A new breed of public servants: skills and staffing after the pandemic

A new breed of public servants: skills and staffing after the pandemic

Civil servants have broken new ground during the COVID-19 pandemic – using hackathons, scientific advisory groups and private sector volunteers to shape policy and deliver services, for example. But at the Global Government Summit, it became clear that these innovations may be dwarfed by the changes to come. Matt Ross listens in as leaders debate the future of governance

When the pandemic struck, demand for some public services suddenly spiked. Many countries responded by moving staff between departments and agencies, short-circuiting the usual processes to get people where they were needed; some even reached out to furloughed private sector staff.

“There was a need for surge manpower: we needed people to be safe distancing ambassadors; to distribute masks; to give out COVID support grants,” recalled Jacqueline Po, Deputy Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office Strategy Group in Singapore. “Sectors like aviation and hospitality were quite badly disrupted, and we were able, through our Public Service Division, to channel that manpower to some of the needs of the Public Service. Singapore Airlines stewardesses were helping out, working in hospitals rather than hospitality!”

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Ex-NCSC chief Martin asks whether the new cyber strategy will make the UK safer

Ex-NCSC chief Martin asks whether the new cyber strategy will make the UK safer

The signature achievement of the government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Foreign and Development policy was a coherent plan to base future security and prosperity on scientific and technological excellence. The plan has everything need to give it strategic credibility: funding, policy, legislative and governance changes.

But one underdeveloped part of this part of the document is cyberspace.

Despite a narrative emphasis on Britain as a ‘cyber power’ there were no new policies or pounds. The only new ‘announcement’ was that there would be a national cyber strategy later this year. Intriguingly, this is to be a ‘whole of cyber’ strategy, replacing the two previous national cyber security strategies of 2011 and 2016.

This seemingly arcane bureaucratic change matters. That’s because the strategy now incorporates not just the UK’s efforts to secure its digital homeland, but also offensive cyber – hacking others – in support of our own national security.

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Government tells NHS Digital to collect sensitive GP records – patients have until 23 June to opt out

Government tells NHS Digital to collect sensitive GP records – patients have until 23 June to opt out

The government has directed NHS Digital to collect sensitive health data in GP records, with citizens given until June 23rd to opt out.

The move, which updates existing practices, has alarmed medConfidential, a group that campaigns for the privacy and confidentiality of health data, which says the measure was not flagged up, and despite promises of anonymisation and encryption of the data the programme may make sensitive data saleable to commercial companies and other third parties, as is already possible with hospital data.

The General Practice Data for Planning and Research (GPDPR) Directive by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock requires NHS Digital to “establish and operate an information system for the collection and analysis of General Practice data for health and social care purposes,” according to NHS Digital’s website (page since taken down), adding health data should be collected for health and social care purposes that “include but are not limited to health and social care policy, planning and commissioning purposes; public health purposes, including Covid-19 purposes… and research”. Its scope is limited to General Practices in England.

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AWS wins yet another UK public-sector contract – this time to provide £15m health data system for NHS Scotland

AWS wins yet another UK public-sector contract – this time to provide £15m health data system for NHS Scotland

NHS Education for Scotland has awarded AWS a £15m contract to host its National Digital Platform, an architecture to share data across the nation’s health service.

The education and training body within NHS Scotland said that the platform would be designed to “create and deploy real time data at the point of care”, “operate to a predictable architecture to enable new and innovative products to be developed and implemented” as well as “enable the use of data at scale for quality improvement and to support research and innovation”, according to a tender notice.

The cloud infrastructure biz is set to host the data platform, including repositories of structured and unstructured clinical data, web services to power web and mobile applications, an integration layer, and web app. The platform is intended to enable the creation and use of information at source and facilitate the interoperability of existing and new healthcare technologies following the publication of the Digital Health and Care Strategy for Scotland in 2018.

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EU court says Amazon won’t have to pay its $300 million tax bill

EU court says Amazon won’t have to pay its $300 million tax bill

Amazon has won an EU appeal after being hit with a €250 million ($303 million) tax bill by the European Commission (EC) in 2017, the WSJ has reported. After a similar decision in favor of Apple, the judgement is another setback for the EU in its effort make US tech giants pay more taxes.

While Apple’s case centered around so called “state aid” from Ireland, Amazon came under fire for the use of an operating company based in Luxembourg. From 2006 to 2014, Amazon paid a significant royalty to that company, called Amazon Europe Holding Technologies SAS, reducing its taxable income. The commission accused it of inflating that royalty to reduce its operating profit. (Amazon has since changed its tax structure.)
However, Amazon argued that the decision was full of “methodological errors” and that the payments were legal according to international tax principals. Europe’s second-highest court agreed, ruling that the setup didn’t confer any advantage to Amazon over other companies and that “the contested decision must be annulled in its entirety.” It’s not yet clear if the EC plans to appeal.

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2021 Queens Speech Touts Online Safety Bill and Broadband Boost

2021 Queens Speech Touts Online Safety Bill and Broadband Boost

The Queen has today carried out the first State Opening of Parliament since the pandemic began, which sets out the UK Government’s agenda for the coming session. As expected this included various references to gigabit broadband and mobile connectivity, as well as their plans to publish the controversial Online Safety Bill.

As usual the speech is historically more of a ceremonial affair, which often only serves to feed the media with a tiny sliver of new information on forthcoming Government policy and precious little else in the way of detail. On the other hand, you do sometimes get a few surprises and as usual we keep an eye out for anything to do with broadband or telecoms.

In terms of broadband and internet policy, this year there were no huge surprises as most of what the Queen announced has already been reported on before. Most of the policies relate to cutting more red tape and supporting the deployment of new fixed (full fibre) and mobile (4G, 5G) networks via the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme and the £1bn Shared Rural Network (SRN) industry scheme.

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Indian government says 5G doesn’t cause COVID-19. Also points out India has no 5G networks

Indian government says 5G doesn’t cause COVID-19. Also points out India has no 5G networks

As COVID-19 continues to ravage India, the nation’s government has told it populace that 5G signals have nothing to do with the spread of the virus – if only because no 5G networks operate in India.

A statement from the nation’s Department of Telecommunications states “several misleading messages are being circulated on various social media platforms claiming that the second wave of coronavirus has been caused by the testing of the 5G mobile towers.”

After pointing out that the very notion is a nonsense, the department points out that India approved 5G trials on May 4th and they won’t start for months.

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AWS, Microsoft and Google secure spots on £750m UK government Cloud Compute framework

AWS, Microsoft and Google secure spots on £750m UK government Cloud Compute framework

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google and Microsoft are among the nine suppliers to have secured a place on the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) £750m hyperscale-focused Cloud Compute framework
The four-year framework is set up to allow public and third-sector organisations to purchase cloud infrastructure and platform-as-a-service offerings in high volume directly from suppliers that specialise in the provision of hyperscale, general-purpose compute environments.

“[This framework is] necessarily restricted to pure compute requirements which do not require additional services such as design, detailed configuration, tailoring or any ongoing management or professional services to assist with data migration in or out,” said the original tender notice for the framework.

Framework suppliers must also be able to host and provide their services primarily within the UK, and must be able to point to at least one example of a contract where they have delivered public cloud services to a private or public sector organisation during the last three years, the tender stipulated.

As well as AWS, Google and Microsoft, the other suppliers on the framework are IBM, Oracle, Fordway Solutions, Frontier Technology, UKCloud and UKFast.net.

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Working from home, the office and the cloud

Working from home, the office and the cloud

In March, the UK’s largest building society Nationwide announced that its 13,000 staff could choose where to work from. A staff survey showed that 57% wanted to work from home full time, while 36% said they would prefer a mix of office and home-based work. In October 2020, Microsoft advised its employees of its goal to offer as much flexibility as possible. Bill Gates subsequently predicted that more than half of all business travel and more than 30% of days in the office would not return post-pandemic.

These are just two high profile examples of how the response to COVID-19 is changing the way we work. As Nationwide’s Chief Executive noted: “How we do our jobs is more important than where we do them from.”

During the lockdowns, with commuting suspended, many organizations are realizing that they can save costs and have happier employees by supporting flexible working, but this is not set to be all home-based. We’re seeing a shift to a hybrid working environment – part home, part office, and with central ‘hubs’ being created as meeting spaces. Yet while employees have the luxury of choice, employers need to consider the options and create a communications and engagement strategy to keep this new dispersed workforce, and its customers, connected. They also need to ensure that their new ways of working are sustainable in the long term.

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Why Companies Are Migrating Legacy Systems to Cloud Infrastructure

Why Companies Are Migrating Legacy Systems to Cloud Infrastructure

At no point in time have industry leaders in IT desired a secure, cost-effective way to access their data more than they have in today’s post-COVID location-distributed world of remote work. It’s no wonder, then, that enterprises are migrating their legacy systems to the cloud with virtualization to reduce infrastructure costs and increase security while allowing their users to connect to business applications from any device at any time.

The migration of legacy systems to the cloud infrastructure typically occurs alongside specific events which, more often than not, relate to the optimization of storage resources and the acceleration of a business’s digital transformation. As the pandemic continues, though, more enterprises are likely to realize just how constrained they are with an on-premise IT infrastructure that can’t accommodate a remote workforce.

As more companies continue to migrate their legacy systems to cloud infrastructure, it’s important to examine the reasons behind their migrations as well as what they should expect once their systems are on the cloud. To that end, let’s dive into the biggest challenges that companies face as they make the move, as well as the most important tips they should bear in mind to make their transition as stress-free and seamless as they can.

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US fuel supply company hit by ransomware, government steps in to restore services

US fuel supply company hit by ransomware, government steps in to restore services

The Biden administration is working closely with fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline to help it restart operations as quickly as possible following last a cyber attack last week that forced the company to shut down its IT systems, halting critical pipeline operations.

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said on Sunday that resolving the issue quickly was a top priority for the government, and that all measures were being taken to prevent more severe disruptions to fuel supply.

“It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ effort right now,” Raimondo said on CBS’s Face the Nation programme.

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NCSC records 15-fold increase in online scam removal

NCSC records 15-fold increase in online scam removal

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) took down more online scams last year than in the previous three years combined.

The NCSC says a surge in coronavirus and NHS-themed cyber crime since the start of the pandemic led to the agency recording a massive 15-fold increase in the removal of online frauds in 2020 compared with 2019.

The findings are included in the fourth annual report on the NCSC’s Active Cyber Defence (ACD) programme, a pioneering service that was started in 2016 to protect Britons from millions of cyber attacks and which was expanded during 2020.
The agency says there was a surge in the number of phishing campaigns using NHS branding to deceive victims; its ACD programme dealt with 122 NHS-related phishing campaigns in 2020, compared to 36 in 2019.

Attackers used Covid-19 vaccine rollout as a primary lure in their text and email messages to steal people’s personal data for fraud.

Some 43 fake NHS Covid-19 Test and Trace apps hosted outside of official Google and Apple app stores were pulled by NCSC last year.

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Vodafone extends 12 months free broadband offer to UK small businesses

Vodafone extends 12 months free broadband offer to UK small businesses

Vodafone is relaunching its offer of 12 months free broadband for small businesses, hoping the deal will aid their post-pandemic recoveries after a challenging year for many.

Lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures mean offices, shops and hospitality venues have been forced to close, while economic challenges have stifled demand.

SMBs that have been able to continue operating have become increasingly reliant on their broadband connection to support a disparate workforce and serve customers. For example, cloud-based collaboration tools allow staff to work together remotely, while e-commerce platforms allow retailers to make sales.

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In good health

In good health

Technology has been vital to managing the pandemic, as well as helping other aspects of healthcare to run as smoothly as possible at a time of unprecedented strain. Devices, communications, and software are helping deliver new treatment pathways and patient interactions – both within the NHS and for private healthcare businesses.
For Dave O’Shaughnessy, healthcare solutions consultant at Avaya, change is here to stay. He said, “Proactive, digitally enabled patient engagement will be a transformative development of both public and private healthcare for the foreseeable future. How can healthcare organisations better communicate and collaborate between their patients and appropriate staff, and over a patient’s channel of preference? Partners and MSPs should become aware and closely familiar with the strategies and projects for this unstoppable evolution in delivery and access to healthcare services that the pandemic has accelerated us towards.
“Partners and MSPs must identify and develop relationships with the key personnel who will be responsible for this transformation in patient engagement. Look to share compelling use-cases and examples of the latest in technological innovations that align with patient or customer engagement and experience goals you’ve learned about.”
Ian Wilcox, public sector strategist at MLL Telecom, said it is worth knowing the public sector, including NHS trusts, are mandated to use Crown Commercial Service (CCS) frameworks for procurements over £1,000,000 unless they can justify otherwise. “Local authorities and health organisations do have local procurement rules and may have approved supplier lists they can go to for contracts under the Government’s procurement threshold.

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Global WAN Competition Alarms for the Telcos

Global WAN Competition Alarms for the Telcos

Recently there came some alarms for the major telcos about the global Wide Area Network (WAN) market dynamics. That is, some cloud hyperscalers like Google and Cloudflare are entering the global WAN infrastructure and access market.

Cloudflare just announced the launch of its Network as a Service (NaaS) named Magic WAN & Magic Firewall. The firm will partner with SD-WAN vendors VMware and Aruba, whose SD-WAN appliances can be configured to direct traffic to a Cloudflare global PoP and then ride on its massive private backbone.

Another announcement is that Google has expanded its relationship with Cisco to automate the provisioning of WAN links over Google’s global private backbone network, which can be called a Software defined underlay.

As the WAN technologies are transforming from MPLS to SD-WAN/SASE, we know that regional/national vs. global SD-WAN/SASE may have different flavors especially in terms of the underlay network.

In developed countries like the US, UK, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Singapore, etc., the public Internet backbone and access are robust and reliable enough to support SD-WAN/SASE overlay in country services.

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National Cyber Security Centre launches new small business guide

National Cyber Security Centre launches new small business guide

In an effort to support improving the cyber security among small business, the Government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has released a new guide to give practice advice to business owners.
Outlining five quick and easy steps which small businesses can take to improve their security and protect their data, the steps can be taken by any and all organisations to improve their cyber security.
NCSC highlighted the steps’ ability to save organisations time, money and even business’ reputation or trust – which would potentially be lost in the event of a cyber attack.

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New smart city cyber security guidance published

New smart city cyber security guidance published

As local authorities continue to develop more data-driven, smart city environments, cyber security is becoming an increasingly important consideration, with new security principles guidance being released by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
The new report – Connected Places Cyber Security Principles – is designed to help authorities build awareness and understanding of the security considerations needed to design, build and manage their increasingly interconnected places.
The greater the volume of data which is being shared and transferred around these smart cities, the more challenging it becomes to both maintain resiliency to cyber threats and effectively manage the data gathered.
Within the new guidance, the NCSC outlines a series of recommended cyber security principles to help ensure the safety and optimum management of connected places and their underlying infrastructure.

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Entries are open for the Digital Technology Leaders Awards 2021

Entries are open for the Digital Technology Leaders Awards 2021

“Digital is the future”. It’s been a maxim for over a decade, but it’s clearly out of date: digital is now. That’s why the Digital Technology Leaders Awards 2021 are so important.

The last year has seen a huge shakeup to what we consider ‘normal’. Businesses, customers and private individuals are using technology to a greater level than ever before, and those who have tried to maintain business-as-usual have been left behind. Companies have had to re-evaluate their approach to not only their daily business, but their overall strategy. In this landscape, innovative firms and individuals have used technology to stand out from the crowd.

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Ofcom research shows 1.5 million UK homes do not have internet access

Ofcom research shows 1.5 million UK homes do not have internet access

A new research conducted by the UK telecom regulator Ofcom shows that nearly 1.5 million homes in the UK still do not have internet access.

It also noted that the proportion of homes without internet access has fallen from 11% in March last year to 6% in March this year.

People aged above 65, lower income households, and the most financially vulnerable are least likely to have home internet access.

Ofcom’s research found that nearly all children of school age have online access in the home where 4% depend on only on mobile internet during the Covid-19 pandemic while 2% of them can get online only using a smartphone.

It is found that about 5% of school-aged children from the most financially vulnerable homes were more likely than those 2% children from least financially vulnerable households to have mobile-only access.

Ofcom Strategy and Research Group director Yih-Choung The said: “For many people, lockdown will leave a lasting legacy of improved online access and better digital understanding.

“But for a significant minority of adults and children, it’s only served to intensify the digital divide.

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What did the pandemic mean for Microsoft? A 44 percent jump in profits.

What did the pandemic mean for Microsoft? A 44 percent jump in profits.

One thing we’ve learned over the past year: the COVID-19 pandemic has been awful for humanity, but a boon to most big tech companies. That’s truer than ever for Microsoft, which announced a 19 percent increase in revenues for the third quarter ($41.7 billion), compared to last year. Even more impressive, the company’s profits jumped by 44 percent to reach $15.5 billion. Microsoft narrowly beat out Wall Street analyst expectations, who projected it would hit $41.05 billion in revenues during the quarter, according to Yahoo Finance.

The reason for Microsoft’s success isn’t hard to figure out. Information workers are relying more on the company’s cloud and digital services more than ever, a trend that won’t slow down until they start returning to offices. (And it’s unclear if office attendance will ever return to the Before Times.) Microsoft says its Azure business revenues are up 50 percent compared to last year, while its overall Intelligent Cloud revenues are up 22 percent (reaching $15.1 billion).

“Over a year into the pandemic, digital adoption curves aren’t slowing down. They’re accelerating, and it’s just the beginning,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “We are building the cloud for the next decade, expanding our addressable market and innovating across every layer of the tech stack to help our customers be resilient and transform.”

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Google Cloud remains in the red despite revenue jump

Google Cloud remains in the red despite revenue jump

Alphabet’s Google Cloud unit failed to dig itself out of the red, despite posting first quarter revenue that increased a whopping 45% year on year.

During an earnings call, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai highlighted “three distinct market trends” driving growth in Google Cloud, citing interest in its Data Cloud for analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) workloads, cloud infrastructure for enterprise IT overhauls and its Workspace product for hybrid work environments.

“We are winning large IT transformation deals with the companies that are migrating their data centers to Google Cloud,” he said. “Multi-cloud remains a differentiator as it provides the easiest and most open development environment for customers like Telus, allowing them to access and move their data between various plants.”
Consolidated Alphabet revenue of $55.3 billion was up 32% year on year in Q1 2021 from $41.2 billion, with Google Search and other advertising revenue accounting for the bulk of this ($31.9 billion). Google Cloud revenue of $4 billion was up from $2.8 billion in the year-ago period.

Total net income skyrocketed from $6.8 billion to $17.9 billion, thanks in part to a $4.8 billion boost CFO Ruth Porat on the earnings call attributed to “unrealized gains in the value of investments in equity securities.” Google Cloud remained in the hole, although it significantly narrowed its loss to $974 million from $1.7 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Porat reiterated the company expects Google Cloud’s “operating results should benefit from increased scale over time,” but noted for now it remains “focused on continuing to invest to build the cloud organization for long-term performance.”

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Openreach Campaign Raises Awareness of Analogue UK Phone Retirement

Openreach Campaign Raises Awareness of Analogue UK Phone Retirement

Network access provider Openreach (BT) has today launched a new national “Call Waiting List” campaign, which aims to raise awareness among UK businesses of their plans to withdraw old copper-based analogue phone (PSTN / WLR etc.) services by December 2025 and replace them with digital (IP / VoIP) alternatives.

At present many homes and businesses still connect a traditional phone or DECT handset directly to a Master or Extension Socket on the wall, but the shift to Internet Protocol (IP) based digital connectivity – via both copper and full fibre (FTTP) lines – means that new phone services are increasingly becoming optional and are instead handled by your broadband connectivity (e.g. handsets connected to a router, rather than a wall socket).

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Remote working security truths after a year of lockdown

Remote working security truths after a year of lockdown

When the last lockdown finally ends, life and business will never be the same again. The pandemic has brought huge changes to the working world, many of which look likely to become long-term, permanent and irreversible.

One of the most significant legacies of the pandemic is likely to be a wider acceptance of home working, which many workers and organizations have to come to see as the new normal. According to a CIPD survey, two-thirds of 2,000 UK companies plan to embrace a hybrid model which will see staff split their time between home and the office. It’s a big change for organizations to grapple with and few businesses have had time to calmly plan policies to suit this new era – until now.

Rapid shifts to new ways of working exposed unexpected security weaknesses, but we are now armed with the benefit of experience to better prepare for the year ahead, whatever it may bring. So how should security professionals prepare for the challenges of this new era.

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Over half of employees using own devices and software to work from home

Over half of employees using own devices and software to work from home

The majority of employees are still using personal devices to work from home during the pandemic, despite possible security risks, new research has found.

A global survey of over ten thousands workers by analyst firm Gartner found that 55% of those surveyed are using personally owned smartphone or laptop devices for their work at least some of the time.

This change in becoming more sel-reliant has led a growing number of workers to consider themselves to now be experts in using digital technology, with 18% of those surveyed by Gartner claiming to be so.

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