ITCS Blog

How thinking within the box helped a major client improve business resilience

The ITCS projects team are regularly asked to ‘think outside the box’ – but a recent disaster recovery project saw us thinking very much within it!

One of our established clients, a huge international automotive specialist, had approached the projects team to commission and build a back-up data centre solution for their site in South Wales, which employs over 500 people.  The client had identified that existing backup switches were not sufficiently remote to the main site, so if a disaster such as a fire or flood occurred, the back-up would be equally vulnerable.

ITCS were initially tasked to identify a good, secure location for an additional data centre within the existing building complex, but having inspected the site over several hours, Projects Director Glyn Pearce was unable to identify a suitable location which would not be equally affected by any disaster that befell the main data centre.

As the project would need an exterior site, Glyn needed to find a solution for a custom structure which would be affordable, reasonably fast to complete and sufficiently strong and secure to act as a disaster recovery suite.  Having seen containers used for all manner of purposes, Glyn came up with the idea of using a shipping container to create a disaster recovery suite, completely customized to meet the company’s exact needs.

Shipping containers are made from weathered steel, so offer good fire resistance and are secure.  Unlike traditional buildings, a container was quick to build and could be located anywhere, so finding the right spot sufficiently distant to the main building would not be a problem on the large site.  The location chosen would then require the ITCS Projects team to lay a 3000m fibre data cable from the main site to the disaster recovery suite, ensuring connectivity in a crisis.

Glyn presented the solution to the client, who loved the idea and instructed ITCS to go ahead with the build.

    

The build itself took 6 weeks at the ITCS site in Bridgend.  The team took an initial empty container, and the other departments at ITCS watched with interest as the projects team converted it into a complete office suite with both the hardware and comfort required to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster.  The next step would be installation of the disaster recovery suite at the clients site.

Logistics and transport were the next challenge.  Thankfully, ITCS have a good working relationship with local heavy transport experts Smiths Heavy Haulage.  We were able to work with them closely to manage the logistics of transporting a heavy container to site and we were well equipped to handle the installation.  We employed contractors and managed the entire on-site project including health and safety during both installation and the laying of the 3000m fibre cable.

The result is a completely custom, robust disaster recovery solution that has seriously increased our client’s business resilience.

The client was over the moon with the final result, which was implemented on time and on budget.

Glyn

Projects Director Glyn said:

“What seemed an initial challenge was easily overcome.  I always joke that working in the projects team means being able to think outside the box – I’ve now had to agree it means thinking WITHIN a box sometimes!

“This is a perfect illustration of how good planning, creative thinking and good relationships with logistics and contracting teams can deliver a complex project and make it look effortless to the untrained eye.  We’ve already had enquiries for similar projects for other large companies in the South Wales area, and it feels great to know that no matter what life throws at our clients, we are able to help them ensure business continuity.”

 

WebHow thinking within the box helped a major client improve business resilience

M.D. Brian celebrates latest ITCS ‘award win’

ITCS Managing Director Brian Stokes is used to winning awards, they sit proudly on his windowsill.

Over the years the company have won a number of trophies, including Fast Growth 50 three years in a row, the Best IT Support company in Wales award, and Bridgend Business Forum’s business of the year to name just a few.

However, there’s a new one appeared on his windowsill, of which he’s especially proud.  ITCS donated a computer to local playgroup Standing to Grow playgroup in Maesteg, and the group were so grateful they drew Brian a lovely card to say thank you – and the ITCS team have noticed that it’s now got pride of place!

Brian said:

“We didn’t expect the card, it’s such a sweet gesture, everyone has commented on it and I’m just as proud of this as any other award!  We started out in a little shop in Maesteg, I still live in the town and giving back to the community that have given us so much support over the years means a lot to me.  I hope the group enjoy using it – the card will continue to take pride of place!”

 

WebM.D. Brian celebrates latest ITCS ‘award win’

ITCS Web Team welcomes New Lead Web Developer

The ITCS Web and SEO teams grew solidly throughout 2017, and we were pleased to welcome new Lead Developer Ethan Flynn-Harding to the team in early 2018.

An experienced developer, Ethan brings leadership and a wide range of coding skills to the growing team.

Ethan said:

“Joining such an experienced, established team as a Lead Developer was daunting, but their commitment, enthusiasm and very warm welcome has made it an absolute pleasure.  Few web teams have this level of experience and I’ve been impressed with the variety of skills within the team.

“I’m looking forward to growing the team even further as the company continues to expand.

Web  & SEO Team Manager,  Amanda Deere, added:

“Although he has only been here a short time, Ethan has definitely made an impact, both in terms of his coding ability and in his ability to lead a strong team by example.  We’re already seeing the benefits of his expertise and this will definitely be a huge asset going forward.”

WebITCS Web Team welcomes New Lead Web Developer

The essential questions website owners have to ask – fast!

Google certified SEO specialist Lisa Baker discusses the issues website owners need to consider in 2018

2018 is bringing huge changes for website owners.

Not content with new GDPR rules throwing a huge spanner in the works, Google are also making a major change to their algorithm which will leave websites that aren’t fully responsive out in the cold.

In plain English, if your website won’t work as well on a mobile phone as it does on a desktop, your Google rankings will be affected.  Furthermore, if you don’t have an SSL certificate for your website, Google will now flag your website with the warning ‘not secure’.  This is an even higher priority if you sell online.

Chances are you’ll need to do some updates – ensuring compliance is your responsibility unless you engage a company to do that for you.   Even if your company has been checked for GDPR compliance, it’s important to check your website too – with possible GDPR fines of up to 20 million Euros, you can’t afford not to.

Here’s the vital questions website owners need to be asking:

  • Is my website cookie notice GDPR compliant?
  • Do I use third party tracking cookies?
  • Is any data we collect online stored in a way that is GDPR compliant?
  • Does my website have an SSL certificate?
  • Does my website work well on a mobile phone?  (you can test this by clicking here)
  • Have you checked your website terms and conditions are GDPR friendly?
  • Is my website secure enough to protect vital data from potential hackers?

Web Team Manager Amanda Deere advises:

 “It’s becoming increasingly complex to keep up to date with Google and the legislation, and both are essential.  ITCS has a full web compliance team and we’ll be happy to not only answer those questions for you, but also to provide the solutions if your website doesn’t comply.  Click here to contact us.”

WebThe essential questions website owners have to ask – fast!

Gone Phishing!

ITCS Cyber Security expert, Wayne Harris, discusses the growth in ‘Phishing’ attacks – and how ITCS are protecting their customers

Information is now the lifeblood of most businesses, and the more we do on-line, the higher the risks of cyber-crime and greater the rewards for the attackers.

Let’s face it, we all receive a mass of emails every day, and as good as the email spam filters are getting, inevitably rouge mails will get through.  Your next line of defence are your users, and this raises the importance of adequate cyber security awareness training, and the investment in your staff.  I meet with companies on a regular basis, who are looking to invest in their information security, but often they haven’t covered the basics when it comes to their staff training.

So, what is ‘phishing?   A phishing email (or sometimes SMS or instant message) is an electronic message sent to a user (or group of users) purporting to be from a trustworthy organisation or government department.  These messages invite you to open a link (such as viewing an online invoice), or an attachment that will lead the user to a malicious website or install malicious software on your devices (such as ransomware).  These malicious websites are designed to draw you in, and may look genuine to a casual user.  This year we have seen attacks masquerading as energy providers, parcel delivery notifications, and popular on-line auction and e-commerce sites.  They all have something in common – they all invite the user to click the links!

Great care should be taken with these types of attacks, as they are either designed to infect computer systems, steal personal details, user credentials (and often users will use the same password on multiple accounts), or to coerce the user into paying fake invoices and initiate banks transfers.  Our advice to users is to never click links on emails unless you are absolutely certain that it is genuine – if you are in any doubt, check or better still, go directly to the genuine website.  We also advise that any bank details provided via email should be double checked directly with the provider before making payment – use the existing information you have for them, don’t reply to the email, and speak to a known contact.

At ITCS, we have gone to great lengths to protect your systems, where possible through the implementation of software restrictions, and enhanced spam filtering, and offer next generation security solutions to further enhance the security of your network.  In the event of a successful attack, our Backup and DR solutions will ensure that your data is protected and your business can recover quickly.

Over the last year, we have run cyber security briefing sessions for our business customers, and have offered over 100 free places to our business support customers.  In addition, we have written and delivered bespoke user training to various customers throughout the UK at their own sites to further protect their business information and financial assets.

For further information, or to book your free cyber security briefing session, please call 08456 444 200, email support@itcs.co.uk or visit our website for more information.

WebGone Phishing!

IT’s Great – when IT Works!

ITCS Managing Director, Brian Stokes, discusses the challenges and the successes of the past 12 months.

‘IT’ plays a huge role in business these days.  Whether it’s a single electronic till or a complete, fully functioning cloud-based network with hundreds of users, few businesses can survive without IT.

Of course, as businesses increasingly rely on IT, when tech fails, it isn’t just annoying, it has a detrimental impact on your business.

Despite another year of rapid growth for the ITCS team, it’s been incredibly challenging at times.  Like most providers, we saw a massive increase in hacking and cyberattack attempts on both us and our clients in 2017.  The thought that individuals and organisations are out there, solely with the aim of creating chaos and destruction, often for kicks, is soul destroying when you see first hand the impact that these attacks cause.

We’ve had to respond to these threats with a robust defence, including hiring some of the best talent in the business, as well as investing in hardware and software to offer increased protection for our clients.  We’ve also supported our clients with free workshops on IT security and GDPR, and we’ve been invited to work with South Wales Police to share our knowledge and best practices with them going forward.  We can’t stop the attackers from trying, but we will do our utmost to prevent them from succeeding.

When all you read in the news is that cyber threats are growing, it’s easy to forget the massive benefits for business that the latest IT technology can bring – it’s definitely not all bad news.  We’ve had some major client successes recently.

We were delighted to work with Meritor, a huge international automotive supplier on their server replacement project, using the latest Nutanix technology.  We recently replaced 50 servers and a 250 seat telephone system without so much as a second in downtime – almost unthinkable with older technology.  Their I.S. Manager was delighted, saying:

“At last, we are confident that we are finally getting the most from our IT systems.  ITCS have helped us to reduce downtime, improve productivity and control costs; it’s a relief to know that we are finally in safe hands”.

We were also very proud to work with Welsh Women’s Aid, providing them with a new private cloud service.  Eleri Butler, CEO, was full of praise, saying

“The private cloud service from ITCS has given us enhanced security and improved our agility while minimizing our environmental impact.  It’s a win-win situation.”

It’s great to get this kind of feedback, and we’ll keep striving for 100% satisfaction no matter how large our customer base grows.  Over the last few months, we’ve expanded our team of engineers, web developers and SEO talent, and as our Midlands office is expanding rapidly, we’ve also appointed a new Regional Manager to head up the Midlands team.

We’ve invested in talent elsewhere in the business too.  We recently promoted Matt Muttlow, who started with ITCS as an IT engineer, to our Operations Director.  We’ve been continually impressed with his management ability and talent over the years, he’s is now continuing to prove his worth at board level and an integral part of ITCS.

Of course, we have more expansion plans for 2018, but in a continually evolving market, I’m sure we will have a few curveballs to deal with too.  However, the one thing I’m certain of is that our team are more than up to the challenge.  I have to thank each and every one of them for their dedication and hard work this past year, I look forward to working and growing with them as we keep IT working for our clients moving forwards.

WebIT’s Great – when IT Works!

Trying to pick the right mobile network? Why not pick all of them!

Choosing the right business mobile network for your business can be challenging.  ITCS partner with all the major networks, but up until now, business owners have had to make a decision as to which network to use – so how do you choose the right provider to ensure good coverage for your staff?

Sure, you can look at network maps and see who offers the best signal for your area, but if your staff include remote workers, on-site engineers and sales teams, chances are they won’t be in the same location (or even the same town) every day. 21% of the UK has partial ‘not spots’ which includes 10% of A roads and 16% of B roads. This is most acutely felt in rural areas, such as mid and West Wales, where coverage by each individual network is patchy at best.

The ITCS business telecoms team are therefore rather excited about their latest product. Teaming up with business-only network Gamma, the company are now able to offer multi-network SIMs. Using the MultiNet bolt-on, connections made on Gamma’s new 4G service will now ‘hop’ seamlessly from one carrier network to the next strongest one, wherever there is a signal in the UK.

Rhiannon Edmunds, ITCS Telecoms Specialist

ITCS Telecoms Specialist Rhiannon Edmunds explains:

“The new multi-SIM service is designed to empower business mobile users by removing the hindrance of poor coverage – and it comes from a network with a reputation for first class customer service. We’re proud to partner with Gamma on this service, and expect take up to be high.”

ITCS offer a range of business mobile deals with tariffs including Pay-as-you-go, single user plans, shared user plans and unlimited plans, and their specialist team will work with you to tailor a flexible package to suit your business needs. For more information, please call our Business Telecoms team.

WebTrying to pick the right mobile network? Why not pick all of them!

ITCS appoints new Regional Manager to head up Midlands expansion

South Wales IT support & business telecoms specialist ITCS has continued their national expansion with the appointment of a new regional manager to head up the Midlands region.

The company, which started from a small office in Maesteg 14 years ago has grown rapidly into a UK-wide IT support and Business Telecoms specialist, and employs more than 40 people in their Bridgend Head Office.

Whilst the national expansion continues, the client base in the Midlands region has expanded most rapidly and the company have therefore appointed Ajit Rai to head up the company’s Midlands operations.  Based in the company’s Rugby office, Ajit will bring strategic leadership to the region, as well as contributing to the company’s ambitious growth strategy.

Ajit brings a wealth of IT and business development experience to the company, who are also responsible for developing leading estate agent software package, AgentPro.

Commenting on the new appointment, Managing Director, Brian Stokes said,

“Ajit’s extensive experience and warm personality is a perfect fit for our ITCS family.  We have big plans for growth this year, so having a strong leader in our Midlands region will enable us to meet those targets,  Meanwhile, his track record in sales will I’m sure be a phenomenal asset.”

Ajit added,

“I am pleased to be part of a vibrant, customer-focused company that has already achieved so much, and look forward to being part of the company’s huge expansion plans for the Midlands region.  The team already here are doing a fantastic job, and I’m looking forward to working alongside them to increase our presence in the area.”

WebITCS appoints new Regional Manager to head up Midlands expansion

Welsh Government announces new measures for extending fast broadband in Wales

Multi award-winning Welsh IT & Telecoms specialist ITCS has welcomed the range of new measures to further extend fast and reliable broadband coverage in Wales announced by Leader of the House, Julie James.

Availability of superfast broadband across Wales has more than doubled since Superfast Cymru began in 2013, and the latest Ofcom report (December 2017) shows that Wales now has the highest availability of superfast broadband over 30Mbps amongst the devolved nations – despite the challenges of the country’s topography.

A thorough testing and verification process is currently under way on the latest data presented by Openreach with the aim of announcing the project’s final figures in the spring.

The new measures, backed by funding of £80m, include a new rollout scheme currently out to tender which encourages rural delivery, business prioritisation and ultrafast 100Mbps services.

Brian Stokes, Managing Director of ITCS welcomed the new measures saying:

“We are proud of our contribution to the rollout of Superfast Cymru, but like many businesses in Wales, we appreciate the need for further improvements, especially in mobile coverage, which is still poor in rural areas.”

Under the scheme solutions will be encouraged in areas suffering the lowest download speeds along with lower 4G mobile data coverage. It will include safeguards to ensure communities are kept up to date as far as possible on whether they will be included.

Also included in the new measures are a review and continuation of the current voucher schemes for those without access to superfast broadband and ongoing work to develop a parallel community focussed scheme. A dedicated broadband outreach team will work with clusters of homes or businesses to procure a solution, and Openreach will also work an additional two months under the current agreement to connect 2,500 premises at no extra cost to the Welsh Government.

In addition, Openreach has been invited to provide details of structures built but not completed, and the Welsh Government will look at how these can be completed under the existing grant agreement.

Julie James said:

Despite the success of Superfast Cymru in transforming broadband connectivity across Wales, there is clearly more work to be done and this Government is committed to taking further action.

“The suite of measures I am announcing today, when taken together, will help us to realise the ambition described in Taking Wales Forward to bring people together digitally by offering fast reliable broadband to every property in Wales.

“Together, the successor scheme, the community scheme and our voucher schemes will provide a comprehensive package of interventions that will help us meet the challenges ahead.”

WebWelsh Government announces new measures for extending fast broadband in Wales

ITCS Director scales Three Welsh Peaks in Winter to Save Local School

As Head of ITCS, our Managing Director Brian Stokes is used to steep challenges.

Brian at his desk – no peaks in sight!

As our customers know, ITCS is a multi award-winning national provider of business IT support, Telecoms, Web Design, SEO and Digital Marketing, with more than 40 staff in our South Wales office alone – as well as our national engineers and Midlands office.  What is less well known is that Afan Valley entrepreneur Brian started the company with Gareth John in a small shop in Maesteg 14 years ago, and their dedication has seen the company progress rapidly, which has often felt like an uphill climb as the company rapidly expanded.

However, last weekend, accompanied by his long time friend, professional boxer Geraint Goodridge, Brian took on a climb of a different kind – the Welsh Three Peaks Challenge.

The Three Peaks Challenge usually takes place in Summer. However, Brian and Geraint’s local school, Afan Comprehensive is threatened with closure and urgently needs funds to mount a legal challenge.  With fundraising in mind, the two decided to brave the elements and tackle the total mountain distance of 18 miles (29km) and a total ascent of 2334 metres (7657ft), in hazardous February weather.  Usually the challenge has to be completed in less than 24-hours – but the superfit duo decided to set themselves a target of completion within 12 hours, despite the added challenge of doing it in heavy snow and blistering winter conditions.

Conditions were gruelling and visibility was poor.

The day of the challenge arrived in the middle of the coldest weekend of the winter.  With summit temperatures of -14 degrees, their plan to HALVE the challenge time allowed to climb Snowdon, Cadair Idris and Pen-y-fan looked unlikely.  Nobody was expected to reach the summit of a snow and ice-covered Snowdon that day, so tackling three peaks and a considerable drive in inclement weather and braving freezing rain seemed an impossible task, no matter what the timeframe.

However, having already driven to North Wales the previous day, the brave duo decided to forge on with their planned ascent – and it wasn’t easy.  Throughout much of their first climb the duo could only see yards ahead, the path was not visible due to being covered in snow and ice and at points they were walking waist-deep in snow.  Getting caught off track several times, the pair had to rely on phone sat-nav to get back on track, and it was somewhat sobering to see that all the other footprints (and waist prints!) stopped half way up.  They were the first to make the summit that day, and had to carve steps into the ice to act as a ladder on the final part of the summit.   Brian had been instructed by his marketing team to take lots of photos, but the view from the summit was non-existent, and he wasn’t keen to risk frostbite by exposing flesh at -14 degrees, so took a few moments of video footage and gladly put his gloves back on!

The pair were elated to reach the Summit of Snowdon in temperatures of -14 degrees

The other two mountains, whilst lower, we not much kinder.  The steep climb up Cadair Idris was particularly challenging in driving, icy sleet which was extremely painful.  Determined to make the 12 hour window, the daring lads managed to save time via an ‘off-piste’ descent, aided by sliding on sheets of ice.  Their original plan to run up Pen-y-Fan was somewhat thwarted due to exhaustion, but despite slowing to a walking pace, they still completed the challenge in under 12 hours, raising just under £1400 to help the school fight the challenge.

The scale of their achievement was brought home when two experienced climbers had to be rescued from Snowdon later that day – making their Three Peaks Challenge even more remarkable.  The duo are now recovering from their climb and preparing for their next ascent – the legal challenge to keep the school open.

Brian said:

“Coming down Snowdon was eerie, the only footprints we saw were our own, and climbing back down the ‘ice ladder’ we had carved into the mountain was scary. One slip and we would have been in grave danger, but we had to keep pushing on. However, the real challenge, to stop the school from closing, is only just beginning.  This school is a cornerstone of the Afan Valley community, so it is vitally important that we do all we can to save it.  I’m proud we were able to play our part and we’ll be helping the school in any way we can.”

Professional boxer Geraint added:

“I work hard to maintain my fight fitness and boxing training is extremely gruelling, so I was amazed how physically challenging this climb was.  As Brian says though, the real fight to save the school is only just beginning.   Afan Valley is a great school, coming 6th in the annual Real Schools Guide  – and closure would see our children leaving home at 7am to reach the alternative school in Margam.  It’s a senseless decision, so I’m confident this is a fight we can win.”

Cymmer Labour Councillor Scott Jones praised the pair:

“I’m proud of Brian and Geraint, two local residents, who have given phenomenal support to our campaign to save education in the Afan Valley.   This closure would have an adverse impact on the health, wellbeing and education of our young people and we will fight it all the way.  These funds will be a massive help.”

The team captured their experience on video: You can view Brian and Geraint’s Three Welsh Peaks experience here:

WebITCS Director scales Three Welsh Peaks in Winter to Save Local School