Tech Tip: Solve Network Problems Easily

If you have a network problem, Windows 10 gives you the ability to run a troubleshooter, or do a complete reset with a single click. Here’s how:

  • View your network status – go to Settings > Network & Internet > Status.

If the network connection is good, a status dialog box gives you details about the network. If there’s a problem you can either:

  • Click the Troubleshoot button, which opens the ‘Windows Network Diagnostics’ utility, which runs tests and can fix many common problems.

Or, if that doesn’t solve the issue:

  • Click the ‘Network Reset’ button at the foot of the ‘Settings’ page. This will delete all network settings and enable you to start things afresh.

Amazon Launches UK Online Trade Counter Called ‘Amazon Business’

Amazon has launched its ‘Amazon Business’ service in the UK. The service, which has been added to the existing website, is essentially a trade counter for UK businesses, where they can buy anything from office supplies and computers to power tools and industrial machinery.

Who & Where?

The new Business marketplace service is targeted squarely at UK businesses and organisations of all kinds, from sole traders to multinationals, to hospitals, and third sector organisations.

Why?

UK companies spend £97 billion a year (just less than the private spending total of £119bn) buying supplies online, and corporate customers account for about two-fifths of online spending. Amazon would clearly prefer companies to spend all that money through the Amazon website, thereby enabling Amazon to expand and diversify, increase its stock price, grow its profits, and get the most leverage out of its brand.

What?

‘Amazon Business’ is a service aimed at catering to the procurement needs of businesses and organisations of all kinds and sizes, offering their buyers and chief procurement officers a competitive, controllable, well-known and trusted alternative supply source.

The Amazon Business service was first launched in the US two years ago, where it signed up 400,000 corporate customers and brought in $1bn in revenues within the first year! The German version, which was launched in December 2016, has already signed up 10,000 independent suppliers for business goods.

100 Million Products!

It has been reported that UK companies who sign up to the new service are able to choose from more than a hundred million products!

The products on sale cover a wide range including the usual office supplies, furniture, and devices, plus power tools, lab supplies, industrial machinery, and cleaning equipment.

The Benefits

As well as the huge choice, buyers can benefit from:

  1. Discounts offered by suppliers without the inefficiencies of bulk buying.
  2. Maintaining control without burdening employees, through the ability to set limits and approve purchases.
  3. Saved time e.g. less time spent doing pricing research on products, because competitive pricing from independent suppliers who list their products on Amazon can be easily seen on-screen in one place. Also, the actual purchase transaction can be carried out quickly and easily.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you’re an independent supplier of products with a business application, you could benefit from increased sales by getting your product in front of more customers by signing up to Amazon Business. This may, however, require lower pricing.

If you’re B2B supplier to UK businesses and organisations (and if your products aren’t highly specialised) you could be in for some serious competition from Amazon Business and its signed-up, verified, business supply companies. This in itself may encourage you to sign up as a supplier.

If you’re a business customer, this could simplify many aspects of procurement, save you money and time, and give you more choice and control.

Businesses Explore More Uses For Blockchain

If you thought that Blockchain, the ‘incorruptible ledger’ technology behind Bitcoin was only of use in the financial sector, think again. Innovative uses for the new technology are now being found across multiple sectors.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.

The developers of the Blockchain system say that the trust between participants is not necessary because trust is embedded in the system itself, and that access to all relevant information is available to participants.

Uses So Far

Many technical commentators have, so far, focused on Blockchain’s as e.g. as a global property rights / land registration system, as the basis of a non-centralised (and therefore faster) payment system, and as a system for exchanging / buying / selling all kinds of collateral such as stocks, bonds, land titles and more.

It has always been thought however that Blockchain had multiple other possible uses, and it has been the ingenuity and inventiveness of business people seeking new solutions to business challenges who have found a number of new applications for the technology.

In Dubai

Word about the potential value of Blockchain has now getting around the global community. Back in December Dubai committed to putting all of its documents on Blockchain in the next few years, and founded a public-private initiative called the Global Blockchain Council to foster the development and use of Blockchain technology in and between local government teams, local businesses and international start-ups.

New Uses

Recent, real-world examples of how Blockchain is being used outside of the financial, legal and public sectors include:

  • Using the data on a Blockchain ledger to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturer to hospital in hot climates. The ‘incorruptible’ aspect of the Blockchain data gives a clear record of care and responsibility along the whole supply chain.
  • Using an IBM-based Blockchain ledger to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history. This has helped to combat fraud in the industry and has provided provenance and reassurance to buyers.
  • Shipping Company Maersk using a Blockchain-based system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency i.e. digitising a formerly paper-based process that involved multiple interactions.
  • Start-up company ‘Electron’ building a Blockchain-based system for sharing information between those involved in supplying energy which could speed up and simplify the supplier switching process. It may also be used for smart grid processes, such as local load-balancing of supply and demand.
  • Australian start-up Zimrii developing a Blockchain-based service that allows independent musicians to sell downloads to fans, distribute the proceeds between collaborators, and allow interaction with managers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Blockchain clearly has huge untapped potential for all kinds of businesses and could represent a major opportunity to improve services, and effectively tackle visibility, transparency and efficiency issues. Blockchain has proven itself to be particularly well suited to processes where there are a lot of steps e.g. supply chains, and where there’s a lack of trust in a business that relationship. The significant commitment that countries like Dubai have made to the technology and the success of the crypto-currency Bitcoin (which used Blockchain) are indicators that this new technology has real value in today’s business world, not just in the future.

Survey Exposes Poor Online Retailer Communications

A recent study by retail software company Eptica has found that only 7.5% of retailers respond to customers through web, email, Twitter and Facebook, and only 2.5% of retailers provide consistency in their answers to customers across all four channels.

Omnichannel Customer Expectations High

One of the factors that have amplified the apparently negative findings of the report about retailers is the fact that customer expectations of the level of service and communications in the modern omnichannel environment are so high. For example, the Eptica study showed that in an environment where consumers (particularly younger ones) are used to interacting with retailers online, in-store, and by mobile, 69% of consumers said their expectations are rising.

Immediate, High-Quality Shopping Experiences Valued

Retail experts agree that consumers demand and value a high-quality experience from retailers, and part of this is the speed and quality of their communications. Real-time communication is highly valued by customers.

Loyalty

The huge choice that the digital retail environment affords customers means that they can be very fickle. Even though brands still build loyalty to their products through multi-channel advertising and promotions, letting customers down through slow and poor communications e.g. when responding digital to queries / questions can quickly destroy customer loyalty. For example, the Eptica study showed that 93% of modern customers are more likely to be loyal to a brand if they receive a good customer experience.

Customisation

One other factor in the marketplace that retailers need to take account of is that customers value, and are coming to expect customised retail experiences.

Challenges For Retailers

One of the key challenges that the Eptica study has uncovered is that many retailers are struggling to keep up with queries submitted through single channels, let alone being able to communicate through multi-channels, answer queries in real-time, and switch channels during a conversation (which 77% of customers want them to do!).

Eptica figures show that companies admit that they can only answer less than half of the customer queries submitted over email, web, Twitter and Facebook, and that the number of queries answered across each channel has fallen year-on-year, with 39% of queries answered on Facebook (20% down), and a drop in answered Tweets from 45% to 44%.

The key reasons why retailers aren’t responding quickly or well enough appear to be a lack of resources, time, and expertise, as well as a lack of understanding of modern digital customer expectations.

Inconsistency

Another factor that the survey has shown to frustrate customers is the inconsistency in the answers to their queries. For example, the Eptica survey showed that 58% of retailers provided consumers with different answers to the same questions depending on the channel customers used to interact with the brand.

Dissatisfaction

According to the survey, all this has, of course, led to high levels of dissatisfaction among consumers. Only 47% of consumers surveyed said they have been happy with their experience of interacting with a retailer through web, email, social media and chat.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Based on the results of this survey, retailers clearly need to understand more about the value of fast, high-quality communications in providing good customer experiences and building loyalty. Retailers should, therefore, be giving greater to priority and allocating more time and resources to multi-channel communications as an important part of the selling process. Retailers could, therefore, consider providing more training to those within the company tasked with answering communication, or buy-in expertise in this area. Care should also be taken to ensure that consistent information is given out across all channels. This may require improvements in the retailer’s own internal communications systems.

US-Wide Expansion For Property Rental Auction Website Rentberry

A US website that allows landlords to set a preferred rent for properties, and prospective tenants to then bid against each other for the tenancy is planning a major expansion in the US.

What is Rentberry?

The Rentberry website, which was only launched a year ago, is described as a ‘transparent’ home rental service and price negotiation platform. It focuses on long-term rental properties, which, up until now, have been based in some major cities.

For Tenants

For tenants, it automates the normal US rental tasks such as submitting personal information, credit reports and custom offers (offers for less than the rental price), e-signing rental agreements and online rental payments. The fact that tenants can see the highest bids and the number of people who applied for a particular property means that tenants don’t have to enter into a closed or partially closed bidding system. With Rentberry, tenants can also see relevant information about the landlord.

With the Rentberry platform, tenants have the opportunity to perhaps (depending on the bidding) get a deal on the rental figure. The cost for tenants to use the platform is $25 fee, which is paid once the rental agreement has been signed.

For Landlords

The bidding aspect of the Rentberry platform arguably allows less certainty of reaching the preferred rental figure, but it enables landlords to advertise their properties quickly to a large number prospects. The platform also takes the work out of the admin tasks. Crucially though, the platform allows landlords to see the bids, and information about their would-be tenants – including their credit score.

Expansion for Rentberry

After just a year the Rentberry platform has 100,000 properties and more than 50,000 users on the site. This has fuelled the latest plans to expand to offer listings across the whole of the United States.

Growth Drivers

Drivers for the Rentberry platform have been the fact that in the US, more than one-third of households are renters (nearly 110 million people), mortgage rates are up, and there have been millions of foreclosures across the country in recent years.

Criticism

Despite the platform’s popularity and expansion, it has attracted plenty of criticism. The main criticisms are that:

  • The website will favour the most affluent, particularly at a time when rent increases have outpaced incomes in many US cities.
  • The website could help to push rental prices up.
  • Choosing tenants based on data alone may not lead to a successful rental arrangement. There is often no substitute for actually meeting each other.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With homes becoming less affordable, particularly for first-time buyers in the UK, with the UK rental market growing, and with more estate agency services going online, there could be an opportunity for this type of model to work in the UK. The fact that Rentberry has worked well and has the experience in the US could also mean that it could expand to other countries, thus becoming a threat to estate agent service providers already in the UK.

Warning: Hacking Group Based in China Targeting UK Business Data

The National Cyber Security Centre and cyber units at PwC and BAE Systems have warned UK businesses about a hacking group, operating inside China, targeting UK-based B2B IT outsourcing companies with a view to reaching their customers.

Identified Through Collaboration

It is believed that it was the collaboration between the NCSC (the cyber branch of GCHQ), PwC and BAE systems that was the key to uncovering the criminal gang, which is now known to have been active, albeit at a lower level, since 2014.

The gang’s campaign, known as “APT10”, was ramped-up in 2016, and the increased activity may also have been a contributing factor in the gang appearing on the NCSC’s radar. Some security commentators have suggested that these attacks represent sustained global cyber espionage on a spectacular scale.

Location

Two of the main giveaways to the likely geographical location of the hacking group were a pattern of work that was in line with China Standard Time (UTC+8), and the fact that the nature of the targets was consistent with what are understood to be current Chinese interests.

Two crucial facts that have not yet been uncovered are the actual identities of the individual gang members and backers, or exactly how the group has chosen its targets.

Which Companies Have Been Targeted?

The combined security and business operation to unmask the hacking group has been codenamed “Cloud Hopper”. So far, it has discovered that organisations and companies in 14 countries including the UK, other European countries, and Japan have been targeted.

Attacks in Japan have been on commercial firms and public bodies. Particular interest has been paid by the hacking group to technology service firms / outsourced It companies, and it is thought that APT10 plans to use them as a proxy for other attacks e.g. on their business customers.

Known victims of the cyber attacks are reported to have been informed, but the full extent of the gang’s hacking activities is not yet known.

How Do They Operate?

The APT10 campaign has used phishing emails loaded with custom-made malware. These have been sent to staff in IT services firms in the first stage of an attack. After gaining access to company systems, the attackers have sought out intellectual property and other sensitive data.

The gang of hackers is reported to have used a large network of websites and domains as hubs for their attacks, and as conduits for the stolen data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although the report about the full extent of the ATP10 campaign is yet to be released, companies are urged to take a proactive approach to check whether their systems have been targeted. Now may be a good time for businesses to seek professional advice about measures that could be taken to ensure cyber resilience such as cyber security training for staff, health checks, risk assessments / audits, cyber security policies, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

As well as the schemes such as the national filter for spam and malware, businesses in the UK could benefit from a boosted National Crime Agency, money for cyber security start-ups as well as the increased cyber security expertise and knowledge and other potential spin-offs from the government’s much-needed investment in this critical area.

The introduction of the EU’s new GDPR data security rules in the UK in 2018 means that an investment in cyber security help for the UK should be very much welcomed by businesses of all kinds.

Tech Tip: Share Your Windows Internet Connection By Making A Wireless Hotspot

If you’re looking for an easy and fast way to share your internet connection with your other devices, with Windows 10 you can do so by turning your computer into a wireless hotspot without extra software or advanced commands. Here’s how:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Network & Internet.
  3. Click on Mobile hotspot.
  4. Under "Share my Internet connection from" drop-down menu, select the network adapter connected to the internet that you want to share.
  5. Click Edit.
  6. Type an identifying name for the shared connection that others will use to find the network.
  7. Type a new password that others can use to connect to the hotspot.
  8. Click Save.
  9. Turn on the Share my Internet connection with other devices toggle switch.
  10. Up to 8 devices should then be able to connect using your new wireless hotspot 🙂

One-Third of Jobs At Risk From Automation

A new report by PwC claims that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation by the year 2030.

Robot Replacements

Advances in AI, robotics, and technology could mean that many jobs that need humans today may be carried out by robots in the next 15 years.

Which Jobs?

According to the report, 44% jobs in manufacturing (where there are already many robots e.g. car manufacturing), especially those involving manual work, look likely to go to AI led software or robots.

Transportation jobs are also in the high-risk category for robot replacements, and according to the report, 56% of jobs could be lost to autonomous vehicles.

Jobs in the UK’s largest sectors, wholesale retail jobs, also look vulnerable to automation.

For some jobs which are highly varied, require specific human interaction, where people are required to have high levels of education, and where automation may be less acceptable e.g. education, less than 10% of jobs likely to be at risk to robots.

Worse In Other Countries

Both the US and Germany, however, are countries that have even higher forecasts of between 35% and 40% of jobs likely to be lost to automated alternatives in the next decade and a half.

Share The Gains

Technical commentators have noted that, even though some types of jobs and industries may be more at risk than others, the situation could be improved for all by making sure that the benefits of automation are shared across society.

Employment commentators have made the point that one factor that may be making the figures in the report look more menacing than they should is the fact that current UK employment levels (75%) are at their highest since modern records began in 1971.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most businesses are likely to be affected by some aspect of automation e.g. software or mechanical, in the near future, either themselves of through suppliers and stakeholders. There is an inevitability that AI and robotics will alter what jobs look like in the future, but it is also important to remember that they could provide huge advantages and opportunities for businesses. Workers can try to insulate themselves from the worst effects of automation by seeking more education / lifelong learning, and by trying to remain positive towards and adapting to changes. How much automation and what kind of automation individual businesses adopt will, of course, depend upon a cost / benefit analysis compared to human workers, and whether automation is appropriate and is acceptable to their customers.

Scammers Exploit Rise In Bitcoin Value

Scammers have been quick to exploit a rise in the value of web-based, crypto-currency Bitcoin by launching bogus online schemes with the lure of false money-making offers.

What Happened to Bitcoin?

At the beginning of March, the value of a unit of Bitcoin exceeded the value of an ounce of gold for the first time. The markets recorded the value of a unit of Bitcoin at $1,268, compared to a troy ounce of gold at $1,233.

Crime and Bitcoin

The fact that Bitcoin allows payments to be transferred easily, quickly and anonymously (because it is outside of central banks and government control), across borders, continents and time-zones, and that there is no person / body / organisation to complain to if money is taken from a Bitcoin wallet, are factors that are often reported as being attractive to criminal elements of society e.g. money launderers and organised crime gangs. These features have also made Bitcoin a popular means for ransomware distributors to seek payments from their victims.

Recent Scams

The recent rise in Bitcoin’s value and a general lack of knowledge about the currency have made it ideal ‘bait’ for those looking to make the mythical ‘easy money’. This has led to a number of news scams being operated such as:

  • Scams that take users to phishing sites e.g. using real brand names as cover. These can also install malware on employee computers, which can then lead to the same companies being hit again.
  • Bogus Bitcoin search services.
  • Fake surveys about Bitcoin.
  • Exaggerated and misleading offers about Bitcoin.
  • Bogus old-style pyramid scams, dressed up with Bitcoins.
  • Social media scams.

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself / Your Company?

Firstly, it is important to be aware that Bitcoin scams are highly prevalent now and to inform / educate staff that they need to be vigilant and that a system / procedure needs to be in place to encourage checking and reporting. Companies who already deal with Bitcoins in any capacity will need to be particularly careful as this could be used by scammers as a point of leverage.

Businesses can also make sure that malicious sites are identified and blocked, and that any scams noticed on social media platforms are reported immediately to those platforms.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Clearly, extra vigilance is needed at the present time for any Bitcoin-related offers and / or communications, and it is important to make sure that staff members are made aware of this through education. Having good cyber security systems and procedures in place anyway, however, can provide protection from multiple, popular forms of scams, and popular data / cyber security risks. It is important also to make sure that your business has adequate and up-to-date Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place should e.g. human error lead to your business falling victim to such a scam.

New Government Cyber Security Unit Encourages Business Co-Operation

After the opening of new National Cyber Security Centre in London in February (to act as part of GCHQ in Cheltenham), businesses are being encouraged to report serious data breaches to the NCSC in confidence.

Confidential

Peter Yapp, the deputy director for the incident management directorate has been reported as telling an audience of journalists in a recent meeting that such confidential disclosures would not be passed on to the ICO, the UK’s independent body set up to uphold information rights.

More Outward-Facing

The idea that business CEOs can get a better outcome for the results of a serious data breach by contacting the NCSC first, rather than waiting to be called by them, is part of a new, more open, and outward-facing approach by the UK’s cyber security protection vanguard.

Businesses Encouraged To Visit

The new NCSC building in Victoria in London, opened by the Queen, is a very public part of this new initiative and is a way for GCHQ in Cheltenham to reach out and have an ear-to-the-ground presence in the hub of the UK’s business and financial centre. Business representatives are encouraged to visit to share information about cyber threats and breaches.

Announced Back In October

Back in October 2016, for example, the government announced that as part of its multi-billion pound plans, it would be seeking greater engagement with CEOs and board level executives on cyber security. This was intended to be enabled by making connections with business via the new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in London.

Many Directorates

The NCSC’s CEO will be former GCHQ cyber security head Ciaran Martin, and it is reported that the NCSC will grow to house many vital cyber defence directorates and sub-directorates, including Incident Management and Research.

Now More Diverse Too

At the recent CYBERUK 2017 conference, the NCSC announced that as well as being more outward-facing to business, they will also soon be more diverse. New initiatives will mean that as well as having a one-third female workforce, the NCSC will work with the private sector to provide first-job placements for female graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Up until now, businesses have faced the prospect of attempting to protect their data as best they could with the threat of instant reputational damage, loss of customers and the threat of huge fines if any breaches were known about. Some businesses are therefore likely to have buried or delayed data breach announcements as long as possible. The opportunity of a more open, less threatening option should the worst happen has to be good news, and only by really working together, without fear, and sharing information can the UK gain better protection for its businesses and other institutions from the constantly evolving menace of cyber attacks.