london

Onega Authorised to sell Microsoft Surface Computer Range.

Microsoft's Surface range consists of the SurfacePro tablet computers (the current line-up includes the SurfacePro 3 and SurfacePro 4 series) and the SurfaceBook which is a convertible laptop that can run in traditional laptop or folded screen only mode. They were originally introduced by Microsoft as much to point the way to the rest of the computing industry on design and what could be achieved, as to an actual product to sell to users. Given that Microsoft produce the Operating System for the majority of computers in the world it is not good form to be seen as competing with your clients.

In the object of taking direction, Lenovo have done so with their successful Yoga range which includes a series of convertible computers and Fujitsu (who have always been strong in tablets) have brought out new convertibles in the form of the nattily named Stylistic R726 which has been well received. However, the success of the SurfacePro range has taken even Microsoft by surprise and they sold over six million units in 2015 with 2016 likely to be double that.

Onega have been working with Microsoft products since MS-DOS 3.2 and although Microsoft is primarily known for its software, they have, for many years, made hardware which is known for being at the premium end, but reasonably priced for what it is. For example you'd always find a safe and dependable choice in a Microsoft keyboard and mouse. The SurfacePro computers are definitely at the premium end of the market and are very slick computing devices which have had very good feedback from users.

Until now, availability of the computers has been quite limited so you'd have to go to John Lewis or other big retail providers, or buy direct on the MS Surface website. Microsoft is expanding its channel to selected partners and we're happy that Onega have been accepted in the latest round as an authorised reseller. This means that we can provide clients with best pricing and support on the Surface range.

In another innovation, Onega and Microsoft are also making it easy to access the benefits of the Surface range. You can take the traditional route and buy a SurfacePro or SurfaceBook, but we can now also offer the choice of 'Surface as a Service' which allows a bundle of Surface hardware, software (if needed) and services to be made available for a monthly subscription. When the hardware and the warranty services are bundled this way there is no barrier for obtaining the very latest technology, with the peace of mind of a full warranty including accidental damage cover and a very reasonable monthly investment - you should, in any case, make sure your computers are covered under your general business policy for loss or theft.

The Surface as a Service scheme offers same day finance acceptance and we only need basic details to get approval in principle.

What do we think of the Surface and why would you consider this vs competitors? The Surface is a very slick computer which provides a lot of computing power at your fingertips and runs full MS Office and other Windows apps. If you try the touch and pen interface for handwriting or just drawing on the screen then having only a keyboard again can feel limiting on any other laptop. Potentially the Surface can save you from needing to carry around both a laptop and an iPad.

Any computer is a compromise between cost / weight / capacity / build quality / speed / expandability / badge / serviceability etc.  We often think of a laptop as being the 'sports car' of the computer world in that they are great machines but you have to make choices (unless you have an unlimited budget) to get things right for your needs. The SurfacePro ticks most boxes. The one 'gotcha' with it is that, due to the focus on ultra slim build, the spec you buy is the spec you'll finish with, in that the case is glue sealed, so you cannot upgrade memory or storage. So it is important to specify enough up front for your foreseeable needs. The comprehensive extended service warranty means that any service problems are dealt with by an advanced swap out if you have any hardware issues.

Competitors like Apple also go for the sealed device approach (seen any screws on the back of your iPad lately?) but others like Fujitsu do allow for upgrades and servicing at the slight (very marginal) expense of size and weight.

Post Brexit the British pound has been dropping in value against both the Euro and US Dollar so computers have been going up in price lately but a good computer, at whatever price, is still excellent value, especially if you get a good few years' use out of it (big hint - best money - from £10 - you'll ever spend on a computer is on the case that protects your laptop).

Onega's aim is always to find the best fit for clients and to recommend the appropriate device for your needs - so please feel free to run any requirements by us and we'll be happy to discuss.

Happy computing.

Thinking of doing The Knowledge? You may want to think again.

The archetypical London Black Cab or Hackney Carriage has been a regulated fixture in the City of London since the time of Oliver Cromwell in 1654 when The Fellowship of Hackney Coachmen was founded, later to be superseded by Parliament, the Public Carriage office and now amalgamated into Transport For London.

The thing that makes a London Taxi unique is that you can hail an available cab in the street, or climb aboard at a taxi rank and you'll be taken efficiently to your destination by a highly trained and tested driver and charged fairly according to the taximeter on the basis of time and distance.

Originally back in the 1600's the form of transport available was a horse drawn carriage which would carry nominally either two or four people. The horse was the common motive power behind the cab until the introduction in 1897 of electric cabs which started the move towards mechanisation. The limited number of electric cabs were discontinued a few years later due to problems with safety and reliability (and to think that we regard electric vehicles as a new concept now) and in 1903 the first petrol powered cabs were introduced to London. From this point the horse, noble beast as it is was destined to be put out to pasture (sorry for the pun).

The driver of a modern London Taxi has to train for typically two to four years in order to learn over 45,000 streets and landmarks in the city and environs of London and the best routes from one part of the city to another and no satnavs are allowed in the test. This includes some pretty obscure landmarks as well as the better known and main hotels and theatres etc. For example FatBoys Diner here at Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of the designated landmarks, and we often see people on motor scooters with their maps in front of them driving up to have a look and learn the location. More obscure landmarks include the only Nazi Memorial in London which is outside no. 7 Carlton House Terrace, off Pall Mall; which is now the Institute of Contemporary Arts but used to be the German Embassy in London.  

Traditionally once you've put in the hard slog of learning the roads and points of London then you'll have put a lot of miles on your moped (and likely been through a couple), physically enlarged the memory centres of your brain and after your final test can apply for the coveted London Taxi Driver's green badge and qualified yourself for a job for life that can reputedly earn you up to £100,000 a year depending on the hours you put in.

Unfortunately for the traditional hard working London cabbie, like the horse that pulled the carriage until about 100 years ago, there may well soon be one less organic entity involved in taking passengers from one part of the city to the other.

We think the perfect storm is brewing so far as this goes, and it is on a trajectory that looks to be unstoppable. Already we have social and connected Satellite Navigation in the form of products like Waze which are free for Android and iPhone users, and in the purchase of which Google invested over a billion dollars for good reason. Companies like Google are big investors in the automated vehicle and every time someone navigates with Waze, they learn most efficient routes, average speeds for the time of day, incidents to avoid,  source and destination hot spots and much more. This accumulates to more knowledge than all the London Cabbies put together could comprehend. Right now it is useful for commuters to be able to get from A to B quickly and if it is free who is going to pay for a TomTom again? Part of the reason that it is free to use is that we are all helping Google to build their route information knowledgebase and data maps - so maybe we should be the ones who are paid to use Waze!

So the electric car, the connected car, the autonomous car, the Internet of Things, the cloud of route knowledge will all converge to make for a future automated taxi service that is on a par with, or better than, the current London Black cab service.

The difference between data, information and knowledge is in the processing and application. If you recall how IBM's Big Blue supercomputer beat Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov in 1997 this was a demonstration of brute force computing beating the same skill in a human. The same computing power multiplied and brought to bear on applications like transport will be as evolutional as it might be considered transformative.

Current state of the art in automated vehicles is still at relatively early stages, but the rate of evolution of the systems and vehicles is very substantial; such that the break out from research to production we think will be less than 5 years. It could be around 2020 or 2021 that hails the full introduction of the automated taxi to take you from one place to another in London.

The future of the black cab as we know it now - with a jolly cabbie - is thus somewhat grim unless they can evolve into the role of tour guide etc. However we'd suggest looking at how many are still driving horses and carriages in the same way. It is fun for tourists, but it is not economical transport.

We would go as far as suggesting that TFL (part of the UK government) should accept no new entries for people to start to learn 'the knowledge' from 2017.  At the very least they should be given a firm equivalent of a Government Health Warning. We'd light-heartedly suggest they apply a sticker to the registration papers for the Knowledge to state:

'WARNING:
This qualification is as likely to lead to employment as a Media Studies Degree'.


This would be fairest for current taxi drivers who will thus dwindle in numbers over time as they continue until retirement if demand holds that long.

Many people will defend the London Black Cab, but given the choice: If you want to get from A to B and an automated taxi will take you there as quickly, possibly more safely, for a lower cost, ultimately people will vote with their wallets.

I started writing this post in June 2015, after a barbecue with friends where one of the guests had just started on the Knowledge. I was too polite to share my thoughts then, so hopefully am making up for this now. I'm sorry it has taken me over a year to get back to complete it.  In this time, the number of people who will have started their Knowledge training will have been around 1,000 (or at least that many pass their final exam annually - more start and never get to the end). This may be a thousand people with lots of investment in training ahead for not much reward down the track compared to previous generations.

The London Taxi is just one example of the impact of the scale of digital transformation in all areas of life that is ahead. We can't change what will happen which is almost predestined and luddites don't win, but if we can foresee the change, we can be forearmed. Some would say 'if you can't beat them, join them'... so if you're thinking of doing the Knowledge, we'd likely suggest that a similar amount of time spent learning computer programming might be a better long term investment. It is sobering to consider that the company that makes Black Cabs - London Taxis International, now owned by Chinese firm Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, is rumoured to be already planning ahead for designs of driverless Black Cabs - and if they're not, they certainly should be else they'll be left behind by the competition.

At Onega we spend a lot of time keeping up to date with IT trends and keeping on top of the latest releases and news. We work with companies who are at either end of the digital spectrum to enable their businesses to be competitive and to use IT to a competitive advantage. More and more IT is evolving to be an integral part of a business as opposed to an add-on function. We must all look forward and anticipate that 'if this can be automated, it will be' and you're either on the road or sitting at the side of it in life.  There are some exceptions but on the whole we can't deny the progress of the future.

Onega At The Fujitsu World Tour 2015 - London

We have just returned from participating in the Fujitsu World Tour 2015 in London, which was held at the venue of The Brewery, on Chiswell Street in London. This was a useful day and allowed us to catch up on all that was new at Fujitsu, see some of their latest technology on display and chat directly with members of senior management etc.

Fujitsu rolled into London for one of the first events of their 2015 World Tour. Hyperconnectivity and both its impact and potential were key themes.

Fujitsu rolled into London for one of the first events of their 2015 World Tour. Hyperconnectivity and both its impact and potential were key themes.

This year's event was a big occasion, with Fujitsu marking its 80th anniversary of formation. When we are so used to tech companies coming and going, Fujitsu has shown that it is very much here to stay (and indeed growing and thriving as a business).

First item in the day was the greeting from Fujitsu UK CEO Regina Moran who also shared some of the history of the company with us. This was interesting and new to me - Fujitsu's origination was just after the Great Earthquakes of 1923.  After this tragic and devastating event, a team of Japanese engineers made a visit to Germany to investigate the newly developed technology of the automated telephone switchboard and specifically Siemens who were one of the European leaders in this emerging field of electronic communications. This lead to the founding of Fuji Electric, from which Fujitsu Computers spun off (in 1935) and also gives us insight into the origins of the enduring relationship and strong ties between Fujitsu in the East and their counterparts in Germany over time. You may or may not remember that in Europe in recent history until 2009, the company traded as Fujitsu-Siemens computers (when Fujitsu bought out Siemens' 50% stake).

Fujitsu continue to have a large manufacturing and research facility in Germany at Augsburg where many of their business laptops, servers and desktop computers are produced. Where a lot of modern computers are now manufactured in China (not that there is anything wrong with this), it is good to know that computer manufacturing of the highest quality is still alive in Europe.

The keynote address from Fujitsu's Dr Joseph Reger was standing room only.

Next up was Dr Joseph Reger, who used to be Head of Research but is now CTO of EMEIA and a Fujitsu Fellow (the highest rank of engineering within Fujitsu). His background is in academia and we have enjoyed listening to his thoughts in the past, and his take on industry trends and insights are to be respected and in our opinion well worth paying attention to. The key theme of Dr Reger's keynote address was mainly on The Hyper Connected Society, and Human Centric Computing. At Onega we'd think of these as different takes on Digital Disruption, IoT (Internet of Things) and Pervasive Computing. Whichever terminology you use, the key message is the same - society is becoming more and more connected, to the point that we'll think it odd if something is not networked and 'smart' in a number of years and this is going to bring a lot of change, and contingent to this; opportunity for some and threats for others. By 2020, approximately 10 Billion devices will be connected to the Internet.

To give you an idea of the continuing exponential change to come after that - if all these devices were connected only to Onega's own IPV6 allocation of addresses, they would use only 0.0000000000000000003% of our available addresses. Companies have to think about their strategies to be part of this change, to embrace the opportunities, or to be left behind. Good companies simultaneously plan and think about their strategy for the next 12 months, the next 24-60 months, and the longer term. We've written about this at Onega before but it stands repeating - some industries will be created, others will be decimated. Dr Reger was frank that some companies sugar coat this with harmless sounding terminology such as IBM's preference for the term 'Augmented Intelligence' and indeed Fujitsu's own term 'Human Centric Technology' somewhat masks the fact that whilst technology connects people, it also cuts people out of the loop in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness.

There were some good points that we can all relate to. In the current age of technology, even as it is, there are simple things too that can (and will) be improved. One obvious example in the UK, Europe and most of the world, in the field of medicine, is the current status quo; when, typically, you turn up on time for your appointment with your GP and end up waiting for up to an hour to be seen, whereas in time the reverse can be true and the statement of 'Doctor, the Patient Will See You Now' will perhaps be made as per the work of Alex Topol that we link to here.

After the Morning Plenary Session, the rest of the day contained a number of breakout sessions including Government as a Platform (Gaap), Hybrid IT, CyberSecurity, Democratisation of application development in a business, Windows 10 and many others. Like many days with multiple tracks; Murphy's law dictates that the three sessions you're particularly keen on attending will all be on at the same time.

We attended the Partner Session which was a good briefing for Partners (Onega are one of the most qualified Fujitsu Partners in London and the UK) and learnt about progressions in Fujitsu's channel operations etc. Fujitsu works well and is responsive to the partner channel, and they are introducing new concepts to their Innovation Centre in Baker Street as well as continuing to grow UK sales and engineering presence. The business is profitable and growing, and this was only good news. We and other partners asked questions and gave feedback, and the session was in good spirit.  After the session we had a short meeting with Alistair Hollands who is Retail and Volume Sales Director at Fujitsu in the UK, and this was also productive.

Bet you didn't know that Fujitsu make biscuits, beans, soup or FujiFlakes? Sadly, alongside their excellent business smartphones, these are only available in Japan for now. OK, we know you're smarter than that - this was part of the Connected Retail Display Showcase.

Bet you didn't know that Fujitsu make biscuits, beans, soup or FujiFlakes? Sadly, alongside their excellent business smartphones, these are only available in Japan for now. OK, we know you're smarter than that - this was part of the Connected Retail Display Showcase.

The evening before the event, I'd seen that Fujitsu had a smartphone app (for both Android and iPhone) for The World Tour - this I downloaded to see the agenda and map and it proved useful during the day as The Brewery is not a small venue and some of the halls had a lot of display areas from Fujitsu and their key partners; Brocade, Citrix and Intel. The app was genuinely useful on the day and I noticed that they also had a Challenge Game in this. The goal of the game was to fulfil a set of challenges and take photos which were uploaded for evidence (and embarrassment!) to prove you'd completed the task. These involved visiting nearly every stand and investigating something on it; ranging from the Oculus Rift VR Headset through to the Financial Services Innovation display and storage areas. Fujitsu now thus have photos of me doing dodgy yoga in their Human Centric Zone etc.  The game was fun and while I decided to participate competitively on this and visit all the stands quite quickly for the points, I then went back later and had good in-depth conversations with staff on a number of the stands of most relevance to our work at Onega.

The 3D view from the cockpit with an Oculus Rift in the busy demo hall.

The 3D view from the cockpit with an Oculus Rift in the busy demo hall.

The lunch time break allowed for plenty of time to visit the key stalls and have good conversations with engineers who very much knew their stuff. As with any exhibition style event, not everything brought was working.  One of the displays of interest was a state of-the-art Fujitsu Cashpoint system which incorporated palm vein scanning technology which actually scans the blood veins within a hand with IR to make a map and is more secure than fingerprints as they can't (yet) be copied. Onega have one of these scanners in our own office for staff access identification, complete with the relevant SDK which is quite simple to use.  The demo cash machine however did not want to co-operate, and thus was said to be running in 'Full Greek Mode' as the day of the Fujitsu London World Tour coincided with the day that the Greek government failed to pay EUR 1.5B to its creditors and thus became in default. We do of course empathise with the case of temporary financial hardship and correction in the birthplace of democracy.

Onega's Ben Fitzgerald with a member of the Fujitsu Hoodie Hacker brigade, who had been released for the day to come and demonstrate their ability to keep your network safe whilst enduring air conducting of the 1812 Overture and other impressive feats.

Onega's Ben Fitzgerald with a member of the Fujitsu Hoodie Hacker brigade, who had been released for the day to come and demonstrate their ability to keep your network safe whilst enduring air conducting of the 1812 Overture and other impressive feats.

One particularly good conversation I had was with the Fujitsu Managed Security team - they have a number of outsourced services that are relevant to Onega clients and take IT elements that are important but often in reality boring and apply excellence to these. An example of this is in their firewall log file monitoring and management service. Traditionally this is something that would be done by internal staff in a large organisation, but it is hardly the sexy job that everyone wants. Analysing large amounts of data is something that is vital in order to find the needles in the haystack and manage the information that matters. Through best practice and a high degree of automation, Fujitsu can offload this task from an organisation and in 99% of cases do it better - alerting a business to threats and realities that they would want to know about in order to manage reduce the risk of cyber fraud and information (which leads inevitably to financial loss). This service is evolving so that it will be of emerging interest to mid size firms who want to make sure their security is in good hands.

Fujitsu had all their latest laptops on display and these are among the slickest and best built business laptops available - many members of Onega staff are equipped with Fujitsu laptops and for good reason. They are good and dependable, light and with excellent screens and battery life (some up to 20+ hours with an extended battery - and this is genuinely achievable). Also on display was the lineup of storage solutions, for which Fujitsu are particularly strong. Their storage we also use here at Onega with our DX90S2 SAN, which has had zero unplanned downtime since installation and is boringly dependable (in a good way - some things in life you want to be boring and dependable so that you can sleep easy and worry about other things instead).

Stepping outside my comfort zone (I'm neither photogenic or telegenic), I also had the pleasure of an interview with George Barker from Cloud-Channel.TV  which was actually fun and I look forward to (read: 'am dreading!') seeing the results.  I was asked about my take on current and future trends and shared thoughts on some of the disruption we see coming.

After this, we attended a world first at the event which was the Global Launch of Fujitsu's'Beluga' storage system. Answering the needs of 'big data users' this a storage array system that can scale massively to 18 PBytes+ of data in a single array, with a massive IOPS capability to go with this. This allows for massive data sets to be stored and crunched through in a large scale system with greater coherence than you'd get in a (lower cost) distributed data system. We understand that the code name of Beluga was adopted as it is big but agile. The Caviar of the Beluga is also the most sought after, and the digital equivalent is the meaningful insight that large data can give, which can give a company significant competitive advantage.  The launch event was motor sport themed and included a racing driver on standby to demonstrate the speed of the system to get everyone 'revved up'.  After the formal launch I spoke with Mr Reichart about the systems and some of the business results that clients are finding that large data analysis is delivering.

The launch of the Beluga storage system complete with the 'Fujitsu Stig' racing driver and F1 engine sound effects to get us all 'revved up'.

The launch of the Beluga storage system complete with the 'Fujitsu Stig' racing driver and F1 engine sound effects to get us all 'revved up'.

The final session of the day was a plenary session with a talk and thoughts from Futurologist Rohit Talwar, author of 'First to the Future' and a Panel Session that included Dr Reger, who shared with us his serious concern that IOT may be 'The Last Chance For Europe to Lead in Technology'. Michael Ibbitson, Gatwick Airport CIO spoke on Open Data and integration between services and there was some joint thought of the Circular Economy (a return to the past). A few interesting things we noted were the '30 Storey Hotel Built in 360 hours' (15 days) - by Dongting Lake in China and New York based Quirky Consumer Products, who help inventors get their ideas into production with the power of the crowd. Good examples of innovation and agility in business in the current day.

In closing, people were thanked, and awards given. I was surprised and happy to find that I'd won the Fujitsu Challenge competition by completing the challenges first (partly I was late entering my pictures due to the TV interview). I met a fellow competitor at the last of the challenges who worked at Bletchley Park so it must have been a close run race. Many Thanks to Fujitsu for the Virgin Experience Voucher which I was grateful to accept on behalf of the team at Onega and which will be very much enjoyed.

A very worthwhile day in all and very good to catch up with people at Fujitsu in person, with many that we normally might mainly talk to electronically or by phone. Onega are happy to partner with Fujitsu, and value the strong relationship.  

The Big Difference a New Firewall Can Make

We have just returned from London's West End having finished swapping out a client's older firewall for a 'latest and greatest' Watchguard Firebox M200

This all went very smoothly with only a few minutes downtime while the old firewall was taken out of the rack and the new one mounted and connected. We timed this at 3 minutes and 21 seconds which is not bad considering the new firewall needed to boot as well once plugged in. Normally we aim for about 6 seconds disruption if we can mount the new firewall alongside the old unit in the rack ready for switchover (which was not possible in this case). Given that the old firewall (a venerable Watchguard X750e) had served since 2008 or 2009, it had very much done its time. Despite the office being a nice clean, light and airy environment, the amount of dust that had accumulated in the legacy firewall reminded us of the pictures you are shown at school of the inside of a smoker's lungs.  

The old firewall was still working though so why did we recommend swapping it out and why is our client glad that we did? 

Technology has come along a fair bit in the 6 years between 2008 and 2015 and as ever, machines get quicker and more capable. The most important things in our eyes (and from long experience in support) that made this worthwhile were: 

1) UTM services at full speed. UTM stands for 'Unified Threat Management' and basically means one box doing many jobs. It used to be that you had one box for web filtering, another for gateway antivirus, another again for anti-spam, one for your SSL VPN (if you had one) and of course one for your router and one for your firewall. With the current generation of hardware, and leveraging 'The Cloud' one box can do it all. This saves cost, space, power, money etc. and makes everything easy to manage from one place.

The difference between the current mainstream firewalls in the wild and the very latest is that with the Watchguard M200, M300 and its cousins higher up the line, the UTM functionality all works close to wire speed for the rated number of users supported by the device. This contrasts with the previous status quo whereby you would accept that when you turn on a new feature, you implicitly trade off some response time. Thus you had to find the right balance of how secure the firewall (and hence your network) was set to be and how this would deliver on user expectations as to web page load times etc. We like turning the whole UTM suite on as, when configured correctly, it will more than pay for the cost of the firewall over time. It does this by helping reduce instances of (for example) staff accidentally loading malware onto their PCs as every page is virus scanned, checked against a good reputation database and regularly updated blacklists, to ensure that the risk of loading something bad onto your machine is minimised. This saves staff time from lost productivity while their machine is down, saves time and cost in IT support for the company, and reduces risk of data loss through a Trojan getting into the system. If it all works as it should (it does) then IT gets to sleep easier over systems and the only problem you are then faced with is that as it works so well, management might question if a firewall is needed as 'we don't have any network security problems'. The answer to this is of course that it is partly thanks to the firewall that this is the case (and of course your efficient patch schedule, up to date endpoint antivirus, secure DNS and careful network privilege management etc.).

2) SSL-VPN - This is not a new feature to Watchguard, but it is one that was not available on the older firewall that was in place at our client site, and something that many may have available on their firewalls but not be currently using. While the world is moving to the cloud, and the latest Watchguard firewalls are very 'Cloud Connected', there are still plenty of times when you need to connect from a laptop or home office PC back to your office network. One of the very best ways to do this is with an SSL VPN (as opposed to an IPSEC or PPTP VPN) - if these TLA's (Three Letter Acronyms! - and yes there are 4 or 5 here) are confusing then suffice to say that PPTP is generally regarded as weak and obsolete, IPSEC can be secure but also complex, cumbersome and liable to blocking, but SSL VPN connections will allow you to connect to your office anywhere you can get a secure web page from (i.e. hotels, airports, anywhere really). Now you can have a reliable and robust VPN that works from nearly anywhere with minimal hassle.  The M200 makes this easy and with a few clicks it is configured, and the corresponding client software setup is a Click Next Click install. Bottom line is less frustration as a business user when travelling, in terms of getting online from wherever work takes you.

We only had two points here, but actually have covered many areas. When you invest in IT, you need to consider not only cost but benefit, ROI, TCO etc. which pale the dollar cost of the machines into insignificance over time.

To sum it up, we like the new M200 series fireboxes as they really do let you have your firewall UTM cake and eat it. 

Onega provide subsidised Internet connections with Connection Vouchers

Onega Ltd are fully registered as an accredited supplier for the UK Government's SuperConnected Cities Connection Voucher Scheme. This allows us to provide (for qualifying companies) free fibre and other fast business grade broadband service installations. The subsidy here covers up to £3,000 of install costs and is designed to help kick-start the next phase of the UK's digital economy.

Having enjoyed 100Mbps and gigabit Internet speeds here at Trinity Buoy Wharf for the last couple of years, we can attest to the benefits of very high speed broadband. The Internet just works and downloads, video calls etc. are all smooth and seamless which is how they are meant to be. If you are currently on ADSL, ADSL 2+ etc. then you'll benefit from a big improvement here.

If you are located in London or Docklands and want to experience how Gigabit Internet feels, then bring a laptop and visit us and we can plug you in :-) The SuperConnected cities project now includes areas in the UK from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Chelmsford and Southend (and many other cities).

It is important to remember that the subsidy is only on the install costs and that you have to pay for ongoing costs, but you also reap the benefits at the same time.

Based on a postcode and phone number, we can check quickly which providers cover your area, and what the best deals are based on your requirements. Please do thus contact us for a quote with no obligation.

To further reduce the costs, if you have some neighbours who are also interested, you can split the costs and the benefits with them, so that you only pay for a portion of the ongoing costs but benefit from all the speed available. We've done this a number of times and can help to broker 'good neighbour' agreements on the lines. Sharing an Internet connection is still secure as you'll have your own firewall (something else we can help with if needs be).

See https://www.connectionvouchers.co.uk/cities/ for details of the cities that are covered. We can help you get quotes and fill in the paperwork (all electronic forms now) to apply for your voucher. Then call us on 020 7536 6350 to see how we can help or drop us a line via http://www.onega.net/contact .

Insource, OutSource, Co-Source or Tomato Sauce?

When it comes to managing IT in a small to medium (or even large for that matter) organisation; there can sometimes seem to be too many choices as to how to do things.

The tough job of the IT Director (or board level member or team) is to work out which is the best path for a given company. There are many conflicting options and vendor advice is often tainted by sales pitch and ulterior motive.

Before any decisions can be made, it makes sense to think about what decision is to be taken and why this is to be taken. Here some impartial outside advice can help. At Onega, we like to be highly ethical and recognise that if we are asked to help in these strategy decisions, there may be a conflict of interest given that we are a provider of IT services ourselves. To be blunt, we'd obviously stand to gain much more if a company was to choose to outsource all their IT to us than if they chose to manage it all in house. However, we also know that what is in the client's best interests is also in our own best interest in the long run and the most efficient mutual engagement will also be the one that endures the longest as it will be most advantageous all-round.

Onega are also willing to exclude ourselves from an Outsourcing tendering competition if it would mean a conflict of interest at the consultancy level. There is a lot of value in having an impartial partner on board to 'keep the other guys straight' and ensure you are getting what you pay for in service.

So do you insource, outsource or do things jointly. Here are some bits of advice we have and factors to consider in deciding what is right for your organisation:

  • How much resilience do you need in a service? - i.e. do you need a team to cover a role to allow for peaks in demand or would it not matter so much if a service was not provided for a particular period of time.  For example,  if only a single member of staff knows a particular process, then there may be problems if they go on holiday or are ill etc. A team may also be better able to spread the load when everything happens at once which it invariably does from time to time where a single person only has so much resource and capacity.
  • How much is absolute lowest cost an issue vs greatest value? As a rule, if you have enough work to keep a directly employed individual productively engaged the whole time, then this will be best done with direct employment. An outsourced provider and direct employer would (all things being equal) offer the staff member a competitive market salary, pension, taxes, benefits etc. However an outsourced provider also has to make some profit from the arrangement and contribute towards their operational overheads (rent, admin expenses etc.) where a larger organisation would also have to pay these but is already likely committed to paying the rent and HR etc. in any case. 
  • Do you need to formalise processes? In a small internal IT organisation, it can be a perennial problem to instill the discipline to implement full management reporting, job ticketing, ITIL processes (or subsets) etc. Internally this will always be hard as when the phones are ringing (or email pinging in) the urgent matter of helping people with problems will always trump the not so glamorous formal process of documentation and formal process.   Adding an element of external support can help to embed some formal process as it becomes an inherent part of communications with and inside a client where the inside and partner organisations need to collaborate on matters. This can help get to optimal process adoption efficiency.

These are just a few factors. While the fashion is to outsource, it can be smart to do this selectively for projects and services that are outside the normal skill base of internal staff but to keep core resources in-house. There is also the motivation and allegiance of a member of staff to consider.  If an individual is working directly for an employer, then their allegiance will be to themselves, their family and then their employer; whereas an outsourced worker will have allegiance to themselves, their family, their direct employer and then their client, although as the outsourced services provider succeeds when the client is happy, this should be aligned. In some cases this might not be such a clear line.

Onega work in multiple forms of engagement with clients depending on what their needs are and what is right in the circumstances. If and where it is right though, we've had a number of successful and fruitful long term engagements with clients where our IT service desk staff augment the client's in-house resources. This can include providing overflow when it is very busy, an ear to sound ideas off (chances are that we'll already have done and learned lessons from a project you might be considering) and to provide cover when someone is off. By having the skills and engagement from a couple of Onega team members at a client site, the costs for the client are minimal (typically a reasonable minimal number of committed engagement hours per month may be agreed and beyond this we are available flexibly for your service.). This approach typically works for in-house IT staff as well as for company Finance as this helps with keeping the balance of cost / benefit without the need for drastic offshoring which a company may come to regret.

If such an arrangement might work for you then please do feel free to give us a call and we'll be happy to meet and discuss.

Title image kindly from https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/439238208