Surviving Brexit, the staff augmentation way

11 October 2016

Surviving Brexit, the staff augmentation way

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

 

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How can your company survive Brexit and leverage the opportunities it brings along? In Outsource Magazine, Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager at Soitron Group, has shared his thoughts on how staff augmentation can assist businesses with the changes and uncertainty following Brexit.

Read more here.

 

 

 

Brexit could mean more offshore deals for outsourcing

13 September 2016

Brexit could mean more offshore deals for outsourcing

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

future.pngWhat impact on outsourcing will Britian’s decision to leave the EU have? In a recent Raconteur article, Robert Barbus, operations director for Soitron Group, gives his opinion on Brexit and how it will affect the offshoring business. Read more here.

 

Turning the network problem on its head

16 June 2016

Turning the network problem on its head

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

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Ask US management consultant Matthew Podowitz about his views on IT networks, and you’ll get this pithy answer: They’re expensive and have a bad reputation for reliability – even when they are meeting their technical specifications.

But as Podowitz, Senior Director, Operations and Technology Advisory Services for Pine Hill Group, will also tell you, for all that we complain about them: “at the end of the day few businesses could operate without them.”

In fact, industry experience shows that as much as 30 per cent of all an internal IT team’s time can be spent taking care of low-level networking tasks. In pound per hour terms, that’s a lot of overhead being spent taking care of – literally – the plumbing.

Moving from wrangling to service

That’s really not acceptable at a time of continued focus on rationalising costs and driving greater efficiency. It’s even less acceptable, to be frank, in the context of powerful technologies like the cloud and proven business techniques like outsourcing. There’s also the issue of resource. Do you really want to have IT staff spend all – or even part – of their time dealing with cables, and not your internal stakeholder’s bigger problems?

The principle has to be flexibility – in the now-accepted cloud sense of allowing you to turn the IT utility dial up or down as your business needs. Again, that’s going to be a lot less easy to do if you’re spending all your time messing about with cables.

Given the current uncertain outlook for the British economy, now is really the time to find ways of reducing low-level networking tasks, so you can concentrate on real value-add activities.

Essentially, there are two main routes to simplifying your networking issues. One is to outsource the network management and infrastructure handling to a trusted managed services partner. This will work for a lot of organisations, usually ones with outsourced business functions.

The second, which may be a lot more attractive to firms, is to hire external experts as part of a staff augmentation strategy to help manage the network. If you do that, a staff augmentation policy can really start to help you turn on or off the networking ‘tap’ as and when required. 

The bottom line is that by either developing a staff augmentation strategy or going down the managed services route, IT departments can focus on the issues that deliver real and long-term value to the business. So yes, Mr. Podowitz is right – networks can be a pain. But organise yourself properly, and like he says, there will remain something “few businesses [can] operate without.”

Download Our Whitepaper,  Debunking Six Managed Services Myths.

When is the time to move to a managed services model?

13 June 2016

When is the time to move to a managed services model?

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

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More and more businesses have woken up to the power of staff augmentation – the outsourcing technique of adding to in-house IT capacity to meet specific, temporary project challenges or exploit business opportunities.

Now while it’s absolutely the case that staff augmentation makes sense on an on-going, perhaps even regular basis. It’s a bit like hiring a car every weekend. Sure, it’s nice to slide behind the wheel of a fancy motor you don’t have to clean and maintain, but it’s also kind of silly to spend cash on something you’re treating as a luxury, when really it’s a necessity.

An issue that doesn’t apply with vehicle hire, but which is a definite problem for the CIO: what if you can’t actually get the talent you need locally anyway…  maybe not even in the UK, at least at the prices you’d like to pay?

But – and it’s an important but – you don’t want to solve this by going PAYE and getting permanent assistance; that’s why you went to market in the first place, after all, to avoid the hassle and delay in acquiring expertise and you still don’t want to add to payroll cost.

A reliable partner = a lot fewer headaches

Is there a way out of this dilemma? There genuinely is. It’s to keep the flexibility and dynamism you’re getting out of tapping into external expert help but instead of growing headcount, it’s to move to what’s called a managed service model instead.

Despite the name, this has nothing to do with hosting! What the term means is a more structured relationship with a third party, where a discrete part of your IT needs get handed over in a tightly-agreed way with a services firm. That removes a big headache, as you know that the situation is always covered. It also means that you will continue to benefit from the same great aspects of staff augmentation – that you can scale up and down on an as-needed basis, you don’t have to find budget for training and skilling up, and that you can be sure of a quality service.

Put it all together, and it’s clear that the next step up from traditional staff augmentation is looking for a reliable managed service partner. Isn’t it reassuring to know how many options you really do have as an IT leader when it comes to resource?

Read our Whitepaper: Debunking Six Managed Services Myths. 

Not All Staff Augmentation Suppliers Are Created Equal

12 May 2016

Not All Staff Augmentation Suppliers Are Created Equal

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

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You may be familiar with classic lean organisations, like Innocent Drinks, Uber and Skype, which are now MBA student case studies of winning brands that have outsourced almost everything they can to expert helpers, allowing them to focus on their main objectives.

But there’s no reason any organisation, big or small, can’t also benefit from a bit of help over time – even if there’s no interest at all in a major reduction of staff.

Read our Whitepaper on Staff Augmentation.

That’s exactly what Hewlett Packard did. The company worked with our teams in the UK, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Germany to standardise the IT architecture of fifty customers. A project of this size would take years, but was delivered within 18 months, under budget and saved the company $18.3m.

In this example the benefits are clear. But how do you determine the perfect staff augmentation supplier? Well, you have to accept this may take a bit of work on your part, as it’s sometimes hard to sort the wheat from the marketing messages. However it’s really worth you taking a tiny bit of extra time to spot the best third party to help magnify your human capital’s power.

Based on our experience of working with some of the globe’s largest businesses, including Hewlett Packard, I’d say that you just won’t get what you want out of a staff augmentation contender unless they can demonstrate that:

  • They know their business Ask to speak to other customers who can provide real-world proof these guys really do understand how to maximise internal and external staff contribution
  • They don’t just ‘suck it and see’ No metrics? No methodology to measure and track progress via their intervention? Big no-no. They’re not serious, too ad hoc… you need some science
  • They ‘get’ you If this is their first engagement in this sector or your sort of firm – they’re using you to learn on the job (and on your dime). Only work with teams you feel really see things from your viewpoint
  • They have no hidden agenda Suppliers want to make profit. That’s a good thing. But this happens best when everyone is clear about what’s going on, what the margins are, and what the SLA really offers. Look for contract transparency and a sense of fairness and both sides will walk away happy.

Follow these simple guidelines, and your staff augmentation project will really return your investment. Good luck!

 

Speaking Clearly: The Case For Voice Biometrics

10 May 2016

Speaking Clearly: The Case For Voice Biometrics

By Martin Hummel, Voice Biometrics Consultant, Soitron UK

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Recently, an article I wrote on voice identification processes was published in Global Banking and Finance. You can read the article here.

In the article, I talk about:

  • The beginnings of Biometrics and how this has led to voice authentication
  • How robust your Voice Identity is
  • Why using Voice Biometrics is a logical next step in helping remove the need to remember PIN’s or another memorable word.

I hope you find it insightful.

Read our Voice Biometrics Whitepaper HERE.

Developing the perfect Staff Augmentation contract

6 May 2016

Developing the perfect Staff Augmentation contract

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

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Finding the right staff to implement an important project can be a real challenge sometimes. Do you go to market and hire, or train someone? What if this new business doesn’t work out, though? And what if you invest two years of development in a promising candidate… only to see them waltz off to a competitor at the end of your expensive training?

 Read our Whitepaper on Staff Augmentation.

British C-suites are waking up to this issue, their senses sharpened after years of tight economic times. As growth returns, it’s clear that the best way to maintain profit is to keep overheads as low as possible.

Welcome to the world of staff augmentation, an increasingly popular way of curbing costs practiced by The Times Top 100 firms and even smaller outfits. As with any commercial arrangement, the devil is in the detail. Having a badly drafted contract is a recipe for staff augmentation disaster.

We’ve worked with some highly successful clients on their staff augmentation strategies, and acquired some insight into current best practice as a result. As an example, Europe’s largest energy services provider Veolia Energy worked with us to introduce a new solution that gave employees extra desktop functionality. It involved us managing multiple contracts with numerous software and hardware companies. In this case, transparency was key: we were transparent throughout the process about licensing costs and reporting.

Here are our recommendations on how to craft the best possible contract you can have with any prospective staff augmentation partner.

  1. First and foremost, a great staff augmentation SLA should be as transparent as possible, especially around cost. Even better – try and agree on a budget cap
  2. It’s going to give you huge peace of mind if there’s a clear get-out clause. If the relationship isn’t working, you need to ensure you can exit the contract. This is fair on both of you, as sometimes it can be a two-way street
  3. Useful KPIs that track employee activity against internal and project metrics are going to be useful to both parties
  4. Avoid numerous contracts; they invite confusion and double-billing. It’s better to have one over-arching ‘umbrella’ agreement
  5. Finally, think of the carrot as well as the stick. Try and share the risk. And the contract should reflect a shared relationship that balances risk and reward for both parties. 

Do all of that, and your contract will serve its purpose: helping you get the most out of your deployment of this great business strategy.

Introducing the perfect Staff Augmentation strategy

4 May 2016

Introducing the perfect Staff Augmentation strategy

By Robert Barbus, EMEA Operations Manager

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Uber. The world’s biggest taxi company. Total number of drivers? Zero.

Airbnb. The world’s most successful hotel firm. Total number of front desk staff? Zero.

And perhaps most famous of all, the world’s top photography company – Instagram. It only employed 13 staff when Facebook bought it for $400m in 2012.

Clearly, there’s a link here: the most agile, leading-edge brands can do amazing things with very little in-house human resource.

Read our Whitepaper on Staff Augmentation.

Instead, they’re use using expert third party help as much as they can, allowing them to focus on disrupting and maximising their market opportunity. It’s not just these kinds of digital companies that have woken up to the power of the modern techniques of staff augmentation. Bigger companies are waking up to the benefits too — not replacing staff, but bringing in extra resource on an as-and-when-needed basis to deliver against a specific deadline. Hewlett Packard, for example, worked with our teams in the UK, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Germany to standardise the IT architecture of fifty customers. A project of this size would take years, but was delivered within 18 months, under budget and saved the company $18.3m.

The other great advantage of staff augmentation is the way it can allow you to avoid National Insurance and wage costs, making it easier to get people in the door who have the niche skills that you may not need next week – but really do need today.

Three top tips for the perfect strategy

As with all business techniques, you have to do it right. There’s no point plunging in and wasting money needlessly. Our clients tell us that these are their top three to-do items:

  • Ensure you are using both internal AND external staff properly – avoid overlap or duplication
  • Measure, measure, measure. If you don’t have the right metrics and targets in place, assigning responsibility and clear demarcation – you’ll lose focus
  • Put time in to find the best partner. Don’t just check their competence and track record, but also that their culture dovetails with yours – which means you’ll both see problems the same way, and quickly find solutions.

Research suggests that it can take six months for a new employee to start delivering value to a business. In a world where things move at lightning speed, can you afford to wait that long?

Estonia: Good enough for Microsoft and maybe your company

11 April 2016

Estonia: Good enough for Microsoft and maybe your company

By Tomas Turkovic, Head of Outsourcing, Soitron

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Let’s start with the basics: what does Estonia look like as an economic player? Since it won back its independence at the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, the answer is: pretty good. It’s easily one of the most economically successful of the EU’s newer eastern European members, and figures just out this month show that in Q4 2015, its economy grew 0.7% more than in the same period a year earlier, according to a flash estimate by Statistics Estonia.

Meanwhile, January analysis from Euromoney showed that its debt ratings and capital-access scores are strong, that it’s benefiting from solid economic growth in its largest export market (Sweden), and is in its words “strong enough to ride out any buffeting from the global economy”. To all intents and purposes, Estonia is a Western country, especially in terms of business ethics and skills.

Part of what’s driving all that success is a very solid, tech-friendly national infrastructure. North of 80% of residents have broadband (in fact, the CIA Facebook sees it as one of the most connected areas of Europe), and as a general rule Estonians are considered early technology adopters, having just switched to e-voting, while only 3% of them don’t use the national smart ID cards for accessing online digital public services. Another metric of technology acceptance lies in the fact that for every 100 Estonians, you’ll find over 160 mobiles!

Indeed, the country has something of a proven track record when it comes to building world-class tech brands; Skype’s code was written here, as was TransferWise, while The Wall Street Journal has claimed that Estonia is producing “more startups per capita than any country in Europe”.

A very open business environment

The skills to do such things must accrue from its highly competitive educational system; over 50,000 students are part of its University system, and Estonia’s capital Talinn recently launched a Lifelong Learning Strategy to provide all citizens with learning opportunities tailored to their needs and capabilities throughout their whole lives.

All very promising, a nearshoring customer might say, but what about the services landscape? Again, the evidence is very positive. Most commentators see the outsourcing sector here as one of the most stable in the world, boosted by its compact geography, with excellent connections both East and West. The local market comprises 100+ companies, with over 2,800 IT professionals on their payrolls, and is valued at over $130m already. It also come very high (51) in Tholon’s 2013 Top 100 Outsourcing Destinations Rankings, and two years back got an even higher mark (22) in the closely-followed AT Kearney Global Services Location Index.

Why did Estonia do so well? The analyst group says it’s success is due to a powerful combination of people skills, financial attractiveness and a very open business environment – the country has a special ‘e-Residency’ service to give entrepreneurs from outside its borders easy access to government services, while local salaries are highly competitive from a UK perspective (recent figures suggest around €1,000 a month, even for the most highly qualified tech and service candidates).

Perhaps the best endorsement of all things Estonian tech comes from an unexpected source – Her Majesty’s Government. The London and Estonian governments are collaborating on an intriguing TechLink programme to share best practice and ideas around technology innovation, ultimately aiming to bring together entrepreneurs from the partners to build new solutions for the key markets of fintech (financial technology), cybersecurity, e-government and biotech. At the same time, the head of Whitehall’s Government Digital Service has gone on record to state that we could learn much from Estonia’s use of Open Source.

I mentioned that Skype was built in Estonia – what I didn’t say that it was done by an outsourced team… who so impressed the Scandinavian investors bankrolling the work, they decided to switch all development there. Even now, the majority of the team working on it are still there – even though it’s now owned by giant IT firm Microsoft.

If Estonia’s good enough for Microsoft… maybe it’s good enough for you?

(This article was originally published here).

Speaking clearly; the case for Voice Biometrics

14 March 2016

Speaking clearly; the case for Voice Biometrics

By Martin Hummel, Voice Biometrics Consultant, Soitron UK

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In 1891, a quiet revolution began when a Croatian-born police official called Juan Vucetich started collecting a unique ID for Argentinian criminals: their fingerprints.  As we now know this part of the body is completely unique to each person and can be used to identify them.

With Vucetich’s insight, the field of biometrics was born and we have now seen the finger and iris become huge areas of focus for designers of secure access to systems of all kinds.

But for some reason, our most individual feature – our voice – has only recently started to be used too. The great news is that computers can now ‘hear,’ store and recognise our speech – a breakthrough that has huge implications in all sorts of areas including banking.

This is because a voice-driven system uses a sample of a customer voice (a ‘voiceprint’) and then links it securely in code with their specific records. That means that every time the customer contacts the bank by phone, they can choose to skip the tedious ID process and be verified in seconds by voice alone, simplifying their life but also doing away with the need for banks to work with PINs and two-factor authentication approaches to security.

Who wouldn’t welcome the end of the PIN or memorable word?

Sounds fantastic… and it is, when it works. The reality is that we’ve struggled to go beyond the initial hype and pilot stage to more widespread take-up in global financial services systems of voice biometrics. But that’s changing now, with systems in place at Tatra banka, Banco Santander, Barclays and more recently HSBC.

What’s making these brands look to voice? As we said, password security is a pretty deadly business, often taking up a lot of time, and if the team needs to pass the customer to another desk and the process has to be re-initiated – it’s not a great experience for the customer. And given how customers seemly loathe practicing tight password discipline, even the ID check and PIN step is far from a foolproof gateway to banking. A quick and accurate voice match would be far preferable, and a lot harder to ‘steal.’

Is that the right word to use? Fooling a voiceprint system is much, much more difficult than ripping off passwords, a personal identification number or physical documents. More use of biometrics would radically simplify the security end of system use and as we become more of a digital economy it’s hard to see how users can be expected to remember more non-biometric ways of accessing services, after all.

From the customer contact centre or service desk point of view, stripping out the verification step and establishing immediate, solid customer identification would allow a lot more time to help other users.

And for both parties, voice could be a huge boon in the fight against fraud and identity theft, saving millions all round.

How robust is it?

No matter how good you are at impressions, no one can replicate someone else’s voice to the level of matching their individual voiceprint.  A voiceprint lasts for life. After adolescence, it doesn’t change over time and is yours for life – which means no need for endless re-recordings.

Given all this, and when you add industry-standard compliance systems like PCI-DSS to voice, which is the case with the best systems on the market now, then you have a compelling security option the vast majority of customers will instantly welcome.

An example of voice biometrics in successful practice is Slovakia’s Tatra banka (member of Raiffeisen).  First introduced in 2013, it now has 250,000-plus registered customer voice samples – no less than a third of the whole customer roster. Have the promised timesavings materialised? The answer is absolutely yes – as average client identification now takes 27 seconds per visit, a reduction of over half the time, 66 per cent of what it took previously. In fact, 85 per cent of all calls to the bank’s contact centre now go through voiceprint verification. It’s also saving costs – fewer operators required to provide the same level of service – which lets the team do more value-added work, like sales. And last but not least, voice boosted its important Net Promoter score by 62 per cent inside just three months.

It’s important to note that voice recognition is not only used in retail banking like this, but in a growing number of financial services applications, from topping up prepaid mobile phone cards, validating Web transactions, even for authenticating mobile phone applications containing sensitive personal or corporate data. The reality is that where there’s a financial operation or transaction that needs to be done either quickly or unexpectedly, voice biometrics, which isn’t limited to one device like an ATM or phone banking, can be a great security standby.

So what do we ‘hear’ when we say ‘voice’ in biometric security? Convenience, usability, accessibility, functionality and most of all security. These are the reasons banks like yours could do a lot worse than join the biometrics revolution that Juan started back in 1891.

How does voice recognition biometrics work?

How does voice recognition biometrics work?

By Martin Hummel, Voice Biometrics Consultant, Soitron UK

 

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Most people involved in customer services remain blissfully unaware that voice biometrics is one of the most efficient and effective ways to verify an individual’s identity. Equally surprising is that it is only being used amongst a handful of early adopters – such as Barclays, Tatra banka, Banco Santander and more recently HSBC – but in each of these cases, it has produced great results. In the short time voice biometrics has been available it has already demonstrated how it’s finally possible to replace the password.

It works by recording a voice sample (“voiceprint”) of a customer. This is then paired with customers’ data. And so from then on, every time the customer calls the business, they are authenticated by their voice alone, and able to proceed with their request without the need for any other security procedures.

Voice biometric security has been with us for a few years now and while experts claim that it’s the future of security, the reality is that the uptake has been relatively slow to date.  However it is slowly replacing the password or PIN-based identity verification, which we all acknowledge is antiquated and has many failings from both the business and consumer perspectives.

The Benefits.

Going through password security is time consuming, clunky and frustrating for all parties involved. The near-immediacy of voice biometrics is beneficial to both contact centres and consumers. Contact centres are able to eliminate significant verification times, allowing them to service more customers.  Consumers will benefit from receiving services nearly immediately and, of course, not having to remember their password – which we know is a major chore in itself.

The other benefit is the reduction of identity fraud. Stealing a voice is far more difficult than stealing passwords and ‘physical’ documents. This is powerful for businesses as it has been proven to save millions, but it also delivers an added level of protection to the customer, safeguarding them from the distress of having their identity stolen and needing to go through the subsequent and often lengthy claims processes.

For consumers perhaps the biggest single benefit is that they now no longer have to remember a secret word, memorable phrase or password – they just need their voice. 

Typical questions.

The most common questions are on where it can go wrong.  And here are the answers: 

  1. No matter how good you are at impressions, you will not be able to replicate someone’s voiceprint.
  2. Your voiceprint doesn’t change over time – it is the same throughout your life.
  3. Even if you are driving a tractor at the same time, the system will identify your voice. This is a foolproof system, which also addresses PCI-DSS compliance – often a barrier for new technologies, but not in this case. 

An example of voice biometrics in practice is Tatra banka in Slovakia.  First introduced in 2013, and now with more than 250,000 registered customer voice samples (one third of the whole customer database of the bank), the average time of identifying customers has been reduced 66 per cent – to an average of just 27 seconds per customer. Now 85 per cent of all calls to the bank’s contact centre that need authentication are verified by voice

This time reduction has resulted in significant efficiency increases and fewer operators required to provide the same level of service, which enabled the bank to focus more on active sales.  It also increased the bank’s Net Promoter score by 62 per cent after three months of using voice biometrics.

Voice recognition is not only used in banking. It is also used for recharging prepaid mobile phone cards, validation of web transactions and for authentication of mobile phone applications containing sensitive personal or corporate data. Whenever a financial operation or transaction needs to be done either quickly or unexpectedly, voice biometrics is not dependent on any one device.

Considering where we are today with the near pervasive use of passwords to verify customer identities, voice biometrics is more than a single leap in terms of convenience, usability, accessibility, functionality and of course, security.

 

Read more HERE to find out how Soitron will help improve your security, customer experience and achieve a more personalised service differentiator for your business, thanks to Voice biometrics.

 

 

 

Make sure your cloud agreement has an exit strategy

17 February 2016

Make sure your cloud agreement has an exit strategy

By Martin Gubov, Soitron

 

WHY YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE YOUR CLOUD AGREEMENT HAS AN EXIT STRATEGY

Martin Gubov, head of the infrastructure Business Unit at Soitron looks at why its going to get harder for vendors to sell servers and what you need to know about AaaS.

Has cloud won the battle already? It might certainly be the case in some markets, such as Western and Northern Europe, as well as North America and at least some parts of Asia-Pac. Especially in mid and SMB markets this is major trend, with customers accepting the idea of using cloud in huge parts of their IT stack for its convenience and cost saving potential. Agility of cloud services is truly in sync with the current hyper fast way of life.

That doesn’t mean to say there are no concerns. There are – as the Snowden revelations of previous years, and this quarter’s problems with the Safe Harbor US-Europe data sharing agreement highlight – still concerns with regards to where data resides and how secure it will be. Secondly it doesn’t scale up very well for large IT enterprises in terms of price and connectivity demands. But long-term trends in the basic economics of the IT industry are probably shaping up to push even the die-hards and most data-paranoid into the cloud’s arms.

Basically, it’s going to get harder for vendors to sell acres of servers anymore, as competition from super-hungry new server entrants (think: Huawei!) drives down efficiency-to-cost ratio. Hardware will soon become even more of a commodity item than it is now. Some amazing bargains can be negotiated today – it’s going to be even more of a buyer’s market soon.

Read the full article on  PCR online.