How Big Data changes the rules in banking

Online banking has been a win-win proposition for banks and their customers. Customers get the speed and convenience of self-service and banks enjoy big savings on transaction costs. But for many consumer banks in particular, going online has also meant losing the critical customer engagement that branches have long provided. When one online banking service looks pretty much like every other, banks need to find new ways to set themselves apart. By leveraging cloud and big data analytics, banks can re-engage in new and innovative ways via web and mobile platforms.

In a recent report outlining a new digital vision for consumer banks, Accenture offer examples of what some banks are already doing to enhance the online experience and strengthen bonds with their customers.

  • Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria of Spain captures more than 80 transaction characteristics every time customers use their debit card and uses the information to help consumers manage and forecast day-to-day spending.
  • BNP Paribas Fortis of Belgium partnered with the country’s largest telecommunications provider to create a mobile e-commerce platform that enables consumers to shop and pay for products from their smart phones. The service makes it easier for consumers to find merchants and helps local businesses get paid more quickly, which is good for the bank’s commercial business.
  • Commonwealth Bank of Australia has a mobile app that enables customers to use augmented reality to get detailed information about homes they might want to buy by simply pointing their smartphone camera at the property. The app also tells users exactly how much they will pay for a mortgage from the bank.
  • Five of Canada’s largest banks have partnered with Sensibill to integrate automated receipt management functionality into their digital banking apps. Customers can use the service to organize receipts and get reports that help them with budgeting.

These efforts are successful because the banks see themselves as more than just money managers. They’ve broadened their perspective to become allies to their customers in helping them become more efficient and achieve their dreams.

The cloud offers unprecedented capabilities for banks to integrate other services into their core applications through APIs. For example, many financial services companies now offer credit reporting as a free feature. Credit agencies are eager to promote their brands through this kind of integration, and they make it easy for banks to work with them.

When cloud is combined with big data, banks can put their existing knowledge of their customers to work in new ways. For example, they can segment customers by spending and saving behavior and offer services tuned to different budgets. They can target services to distinct customer segments based on geography or age group by overlaying demographics on customer data. They can even listen in on social media conversations to pinpoint opportunities to offer, for example, car loans to fans of specific vehicle makes and models.

The biggest impediments to this kind of transformation aren’t technical but rather cultural. If banks see themselves as simply stewards of money, they limit their potential to break out of historical niches. But when they see themselves as allies in their customers’ financial success, they can use the cloud and big data to expand and enrich relationships. The mobile app is the new branch, and a good service provider can help your financial institution realize its transformative potential.

When choosing a cloud provider, it pays to think small!

When you buy wine, do you go to the big discount store or the local specialty retailer? Chances are you do both, depending on the situation. The big-box store has selection and low prices, but the people who run wine store on the corner can delight you with recommendations you couldn’t find anywhere else.

The same dynamics apply to choosing a cloud service provider. When you think of cloud vendors, there are probably four or five company names that immediately come to mind. But if you Google rankings of cloud vendors according to customer satisfaction or relevance to small businesses, you’ll find quite a different list. There are hundreds of small, regional and specialty infrastructure-as-a-service providers out there. In many cases, they offer value that the giants can’t match. Here are five reasons to consider them.

Customer service – this is probably the number one reason to go with a smaller hosting provider. If you have a problem, you can usually get a person on the phone. Over time, the service provider gets to know you and can offer advice or exclusive discounts. The company just can’t match this personalized service.

Specialty knowledge – You can find apps for just about anything in the marketplace sections of the big cloud companies, but after that you’re pretty much on your own. If struggling with configuration files and troubleshooting Apache error messages isn’t your cup of tea, then look for a service provider that specializes in the task you’re trying to accomplish. Not only do you usually get personal service, but the people are experts in the solutions they support. They’ll get answers fast.

A smile and a handshake – There are several good reasons to choose a vendor in your geographic area. For one thing, government-mandated data protection laws may require it. Local providers also offer a personal touch that call centers can’t match. You can visit their facilities, meet with them to plan for your service needs and get recommendations for local developers or contractors you might need. Many small vendors also offer colocation options and on-site backup and disaster recovery. The technology world where sometimes everything seems to have gone virtual, it’s nice to put a name with a face.

Low cost – This sounds counterintuitive, but the reality is that many specialty providers are cheaper than the cloud giants. That’s particularly true if they specialize in an application like WordPress or Drupal, or in a service like backup. These companies can leverage economies of scale to offer competitive prices, then you get all the other benefits of their specialized knowledge. Shop around; you might be surprised.

Performance – If the primary users of the cloud service are people in your company and/or in your geographic region, you will probably realize better performance with a local vendor. That’s simply the law of physics. The farther electrons have to travel, the longer it takes them to reach their destination. This is particularly important if you plan to use services like cloud storage or if you need to transfer large files, an error-prone process that only gets worse with distance.

Public, private or hybrid cloud? Make the smart choice!

You know you want to move to the cloud, but you don’t know which of the three major options – public, private and hybrid – are right for you. We’re here to help with this quick overview of the options, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Public Cloud

Think of this as a server in the sky. Public cloud, also known as infrastructure-as-a-service, provides the equivalent of a data center in a highly scalable, virtualized environment accessed over the internet. Customers can provision virtual servers – called “instances” – and pay only for the capacity they use. Many public cloud features are automated for self-service. Users can deploy their own servers when they wish and without IT’s involvement. Accounting and chargeback are automated. In fact, organizations often find the public cloud delivers the most significant savings not in equipment costs, but in administrative overhead.

The best applications to deploy in a public cloud are those that are already virtualized or that run on unmodified Linux or Windows operating systems. Commercial, off-the-shelf applications are a good example. Public cloud is also a good platform to use in evaluating and testing new applications, since many public cloud providers offer a wide variety of applications on a pay-as-you-go basis. Public cloud is also well suited to developing so-called “cloud native” applications, such as mobile apps.

Public cloud isn’t ideal for every use. Homegrown applications on legacy platforms or those with significant interdependencies may not migrate smoothly. Organizations that aren’t careful to manage instances can can end up paying for unused capacity. There are also hidden costs to be aware of, such as surcharges for data uploads and downloads or upcharges for guaranteed levels of service. Regulatory issues may also limit the use of public cloud for some applications entirely.Private Cloud

This is essentially a public cloud for use only by a single customer. Private clouds may be constructed on premises using virtualization and automation software, or licensed from service providers who deliver cloud services either from their own data centers or even on the customer’s own premises.

Private cloud is popular with companies that need tight control over data, whether for security, privacy or regulatory purposes. In regulated industries that specify how customer data must be stored and managed, it is sometimes the only cloud option. It’s also attractive for companies that need guaranteed service levels without the unpredictability of the public internet. Finally, private cloud provides the highest level of control for organizations that want deep visibility into who is using resources and how.

Private cloud is typically more expensive than public cloud because service providers must allocate capacity exclusively to the dedicated environment. However, that isn’t always the case. For companies with large capital investments in existing infrastructure, an on-premises private cloud is a good way to add flexibility, automation and self provisioning while preserving the value of their existing equipment. For predictable workloads, it can be the cheapest of the three models.

Hybrid Cloud

This is the most popular option for large corporations, and is expected to dominate the cloud landscape for the foreseeable future. Hybrid cloud combines elements of both public and private cloud in a way that enables organizations to shift workloads flexibly while keeping tight control over their most important assets. Companies typically move functions that are handled more efficiently to the public cloud but keep others in-house. The public cloud may act as an extension of an on-premises data center or be dedicated to specific uses, such as application development. For example, a mobile app developed in the public cloud may draw data from data stores in a private cloud.

Many of the benefits of hybrid cloud are the same as those of private cloud: control, security, privacy and guaranteed service levels. Organizations can keep their most sensitive data on premises but shift some of it to the public cloud at lower costs. They can also reduce costs by using public cloud to handle occasional spikes in activity that overtax their own infrastructure, a tactic known as “cloud bursting.” Hybrid cloud is also a transition stage that companies use as they move from on-premises to public cloud infrastructure.

There are many more dimensions to the public/private/hybrid cloud decision. A good managed service provider can help you understand the options and estimate the benefits and trade-offs.

Take a unified approach to Wi-Fi security!

For many organizations, Wi-Fi access is no longer a luxury. Employees need flexible access as they roam about the office, and customers and partners expect to connect whenever they are on site. But providing unsecured access opens a host of potential security problems if access points aren’t rigorously monitored, patched and maintained. As the number of access points grows, it’s easy to let this important maintenance task slip.

Security teams are so busy fighting fires that preventing maintenance is often overlooked. Kaspersky Labs recently analyzed data from nearly 32 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world and reported that nearly 25% had no encryption at all. That means passwords and personal data passing through those devices can be easily intercepted by anyone connected to the network.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are one way to keep things secure, but 82% of mobile users told IDG they don’t always bother to use them. The profusion of software-as-a-service (SaaS) options encourages this. Gartner has estimated that by 2018, 25% of corporate data will bypass perimeter security and flow directly to the cloud.

The Wi-Fi landscape is changing, thanks to mobile devices, cloud services and the growing threat of cyber attacks. This means that Wi-Fi security must be handled holistically, with a centralized approach to management and an architecture that integrates both endpoint protection and network traffic analysis. Cisco has spent more than $1 billion on security acquisitions since 2015, and it has put in place the necessary pieces to provide this integration.

Cisco Umbrella, which the company announced last month, is a new approach to securing the business perimeter that takes into account the changing ways people access the internet. Umbrella gives network and security managers a complete picture of all the devices on the network and what they are doing. For example, by combining Umbrella with Cisco Cloudlock Cloud Access Security Broker technology, organizations can enforce policies customized to individual SaaS applications and even block inappropriate services entirely. They can also block connections to known malicious destinations at the DNS and IP layers, which cuts down on the threat of malware. Umbrella can even discover and control sensitive data in SaaS applications, even if they’re off the network.

Cisco’s modernized approach to security also uses the power of the cloud for administration and analysis. Cisco Defense Orchestrator resolves over 100 billion Internet requests each day. Its machine learning technology compares this traffic against a database of more than 11 billion historical events to look for patterns that identify known malicious behavior. Defense Orchestrator can thus spot breaches quickly so they can be blocked or isolated before they do any damage. Thanks to the cloud, anonymized data from around the Internet can be combined with deep learning to continually improve these detection capabilities. Predictive analytical models enable Cisco to identify where current and future attacks are staged. In other words, Cisco’s security cloud gets smarter every day.

Umbrella can integrate with existing systems, including appliances, feeds and in-house tools, so your investments are protected. It’s built upon OpenDNS, a platform that has been cloud-native since its inception more than a decade ago. It’s the bases for Cisco’s security roadmap going forward.

A great way to get started with Cisco Umbrella is by revisiting protection on your Wi-Fi access points. We know Cisco networks inside and out, so let us put you on the on-ramp to the future of network security.

Are you ready to face any unexpected interruption?

Many small and medium-sized enterprises have gaps in their technological infrastructure that prevent them from protecting themselves against the unexpected events that cause interruption to their activities.

One company had its offices robbed: servers, computers, client files and even backup copies have disappeared. How to recover from this situation quickly, and minimize consequences? Without a recovery solution, the company’s activities are seriously compromised…

Natural or industrial disasters, thefts, power outages or telecommunications breakdowns, piracy, terrorism, etc. Even a short-term interruption of operations can jeopardize your market share, make you lose several important customers, and threaten the survival of your company. It is essential for any organisation, whatever its size, to be prepared to face any eventuality by protecting its information assets.

A Disaster Recovery solution (DRaaS) allows you to secure your assets and mitigate the unfortunate consequences of an interruption of your activities. ESI offers you the protection of your environment without the burden of spending and managing a recovery site.

Our DRaaS gives you access to our Tier III certified datacentre, equipped with best-of-breed, fully redundant equipment, that guarantees elastic scaling and flexible subscription terms.

Cloud solutions tailored to your needs, affordable and offered by a company with more than 20 years of data management experience, that understands the importance of protecting and safeguarding your assets… Don’t wait for emergency situations to take advantage of it!

Alex Delisle, Vice-President Business Development, Cloud Solutions – ESI Technologies

Cloud Strategy: data collection

Here is part 6 of our series covering the key issues to consider before adopting cloud technologies. This month, we discuss how to build your strategy and data points that must be considered.

When considering & building a cloud strategy, organisations need to consider business objectives/outcomes desired, quantifiable and time-bound goals as well as identify specific initiatives that the enterprise can and should undertake in order to execute the strategy and achieve the goals set. As shown by surveys on the subject by Gartner in 2013 and 2014, process and culture are likely to be big hurdles in any move to cloud. Therefore, involving all aspects of the business and gathering the right information can assist in building the right strategy and identify potential problems ahead of time.

The first concrete step to take to building this strategy is to gather the data points to identify and define those objectives, goals and initiatives for the entreprise in the near – and mid – terms. Once the data is collected, you can review, analyze and identify the business outcomes desired, set the (quantifiable) goals and define the specific initiatives you want to put in place to achieve them. This should not be a strict price or technology evaluation.

Data Collection
The data points needed will have to come from various parts of the organisation (business units, finance, HR and IT). Some of the information required may take the form of files, but a lot of the required information will reside with your staff directly, and so interviews should be a part of the data collection process. These interviews should take up to a few hours each and focus on the interviewees functions, processes used and required/desired business outcomes, to provide insight into the actual impacts to the business before creating your cloud strategy.

With this data, you will be in a position to account for all aspects touching cloud computing, to see what it will affect and how, to evaluate its effect on the balance sheet (positive or negative) and decide on your strategy moving forward.

Benoit Quintin, Director Cloud Services – ESI Technologies

Cloud Strategy – human impacts across organization

Here is part five of our series covering the key issues to consider before adopting cloud technologies. This month, we discuss the impact on human resources.

Resources in your organisation will be impacted by this change. Both on the IT side and on the business side. While helping companies move to cloud we have had to assist with adapting IT job descriptions, processes and roles within the organisation.

As the IT organisation moves into a P&L role, its success starts to be tied to the adoption by the stakeholders of the services offered. To do this, IT needs to get closer to the business units, understand their requirements and deliver access to resources on-demand. All this cannot happen unless things change within the IT group.

As companies automate their practice, and create a self-service portal to provision resources, some job descriptions need to evolve. A strong and clear communication plan with set milestones helps employees understand the changes coming to the organisation, and involving them in the decision process will go a long way to assist in the transition. We have seen that IT organisations with a clear communication plan at the onset that involved their employees in the process had a much easier transition, and faster adoption rate than those who did not.

Our experience helping customers with cloud computing shows that cloud alters significantly IT’s role and relationship with the business, and employees’ roles need to evolve. Training, staff engagement in the transition and constant communication will help your organisation significantly move to this new paradigm.

Benoit Quintin, Director Cloud Services – ESI Technologies

Cloud Strategy: technological impacts

Here is part four of our series covering the key issues to consider before adopting cloud technologies. This article focuses specifically on technological impacts to consider.

Not all software technology is created equal. Indeed, not every application will migrate gracefully to the cloud, some will never tolerate the latency, while others were never designed to have multiple smaller elements working together, rather than a few big servers. This means your business applications will need to be evaluated for cloud readiness. Indeed, this is possibly the largest technological hurdle, but, as with all technology, this may prove to be easier to solve that some of the other organisational issues.

One should look at the application’s architecture (n-tiered or monolithic), tolerance to faults/issues (e.g. latency, network errors, services down, servers down) and how the users consume the application (always from a PC, from the office, or fully decentralized, with offline and mobile access), to evaluate options for migrating an application to the cloud. Current growth rate and state of the organisation are often times mirrored in its IT consumption rate and requirements. Certainly, an organisation that’s under high growth rates or launching a project where growth is not easily identifiable can possibly benefit significantly from a scalable, elastic cloud model, whereas an organisation with slower growth, familiar / standard projects and predictable IT requirements will not likely assess the value of cloud computing the same way. Accountability of resources and traceability of all assets in use may be of bigger concern.

Architecture, applications and legacy environments are all technological considerations that should be factored in any cloud computing viability & readiness assessment, but that should probably not be the main driver for your cloud strategy.

Benoit Quintin, Director Cloud Services – ESI Technologies

Cloud Strategy: legal impacts across the organization

Here is part three of our series covering the key issues to consider before adopting cloud technologies. This article focuses specifically on legal impacts on your organization.

“Location, location, location”. We’re more accustomed to hearing this in the context of the housing market. However, where your company’s headquarters reside, where your company does business and where its subsidiaries are located directly impact how you need to manage sensitive information, such as strategic projects, HR/personnel information, etc.; essentially, IT needs to account for data sovereignty laws and regulations.

Various countries have already voted or are moving towards voting on more restrictive data sovereignty legislations that will control the transit of information out of border. For example, the Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) already governs how IT organisations can collect, use and disclose personal information in the course of commercial business. In addition, the Act contains various provisions to facilitate the use of electronic documents. Essentially, all personally identifiable information must stay in country, at rest and in transit, meaning that using a cloud provider in the US or any other country with said data could expose the company – and you – to a lawsuit, unless the cloud provider can guarantee no aforementioned data ever leaves the country at any time, including for redundancy/DR purposes.

While the previous Act covered what must be protected, the American law (the USA Freedom Act, and its previous incarnation, the Patriot Act) enables the US government to access any and all data residing on its soil, without owner’s authorization, need for warrant and without even the need to notice the owner before or after the fact. The few data privacy provisions in the bill apply to American citizens and entities only. This means all data housed in the US are at risk, especially if said data is owned by an organisation whose headquarters are out of country.

If in Europe, laws vary from country to country, we find that the regulations on data protection are becoming more stringent, requiring the establishment of procedures and controls to protect personal data and obtaining the explicit authorization of persons to collect and use their information. All this imposes guidelines to the use of the cloud within the country or outside their borders.

Typically, data sovereignty should be a concern for most organisations when looking at cloud and, as the current trend is for countries to vote in more stringent laws, any and all cloud strategy should account for local, national and international regulations.

Benoit Quintin – Director Cloud Services – ESI Technologies

Cloud Strategy: business impacts across the organization

Here is the second part of our series covering the key issues to consider before adopting cloud technologies. This article focuses specifically on business impacts on your organization.

Most markets are evolving faster than ever before, and the trend seems to be accelerating, so organisations globally need to adapt and change the way they go to market. From a business standpoint, the flexibility and speed with which new solutions can be delivered via cloud help enable the business units to react faster and better. So much so, that where IT organisations have not considered automating aspects of provisioning to provide more flexibility and faster access to resources, business units have started going outside of IT, to some of the public cloud offerings, for resources.

Planning for cloud should consider people and processes, as both will likely be directly impacted. From the requisition of resources, all the way to charging back the different business units for resources consumed, managed independently from projects’ budgets, processes that were created and used before the advent of cloud in your organisation should be adapted, if not discarded and rebuilt from scratch. IT will need to change and evolve as it becomes an internal service provider (in many instances, a P&L entity) – and resources broker for the business units.

Considering the large capital investments IT has typically been getting as budget to ‘keep the lights on’, and considering that, until recently, this budget had been growing at double digits rate since the early days of mainframe; the switch from a capital investment model to an operational model can impact the way IT does business significantly. Indeed, we have seen the shift forcing IT to focus on what it can do better, review its relationships with the vendors, ultimately freeing up the valuable investment resources. In many organisations, this has also translated to enabling net new projects to come to life, in and out of IT.

Once this transformation is underway, you should start seeing some of the benefits other organisations have been enjoying, starting with faster speed to market on new offerings. Indeed, in this age of mobile everything, customers expect access to everything all the time, and your competition is likely launching new offerings every day. A move towards cloud enables projects to move forward at an accelerated pace, letting you go to market with updated offerings much faster.

Benoit Quintin, Director Cloud Services, ESI Technologies