This week’s technology news – 28th April 2014

Digital skills gap of Euro youth leaves UK door wide to lose talent
A survey across 28 European countries has reported that 63% of young people (18-30 year olds) emerging from education, feel ill equipped with the necessary digital skills for the workplace. These are skills they want to have and recognise that they will need to acquire post education to compete in a pan-European environment. 86% of those surveyed say they would be willing to move between EU countries to work. Meanwhile research of 1,000 UK businesses found almost 50% of digital companies are considering looking abroad for potential candidates because of the lack of trained workers domestically. As VP of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes commented: “In order to meet the needs of coming generations, it is incumbent on employers, educators and regulators to understand expectations of what is termed the digital enterprise”.

With 74% of employers in the digital, IT and information services industry facing a skills crisis, this is a two-fold wake up call. For educators, Government must ensure schools have teachers trained with the right technology skills to use in the right way, to fully exploit technology learning. This was brought home by a 2012 study by the National Endowment for Science Technology and Arts (NESTA) which found that despite schools spending £1.4bn on technology in 3 years, it had rarely been used to its “full promise and potential”. Secondly, for UK technology businesses, this is an urgent cue to engage more proactively with youth and invest in apprenticeship schemes which could plug some of the gap, or see talent lost which may not be recovered down the line.

Not me, Guvnor!
A recent Trend Micro survey of 850 senior IT decision makers across Europe has identified an alarming lack of basic knowledge about the looming EU Data Protection Regulations. Whilst German businesses confirmed an 87% understanding of the new legislation and reforms, 50% of British respondents were completely unaware of the impending legislation – and out of this and just 10% said they knew what steps were needed to achieve compliance. With fines that could reach €100 million or 5% of global revenue, UK business organisations, Government and the UK media need to jump on this now to avoid confusion and ignorance continuing to threaten UK profits.

The regulations apply to any company that deals with EU resident data, even if that company does not have a legal entity within any of the EU countries. To start compliance checks, companies could run a health check or assessment on where the organisation is right now: what data is stored, how it is processed and what policies currently govern it. This would enable firms to spot where the gaps are in their data policy and take corrective actions to close this hole and avoid the heavy financial penalties.

Net neutrality at risk
Net Neutrality is the principle that ISP’s (Internet Service Providers) should not restrict types of internet content, regardless of source and without favouring or blocking any particular product or website. This has recently been the subject of heated conversation as both the US and European government have been confirming their stance on Net neutrality. According to US reports, the Federal Communication Commission will approve ISP’s charging a premium for data-heavy content such as Netflix, Amazon and Google.

Without strong net neutrality ISP’s could demand escalating fees for connecting to specific services, potentially locking out both users and content providers unable to pay up. The European Parliament has voted to restrict ISP’s from charging services. If this goes ahead European legislation to veto any surcharges could come into effect by the end of the year.

Microsoft finally completes its Nokia Devices and Services acquisition
Originally announced back in last September, Microsoft last Friday completed its acquisition of Nokia’s devices and services unit. Nokia is now formed of HERE (GPS and mapping services), Nokia Solutions & Networks (formally Nokia Siemens Networks) and further developments. The rest is now part of Microsoft, sold for $7.3 billion. Nokia’s former CEO Stephen Elop now leads Microsoft’s hardware division reporting directly to new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Microsoft used this time to remind us that Windows Phone is the fastest-growing ecosystem in the smartphone market. A more interesting take is how Nokia’s pedigree in mobile devices will influence Microsoft’s hardware going forwards. With both hardware and software being developed under one roof they have the potential to give Apple who operate the same strategy, a run for its money going forwards.

This week’s technology news – 17th April 2014

Microsoft’s enterprise cloud gets EU seal of approval
Data protection news stories have been pretty gloomy over the past few months, so it makes a refreshing change for the subject to have a good news day. This follows confirmation by the EU’s data protection authorities that Microsoft’s enterprise cloud contracts meet their rigorous high standards of privacy law, no matter where the data is located. Enshrined in Microsoft’s contractual commitments to its customers, they can be assured of moving data freely through their cloud from Europe to the rest of the world. It marks a positive first step and Microsoft will be building on this as they expand legal protections wider, to benefit all enterprise customers. The thorny subject of geolocation of data rapidly becomes less of a headache for MS customers, especially given the EU’s threat of suspending the Safe Harbour Agreement with the US which will have impact for Microsoft’s competition, whilst their security net will prevent any curtailment or interruption globally.

Scotland takes the lead in going green
At a time when the national grid is anticipating a squeeze on energy and supplies are becoming more limited, the UK is getting its first fully green datacentre to be built in Summer 2014 in Fife, Scotland. The £40m green datacentre backed by AOC Group will span 75,000ft2 and be powered by renewable energy, drawing power from the UK’s largest biomass plant at Markinch, Fife. It will be built to a BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) standard (which aims to minimise buildings’ environmental impact by ensuring sustainability best practices and reduce operator costs through energy-efficiency). The green datacentre will have a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of less than 1.15 (against a typical datacentre average PUE of 2.5). This means that for every 2.5 watts in at the utility meter, only one watt is delivered out to the IT load. Uptime Institute estimates that most facilities could achieve 1.6 PUE using the most efficient equipment and best practices. The new carrier-neutral datacentre will accommodate up to 1,500 high-performance computer racks and will offer high levels of resilience and data security, according to AOC Group. With pressure on carbon emissions, datacentre managers are having to devise new approaches to datacentre cooling as future demands will only increase and consumers will have little tolerance for downtime.

Microsoft puts the squeeze on Windows 8.1
As Microsoft continues to tackle the modern computing and tablet markets, one of their biggest obstacles has been providing only high storage devices. The bestselling iPad, is the lowest 16GB model and for Android, price wins too, with even lower storage such as 8GB being the best sellers. Currently 32GB is the lowest sized Windows tablet you can buy, and this is one of the reasons why Windows tablets are at the top end of the market. If you compare like-for-like, Microsoft’s tablets like the Surface 2 do well but when compared directly to competition best sellers with lower storage capacities (like iPad, Google Nexus and Amazon Kindle Fire), Microsoft ends up looking pricey. To combat this Microsoft has been working hard to get Windows 8.1 running on 16GB devices. The solution has been not to cut features, but utilise a technology first mentioned during Vista development called WIM. The WIM sits on its own partition in a compressed state and moves data across as it is needed. With these smaller device sizes and the lack of Windows fees for physically smaller devices, small Windows Tablets should get more affordable soon.

Wearables but without the plug
A lot of industry analysts agree that wearables will be the next big thing in the technology space. Sony, Samsung and Google have all now heavily invested and Apple is rumoured to be producing their iWatch. The biggest problem faced is something little that is needed: small batteries. Because the miniature size of the devices limit the size of the battery to power them and the complex task they are being asked to do, wearable technology typically lasts between just 0.5 days – to several days. Being advertised as something you wear which you have to remove to re-charge then re-attach so frequently, will be a showstopper for many. Researchers from the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology amongst others, are currently developing a system to generate electricity using your own body heat, with a new light and flexible generator made from thermo-electric substances printed on glass fabric. This technology could be the breakthrough wearables need to become mainstream – letting you wear a gadget like you would an item of jewellery and never having to plug in to re-charge suddenly becomes appealing.

This week’s technology news – 11th April 2014

Heartbleed attack
This week the news of the Heartbleed bug has been causing a panic amongst internet users and website owners. The bug, discovered by Google Security and Codenomicon just this week has been in place since 2011. Sites running OpenSSL are affected, with hackers being able to eavesdrop on secure connections without leaving a footprint. The bigger services that was affected were; facebook, Instagram, google, Dropbox and yahoo! These have now been patched, however we recommend a password reset for users of these accounts. Site’s not using OpenSSL were not affected including Microsoft and Apple. The culprit of the accidental bug has since been identified as one of the contributors to the open-source project, however the bug was not discovered during review and before being cleared for final release. The immediate issue would seem the mass reliance on open source code for our web safety, but the real issue, whether you use open source or an in house development team comes down to code being reviewed thoroughly before being added to the live code pool.

Unfortunate timing Dropbox unveils corporate plans during Heartbleed
One of the biggest Cloud file sharing services is Dropbox however it’s not a name often recommend for corporate use. Dropbox is attempting to change this perception by giving everyone ‘two dropboxes’ one for personal use the other for business, which is managed by your company. Organisations incorporating this will be able to wipe or move all data in this container without access to the user’s personal documents. The irony of this announcement is although Dropbox is going out of their way to show how businesses can trust them with their data it comes in the same week Dropbox admitted it was vulnerable to the Heartbleed attack, potentially putting users passwords and documents at risk.

Microsoft Office for iPad is a hit with over 12 million downloads so far
It was a long time coming – but many think it was worth the wait. Microsoft has announced its official Office Apps for iPad have been downloaded over 12 million times. The apps are well positioned for both home and business use, keeping the fonts and formatting your used too, but portable, on the device most people own. Although 12 million free downloads is impressive, the more interesting number would be to how many Office 365 subscriptions Microsoft has sold to new iPad users during this time. Microsoft has yet to release this information but the subscription is required to go beyond read-only and to actually edit documents. Many questioned if keeping Office initially exclusive to Microsoft tablets was a strategic move and it may have well been. If so it seem Microsoft has had a change of heart or simply seeing a bigger opportunity in getting subscribers into Office 365.

This week’s technology news – 4th April 2014

Not totally Xpired – Government offers limited reprieve to public sector and NHS
The UK Government has announced it is bailing out the whole of the UK public sector and NHS by signing a deal with Microsoft to extend support and security updates for Windows XP.  The deal is set to cost taxpayers an estimated £5.5m but will only cover critical and security updates for one year.  As the flag went up on this seven years ago it should reasonably have been dealt with by now by those healthcare IT directors left on catchup.  The support which was due to finish on 8 April 2014 is estimated by UK IT healthcare publishers EHI Intelligence to affect approximately 85% of the 800,000 PCs in the NHS.  The outdated XP operating system, first released in 2001 has been a cause of serious concern to the health service for a long time, as budgetary constraints and an alarming lack of urgency has stifled many migration plans still waiting to happen.  Trusts with more than 250 Windows XP users will need a premier support agreement with Microsoft. The Government is insisting that public sector organisations have a robust migration plan to move off XP, Office 2003, and Exchange 2003 within the year. Trusts that did migrate off XP ahead of 8 April have indicated that it is a long and complex job (sometimes up to two years), demanding significant investment, staff training, and measures to quarantine applications that cannot be put onto new platforms.   But good solutions are out there and CIOs need to step up their strategy, funding arrangements and get on with their plans in a wholesome not fractionalised approach, if they are to avoid a repeated cliff hanger crisis this time next year.

Facebook your GP
The Netherlands has demonstrated it is leading the way in using social media as a significant and positive telehealth tool.  ParkinsonsNet, introduced in 2004, now has 66 regional networks linking 3,000 healthcare professionals from 15 different disciplines linking to patients with Parkinson’s all over The Netherlands.   Radboud University Medical Centre’s report suggests it is empowering patients and lowering healthcare costs (estimated at E20 million).  The interest to NHS bosses is the chance it could be extended to diabetes sufferers, those with heart disease or breathing problems.  Whilst not aimed at removing F2F time with a GP, there is a real possibility that this could greatly enhance community accessibility into the NHS and have a major impact on budget savings to its overstretched purse.  A similar scheme has already been set up in the UK for mental health patients and professionals – and Scotland already has a dedicated Telehealth and Telecare system being piloted and due to go countrywide by 2020.  As noted by NHS England Director for Long-term Conditions, Dr Martin McShane, the facebook style technology is exciting, but the need to ensure the right governances are in place to maintain security, integrity and trust, are paramount to serve this delivery solution successfully.

the NHS Care.data progress report
NHS’s Care.data project to store all GP data in a central database housed by the Health and Social Care Information Center (HSCIC) has ended up in hot water after a series of messy incidents. First, NHS delayed Care.data for 6 months due to patients being given insufficient and confusing information on opting out. Then, PA Consulting uploaded 27 DVDs of Hospital Ep (HES) data from HSCIC to Google’s cloud to assist in analysing the data using Google BigQuery, resulting in an official complaint to the ICO for the handling of the data. This has all resulted in Google pulling out of a speculated ‘groundbreaking’ deal to include NHS data in search results. All in all this has been a terrible start not only for the NHS, but users trust in how their private medical data is stored and used by Care.data.

Windows is going free for Tablets and Phones
Microsoft hosted its yearly Build event this week. Traditionally focused at developers Build has recently been a source of what may be coming out next from Microsoft. Alongside big software updates for Windows 8 and Windows Phone, what may have surprised the audience most was Microsoft’s announcement of cutting Windows’ fees entirely for devices with screens smaller than 9”. This is a huge change in Microsoft’s strategy, now OEM can build a tablet or smart phone, running Windows without having to pay the traditional licencing fees. This should not only cut the prices of small Windows running hardware across the board, but also get Windows running tablet pricing closer to Android and increase the adoption of Windows on phones and tablets. Android is now not the only free mobile OS around.