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May 28, 2015

Reviving The Intranet


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Are Intranets Dead?

No, Intranets are not dead.

Despite a lot of consensus online to the contrary, I would like to hereby put it to you that intranets are not dead, and in fact can be the number one thriving resource of great companies, large and small, if only they’d choose to focus on making theirs great – or even investing in one at all.

While it’s certainly true that a bad intranet is nothing but a bane on a business, it’s also true that nearly all of those companies who are experiencing this sort of failure in their intranets are not giving them the attention that they need.

An under-funded, under-appreciated and under-used intranet will of course be a dead weight on a company’s network. But, if these same companies would just simply change their attitude towards their intranets, then they would almost certainly find that these brilliant internal networks are in fact live and well – and can even prove to be the lifeblood of their business.

Investment

The intranet is not dead. It is perhaps a little poorly and a little malnourished – but that’s nothing that a little bit of investment won’t cure. And I choose the word ‘investment’ quite pointedly. For investing in an intranet will ultimately see you a return. You will be returned in efficiency savings, productivity savings, and savings on administration and human resources. This is not an out and out business expense, but a meaningful investment that your business can make that will save you money in the long run.

There is a theory that the rise of social media has sounded the death toll of intranets, and indeed will eventually replace them – and the need for them – outright altogether. This just simply isn’t true. For instance, social media has yet to negate the need for email, and, to be honest, this is a far more likely occurrence. But, it hasn’t, and it won’t – and nor will it be the death of the intranet.

Social media is a great alternative channel that a lot of companies can benefit from. And indeed, social networks can in fact enhance a company’s intranet. And I’m not necessarily talking about Facebook or Twitter here – although there’s no reason at all why these two giants can’t be used to enhance a company’s experience of the intranet. Rather, I’m talking about social platforms such as ThoughtFarmer, SocialCast and SocialText.

These three are great examples of technology platforms that power a great intranet – but they are not slayers of the intranet. No, these platforms are the cloud-based solutions that are becoming the intranet.

These are social intranets, yes, but intranets all the same. They are indeed the embodiment of the intranet’s evolution.

All About Users

The success and even the revival of an intranet in the end will always boil down to the people who use it. It’s all about the authors, the contributors and the managers.

Furthermore, successful intranets are all about the processes and policies that are implemented to govern these users’ output. Employees do not login to the company’s intranet in order to be entertained, to play games, or to send jovial private messages to their colleagues – they use Facebook for that (though hopefully not on company time). No, employees access the intranet in order to gain quick and easy access to information.

The intranet is the place where all of the professional profiles of everyone who works in the company can be found. It is where the chain of command gets displayed for all to see and understand. It’s where teams and groups can collaborate on projects together. It’s where breaking corporate news gets published for all to see. Where phone numbers are published, company files, manuals, benefits procedures, etc. etc. etc.

No, it’s not that the intranet is dead in the water at all, but rather that companies have forgotten how useful they can be.

And this is my problem with the whole ‘the intranet is dead’ debate. It’s not the technology that is dead, nor even dying, to be honest, for there are new innovations happening all the time. But, it does rely on commitment from the company to make it work.

Great intranets can save invaluable time on the search for information. Think about it – when an employee wants to access pay or compensation statements, to whom do they turn t? Are they expected to just know? Do they email a colleague, who then tells them to email the manager, who then tells them to phone HR, who promptly tells them that the payments and admin team are on vacation for the next 2 weeks so the enquiry will have to wait?

With an intranet, that same employee can quickly head online to the appropriate page and get all of this information – including which members of staff are not currently present – in just a few clicks. What a time saver, and therefore a productivity generator.

No, intranets are not a meaningless expense or just a fun toy from the past. They are useful tools that can provide a company with invaluable resources that can be shared right around the office, and even beyond to those working in the field or from home.

Intranets are not going anywhere, and nor should they. They deserve our attention and our commitment to revive them. So, let’s do it together.

We can help you revive your intranet. Get in touch to find out how.

May 15, 2015

Private, Public and Hybrid Clouds – What’s The Difference?


Private, Public And Hybrid Clouds – What's the Difference?

Cloud computing has taken off in a big way. Practically all of us reap the benefits of it on a personal use level – whether that’s from using email or Dropbox or Google Docs or what have you – but in the business world, more and more we’re turning our eyes to the cloudy sky to help us perform an increasing amount of our day to day business processes.

Of course we do. There are many business benefits that can be reaped by utilizing what the cloud has to offer – better security, scalability, cost efficiency, reliability – and making the migration to the cloud is one of the smartest business moves that can be made at this point in the 21st century, and indeed 65% of enterprises have already made the migration in some form or another.

As such, you may very well be considering a similar move yourself (and if you are, then we highly recommend that you read our recent blog post ‘Migrating To The Cloud? Top 5 Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs’), and might have come across some slightly confusing terms to get your head around.

What Is The Cloud?

If you’re not in the business of dealing with computers like we are, then the whole concept of the cloud itself can often be a little confusing. And I think that a lot of that confusion stems from the name itself – ‘The Cloud’.

Before the internet, clouds were beautiful white puffy things that floated past in the sunny sky overhead, or sometimes turned gray and angry and then unleashed a cold pouring of fresh water that we called rain. Indeed, there has always been something rather ethereal about clouds up there in the sky, brushing against mountains, crumbling away in the heat, wondering as lonely as William Wordsworth sneezing with hay fever from all those darn daffodils. And I suspect that this airy-fairy poeticism has led a lot of people to think that ‘The Cloud’ is something equally as majestic, as if when storing files in ‘The Cloud’ you were entrusting them to the very Hands of the Internet Gods sitting around up there dressed in white in Internet Heaven.

Well, it’s not, and they’re not.

‘The Cloud’ – or rather the cloud, for we really can strip it of its inverted commas and capital letter grandeur now – is just a big bunch of computers in what is essentially a warehouse somewhere. That’s it. Nothing more.

Well ok, it is a little more complicated than that. But really that’s the best way to describe the cloud – lots of computers (or rather servers), all stacked high together in highly secure buildings, and in which are stored masses and masses of digital information from private individuals and businesses alike from all over the world. The information finds its way back and forth from the cloud via means

of an internet connection – and that’s the cloud, plain and simple. No angels, no fairies and no daffodils I’m afraid – apologies if that spoils the magic for you…

The Different Types Of Cloud

Ok, so we’ve got our heads around the very basics of cloud computing – but, since you’ve decided to migrate a lot of your business files and processes to the cloud, you’ve found that there is more than one type of cloud to choose from, and you’ve found yourself a little confused as to which type is best suited to your business needs.

If this is you, then have no fear. For the remainder of this post I will be describing the main differences between the three main types of cloud – public, private and hybrid – and which one is best suited to which type and size of business so that you’ve got all the knowledge you need to start heading in the right direction when it comes to looking for a cloud service provider sometime soon.

Public Clouds 

Public clouds are those that are hosted by a third party provider and made available to the public at a cost, depending on how much storage space etc. is needed.

What normally happens is that the public cloud providers – like Google, Microsoft or Amazon, for instance – own, operate and maintain the cloud infrastructure in their own buildings, and thousands and millions of users access these clouds via means of an internet connection.

The benefits of the public cloud is that customers will benefit from economies of scale – meaning that your business is never really likely to outgrow the amount of space that is available to you on the public cloud, and you only need to pay for exactly what you use, and, since, so many thousands and millions of other people are using these clouds as well, then the rates are very affordable.

This is a great choice for the startup, and SMEs looking to scale.

Private Clouds 

Private clouds are essentially bespoke cloud infrastructures that are often housed on-site, though just as often at a service provider datacenter. It is a whole cluster of servers dedicated for the purposes of a single, private organization – hence a private cloud.

The benefits of setting up a private cloud is that businesses are permitted to host their own applications in the cloud whilst still maintaining a greater level of security and control of data – something that can be difficult to find in public clouds. 

This is the choice for the SME who requires some very specific functions from their cloud service, with consistency across all services and need data sovereignty.

Hybrid Clouds

The best of both worlds. Hybrid cloud computing now lets businesses make use of both public and private clouds in a combined fashion, so that, for instance, the public cloud can be used for non-sensitive processes, and the private cloud can be used for business-critical operations.

Hybrid clouds can often provide the most agile, flexible and cost-effective solution, and are best used by companies who are providing services that are tailored for different markets.

What type of cloud does your business use? Let us know in the comments below.

May 6, 2015

Liability: The Hidden Complexity In The Cloud


Liability: The Hidden Complexity In The Cloud

Some clouds are darker than others. There’s no question that we need them for the sake of the environment that we now live in, but hidden deep in the dark depths of those condensed clusters floating above us up there in cyberspace, there is monsoon potential for catastrophic downpours of all sorts of liability issues that can leave a company drowning in its own data legalities.

Clouds are continuously inflating all over the globe as an increasing amount of organisations are turning to the storage repositories to meet their business computing needs. Indeed, according to Verizon’s state Of The Market: Enterprise Cloud 2014 Report, 65% of enterprises are already utilizing cloud services to some extent – and this figure is only set to grow in the years that follow.

With the greater power, convenience and productivity that the cloud enables, there is a trade off in terms of liability issues.

If you are using the cloud for the purposes of storing data (which, indeed, is the primary function of cloud services, so, if you’re in the cloud, then you will be), there inevitably comes an aspect of responsibility for that data which you store.

You will have customer data in the cloud, payment data, contact information, some of your key business data, your accounts, your payroll, your tax information – all of this is extremely sensitive stuff, and, as such, you expect the highest levels of security to be in place in efforts to protect it.

But what happens when the security fails and there’s a breach? Who is responsible – is it you or the cloud service provider? What were the terms concerning the allocation of risk when you signed the contract with your CSP? Indeed, what did your clients or customers sign when they handed over their data to you in the first place? What did you promise them?

If there’s a breach, then you can bet your bottom dollar that they are going to want to know. And you can bet your bottom dime that your cloud service provider is going to do everything it can to see that it is you and not them who is liable – such is the nature of liability in the business space.

And so, it is imperative that you start doing your homework right now so that you can be sure that you are protected should the unthinkable happen, and I want to use this post to talk about some of the most pressing cloud computing liability issues, namely contacts, and, exactly what SMEs are often faced with when choosing a cloud service provider.

Contracts

This is where it starts. If you’re in business, then you will of course be very well aware of the complexities of contracts. It’s all in the interpretation of the wording, as we all know, and sometimes those interpretations can be extremely subjective should things ever go awry.

Many SMEs start to look to the cloud for the purposes of scaling their business. And the cloud certainly offers some exciting opportunities to do just that. Often, it can be the case that when searching for the best deal that offers the most relevant features that will be of use to your business, liability issues can be completely overlooked.

A lot of cloud service providers, for instance, like to boast about the strengths of their security systems. And, to be fair, many of them will be just as strong as they profess. However, what’s left largely unsaid, for obvious reasons, when you’re reading through the bullet-pointed list of security features – anti-virus, anti-malware, firewall protection, data-recovery and so on – is what happens should a breach actually occur.

The reason?

Well, it might be that in the small print of the contract, the risk of storing your data and your customer’s data on your cloud service provider’s servers remains with you – i.e. the liability is yours.

This is potentially a serious issue.

When you decide upon a cloud service provider, most of the time you will very quickly stroll through the ‘clickwrap agreement’ – and this is where the important details of your contract will lie, though quite often people will fail to take proper heed of the small print.

The cloud is so popular for SMEs a lot of the time for precisely this very reason. There is an extremely low barrier to entry for the cloud, which, although it makes for a very democratizing service, is, at the same time, extremely segmentary.

The large corporation will have a large legal budget. Any contracts that are signed – or indeed clickwrapped – will be scrutinized thoroughly, and, in order to acquire the new big business, CSPs will often quite willingly bend on their liability terms to onboard a high-end client.

Not so for the SME, unfortunately, and the clickwrap agreement is legally enforceable. If you freely click to agree to a set of terms and conditions, then it carries the same weight in a court of law as if you were to freely put your signature next to something.

Publicly available cloud computing contracts will often offer the best deals, and therefore make themselves the most attractive to SMEs on a budget. However, these will frequently limit the liability of the cloud service provider to a level that is not at all in line with the potential risk that it comes with.

If presented with a clickwrap agreement or when otherwise signing a contract with a CSP, look out for paragraphs that contain something like the following:

“Neither we nor any of our licensors shall be liable to you for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, consequential or exemplary damages, including, but not limited to, damages for loss of profits, goodwill, use, data or other losses.”

If you sign an agreement containing these words, or something similar, then you are liable for anything that happens to that data whilst it’s with your CSP. So, find out if you have made a clickwrap agreement to this effect, and start taking measures now to better protect yourself should a breach strike.

To Whom Does The Data Belong?

Answer: the customer.

What The Law Says

If your CSP suffers a breach, then, as Bloomberg articulates, “the state and federal legal obligations to notify affected individuals apply to the customer as the owner of the data, not the cloud provider.”

To be fair to CSPs, this is a fact that you will do well to remember. At the end of the day, it is your data that you are dealing with, and so it is arguably reasonable that cloud service providers want to deflect as much risk as is associated with it as possible.

However, for some, this argument shouldn’t, in all fairness, stand up.

When you put money in your bank account, for instance, and the bank gets robbed – whom do you think is liable? The bank, of course. And rightly so. You’re entrusting your hard-earned funds to the security (and insurance policy) of your bank. If it takes a hit, then it’s reasonable to expect the bank to absorb the loss.

And so the same theory should surely apply to cloud storage. You are essentially ‘banking’ your sensitive data with your cloud service provider, whom you assume will be responsible for protecting it.

But, of course, data is more unique than credit – and potentially more valuable and damaging. Your CSP will of course be doing everything in their power to prevent a security breach. For one thing, their business depends on it – if all or some of their servers all of a sudden become compromised, then they’ve got a massive reputation loss to overcome, as well as any legal complications (if they haven’t successfully managed to divert all liability onto their customers, that is) and services to deal with and pay for.

But, at the end of the day, a CSP is not a bank. Data is not replaceable in the same way that credit is (one bunch of $100 bills is much the same as another as far as you’re concerned I’m sure – however, your customer and company information that’s stored on those servers is absolutely unique, and once it’s gone, it’s gone), and, as such, CSPs will want the liability to remain with you as the owner of that data, and not themselves as the temporary holders of it.

A Sticky Situation

The liability issue of cloud computing is one that has been around for some years already, and is not set to be solved any time soon. When it comes down to it, you need to be responsible and thorough when choosing a cloud service provider, and try to make use of one where the contract is not non-negotiable.

Indeed, you will undoubtedly find it difficult to source such a vendor, and when you do, you will be paying more for any extra levels of protection that you manage to acquire. However, you must be aware that CSPs will be extremely reluctant to take on any more liability, even if other areas of the contract are up for negotiation.

Cloud computing is safe, I would like to add as a final word, and certainly much safer in security terms than what the average SME could afford to implement in-house. But, nothing’s ever 100% infallible – that’s just a simple fact of life – and there will always be a certain amount of data breaches that occur in cloud computing. So, be prepared, work out the very best contract that you can, but you must analyze the risk involved in moving to the cloud before doing so, and always remember that in most case it is you who will be liable for any data that you pay to store, and not the cloud service provider itself.

 

Published by Igor Varnava, May 6, 2015