Elevating Customer Experiences Through Technology – 7 Essential Technologies for Optimising Customer Journeys

As our businesses move further and further into the online realm, delivering a smooth, digitised customer experience (CX) has never been more vital. Modern customers have come to expect convenient, meaningful, and consistent interactions with the businesses they engage with, and they increasingly expect these interactions to be supported by intelligent digital solutions.

By integrating technology tactically into your customer journey, you can ensure that customers come away satisfied, bolstering your business’s reputation, and fostering higher customer retention rates. You’ll also help to maximise conversions, by removing the obstacles and frustrations that might otherwise see prospects taking their business elsewhere.

In our previous blog, we looked at the benefits of a digitised customer experience (CX) from the customer’s perspective, and discussed the role of technology in facilitating the best possible customer journeys. Now, let’s consider the operational benefits that a digitised CX can provide for your business, before looking at 7 essential technologies you should consider for your customer experience framework.

A Digitised Customer Experience – The Operational Benefits

Here are some operational and business benefits that you can gain by digitising your customer experience:

Operational Efficiency

Drive improvements in operational efficiency by introducing automation to customer support, onboarding, and marketing processes. By automating menial processes you’ll give staff more time to focus on strategically valuable activities, and deliver better outcomes for customers by minimising processing errors.

Scalable Resources

Digital solutions can more easily scale to meet demand fluctuations than staffed customer service and support functions. Benefit from flexible solutions that adjust quickly to changing needs without the cost implications that come with staffing a helpline.

Valuable Data Insights

Digitisation supports the increased collection and analysis of customer data, much of which can provide valuable insights into behaviours, preferences, and trends. This information can be harnessed to drive operational improvements and provide a guide for more effective marketing and outreach efforts.

Consistent Interactions

Digital solutions can help to ensure that customers experience consistent and predictable service no matter which channel or touchpoint they’re using. By achieving greater consistency, you’ll foster better customer satisfaction scores and improve retention.

Gain a Competitive Advantage

A polished, streamlined customer experience underpinned by leading technologies will help you differentiate yourself from the competition, giving your business a distinct competitive edge in the crowded digital marketplace.

Increased Revenue

A high-quality, tech-infused customer experience can translate to increased revenue through increased conversions, greater company loyalty, and a greater number of referrals. Studies show that investments in the customer experience can significantly improve customer lifetime value.

7 Essential Technologies for a Digitally Optimised Customer Experience

While there are countless ways to digitise the customer experience, a number of technologies stand out when it comes to delivering value, both for businesses and their customers. Here are seven essential technologies you should consider to revolutionise your customer experience:

AI Chatbots

Web-based chatbots used to be frustrating to use and limited in their functionality. Now, thanks to artificial intelligence, chatbots can autonomously handle organic customer enquiries and provide recommendations and guidance based on preferences, prompts, and browsing histories. Moreover, chatbots operate 24/7 to provide the immediacy of service that’s come to be expected in our modern world.

The Cloud

Cloud solutions have arguably played a greater part in the customer experience revolution than any other technology domain. The cloud has become a customer experience mainstay by supporting and streamlining backend processes and enabling companies to quickly scale customer service resources in response to changing demands. Thanks to failover systems and redundancy, the cloud supports a resilient and secure customer experience. With platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings, businesses of all sizes are empowered to explore new technologies and develop bespoke CX solutions.

Data Analytics

Data has become one of the most valuable commodities in business, providing the insights necessary to increase sales, optimise processes, and make accurate financial predictions. A data-driven, digitised customer experience allows you to identify bottlenecks and issues within your customer journeys. Cloud-based analytics tools can be used to gather and analyse data across multiple touchpoints, allowing you to optimise processes, tackle pinch points, and track behavioural trends to drive better sales and marketing outcomes.

CRM Software

Customer relationship management systems act as a centralised repository for customer information and data on past interactions. CRMs make it easy to search for and retrieve customer data, facilitating seamless and professional interactions should a customer have to reach out for support. Modern CRM systems feature automated sales and marketing capabilities, enabling businesses to streamline and automate campaigns and yield maximum value from their sales pipelines by leveraging data insights.

Self-Service Portals

Self-service portals fulfil a critical function within a customer experience framework. They provide a convenient and accessible source of information and allow customers to perform account management functions or access support with no (or limited) intervention from customer service agents. Knowledge bases, chatbots, and account management web applications are just some of the ways businesses support self-service functionality in their customer experiences.

Marketing Automation Solutions

Marketing automation software can help businesses launch more effective marketing plans based on data aggregated across multiple digital touchpoints. Software can gather and track a range of customer data metrics, including purchase histories, preferences, browsing behaviours, and demographics. By analysing this data, businesses can better tailor, schedule, and coordinate marketing campaigns, ensuring outreach efforts achieve maximum return on investment.

Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR and AR)

VR and AR are set to make waves in terms of how customers interact with vendors and service providers. These emerging technologies enable businesses to provide a visually immersive virtual experience that conveys the benefits and qualities of a product or service, ensuring the customer can fully grasp what’s on offer before committing. VR and AR can be useful for removing doubt and uncertainty from the customer experience and help to drive sales through more valuable customer engagements.

In Summary

With a backdrop of a competitive digital marketplace and evolving customer expectations, strategic use of digital technology in the customer experience context has never been more important. We hope this short blog series has served as a useful introduction to customer experience technologies, and inspired you to consider how digital solutions could enhance your business’s service and support functions.

4TC Services – Managed IT, Support, and Solutions for London Businesses

Secure, reliable, and tailored IT is a pre-requisite for success in our digital age. Here at 4TC, our mission is to help businesses across London and the Southeast realise their untapped potential using technology. From IT management that minimises downtime, to custom solutions that address persistent operational challenges, we can help you harness technology to grow and deliver the best possible outcomes for your customers.

To find out more, get in touch with 4TC today. We’d love to hear from you, and help you overcome your IT challenges.

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

Unlocking Maximum Productivity and Efficiency Through Strategic IT Planning

Most modern businesses rely heavily on their IT systems to manage internal processes, coordinate projects, and serve their customers. The integrity and performance of these systems is therefore vital to ensuring smooth business operations, meeting the expectations of customers, and managing relationships with all business stakeholders.

As we discussed previously, IT management and maintenance is vital to the delivery of efficient and reliable digital systems, however it isn’t the only piece in the jigsaw. You also need to ensure that your IT infrastructure is properly aligned with your business objectives, has the ability to scale and accommodate anticipated demand, and offers the digital experience that today’s tech-savvy customers both demand and expect.

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

From managed IT and support, to cyber security and cloud services, 4TC provides the full spectrum of IT services London businesses need to grow and thrive in our digital age. Our mission is to help businesses work more productively and securely, with expertly managed solutions tailored to solve longstanding business challenges.

Partnering with a managed IT service provider grants businesses access to a wealth of technical expertise and industry insights. This allows MSPs to function as strategic partners to businesses, guiding and helping them adopt tailored solutions that meet their needs both now and into the future. In this article, we want to demonstrate how managed IT service providers can help businesses better align their IT with their strategic objectives, and optimise technology to achieve better performance and business efficiency.

Goal Alignment Assessment

At the beginning of an IT partnership, managed service providers work closely with businesses to understand their overarching objectives so that any strategic planning that follows helps drive the business towards its strategic goals.

This exercise will involve extensive consideration of both long and short term objectives, and may involve consultation with multiple stakeholders across the business in order to gain a range of perspectives. Organisational goals might include expansion plans, revenue targets and customer satisfaction outcomes.

The goal alignment assessment will take into account the interplay between business processes and the current IT system. It will consider any dependencies that exist within workflows, and any existing IT pain points that inhibit process efficiency. A technology capability analysis may be conducted, to determine the current IT system’s maturity, and its ability to support the business’s goals going forward.

This vital first step forms the basis for effective strategic planning, and ensures the IT provider has a full, contextualised understanding of the business, its goals and how well these are being supported by its current IT infrastructure.

Tailored Technology Roadmaps

Following on from the goal alignment assessment, managed service providers develop ‘technology roadmaps,’ which set out a phased plan for implementing the IT changes required to achieve the organisation’s goals using technology.

This phase of strategic planning maps technological solutions to specific goals, with great care taken to choose solutions that are appropriate to the scale, nature, compliance needs and budget of the business. Consideration could be given to a wide range of IT elements, including software, hardware, cloud services, cyber security controls and data management systems.

In most instances, a technology roadmap will seek to introduce changes incrementally, in order to minimise disruption, ensure project costs are manageable, and to align the IT strategy with the organisation’s timeline for achieving its goals more broadly.

After taking into account objectives, constraints and other requirements, technology roadmaps developed by MSPs help businesses leverage their IT system to achieve strategic objectives, ensure IT performance is continuously optimised, and move forward with a futureproof technology stack.

IT Resource Optimisation

A key aspect of the strategic IT guidance offered by managed service providers involves ensuring IT assets and resources are being deployed optimally in support of organisational objectives: a practice known as ‘resource optimisation.’

Resource optimisation will often feature an IT audit, a process that seeks to understand the lie of the land in terms of the business’s IT. This audit will aim to expose inefficiencies and redundancies, such as duplicate/overlapping software, underutilised hardware, and manual processes that could be quickly and easily automated.

Through resource optimisation, managed service provider can help businesses eliminate wasteful IT expenditure, introduce time-saving initiatives like automation to improve productivity, and create strategies for IT streamlining to create simpler, more efficient workflows.

Scalability and Flexibility

Ensuring IT systems are able to adapt and scale to meet changing business requirements is a vital consideration in strategic IT planning. Managed service providers can help businesses assess the scalability of their current IT infrastructure, and plan for changes that provide greater capacity when certain growth benchmarks are exceeded.

This aspect of strategic planning is also intimately linked with IT performance. MSPs will assess whether current IT systems have the capacity to handle increases in workload, data volumes and user demands without significant performance degradation. If current performance limitations are found, dynamic resource allocation may be implemented as a short-term option, whilst technology architecture that permits seamless scalability is explored for the future.

If the business is anticipating rapid, dynamic growth in the near future, an MSP can prescribe a range of highly scalable, future-ready IT solutions that can be quickly adapted to fast changing requirements. These include the likes of cloud solutions, virtualisation and modular hardware. A managed service provider can also help the organisation develop a diverse technology stack, designed to aid resilience and flexibility by avoiding the pitfalls of being locked into a single technology platform. This might involve exploring hybrid cloud, or multi-cloud setups as an alternative to fully on-premises hosting or consolidation into a single cloud service.

Security and Compliance Integration

Today, businesses are required to navigate a complex web of data protection regulations and standards, including the GDPR and PCI DSS. Managed service providers can help organisations weave compliance into the fabric of their IT infrastructures, ensuring cyber security measures meet the requirements set by regulators, and that data controls offer an appropriate level of information oversight and governance.

Security and compliance integration will typically begin with a cyber security audit. This exercise will map out existing security controls, seek to identify existing vulnerabilities, and determine how well the current security arrangements meet the organisation’s security needs in the context of its industry and regulatory requirements.

Once the assessment process is complete, a data security and compliance framework can be developed, containing both technical controls and procedural measures for ingraining compliance, and a strong security posture, into the fabric of the IT system. This framework might include data access controls, encryption, firewalls, information security policies and any other measures deemed necessary and proportionate.

By making data security and compliance an integral part of strategic IT planning, managed service providers can help organisations manage risk, keep sensitive data secure, and support reliable and efficient business operations.

Final Thoughts

Optimising the performance of your IT system is one thing, but it’s an altogether greater challenge to ensure your technology remains fast, efficient and aligned with your goals as your business grows and evolves. By partnering with a managed IT services provider, you benefit from IT strategy planning that ensures your technology is able to scale with your needs, adapt to changing pressures, and remains continuously aligned with your business processes and compliance requirements.

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!  

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!  

How AI Can Benefit Small Businesses: What it is and What it can Do

The adoption of AI (Artificial Intelligence) in business is gathering pace across the world, standing to offer tremendous benefits to businesses that get ahead of the curve of adoption. The accessibility of AI has also exploded in research years, with small and medium businesses able to access and deploy it like never before.

The benefits on offer are vast. Fundamentally, AI enables businesses to achieve more, using less time and resources. With the next generation of AI available today, it also offers data-driven insights that can empower business strategies, marketing outreach efforts and operations, among many other areas. In this piece we will introduce you to AI, break it down into two generations, and outline what it can do in businesses. In our next piece, we will give you a handy guide for getting started with applying it in your business.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

As the name implies, AI describes technology that mimics human intelligence. AI is able to work with information based on categories and rules. Let’s take an example of a business that has a contact form on its website to take enquiries. When a key detail such as a phone number is missing, AI can recognise this, and prompt the user to enter the missing number. Now this is a simple example in today’s world! AI is also capable of far more complex tasks, as is commonly seen now with ChatGPT’s ability to answer highly specific and abstract questions alike.

To understand the scope of benefits that AI can bring to a business, we can simplify it into two generations. The first of these is based on explicit and specific instructions, while the newer generation is able to work with vast datasets and operate under uncertain conditions.

The Two Generations of AI and How They Work

The first generation of AI has been around for decades and is sometimes termed ‘narrow’ AI. This kind of AI could take and carry out explicit instructions and follow a concrete process. This technology is still very useful today and underpins a variety of businesses processes; taking a somewhat more sophisticated example, a program can be designed to flag invoices of a certain amount by sending an automated email address to a designated email address in a finance department.

While valuable, a new generation of ‘broad’ AI is emerging that can solve more complicated problems and use past data to make even better decisions and suggestions. The new generation uses large datasets, cloud technology, and machine learning algorithms to derive correlations and predictions in real time for users. Let’s outline a few key examples.

The next generation of AI is already present in the Microsoft 365 ecosystem and will be extended with the release of Microsoft’s CoPilot. For example, when you’re designing a PowerPoint presentation, broad AI is what enables it to offer design suggestions that reflect the wording and structure of the content you’re writing; while ChatGPT can take a set of meeting notes and a prompt of criteria and then structure it into an action plan. This generation of AI is being used in a range of other areas too, for business intelligence, marketing design, planning and much more.

Where and How AI Can Benefit Your Small Business

For a small business, using AI is most practically possible through Software as a Solution (SaaS) providers that have inbuilt AI functionalities. This includes the Microsoft 365 platform, but a business can also take advantage of AI-driven features through accounting, marketing and project management solutions. There are some solutions that are a step further, such as using Microsoft 365’s Power BI (Business Intelligence) platform, which can create data-driven insights after it is fed a structured set of data inputs.

The benefits of applying AI are wide-ranging but include:

  • Saved Time: less time and resources will be needed to do the same tasks, as AI will be able to work around the clock and at a faster speed.
  • Saved Money: The capital costs involved in workflows or employing human capital to conduct manual processes is reduced.
  • Focus on higher-value tasks: You can free up your team’s time to develop new skills as well as to focus on more value-adding tasks.
  • Empower Productivity: AI can work with prompts and inputs to offer helpful decisions that provide value to your team’s everyday tasks, such as creating documents and emails.
  • Data-Driven Insights: AI is able to derive insights from data that might otherwise be missed.  This might include detecting subtle correlations within in a spreadsheet of data, or identifying new customer segments through analysis of a company’s CRM data for example.
  • Personalisation at Scale: From responsive chatbots that use chat prompts and customer detail to give personalised responses and recommendations, to personalised email messaging for different customer segments, AI is able to deliver personalisation at scale.
  • Advanced Cyber Security: Using its ability to analyse patterns, AI is being used in modern cyber security tools to detect anomalies and prevent threats, as well as sourcing helpful cyber intelligence online.

We hope that this guide has been useful for understanding AI and the scope of what is possible for your small business. Of course, applying AI to its full potential will take time, but by understanding what can be achieved you can start to chart a course to adopting it, which will sharpen your competitive edge and empower your business in a range of areas. In our next piece, we will give you a three-step guide for getting started with applying AI in your business.

We Are 4TC Managed IT Services

4TC can support you with all the services you need to run your business effectively, from email and domain hosting to fully managing your whole IT infrastructure. Setting up a great IT infrastructure is just the first step. Keeping it up-to-date, safe and performing at its peak requires consistent attention.

We can act as either your IT department or to supplement an existing IT department. We pride ourselves in developing long-term relationships that add value to your business with high quality managed support, expert strategic advice, and professional project management. Get assistance with your IT challenges today by getting in touch, we’ll be glad to assist you!

These Are the Top Five Cloud Security Risks, Qualys Says

Cloud security specialist Qualys has provided its view of the top five cloud security risks, drawing insights and data from its own platform and third parties.

The five key risk areas are misconfigurations, external-facing vulnerabilities, weaponized vulnerabilities, malware inside a cloud environment, and remediation lag (that is, delays in patching).

The 2023 Qualys Cloud Security Insights report (PDF) provides more details on these risk areas. It will surprise no-one that misconfiguration is the first. As long ago as January 2020, the NSA warned that misconfiguration is a primary risk area for cloud assets – and little seems to have changed. Both Qualys and the NSA cite misunderstanding or avoidance of the concept of shared responsibility between cloud service providers (CSP) and cloud consumers is a primary cause of misconfiguration.

“Under the shared responsibility model,” explains Utpal Bhatt, CMO at Tigera, “CSPs are responsible for monitoring and responding to threats to the cloud and infrastructure, including servers and connections. They are also expected to provide customers with the capabilities needed to secure their workloads and data. The organization using the cloud is responsible for the protection of workloads running in the cloud. Workload protection includes secure workload posture, runtime protection, threat detection, incident response and risk mitigation.”

While CSPs provide security settings, the speed and simplicity of deploying data to the cloud often lead to these controls being ignored, while compensating consumer controls are inadequate. Misunderstanding or misusing the delineation of shared responsibility leaves cracks in the defense; and Qualys notes “these security ‘cracks’ can quickly open a cloud environment and expose sensitive data and resources to attackers.”

Qualys finds that misconfiguration (measured against the CIS benchmarks) is present in 60% of Google Cloud Platform (GCP) usage, 57% of Azure, and 34% of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Travis Smith, VP of the Qualys threat research unit, suggests, “The reason AWS configurations are more secure than their counterparts at Azure and GCP can likely be attributed to the larger market share… there is more material on securing AWS compared to other CSPs in the market.”

The report urges greater use of the Center for Internet Security (CIS) benchmarks to harden cloud environments. “No organization will deploy 100% coverage,” adds Smith, “but the [CIS benchmarks mapped to the MITRE ATT&CK tactics and techniques] should be strongly considered as a baseline if organizations want to reduce the risk of experiencing a security incident in their cloud deployments.”

The second big risk comes from external facing assets that contain a known vulnerability. Cloud assets with a public IP can be scanned by attackers looking for vulnerabilities. Log4Shell, an external facing vulnerability, is used as an example. “Today, patches exist for Log4Shell and its known secondary vulnerabilities,” says Qualys. “But Log4Shell is still woefully under remediated with 68.44% of detections being unpatched on external-facing cloud assets.”

Log4Shell also illustrates the third risk: weaponized vulnerabilities. “The existence of weaponized vulnerabilities is like handing anyone a key to your cloud,” says the report. Log4Shell allows attackers to execute arbitrary Java code or leak sensitive information by manipulating specific string substitution expressions when logging a string. It is easy to exploit and ubiquitous across clouds.

“Log4Shell was first detected in December 2021 and continues to plague enterprises globally. We have detected one million Log4Shell vulnerabilities, with a mere 30% successfully fixed. Due to complexity, remediating Log4Shell vulnerabilities takes, on average, 136.36 days (about four and a half months).”

The fourth risk is the presence of malware already in your cloud. While this doesn’t automatically imply ‘game over’, it will be soon if nothing is done. “The two greatest threats to cloud assets are cryptomining and malware; both are designed to provide a foothold in your environment or facilitate lateral movement,” says the report. “The key damage caused by cryptomining is based on wasted cost of compute cycles.”

While this may be true for miners, it is worth remembering that the miners found a way in. Given the efficiency of information sharing in the dark web, that route is likely to become known to other criminals. In August 2022, Sophos reported on ‘multiple adversary’ attacks, with miners often leading the charge. “Cryptominers,” Sophos told SecurityWeek at the time, “should be considered as the canary in the coal mine – an initial indicator of almost inevitable further attacks.”

In short, if you find a cryptominer in your cloud, start looking for additional malware, and find and fix the miner’s route in.

The fifth risk is slow vulnerability remediation – that is, an overlong patch timeframe. We have already seen that Log4Shell has a remediation time of more than 136 days, if it is done at all. The same general principle will apply to other patchable vulnerabilities.

Effective patching quickly lowers the quantity of vulnerabilities in your system and improves your security. Statistics show that this is more effectively performed by some automated method. “In almost every instance,” says the report, “automated patching proves to be a more effective remediation path than hoping manual efforts will effectively deploy critical patches and keep your business safer.”

For non-Windows systems, the effect of automated patching is an 8% improvement in the patch rate, and a two-day reduction in the time to remediate.

Related to the remediation risk is the concept of technical debt – the continued use of end-of-support (EOS) or end-of-life (EOL) products. These products are no longer supported by the supplier – there will be no patches to implement, and future vulnerabilities will automatically become zero day threats unless you can otherwise remediate. 

“More than 60 million applications discovered during our investigation are end-of-support (EOS) and end-of-life (EOL),” notes the report. Furthermore, “During the next 12 months, more than 35,000 applications will go end-of-support.”

Each of these risks need to be prioritized by defense teams. The speed of cloud use by consumers and abuse by attackers suggests that wherever possible defenders should employ automation and artificial intelligence to protect their cloud assets. “Automation is central to cloud security,” comments Bhatt, “because in the cloud, computing resources are numerous and in constant flux.”

Source: These Are the Top Five Cloud Security Risks, Qualys Says – SecurityWeek

Cloud Technology – What Is It and What Can It Do for Your Business?  

Tech is transforming the planet at an increasingly swift rate, allowing teams around the world to achieve degrees of collaboration, communication, and productivity that were hard to imagine even as little as ten years ago. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses turned towards cloud technology to enable them to work from home, using solutions such as Microsoft 365.  

The Cloud is the element that makes remote working possible. When businesses consider adopting cloud technologies, they are aware of the potential benefits but can be daunted by the uncertainty or lack of knowledge about how it works and therefore how it could impact their business.  

In the first of two articles, we will walk you through cloud computing and the myths that surround its use that often discourage its adoption. In our next piece, we will simplify some of the key technical jargon that professionals use when referring to it, and elucidate the benefits that businesses can reap from their cloud technology, enabling you to understand cloud computing and how it can be implemented to benefit your business.  

What is the Cloud? 

Cloud computing is a series of platforms, services and infrastructure that enable digital services to be delivered via the internet, via data centres that host and process their information securely. A key potential of cloud computing is that it allows businesses to outsource IT functions, such as server capacity, to other providers without losing easy access to the data and services it’s hosting.  

In the past, businesses had to manage their IT resources as a solo enterprise, where they would purchase, support and manage their own IT hardware and software platforms on their premises. This could lead to downtimes, inefficiencies and an oftentimes complicated and fragmented IT infrastructure that disempowered businesses from streamlining and optimising their workflows and systems to create more value and growth. This could be an expensive, frustrating and time-consuming set up to operate from, but with the cloud, many of these problems are surmountable. 

By outsourcing servers and data storage to an outside provider specialising in offering this service, businesses save time and money on acquiring and maintaining hardware and pay for what they are using with the cloud server provider and scale it rapidly. In terms of applications, these can also be migrated securely to the cloud, and many software services are now offered via the cloud as Software as a Service (SaaS). With an internet connection, businesses can increasingly plug-in and play to the cloud to deliver their services, whilst outsourcing technical complexities in a highly cost-efficient way.  

So what myths about the cloud are discouraging its adoption by those who could benefit from it?  

Cloud myths – Debunked 

“Value isn’t guaranteed when using Cloud Computing, so why would I bother?” 

This myth could be true, insofar as the options and benefits have been examined in detail and have been left wanting.  

There are many providers out there that will helpfully get you onboard and be supportive in that process, who then lose interest when it comes to providing genuine ongoing support into the future. This is wrong, it is unfair to sell a solution to someone who cannot see its full-value potential, so the provider should make it clear where that potential for value is, how it can be realised, and give an estimate of the scope of quantifiable benefits on offer.  

A widely embraced cloud-based solution that offers clear value to many organisations, is the Microsoft 365 platform. It offers a range of familiar tools to businesses, with extended features such as live document collaboration, intelligent AI suggestions that speed up and enhance task completion, and an integrated interface that enables seamless switching between different tasks.  

The saved time, improved quality of work and collaboration, and smart-searching features, alongside its flexible and fast scalability, offers a clear enough case for many businesses to adopt it. The principle is clear though, your IT partner should take their time to give a tailored assessment for your organisation, outline the benefits clearly, answer your questions, and then make a smooth implementation plan and provide onboarding and ongoing support. With this process, deriving profitable value from the cloud is assured.  

“Is it important to back-up my data if we work in the Cloud?” 

Yes, but with the caveat that regardless of your technology solution, having backups and contingencies is important. In the cloud’s case, creating and accessing backups is made much easier, though we would stress having multiple regular backups elsewhere offers the only assured backup solution. Overall though, storing, backing up and recovering data is typically easier with cloud services providers.   

Cloud computing providers tend to provide protective measures as standard, such as robust data encryption and real time updating documents with recoverable version histories. There is not a particular reason to fear for your backups on the cloud, but it’s important to take fail-proof backup measures regardless of the platforms you are using to store your data.  

“My data is missing, and I don’t know where it has gone” 

It is very important to know where your data is being stored and thus to have control and oversight of it, as there can be legal, reputational and financial consequences to not protecting your data.  

Cloud hosting providers are well aware of this crucial requirement and are also subject to it themselves. Alongside providers implementing measures to keep their cloud platforms secure, you can ask also them where they are storing your data if you are in doubt or can’t seem to find it, and they should be able to find it for you.  

But, as we said earlier, not all Cloud providers are as they seem. Some aren’t interested in the value they can offer to you; they want your money and don’t care about your success. So it is important to ask about ongoing maintenance and support with potential providers, and to ensure these needs are enshrined in a contract to ensure peace of mind.  

Therefore, it is essential that you read your contract carefully, as some have clauses that allow your provider to scan your data and carry out all sorts of other actions, so it is best to be careful rather than sorry. 

We Are 4TC Managed IT Services 

4TC can support you with all the services you need to run your business effectively, from email and domain hosting to fully managing your whole IT infrastructure. 

Setting up a great IT infrastructure is just the first step. Keeping it up to date, safe and performing at its peak requires consistent attention. 

We can act as either your IT department or to supplement an existing IT department. We pride ourselves in developing long term relationships that add value to your business with high quality managed support, expert strategic advice, and professional project management.