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PROTECTING CUSTOMER DATA IN PHYSICAL OR ‘REMOTE’ CALL CENTRE ENVIRONMENTS

By Dave Waterson, CEO, SentryBay

 

Insurance and banking industry call centres, like organisations in every other sector, were forced into dramatic lockdowns in March thanks to the growing spread of the Covid-19 virus. The specific difficulty that many of them faced, however, was how to balance the safety of employees and support them working remotely, with a lack of access to secure systems that could connect them to customer files, policy documents, and payment processes.

It’s no secret that the insurance industry, in particular, was struggling with digital transformation pre-Covid and the legacy systems that still dominate the sector were, in most cases, simply unfit for migration to a remote model in such a short timeframe. This situation was further exacerbated, however, when it became obvious that in order to offer a claims service, staff and agents in many call centres would be receiving calls diverted to them on their mobile phones as they worked from home.

For industries that are immersed in handling personal data and financial transactions like insurance and banking, this presents two immediate issues – how to manage data securely, and how to ensure compliance.

 

Rise in cyber-crime

Security has been an important factor for most organisations over the past few months. Very few had time to provide secure laptops or dedicated tablets with security built-in for remote use. News headlines have attested to the resulting rise in cybercrime as malicious actors sought to take advantage of vulnerable technology once it was outside the protection of the corporate perimeter.

It is a fact that unprotected endpoint devices – laptops, home PCs and mobile phones included – are the weakest link in the security chain. According to a report published last year, 70 per cent of breaches originate at the endpoint, and 42% of endpoints are unprotected at any given time. When it comes to smartphones, the danger is less to do with malware, and more to do with data leakage, but however the breach happens, once a customer’s personal data is exposed, there are serious implications for those involved.

 

Meeting standards

For banking and insurance company call centres, the situation is further complicated by their obligations to meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). This seeks to protect customer credit card data over landlines, mobile phones, through Chat or use of apps. Normally managed within the call centre estate, PCI DSS ensures that wherever agents are required to process cardholder data, the transactions are monitored, logged and secured.

Even under normal circumstances adherence to PCI DSS is sporadic, partly because of legacy technology, or conversely because organisations are adjusting to new cloud-based systems or are in the process of outsourcing their IT infrastructure. Any chink in the armour can see data lost in moments or websites and mobile apps hacked with devastating consequences. While PCI DSS is not enshrined in law, fines for non-compliance can still be considerable and since data breaches are commonly reported, there is the potential for serious brand and reputation damage that no insurance company would welcome.

The situation presented by Covid-19 therefore meant that compliance with PCI DSS or indeed any other regulation, was made even more challenging, with the onus on financial service companies to supervise agents working from home to ensure they were handling and storing sensitive customer data appropriately, not least by using secure endpoints.

Five months on and many call centre agents still find themselves working from home. The appetite from both employees and managers to a full return to office buildings has waned along with the ongoing threat of infection. As a result, organisations are now in a position to properly address some of the issues over which they applied a metaphorical sticking plaster back in March, and securing workers’ endpoint devices is an important example.

 

What can they do?

Any smartphones, tablets, home PCs or laptops that are being used by agents to process and access customer data should have, at the very least, the same security posture as the managed devices that reside within the insurance company perimeter. This includes ensuring that SaaS applications are isolated or ‘containerised’ from the rest of the potentially-compromised unmanaged machine or endpoint.

Standard anti-virus products will not do the trick. The particular vulnerability of endpoints means that solutions have to specifically protect data entry on BYOD and unmanaged devices, particularly into remote access apps like Citrix, VMWare, WVD, web browsers and Microsoft Office applications. Browsers that access the corporate network should be locked down, including URL whitelisting, enforced certificate checking and enforced https.

Whilst this sounds time consuming and expensive, in practice it is neither because no special configuration is required. Instead, a simple download and install from pre-configured software will deliver a far more effective and speedy resolution to the threat. Call centre IT managers can select proven anti-keylogging software that can protect every keystroke into any application and prevent screen-scraping malware from stealing customer credentials, payment and sensitive personal and credit card data. It is also important that there is access to a portal that allows simple configuration by administrators – this is after all something that needs to be managed remotely.

 

Looking ahead

As life begins to take on some semblance of normality again, banks and insurance company customers will be expecting high standards, regardless of whether the agent they speak to is working in a physical call centre environment, or from their kitchen at home. Increasingly, it will become unacceptable to use Covid-19 as a reason for not delivering a secure, compliant service. Now is the time for companies to address areas of weakness and take advantage of the opportunity to implement processes and changes that will allow agents to work remotely with confidence in the future and ensure that customer data is fully protected at every stage in its journey through the banking or insurance system.

 

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Business

TAPPING INTO THE RIGHT MINDS

David Holden-White, co-founder and managing director, techspert.io

 

The world is awash with information. Analyst house IDC estimated that more than 59 zettabytes of data would be created, captured, copied and consumed in 2020, and that the amount of data created over the next three years will be more than what was created in the past 30. The boom in consumer technology and the rapid improvement in mobile connectivity has meant that the 48% of the globe that owns a smartphone has near instant access to all the digitised, publicly available information in the world in their pocket.

 

A world overloaded by information

It’s no surprise that people talk of information overload, or how much it impacts productivity. It’s not new either. A 2012 study from McKinsey & Co highlighted that nearly a fifth of professionals’ time was spent searching for and gathering information, half of the time they spent undertaking role-specific tasks. This is only likely to have increased as we’ve become more dependent on digital tools and services.

On top of that is the realisation that, thanks to social media, we’re living in a time when anyone can be an influencer or thought leader if they shout loud enough. It doesn’t matter whether you’re pushing trainers or cloud computing, whether your audience is a broad spectrum of consumers or a niche group of B2B buyers; the tools and resources are pretty much freely available to build a profile and push your message out there.

David Holden-White

The result is that it’s becoming increasingly hard to find the value amongst vast and accelerating volumes of online data and noise, and to use that data to make accurate, effective decisions.

This is something we need to be able to do. We’re all expected to work faster, to make better decisions more quickly. The pandemic showed that certain changes don’t need five committees, two working groups and a proof of concept to take place before decisions can be rubber stamped. At the same time, no matter what industry you work in, there will be competitors who are more agile, more flexible, and seem to be much better at making decisions and capitalising on opportunities.

Yet those decisions still need to be backed by evidence, by irrefutable knowledge. What’s more, there’s only so much data can give us. We need the insights stored in the minds of true experts, with lived experiences of the particular problems, markets and technologies in question. In accessing this, we can develop a decision-making edge in businesses that competitors don’t have, that can be used to drive entrance into new markets, or for winning investment decisions.

 

Limiting risk in investment decisions

As we all know, investments are inherently risk-related, so, anyone making such a decision will do all they can to minimise their risk exposure, especially in volatile post-covid markets.

To do that requires being able to identify, consume and process information quickly. Investment opportunities, particularly in industries with significant growth capacity, come around quickly and get snapped up fast.

Those decisions will incorporate analysing and drawing insights from raw data, using publicly available and analyst-produced information. But there is also an opportunity to draw on human insights, from leading experts in relevant fields, to get a sense of the story that 0s and 1s can’t properly tell yet. Tapping into the right minds  is essential to informing investment decision-making in 2021.

In an ever-growing haystack of information, the challenge is finding them quickly. Plus, once they are found, there’s a tendency to keep using them, or to use them as a gateway to others in their network. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it leaves investors exposed to a lack of diversity in thought that makes getting to an unbiased view of the world impossible. At the same time, casting their net wide and finding lots of experts is resource and time-intensive, at a point when time is one commodity in short supply.

So, what’s the solution? Ironically, given that the challenge is bringing the right human insight into the process, the answer could lie in technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI). AI-powered platforms can take a request for expertise and run searches through all available published and credible material to recommend the most appropriate experts for the project in question.

It’s true that there are already services that recommend experts, but they are heavily manual and therefore slow and imprecise. It’s also true, there are also both negative and positive connotations being attached to AI. No technology is without its flaws, and if investors were relying on the AI platform itself to provide expertise then there would be cause for concern. Services that provide access to the experts themselves, however, are providing a fast way through the noise and data – it’s a car to the destination, not the destination itself. Once investors and experts are connected, the former has access to the relevant insight the latter holds in their heads. What AI has done is rapidly scan through millions of people of talent to highlight the relevant knowledge holders with pin-point accuracy.

 

Using technology to highlight the best human knowledge

Using an AI technology platform to find the most relevant human is a way of taking a resource-consuming process and finding what’s needed in a thousandth of the time. In that way, investors can get fast access to the human insight they need to make the best decisions,  allowing them to capitalise on opportunities and not miss the next big growth opportunity.

 

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Business

A NEW VISION FOR GRANT MANAGEMENT REQUIRES FAMILIAR IT

Jack Perschke, Partner at Netcompany

 

At its very heart, the business of government is mostly about either taking in money or giving it away. Of course, that’s a simplified view but grant management is a large, important and complex area of government. Its raison d’être is to support policy objectives across government from education, health, rural affairs, innovation and research as well as abroad through international aid for public good.

It requires both process flexibility and mandatory security and monitoring to ensure safe case management and the payment of grants. And while the funding mechanisms, rules and scopes may differ, grant management is something nearly every department of every government does.

The challenges are familiar across governments too – with the need to improve the efficiency of grants administration, the effectiveness of the grant funding and reduction in losses from fraud driving innovation.

 

Grant management following exit from the EU 

While the Grants Management Function in the Cabinet Office is continuing with its ambitions to make grant management more effective efficient and safe, the UK’s exit from the EU is ensuring that grant management is rising up the agenda across many other departments as they re-think how grant funding can better support policy.

For farming in particular, the end of EU farm subsidies represents one of the biggest changes to farming policy in half a century. With the end of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Defra will assume responsibility for designing, implementing and managing its own domestic agricultural policies and schemes. And is now starting its 7-year transition towards a system that pays farmers to improve the environment, improve animal health and welfare, and reduce carbon emissions.

Essentially, they are moving away from decades-old practices of funding based on land size, to instead reward farmers for work that only they can do – whether that’s ensuring the survival of threatened species or locking up carbon on their land. Work that benefits everyone in society.

This move will have to be both driven by long-term policy, and reactionary to need. Yet, the UK grant management function is underpinned by platforms and processes formed in the 1950s. Platforms that are clunky and rigid, and not realistically up to the job of delivering what government and society wants.

 

Innovate around proven solutions

If government needs to underpin a reimagined grants management function with a new platform to ensure it meets its ambitions, how should it do that? It could, in the established way, start from scratch and build something that might work. Yet we know projects often fail to deliver on time, exceed the budget, and do not provide the value promised. The alternative is to look at what others are doing. As we said before, the grant management function remains relatively the same from government to government, as do the challenges and aspirations to streamline processes and improve transparency.

With this in mind, wouldn’t it be better to adopt proven solutions that create agile, future-proof systems, based on open components that ensures full flexibility and the opportunity for ongoing innovation? Take this approach and government can spend 20 per cent of the effort getting 80 per cent of the way to the digital national scale grants solution they need. Why should Defra and the like build their own when suppliers have already delivered these proven solutions to other governments?

With little effort government can create a cutting-edge grant management system, own it and be responsible for it, leaving more space to innovate around the edges creating the impetus, through data-led funding and subsidies strategies, to create behaviour changes that will benefit society.

 

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