Bots – Amicus ITS dips its toes in the art of making new conversation


At Amicus ITS, with Spring looming at last, we are considering taking our first baby steps to explore the world of smart bot technology.  Developing a bot as a new route of engagement and communication is an experiment, demanding fresh thinking, analysis, reflection and nurture from us all.  We are up for the challenge.  However, just because Amicus ITS is a tech firm and IT solution provider, there’s no assumption that the route to adoption is a given.  It needs to be a positive compliment alongside our existing customer service.  Our baby bot, affectionately christened Amy by one of our Sales team, will have to prove herself, not just by being a smart technology, but by developing a good working vocabulary.  Her first words we hope will focus on helping customers with general sales enquiries before she has any chance of graduating to anything grander.

Why develop a bot?

The potential for AI in customer service is twofold. With machine learning and Neural Linguistic Programming it can seamlessly give customers the right information they need at the right time by offering self-service options and eliminating the need for a call to a service centre. Secondly, AI has the potential to give customer service representatives more information to help them handle the complicated issues that self-service cannot resolve.

Our instincts to start this journey now in our business lifecycle are borne out by the latest statistics.  At this week’s #MarketingExpo at London’s Excel, chatbots were trending as a key topic of conversation.  34% of call centres in the UK are stated as using AI now, with the expectation that this will rise to 68% by the end of 2018.

The human bit

How we as people communicate and our responses to different types of engagement, is fundamental to the art of good conversation and we have to seek to provide a great customer experience with Amy.  Yielding positive results in a customer’s interactions with a business through a bot has commercial potential in the long term.  But for now, it’s all about getting it right.   We know that a bot should not pretend to be a person.  If we can ensure Amy provides provide relevant information, answers and signposts for you, some of you will enjoy trying this route of enquiry.  But there will always be our people too, alongside and behind Amy, always on hand 24×365 to help support you in every way we can.


Having a bot in a B2B environment is perhaps less straightforward than if we were in the retail trade. However, there is as much opportunity to make a difference if we do this well.  Amy will need to become customer savvy if she’s to make a difference and be welcomed as part of our service family.  We are keen for our bot not to be a turn off and we would love to include you in helping raise this tech child!  There will be a feedback option built in to the platform when it’s launched in a few months time.  If you do choose to comment, you will help in our education too!  So, watch this space for news as we look forward to becoming a digital parent to this disruptive technology child.   What do you think of bots?   Let’s start the conversation!


Bot technology offers a new era in seamless business support

Conversational apps and services, such as Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana have managed to find a way into peoples’ everyday lives as a way of finding answers to questions, quickly.

These conversational apps, also called ‘Bots’ which are a form of Artificial Intelligence (AI), are not limited to just answering questions, but can, using ‘natural conversation’ enable users to interact with services (be it ordering a pizza without looking at a traditional menu, or providing technical support to an employee’s PC issue).

Bots can be interacted with by either voice or text and can come in the form of a website, an app, or integration into existing services such as:  Skype for Business; Facebook Messenger; Cortana; Microsoft Teams and more. Bots can be accessed via a wide range of devices from smart phones to laptops and even devices without screens.

So why should businesses consider developing their own Bots?

The advantages of Bots to a business should be obvious – without the need of a dedicated and extensive support desk to handle queries for your own website, app or service, you could bake in support for bots inside your own website, app or service.  This way users would have access to the same support tools using natural conversation, without leaving the screen that requires assistance.

Bots can work well on their own, but they work even better with the help of humans when they hit the limit of their coded knowledge.   Bots are primarily programme driven but are inevitably only be as good as they are designed and coded by humans.  The Bot experience is intended to be seamless to the user, even if the Bot’s script has reached its end and it needs to interface to get guidance from a service desk.  The user talking to the Bot just enjoys a single trafficked conversation without seeing any splits.

The disadvantages at the start of the Bot technology process was in the creation period as building a coding system from scratch to handle conversational queries and integrate across known and used services was a monumental task. The good news however is that a lot of this work has now been done and is being made available as a foundation to consumers to build their own Bots. Microsoft is currently taking the lead in this area with its own Bot Framework, currently in preview.

Bots are no longer reserved by the technical giants of the world.  With the tools to create Bots having been developed and distributed, this makes Bots accessible to a wide array of devices and services. We will soon see a lot more Bots out in the wild from a wide variety of businesses and tech hobbyists. This influx in Bots could impact the technical landscape in a similar way that mobile Apps achieved when their tools became readily available – like with the original arrival of Apps in 2008 for Apple with the iPhone 3G.  So those who can make a strong brand early on will see stronger success as the platform evolves over time – and Bots could become a regular feature as part of the service desk toolkit for IT Managed Service Providers in future.


HCI, waking up the storage market – the new must have for enterprise and SMEs

What’s got us talking?

Amicus ITS has secured a major new contract for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure and will be providing professional services to deploy and implement the solution for the customer.

What is Hyper-Converged-Infrastructure (HCI)?

In our fast changing technology world, hyper-convergence is the latest new buzzword and a topic that is exciting many here in Amicus ITS.

Hyper-convergence grew out of the concept of converged infrastructure. Under the converged infrastructure approach, a vendor provides a pre-configured bundle of hardware and software in a single package from different hardware vendors.  Hyper-converged systems are modular systems designed to scale out by adding additional modules.  The magic is that HCI requires only a single vendor’s server platform and a ‘single pane of glass’ management console.

Enabling integrated technologies to be managed as a single system through a common toolset is a big step forward and to assure flexibility, HCI systems can be expanded through the addition of nodes to the base unit. Hyper-converged infrastructure streamlines the deployment, management and scaling of datacentre resources by combining x86-based server chassis and storage resources with intelligent software in a turnkey software-defined solution. Separate servers, storage networks and storage arrays can be replaced with a single hyper-converged solution to create an agile datacentre that easily scales with our customers’ business.

Why is Amicus ITS so excited by HCI?

We are constantly looking to keep ahead of the technology curve and stay one-step ahead of the MSP competition.  By taking solutions to our customers that add true value to their business, this gives us real opportunity to demonstrate forward thinking and benefits all round.  Amicus ITS has the confidence of combining the right technologies with our most important assets, our people and our proven processes – to build comprehensive and compelling solutions, fit for tomorrow.  Wrapped with Amicus ITS’ quietly assured Managed Services capabilities, it creates a powerful combination of positive results for both sides.

Whether a customer wants an HCI solution delivered that they manage, or an HCI solution that Amicus ITS as an MSP looks after – what this shows is that to be a fit MSP in today’s market, you cannot go on just selling traditional three-tier architectures with their associated multiple different technologies, higher costs and greater complexity.  This swallows up greater day-to-day management resource, as well as the people and skills to support and maintain a wide variety of servers, storage, networking and software management technologies.  At scale, this can be challenging as it increases the chance of incompatibilities and administration overheads.

HCI appeals because it radically simplifies infrastructure for the customer and enables smooth management processes to wrap around it.   So, it’s time to slim down and de-mystify the technology and show what is really good out there for our customers – and here, utilising what was designed for Google and Facebook always available engineering, as a technical model for both enterprises or SMEs.   Being forward thinking and flexible in our consultative approach – where the solution benefits both the customer and MSP, it’s a win-win for both.







‘Defence and protect’ marketing gets displayed in new smartphone technologies


With the news of the Yahoo cyber attack on 23rd September 2016, it is worth taking a look back at new technology developments and launches in 2016, which put privacy and security at the forefront of their marketing spiel.

Solarin smartphone at a sky high price

In May 2016 Sirin Labs launched a new military-grade encrypted smartphone, the ‘Solarin’ (retailing at an eye watering £11,400 per device). It offers encrypted calls with a 256-bit AES algorithm. However the screen is 2K not 4K and runs on Android Lollipop, not Marshmallow and its Qualcomm processor is 2015’s model.

Whilst clearly targeting wealthy professionals for whom privacy and security is a driver to purchase, this ‘hostage’ price will be way beyond the pocket of most. However, businesses and consumers shouldn’t be alarmed, as putting up to date cyber security antivirus and anti-malware software on smartphone devices goes a long way to protecting the user, at less than a tenth of the price on top end devices.

You won’t find me – Snowden’s iPhone introspection machine

Meanwhile, a smartphone sleeve methodology (currently only for the iPhone 6), that tells its owner when their phone is being hacked, is being designed by US whistleblower Edward Snowden in conjunction with hardware hacker Andrew ‘Bunnie’ Huang, was revealed at a closed MIT Media Lab launch in July. The iPhone was selected as it is generally regarded as being hard to hack.

Whilst Snowden’s motivations to thwart digital surveillance may be politically motivated in seeking to protect activists from location detection by law enforcement agencies, the dual edge of their pitch highlights the trend for cyber criminals to seek to seek to install malware on smartphone devices, whilst the user is on the move (all unbeknownst to the user). The case aims to track whether or not the phones’ radios are transmitting, as trusting the phone is in airplane mode or sticking it in a ‘Faraday bag’ to block radio signals has proven insufficient. With the prevalence of clever malware which can make a smartphone appear to be off, it is daunting to users to know how well protected they and their data are from harm. Again, it’s a mixture of best practice vigilance, cyber security software and good information security management.

Bank of England seeks to challenge Bitcoin with its own RSCoin

The Bank of England (BoE) is seeking to take on Bitcoin, the non-regulated peer-to-peer digital currency in use for the last few years (and popular with the underworld in laundering proceeds of crime and a route for ransomware payments to cyber criminals).  Bitcoin, which has made an estimated $5bn (£3.5bn) of Bitcoin transactions operates a “distributed ledger” similar to how central banks operate.  Bitcoin’s limitation however lies in the restriction of its code to 21m Bitcoins and that it can only handle sever transactions per second.

The new digital crypto currency, RSCoin, crafted by a team at University College London for BoE, seeks to create a State controlled digital ledger held by those trusted to be in charge of the nation’s currency but without the limitations of Bitcoin or the add-on charges and middlemen elsewhere in the industry.  Potentially and most controversially, RSCoin has the potential to offer a system whereby ordinary people could hold accounts directly with the Bank of England, thus competing directly with commercial banks.  Ben Broadbent, the BoE’s deputy governor believes that an RSCoin currency would greatly widen the balance sheet of the central bank and allow it to keep better control of the money supply and be better able to respond to crises.

Led by Dr George Danezis, UCL presented their findings at the Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) in San Diego recently and suggested that a national pilot could be up and running within 18 months.  “Whoever reacts too slowly to these developments is going to take it on the chin.  They will lose their businesses”

Central banks originally viewed Bitcoin as a rogue currency and a threat to monetary order.  However with heavyweight financial organisations carving big profits from their payment systems Visa, Master and PayPal) and commercial banks and financial institutions making money from the complex manipulation of the money markets (through stocks and shares, foreign exchange dealings, derivatives and hedge funds etc.), this proposal has the potential to cut out gross fat and privileges of the competition.  It could simplify the trading of money and one would hope, offer greater transparency and accountability, much lacking for many years in banking. 

It would be highly disruptive if adopted and create a wholly new era in finance.  One would have to trust that the State’s banker would keep the interests of the nation it serves at the forefront of its modus operandi – and that corporate greed did not play a part.  That, has yet to be seen and proven to an unsurprisingly distrustful public.


3D printing gets smarter in healthcare

Since we last reported an amazing 3D printing story in January 2015, the technology continues to demonstrate its extraordinary enabling powers in the operating theatre for the NHS, with another life transformed as reported this week.

Surgeons were able to use 3D printers to replicate body parts in a kidney transplant from father to daughter at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London recently.  With the contrast in size of the organs, 3D printers were used to make models of the daughter’s abdomen and father’s kidney from CT and MRI scans. This enabled the surgeons to accurately plan and rehearse the complex operation.

Hard printouts created the girl’s pelvis, whilst her liver was made softer in a liquid plastic model to enable the doctors to practice pushing it out of the way to make way for the new kidney. Happily, the little girl can now run around and eat normally and enjoy a very different outcome and normal childhood, whilst her parents have the simple joy of planning for her nursery integration in the Autumn.

Unlike in medical robotics where there have been more than two million operations since 2000 the robotics arena still carries challenges in winning over patient confidence.  Here however, the winning smiles of father and daughter amply reflect the achievement of partnership between the human hand and advanced printing technology that shows there is plenty more in store in the future of 3D printing.


Review of 2015 and 2016 Predictions

From Amicus ITS’s new cyber security specialist, associate Mark Heather.

This year saw all sizes of business see an increase in attacks, but the nature of attack has changed.  Traditionally network and DoS attacks as well as malicious software (malvertising) were the main causes of a breach and continue to be disruptive to business.

However, at the same time there was an increase in networks being penetrated as breaches are becoming more targeted – and small businesses should not presume that they will escape and should ensure that they understand their information assets and networks to enable them to manage risk accordingly.

Next year will see targeted attacks increase.  It is not a case of if, but when will we be breached and what do we do about it?

More will be made of “Cyber Intelligence,” (information about you and your organisation).  Companies will need to understand what is being said about them, what information can be gathered about the organisation and to turn this into meaningful contextualised intelligence.

This will be a major requirement of compliance regulations over the coming years. The lack of people able to interpret this information will lead to Cyber Intelligence platforms becoming automated and drive the need for Security-as-a-Service. This service will also be driven by the internet of things as more devices become internet connected.

Whilst the tenor of this might sound doomsday in tone and that currently there are too few skilled people truly trained in cyber security, organisations can ensure that they are well protected, by aligning themselves with data security experts who understand the Managed Service environment and can be your trusted advisor and partner.  Talk now to have a positive preventative discussion, rather than a remediation discussion after the event.