Misc

What Smart E-Commerce Solutions are on the Horizon?

Online retail sales have burgeoned in recent years. It now seems as if there is an application for every product and service on the market. All experts agree that these trends show no signs of slowing down and if anything, they are expected to increase. The same holds true when examining the meteoric rise of user-friendly and cutting-edge ecommerce platforms. After all, such systems are absolutely necessary to secure online sales and to proactively address any issues that a customer may have. This is why a great deal of thought has been placed into adopting some of the latest and most innovative smart technologies. So, how has the e-commerce sector evolved and what interesting amenities might be looming just over the horizon?

Smart Systems and Artificial Intelligence

The role of artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to gain ground as computing power increases alongside the demand for more intuitive UX architecture. How might some of these transformations translate to the end user? While no one possesses the proverbial looking glass, some features that are likely to emerge in the coming years include:

  • Smart chatbots to partially replace human interactions.
  • Facial recognition technology to augment existing security protocols.
  • Marketing campaigns based solely off of the buying habits of the client.
  • A more accurate collection and interpretation of big data to hone advertising strategies.

It is therefore clear to see that the role of “smart” systems involves much more than architecture alone. The main goal is to provide the end user with a more targeted and interact experience than in the past. This will breed loyalty over time and encourage future purchases. However, smarter and more flexible are not always better. We need to embrace a careful balance between technological advancement and a user-friendly e-commerce system.

Designed for the Individual as Opposed to the Coding Expert

The first e-commerce providers tended to adopt a “one-size-fits-all” approach. In other words, they were comparatively inflexible in regards to their ability to be moulded around the discrete needs of a specific organisation. They instead offered “blanket” approaches and naturally, some freelance businesses fell through the digital gaps. It did not take long for developers to realise this oversight. This is why we have seen the emergence of more targeted and user-friendly solutions such as those which are currently offered by Shopify.

To put it simply, it is much better to work smart as opposed to hard. As the number of individual entrepreneurs continues to grow, we should expect e-commerce software to adapt to this inexorable momentum. This ultimately signifies more flexible architecture, drag-and-drop functionality, 24-hour customer support solutions, and websites that can be modified on the fly as opposed to requiring the use of a dedicated IT expert. Larger enterprises as well as small businesses should both benefit as a result. While the digital future is not set in stone, it is likely that these trends will continue to emerge (to the benefit of everyone involved).

WebWhat Smart E-Commerce Solutions are on the Horizon?

Conquering Kilimanjaro

Conquering Kilimanjaro:

7 Life Lessons Learned by climbing the World’s Highest Free-Standing Mountain

Managing Director of ITCS, Brian Stokes, has returned from scaling the World’s Highest Free-Standing Mountain. Originally from the Afan Valley, and always looking for ways to give back to the community, Brian pushed himself to the extreme, with a core team of 11 people, to raise money for LATCH: Welsh Children’s Cancer Charity. Here are some of his thoughts upon his safe return:

 

I just wanted to say a massive thank you, for all the support and well wishes I received to climb Kilimanjaro. I’m back in one piece, and conquered the mountain. Not all our group made it, and some had to be practically carried to the summit, so it was no easy task.

It was a tough challenge, but a very memorable and rewarding one. Watching the sunrise over Africa from nearly 20,000ft was like nothing else, but I believe setting challenges however big or small, is a good thing to do. Pushing boundaries, and striving towards our goals is important in life. Our work, personal and family life, can all be effected in a good way with a positive mind-set.

Thoughts from the mountain….

 

1. I can do this.

The way we talk to ourselves impacts what we actually achieve. If you tell yourself that you can do something, chances are that you will, even if you don’t accomplish it straightaway.

Kilimanjaro climbing

2. Challenge accepted.

Next time someone throws an unfamiliar or tricky task your way, don’t throw it back at them – embrace it. Even if you mess up along the way, you can be sure that you’ll do better the next time.

3. Work hard for it.

You’re unlikely to reach any goals without the effort to match. Work hard, even a small bit at a time, and you’ll be able to enjoy the rewards.

4. No such thing as perfect.

Don’t let the idea of perfection get in the way of getting things done. Perfection can sometimes be an illusion; what matters most is your effort.

5. Be open to new ways of doing things.

You can never be sure of how something is going to pan out if you’ve never tried it before. Before assuming that something will never work, ask yourself: ‘What do I have to do to make this work?’

 

Kilimanjaro selfie

6. Don’t let setbacks get you down. 

Setbacks don’t mean you’ve failed, just that you need to try a different approach. Take feedback from the experience on board, and make changes accordingly. You can learn just as much from a mistake as you can from success.

7. Positivity is everything.

By staying positive, you not only live a happier life, you become a good person to be around. When things get tough, it is the positive people that we all look to in order to get passed the situation. Be an influencer with a positive attitude, and watch the effect it has on everyone around you.

If we want to learn new things in life, we have to embrace challenges head-on and to treat any setbacks as a learning experience, never a failure. Climbing Kilimanjaro was similar in a lot of ways to running a business, it’s only possible by surrounding yourself with like-minded people and having a positive can do attitude, a growth mind-set and self-belief that you can make it work.

There’s still time to donate to Brian’s very worthy cause: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/brian-stokes-kilimanjaro 

You can see some more images from his amazing trek below:

  • beginning of climb
  • view Kilimanjaro Brian Stokes
  • Kilimanjaro selfie
  • Kilimanjaro tent
  • surveying Kilimanjaro
WebConquering Kilimanjaro

Norsk Hydro: The ultimate example in handling a data breach

We regularly post about being prepared for a cyber attack in your business, but the sad fact is, that sometimes, they happen. 
So, if you’re hit by a Cyber Attack, what do you do?

The Norsk Hydro Cyber Attack: March 18th 2019

Norsk Hydro, one of the world’s largest global producers of aluminium, suffered production outages after a cyber attack affected operations across Europe and the U.S. Hitting 160 plants worldwide, many branches had no choice but to switch to manual operations, and several of its metal extrusion plants used to make components for car manufacturers and other industries were shut.
Not only this, but the company’s new CEO had only started one day before. Talk about the ultimate test.
It’s clearly a situation that no business wants to find itself in. But the way in which the company reacted, we believe, was extremely impressive and should serve as an example for all business. In fact, many industry professionals have agreed that both operationally and from a PR perspective, the company’s reaction may well become industry standard.
Here are some of the main takeaways that other businesses can take from the attack:

1) Honesty is the best Policy

One of the most commendable aspects of Hydro’s response to its’ data breach was its transparency: Hydro didn’t shy away from admitting it had been a victim of a targeted ransomware attack. The company utilised daily webcasts and social media posts to keep business partners and the media informed about what was going on. With its email systems down, the company used Facebook as a main source for communication. They also used a redirect on their website, sending users to a temporary Azure hosted area:

holding page norsk hydro

The temporary holding page that Norsk Hydro Sent users to after the attack

This allowed them to control the narrative from the outset: The company has been completely transparent about the scale of the incident, constantly reassuring stakeholders and media about their efforts to tackle it.

The result? Well, most tellingly, the company’s share price has remained more or less constant throughout the attack’s aftermath. Despite such major upheaval, insurance company RMS believe that Hydro behaved exceptionally in terms of its communication of the breach:

“One of the critical factors in cyber breach response and recovery is executive action, including public communications, accountability, and responsibility,” RMS said.

2) Forewarned is definitely Forearmed:

It’s well known among businesses that cyber attacks are now a ‘when’ not ‘if’ scenario. Therefore, being prepared for incidents such as this should now be commonplace.

At a news conference, Hydro’s finance director Eivind Kallevik said that the company would not pay the extortionists:

We have good back-up routines. Our main strategy is to reinstall data from the back-up systems.”

Any business would hate to find itself in the position of having to shutdown operations for any longer than absolutely necessary following an attack. Hydro was the ideal example of a business that is prepared: it had secure backups in place, and mechanisms for restoring impacted systems. It was also insured against such attacks.

It would be prudent and good practice for any sized business to build its’ cyber defences and segment networks, to reduce the chances of an attack successfully permeating your organisation. Ensure that you have a secure, working backups of your critical data so you can get back up and running as soon as possible if an incident does occur.

3) Upgrade to the Cloud:

Unlike some other victims of cyber attacks in the past, the fact that Hydro had already migrated its email systems to the cloud meant that even if its computers were down, workers were still able to communicate via smartphones and tablets.

Cloud hosting not only serves as a disaster recovery solution, but allows portability: everyone in your business can access data across multiple offices or different locations on the go.

4) A business is only as good as its’ people:

Hydro released a Youtube video on April 2, explaining the attack. In it, the company states how its employees were prepared to do whatever it took to get the company back up and running: ‘with a tremendous effort of our colleagues…the plant has managed to get production back up to 100% normal, despite operating in manual mode’. Staff spent hours building a manual drawing archive so that orders could be fulfilled. ‘Everyone wants to help,’ the video states, ‘we do not even have to ask people’.

Did you know that globally, human error is the second largest cause of data breaches? At Hydro, staff are experienced and prepared, so they were able to be proactive and run manually for a while.

Watch their video here – it really provides an insight into the dedication of the company’s staff:

Ensure your personnel are clued up and prepared for a security breach, and know exactly what to do in the event of a cyber attack.

Rounding up:

LockerGoga is a particularly nasty form of ransomware as it has the capability for destructive erasure (also known as “wiping”). The attack on Hydro could have caused severe damage to industrial control systems, had the ransomware gained network access. As the Insurance Journal said, “If it had become necessary to do an emergency shutdown of critical plant, this could have led to a very costly recovery operation”.  This actually happened at a German steel mill in December 2014.

It is almost certain that there will still be a battle at the organisation before everything is returned to normal, but you cannot fail to be impressed by what the global company have achieved so far. They should serve as an example to us all in how to prepare, and react to, a cyber security attack.

WebNorsk Hydro: The ultimate example in handling a data breach

7 Time-Saving Outlook Tricks to Get you to Work Smarter

Outlook is renowned for being one of the best email providers for business: the platform helps millions of people manage their email correspondence every day. The snag? It assumes you already know how to organise your office correspondence for optimal productivity. But what if you don’t?

We all know that time is invaluable, especially when it comes to running a business. Improve your Microsoft Outlook productivity and you’ll find yourself working more efficiently. Whether you want to be an Outlook expert or just save time, you’ll appreciate the 7 time-saving Outlook tips in this tutorial.

Web7 Time-Saving Outlook Tricks to Get you to Work Smarter

Keyboard Hacks – 10 Shortcuts to Help You Work Faster on Windows 10

Although it’s unlikely you’ll be able to memorise every single keyboard shortcut, they really can make you much faster whilst you work on a PC. Learning and using keyboard hacks that are most important to you is a great way to enhance your Windows 10 experience.

Compared to reaching for the mouse or navigating a menu, a single keyboard shortcut shaves a moment off your task. This might not seem like much, but add up all those saved moments over a week or a month, and you’re gaining a substantial chunk of time. That’s why it’s important to know as many shortcuts as possible for your operating system. Try a keyboard hack a few times, and you’ll find out just how useful it can be.

You could even bookmark this page, and use it as a Go-To Tool whilst you learn!

WebKeyboard Hacks – 10 Shortcuts to Help You Work Faster on Windows 10

ITCS sponsored Tondu United FC scores ‘Bags of Help’ from Tesco

Local football club Tondu United recently benefited from Tesco’s Bags of Help community scheme after a vote by the supermarket’s customers in Bridgend chose the club alongside fellow beneficiaries Bridge Mentoring Scheme (which supports vulnerable young people) and Cowbridge Community Allotments.

The three groups each won funding for community projects from the carrier-bag tax scheme, which is funded by the sale of carrier bags in store, and were recently invited to the store to celebrate.

The full under 9’s squad

Tondu Football Club has received a £1,990 grant which will be spent on equipment and a training education course for their volunteers.   Three members of the under 9’s team, who are sponsored by ITCS, joined the store alongside representatives from Bridge Mentoring Scheme, who received £4,000 to grant disabled access to their garden and Cowbridge Community Allotments, who received £1,000 to purchase a large poly-tunnel, which will benefit allotment users.

Three of the young players from the squad enjoyed meeting the Tesco GM Manager, Gareth Jeffries, Lynn Young, Tesco People Manager and Nikki Edwards, Tesco Community Champion as well as other representatives Laura Thomas (Bridge Mentoring) and Charles Champion (Cowbridge Allotments):

Proud Mum, Amanda Deere said:

“The boys train really hard and it’s great that Tesco and the local community want to support them.  Young as they are, they value all the support they receive and who knows, we could have a future Gareth Bale in the team!  At this age, their passion for the game is high anyway, but with the right training the team can develop their skills as well.  This money will make a huge difference to the team and as parents, we are really grateful to Tesco customers for giving them the opportunity.”

WebITCS sponsored Tondu United FC scores ‘Bags of Help’ from Tesco

Need support for an Excel spreadsheet error?  Take heart – it could be worse!

Spreadsheets are still used throughout businesses in the UK – but they’ve also been blamed for some of the biggest slip ups.

The problem is that spreadsheets are only as accurate as the information typed into them, and the slightest slip in a formula can cost a company literally millions of pounds.

The trusty old spreadsheet, dating back to the eighties, is still the go-to IT application for keeping vital records in many businesses – but should it be?

Brian Stokes, Managing Director, of ITCS (who were recently named the top IT support company in Wales) smiles at the number of applications he’s seen spreadsheets being used for over the years.

“At ITCS, we’ve seen Excel being relied upon for all manner of critical data, including HR information, company accounts, customer data and even legal document tracking.”

“I appreciate the power in Excel’s calculations, but it offers no audit trail and it’s 100% reliant on the skill of the user to not delete critical data or make a mistake in the formula.  Like most IT support companies, we regularly get support calls along the lines of ‘Help – I deleted my data!” 

“Technology has come on in leaps and bounds and for most tasks there is now a tool specifically designed for the job – and almost all of them do it better.”  

However, if you are one of our customers who’ve rang us for support on Excel – it could be worse.  Here’s some of the world’s most famous, spectacularly simple spreadsheet blunders:

Not-so-Healthy-Wales

Health charity The King’s Fund were left red faced when their Chief Economist John Appleby reported 11 per cent cuts in Wales in the well-respected British Medical Journal.  The cuts were slated in the media, but a simple spreadsheet error had exaggerated the real figure of -8.3%

 

London Olympics

The London 2012 Olympics organisers oversold the synchronised swimming sessions by double!

One staff member incorrectly typed a ‘2’ instead of a ‘1’ – and 10,000 unhappy spectators were left without a poolside seat because ‘20,000’ seats were sold instead of ‘10,000’.  You could say it was somewhat unsynchronized….


Pension Fund

Outsourcing specialists Mouchel were hit massively by a spreadsheet error in a pension fund deficit.  The error, blamed on external actuaries, hit the companies profits by £4.3 million (ouch). Share prices dropped and their chairman resigned.

 

To truly mess up, ask a statistician

Reinhart and Rogoff’s paper, “Growth in a Time of Debt” was one of the world’s most quoted research statistics.

So quoted, in fact, that students at the University of Massachusetts tried to replicate the results.

The students discovered an error whereby Reinhart & Rogoff’s spreadsheet formula was averaging the wrong columns…meaning economists worldwide were publishing flawed statistics… including…

 

Chancellor George Osborne

In case you are feeling bad for placing an Excel support call, feel better.

The former Chancellor used formulas based on Rogoff and Reinhart’s work to calculate his budget cuts. This meant that a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90% saw growth of -0.1%, instead of 2.2%!

We don’t yet offer IT support to the UK Government, but if he’d given us a call, rest assured we’d have helped him correct the error and kept it secret.

Sadly the error was shared with the world.  The Guardian described the results as ‘embarrassing’.

 

What should we use instead?

The best software for you will depend on the task at hand.

For example, we’ve seen estate agents using spreadsheets to manage instructions and listings.

Our software for estate agents and lettings agents, AgentPro, covers every aspect of the business, from handling complicated financials to marketing brochures.  It manages clients from valuation to completion and ensures best practice throughout, and interfaces with the UK’s leading property portals, enabling estate agents to offer service online and on the High Street – without any of the risks caused by spreadsheets.

 

Can ITCS provide my software?

Often we know of a good solution and if we don’t, we can create bespoke software for you.  However, many industries already have great software designed specifically for their niche and we understand that.

If ITCS are providing your IT support, we will still be happy to offer you advice on your chosen software – anyone can call themselves a software developer and string software together, so it’s important to choose a reputable provider.  We’re IT experts, here to help and we’re already familiar with your business.

If you’re looking at a new solution, before you sign on the dotted line, feel free to give us a call and we’ll be happy to check out the software provider for you.

Until then, we’ll continue to offer you support on your spreadsheets – and reassure you that no matter how bad the error feels, someone, somewhere messed up far more spectacularly!

WebNeed support for an Excel spreadsheet error?  Take heart – it could be worse!