Elevating Customer Experiences Through Technology – Harnessing IT for Better Customer Outcomes

In recent years, digitisation has been a key driver of revenue growth for many companies. Digital solutions have enabled businesses to better manage their sales pipelines, achieve more conversions, and offer their services in new and innovative ways. Today, there is greater focus than ever before on improving the customer experience through digitisation.

So why is that?

Building and maintaining an online presence has evolved from a ‘nice to have’ 20 or so years ago, to an absolute necessity for any business intent on growing in our digital age. Customers can now compare service offerings at the click of a mouse, with buyers basing their initial judgement of the business on the quality of the customer experience delivered to them. In many cases, this digital journey is the main distinguishing factor between rival products, so it’s vital to invest in it, and aim for consistent quality across every digital touchpoint.

Why is a Digitised Customer Experience Important?

A common misconception about customer experience is that customers always want a complaint, query, or issue handled by a ‘real person.’ While this is true for some individuals, and can prove the best course of action in some scenarios, today’s customers want choice, including the ability to self-serve. A digitised customer experience should therefore complement, rather than replace, traditional communication channels such as email and phone. This ‘omni-channel’ approach that combines employee-supported with independent, self-serve options gives customers control and flexibility over how they interact with your business, which in turn can support better customer satisfaction outcomes.

Customer Experience vs Customer Service – Understanding the Difference

Customer experience and customer service are associated concepts, but the two terms should not be used interchangeably.

Customer experience is used to define the engagements a customer has with your company between their initial contact and the close of a transaction. A good customer experience should aim to create an efficient, frictionless process that’s easy to navigate, and makes the prospective customer feel positive and supported.

Customer service steps in whenever a customer has an issue, query, or complaint, either during their customer journey or thereafter. Optimal customer satisfaction is achieved by investing strategically in both the customer experience and customer support functions. A digitised customer experience that functions well will support a seamless customer journey, and effective customer service channels will ensure there’s a friendly agent on hand to provide clarity and resolve minor issues.

In short, customer experience refers to an individual’s engagements with your brand on their journey to becoming a customer, while customer service refers to the support you provide if an issue or obstacle arises along the way.

Why Should You Invest in Your Customer Experience?

In the crowded digital marketplace, a first-rate customer experience will set your business apart from the competition. The quality, ease, and refinement of the customer journey can influence a prospect’s subconscious judgement of the underlying product or service; deliver a clunky, outdated experience, and the customer could lose faith in your offering.

Furthermore, customer expectations have never been higher. Today’s customers don’t want convoluted processes or communication channels with restricted hours of operation. Increasingly, there’s an expectation that the customer journey should be a near effortless experience, with a company’s digital infrastructure doing the ‘heavy lifting’ to facilitate this.

The experience your customers have is second in importance only to the quality of the service or product being provided. Provide an excellent customer journey, and you’ll benefit from high customer loyalty, enhanced brand reputation, and a greater chance of referrals.

The Role of Technology in The Customer Experience

Digital solutions can support a better customer experience in a number of key ways:

Automation and Self-Service Options

Customers don’t always want agent-assisted service or support. For many, there is satisfaction to be found in self-service; for others, there’s a desire to avoid the dreaded ‘on hold music,’ as it is passed between departments on lengthy phone calls. Self-service solutions allow prospects to take ownership of their customer journey, and in some instances, this can expedite the customer experience overall. Online forms, document upload portals, FAQ pages, and even video tutorials, are a great way incorporate self-service elements into your customer experience.

Automation is another technology that can be leveraged to deliver a smoother experience. One example of this is the use of automated appointment scheduling systems. These allow customers or prospects to view availability in real-time and choose an appointment time that suits their schedule. Once a time is selected and booked in, the system can be programmed to issue confirmations and reminders to the customer, as well as provide options for cancellation and rescheduling to further enhance convenience. Automation that’s well integrated into the customer experience can deliver a wide range of benefits, including reduced human errors, greater convenience, faster processes, and a reduced burden on the company’s staff.

Slick Customer Support

Sometimes it’s necessary to provide customer support to help a prospect transition from one stage of their customer journey to the next.

Thanks to intelligent digital applications, technology can now play a pivotal role in customer support, helping customers get their questions answered and problems resolved with minimal hassle.

AI powered chatbots serve as a useful example of such technology in action. These powerful applications use natural language processing to interact with customers in real-time, and deliver relevant, insightful information about the product or service in question.

A Tailored Experience

Customers today increasingly expect an individualised, tailored customer experience, one where their needs and desires are assessed and catered for in every interaction. Personalised recommendations based on factors like browsing history and preferences are one of the ways technology can deliver an individualised customer journey. Recommendations can help users identify the product or service best suited to their needs, and reduce the time spent sifting through product or service menus.

By providing a tailored experience, you can save your customers time and deliver a journey that is centred around the individual, resulting in better satisfaction outcomes.

In Summary

From initial contact to closing a sale, customers now expect a trouble-free, encumbered experience from beginning to end. A well-conceived, digitised customer experience can make all the difference when it comes to building brand loyalty, improving retention, and enhancing conversion rates. By investing in customer experience technologies today, you’ll give your business a solid foundation for growth, one that’s based on high satisfaction levels and a commitment to customer-centric service.

Up next, we look at 7 essential technologies for enhancing the customer experience.

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How hybrid work patterns change end user computing

As part of the slow return to office-based work after the Covid-19 lockdowns, IT leaders have had to address hybrid work patterns. How does IT support people who may choose not to be in the office full-time, or who mainly work remotely?

The idea of having someone trek into the office to have a PC replaced or fixed is hopefully a thing of the past. While the IT department previously had a relatively good idea of the software and hardware required by users, hybrid and remote working means more emphasis is now on collaboration and conferencing tools.

One example of how this plays out for IT buyers is illustrated in a recent article on Computer Weekly’s sister title, MicroScope, by Neil MacDonald, UK and Ireland channel director at HP. MacDonald discusses a collaboration between HP and Poly to build a “hybrid by design” product portfolio, which aims to enhance the quality of peripherals for hybrid work setups.

“Our collaborative effort offers cutting-edge video-conferencing solutions, cameras, headsets, voice technology and software, all designed to empower customers in achieving equitable meetings between remote and in-person participants,” he says.

One example is Poly Voyager Free 60 earbuds, which are designed to ensure clear and uninterrupted communication by effectively minimising background noise.

Hybrid work security

While there is a new focus on collaboration tools, IT teams still need to provide users with access to the enterprise software they require to do their work. Remote and hybrid working means there is a need to ensure teams can communicate easily and connect to corporate IT systems no matter where individual team members are located.

All of these things need to be achieved while IT security chiefs tackle enterprise data leakage and ensuring employees do not import corporate data into unvetted applications or connect to the corporate network in an unsecure manner.

User education and security awareness programmes have an important role to play, as Olivia Rofe, cyber security expert at PA Consulting, explains: “We must ensure all employees are provided with relevant cyber security training on how to work securely from home or alternative out-of-office locations.”

In Rofe’s experience, regular training should be used in a way that allows continuous development of cyber security skills and should include phishing simulations. “The days of leaving security to the IT or cyber team are gone. It is important that individuals understand the role they play in an organisation’s wider security, both in their behaviour and how they do their job,” she says.

Such training needs to work alongside security policies and a strategy architected in a way that reduces the risk of user error leading to a security breach.

Lionel Garacotche, technical office leader for IT cyber security architecture at Airbus Protect, describes three main security scenarios IT teams need to manage. The first is “no trust”, whereby IT assets can be only used with a virtual private network (VPN) and no side communication is allowed. This, he says, needs to be controlled and hardened appropriately.

Second is “partial trust”, which offers a way to provide the user with side activity controlled by a cloud access security broker or endpoint detection and response (EDR).

The third scenario is what Garacotche describes as “whatever”, which provides for bring your own device (BYOD) or uncontrolled IT assets. Here, access is only available to “public” apps or through virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to provide access to internal applications.

The challenge for IT security leaders is that hybrid work does not operate in the same way as office-based work. Rowland Johnson, president of Crest, the international not-for-profit membership body representing the global cyber security industry, warns that IT leaders cannot rely on a security operations centre (SOC) to detect anomalies and threats that come from remote workers. SOCs, he says, work on datasets of what normal traffic and behaviour looks like. Any deviation from this can be quickly identified.

“With work patterns so different and flexible now, there is no clear ‘new normal’, making it increasingly challenging for SOCs to identify normal/abnormal behaviour,” he says.

PC modernisation

Looking beyond the security implications of hybrid working, IT leaders also need to consider the IT equipment in the physical workspace required to support users and the hardware and software needed by employees who may spend only some of their working hours in an office environment.

Many businesses upgraded PCs during the pandemic and have yet to replace them, or are upgrading at a far slower rate. This has led to a decline in the purchasing of new desktop and mobile computing hardware. But remote and hybrid work patterns have resulted in manufacturers tweaking and tailoring products to cater for the greater use of online conferencing and collaboration tools that have quickly become key to employee productivity.

Upgrading older PC hardware is also being helped along by the need for more powerful processors to run artificial intelligence (AI)-powered business applications.

Supporting hybrid work

Global telecoms equipment provider Ericsson is one of HP’s major customers. The PC maker supports a hybrid workforce through a global arrangement covering over 90% of Ericsson’s devices, spanning some 130,000 users in 140 countries. Employees can choose from various laptop models tailored to their roles. Once selected, devices are prepared and shipped to their home or office. The user provides their email, completes multifactor authentication, and, according to Lee Elliot, HP’s Northwest Europe head of offer execution for workforce solutions, the device is ready in 10 minutes.

HP EliteBook models are equipped with 5G capabilities and military-grade encryption to support staff needing to work in any location. Applications are accessed via the cloud and an HP break/fix agreement is in place, so staff uptime is protected with devices simply exchanged for new replacements if required.

Kieren Jessop, research analyst at Canalys, believes artificial intelligence (AI) will drive up demand for more powerful PC hardware: “Roadmaps for integration of on-device AI capabilities have already been outlined, with several products showcased at the HP Imagine event [in October] and other suppliers set to follow suit. Canalys forecasts that adoption of AI-capable PCs will accelerate from 2025, with such devices accounting for around 60% of all PCs shipped in 2027.”

For instance, new Chromebook Plus devices are equipped with more powerful hardware that support features like AI-assisted background noise cancellation and video-enhancing technology for video and audio conferencing. Premium PC manufacturers have also been ramping up the AI capabilities of their devices to support hybrid working.

Printers in a hybrid world

The latest research from analyst Quocirca shows that the changing purpose of the office will continue to focus on collaboration and connection. Quocirca’s Future of work study found that 37% of participants view in-person collaboration as the most important benefit of the office. An obvious conclusion is that IT buyers will need fewer office-based printers.

Quocirca analyst Louella Fernandes believes one of the challenges of creating a hybrid work environment is setting up printers so that anyone who comes into the office can use them with ease. Cloud printing offers a way to simplify printer setup.

In the past, office space would have been organised around large, multifunction devices, which provided central access to print, scan and copier functionality. While these still exist, some office spaces are now making greater use of workgroup or A4 printers that better suit hybrid work patterns.

While printers may be visible on the corporate network, it can often be difficult for users to figure out the location of their nearest printer. Fernandes says 60% of corporate data loss occurs because paper is left in printer output trays. In one instance, she says, someone took confidential printouts to a school as scrap paper for the children to scribble on.

While Quocirca found that only 11% of organisations currently operate a paperless environment, 75% are accelerating paper digitisation initiatives. Although return-to-office policies will help print volumes recover in some sectors, Quocirca believes there is an opportunity for print suppliers to develop products and services around delivering workplace technology that supports hybrid workers.

Evolving challenges in the hybrid workplace

The pace of innovation means new products and services are constantly being developed. Some of these will inevitably gain traction among hybrid workers, especially if the new product provides superior functionality over corporate IT-approved software. AI targeting employee productivity is one such category of software.

The Quocirca research shows that 56% of organisations plan to make use of AI and machine learning. Whether they work in an office full-time or are hybrid workers, AI is likely to lead to the risk that data could be leaked from the organisation or employees may use data in a way that breaches data protection laws.

“It’s always hard to determine what the future will look like, but we know for a fact that remote working will remain. We have to focus on being sure that employees are aware and understand the increased threat level we’re facing,” says Garacotche.

Source: https://www.computerweekly.com/feature/How-hybrid-work-patterns-change-end-user-computing

AI will make scam emails look genuine, UK cybersecurity agency warns

Artificial intelligence will make it difficult to spot whether emails are genuine or sent by scammers and malicious actors, including messages that ask computer users to reset their passwords, the UK’s cybersecurity agency has warned.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said people would struggle to identify phishing messages – where users are tricked into handing over passwords or personal details – due to the sophistication of AI tools.

Generative AI, the term for technology that can produce convincing text, voice and images from simple hand-typed prompts, has become widely available to the public through chatbots such as ChatGPT and free-to-use versions known as open source models.

The NCSC, part of the GCHQ spy agency, said in its latest assessment of AI’s impact on the cyber threats facing the UK that AI would “almost certainly” increase the volume of cyber-attacks and heighten their impact over the next two years.

It said generative AI and large language models – the technology that underpins chatbots – will complicate efforts to identify different types of attack such as spoof messages and social engineering, the term for manipulating people to hand over confidential material.

“To 2025, generative AI and large language models will make it difficult for everyone, regardless of their level of cybersecurity understanding, to assess whether an email or password reset request is genuine, or to identify phishing, spoofing or social engineering attempts.”

Ransomware attacks, which had hit institutions such as the British Library and Royal Mail over the past year, were also expected to increase, the NCSC said.

It warned that the sophistication of AI “lowers the barrier” for amateur cybercriminals and hackers to access systems and gather information on targets, enabling them to paralyse a victim’s computer systems, extract sensitive data and demand a cryptocurrency ransom.

The NCSC said generative AI tools already helped make approaches to potential victims more convincing by creating fake “lure documents” that did not contain the translation, spelling or grammatical errors that tended to give away phishing attacks – their contents having been crafted or corrected by chatbots.

However, it said generative AI – which emerged as a competent coding tool – would not enhance the effectiveness of ransomware code but would help sift through and identify targets.

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s data watchdog, 706 ransomware incidents were reported in the UK in 2022, compared with 694 in 2021.

The agency warned that state actors probably have enough malware – short for malicious software – to train a specially created AI model that would create new code capable of avoiding security measures. The NCSC said such a model would have to be trained on data extracted from its target.

“Highly capable state actors are almost certainly best placed among cyber threat actors to harness the potential of AI in advanced cyber operations,” the NCSC report says.

The NCSC added that AI would also work as a defensive tool, with the technology able to detect attacks and design more secure systems.

The report came as the UK government set out new guidelines encouraging businesses to better equip themselves to recover from ransomware attacks. The “Cyber Governance Code of Practice” aims to place information security on the same tier as financial and legal management, the NCSC said.

But cybersecurity experts have called for stronger action. Ciaran Martin, the former head of the NCSC, says that unless public and private bodies fundamentally change how they approach the threat of ransomware, “an incident of the severity of the British Library attack is likely in each of the next five years.” In a newsletter, Martin wrote that the UK needs to reassess its approach to ransomware, including by creating stronger rules around the payment of ransoms and giving up on “fantasies” of “striking back” against criminals based in hostile nations.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2024/jan/24/ai-scam-emails-uk-cybersecurity-agency-phishing

Business and tech heavyweights to boost productivity through AI

Members of the UK’s first AI Opportunity Forum have been appointed today (Thursday 25th January) – with a clear mission to boost the adoption of AI in the private sector.

Overseen by the Technology Secretary and the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser on Business and Investment, pioneering AI companies will join forces with business leaders to bring their expertise to bear on encouraging adoption of AI across the private sector to boost productivity, fuel innovation, and deliver growth in all areas of the economy.

The Forum will particularly focus on the AI culture and skills of organisations in the UK, how they manage governance, awareness, and risks of the technology, and the availability of data which they can tap into – a crucial component in the use and development of AI.

Despite the importance of AI for businesses being almost universally recognised, only one-in-ten organisations are currently fully prepared to roll out the technology. The Forum will tackle this problem head-on sharing best practice and identifying measures which organisations can adopt to improve their AI readiness.

It builds on the Prime Minister’s AI Safety Summit held at Bletchley Park which set a path for building a global approach to ensuring safe and responsible AI, such as the UK’s trailblazing launch of a new AI Safety Institute.

The UK’s continued international collaboration efforts through the AI Safety Institute and fora such as the G7 Hiroshima AI Process, Global Partnership on AI (GPAI), the G20, and the UN will continue to advance this conversation, ensuring the entire global community can safely realise the benefits of AI adoption.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

We stand on the cusp of a productivity revolution – one which has the potential to grow the economy in a way we’ve never seen before. So, it’s important we get it right.

This forum builds on the AI Safety Summit – putting the UK at the vanguard of AI innovation to help us safely embrace AI in a way that delivers for British people.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan, said:

We want to see organisations across the UK tapping into the transformative power of AI to boost their productivity, unlock new opportunities, and drive growth.

The AI Opportunity Forum brings together our brightest minds from the worlds of AI and business to drive forward that effort.

AI develops at an incredible pace, and we’re acting in lockstep to ensure businesses and employees in every sector of our economy can take advantage of this generation-defining technology.

Members of the Forum who have been unveiled today represent a who’s who of both industry and AI expertise. Co-chaired by Secretary of State Michelle Donelan and the Prime Minister’s Business Adviser Franck Petitgas, the Forum will also feature Microsoft and Google, as well as representatives of Quantexa, KPMG, Arm, Barclays, Vodafone, Universal Music Group, and GSK.

The UK’s AI sector already contributes £3.7 billion to the UK economy and employs 50,000 people across the country with these figures set to grow. As we’ve seen over the past century, our economy and jobs market evolve with technology, with changes in technology creating new industries and new jobs.

CEO of Microsoft UK, Clare Barclay, said:

Speed of AI adoption, backed by robust industry skilling programmes, will determine just how successfully the UK embraces this generational shift in how we live and work.

The AI Opportunity Forum will help accelerate the private sector transformation we need to compete and lead in the global economy.

Managing Director of Google UK, Debbie Weinstein, said:

We’re looking forward to working alongside the government to ensure that British businesses are well equipped to harness the benefits of AI.

Google’s UK Economic Impact Report highlighted the scale of this opportunity, with forecasts showing that AI-powered innovation could create over £400 billion in economic value for the UK economy by 2030.

Initiatives like the Government’s AI Opportunity Forum are key for unlocking the transformative potential of a technology which has the potential to boost productivity, fuel creativity and drive tech-led growth across a variety of sectors up and down the country.

Chief Executive Officer of GSK, Emma Walmsley, said:

We’re very optimistic about the opportunities for positive impact from AI, not just for GSK but for the UK’s short and long-term economic growth, innovation and skills development.

The UK has the potential and talent to exploit these transformative technologies, but faster adoption is key. This new forum brings together businesses large and small with AI developers to develop practical ideas and support and we look forward to contributing.

Quantexa CEO, Vishal Marria, said:

As an AI first technology company, Quantexa is thrilled to be involved in the AI Opportunity Forum, and proud to be part of this investment in UK-based innovation that positions the UK at the forefront of AI on the world stage.

We have been investing in AI since our inception, and it lies at the heart of Quantexa technology. But what we have seen over the last 12 months – is its adoption and impact accelerate. We see AI as the biggest technological breakthrough for generations and are ramping our investment in AI because we know this is going to transform how organisations make decisions.

Understandably, there are concerns around the associated risks of AI. But, with the safe and ethical adoption of AI technology, there are huge opportunities for UK businesses across industry sectors to accelerate productivity and growth.

Chief Executive Officer of Sage, Steve Hare, said:

At Sage, we’ve been using AI to bring practical time saving solutions to small and medium-sized businesses for some time.  AI has the potential to improve the UK’s productivity and simplify everyday tasks like invoicing, managing late payments, and handling tax and cash flow issues.

To make AI more effective and trustworthy, there is a need for more collaboration between the government and the tech sector to nurture the digital economy and ensure SMBs are adopting digital tools to reap the benefits of AI. The AI Opportunity Forum is a step towards this goal, aiming to bring real AI solutions to real businesses.

The government is also stepping up its plans to accelerate the rollout of AI across the public sector. Earlier this month, the Central Digital and Data Office published a new framework which will implement principles for government departments on the responsible use of Generative AI. Written in collaboration with industry, the framework also looks to upskill civil servants through free generative AI courses to ensure public servants have a robust set of skills when working with AI.

The Forum will now gather for its first meeting in February, with further meetings taking place bi-monthly.

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/business-and-tech-heavyweights-to-boost-productivity-through-ai

What does a future with quantum computers look like?

Quantum computing is an exciting and evolving deep-tech sector, which could transform parts of society when it comes to fruition.

These powerful machines are capable of processing vast amounts of data and could eventually solve problems that are far too advanced for modern supercomputers, which would lead to enormous benefits for humanity.

But the journey to get there is not easy, with a variety of technological and scientific hurdles to overcome before these we can create true quantum computers.

Ulrich Seyfarth is a manager in BearingPoint’s Munich operations. He said that a lot of effort has been made to solve the issues surrounding quantum computers, but there is still a long way to go.

“Major challenges include the number of information carriers (qubits) needed and the ability to compute long-running calculations due to the impact of noise and decoherence effects which must be mitigated by powerful error-correction methods,” Seyfarth said.

“The current stage of quantum computing is called NISQ (noisy intermediate-scale quantum), more a playground to get used to quantum computing, than a stage where we can gain from powerful new solutions. That horizon however, is approaching.”

Many researchers are working to bring us closer to fault-free quantum computers. Last month, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claimed they found a new way to hit 99.9pc accuracy in certain quantum operations.

Earlier this year, quantum computing company Quantiniuum claimed it was able to accurately simulate a hydrogen molecule by using an error-detecting code.

The potential benefits

When – or if – we get to the stage of general-purpose quantum computers, Seyfarth said there are various ways these machines could be used to benefit society. One way would be to simulate aspects of nature, as “nature is quantum”.

“Quantum theory is a fundamental description of the physical behaviour of our world,” Seyfarth said. “Computers that speak the same language as nature are best suited to simulate it.

“The potential for new discoveries in physics, chemistry, biology and other foundational sciences is immense. Research will be a key application of quantum computing in revealing new discoveries as foundations for applications across many industries.”

Quantum computers could also help to break past certain bottlenecks in modern technology, such as miniaturisation. For example, Seyfarth said circuits are now operating at such a small scale that quantum phenomena are posing “significant challenges to the continuity of Moore’s Law”. This is the principle that the number of transistors incorporated in a densely populated chip will double every two years.

“We are reaching manufacturing limits, at a time when the demand for computational power is increasing rapidly,” Seyfarth said. “Many organisations are reliant on an ability to process increasing volumes of data, faster.

“A fundamental change in computation capability is necessary and this is driving the significant investment we see in quantum computing technology.”

While various challenges exist, Seyfarth predicts that the future of quantum technology is “promising” and that new quantum hardware, algorithms, processing methods and other breakthroughs will develop in the future.

“The development of quantum compilers, abstract languages and available computational power in the cloud and middleware platforms will lead to easier access to this technology – also creating new industries and ecosystems around it,” Seyfarth said.

While there is no clear prediction for when quantum computing will become truly available for businesses, Seyfarth said organisations should develop an understanding of their data processing needs for the future and the potential quantum computing may have to help them to “remain competitive”.

“Those that start early in developing their understanding of the technology and its likely implications, will be better positioned to harness its power,” Seyfarth said. “If you think that quantum computing technology is potentially relevant to your future business, a good starting point is to invest in developing some internal knowledge within your organisation.

“As the technology becomes more accessible from an R&D perspective, consideration could be given to potentially start pilot projects, though [it] will be important not to invest too heavily in a single technology provider at this early stage.”

The risks of new technology

Transformative technology also has the potential to create negative consequences when it is first introduced, such as generative AI being used as a tool to spread disinformation and boost cyberattacks.

Quantum computing is no exception to this rule and Seyfarth said organisations and society need to address the new risks that new technology presents.

“In an era where computational power is an important driver for our economy and our society – there is a possibility that access to this power becomes centralised to a small number of entities,” Seyfarth said. “This may lead to imbalances in competitive advantages in industry.

“Of course, there is also the potential for certain jobs to be rendered obsolete, while demand for other new roles is created – so there will be an onus on society to ensure that adequate supports are in place to facilitate retraining.”

Another key issue in the digital world is cybersecurity and the way new technology can shake up this landscape. Quantum computing presents a risk due to its potential to break modern cryptography – which is used to encrypt data and communications.

Experts have warned about the risk of hackers stealing and storing encrypted data, for the purpose of decrypting it quickly once quantum computers become a more accessible reality. This is sometimes referred to as ‘store now, decrypt later’ tactics.

“Secret data that must be secured for more than 10 years is already exposed to future attacks,” Seyfarth said. “Organisations should prepare risk mitigation actions, including analysis of data encryption methods in use and implementing future-proof encryption methods where necessary.

“Post-quantum cryptography, a technology that is similar to current cryptographic solutions, but with higher requirements computational power and key sizes could serve to minimise risk – another area to keep an eye on from a standards maturity perspective.”

Source: https://www.siliconrepublic.com/machines/quantum-computers-simulation-bearingpoint-deep-tech

Google DeepMind Solves Unsolvable Math Problem With AI

Recent advances in large language models (LLMs) have made artificial intelligence more adaptable than ever before, but that comes with a drawback: lies. Generative AI tends to make things up, but Google DeepMind has devised a new LLM that sticks to mathematical truths. The company’s FunSearch can solve highly complex math problems. Miraculously, the solutions it generates aren’t just accurate; they’re entirely new solutions that no human has ever found.

FunSearch is thus named because it searches for mathematical functions, not because it’s fun. Although, some people might consider the cap set problem a real hoot—mathematicians can’t even agree on how best to solve it, making it a genuine numerical mystery. DeepMind previously made advances in AI with its Alpha models like AlphaFold (protein folding), AlphaStar (StarCraft), and AlphaGo (playing Go). These systems were not based on LLMs, but they did reveal new mathematical concepts.

With FunSearch, DeepMind started with a large language mode, a version of Google’s PaLM 2 called Codey. There’s a second LLM layer at work, which scans Codey’s output and prunes incorrect information. The team behind this work didn’t know if this approach would work, and they’re still not sure why it does, according to DeepMind researcher Alhussein Fawzi.

To start, DeepMind engineers created a Python representation of the cap set problem, but they left out the lines that described the solution. Codey’s job was to add lines that accurately solved the problem. The error-checking layer then scores the Codey solutions to see if they are accurate. In high-level math, equations may have more than one solution, but not all of them are considered equally good. Over time, the algorithm identifies the best solutions from Codey and feeds them back into the model.

DeepMind logo

DeepMind let FunSearch churn for several days long enough to generate millions of possible solutions. This allowed FunSearch to refine the code and produce better results. According to the newly published research, the AI came up with a previously unknown but correct solution to the cap set problem. DeepMind also turned FunSearch loose on another difficult bit of math called the bin packing problem, an algorithm that describes the most efficient way to pack bins. FunSearch found a faster solution than those calculated by humans.

Mathematicians are still struggling with integrating LLM technology into their work, and the work at DeepMind shows a possible path forward. The team believes this approach has potential because it generates computer code rather than the solution. This is often easier to understand and verify than raw mathematical outputs.

Source: https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/google-deepmind-solves-unsolvable-math-problem-with-ai

Supercomputer Mimicking a Brain to Unlock AI and Mind Secrets

A supercomputer scheduled to go online in April 2024 will rival the estimated rate of operations in the human brain, according to researchers in Australia. The machine, called DeepSouth, is capable of performing 228 trillion operations per second.

It’s the world’s first supercomputer capable of simulating networks of neurons and synapses (key biological structures that make up our nervous system) at the scale of the human brain.

DeepSouth belongs to an approach known as neuromorphic computing, which aims to mimic the biological processes of the human brain. It will be run from the International Centre for Neuromorphic Systems at Western Sydney University.

Our brain is the most amazing computing machine we know. By distributing its computing power to billions of small units (neurons) that interact through trillions of connections (synapses), the brain can rival the most powerful supercomputers in the world, while requiring only the same power used by a fridge lamp bulb.

Supercomputers, meanwhile, generally take up lots of space and need large amounts of electrical power to run. The world’s most powerful supercomputer, the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Frontier, can perform just over one quintillion operations per second. It covers 680 square meters (7,300 sq ft) and requires 22.7 megawatts (MW) to run.

Our brains can perform the same number of operations per second with just 20 watts of power, while weighing just 1.3kg-1.4kg. Among other things, neuromorphic computing aims to unlock the secrets of this amazing efficiency.

Transistors at the limits

On June 30 1945, the mathematician and physicist John von Neumann described the design of a new machine, the Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer (Edvac). This effectively defined the modern electronic computer as we know it.

My smartphone, the laptop I am using to write this article and the most powerful supercomputer in the world all share the same fundamental structure introduced by von Neumann almost 80 years ago. These all have distinct processing and memory units, where data and instructions are stored in the memory and computed by a processor.


For decades, the number of transistors on a microchip doubled approximately every two years, an observation known as Moore’s Law. This allowed us to have smaller and cheaper computers.

However, transistor sizes are now approaching the atomic scale. At these tiny sizes, excessive heat generation is a problem, as is a phenomenon called quantum tunnelling, which interferes with the functioning of the transistors. This is slowing down and will eventually halt transistor miniaturisation.

To overcome this issue, scientists are exploring new approaches to computing, starting from the powerful computer we all have hidden in our heads, the human brain. Our brains do not work according to John von Neumann’s model of the computer. They don’t have separate computing and memory areas.

They instead work by connecting billions of nerve cells that communicate information in the form of electrical impulses. Information can be passed from one neuron to the next through a junction called a synapse. The organisation of neurons and synapses in the brain is flexible, scalable and efficient.

So in the brain – and unlike in a computer – memory and computation are governed by the same neurons and synapses. Since the late 1980s, scientists have been studying this model with the intention of importing it to computing.


Imitation of life

Neuromorphic computers are based on intricate networks of simple, elementary processors (which act like the brain’s neurons and synapses). The main advantage of this is that these machines are inherently “parallel”.

This means that, as with neurons and synapses, virtually all the processors in a computer can potentially be operating simultaneously, communicating in tandem.

In addition, because the computations performed by individual neurons and synapses are very simple compared with traditional computers, the energy consumption is orders of magnitude smaller. Although neurons are sometimes thought of as processing units, and synapses as memory units, they contribute to both processing and storage. In other words, data is already located where the computation requires it.

This speeds up the brain’s computing in general because there is no separation between memory and processor, which in classical (von Neumann) machines causes a slowdown. But it also avoids the need to perform a specific task of accessing data from a main memory component, as happens in conventional computing systems and consumes a considerable amount of energy.

The principles we have just described are the main inspiration for DeepSouth. This is not the only neuromorphic system currently active. It is worth mentioning the Human Brain Project (HBP), funded under an EU initiative. The HBP was operational from 2013 to 2023, and led to BrainScaleS, a machine located in Heidelberg, in Germany, that emulates the way that neurons and synapses work.

BrainScaleS can simulate the way that neurons “spike”, the way that an electrical impulse travels along a neuron in our brains. This would make BrainScaleS an ideal candidate to investigate the mechanics of cognitive processes and, in future, mechanisms underlying serious neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.

Because they are engineered to mimic actual brains, neuromorphic computers could be the beginning of a turning point. Offering sustainable and affordable computing power and allowing researchers to evaluate models of neurological systems, they are an ideal platform for a range of applications. They have the potential to both advance our understanding of the brain and offer new approaches to artificial intelligence.

Source: https://theconversation.com/a-new-supercomputer-aims-to-closely-mimic-the-human-brain-it-could-help-unlock-the-secrets-of-the-mind-and-advance-ai-220044

Unlocking Efficiency:  The Role of Managed IT Services in System Optimisation

If you’re thinking about outsourcing your IT needs to a managed service provider, you’re likely drawn by the prospect of performance-optimised IT. In today’s dynamic and digitised business environment, you can’t afford for your vital systems to break down, and you need your technology to perform flawlessly so that your business operates efficiently and productively. So how can a managed service provider ensure that your IT never misses a beat and truly delivers for your business?

4TC Managed IT Services – Proactive IT Services and Innovative Solutions for London Businesses

Here at 4TC, our managed IT services, responsive support, and tailored solutions are designed to help London businesses achieve peak efficiency and grow sustainably. We employ a proactive approach across every aspect of our service offering, ensuring our clients enjoy fast, secure and robust IT infrastructure that facilitates maximum operating efficiency. We do this by deploying a number of technologies and IT management best practices, which combine to deliver the IT performance that our dynamic clients have come to expect.

In this article, we’ll provide a brief guide to how an IT managed service provider can help you achieve better business efficiency through IT performance optimisation. We’ll explore the techniques, technologies and practices that form vital ingredients to the delivery of fast, reliable and secure business IT.

Performance Optimisation Strategies

Using Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software, plus a host of other remote-capable IT management solutions, an IT managed service provider can carry out a range of performance optimisation strategies. These strategies are designed to complement one another, to support a fast, responsive, high-quality end user experience. Here are some of the elements performance optimisation strategies often entail:

Resource Allocation

A managed service provider can monitor and disperse workloads across multiple servers and components. This ensures network traffic flows freely, avoiding the performance pitfalls that can arise when a network component becomes overloaded. CPU usage, memory usage and disk input/output are just some of the metrics that are closely observed.

Load Balancing

Load balancing involves distributing network traffic volumes across available servers, avoiding performance bottlenecks, and ensuring resources are assigned efficiently. A managed service provider can perform this vital performance optimisation strategy by continuously monitoring server health, and regulating and directing network traffic accordingly. If one server is under strain, or suffering issues, inbound requests can be assigned to healthier servers that have the resource capacity to cope.

Network Optimisation

A managed service provider can take a number of actions to ensure seamless and fast cross-network data flow, that maximises the use of available resources. By optimising network configurations, implementing Quality of Service (QoS) policies and, where necessary, prioritising critical data traffic, an MSP can ensure that network bandwidth is managed efficiently, and in a way that supports business critical functions.

Latency Reduction

Latency’ refers to the time delay, or ‘lag’ that occurs as data transits a computer network. Some latency is inevitable, but too much can have a detrimental impact on the experience for end users. A managed service provider can play a critical role in resolving network latency issues, by identifying and resolving the issues at play, which might include inefficient routing and network congestion.

Caching Mechanisms

A managed service provider can improve network responsiveness by deploying caching mechanisms, which make frequently used information readily available to applications and services. These avoid the need to fetch information from source in each instance and help contribute to a responsive and seamless user experience.

Performance Monitoring and Analytics

Performance monitoring tools can be deployed to measure, capture and analyse system performance across a variety of metrics, including response times, resource utilisation, error rates and more. This analysed data can be used to identify trends, forecast future problems and support informed performance optimisation decision-making. Data can also be leveraged for capacity planning purposes, ensuring that necessary provisions can be made ahead of periods of increased demand or anticipated growth.

Scheduled Maintenance

A proactive managed service provider will carry out a comprehensive programme of maintenance designed to foresee and address network issues, and resolve vulnerabilities before they evolve into costly episodes of IT downtime. The following elements usually form the basis of an IT provider’s scheduled maintenance activities:

Patch Management

Security updates, commonly referred to as ‘patches,’ are software updates that vendors or manufacturers release to enhance the security of their products or address discovered vulnerabilities. A managed service provider will usually take the lead in testing, applying and configuring these patches, to ensure software vulnerabilities are resolved in a timely manner that leaves very little time for malicious actors to exploit them. Proactive patch management is a vital component in maintaining a robust cyber security posture, and in sustaining the performance integrity of business-critical software and systems.

Task Automation

The remote management and monitoring software used by managed service providers often enables the automation of routine maintenance tasks such as disk clean-ups and defragmentation. This automation ensures that tasks beneficial to system performance are carried our regularly and consistently, helping to ensure a smooth and responsive user experience.

Hardware Health Checks

By performing regular diagnostic inspections of critical hardware components, including servers, storage devices and networking infrastructure, a managed service provider can help foresee hardware failures, and take the appropriate steps to avert system impact.

Performance Tuning and Continuous Improvement

A managed service provider can make use of the wealth of network activity data at their disposal to introduce a raft of system refinements designed to enhance overall performance. Such refinements might include altering configurations, tweaking setting and even optimizing programme code.

This activity data is continually gathered, allowing system administrators to introduce iterative enhancements on an ongoing basis, ensuring that system resources are consistently aligned with organisational needs, and the changing demands placed on them.

Rapid Issue Resolution

So far, we’ve talked about the proactive elements that constitute an effective IT support and management service, however, it’s important to recognise the vital supporting role played by post-incident support functions. When an IT problem strikes, you need issue resolution that prioritises a root cause fix, and restores critical functionality in the quickest possible time. Here’s how a managed service provider can help minimise downtime and enhance efficiency through responsive support services:

24/7 Helpdesk Support

The best-managed service providers offer 24/7 helpdesk support, backed by competitive response time guarantees. Utilizing ticketing systems, support requests are efficiently managed and tracked from initial submission to resolution. Tiered support structures assign priority ratings to issues, ensuring that critical and highly complex issues receive expedited support. These issues are handled by appropriately qualified engineers to guarantee a swift and lasting fix.

Remote Troubleshooting

IT support personnel make use of remote access tools which enable them to connect to and remotely configure user devices without the need to be physically present. These tools allow the vast majority of IT issues to be resolved remotely, expediting issue resolution dramatically, and minimising downtime and any subsequent lost productivity. Screen sharing allows IT support to view the user’s desktop environment in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the issue present, and diagnostic capabilities allow them to review a wide range of system information, including activity logs, configurations and performance data. These capabilities combine to give IT support teams formidable remote troubleshooting capabilities.

Final Thoughts

By taking a data-driven, proactive approach to network optimisation, undertaking a programme of preventative maintenance, and provide fast, expert support for any issues that slip through the net, a managed IT service provider can offer everything your business needs to operate performance-optimised and dependable IT infrastructure. Give your team the slick, fast technology they need to work effectively, and eliminate the IT outages that are holding your business back by exploring the benefits of managed IT services today.

4TC Managed IT Services – Uniting People, Processes and Technology 

Secure, stable and optimised IT infrastructure is critical to the success of all businesses in our information age. 4TC helps businesses across London and the Southeast realise their potential through the delivery of expertly managed IT services and support, and solutions that solve business challenges by achieving perfect alignment between people, processes and technology. Get assistance with your IT challenges today by getting in touch, we’ll be glad to assist you!  

The 10 Biggest Cyber Security Trends In 2024 Everyone Must Be Ready For Now

By the end of the coming year, the cost of cyber attacks on the global economy is predicted to top $10.5 trillion.

This staggering amount reflects the growing need for cyber security to be treated as a strategic priority on an individual, organizational and governmental level.

As in every other field of business and technological endeavor, artificial intelligence (AI) will have a transformative impact on both attack and defense. Its impact will be felt across every one of the trends covered here.

The Cyber Security Skills Crunch

A shortage of professionals with the skills needed to protect organizations from cyber attacks continues to be a running theme throughout 2024. In fact, the situation appears to be getting worse – research indicates that a majority (54 percent) of cyber security professionals believe that the impact of the skills shortage on their organization has worsened over the past two years. We can expect efforts to rectify this situation to include a continued increase in salaries paid to those with the necessary skills, as well as greater investment in training, development and upskilling programs.

As AI increases in sophisticoation at a frankly alarming rate, we will continue to see more sophisticated and smart AI-powered attacks. This will range from deepfake social engineering attempts to automated malware that intelligently adapts in order to evade detection. At the same time, it will help us detect, evade or neutralize threats thanks to real-time anomaly detection, smart authentication and automated incident response. If cyber attack and defense in 2024 is a game of chess, then AI is the queen – with the ability to create powerful strategic advantages for whoever plays it best.

Next-Level Phishing Attacks

Social engineering attacks involving tricking users into giving attackers access to systems will also increase in sophistication. Generative AI (such as ChatGPT) tools enable more attackers to make smarter, more personalized approaches, and deepfake attacks will become increasingly prevalent. The response to this will largely revolve around organization-wide awareness and education, although AI and zero trust will play a growing role, too.

Cyber Security In The Board Room

In 2024, cybersecurity is a strategic priority that can no longer be siloed in the IT department. Gartner has predicted that by 2026, 70 percent of boards will include at least one member with expertise in the field. This enables organizations to move beyond reactive defense, meaning that they can act on new business opportunities that come with being prepared.

IoT Cyber Attacks

More devices talking to each other and accessing the internet means more potential “ins” for cyber attackers to take advantage of. With the work-from-home revolution continuing, the risks posed by workers connecting or sharing data over improperly secured devices will continue to be a threat. Often, these devices are designed for ease of use and convenience rather than secure operations, and home consumer IoT devices may be at risk due to weak security protocols and passwords. The fact that industry has generally dragged its feet over the implementation of IoT security standards, despite the fact that the vulnerabilities have been apparent for many years, means it will continue to be a cyber security weak spot – though this is changing (more on this below).

Cyber Resilience – Beyond Cyber Security

Two terms that are often used interchangeably are cyber security and cyber resilience. However, the distinction will become increasingly important during 2024 and beyond. While the focus of cyber security is on preventing attacks, the growing value placed on resilience by many organizations reflects the hard truth that even the best security can’t guarantee 100 percent protection. Resilience measures are designed to ensure continuity of operations even in the wake of a successful breach. Developing the capability to recover in an agile manner while minimizing data loss and downtime will be a strategic priority in 2024.

Less Than Zero Trust

The fundamental concept of zero trust – always verify – evolves as systems become more complex and security is integrated into business strategy. Zero trust states that there is no perimeter within which network activity can be assumed to be safe. As the threat landscape evolves, this principle extends beyond the corporate network to the ecosystem of remote workers, partnered organizations and IoT devices. In 2024, zero trust moves from being a technical network security model to something adaptive and holistic, enabled by continuous AI-powered real-time authentication and activity monitoring.

Cyber Warfare And State-Sponsored Cyber Attacks

The war in Ukraine, which looks set to enter its third year, has exposed the extent to which states are willing and able to deploy cyber attacks against military and civilian infrastructure in 2024. It’s a safe bet that going forward, wherever military operations take place around the world, they will go hand-in-hand with cyber warfare operations. The most common tactics include phishing attacks designed to gain access to systems for the purposes of disruption and espionage and distributed denial-of-service attacks to disable communications, public utilities, transport and security infrastructure. Outside of warfare, major elections will take place in 2024 in countries including the US, UK and India, and we can expect an increase in cyber attacks aimed at disrupting the democratic process.

Soft Skills Becoming Increasingly Essential For Cyber Security Professionals

Cybersecurity professionals will increasingly be expected to take on more complex workloads during 2024 as the threat landscape grows ever more sophisticated. This doesn’t simply mean in a technical sense – those with responsibility for countering cyber threats will also find themselves tasked with more complex social and cultural aspects of threat mitigation. This will lead to a growing reliance on soft skills such as interpersonal communication, relationship-building and problem-solving.

Cyber Security Regulation

Governments and organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the risks to national security and to economic growth posed by cyber threats. The potential social and political fallout of large-scale data breaches is also a major factor in the emergence of new regulations around cyber security issues. For example, businesses in the UK have until April 2024 to ensure they are compliant with the Product Security and Telecommunications Act, which sets out minimum security requirements that networked products must adhere to (for example, they mustn’t be shipped with a default password). Implementation of the EU’s similar Radio Equipment Directive has been delayed until 2025, but the topic is still likely to be high on the agenda of legislators throughout 2024.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2023/10/11/the-10-biggest-cyber-security-trends-in-2024-everyone-must-be-ready-for-now/

IT Support Exposed: Ensuring Smooth Operations for Your Company

In the fast-paced world of business, the reliance on Information Technology (IT) has become indispensable. From managing day-to-day operations to fostering innovation, IT plays a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth functioning of companies. Behind the scenes, a dedicated team of IT professionals provides the necessary support to keep the digital gears turning. In this article, we delve into the world of IT support, exploring the critical aspects that contribute to the seamless operation of a company.

The Backbone of IT Support

Proactive Problem Resolution

In the realm of IT support, the best approach is often proactive rather than reactive. Rather than waiting for issues to arise, IT professionals actively monitor systems, identify potential problems, and implement preventive measures. This involves regular system updates, security patches, and performance optimization. Proactive problem resolution not only minimizes downtime but also enhances the overall efficiency of the IT infrastructure. By anticipating and addressing issues before they impact operations, IT support becomes a strategic partner in the company’s success, rather than a mere firefighting squad.

Navigating the Information Technology Transition

As businesses evolve in the digital era, the transition emerges as a defining factor in their ability to stay competitive. This phase of the Information Technology transition involves not only upgrading hardware and software but also adapting to new paradigms in how technology is utilized within the organization. The IT support team plays a pivotal role in orchestrating this transition, ensuring a seamless integration of emerging technologies. Whether it’s migrating to cloud-based solutions, implementing advanced cybersecurity measures, or harnessing the power of data analytics, a well-executed Information Technology transition lays the foundation for enhanced operational efficiency and future growth. This dynamic process demands not only technical prowess but also a strategic vision as IT support becomes a driving force in shaping the technological landscape.

User Training and Education

While IT professionals are adept at navigating the intricacies of technology, not all employees share the same level of expertise. User training and education are critical components of a comprehensive IT support strategy. This involves conducting regular workshops, creating informative resources, and fostering a culture of digital literacy within the organization. When employees understand how to use technology effectively and securely, the likelihood of encountering issues decreases significantly. Additionally, a well-informed workforce can contribute valuable insights to the IT team, aiding in the continuous improvement of systems and processes.

Embracing Remote Support in the Digital Age

The landscape of work has undergone a profound transformation, with remote work becoming more prevalent than ever. In this context, IT support has had to adapt to the challenges of providing assistance to employees scattered across different locations. Remote support tools and technologies have become indispensable for IT professionals, enabling them to troubleshoot issues, install software, and perform system maintenance without being physically present. This shift to remote support not only enhances flexibility for both IT teams and employees but also underscores the importance of robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data across various access points.

Scalability and Future-Proofing

As companies grow, so do their IT needs. A forward-thinking IT support strategy considers scalability and future-proofing as crucial elements. This involves implementing systems and solutions that can adapt to the evolving requirements of the business. Cloud computing, for example, offers scalable and flexible solutions that can grow with the company. Additionally, IT professionals must stay abreast of technological advancements, ensuring that the company’s infrastructure remains at the forefront of innovation. By anticipating future needs and embracing scalable solutions, IT support becomes a strategic enabler for the company’s long-term success.

Balancing Automation and Human Touch

Automation has become a buzzword in the tech world, promising efficiency and speed. However, in the realm of IT support, striking the right balance between automation and the human touch is crucial. While automation can handle routine tasks and streamline processes, the empathetic understanding and problem-solving skills of human IT professionals remain irreplaceable. Companies must find the sweet spot where automation enhances efficiency without sacrificing the personalized support that human interaction provides. This delicate balance ensures that the IT support team remains agile, responsive, and attuned to the unique needs of the organization.

In the intricate dance of modern business operations, IT support emerges as a linchpin that holds everything together. From providing the necessary technical expertise to fostering a culture of digital literacy, IT support is instrumental in ensuring the seamless functioning of a company. By adopting proactive problem resolution, investing in user training, embracing remote support, planning for scalability, and striking the right balance between automation and human touch, organizations can build a resilient IT support framework. In doing so, they not only mitigate risks and minimize downtime but also position themselves for sustained success in an increasingly digital and dynamic business landscape.

Source: https://www.otsnews.co.uk/it-support-exposed-ensuring-smooth-operations-for-your-company/