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As Q4 draws near what’s on the horizon for the channel?

Data and security still topping the trends charts according to David Fearne, technical director at Arrow ECS

When it comes to channel trends, the coming months seem likely to involve some familiar technology – albeit with a few twists. The channel can expect to see plenty of activity continuing in cloud and cognitive computing; and domination by data and connectivity, including the Internet of Things (IoT), which in turn brings compliance and security to the forefront.

So what’s specifically coming up in the final quarter of the year that could interest the channel? And what’s in-store for 2018?


Compliance, compliance everywhere: GDPR hits home

With the 25 May 2018 getting ever closer, the deadline for companies to become GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliant is bearing down like a high-speed train. After a slow start off the tracks, the urgency has finally begun to hit home for many businesses; and not a moment too soon as the new GDPR requirements will stretch across the whole organisation.

Helpfully, GDPR can be broadly broken down into 12 processes – as set out by the Information Commission’s Office - that need reviewing, modifying or implementing in order to accelerate the individual objectives of a business. However, one of the most critical elemen­­­ts in getting ­­­GDPR over the line is making sure the key business stakeholders are aware, not just IT, but any department that holds personal data of past or present employees and customers.

Of course, you also need to document the data you have and who has access to it. This ensures individuals’ rights are accounted for when processing data and documenting what you want the data for and how you are going to delete it; along with planning how you will be returning data if requested to. Organisations should also start thinking about whether they need to put new data breach systems in place. For example, how will they respond to and report breaches and will Privacy Impact Assessments need to be undertaken to determine the risk to people’s data.

But the most important thing you can do is determine the scope of your data processes and, remember, consent is going to need to be implicit.


Data is all about the dimensionality

Big data is still topping the trends lists. It’s been one of the recurring topics of the last few years, and with good reason, as it’s low hanging business impacting technology. The ability to make better business decisions to achieve a market advantage – by seeing a correlation that the competition hasn’t - is currently a major business focus. However, the reason why it’s on my radar for Q4 is dimensionality.

As it’s become easier to collect and process data, 2017 and beyond will be all about increasing the dimensionality of your decision-making. Data dimensionality means looking at a problem from many different angles rather than just the one that’s easiest; introducing more and more diverse data sources to complement the decisions you’re making. For example, if sales drop compared to last year but you can’t see any obvious answers, what do you need to do? Start looking at more diverse data sources to try and find the answer.

However, bringing together ‘normalised’ diverse data sources, implementing discovery tools that allow for rapid data exploration and then exploiting the answers isn’t easy; and the closer to real-time you can get the better the quality of the answers and the higher the impact made. There are challenges, but data manipulation tools and machine learning can help organisations answer these questions.


What benefits and threats will the rise of industrial IoT bring?

IoT has exploded over the last eight months, growing over 33 per cent YoY from 3.9 billion installed devices in 2016 to 5.2 billion in 2017. While the total install base of industrial IoT is predicted to rise from 1.3 billion in 2016 to 1.6 billion in 2017 - I think this statistic will be broken by the end of the year.

This growth is due to the increasing demand for a competitive edge and organisations are waking up more rapidly than predicted to the possibilities of industrial IoT. In addition, cities are looking to operate smarter and industries are trying to deliver services faster and more flexibly - while reducing costs and increasing margins. For instance, sensors can to be applied to bins so refuge companies are immediately aware when they’re full. Ultimately, the main benefit of industrial IoT is an understanding of every aspect of an industrial process to find opportunities to optimise it.

However, as industrial IoT expands, it’s quickly being viewed as the next big security threat. Each IoT device that joins a network becomes a hack point, therefore the need for a secure network couldn’t be more critical as the amount of devices used continues to increase. Hackers will always go for largest markets where they’ll make the biggest gains.


Hybrid cloud comes into its own

Cloud is finally finding its place in the enterprise, this may seem like an antiquated statement but its place in enterprises’ IT strategies has been sporadic since its modern inception. The contradiction has been that businesses were happy to use the public cloud for all their confidential organisational communications, but their customer database had to stay onsite for fear of a data breach. However, they, in fact, have the same level of risk and if either was compromised, it would have a dramatic impact.

What’s changing in 2017 is that the business benefits of cloud are much better understood and quickly outweighing the perceived risks to the company. As with most new technologies, cloud just needed time - and a method to keep everyone happy. This is where hybrid cloud has come to the forefront.

I have questioned whether hybrid would be a stepping-stone to full public cloud, or whether it would be the final destination? I think that answer is a hybrid approach for technical, commercial and perceived risks; allowing the business to benefit from the best of both worlds.


The rise of voice & its security issues

Voice control is nothing new, but we’ve recently seen some big leaps forward in voice recognition technology and software; there are now some very powerful development tools to enable developers to create free voice interfaces for applications. However, the biggest leap forward I’ve seen is that the social stigmatism surrounding this form of human-computer interface – especially in public - seems to be going away, and the desire to use voice is increasing.

This progression leads us to a natural point of innovation for voice interfaces in 2017. With every major platform having a powerful customisable voice interface - either as commodity hardware or software - the ability to start using it for the enterprise becomes very high. Think of it like this, we don’t naturally communicate ideas using spreadsheets - we talk; so, put a voice interface in front of Excel and ask the office what sales were like for the last month.

However, because of the simplicity in capturing voice samples, voice recognition is seen as easier to hack compared to other biometric methods such as fingerprints. There are opportunities for hackers to record your voice without your knowledge as you have a conversation on a phone in public. As with many technologies that make life easier, it’s a trade-off to some degree between true security and ease of use; the best defence is to execute the best possible multi-layered, proactive approach to securing the voiceprints.

Can UBA and AI make machines more security conscious than humans?

It’s only recently that machine learning has become so prolific; partly due to the availability of the required computing power, but also down to the market maturity and accessibility of tooling. Fortunately for the channel, this means there are now various opportunities to take advantage of machine learning - based on a business need rather than a technological one.

One major area is security. As we introduce more technologies to infrastructure, the network attack surface is massively expanding and the number of points where it can be compromised; it’s, therefore, clear we can no longer rely on the old methodologies of protecting our business assets.

Currently every time there’s a threat we need to wait for a human to detect it, for it to then be mitigated and a patch to be released. User Behaviour Analytics (UBA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can assist by looking at patterns of human behaviour and then applying algorithms and statistical analysis to detect meaningful anomalies from those patterns - anomalies that indicate potential threats. Therefore, you don’t need to wait for patches to be released, you can look for trends, spikes and reoccurrences in behaviours and mitigate errors straight away. The channel should look to take advantage of this new revenue stream; UBA and AI can make things work smarter - and not harder.  

I’m looking forward to seeing how well businesses embrace these challenges and opportunities, and what unfolds in 2018.

 David Fearne, technical director at Arrow ECS

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