Beware Santa’s horses bearing gifts

Tis the season to be crafty!   Just as Amicus ITS was reaping the results of its own competition for staff to design a winning Christmas e-card for 2018 incentivised with online gift card vouchers for prizes, came the news report issued last Monday by security firm Barracuda Networks that Santa’s gone a bit phishy in a Gremlins kind of way in the run up to Christmas.

The increasing sophistication of social engineering has created a new cyber security workplace scam targeting receptionists, office managers and executive assistants.   The report states: “These types of attacks are very hard for traditional email filters to pick up because they are targeted, have a high reputation, and do not contain any obvious malicious signals”. 

Here, hackers will pretend to be the CEO or senior managers, using tactics like implied urgency and directed emails asking specifically say, for Google Play gift cards.  Phishing emails can also include a ‘signature’ implying it was sent from a mobile device.  Alternatively, the scam can be built around a secret ‘reward’ for employees.  There are no malicious payload links, or suspicious file attachments and they are often sent from trusted email domains.

Spokesman for Barracuda Networks, Asaf Cidon commented: “When sending social engineering-based attacks, attackers have always used context and timing to their advantage – and the Christmas season has opened the door wide to a lot of cleverly designed executive impersonation”.

What can you do about it?
Organisations should have the relevant anti-malware, spyware and adware in place.  Other security tools can include more advanced spybot software and AI-based security solutions to detect anomalies in email addresses that the CEO would not use, or behaviours which would recognised be uncharacteristic.  But alongside all of these technical competencies, it comes back to having an educated and informed workforce across the board, vigilant and trained to spot attack efforts and know the right remedial steps to take:

• Use HR to work with IT to help with employee messaging to avoid falling for these scams and to understand what technology is needed to ward off the attacks.
• Awareness spread through the employee network should reduce the time between attack and detection and prevent more extensive damage.
• If a gift card email scam hits your organisation, why not set a procedure in place for employees to be required to gain direct management approval to verify any financial requests.

Have you experienced this type of attack?  How did you react.  Anyone seeking advice on security measures around their IT systems can contact Sales on 02380 429429.

What’s in our MSP crystal ball for 2019?

Amicus ITS has just completed its annual Technology Strategy Review to look at the trends and demands we have seen from our customers in 2018.  We have also taken the opportunity to look at the wider development of technology solutions affecting our public sector customers and those which we believe are likely to have a significant impact in our industry in 2019.

A recent CRN survey of a group of VARS captured interesting views on where they are spotting trends around datacentre technologies they believe are tipped for take off in 2019. The key results included:

• AI (Automation) – driven by monitoring and decision making
• Hyperconverged Infrastructures (HCI) – single platform flexibility
• Intelligent Edge (IoT)
• Network Automation (underpinned by software defined networking (SDN) – Cisco and VMWare
• Data archive + data backup – hyperconverged backup (vendors like Rubrik and Cohesity)
• Cyber security

So what’s our view?

After 30 years, Amicus ITS recognises that our success centres on our core strengths offering 24×365 IT Managed Services.  This gathers together service desk and other disparate services and software management for each customer.  Customers can buy umpteen individual technology solutions, but it’s helping run the whole service, understanding the customer and being able to spot what adds value that makes an MSP’s role special.  Some customers are in an advanced state of cloud enablement, others undergoing the journey to cloud through us. Others are preparing to embark.  With so much technology out there, we are transparent enough to acknowledge we cannot do everything ourselves inhouse.  So strategy for us, is around consultancy, with regular health checks and the nurturing of our technology partner ecosystem to match what is best in breed and need, so we can tailor what’s right our customers.

Looking at the drivers for our customers and based around conversations that are resonating most strongly, we would identify Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI), cyber security and smart working around people-centric technologies as the key go to strategies for the public sector.

Whatever the dictats may be from Government, the price of an entire shift to cloud is beyond the reach of most councils (and is also too complicated and expensive for many), so HCI continues to form a happy medium.  Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops Service on Citrix Cloud delivers secure, virtual applications and desktops from on-premises resources or from major public cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure.  HCI really lends itself well to this strategy, offering the ability to adopt a cloud-first architecture but maintaining complete control over your application and desktop resources.

Added to this, the protection and compliance offerings around cyber security rightly command attention (though better on the front foot than reactive), as organisations not only want to protect data, but interrogate it to analyse behaviours and manage systems better.  Ultimately, whilst local authorities continue to battle with legacy systems, true end-to-end integration will be challenge to achieving true digital outcomes, but the journey has begun, so the consultancy around the best routes through cloud and most effective spend will continue to foster development and progress for us.

What do you think is going to be a focal point for the industry in 2019?  Let us know?

Artificial Intelligence in the NHS – transformative benefits requiring open mindedness and a well-considered plan

In June’s budget announcement, new healthcare minister Matt Hancock announced the NHS funding headlines:  real-terms funding growth for the NHS of 3.4% per year over the next five years, amounting to an extra £20.5 billion by 2023/24.   The Government’s intention is to marginally ‘frontload’ the extra money, meaning 3.6% in each of the first two years. The NHS budget for the year 2018/19 is set at £113.8 billion.   Nonetheless, whatever these headlines, for NHS organisations to calibrate themselves correctly to be able to transform their IT services in 2020 and beyond – they must be IT fit.

Examples where healthcare AI is starting to make a difference
• Precision AI – AI is revolutionising healthcare tech using graphics software in areas like radiology.  Here radiologists can use AI-based video analytics to find brain bleeds or tumours in MRIs and another creates 3D colour representations of organs from a chest x-ray.
• Predictive AI – using muscle:fat ratio from CT scans, AI analytics is being developed to create predictive clinical outcomes for illness or disease.
• Natural Language Processing (NLP) – layering this onto data could enable AI algorithms to have access to all patient information vs a small part ie. making sense of badly written disparate medical notes.

Artificial intelligence impact on business
By deploying the right AI technology, organisations can gain the ability to:
• Save time and money by automating routine processes and tasks
• Increase productivity and operational efficiencies
• Make faster business decisions and greater strategic direction, based on outputs from cognitive technologies.
• Avoid mistakes and ‘human error’, provided that smart systems are set up properly
• Use insight to predict customer preferences and offer them better, personalised experience
• Achieve cost savings, by optimising your business, your workforce or your products
• Mine vast amounts of data to generate quality leads in Sales and grow an organisation’s customer base in business.
• Increase revenue by identifying and maximising sales opportunities
• Grow expertise by enabling analysis and offering intelligent advice and support

Some of the challenges around AI
With so much rapid innovation taking place in technology there are enormous digital capabilities on offer especially around AI.  One challenge for healthcare ICT leaders may rest with how they prioritise their spend to evidence best return on improvement and experience for both staff and patients in future years.   On top of this, AI needs access to good quality data.  Not something commonly associated with the NHS.   There is a lack of data standardisation and centralisation which continues to hamper progress (despite healthcare attracting plenty of AI start-ups fostering innovation in the marketplace).

Could personal ‘health clouds’ be the answer?
One answer leading to digital transformation could be ‘personal health clouds’?  Currently data is often stored in separate silos on local hospital servers.  There are no data standards nor centralisation.  The physical dislocation of NHS data is coupled with the many governance issues around Personal Health Information (PHI) which create an inhibiting mix.  If patient records, test results etc. could be stored centrally, with the patient confirming who has access to the info, AI could view all data versus only a part of the data.  It could be transformational for the efficiency of the overburdened hospitals – as well as the patients.  A main barrier to conversion is the necessity of patient buy-in, agreeing to the use of their data and trusting that all healthcare trust compliance measures are met and protecting their data 24×7.

Clearly, the opportunities for the NHS to seize are massive.  But just how hospitals and healthcare organisations go about seizing AI opportunity to transform the sector and how we might receive very different treatment in future may largely centre on the following elements:
• All public sector organisations having an ICT digital lead and visionary who is connected strategically to the Board – and fully conversant of the complexities of the public sector environment.
• Preparedness of the project teams to spend the right length of time at discovery to understand and map out the needs and most desirable outcomes for all stakeholders to ensure the touch of digital feels like a light wand not a heavy fist for implementation or users.
• Starting with getting one project right rather than seeking to fix the whole system in one go.
• Working closely with innovative software companies focused on the sector.
• A highly skilled IT team or partner (internal or outsourced) to safely walk the journey together from infrastructure transformation to a better digital future.

Rome was not built in a day, but those straight roads from 2000 years ago are still much admired today.  The transformative opportunities facing the NHS through AI are immense – and since IBM Watson beat Ken Jennings in 2011 the progress of AI has marched on into our consciousness.   AI requires an open-minded attitude and a willingness to embrace new opportunities when they arise.  It’s baby steps to bring about large scale progressive change, but having advanced technological understanding, drive and support to champion and deliver change and connect is a true game changer.    Let us know what you think to add to this article?

Hospital and Council start to test AI in undertaking tasks, as ‘virtual workers’

Ipswich Hospital, part of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) has engaged three robots over the past three months to mimic keyboard and mouse clicks, to assist with routine admin referrals, using ‘virtual workers’.  Handling 2,000 referrals on average per week, this has saved the Trust considerable costs and increased efficiency amongst frontline staff.

• Tasks have included sending scan and blood test results from Primary Care GPs to Secondary Care hospital consultants, with intelligent automation supplied by British software company Thoughtonomy. This works over the existing applications and systems as part of the GP Electronic Referral Service (where patient data is collected and sent to the relevant consultant).

• Initial results claim the new system is eight times more productive than using humans, releasing 500 hours of medical secretaries’ time, working 24×7 and anticipated to save £220,000 over the next nine months. The referral process has been seen to successfully reduce down the referral process from 15-20 minutes, to 5 minutes.

Darren Atkins Deputy Director of ICT, commented, “At the Trust we have a philosophy of making time matter”.   Mr Atkins continued: “Done to scale, intelligent automation has the capacity to massively drive transformation on a huge scale within the NHS.”

Neurology department medical secretary, Christine Harvey added:  “We used to extract information from (patient records) from one bit of software and put it into another bit of software. This was time consuming and carried the risk of mistakes from the patient notes system”.

The technology has been received positively at the hospital, offering flexibility from ‘virtual buddies’, maximising the benefit of automation and enabling frontline staff to spend more quality time with patients and on workload, be more productive and enabled the Trust to cut down on short term agency use.  Technically, the queues and productivity can also be monitored very easily on the move through smart devices.  The scheme has the capability to be extended to using AI ‘staff’ to make appointments and do accounting and patient queries.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) states that automation could save the NHS up to £12.5bn a year, or 10 per cent of its annual budget.  The Department for Health identified that the NHS’ infrastructure was “not currently fit for purpose for AI” and would require standardising to fully harness the technology’s potential.  A move in this direction however is clearly signalled as a route to improvement and cost savings for the NHS.

Dr. Bernhard Kainz at the Department of Computing at Imperial College London said: “At the moment the NHS has still an IT problem rather than a data science or AI opportunity.. and rather, it marks an important step towards clinical decision making supported by AI because it makes sparse, unstructured data accessible for automated data processing”.

Meanwhile, in a bid to improve transformation of social care through technology, Bradford Council is in the process of developing a proof of concept for an AI tool in adult social care, funded by NHS Digital and the Local Government Association.  Bradford, working with Rescon Technologies has designed the relevant service requirements which take on board matters as diverse as dental care, financial matters and watching football.  The findings of the project will be known in December and decisions on how to take matters further determined at that time with stakeholders.

For an understanding of the core distinctions between IT transformation and Digital Transformation and routes of developmental interest for the public sector, read Amicus ITS’ latest White Paper here.

If you would like to discuss this with a member of the Sales department, please contact Amicus ITS on 02380 429429

Major G-Cloud 10 Government Technology Services Win for Amicus ITS

Amicus ITS’ G-Cloud 10 team (L-R): JP Norman, Lindsay Burden, Les Keen and Ben Davis

Official Crown Commercial Supplier Amicus ITS, has scored a notable success with the announcement that the Company has had a record total of 17 cloud technology services accepted onto the UK Government’s G-Cloud framework.

This framework, run by the Government’s Crown Commercial Service, provides a central, transparent and pre-compliant portal for public sector and healthcare organisations across England and Wales to procure wide ranging technology solutions, in confidence, using trusted partners – and saving money for the taxpayer. G-Cloud 10 went live on 2nd July.

The project was overseen by Marketing Manager, Lindsay Burden. “We only had five weeks to select and complete all 17 cloud service listings. G-Cloud 10 is a very pure form of procurement for our public sector customers and a great compliment to the services listed in our Service Catalogue. We recognised in 2017 that we needed to extend our Managed Services and we have done this by strengthening our inhouse teams and forging strong alliances with leading technology experts. These include Netwrix, Authlogics and Think Marble in the security sector, our sister back up specialist company Curatrix Technologies, as well as key Government UK hosting provider UKCloud. We are all thrilled that we’ve had 100% success with this project with all 17 services being approved. It really shows the depth of what we can deliver today”.

Sales Director Les Keen commented: “Amicus ITS has a host of public sector and NHS customers throughout England so we know the pressures they face. Our experienced Bid Team in Sales & Marketing, work across a variety of IT frameworks. The G-Cloud 10 framework is a perfect example of the private sector bringing best-in-market technology and support to work in partnership with the public sector to bring about efficiencies and positive change to a cash-strapped sector. With Brexit fast approaching, there has never been a more important time for public sector organisations to have trusted routes to procurement offering transparency and confidentiality. Many bodies are grappling with legacy IT infrastructures and trying to keep pace with the day-to-day tasks and ‘keeping the lights on’ and their data secure. They are time short and often in need of outside expert help to create the right solutions. Our new managed cloud service offerings include a raft of security services and some are run in conjunction with key specialist technology partners. Our services can be selected at will and have the potential to release inhouse IT teams to focus on project work, knowing their IT is in safe hands with us”.

The cloud services Amicus ITS is launching on G10 include:

Cloud Support Services

• Service Desk as a Service
• Network Operations Centre – NOC
• SQL Database Administration
• Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery
• Cloud Readiness Assessment Consultancy
• Modern Workplace – Microsoft 365
• Security Operations Centre – SOC
• Virtual CISO
• IT Security – Risk Assessment Consultancy
• Password Compliance & Authentication Service
• Compliance as a Service
• Virtual Data Protection Officer – DPO
• Cyber Threat Management – Enterprise
• Internal Vulnerability Scanning Service
• Penetration Testing

Cloud Hosting

• Multi-Cloud for VMWare OFFICIAL (Assured)
• Disaster Recovery as a Service – DRaaS

All service details can be viewed directly at https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/g-cloud

Just type in Amicus ITS to see the range of services, support information and prices.

Members of the bid team are on hand to answer any enquiries on G-Cloud 10 on 02380 429429. Alternatively, enquiries can be emailed to bidteam@amicusits.co.uk

Who’s My Mum? Our Ami Bot Throws Up Some Challenges


Following our first Bot blog on 23rd March which marked the start of our ‘Ami’ Bot chatbot journey, we find ourselves deep in talks off the back of discovery  and  as we explore what the technology can offer.  We are also asking ourselves some crunch questions about what precisely we want out of the Bot for the business.  This will continue, but views are starting to form.

Ami has thrown up a number of questions and challenges from our lead technical and architecture stakeholders in the Bot project’s team.   As a tech firm, some might regard it as an automatic shoe-in for us just to add the Bot simply as an additional cloud option for customers and visitors using our web portal.  However, it has to be right for the business, whatever the technology and right for purpose – and certainly before any costs are incurred.

A key question that arose in recent discussions centred on our technology.  We needed to check what the structure map was around our infrastructure and ITSM toolsets.  Our Service Desk toolset doesn’t come with a baked in chatbot which would have made things simpler, but it was an important exercise as a reminder and a review point for our chatbot options, which led to some positive API additions.  Our lead Technical Design Authority, Julian Green has taken time to investigate different Bot frameworks and potential options for consideration.  Being a largely Microsoft house, Amicus ITS has ready access to the Microsoft Bot framework.  However, whilst the set up would be very fast, that would still require substantial input as it developed.  Julian has also investigated the option for us of using IBM Watson as the backbone for the Bot.  Both of these options would require substantial input from our technical team and that is where the conundrum lies, as that route could tie up valuable resource.  We’ve also engaged with some market leading suppliers with off the shelf options.  These might be a more effective route for Ami as a Sales bot for us.

Either way, it has to be technically right to introduce into our portfolio of toolset service options and it has to feel right, so it’s a benefit not a hindrance for anyone to have a conversation with Ami.  We know we need a Sales bot at this stage, as a Service bot is a step too far that we are not ready for, but it remains the goal on the distant horizon.

So in terms of where we are today, I think we are on the verge of agreeing the right route on how to make Ami (metaphorically), which hopefully the Board can agree on in June. Then the project team can start to build on the content for the FAQs to respond to sales enquiries.  Plus, we have some general housekeeping to review.  We need to interrogate the existing routes, including email addresses etc., through which organisations engage with us – as it looks like there are some we no longer use.  If we tidy things up, we may see our Reception and Business Services resource time being used more efficiently in the first place, enabling greater focus on the right enquiries.  Using technology to work smarter.  Sounds good.  Above all, we want Ami when she joins us to become popular and user friendly, helping direct people usefully AND managing user expectations too.

Ami is causing us to re-evaluate what we do and how.  We will have taken a meaningful step if we can serve our customers more intelligently and flexibly – not only using joined up technology, but also joined up thinking behind the scenes from Board to floor.   Change can be hard for any business.   Our plans for a soft GoLive in July with Ami Sales bot were perhaps a bit too ambitious on reflection given our gap in knowledge and working implementation.   But I have no doubt that following our numerous discussions, research and conversations with experts, that we are heading in the right direction.  We just have to get over Ami’s toddler stage and commit to holding her by the hand.

 

Take Up For GP Online Services Hits 42% rise YOY in 2018

With 1 million patients now using the NHS every 36 hours, the pressure is firmly on the nation’s healthcare system to cope with an increased, ageing population, more complex medical conditions being treated, increased waiting time for treatment and more ingenious medicine which is keeping people alive for longer.  Tie that to Brexit and the drive for a 7 day service against today’s staffing pressures and you can see a perfect storm brewing.

Enter then, Health Minister Jeremy Hunt and reflect on his 5 Year Forward View for the NHS. Published in 2015, he laid out his vision for a gradual but persistent transition to patient power – in which digital technology would play a central role.  This was expanded on with his appointment of digital guru Martha Lane Fox to identify four key changes to map out a digital NHS for everyone.  Her stated targets included the following:

o  To reach the furthest first and leave nobody behind
o  To provide free WiFi for all throughout the NHS
o  To build the skills of NHS staff to support people’s needs in the digital age
o  To boost take up of online GP services

So it’s exciting three years on to hear good news coming from NHS Digital’s Leeds HQ. Their latest figures show patient registration take up for secure GP online services in England has risen sharply.  Nearly 14 million patients are now going to their GP’s online for a variety of NHS services without the need to visit a surgery or phoning the practice. These include:

•  Booking appointments
•  Ordering repeat prescriptions
•  Patients view their own records

The figure of 14 million patients is up 42% on February 2017 and amounts to a total of 24% of patients in England now being registered.

For the GP surgeries in local communities who have taken the plunge to embrace technology and overcome initial reservations in parts, these digital pioneers are now reaping the benefits from a variety of online GP cloud service providers.  The results are significant time savings for both the staff and practice GPs, fewer ‘no shows’ and improved patient awareness as patients become more knowledgeable about long term conditions.  The net benefit is derived because GPS have integrated the online public service with single source information clinical systems like EMIS and SystmOne.

There will always rightly need to be a hawkish attitude around protecting sensitive data, however if these new online systems are well governed and securely managed, the public that take up this offer can enjoy a degree of ownership of their healthcare data in intelligent partnership with their GPs and healthcare providers – and in so doing, feel good too they are contributing to improving NHS service efficiencies in the 21st Century.