Staying Safe with the Internet of Things

Smart devices enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) save cost and effort. Users can control them remotely, or they can automatically adjust themselves to the time of day or environment. At the same time, they present risks. Many have poor security. They’re easy to install and forget. It’s hard to notice when malware has infected a device, making it spy on your network or perform actions that could get your site blacklisted.

If you’re aware, you can keep risks to a minimum. Here are some methods that will help:

Keep Track of All Your Devices

You should have a complete inventory of the devices in your network, including models and serial numbers. You need to know why they’re there. If a device isn’t serving a useful purpose any longer, take it out of the network.

Change Default Passwords

Many IoT devices come with default passwords that are public information. Change them before exposing the devices to the Internet. If a device’s password can’t be changed, you need to think hard about whether it’s safe to use.

Limit Network Access

Use firewalls and network configuration to limit the exposure of devices. Don’t give them access to any part of the network they don’t need, especially servers with sensitive information.

Patch Where Possible

While many IoT devices can’t be patched, the better ones can. Keep their software up to date so vulnerabilities won’t stay open.

Monitor Your Network

If there are bursts of traffic you can’t account for, a device on the network may be infected. Find the source and take appropriate action.

Tiny as these devices are, they’re small computers. You need to treat them with the same care as any other computers on the network. Keep them secure, and they won’t cause problems.

The Impact of IT on the Banking Industry

All industries are being heavily influenced by new changes in information technology, and this is certainly true for the banking industry. There has been a lot of discussion about the influence of IT in the banking industry, and how it might fundamentally change the manner in which a lot of people perform banking transactions.

The Rise of Blockchain Technology

As blockchain technology becomes more and more common, there won’t be as many centralized banking systems. Many of the specific banking transactions that people perform will be faster as a result of blockchain technology, so this is something that plenty of bank customers might support. The fact that this technology will get so much consumer support should only make it more economically viable.

Paper Checks May Become Obsolete

A lot of people have already dropped paper checks in favor of making online payments. This is starting to become enough of a trend that paper checks may eliminated in the near future. In some countries, paper checks have already become a thing of the past.

Cash might be used more frequently than paper checks in the near future, but people are still starting to rely on cash less and less as well. Online payments are becoming convenient enough that most of the advantages associated with cash payments are disappearing.

Bitcoin and Similar Currencies Will Become More Popular

It’s clear that Bitcoin isn’t going anywhere, even though some people in the industry were skeptical of Bitcoin initially. Given how useful Bitcoin is when it comes to international banking, increasing rates of globalization should only make Bitcoin more relevant.

Many of the new technological changes should be positive for customers overall. They will also certainly have a huge effect on the experience of customers in general.

Study Shows IBM i Has Big Cost Advantage Over Alternatives

According to an August 2017 study conducted by Quark + Lepton, an independent research and management consulting firm, IBM i on Power Systems servers provides a substantial TCO (total cost of ownership) advantage over equivalent Windows or Linux platforms.

For the study, which was funded by IBM, Quark + Lepton used three different server/database configurations: an IBM Power Systems server running IBM i Operating System V7.3 with DB2, an x86 server running Windows Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016 and an x86 with Linux and Oracle Database 12c. TCO estimates were based on the costs of hardware acquisition and maintenance, OS and database licenses and support, system and database admin personnel salaries and facilities expenses. Several different use cases were analyzed.

A Big TCO Advantage

The results of the study showed the projected three-year TCO for the three setups to be as follows:

  • Power Systems/IBM i/DB2 – $430,815
  • x86/Windows/SQL Server – $1.18 million
  • x86/Linux/Oracle – $1.27 million

The study concludes that “costs for use of IBM i on Power Systems are lower across the board”. For example, initial hardware and software acquisition costs for the IBM i systems averaged 8% less than the Windows systems, and fully 24 % less than the Linux systems.

Perhaps the most surprising factor in the stark differential between the IBM i solution and the others was in the cost of required support staff. Based on a 300-user scenario, IBM i required 0.3 FTE (full time equivalent) support personnel, compared to 0.5 FTE for the Windows setup and 0.55 FTE for Linux.

But the biggest differential in staff costs arose from the fact that IBM i admins could handle both the OS and the database. Those double-duty IBM i personnel commanded salaries of about $86,000, while Windows and Linux sysadmins were paid $71,564 and $86,843 respectively. However, the Windows and Linux setups also required the support of separate database admins, adding $100,699 (SQL Server) and $103,283 (Oracle) to the personnel costs for those solutions.

Simplicity

In its conclusion the report notes that while the industry is trending toward ever-greater complexity, the simplicity of IBM i makes it by far the most cost-effective platform on which to base an organization’s IT infrastructure.

IT in Manufacturing: Industry 4.0

Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology have grown up side by side. Modern manufacturing equipment has been on a collision course with standard IT for decades as more computerization is added to the machine tools used in manufacturing. With the emergence of convergence between the technologies, the manufacturing sector is beginning to become more reliant on the same skills that have traditionally been used in IT. Along with the skill set of hardware technological support and programming support, IT leaders going forward will need to understand the operational mindset of the managers they interact with.

Metrics

Industry 4.0, an initiative that began in Germany in 2011, sometimes called Manufacturing 4.0, represents the convergence of activities. Manufacturing activities have always been metric centric. How many widgets can be made by a piece of equipment in a given time with what rate for rejected pieces is used to calculate the effective throughput of a given device. This calculation is added to the BOM (Bill of Material) and employed in planning calculations within MRP.

In the past, this information was manually determined and entered into the BOM. The Internet of Things (IOT) has created the means to provide this information electronically, allowing for better measurements and quicker reactions to variations than ever before.

Quality metrics based on the throughput and yield are also impacted by the ability to communicate this data in real-time. Sensors being built into systems that perform the SPC (Statistical Process Control) activity provide up to the minute data for analysis.

Production Line

Reporting

Still, this is only the beginning of the ways in which the data can be used. Data from these two areas can be used to create analytical studies for finance departments to better understand the depreciation and efficient use of capital investments. Engineers can design better more efficient processes and sales, forecasting and customer service departments can get more insightful information to provide customers better delivery dates, and inventory level information.

Operational leaders who are looking into or actively implementing robotic manufacturing depend heavily on interconnected systems with automated reporting to reduce cost and improve throughput in the manufacturing environment. Smart factories that practice Lean Manufacturing take advantage of the analytical reporting generated by the interconnected operations technology to shift labor and operational staff to areas to maximize their production staff and increase capacity.

Security

The adoption of IOT has resulted in more wired and wireless factory shopfloor connected devices, remote access, programming, and set-up operations. Manufacturing machines with embedded operating systems, usually have a “lite” version of the operating system with a limited capacity to configure and execute sophisticated commands. This lower technological threshold has resulted in security breaches which, if part of a fully connected network, lead major systems to be compromised. While it is IT Security’s responsibility to address these vulnerabilities, IT must also ensure that manufacturing can still continue to run on a 24X7 basis. This applies in particular as robotic devices replace manually administered equipment.

Production Support

As the manufacturing moves into the digital world, IT will increasingly be called upon to support production equipment at the same level that it supports end users. The data from this equipment will make its way to senior managers who make decisions on customer pricing, continuing existing relationships with suppliers and customers, the fate of manufacturing facilities and product lines. Our service delivery for software and infrastructure support as well as user education and assistance will need to encompass all levels within the organization from shop floor and assembly line staff to the C-suite.

IT in the Insurance Industry: Challenges in Confronting Technological Developments

A recent article from Information Age discusses how the insurance industry is struggling to keep up with technological developments. The problems include the following:

  • Relying too much on basic spreadsheets and manual data entry (as opposed to more sophisticated software and heavier reliance on automated processes)
  • Neglecting to provide customers with reliable digital solutions for accessing information or engaging in self-service 24/7
  • Struggling with shifting from legacy systems to newer IT infrastructure

These are all important issues to consider. Insurance companies need to figure out how to stay competitive in a digital world while maintaining data security, complying with regulations, and minimizing downtime and disruptions.

Other Challenges

However, beyond that, the industry also faces challenges when it comes to technological developments out in the world, such as the rise of self-driving cars. How do these developments change the way people think about insurance and interact with the industry?

For example, it’s easier than ever to collect data about people and analyze it. What’s the best use of the data? What analyses should companies perform? What are the best ways to safeguard the data, and what are the ethical considerations and regulatory guidelines that should govern its use?

Other issues involve the speed and methods in reporting and assessing accidents. For example, with buildings, vehicles, and other objects becoming increasingly Internet-enabled, it’s potentially easier to assess damage, gather evidence, and file claims. Customers will demand access to services at any time and through digital channels.

The industry will also have to accommodate rapid changes in regulations or newer areas of coverage, such as cyber security insurance. Companies will need to stay flexible and quick on their feet, capable of coming up with sound policies and changing them when needed.

As the insurance industry continues to confront and adapt to a digital world, it will need to grapple with all of these issues – not just upgrades to its own systems or workflows, but also the demands of an increasingly connected, technologically advanced society. This will require strategic planning and prioritization.

How to Be a Better IT Personnel Manager

Team

Chances are, if you are a manager in IT, you want to become better at your job. You want a team that works well together and you want to be able to inspire them to greatness. If this sounds like you, we can help. Here are some tips on IT personnel management that will help you succeed at becoming a better leader.

Lead First, Manage Second

A team needs a leader more than it needs a manager. But what is the difference between a manager and a leader? A leader isn’t just concerned with a list or an agenda, though those things are important. A leader is concerned with a direction. A leader’s job is to move his team into new territory and to inspire to greatness.

Inspire

As a manager, you should seek to be an inspiration to your team. Don’t just tell your team what to do, give them the motivation to do it. Encourage open communication with your team so that you are the kind of person they want to look to for leadership and inspiration.

Be a Good Communicator

Your team deserves to know what’s going on, it’s the only way they’ll be able to perform as they need to. Being a good communicator will improve the effectiveness of your team’s performance.

Being a good manager is key to good business. If you’ve found this post helpful, be sure to share it.


Looking for more personal development opportunities. Check out the Developing Business Skills sessions at the 2017 Fall Conference & Expo.

Public vs Private Cloud Technologies

Both public and private cloud hosting solutions greatly benefit any growing business requiring expansion capabilities. Leveraging this technology is key to improving many aspects of your business strategy including revenue growth and employee morale, but the debate continues as to which is superior. Thus, the beauty is in the eye of the user. Choose the one that’s the most pertinent to your company’s needs. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are some comparative features to help you make a more informed decision.

Public Cloud

The public cloud is an environment containing multiple users whereby each user purchases their own piece of the cloud server. The commune of the cloud computing world, public clouds are convenient in that they rarely require any type of contract and generally run pay by the hour services. Also a perk for some, public clouds are self managed, giving the user the freedom to set up and manage their own particulars.

The drawbacks, however, generally pertain to security. The public cloud provider customarily designates the hardware and network your virtual server relies on. Because other users in the cloud also share these facets, compliance requirements such as SOX or PCI are rarely possible. Therefore, development systems and web servers employing a business model that does not require security and compliance are the best candidates for public cloud computing.

Private Cloud

As the name suggests, the private cloud hosting environment caters to a single user. Your own personal computing residence, the private cloud provides your company with dedicated hardware and secure data storage capabilities that none of the center’s other clients can access. Security compliance standards are therefore easily achieved. An additional benefit is that the private cloud’s hardware, network and storage performance are also highly customizable.

This is a higher-end, more specialized service that aptly tends to cost more. Though you’re gaining many advantages over the public cloud, the resources provided in the private cloud are numerous and can potentially be under-utilized by smaller businesses. It’s also pertinent to consider many private clouds potentially require a contractual obligation.

As with any tech upgrade for your business, doing your due diligence is crucial to finding the solution that’s right for you.

IT Breaking Further into the Retail Industry

Purchasing Technology

With increasingly mobile companies, there is a greater need for technology that works for various areas. The following are some of the areas where technology is arising within small and large businesses alike:

  • Checkout – This is probably one of the most obvious as mobile card readers are now able to plug right into a headphone jack on a mobile device or even sync remotely with Bluetooth. Even product selection on-screen has become simpler, making this a preferred option to even regular registers.
  • Customer Tracking – Many checkout services also include options to add customer information for later billing or rewards programs. As a business grows, it works to retain customers and build a strong community of regulars. Easily integrated rewards programs are appealing to both the business and the customer.
  • Inventory/Ordering – After proceeding to checkout a customer, businesses with actual products need a means of tracking what they have used or sold and what they need to restock. Having one device to meet a company’s needs not only simplifies, it saves time and money where multiple platforms were previously required.
  • Budgets – Having everything run through one device makes it easier to work on company spreadsheets and track every penny in and out. With a business, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is why the numbers aren’t adding up. Anything that needs printing can also be done via wireless printing.
  • Human Resources – When a company reaches the point of needing more than one employee, the same device is able to schedule and track hours. Even plugging in sick or vacation days is a breeze.

With the ease of using mobile devices, some fear that they could “lose everything” if the device is lost or destroyed. This can be put to rest with the ability to back up the device. One of the more popular options is to use a cloud database because of the accessibility from almost anywhere.

IBM Ranked “Strong Performer” in Public Cloud Technologies

Tech giant IBM was recently ranked as a “strong performer” in public cloud technologies.

Rankings

The New York-based company was ranked highly by Forrester Research in its most recent WAVE report, Yahoo Finance reported.

Forrester Research looked at multiple public cloud platforms and named IBM a “strong performer”. The report said IBM combined deep and broad portfolios of development and application services with offerings of solid infrastructure.

In addition to that, IBM received the highest score possible hybrid and private cloud strategy criterion. The company was also given a top ranking in the infrastructure services criterion.

This is all good news for a company that finds itself facing ever-growing competition from other companies in the cloud technology market like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

Cloud Market

The cloud technology market continues to grow, too. Even Dell is looking to take a slice of the profits made by companies using cloud technologies, the USA TODAY reported. The company that was once known for manufacturing computers is attempting to redefine itself in emerging technologies like the cloud to compete with IBM and others.

Other Recognition

Still, IBM’s recent rankings from Forrester Research show the company is well established in the cloud technology market.

Forrester Research isn’t the only company giving IBM high rankings, either. Earlier in 2016, Synergy Research also named IBM a leader in hybrid cloud management solutions, Eweek reported.

The results continue to drive customers who seek help connecting cloud services and applications to core systems to do business with IBM. Some of IBM’s most well-known customers include Coca Cola, the U.S. Army, and more.

Cloud