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December - 2006 November - 2006 August - 2007 February - 2007 July - 2007 June - 2007 March - 2007 May - 2007 November - 2007 September - 2007 Show All
Previous Posts
Security is scary
Business continuity
Are you a Gazelle yet?
Cracking down on fraud
Keeping on top of Compliance – and the to do list just keeps growing
Future's not so bright for Orange customers - from Computeractive
The luxury of a new leaf
Investing in Tech
Spring cleaning your weekdays
Massive savings on Software License cost
28-March-2007 Security is scary
Security is scary – and the penalties for not getting it right are positively terrifying. The Nationwide lost a laptop and the penalty was a fine of £1.4m from the FSA.

Obviously, there are few organisations that can absorb that kind of bill and none that afford it. You may not be a big financial service organisation but you do hold financial details on your customers, and employees. Ensuring effective policies for compliance and security is a big deal for every organisation. Payroll data for instance could be compromised leading to ID theft for employees.

But for the most past this is not an issue to lose sleep over. Simple solutions do exist – and they can be ridiculously easy to install and run and not even very costly. Data theft via the USB port is almost as easy to eliminate as it is widespread. Remote management of PCs and laptops is a snap and in most cases the management time involved is minimal. Removal of viruses or malicious code can be achieved painlessly with two clicks of a mouse.

Any one of these is a good enough reason to look at real-time ITAM (IT Asset Management), but maybe the most relevant is the peace of mind control brings! 

28-March-2007 Business continuity

Today’s news of Al-Qaeda’s foiled plot to blow up Telehouse, the UK’s Internet hub, should give us all pause for thought. Business risk is a fact of business life, but one that many companies choose to steadfastly ignore. Yet here is a very real example of how the threat of terrorism could affect us all and our businesses too.

There are many approaches to managing today’s organic network assets in a disaster recovery context; but they all start with automated, real-time asset management.

Automated asset management is not some dull housekeeping task; it could materially impact the speed with which a company recovers from a disaster and therefore the companies’ actual survival. What’s more, it’s often not the huge and time-consuming task that many organisations think it is. In most cases, full auditing and network discovery can be performed within minutes of ITAM software being installed.

So, imagine business life without Internet access and ask yourself why you don’t have a business continuity plan in place. Your board might be asking you this question tomorrow.

06-March-2007 Are you a Gazelle yet?

Business Week has just published its annual listing of ‘Europe’s Hot Growth Companies’. It is inspirational to learn that the list is dominated by the entrepreneurial mid market; although these luminaries range in size, around 65% of those in the chart have between 100 and 1,000 employees. These small, yet dynamic and agile organisations all display huge job-creating power and are defined as gazelles according to the MIT’s economist David Birch.

So, the first question is how to be a gazelle? Of course, business success for these companies can be attributed to many characteristics; leadership, vision, determination, insight and energy. But efficiency plays a huge part too. Whether you’re talking about time or other resources, each division and each team must be as effective as possible as each team plays their part in the overall success.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? IT’s at the heart of these efficiencies, whether it’s delivering network performance or speedy turnaround on help desk queries.

So the second question might be: what are you doing to encourage efficiency and could you do more? As always, the success of the IT team depends not only on delivery of services but also successful avoidance of failures, security breaches, non-compliance issues.

If your team doesn’t already use ITAM it could change its efficiency rating dramatically, this week - or even today.

19-February-2007 Cracking down on fraud

The NHS is launching a software-based crack-down on fraud, which apparently costs millions of pounds annually. Using sophisticated analysis techniques like those used to predict credit card fraud, the NHS looks like they’re on the road to getting a grip of the problem. Great - I’m sure all tax-payers would applaud the action; it’ll save money and that makes sense.

But why isn’t this idea replicated across all public sector organisations? Because they don’t have the lavish budgets the NHS enjoys. For instance, most schools IT teams still rely on hand-compiled, quarterly asset registers to keep track of their IT estate and of course that doesn’t work and ultimately costs more time and money than a real-time automated solution.

An IT estate is not an inanimate object, it’s organic and it changes every day as users use the applications, interact with each other and break stuff!

And if you don’t know what’s on the network, how can you know what’s NOT on the network any more. How many IT managers anywhere really have a handle on what fraud may be taking place within their organisations? Very few I bet. What do you think?

07-February-2007 Keeping on top of Compliance – and the to do list just keeps growing

To do lists are generally a good thing; in fact, they’re probably essential if you’re in IT management with an ever expanding remit. It can often seem that each activity crossed off is replaced by two new ones, each of which is probably more onerous that the last.

Compliance is just such a case in point as the list of issues keeps growing. Software and licence compliance, internal policy compliance, availability and uptime targets etc. These are ongoing IT management issues which never truly leave the ‘to do list’, which makes it even more important to ensure that efficient systems are in place to maximise time and resources available and avoid the
penalties for non-compliance.

On which note, be warned: there were some amendments to the Companies Act at the end of last year which will concern IT managers. From 1st January, all UK companies have to include the company registration details on websites and all electronic business documents, including emails or risk a fine. So, there’s another item for your ‘to do’ list.

Let us know your views on managing compliance, and where it figures in your list of top 5 priorities for 2007

24-November-2006 Future's not so bright for Orange customers - from Computeractive

Security blunder leads to ID theft fear

The public are being told that companies with poor security policies could cause them to be victims of identity theft, after an undercover report from Channel 4 revealed security at mobile phone firm Orange had been breached.

The report found that at one call centre, staff with access to customer information such as bank details, addresses and dates of birth, were told to share the same computer log-ins and passwords.

This has lead to a fear that without the correct methods to trace people logging in, such sensitive banking information could be used to commit ID fraud. This concern is also shared by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which has confirmed that carelessness with personal information can lead to identity fraud and information falling into the wrong hands.

In a prepared statement, a spokesperson for the ICO said: “The shared use of passwords and log-in details is clearly wholly unacceptable. Sharing information in this manner could result in security breaches."

Despite this warning it seems that many businesses are still breaking the law when it comes to sensitive public information, warns Graeme Pitts-Drake, CEO at Prefix IT.

“As an organisation we see lots of companies with a lax attitude towards ID theft,” he said.

"This ranges from the private to the public sector. Although companies should have rules and procedures in place that dictates their standing with sharing and stealing personal information many have not bothered.”

Independent research by the company backs this view, with 73 per cent of workers unaware of any special security measures to prevent workplace theft.

“Without businesses pulling their weight the responsibility lies with the public. If you are at work and see someone downloading onto a USB or other memory capturing device, do not be afraid to report it,” added Pitts-Drake.

Orange was challenged over how it protects details on its 14.5 million customers after a former employee told Channel 4 that at one call centre staff with access to them share the same computer log-ins and passwords.

When contacted, Orange refused to comment.

It is currently being investigated by the ICO, which has contacted the company today for further information and to discuss what procedures are in place to protect customers’ information.

The ICO has promised to continue to pursue this with Orange to ensure that adequate safeguards are adopted to properly protect personal information.

14-May-2007 The luxury of a new leaf

Morrisons, the supermarket chain, has announced that it is embarking on a major overhaul of its IT systems. With a budget of £110m it will be making radical changes and moving hardware platforms and switching from bespoke to packaged software. Interestingly, the retailer denies that it will be incorporating any leading edge technologies as competitive advantage doesn’t lie in IT but in other areas.

Hmmm, well ‘Yes’ and ‘No’! IT can bring competitive advantage when it’s implemented and managed correctly. But too often, IT budget is lavished on glamorous budgets which fail to deliver either ROI or commercial advantage, whilst straightforward IT management issues are left unresolved.

The opportunity of changing everything and dispensing with legacy hardware and software is something that rarely happens. Most IT managers need to implement a ‘make do and mend’ to stretch their time and budget.

However, given the luxury of a new leaf, 99% of IT managers would install IT Asset Management and an asset register from the word go. Without the struggle of legacy license reconciliation, the path to better managed resources is clear and the ROIs clear and irrefutable.

Given the chance to start again, what would you change about your current approach?


14-May-2007 Investing in Tech

From the land of the painfully obvious come the results of a recent BTs research project. According to the responses of over 150 SME directors, UK businesses are not investing enough time or money in ensuring that their technology is up to snuff.

The analyst house, Quocirca, points out that most enterprises have to focus on the daily issue of keeping the business going. Mostly these businesses just can’t find the time to analyse and plan their tech investment.

But it’s not just that….the motivation needs to be there and a significant improvement in efficiency, budget or workload is simply not enough. The fact is that human nature dictates that most of us do nothing until it’s really necessary. It takes a deadline or a disaster to make us act.

Asset Management for instance is a proven approach to reducing costs and cutting the workload for the IT team, yet take-up is still hovering around the 40% mark – not much advance on where it was 5 or even ten years ago.

But the fact is that businesses which ignore technology management strategies are putting themselves in the path of a potential disaster, whether through non-compliance or increased competition.

14-May-2007 Spring cleaning your weekdays

Yes I know you’re busy, but spare just one second to look out of the window; had you noticed that spring has sprung, buds are bursting and that there’s an unforced optimism in the air?

If the answer is a rhetorical and grumpy ‘so what?’ there’s a good chance that it’s a work-related issue that’s to blame. Work is a massive factor in all our lives, sometimes it’s a positive one and sometimes not. Stress, pressure of work, impossible deadlines and workplace politics can all sap our energy and enjoyment in the workplace but loss of control is sometimes the hardest aspect to deal with.

Network managers know this territory well; the daily demands on them to ensure uptime, quick response to user requests and continual fire-fighting mean they feel the burn daily. But the remedy may already lie in their own hands. The answer to a better work mentality, as well as improved services, lies in better planning and the achievement of stretching goals which provide the proof of progress and success.

So this week, why not take one hour out to consider what you might achieve this week strategically if you took control, what ‘quick wins’ scored in March could also make a difference to your working life throughout the year? The chances are you already know at least three answers to this question.

New Year’s resolutions are now a distant memory for most of us, but spring represents a second chance, as does every Monday, to reassess priorities and change working methods for the better.

05-December-2006 Massive savings on Software License cost

The potential for organisations to under and over license with regard to their software licenses is massive. In their drive to become software license compliant (prompted by more and more news that Microsoft are carrying out full software audits), organisations have begun practicing active software asset management to determine their compliance status.

We have been working with a company who have 500 PCs and following an audit found they had to cough up £110,000 in software licenses. Even doing this they feel they have "low balled" their estimate and needed to use an auditing tool to accurately assess the shortfall.

23-November-2006 Is our data safe from employees?
I just wonder how many CEOs out there are faced with data and ID theft from within the organisation - and how many actually care! Recent independent research should instill fear into every board director of UK plc whether they be MD, Sales Director, HR of Finance.The problem is that they are generally ignorant of the fact that their data is literally "walking out of the door" on USB flash drives, iPods, MP3 players and digital cameras! In the research only 7% said that they had experience data theft which proves that it goes on largely undetected within all organisations.According to this research 35% of employees would be willing to download business critical data to a storage device connected to the end point (the PC) which rises to 65% upon leaving an organisation and with 87% of employees owning a device to download it to - they have the means to do it.What's more it's very easy to do - 10Mb of data can be downloaded in 10 seconds to a USB device that costs less than £10! For the unitiated - 10mb is around 20,000 personnel or customer records!What shocked me about the research was the blasé attitude from employees when deciding what they felt was theirs by right. 30% of workers agreed that sales leads and business contacts were rightfully their property and so didn't see taking them as stealing!With ID theft now hailed as the fastest growing crime in the UK today, organisations have the moral and legal obligation to protect our data from theft yet many don't see it as a priority.Oh well, I guess this is remininescent of the days when organisations eventually had to install firewalls to protect the perimeter from external attacks - I wonder just how many companies actually did get attacked and then decided to install protection (horse, stable door and bolted seem to spring to mind here!).Yesterday's firewall issues are today's end point issues and the sooner board directors see this as a priority, the sooner both they and us will be protected against exposure to unscrupulous individuals who see data theft as an easy road to riches.Employers who continue to trust their staff blindly without relying on robust security measures are just asking for trouble.  
23-November-2006 The BBC on "surveillance society"
Today’s news that Britain is the ‘surveillance capital of the world’ (ref. BBC) should give us all pause for thought both as individuals and IT professionals. The increase in data collection on individuals, whether through loyalty cards, payroll and bank details, or mobile phone accounts is not being matched by any discernible improvement in attitudes towards data theft or preventative processes. In addition all this leads to increase ID theft which, as we know, is the fastest growing white collar crime in the UK todayAccording to independent research commissioned by Prefix IT, data is pouring out of organisations both large and small, public and private - not only much publicised call centres. Added to this policies are patchy and ill-communicated and data thieves are everywhere. In fact, you may be one yourself, apparently 65% of us are. But frighteningly, 30% of managers say that ‘preventing data theft is not even on the radar’.Smart technology is part of the answer, but it can’t save the day until attitudes change, those of data thieves and those of data guardians.  
22-November-2006 Welcome to the Prefix Blog

We welcome you to our new blog.

In the future, we will add to this to provide useful information, thoughts and help.

Contact us at info@prefixIT.com if you would like us to cover any topics within this blog in the future.

Please visit us here again soon.

11-June-2007 Not the networks fault?
One of the most common user complaints is about network speed and the obvious response for many a network manager is to throw more bandwidth at the problem. However this can not only be costly but pointless; network problems are easy to misdiagnose if you don’t have the appropriate real-time tools to analyse performance. In many cases the users themselves are the ones who are handicapping operations by clogging the network with inappropriate activities.
Real life examples include users who are logged into IM all day and streaming webcams, those who blanket email workmates inappropriately with huge attachments, those who print vast amounts of data unnecessarily or run too many unused background applications. 
Yet all of these issues can be dealt with effectively by policy creation and enforcement - such as that offered within PrefixNE - backed up with user education. For instance, using simple tick-boxes applications such as IM can be disallowed immediately.
However, the real name of the game is to monitor network performance and track trends and patterns proactively in real time. This approach means that network managers can call the shots for once, and identify issues before they become problems which impact business performance and user attitude.
11-June-2007 You’re right to be wary
New research from Fujitsu reveals that 2/3rds of IT professionals are wary about introducing new technology because of the cost and potential disruption they may cause. Well, good! But surely this level of caution amongst IT professionals shouldn’t be a surprise? In my view, the alarm should be that around 30% of IT directors are forging ahead with new tech purchases without due regard for the potential disruption to business processes and the work of the IT team.
Every change, IT or otherwise, entails risk and that must be measured and quantified before a decision to change can be justified. Short term wins and losses must be stacked against long term benefits as part of the decision-making and this includes how complex and time consuming the adoption process will be. 
Some aspects of ITAM, such as SAM, can be complex and time-consuming to secure and involve considerable effort from the team to achieve. However, this should not deter users from making the move. Systems such as PrefixNE offer a number of ‘quick wins’ that can justify a purchase decision on their own merits alone. For instance, the 2-click ability to control applications and outlaw software such MSN Messenger and P2P apps that are soaking up network bandwidth, or the remote and automated deployment of software updates and patches across a dispersed network. 
So yes, we should all be cautious but not short-sighted!

11-June-2007 Flexi-working and solid management?
Tele-working and home working may have had many false starts, but at last it looks like it may actually be taking off. The proportion of staff working one or more afternoons a week at home has more than doubled in the past two years and now stands at almost a third of the population.

British working parents already have the right to flexible working and after April 2007 this will be extended to cover anyone who has a ‘caring responsibility’. The most successful companies have already embraced flexi-working and many are taking steps to extend it to all their staff as it not only boosts productivity, but loyalty and job satisfaction.

Successful teleworking structures are reliant on good technology, not least of which, a broadband connection. Yet, there are significant challenges for any organisation embarking on the introduction of flexi-time schemes. The advent of tele-working means that IT will grow legs and walk out of the door along with valuable and perhaps, confidential, company data. 

It doesn’t need much imagination to see that security practices will need significant ‘beefing up’ as the company’s perimeters become more and more permeable to threat, attack and loss.

Management of network assets, support of remote workers and license compliance all become far more complex once workers are off-site and the arguments for real-time asset management become undeniable. 

For instance, how would a network manager check inventory, assets and the spread of malware from his remote console, how could he monitor and police user behaviour and how could he plan patches and upgrades for the user community without the use of real-time reports and alerts? Well it would be possible, but he’d need a heck of a lot more time.

Comprehensive, real-time, automated asset management is not only useful, but essential for any company considering how to glean the benefits of teleworking.

11-June-2007 Carrot and Stick
Piracy is a problem as old as hills and probably as hard to shift. Cynics amongst us would probably say it’s a fact of business life and that Microsoft is banging its head against a brick wall in its noble battle to reduce software piracy rates.
Recently the company said that it plans to take even stronger action against users of counterfeit software and that it will engage with the reseller community to rid the UK market of pirated software. Apparently the rate of illegal software in the UK is still around 1/3 – where it has hovered for the last decade or so – and the problem is endemic in the mid-market.
So why does piracy exist? Perhaps it’s just human nature to plump for the cheapest and seek short-term resolutions. Somewhat at odds with the role of an IT manager who believes that IT is a business enabler? 
The argument against software piracy is irrefutable; yes it is theft, yes it damages the software industry generally, not just the giants like Microsoft and yes, business software is a business asset and should be treated as such. Counterfeit software is rarely of the same quality or reliability. Oh, and don’t forget the loss of reputation and punitive fines should you get caught.
Would you like some carrot with your stick? The benefits of license compliance and automated software asset management are pretty irresistible too; budget savings; better efficiencies and improved asset control.

09-July-2007 Managing convergence to avoid conflict
One of the chief advantages SMEs enjoy over their larger rivals is their agility and ability to react fast to opportunities. Two newish technologies offer a good example of this; VoIP and IM (instant messaging). Although VoIP is still merely ‘under consideration’ for many large enterprises, many SMEs have rushed to take up the potential for cost savings that VoIP can offer. And IM is now a fact of business, and social, life in many SME organisations. 

Indeed, many commentators are concerned that take up of both innovations is moving faster than corresponding security. 
Integrating new technologies such as VoIP and IM makes new demands on network managers. Centralised control and real-time reporting for all network assets to analyse trends, performance and patterns must be a pre-requisite for any organisation embarking on such a path.  
12-July-2007 Will value-based pricing spell the end of Perpetual Licenses and SAM?
Management consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers has recently forecast radical changes in the way businesses pay for software which may impact traditional approaches to Software Asset Management.

License reconciliation is a traditionally thorny issue for SMEs and large enterprises alike, particularly as enterprises expand physically, but new moves towards value-based licensing may spell the end of such difficulties as well as bringing users more flexibility and opportunity to align IT expenditure with business value.

The change has been made possible by the rise of new technologies and processes, such as Service Oriented Architectures, component software, and the ability to provision enterprise software over the Internet using a common application platform.

New pricing structures may soon see businesses moving to value-based subscription and ‘software as a service’ models instead of buying perpetual licenses. A number of software vendors are exploring the approach for operating systems, software developer tools and CRM but PWC believes the approach will have an effect on all software sectors and will be part of a long-term trend.
23-July-2007 Bad budgeting
IT budgeting seems to be one of the hardest skills of the job and it doesn’t seem to matter where you work.  
Right now, all budgeting news seems to be bad; the combination of the ID Card scheme and the London Olympics are now likely to cripple us financially due to significantly under-budgeting and in May the UK government published figures to show that its total IT overspend was around £1billion in the last five years!   
Some departments were worse than others but the worst was the Department of Defence which admitted to a 14% overspend. But even if you don’t have to include new satellites and Trident replacement, budgets seem to regularly get the better of most of us.
Distinguishing between fads and functionality can make the difference in planning budgets that are realistic and achievable. But the other side of the coin is strong management processes including good use of assets, including software licenses and hardware lifecycle planning. With a full, current and reliable register of assets, budgeting will obviously become easier, in fact trying to plan and budget without this is like a fight with both arms tied behind your back.
14-August-2007 Where have all the Projects Gone? Long time passing…
Shocking yes, but is it really very surprising? Anyone working in IT knows that it is often an unpredictable environment where priorities change, communication is often less than superb and budgets are stretched. Yet bewilderingly less 60% of IT teams are not employing real-time asset management tools which would give them an immediate boost in successful project delivery. How much harder is to roll-out a new o/s if you don’t know what’s already installed across your PC estate? And how much more complex would communications be between teams bringing a new product to market if there is no asset registry of what the network comprises? Any IT team that needs to deliver IT projects successfully needs every aid it can lay its hands on and that includes up to date data.

20-September-2007 Malware writers target portable media devices
Portable media devices have long been associated with security risk, primarily in terms of data loss. However, June’s statistics for malware detection show that there’s a significant increase in malware, worms and Trojans that have been created specifically to exploit the USB port.

Whilst many organisations have adopted strong defences to protect against email viruses, the mass proliferation of portable memory devices, including MP3 players, phones, cameras etc has created a new opening for blackhats, who are never slow to respond to opportunity. Indeed, there’s evidence to show that these are increasingly being used to bypass enterprise security measures although the majority of the Top 10 Vulnerabilities are still web-based.

Of course, none of this is a surprise. The surprise is that so few organisations employ software such as PrefixIT’s USB Guard which can instantly eliminate the security problem whilst allowing USB ports to function appropriately for recognised peripherals.

Cross budget thinking saves the planet

Well that may be overstating the case a tad, however the truth is that the majority of IT managers do not force a global shutdown overnight and at weekends. They are therefore creating huge amounts of carbon emissions as well as wasting £1,000s every quarter on unnecessary electricity bills from PCs that have been left in standby mode by users.

Forcing a global shut-down across a PC estate, couldn’t be easier. Indeed, this kind of functionality is often an over-looked feature of network management tools and could be implemented within 20 minutes or less. 

Sadly, the reason why it’s not done as a matter of course is that it’s not IT’s job to save electricity and it’s not Finance’s job to switch off PCs. This kind of insular thinking is costing business, and the planet, dearly as IT accounts for a significant amount of green house emissions.

The same short-sightedness is common in the public sector where school bursars are unconcerned with saving utility costs as these the responsibility of the LEA. However, the cost savings are equally dramatic. For instance a school with 600 PCs might save around £31,000 every year as well as reducing its carbon footprint.

Whilst we’re all concerned about making changes to create a cleaner environment as well as greening the business, switching off is a simple, effective and dramatic way to make a contribution and save budget.



12-November-2007 Ending ‘silo thinking’
Following my last blog on saving the planet, Prefix undertook some research over the summer to look into the area in a little more detail. Telephone interviews with 50 IT decision-makers, and many thanks for your contribution if you were one, revealed that 98% of IT decision makers believe that IT should play a role in reducing carbon emissions.

Great – until you realize this is all talk and no action for the most part.

It seems that only half of SME IT departments consult their colleagues when budgets are allocated and are missing a huge opportunity to collaborate over operational costs such as utility bills. And a scant 30% of SMEs have implemented a green policy to reduce carbon emissions. Frighteningly, only 27% enforce automatic shut down of PCs at night, which really couldn’t be easier and can save £thousands over the year.

Do you remember when IT departments were accused of living in ivory towers, serving their own ends rather than aligning with the business? I do, and it seems as if those days are come again. The Environmental challenge we all face is a real opportunity for IT teams to lead the way and make a real business contribution.
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