Skype for Web launches in UK and U.S

skype-logo-open-graph

Microsoft’s popular communication tool Skype is already widely available with Apps for PC’s, tablets and smart phones, but what if your on a device which you either can’t install its app or want a quicker solution? Skype has now provided the answer with a browser based service which has now launched in both the UK and U.S called Skype for Web.

Using Skype for Web you can text chat, voice call and even video call others. Signing in will show you your existing contacts availability as well as your messaging history, giving a seamless experience between App and Web.

The new services seems to be aimed at breaking down any barriers for potential users getting into Skype as well as giving existing users more options to where they can sign in; such as a friends or works PCs as well as public computers such as internet cafes.

Skype for Web is aimed at consumers apposed to their Skype for business offering, however the two are not as divided as they initially seems. Organisations using Skype for Business can talk to ‘non business’ Skype users. This allows organisation to arrange calls with clients and third-parties which may not have the Skype app already installed.

This new web push for Skype could see increased momentum for businesses using Skype as a communication tool to people outside their organisation instead of looking at alternative web solutions. The service is currently in Beta and is available for users in the UK and US if you would like to try yourself head over to https://web.skype.com/

 

Skype really sounds like Sky….Really? No!

Microsoft have lost their second legal battle in the European courts against UK pay TV broadcaster Sky, part of the BskyB group, over trademarking brand name, Skype.  According to BskyB lawyers the brand name Skype sounded just too close to Sky, their premium pay TV channel and any reference to a trademark including the ethereal reference to the word ‘sky’ trod on their till-like toes.  Sky holds a European trademark on audiovisual goods, telephony and software-related services.

Skype’s call and video conference platform launched in 2003 and was bought by eBay in 2005 for $2.65 billion and then by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion.  Skype has been a hit from the start.  As a mostly free service (ex landline or mobile calls) the telecommunications application software, provides much welcomed free video chat and very wide access from any devices via the Internet to desktops, laptops, tablets or smartphones.   Popular for sending instant messages, exchanging files and video messages nationally and internationally, its impact in the corporate collaboration technology space has broadened substantially following Microsoft’s purchase (now renamed ‘Skype for Business’).

In their news release the EU General Court stated:  “Conceptually, the figurative element conveys no concept, except perhaps that of a cloud, which would further increase the likelihood of the element ‘sky’ being recognized within the word element ‘skype’, for clouds are to be found ‘in the sky’ and thus may readily be associated with the word ‘sky”.  For real….?   Back in 2013, Microsoft had to back down and rebrand their ‘SkyDrive’ service to ‘OneDrive’ after an ‘undisclosed’ out of court settlement with BskyB.

BskyB has successfully seen off several trademark challenges since 2004/5 with Skype, so the moral of the tale for any aspiring business brand is get in early to register your brand and any trademarks from the start –  and think broadly about your description and services.  This way, whatever happens in the marketplace as technology and media formats change, you can still come out fighting from your corner and see off big competition in an increasingly crowded brand space.

Is this ruling reasonable?   Microsoft are intending to appeal, success based on their history is doubtful here – but tell us what you think?

skype-logo-open-graph

The Week’s Technology News – 19th December 2014

IT security needs embracing in the boardroom
Talking from GCHQ headquarters this week, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude has urged businesses to make IT security a boardroom issue.  Amicus ITS has recommended this point repeatedly in blogs this year.  Government is now urging businesses to review IT security as an integral part of strategic thinking for the Board, to ensure secure data management remains at the heart of the agenda.

With recent breaches affecting major household names both in the UK and the US, Maude warns against complacency:  “All companies, large or small, face threats from vulnerabilities on a daily basis”.

The Government’s launch of Cert UK earlier this year, created a cyber security information sharing partnership, now enabling 750 organisations to exchange information in real time on threats and vulnerabilities occurring.   Maude pointed to GCHQ data which showed that 80% of attacks were preventable, if best practice was followed.

As organisations are reflecting on 2014 with their staff at Christmas parties up and down the land, a cautionary ice cube should be travelling down the spine of any Board members whose businesses have not thought to place IT security at the forefront of their business continuity plans.  For them, January will be the time to really start pulling this into focus on the 2015 Agendas to review, consult, embrace and invest as required, to ensure the bottom line of their business is not threatened – either profitability or reputation.

Professional header image @ 1000 px

Nats on the rack for IT system failures
Thousands of travellers in UK airports were delayed last weekend due to a software problem from a faulty line of coding at the London Air Traffic Control Centre at Swanwick in Hampshire. National Air Traffic Services (Nats), which controls 200,000 m2 of airspace, reportedly had a power system failure on an internal telephone switch controlling nighttime ‘standby’ to daytime ‘live’ operation.

The partially privatised company (owned 49% by the UK Government, 41.9% by The Airline Group, 4% by Heathrow (formerly BAA)) and 5% by Nats’ employees), has been running air traffic control for commercial UK flights since 2002.

The company handled over 2.1million flights last year, carrying 220 million passengers in the UK.  Nats had problems with its IT in 2008. Additionally, the CAA criticised Nats in a report about a telephone failure which grounded 300 flights in 2013 – and flights in Southern England were delayed earlier in 2014 due to “technical problems”.

The problem software came from a package originally being developed by the US air traffic control network. When this project collapsed, it was left to Nats to work through the outstanding development to make it serviceable and raised the price of Swanwick’s delivery by £150m from an original £475m budget.  Some of the blame is said to lie with an aged IT infrastructure.  Nats CEO explains, “There are 50 different systems at Swanwick and around four million lines of code”.  Nats’  decision last year to make a significant number of its most experienced, older IT engineers redundant when these were the specialists most used to working with the older technology, will not have helped. Especially worrying with this failure is that the fault had not been seen before.  The latest incident follows accusations about a corporate failure to invest in new technology and opens Nats to an increased risk of repeated outtages in future – this despite CEO Richard Deakin’s promise that £575m was being invested over the next five years.

A CAA inquiry will now be launched to assess whether Nats has learned from its previous failures, with the risk of its licence being reviewed. It will be a bumpy ride for the UK’s Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin who will be providing a full account to Parliament about what went wrong.   Clearly any organisation, whatever type, lumbered with legacy infrastructure whether hardware, software or both will see operational effectiveness and bottom line profitability suffer if the Board does not grip the bull by the horns and review and assess the best way to upgrade and secure their IT systems.

13843338_s

Microsoft and Skype attempt to eliminate the language barrier 
Back in May, during the Code Conference event, Microsoft demoed a breakthrough, upcoming feature for Skype which would let people who speak different languages talk to each other without a human translator. Users can either voice or video call each other with translations appearing in near real-time with options for spoken and sub-title like written translations.

This week Skype has opened up a preview of this new feature to Skype users who would like to give the in-development service a spin. Interested parties can go to the Skype website and register their interest. Currently the preview is limited to just English and Spanish languages with more promised coming soon. Initial reactions report – although not perfect yet – the service does exactly as you would expect, allowing two people who can’t speak the same language hold a conversation.

The business applications for an accurate auto-translator that can handle both voice and video calls are enormous. For example a single-language Service Desk could be enabled to communicate with customers worldwide without the traditional language barrier or costly multilingual employees. Skype Translator if successful will shake up the translating business even more, with the need for a dedicated human translator being brought up into question and the knowledge of knowing additional languages not being as valued as is currently.

As the technology develops and matures it is also likely we will see Skype Translator being incorporated into Microsoft’s enterprise communication tool Lync, which was recently announced to be later rebrand Skype for business, and if so, adds further reasoning for the name change decision.

The future for Skype is looking very promising and this announcement more than any so far, including the cross-compatibility of Lync and Skype makes Microsoft’s Skype acquisition in 2011 more justified than any announcement the two companies have made since. With Skype being pre-installed into Windows and tight integration with its own Microsoft account system Skype now more than ever fits very nicely into the Microsoft ecosystem.

With Microsoft’s current Mobile first, Cloud First mantra we will likely see Skype translator eventually being integrated into the Skype app for smart phones and tablets and with near real-time translations built into your phone, Microsoft may be the first to successfully smash the language barrier for all.

skype-logo-open-graph-800x420

Financial services benefiting from outside help
The financial sector has seen major changes since the start of the credit crunch in 2008.  Changes have occurred in working practice, organisational restructures, cost cutting exercises with branch closures in banking and jobs cuts with people replaced by technology as part of a digital strategy, which has seen sector employment decline by 16% since 2009.  Lloyds bank is cutting 9,000 staff as part of its digital strategy and Dutch bank ING has a similar project that will result in 1,700 staff losing their jobs.

Financial services organisations have increasingly turned towards using more third-party IT products, services and talent, as well as outsourcing their IT, which has boosted the number of workers in the IT sector.  According to an analysis by accountancy practice experts Nixon Williams, in 2009 there were 403,000 jobs in the IT sector compared to 459,000 in 2014 (12% up). In comparison, financial services jobs have fallen from 1.18m in 2009 to 986,000 today (16% down).

With the sector witnessing a major increase in automation software replacing manual roles and the rise in public expectation for truly 24×365 customer services, this places enormous pressure on financial institutions to manage such huge data volumes in highly regulated, highly secure environments and needing to resist any downtime or DDos.

Whilst traditionally the banking sector will have had huge in-house IT teams, the costs, regulations and pace of technology evolution has whetted the industry’s appetite for using third parties with expert knowledge and robust solutions.  This lies alongside the disconcerting reality of often uncomfortably large legacy IT systems that continue to create vulnerabilities whilst they remain unchanged and instead rely on being patched up, versus long term strategy and commitment to invest in new IT infrastructures with more flexible integrated systems.

Some of the larger banks are starting to think laterally by turning to third parties for IT innovation to develop and implement non-core systems and apps, involving joint ventures with other institutions or even working with start up firms.  These include Sumeet Chabria, CIO of HSBC Global Banking and Markets and Deutsche Bank who have recently set up a JV innovation project with IBM, Microsoft and Indian IT services firm HCL Technologies to improve its digital credentials.

The motivation to sharpen the pencil, starts to look clearer when recent studies such as those   from specialist retailer Bizrate Insight reveal that 72% of the public still trust banks with their details, over that of retailers.   However there is no room for complacency over ‘trust’.  Potential competition for marketshare should they move into banking could be on the horizon from established transactors Paypal and Amazon who jockey for position on the trust rankings at 48.9% and 45.4% respectively.   Tech giants Apple and Google lag further behind at 21.4% and 12.9% respectively.  Nonetheless all of these, as well as Facebook, all have systems that contain details about people and businesses and handle monetary transactions.   So the circling pirranhas angling for additional income streams and greater global dominance may include some new names in the future.

33596896_s

Public Sector changing outsourcing habits in 2014
Market watcher ISG’s north Europe President, John Keppel, reports that the UK has seen a major boost in outsourcing from the public sector in 2014. This has included small and large contracts remaining in this country, versus being awarded offshore with spending levels nearly doubling in comparison to the UK’s private sector.

This has involved some big-ticket outsourcing deals but also a lot of mid-market government business.  Annual Contract Values (ACVs) from IT outsourcing in 2014 has risen 16% across EMEA, with France’s ACV increasing by 250%, whilst the UK with its more mature outsourcing market has seen a steady increase in line with cautious post recessionary optimism.  This is seen as largely due to the complexity of services required in the UK public sector, as well as a lack of appetite just to exploit cheaper resources from offshore suppliers.  The old adage buy cheap, pay twice perhaps resonating more closely with those responsible for procurement. “The challenge for buyers will be to understand how they can get the most value from their outsourcing efforts, and to understand the real business impact,” concludes Keppel.

Director of Sales at Amicus ITS, Les Keen comments:  “With the increase in Cloud services, this presents ever greater opportunities in 2015 for IT MSPs.  Those who can demonstrate the breadth of their experience, deliver the highest levels of data security, be a true 24×365 IT provider AND respect their customer as a business partner not a number – should see the benefit of working in this sector in 2015”.

18330013_s

End of 2014
This is our last review of IT for the year and the blog staffers at Amicus ITS would like to take this opportunity to wish all our customers and everyone reading these posts, a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.   We will be back looking at the latest technology developments and worldwide IT business news once again in January.  See you in 2015.

This Week’s Technology News – 24h November 2014

3D Printing – refreshing the parts other printers cannot reach
The 3D printing sector has seen interesting advances over 2014 with this growing technology in use on earth and in space.  The International Space Station (ISS) has installed its first 3D printer. Before the installation, start up company Made in Space tested the printer in zero-gravity on an airplane. With the printer on-board, astronauts will be able to print physical parts themselves without needing to commission them from earth and get rocketed into space (both costly and time consuming).     Printed parts in theory will be able to replace faulty parts or maintain certain equipment in the ISS.

In parallel, researchers from the University of Oslo have designed bots that can already adapt to unforeseen problems and 3D-print new parts for themselves (ie. self healing manufacture) and apply intelligent best adaptation to its environment.   The options are limitless the scientists believe, based on a few limited instructions ie. what to do, how fast to go, its size and energy consumption.  The ingenuity for an autonomous computer being able to consider thousands of options simultaneously and 3D-print parts to create a new model, creates an intriguing possibility perhaps for ‘3-D Printing as a Service’ for MSPs?

 

Is business ready to accept ‘Facebook at Work’?
Although not formally announced, ‘Facebook at Work’ has been heavily rumoured to be used internally at the company, with a worldwide launch for business imminent.    Apparently, it is distinct from its current consumer model by barring personal details and helping overcome being blacklisted by organisations which disallow social media engagement at work. With the rise of social networking and collaboration, Facebook is cleverly poised through its dominant position with over one billion Facebook accounts, to try to take on the likes of LinkedIn and other corporate-focused social networks like Microsoft’s  Lync and Skype.   The diversification opportunities deepen, as collaboration leads to online storage where users upload and collaborate on documents with other users of the service.

The real question is whether, despite all their canny commercial plans, and even accounting for proper security and governance procedures, will the sheer name of ‘Facebook’ simply scare off a lot of companies?   Ultimately, the scale and impact of social networking cannot be ignored, but overcoming assumptions about the brand and how it will advocate its handling of public and private information will be the largest hurdle facing Facebook as it stares out from this mirror of opportunity.

Facebook

Dictat to go digital in healthcare – or warning NHS funding will be pulled
NHS England’s National Director for Patients & Information, Tim Kelsey, has announced the publication of its ‘Personalised Health and Care 2020 Strategy’.  This paper confirms NHS England’s intention to go paperless by 2018-20, or face having its funding pulled.

At its heart, patient care records must be available across urgent care services by 2018 and throughout all NHS organisations by 2020 to create joined up practice amongst professionals, speed and efficiencies and avoidance of errors (ie. in prescriptions).  Only 4% of records are currently accessible online.

The technical challenge around IT remains that many of the NHS’s PCs are still running the soon to be defunct Windows XP.  If as stated, financial resources will be made available to assist healthcare organisations, this will come as good news for IT teams and MSPs to help support any such migration to make the NHS fit for digital.  However, it must remain an integrated and secure approach.  The BMA’s GP Committee Chair Chaand Nagpaul concluded that “..the most critical aspects to get right beforehand are the safeguards, confidence and trust of patients”.   Added to this, should be the strict management of patient data to prevent it being sold unknowingly to third party commercial organisations for private profit.

Following errors on the Care.data scheme debacle earlier in 2014 which failed to have appropriate data privacy safeguards in place, this is a very valid point, but should not stop  future rollout if armed with correct good practice and security and governance policies. Hopefully, with National Data Guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott now on board, this will no longer be an issue. The key obstacle instead will be how much money healthcare organisations can secure to cover the necessary IT ‘fit for future’ upgrade investments.

NHS

NHS kitemarks for apps
In a separate move, with the rapid increase in health-related apps for mobile phones and other personal devices available in the market, NHS chiefs are backing a “kitemark” for health-related smartphone apps to validate those deemed as safe to use by patients to help them manage health conditions.  It also includes an e-version of the red book recording baby’s immunisations and development to be online from 2016, to counter the loss of key info if the actual book goes missing and the child requires vaccination, review or emergency treatment.

BSI-logo-strap-and-Kitemark

 

This Week’s Technology News – 14th November 2014

Goodbye Lync, Hello Skype for Business

Microsoft has announced they will rename Lync, their corporate unified communications platform, to Skype for Business in 2015.   Not only will the platform have a change of name but the look and feel will also be more similar to consumer focused Skype.

Microsoft purchased VOIP company Skype back in 2011 in their largest acquisition costing $8.56 billion.  At the time, Microsoft’s consumer based product was MSN Live Messenger and their corporate offering was still Lync. The purchase of Skype, especially at the price paid raised many eyebrows, and questions surrounding the future of both Live Messenger and Lync.

Early last year Microsoft retired Messenger globally, auto directing users to download and use Skype instead.

Now Lync is following suit, being replaced by the Skype brand.   In its official press release Microsoft reiterated that despite the name change and look and feel of Skype for Business, users can expect the same enterprise security, compliance and control that Lync currently offers.  In addition Skype for Business when it is released in the first half of 2015, will also give organisations the reach into hundreds of millions of regular Skype users outside their business. The update will not require new hardware and if your are on Office 365 the migration will be automatic.

In what initially looks like yet another rebranding from Microsoft, the logic to their largest acquisition to date now makes more sense commercially with the visual interface changes also echoing Microsoft’s “one interface across all devices” approach of recent years.  The new Skype strategy allows a single toolset to communicate within a company, to their partners and separately to consumers alike.  All in all a very powerful move forward.

sfb3

Nokia and HP in dance to create Cloud network for mobile operators

Cloud driven infrastructures have changed how many businesses plan their commercial strategies and implement their own IT infrastructure.  Mobile network operators however have not seen as much momentum going from traditional hosted infrastructures to a Cloud based system and this lack of forward thinking will slow down the roll out of new services.

Nokia and HP have partnered to deliver NFV (Network Functions Virtualisation), based on HP’s Helion OpenStack which they announced in May 2014 with a $1 billion pledge in open Cloud products and services. Nokia will be providing the management tools and network functions required, to deliver calls and internet access to users on HP’s platform.

Nokia and HP are not the only ones fighting for this lucrative new market. Alcatel-Lucent this week also announced a suite of NFV applications and last month Dell announced their own platform.

The switchover of the network that operators rely on to deliver telephony and mobile broadband, will not be quick but it is an inevitability.  Whoever is the most prepared to offer a mature, secure platform for today’s dynamic and ever-changing mobile world will reap the benefits in years to come.

nokia_HP

The latest in technology news by Amicus ITS

Growth in enterprise app stores

“Apps downloaded from public app stores for mobile devices disrupt IT security, application and procurement strategies,” said Ian Finley, research VP at Gartner. By 2017 Gartner expects 25% of enterprises to have developed their own app stores and to be negotiating with software vendors for products that can be added to the ecosystem. We believe this shows the move from apps downloaded from traditional commercial App Stores to business stores hosting secure, trusted Apps for corporate use.

 

Live Messenger closing down, Skype & Lync on talking terms

Microsoft has announced it will be enabling its two communication products; Lync and Skype to talk together to enable audio call and Instant Messaging interoperability as well as shared presence.  In addition Microsoft is shutting down Windows Live Messenger and encouraging users to login to Skype, we see these aggressive actions as a way of ‘market share growth’ for Microsoft over the coming year.

 

Datacentre risk v cost.

With increasingly tightening budgets, businesses are taking risks when choosing a datacentre strategy. Reports show cost is becoming the single top priority over resilience, capacity and backup strategy. However, as recent high profile failures show, if data is lost or hard to recover, the original cost savings don’t look quite as good. This is a warning to choose your datacentre (or datacentres) wisely.

 

Google on the high-street?

Recent rumours indicate Google may join Apple and Microsoft with their own physical retail stores. Google would be able to use these stores to sell their Nexus phones and tablets directly to customers in addition to their Chrome Book. Google could also let the public get “hands-on” with in development products like their wearable computer; Google Glass. We think products like these “smart glasses” are a tricky sell without being able to try before you buy.