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HOW FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS CAN PROTECT THEIR ONLINE ACTIVITY FROM HACKERS

As working from home becomes the new normal, senior leaders of financial institutions need confidence that their company information will remain secure when employees are discussing work matters online.

A recent survey by PwC, as part of its Cyber Security Strategy 2021, found that 50% of UK organisations said cyber security would be baked into every business decision. The research, presented as an ‘urgent business priority’, highlighted how organisations will seek to improve their cyber resilience in 2021. Only 36% of the UK respondents said they were very confident that they were getting the best return on their cyber spend although 56% said they had plans to increase their cyber budgets in 2021.

When taken into consideration with a recent survey conducted by Forcepoint in partnership with WSJ Intelligence, which revealed that 71% of global CEOs said they were losing sleep over the prospect of their company’s next security breach, it comes as no surprise that effective cyber-security is high on the corporate agenda for 2021 and beyond.

So, what is the risk of a security breach when discussing sensitive and confidential financial reports, strategy and information in cyber space? How can organisations protect themselves against hackers and malicious threat actors?

Hackers listen in to conversations and can see and read data – information which can be very useful to a competitor, criminal or some other nefarious entity. If a hacker succeeds it can be hugely costly to the company which falls prey through a data breach fine, as well as being commercially damaging in terms of productivity and reputation.

Financial institutions must be acutely aware of the potential threats that hackers pose to their business and reputation, the security issues they need to consider when choosing an online video, calls, messaging and file sharing platform, as well as the practical measures they can take to protect their company and its interests.

The problem is real, and it’s one that is on the minds of those responsible for protecting not only internal company data, but also that of their complex chain of suppliers and clients. With the Forcepoint and WSJ Intelligence survey also revealing less than half (46%) regularly reviewed their cyber security strategy – coupled with more and more companies relying on video technology for remote working – the likelihood, and therefore the risk, of a security breach is significantly higher.

When it comes to technology to keep us connected, there are many different platforms available that those in the finance industry could use for remote working with some having been around for a long time, but how many of them are as secure as they need them to be? As hackers become increasingly sophisticated, it’s crucial companies check that the systems they use have moved with the times, and that they continue to review and improve the security of the technology they rely on to communicate.

Here are my top tips to consider when choosing a secure videoconferencing, calls, messaging and file-sharing platform to facilitate remote working for businesses in the finance industry:

 

Avoid allowing the use of ‘unofficial’ social media platforms

A simple step here is to have policies in place to insist your employees use systems approved by their employer, rather than using popular social media messaging platforms for business communications. These platforms are inherently risky and despite claims about encryption, are often compromised, providing a gateway to other data on your computer or mobile device.

 

Keep everything to one application

Use a supported enterprise system that meets true end-to-end Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 256-bit encryption. This might sound costly and overly ‘techy’, but in reality is very cost effective, especially when compared to the potential reputational and financial costs of a data breach.

Ideally, choose a system where all features are integrated within one application (app), so that messaging, calling, video conferencing and file sharing stays within one eco-system. As soon as users need to go ‘outside’ the system, the risk from hackers opens up.

 

Keep things simple

Remember, not all your employees will be tech experts. Staff productivity will benefit from having easy to use platforms that work in a similar way to those employees are used to using every day on their computers and mobile devices. Even better, look for a system that works on their own devices without the need to install sophisticated new software.

 

Invest in training

It is vital that companies working in the financial sphere implement cyber-security training for all its staff to make them aware of the risks and gain their buy-in for its online security policies. Consider extending this training to all companies and individuals in the supply chain, including contractors and clients. These interdependent supply chains can be undermined through ransomware attacks and service disruptions. Your company may have state of the art cyber-security, but if your interdependent supply chain doesn’t, then you have a weak link.

 

Consider the costs

Think about the cost in terms of productivity, reputational damage and even potential fines rising from data protection breaches. Do your homework before choosing a platform; where will your communication be routed? Where are the servers based? Are they trusted and do they directly support your business needs? Some systems offer features that are better suited for social use, but the development costs are often recovered through charging business users.

Aim for a system that is designed for your business needs and don’t pay for features you don’t need. Security standards can never be too high, and the system needs to have high fidelity in terms of video and audio quality. Go for a system that can be used via mobile devices and the web without having to be installed onto computers or local servers.

 

John Parkinson OBE is a former UK Police Chief and Senior National Counter Terrorism Coordinator. With broad experience as an international security consultant he is now president of US tech company Secured Communications, which recently launched its Mercury secure video conferencing, audio calling, messaging and file transfer platform in the UK.

 

Business

BOUNCING BACK IN 2021: DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IS NO LONGER A CHOICE AS DEPENDENCE ON 5G, IOT AND DATA INCREASES IN SOCIETY AND BUSINESS

Ivan Ericsson, Head of Quality Management, Expleo Group Limited

 

The global pandemic has put enormous strain on businesses and brought into sharp focus the importance of being agile, adaptable and able to increase the pace of innovation and change at short notice – catapulting technology right to the top of the agenda for many organisations.

As the economy works to get back on its feet, technology is only going to play a bigger role in our lives. At Expleo, as experts in digital transformation and the reliable implementation of technological innovations, we’ve outlined the biggest tech-driven trends that we expect to see in 2021 and beyond.

 

1)     “Digital transformation” no longer a choice

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught businesses anything, it’s that they need to be poised to respond to abrupt market disruption at any moment, making digital transformation mandatory overnight.

With no room for delay, hugely complex corporations – that have historically been slow to adopt technology – have had to accelerate their reliance on technology just to keep afloat in recent months. Digital change, at speed, has become the norm.

Even last year, the idea of an unscheduled video conference call might put people on edge – now most of us wouldn’t think twice about calling a colleague over Teams or Zoom even for a 2-minute conversation. At the same time, social infrastructure has moved with the needs of its users, with telecoms giants strengthening and opening up networks so we can keep communicating despite social distancing.

There are now very few excuses left for operating in a non-digital way. All businesses need to be intelligent businesses that can change direction nimbly, with speed, confidence and composure. As we see more businesses putting this into practice, it’ll likely result in an increased number embracing and normalising some of the behaviours of tech-savvy giants like Apple and Amazon, who have no doubt thrived during this period.

Their success can largely be attributed to normalising an agile approach. By ensuring all applications have testing facilities built in – a “quality shadow” if you will – it allows for continuous improvements, and the ability to change direction quickly and confidently, when needed. This is particularly valuable today as the world becomes more fast-paced and increasingly unpredictable.

 

2)     Big data/AI/predictive analytics 

We’re moving into a space where big data can be extracted from the most seemingly innocuous places. In a hyper-connected world, a move as simple as a dog walk could offer huge swathes of data to the right companies. Many businesses already realise the benefits of capturing and utilising big data, but not all have taken advantage of it. The businesses that move quickest are most likely to reap the rewards in a more impactful way than their ‘data shy’ competitors. Where data used to be a side effect of business operation, it is now the driving force.

As businesses begin to rely more heavily on data to make critical decisions, independent assurance becomes increasingly important to get those decisions right. Forward-thinking, data-driven organisations must therefore assure that the data is correct in the first place, to avoid giving businesses false confidence and risk them moving in the wrong direction – something that is rarely affordable in today’s competitive and fast-paced environment. If businesses are not 100% confident in assuring the quality and accuracy of their own data, they should look to a third party for support.

A key data trend we expect to see moving further into 2021 is the increased use of predictive analytics. At the moment, businesses will often use data analytics to give us insights into our past activities, or to tell us where we are right now. However, the real value lies in knowing where we are going and how we are going to get there. Data analytics will help to identify the optional levels that can be pulled to drive change and realise business benefit.

Secondly, as intuitive technology advances and becomes more accessible, we expect over the next 12 months to see companies of all sizes begin to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) to drive intelligent analytics. In this context, AI refers to various technologies that allow machines to learn, sifting through ‘messy’ big data in order to find and unlock valuable predictive insights into future events. This allows businesses to better adapt their strategy to likely future outcomes and get a head start in the market.

However, with this ever-increasing emphasis on data and data protection, ethical AI will have a more prominent role to play in 2021 and beyond. Protected, usable Data is a by-product of good data security and privacy measures; however, the public remain wary of how their data is being used, particularly after the fallout from Cambridge Analytica’s use of data to influence an election[1]. Businesses, therefore, must give their customers confidence that their data is secure and protected.

 

3)     Moral relevance/corporate altruism

Research shows that young people are increasingly researching and considering the ethics of brands they’re purchasing from. And it won’t be long before this attitude starts seeping into every other aspect of their lives, with more and more people wanting to work for what they consider to be “purpose-driven” businesses.

Talent is the lifeblood of any company, so for big corporations, many of whom were born to create profit, this could put them in a tricky position. They might already be influencing society in a positive way – but this is unlikely to have ever been their main goal.

Moving forward, however, all organisations will have to start thinking about the “Triple Bottom Line”. That means considering the environmental and social impact of your business, alongside your commercial imperative.

We’ll soon see a mindset switch across businesses, from ‘competing’ to ‘advancing’. Instead of wanting to be the “best,” the question will be, how can I better serve the world around me?

In line with this, businesses will have to start thinking more about how to use tech for good, as we’ve seen with the likes of Microsoft Teams connecting tens of millions of people every day, during this very dark time[2].

2021 is likely to bring even more inroads when it comes to using technology to improve society, whether it’s developing bespoke problem-solving technologies or using IT to ‘eco-proof’ existing sectors, the goal for businesses is to rise to this challenge and build a better future for people and the planet through the use of technology. But all organisations will continue to need to be able to justify technology use and prove that they’re using it ethically, and in a secure manner.

 

4)     5G new networks – just about all big trends are driven by/reliant upon faster networks – particularly relevant for a more distributed workforce 

Greater access and utilisation of 5G networks across the country will underpin and accelerate all of the key trends discussed. Everything we do on our smart devices we can expect to do at higher speed, greater capacity and with lower lag times.

As our digital footprints extend beyond simple web browsing and into our daily lives through smart technology, we are creating huge amounts of data every minute. This vast flow of data is increasingly dependent on new high bandwidth networks to facilitate it. Therefore, the merging of technology and engineering will become critical in ensuring big data is carried successfully to drive analytics and drive business.

The fact we have managed to successfully work from home during COVID is a glowing recommendation for the quality of the networks as they exist today, and they will only get better.

The telecoms industry is already working overtime to ensure that people all over the country get reliable access to the internet – and the fact that there is still inequality in this area proves just how challenging this is. But, in line with this trend toward hyper automation, which will make data extraction and analysis a part of everyday life for businesses, the consolidation of tech and engineering will be ever more important.

Forward-thinking companies will look to incorporate 5G networks into their business strategy. This could be from an internal perspective to enhance the abilities of their remote workforce. Alternatively, this could relate to their own products or offerings – developing an internet of things (IoT) strategy, improve user experience, or bring products to market faster by analysing big data and adapting quicker. Either way, with increasingly improved networks, businesses are expected to take advantage of the huge increase in accessible and usable data.

 

Concluding comments:

For businesses to truly reap the benefits of these new technologies, they must be developed and adopted in the right way.

Quality assurance, trust and security are three key requirements that the technology of the future depends on to succeed. Having these requirements at the heart of any digital transformation will ensure that systems perform reliably, having been tested and assured.

By prioritising a seamless customer experience combined with an ability to create, test, and scale digital solutions and operationalise at pace, businesses will be in the best possible position to take advantage of the potential being unlocked by these new technologies.

 

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Technology

DRIVING DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN 2020

by Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen

 

As organisations adapt to dramatic changes in working practices, the need for digital transformation has increased dramatically. Many organisations have been forced to move quickly to virtualise and digitise, as 2020 has seen huge changes in how (and which) businesses operate in an increasingly uncertain economic landscape.

The current crisis presents many challenges but it also presents unique opportunities for business transformation. As Nobel prize winning economist Paul Romer once stated, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

 

Desire to adapt to new ways of working

As companies respond to new challenges, the way teams approach problems and the way they work together to provide business value can change for the better. Formerly disparate teams are now coming together to work on collaborative solutions to resolve current problems.

Today’s business climate presents an opportune time for finance teams to use digitisation to reduce the amount of time and effort they expend on manual processes, so that they can increase their focus on managing core business issues and making more strategic decisions.

In a time of such dramatic, forced change, many of the usual constraints to business evolution have been removed. Concerns about breaking out of comfort zones or making changes too quickly are gone as companies look to solve the clear and immediate challenges they are facing. Similarly, structural inhibitors – like teams working in silos, general inertia and inflexible processes – are being replaced with a renewed energy and a common desire to adapt quickly to new ways of working.

This year is proving to be a catalyst for important organisational changes. As savings become more crucial to company survival, the misalignment of resources across the financial function can no longer be ignored. Most businesses can benefit from digital transformation to help finance teams modernise and become more efficient, effective and resilient.

Finance is a business function that can be dramatically improved through automation and the use of intelligent software in decision making. It’s arguable that the finance function of the future is being born out of the current necessity.

 

Focus on fundamental shifts

As they adapt to new ways of working, finance teams should focus their transformation efforts in areas where they can make fundamental, long-term changes. This means accelerating existing digitisation programmes and picking up on existing industry trends that go beyond short-term firefighting efforts merely designed to get through the current challenges.

Within the financial function there is an increased need for agile forecasting and reporting processes that rely on live data, rather than extracts, spreadsheets and manual reports. Finance teams were already making this shift, but this year has seen a more urgent need for real-time metrics that reflect the evolution of a rapidly changing business environment. This shift in approach is likely to be permanent with no reversion after the crisis is over.

Another important trend has seen many offices shift to remote working, and finance teams have been driven away from the standard practice of gathering paper-based documents and receipts. The ability to apply AI to paper trail-based processes has simplified a once tedious operation, making room for lasting change.

 

Why finance processes are ideal for transformation

Many finance processes have three characteristics in common that AI is well suited to transform: they are based on paper trails, require contextual information and operate at high volume.

In finance departments there is traditionally a paper-based, unstructured information flow. Many companies are still dealing with largely manual processes that are very time consuming and error prone. AI can understand unstructured finance documents, like receipts, POs and contracts. Unlike general purpose OCR systems that make basic mistakes, like confusing a ‘$’ and an ‘S’ or a ‘£’ and a ‘6,’ finance focused AI is much more accurate.

There is also the need for contextual information from outside and inside the organisation. AI can enrich the paper trail with a lot more context. It can look at the entire history of expenses for duplicates, for example. It can compare prices, suppliers and individuals against publicly available information, like Google searches and proprietary company information.

Large volumes of paperwork make comprehensive manual work cost-prohibitive and prone to error. Unlike a team of people, AI never rests, and can scale infinitely. It can apply the same level of rigour to every document, meaning a much more thorough and accurate analysis is undertaken in a fraction of the time.

 

Fix the misalignment of resources and value

The misalignment of resources and value across financial functions makes transformation absolutely critical for success. Most of finance’s resources and time are traditionally spent performing transacting, record keeping, reporting, and compliance duties. While these activities are crucial to the business function, they do not drive enormous added value. By allocating so many resources to these activities, finance teams don’t have the bandwidth to spend on financial planning or strategic activities that would increase the value they provide to their organisations and contribute significantly to success.

By implementing AI driven systems, finance teams are rebalanced. They can focus more of their time on strategic finance initiatives rather than on manual and tedious tasks. As digital transformation programmes are accelerated, finance teams can look at making a more permanent change and realigning their focus to areas of the business where they can add the most value.

 

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