Why Should Your Office’s Internet of Things Be Limited?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is taking over everything from home security to personal fitness. It’s even stretching into commercial office spaces. IoT devices offer a lot of remote control and automation, which can help reduce expenses. But they also have their downsides. Here’s why you should limit IoT adoption in your office or make strict policies regarding the devices.

IoT Devices Don’t Have Standard Operating Systems

Programmable tools aren’t traditional computers in the way laptops or even smartphones are. Instead, they have very specific coding that performs a series of functions and transmits the data to your default devices. For example, security cameras can send video footage to a dedicated server, and water or carbon monoxide detectors send the data to the office manager’s phone. But you can only satisfactorily secure the data from one end: the one receiving the information.

Major brands offer consistency, and they are also the brands most likely to integrate seamlessly with your network and main OS in the office. That relative safety is even stronger for must-have office additions like security cameras and access control.

Opening Up Your Network to More Casual Devices Is a Risk

If your company has a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, then it’s hard to manage full network security under the best of circumstances. But if your coworkers personal IoT devices are trying to hook onto the network (even if they do so unsuccessfully), they could be carrying unknown programs and vulnerabilities. If an outside reader can get a detailed history of what tries to connect to your network, they can learn a lot about your protocols. It’s even worse if a coworker’s personal/business laptop is integrated with their fitness band, home security system, or more. Once a computer accepts a device as ‘trusted’, which is required for syncing for most personal IoT devices, that device has access to everything on the computer. Users just have to hope they don’t have the functionality to do anything with it.

3 Payment Processing Changes Your Company Needs to Make ASAP

Payment processing isn’t a glamorous part of the retail industry, or any industry. But it’s one of the fundamental parts of your business. If you can’t get paid, or if your store can only handle a few different methods of payment, you’re going to lose business. Data security is also a very real concern. If you have even tangential access to credit card information, your company is a tempting target for an online attack (especially if you don’t think you are). While updating your payment processing technology doesn’t guarantee either safety or profits, it can certainly help. Here are three changes you should make.

If Your Store Doesn’t Take Credit Cards, You Are Going to Lose Impulse Shoppers

Impulse shopping is one of the last big advantages that physical stores have that online vendors haven’t quite captured yet. You want people walking into your store on a whim and regular customers buying more than what’s on their shopping list. But if you restrict your payment methods to cash, check, and debit, they might not be able to make purchases. This can devastate return business in two ways. 1. If you posted a sign near the front of your store, new visitors will turn and walk out. 2. If customers don’t find out until they bring their items to the check-out area, they’ll be offended and uncomfortable when they have to walk away. They certainly won’t be back.

If Your Credit Card Readers Don’t Accept Chips, You’re on the Hook

Major credit card companies have been embedding chips on the cards for the past few years. They’re more secure than magnetic strips, and they remove a lot of the burden credit card companies face regarding fraudulent purchases and stolen data. But stores were slow to adapt to the technology and buy new readers. So now the generally accepted norm is that the side who didn’t upgrade their security — either the credit card company not adding a chip or a store not adding a chip reader — is the one who has to deal with the damage.

Your Online Store Should Never Touch Credit Card Information

Unless you’re a major corporation with a team of lawyers and a data compliance team, you don’t need the liability that comes with customers’ credit card information. So reroute your online checkouts through third-party services that focus wholly on safely storing and processing credit card orders. They can keep up with changes in regulations and hacking technology. Also, as more and more small companies make third-party shopping carts the norm, you don’t have to worry about customers’ impressions.

COMMON Memories

Recently Anne Lucas, former President of the COMMON Board of Directors, shared some photos from 1992-1994 with us. Now, we want to share them with you.

If you have any memories of this time period, feel free to share them in the Comments section found at the bottom of this post.

San Antonio

COMMON's Anne Lucas and IBM executive Buell Duncan pose with a four-legged friend in San Antonio.
IBM CEO Lou Gerstner and COMMON's Anne Lucas mingle with the crowd at Opening Session.

COMMON International Meeting

The pictured individuals include Bib Anderson, IBM Liaison, Amiram Shore, COMMON Israel, and Anne Lucas, COMMON.

5 Tips for Working Under Management Unfamiliar with IBM i

By Dana Boehler

Unless you’re working in a very large shop as an administrator on IBM i, you are likely reporting to management that did not come from an IBM i background. This dynamic can be challenging, but there are ways to approach the situation that can lead to a more rewarding experience. Here are a few tips for making this situation work better for you, taken from my own experience. I can’t say I’ve always followed these recommendations, but I can say that things tend to go better when I do.

1. Be Patient

As an IBM i administrator, you’ve spent countless hours learning how these systems work – their strengths, their quirks, and idiosyncrasies. You likely take many of these traits for granted, but it’s important to acknowledge that those who do not have your experience will not. Nor will they necessarily make logical conclusions that you may see as obvious. An example that comes to mind is the many times I’ve been asked by an auditor for the list of database users for our “AS/400”. It may be tempting to tell the requestor, “We haven’t had an AS/400 for over 15 years, and our IBM i doesn’t have a separate database logon for the users!” But that will only make you seem like a curmudgeon. Additionally, if that attitude surfaces frequently enough, management will actively try to avoid you and exclude you from important project discussions that may affect your systems.

2. Be a Teacher

Very little of the opposition you will experience to IBM i is the result of a maniacal plot against the platform. Much of the push back is derived from a lack of understanding of how the systems work and what their benefits are. Taking the time to explain how things work, or better yet, hosting a lunch-and-learn session on an aspect of the system, can go a long way to removing your manager’s and coworkers’ lack of familiarity with the system.

3. Where Possible, Reduce Your Reliance on Jargon

There are many terms that may be misunderstood by a non-IBM i person. iASPs, TCP/IP servers, PTFs, and logical files are all things that someone familiar with the platform would understand, but other administrators may not. Wherever possible use language appropriate to the audience. Your manager may not know what a logical file is, but if they have used SQL they will understand what a view is, for instance.

4. Recommend the Right Tool for the Job

The IBM i platform can perform a multitude of functions, including being an application server, a web server, or even an email server. But what you do with it in your organization should answer to what is right for your business. By recommending solutions involving IBM i only where they make sense, you will foster a reputation as someone who does what is right for your company.

5. Allow Yourself to Learn from the Administrators of Other Platforms

Some of the most interesting things I have done with my IBM i systems were derived by learning from Windows, Linux, and Unix administrators. For example, we migrate non-production partitions at the SAN level using scripts to capture and recreate the HMC profiles, which saves a lot of time. This is a direct result of what I have learned from our non-IBM i staff.

Guest Blogger

Dana Boehler is a Senior Systems Engineer at Rocket Software.

How Can IT’s Analytics Help with Business Forecasting?

In many companies, most departments don’t have a lot of opportunities to communicate to each other. Unless there’s a problem that involves multiple parties, only the department heads are presenting information about changes or trends. But the next time any department needs to work on forecasting, see if your IT experts can help. They have insight into a lot of valuable areas, including:

How Much Your Website Traffic Is Increasing

You need to know how many people are going to your business’s website. While Marketing may have the numbers behind visits generated through ad campaigns, they may not know the metrics behind all of the traffic. Ask your IT department for detailed information about surges in activity. This can tell you a lot about seasonality, how high traffic patterns correspond to or differ from high sales periods, and more.

If Your Technology Is No Longer Up to the Task

Even better, the IT department can tell you when high traffic surges and internal activity leads to network outages. It’s almost impossible to measure the expense of even an hour of downtime, but it can range from the tens of thousands of dollars to millions depending on the size of your company. Factor network expansions, server costs, and hardware updates into your annual budget. You should also account for the increased likelihood of hacks and malware.

How to Make Sense of the Data

Every department uses spreadsheets and data. But most departments don’t have people trained in reading that data outside of the narrow focus of their job. IT professionals, whether they focus on cybersecurity or desktop support, often have to have Excel and MySQL qualifications to get the jobs in the first place. If the raw data doesn’t make sense, turn to IT. They may also have the keys and license codes to the legacy software designed to read it.

IT departments don’t just provide anti-virus software and support. They have access to a wealth of logistical information that your business needs. Make sure they’re included in your major meetings and decisions.

2 Technologies That Will Help Secure Your En Route Inventory

Getting stock on time and in good condition is important. The competition between online vendors and brick-and-mortar stores is getting stronger, and your physical store needs to hold on to every advantage it has. This includes the shopping experience, in which customers can try or interact with items before purchase and the actual purchasing process. Even with one-day shipping, sometimes shoppers need an item immediately. If you’re changing suppliers or transportation companies, look for these two technologies:

1. Sensors That Maintain Internal Quality Control for Pallets

If you sell perishables or fragile products, then you need quality control along every step of the way from manufacturer to storefront. While you may be able to oversee temperature, storage specifications, and careful handling in your own premises, it’s hard to know what happens in the semi-truck trailer. So look for companies that have adopted RFID and sensors that give you or their central headquarters live information about the products’ environments. Even if you can’t see the data directly, any company that takes this extra step is invested in quality.

2. The Precursors of Blockchain Recordkeeping

No one person or entity is handling all of the transportation of your store’s products. Even if you sell locally-made or produced goods, they change multiple hands. Blockchain, a form of shared but unfalsifiable recordkeeping that was popularized with Bitcoin, promises transparency. For example, Product A goes from the manufacturer to a warehouse to a trucking service to your store. There are three stops, with four parties involved. Once the warehouse gets the load, they make a note saying they have received it and the manufacturer confirms. When they hand it to the truck driver, they make another note.  This chain keeps building, and no one can overwrite or change a past entry. Because all prior parties’ computers confirm future entries, you don’t have to worry about lost loads or false records in an audit.

Rapid advances in IT aren’t just changing how your store interacts with customers. It’s also giving you greater control when you interact with suppliers.

Introducing the POWER9 Server Family

POWER9 is here. As many in our community will be looking to upgrade, we want to provide information on what these new servers offer you and your business.

According to IBM, POWER9-based servers are built for data intensive workloads, are enabled for cloud, and offer industry leading performance.

As you have experienced, Power Systems have the reputation of being reliable, and the POWER9-based servers are no exception. POWER9 gives you the reliability you’ve come to trust from IBM Power Systems, the security you need in today’s high-risk environment, and the innovation to propel your business into the future. They truly provide an infrastructure you can bet your business on. From a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) standpoint, a savings of 50% can be realized in 3 to 5 years when moving to POWER9 per IBM calculations.

When compared to other systems, POWER9 outperforms the competition. IBM reports:

  • 2x performance per core on POWER9 vs. X86
  • Up to 4.6x better performance per core on POWER9 vs. previous generations

Learn more about POWER9 by visiting the new landing page. For more detailed data regarding POWER9 performance, be sure to click on the Meet the POWER9 Family link.

Attending the COMMON Fall Conference & Expo? Be sure to attend the POWER Panel session on POWER9. This will be your opportunity to learn more about the servers from experts.

Use Single Sign-on for Better Password Compliance

Most employees hate changing their passwords. There are too many requirements, the passwords have to be changed too often, or there are too many systems – all of which require unique passwords – to remember them all. Workarounds can range from password-saving cookies to barely modified passwords. But whenever your co-workers follow the letter of the password law instead of the spirit, it just ends with little in the way of either security or goodwill.

How Can You Achieve Better Security through Password Compliance?

Most people know that passwords improve security, and they also know that more complex passwords are better. But they don’t know the specifics of why passwords are so important. Instead of trying to force company-wide behavioral changes through new rules and system set-ups, give a reason. Even one example or horror story of a corporate data leak is enough, though a general overview of how passwords work is good, too. As a general rule, people are more likely to adopt any new policy if there’s a reason why.

But even a reason might not be persuasive enough for full compliance. Instead, meet them in the middle with more convenience by implementing single sign-on. This addresses one of the three most common complaints when it comes to password resets (too many passwords to juggle), and it also gets rid of people’s tendency to create almost identical passwords so they’re easier to remember.

Single sign-on has all of the security of multiple logins, especially if you link the SaaS and databases through the intranet that you control. It might even offer more if you link the time-out rules. You can also use the intranet to keep data that flows between programs entirely contained in your system without downloads or copied files.

The more you can positively encourage good security practices, the more likely people are to adopt them.

Learn more about single sign-on at the 2018 Fall Conference & Expo. Check out this session from Thom Haze.

Minimize Employee Use of Local Storage

Saving files in local folders and even on the desktop is an easy option. Whenever you open a new file or download an attachment, it saves to a local ‘Download’ folder by default and edited files try to save themselves in ‘My Documents.’ But using local storage on individual devices can slow down your business.

Why Should You Reduce Local (Device-based) Storage?

Central or cloud-based storage is beneficial for multiple reasons. Easy security, universal access, and consistent back-ups are a few, and the inverse is true for local storage.

Only the Employee and the System Administrator Have Access

Locally stored files are easy for an employee to save and open, but only that specific employee. No one else has easy access, including managers or co-workers involved in the project. Only a network administrator with remote access to the drive can access the files. Not only is this inconvenient if the employee is out of the office that day, it also provides no protection against long-term loss of access. If the employee leaves the company and the drive is wiped (or the employee was using a personal device), any progress is lost. Hard drive malfunctions can also wipe out files without backup or a reparable file.

There Is No Version Control

If you’ve recently emailed a large group of people, the conversation probably segued into a couple of different email threads. This can be tricky to get back on track, and it always ends with not everyone having all the information they need. This is even more true with in-progress documents. If one employee is making updates based on a local file, other parties can’t see the changes until it’s manually shared. If two employees are making separate changes, then some work will be irreparably lost or there will be more confusion and frustration down the line. But if files are stored in working software, where changes are made live and saved continuously (especially if edits are marked by author), then there’s more collaboration and less overwriting or wasted effort.


IBM Watson Is a Rock Star!

IBM’s Watson is an AI platform that’s having an increasingly vital impact in many different areas, including banking, medicine, and sports. Now Watson has begun making a mark in the music world as well. In fact, as a result of a collaboration with Grammy award winning producer Alex da Kid, Watson can lay legitimate claim to Rock Star status. The song they composed together, “Not Easy”, debuted at #6 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales chart and at #12 on the Hot Rock Songs list.

Alex da Kid has produced hits for major artists including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Dr. Dre, and Eminem, but never had a top hit of his own until he connected with Watson.

How the Watson/Alex da Kid Collaboration Worked

Alex da Kid wanted to write a song that connected with people on a deep emotional level. Having chosen the theme of “heartbreak”, he began working with Watson to understand the interaction between music and emotion, and to identify the musical characteristics that make a song a hit.

As a composition assistant, Watson consists of a suite of open APIs (Application Program Interfaces) that can be employed to analyze the musical structure of popular songs as well as human emotional and social tendencies, plus the interactions between those factors.

In the collaboration with Alex, the Watson Alchemy Language module (a set of text analysis APIs that has since been replaced by the Watson Natural Language Understanding service) analyzed five years of data, including front pages of the New York Times, movie summaries, internet searches, Wikipedia articles, and even Supreme Court rulings to identify significant cultural trends. Then Watson Tone Analyzer searched news articles, blogs, and social media posts to understand the human emotions those trends evoked.

Watson Tone Analyzer also examined the lyrics of 26,000 Billboard Hot 100 songs, while Watson BEAT analyzed the interaction between musical characteristics such as pitch, rhythm, chord progressions, and instrumentation. The idea, according to IBM, was to determine the “emotional fingerprints” that make a song popular.

All this resulted in Watson presenting Alex with compositional ideas that fit the mood he wanted to evoke. The process, according to IBM researcher Dr. Janani Mukundan, involved Alex entering a short section of music (as little as 10 seconds) into the system. Then, said Dr. Mukundan, “Watson will listen to this and scan it. He can also tell Watson, ‘Give me something that sounds romantic, or give me something that sounds like something I want to dance to.’ And since Watson understands these emotional ranges and can understand music as well, he will then use his original piece as an inspiration and also add on top of it the layer of emotion that he wants.”

Watson Is Not the Composer, but a Muse

Watson is not intended to compose fully fleshed-out songs on its own. Rather, it provides musical samples that fit a genre and mood. The human composer then uses those samples as inspiration on which to build a finished piece that is the result of his or her own artistic vision.

Still, the day may come when Watson, via it’s Natural Language Understanding module, hears its own name called out at the Grammy Awards.