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Remote offices up IT challenges

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As the number of branch offices increase with most businesses, so too does the amount of data stored off-site. This creates a problem for IT, but according to TAJ ELKHAYAT at Riverbed Technology, there a few solution to make things easier.

The central office has traditionally been the centre of gravity for most organisations. That is where the data centre is located, and where most of the IT staff works. However, remote offices and branch offices (ROBOs) are becoming increasingly relevant because they are often where business happens. In fact, according to the 2016 Riverbed Remote Office/Branch Office IT Survey almost 50 per cent of all employees work in remote sites; 50 per cent of companies’ data is stored outside the data centre; and branch offices represent roughly 50 per cent of the IT budget. These findings should come as little surprise when considering that the average corporate data centre serves 55 ROBO locations.

As the number of employees who work in ROBOs rises, so do the amounts of business-critical information stored in these locations, and the IT budget devoted to managing related systems. The figure that is not increasing is that of IT personnel available to staff ROBOs, forcing IT to remotely perform monitoring, maintenance and troubleshooting. This makes deploying and maintaining systems and applications for each ROBO complex, expensive and time-consuming, particularly with today’s hybrid IT architectures.

The solution is not to try to modernise the branch office IT infrastructure by purchasing and installing expensive new equipment and resources, but to implement a “Zero Branch IT” model consolidating ROBO IT operations to central data centres. Removing physical servers, storage, data and backup from ROBO locations enhances security, reduces operational costs, and ensures reliable data backups. It also increases overall business productivity by providing all users with the high levels of systems and applications performance that they expect and demand, when they require it.

ROBO IT is a tough nut to crack

As organisations become more distributed, the challenges they need to address in the data centre are evolving. Like employees working in central offices, people located at ROBOs must have quick and easy access to systems and applications via a multitude of devices in order to get their work done on a daily basis. Performance slowdowns or outages are unacceptable.

However, IT professionals are finding that sustaining remote users’ demands for anytime, anywhere support is growing too costly, demands resources they cannot spare, and increases the security risk of critical company data. In simple terms, IT teams are struggling to manage the needs of branch offices. As a result, according to the 2016 Riverbed Remote Office/Branch Office IT Survey, 54 per cent of organisations cite delays when recovering from ROBO outages as their top issue. These delays hurt the business’ ability to generate revenue, expose the ROBO to risk from data loss and can tarnish the business’ reputation.

What’s more, 46 per cent of organisations struggle to supply adequate IT staff at ROBOs. In fact, they often have no IT staff onsite, making it difficult to supervise and ensure backups. Additionally, 45 per cent reported the time it takes them to provision ROBO infrastructure, applications and services hurt their organisations’ ability to increase revenue.

Implementing Zero Branch IT

IT can reduce the costs and complexities of managing a highly distributed environment without increasing security risks by implementing a “Zero Branch IT” model to centralise all systems, operations and services. By consolidating ROBO data back to the data centre, or in the cloud, IT can manage everything inside a secure, centralised environment, improving the user experience for all employees, while reducing the costs and complexities of managing a highly distributed environment.

The key benefits include:

·         Hardened security posture: 100 per cent of data is secured in the data centre instead of in far-away ROBO locations. In addition, all data is encrypted at-rest and in-motion for true end-to-end encryption, so that IT is in complete control of organisational data.

·         Improved user productivity: Organisations can generate up to a 100x increase in remote application performance. As a result, employees will encounter far fewer instances of downtime due to system outages or poor performance, enabling users to get their work done using any device they choose.

·         Ensure business continuity: 100x faster recovery times minimise the business damage done by outages. It teams can perform backup and recovery operations from a central location, in mere seconds instead of days or weeks.

·         Improved operational agility: IT can deploy new branch services and sites in under 15 minutes, and manage everything via a central dashboard. All heavy ROBO IT operations, such as provisioning new services and sites, and recovery of sites in the case of outages, take seconds or minutes instead of days or weeks.  The result is a more agile IT team that is better able to support the always changing needs of the business.

Modernise edge IT

In today’s data rich, application-driven, and distributed world, organisations need to consider a new approach to remote IT. Combining storage delivery, server virtualisation and network optimisation technologies enables organisations to eliminate the need for physical servers, storage and backup infrastructure at ROBO locations.

Realising this vision requires implementing an effective Zero Branch IT model, where IT is readily available at all times, and can make better-informed decisions about which applications and services to provide to workers at various ROBOs worldwide. This will enable organisations to maintain the highest productivity levels, meet changing business requirements, and remain as competitive as they possibly can be.

* Taj ElKhayat, Regional Vice President, Middle East and Africa at Riverbed Technology

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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