play their part in changing the business and consumer world.

The most amazing thing about technology is that we have no idea what revolutionary things it will enable us to do over the next few years. What we do know is that all of these innovations - present and future - will need thousands of people who understand how technology and business work, if they are to be successful.

Understanding this technology and more importantly how your staff and customers tick, can offer tech staff a path to the boardroom. In fact, if you’re a CIO reading this right now, I bet you could be CEO if you’re prepare to put in the time and commitment to your enterprise.

A great example of this type of career rise is the story of Philip Clarke, Tesco’s current CEO. Philip started at the company as a humble part-time assistant, aged 14. He worked his way up, thanks to management training, to hold the Head of IT role.

Today, Tesco has promoted Philip to CEO and promoted current IT director Mike McNamara to the post of CIO. Clarke’s rise to the top has been seen as vindication of the importance of IT in businesses such as Tesco.

The story of Tesco highlights that such a transition from the tech to the sales target world is possible. Key to making this career leap is having transferable skills. For example, project management is deemed the most in demand in business, according to a recent CompTIA skills report. You may have this under your belt even if you’re not from an IT background.

So if you’re a programmer currently sipping a skinny latte near Silicon Roundabout dreaming of a management role, please believe that it can be achieved. On a positive note, you’re probably in small start-up, where your influence will take you up the ladder faster than the Tesco story.

Alternatively, if you’re a strong leader, have good business skills but you’re not from an IT background, believe you too can succeed. It just takes motivation, perseverance and the ability to manage and predict how technology will develop in the future. See you near the Roundabout soon. I’ll have an Espresso.

The dearth of the (decent) IT salesman

If you were to empty out your pockets and bags at this very moment, I’d hazard a guess you’ll have two or three electronic devices to hand. I’d predict these items are smart phones, tablets and laptops.

Such devices are now essential and the market is ever increasing. What makes us choose a certain tablet over a competitor’s is how the device is sold to us by a human. Put simply, behind every sale is a person.

The psychology of why a sale is made is fascinating. Legendary sales gurus Spencer Johnson and Larry Wilson wrote in The One Minute Sales Person that ‘people buy for their reasons, not ours’ and that ‘people buy trust and service’.

The problem, of course, is that there are still many less-than-ethical IT sales people out there skimping on the trust and service. Targets and the pressure to seal the deal have increased, as the economic times get tougher.

The customer wants to be respected and made to feel very important – at all times. Below is how to develop key facets of selling successfully.

In order to make your sale successful, it’s essential you talk and communicate clearly. In fact, research from Harvard University has found that the best skill for a successful life is the ability to talk to each other. If you’re in sales, don’t baffle your prospective customer with technical language if they look like they want to run a mile during your pitch! Keep it simple.

Also, please listen to your prospect! Sales teams are guilty of talking fast, in a fairly scripted manner. If your audience has a question, let them ask it, as it’ll demonstrate you’re a good listener and can think on your feet.

Modern sales teams need to remember to connect on a human level. Take a few minutes to discuss your contact’s personal interests and hobbies, as this will help build solid working relationships. If you only connect on a cold, business level, you’re in danger of losing the sale due to losing the person.

As a seller, be sure to communicate the real and accurate value your product will add. In the training and certification scenario, provide case studies and evidence on how a new program will support productivity, moral and profitability in the workplace.

Overall, drawing from my experience, business is serious, but people often are not. Show your friendly and human side during a pitch; wean yourself off of your PowerPoint dependency and make the person-to-person sale. Good luck!