Thursday, 14 June 2018

Cloud Hosting: Why Azure is the best choice

Thinking about the cloud? Then you should be thinking about Azure

Is it time to wave a final goodbye to those dusty, energy-consuming old servers? The requirement for their own dedicated storage space, security from theft and ventilation certainly brought a certain amount of inconvenience, not to mention the continual upgrades and the cost of maintenance. These are just a handful of reasons why organisations are welcoming the migration to the cloud.

With a more convenient way to store our data and host our systems, it’s no wonder so many manufacturers have been keen to embrace the change. It is estimated 66 per cent of global manufacturers are using public cloud storage for two or more enterprise applications, according to recent data from IDC Research.

Manufacturers today care about integrated digital and physical systems. They want to connect equipment and factories and leverage data from the factory floor to the customer call centre to improve every aspect of their operations. Cloud hosting can facilitate not just this, but plenty more besides.

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it is working with the OPC Foundation to ensure that the millions of devices and applications that are already compatible with the OPC UA standard are also compatible with Windows devices and the Azure cloud. This open standard enables virtually any industrial IoT scenario, including those built with decades-old equipment, to be developed on Microsoft Platforms.

Microsoft has also worked with General Electric (GE) to give users access to its industry-leading Predix platform on Azure. This will make it easier for Predix users to integrate their data into their Azure applications like Office 365 and Power BI, as well as offering them a host of advanced functionalities on Azure, such as natural language technology (Conversation as a Platform), artificial intelligence, advanced data visualization, and enterprise application integration.

What are the key benefits that manufacturers can expect from Azure?

Increase operational efficiency

Azure offers a modular cloud-based infrastructure that allows a complete move to the cloud, or integration with on-premise servers. The ability to scale up or down when needed drives greater efficiency and reduces expense. 

Enable worker productivity 

Giving employees efficient technologies can free them to achieve more. Microsoft Azure and its associated tools enable workers to become more collaborative, more informed and work more flexibly, without sacrificing trust or security.

Expand customer engagement

Smart cloud technology from Microsoft Azure can help manufacturers of any size deliver a connected and personalized customer experience. Microsoft tools provide insights about your customers that allow you to build more profitable, loyal relationships. 

Learn more about how Microsoft Azure could help your manufacturing business become more efficient with our Azure Jump Start Services. Call Systems Assurance today on 0114 292 2911 or email

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Could Brexit spell a revival for the UK manufacturing sector?

A Perfect Storm

Could Brexit spell a revival for UK manufacturing?

Whilst the London fat cats might be trembling in their boots over Brexit, UK manufacturers shouldn’t be. The fallout from our EU divorce could provide the perfect conditions for us to become global leaders in production once again.

Turn back the clock to May 2016, and who would have expected us to be where we are now? We’ve certainly experienced a rough ride since the outcome of the referendum on 24 June 2016. Add to this the turbulence that followed after an equally unexpected general election vote, and it is little wonder so many businesses have remained on tenterhooks in contemplation of a future that seems so uncertain.

But whilst Bremoaners have been quick to focus on the negatives, a review of our position since the Brexit vote reveals a different picture. The UK economy grew by 1.8% in 2016, second only to Germany's 1.9% among the world's G7 leading industrialised nations i. Official figures also show that in 2017, British factories notched up the longest run of expansion for at least two decades, with December seeing producers of investment goods experiencing the sharpest increase in orders since 1994. Employment too, is at an all-time high. In September, the ONS reported that 75.3% of the UK population is now in employment, the highest number since records began in 1971.

So, with Brexit negotiations now underway, isn’t it time we focussed on how Brexit may actually help, rather than hinder the British manufacturing industry?

Leaving the single market

EU membership has been a great benefit to the manufacturing industry, giving us a trade agreement that allows tariff-free access for imports and exports throughout the single market. However, unless the UK can forge new trade agreements, we could see the application of tariffs that will make our exports less appealing and imports more expensive. This would mean the cost of imported goods would rise for UK customers (as the tariffs would be added to the selling price) but on the plus side, could see our 65 million inhabitants move towards buying more British-made products, opening up new opportunities for manufacturing in the UK.

Adopting a world trade model is being viewed as the preferable way forward. A report by the Economists for free trade – based on the trade and macro models of the Cardiff University Macroeconomics Research Group – shows the UK adoption of global free trade would create an additional long-term GDP gain of 4% for the UK and a fall of 8% in consumer prices compared to remaining in the Single Market. Additionally, this 4% GDP gain does not include any benefits gained from other aspects of leaving the EU such as decreased regulation and no longer having to contribute to the EU budget, which would also work in our favour.

More opportunity to export outside the EU

Whilst 43% of Britain’s exports go to the EU (£240bn out of £550bn) the remaining 57% are already being exported elsewhere in the world ii and our exports to the EU have been on a continual decline since 2009. The UK had a trade deficit of £82 billion with the EU in 2016 but a surplus of £39 billion with non-EU countries iii.

The rise and progression of developing countries has also meant that the EU’s share of the world’s economy has been continually falling, with China now taking first place. Representatives from the UK manufacturing sector have argued that Brexit will provide greater flexibility for UK businesses to position themselves with lower-cost suppliers in countries like China, giving us a stronger competitive advantage.

Lower exchange rates will make us more appealing

The exchange rate against both the US dollar and the Euro has declined by an average of around 13% since the referendum result was announced iv, but this has not necessarily been a bad thing.

A weaker currency gives us greater global competitiveness as our exports become cheaper for overseas buyers who find that their money affords them greater purchasing power. In March 2017, British car manufacturing enjoyed its best month in 17 years fuelled by demand for vehicles from abroad v. 2016 also saw a return of cotton-spinning to the country for the first time in a generation. With rising salaries in Asia and increased shipping costs, textiles could be set to boom once again in the UK as it becomes more economical to manufacture on our own shores. In 2016, The Alliance Report stated that 5,000 new jobs had been created in the UK textile manufacturing sector in 2015 and that a further 15,000 new jobs could be created by 2020vi. The desire to ‘Buy British’ is also becoming an increasing trend, with an uplift in demand for UK products that have a strong British association. British branding, authenticity and the tradition of well-made products are seen as a mark of exclusivity, both overseas and in the UK.

With a year to go until we finally leave the EU, there are certainly a number of challenges we’ll still have to face. But by making the right investments in people, training and technology now we can strengthen both our workforce and our capabilities for what lies ahead.

Who knows where we’ll be in 10 years’ time? Hopefully, we’ll be living in a leaner, stronger and more prosperous Britain and one that’s found a renewed strength in manufacturing.


Monday, 11 June 2018

Why your organisation needs to be Cyber Essentials Certified

New research released in 2017 shows that over half of all UK companies experienced a Cyber-attack in 2016, costing businesses as much as £30 billion.

Phishing and viruses were the most common threats, affecting nearly a quarter of those surveyed, while 18 percent suffered a hack or data breach. Although ransomware claimed fewer victims – 388,000 as opposed to 1.3m for phishing attacks – it cost firms a lot more: £7.3 billion versus £5.9 billion. Even public service organisations failed to escape, with the taxpayer having to pick up the tab.

With larger firms most at risk of attack (because of their broader attack surface and willingness to pay a higher ransom to recover their data), this makes the manufacturing sector a prime target. Throw into the mix the international nature of the supply chain and this exposes further vulnerabilities.

What can you do to prevent a cyber-attack on your company? 

The Cyber Essentials self-assessment questionnaire is a good place to start and will give you an evaluation of your current systems and policies.

Cyber Essentials is a government-backed scheme that is comprised of five strategies which work together to actively prevent cyber-attacks. Presently, all organisations and suppliers that deal with secure government data are required to hold a Cyber Essentials Certificate, and they want to build upon this to encourage more businesses to also take the time to put processes in place and become Cyber Essentials Certified.

The benefits of becoming Cyber Essentials Certified 

Increase security within the supply chain

Manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors: these different organisations within the supply chain all share and access certain sensitive information. Without sufficient levels of security, each different stage carries its own security risks. Working exclusively with suppliers and partners who are Cyber Essentials Certified ensures that the highest levels of security are consistently maintained.

Greater customer trust and data protection

Cyber Essentials means that organisations can prove to their customers and other stakeholders that they maintain the highest data protection levels. This gives companies a competitive advantage over others within their industry, since they can offer unparalleled security and lower risk solutions to their clients.

Reduce costs and bolster regulatory compliance 

Being Cyber Essentials certified means you could save money in other areas of your business. For example, insurance can be cheaper since you can prove that measures are in place to optimise security and reduce the chance of a cyber attack. The certification also goes hand in hand with ensuring that you are compliant with regulations such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation and the UK Data Protection Act 1998, as the steps it requires also help you to meet checks for these regulations.

Improve awareness of cyber threats

As the government pushes companies to become Cyber Essentials Certified, it is also self-fulfilling in that it also increases the overall awareness of cyber threats and the need to protect against them. This means that internally they can also put measures in place such as delegating responsibility for data management, disposal and more.
For more information about how Systems Assurance can help you resolve any weaknesses in your online security, take a look at our dedicated internet security page. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Is it time your datacentre had an upgrade?

Data Centre Modernisation

Is your data centre using technology that is no longer supported? Don’t wait too long before reviewing your options.

Migrating away from old technology is never an easy task, but it is a necessity. Dated infrastructure can throw up all sorts of problems, especially when it comes to supporting new systems and hardware. Using old servers can also present a potential security risk. If the idea of migrating to new server(s) is filling you with dread, don’t let it. With the right IT partner, a server migration will be a lot less painful than you expect.

Through its expertise in data centre planning and management, Systems Assurance were able to come to the aid of a Sheffield manufacturer who had been using outdated technology for data processing and storage. The client had been maintaining thousands of Windows Server 2003 workloads which had past the end of life support date in 2015.

System Assurance were brought on board for the assessment project, which involved the analysis and documentation of all workloads still running on Windows 2003. Refresh IT’s “Refresh Insight Servers and Applications” (RIS&A) software was used to collect and collate this information, allowing Systems Assurance to provide the customer with a detailed report. The report outlined the server and applications infrastructure and the most appropriate replacement for these services, utilising either Microsoft Azure or on-premise deployment of Windows 2012 R2, or a hybrid combination of both.

The report gave precise Azure sizing in terms of both IaaS and PaaS models, as well as options for upgrading to new on-premise servers. Applications compatibility for moving the customer’s apps to modern platforms was also analysed, allowing the customer to cost all options for migration. This detailed report could then be shared around the key stakeholders in the business, giving them complete clarity on the steps involved, timelines, risk mitigation and capex and opex costs.

If it’s time for you to review your infrastructure, why not get in touch with Systems Assurance for an initial consultation? We can help reduce the pressure and workloads on your existing IT team and provide you with expert and impartial advice on your migration options.

If you wish to discuss how Systems Assurance can help, please don't hesitate to get in touch on 0114 292 2911 or email

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Enable users to sync SharePoint files with the new OneDrive sync client!

Follow these steps if you want to preview the syncing of SharePoint Online files before enabling the feature for your entire organization.

IMPORTANT: You only need to follow these steps to set registry keys on computers you want to use to preview the functionality. When you're ready to enable SharePoint sync for your organization, you can remove these registry keys and follow the steps under Set SharePoint to sync with the new OneDrive sync client.

Test SharePoint Online sync for Windows

Download and install the latest OneDrive sync client for Windows.
Download and open TeamSiteSyncPreview.reg to enable SharePoint document library sync.

There are known issues when you use the registry keys to preview the feature using Internet Explorer on Windows 7, or on SharePoint sites that use the classic experience. These issues don't affect the feature when you enable it in the SharePoint admin centre.

Enabling TeamSiteSyncPreview.reg makes the OneDrive sync client update on the Insiders Ring. For info about the build currently released to this ring, see New OneDrive sync client release notes.

Restart the sync client:
This preview automatically takes over syncing the libraries that are synced using the previous OneDrive for Business sync client (Groove.exe). For more information about how this works, see Transition from the previous OneDrive for Business sync client.

Test SharePoint Online sync for Mac

If you're using the OneDrive Mac Store app, uninstall it. To do this, open Finder and search for "" or "" from "This Mac." Move all returned items to the trash.

  • Install the latest build of OneDrive for Mac.
  • Exit the OneDrive sync client by clicking on the OneDrive cloud icon in the Menu bar and selecting Quit OneDrive.
  • Open a terminal window by using cmd+space and searching for "Terminal."
  • Run the following commands:
Defaults write TeamSiteSyncPreview -bool True
Defaults write Tier Team
Killall cfprefsd

  • Note: You must be an Administrator on your Mac to preview this feature.
  • Restart the sync client and log in again if prompted.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Four steps to preventing Cyber Security

Four Steps to Preventing Cyber Security Threats in your Manufacturing Business

Over the last ten years, Cyber Security threats have increasingly become a major problem for all organisations. Rather worryingly, the manufacturing sector is now reported to one of the most frequently hacked industries, second only to healthcare. i

Whilst some businesses plan to make a significant investment in cyber defences (totalling $1 Trillion globally over the next five years) it seems the manufacturing sector is lagging behind. A recent study held by Cisco revealed that 40 percent of manufacturing security professionals said they do not have a formal security strategy, nor do they follow standardized information security policy practices such as ISO 27001 or NIST 800-53. ii

With manufacturers increasingly using the cloud, data analytics and mobile to improve their connectivity and infrastructure, this gives them a greater level of exposure to attack. Cyber-attacks can be costly both financially and in terms of business reputation and legal standing.

Awareness and preparation are key to looking out for security threats and preventing them from materialising into a genuine threat. So what are the main things for you to look out for?

Phishing is on the Rise

One of the main cybersecurity threats on the increase is phishing or spear phishing. This involves creating emails to appear as if they’re from a trusted source (like a colleague, boss or client) that contain a link which the recipient is encouraged to click on. This allows the cybercriminals to gain access to the network and encrypt data until the business pays a ransom to “unlock” their files and data. To prevent this, and other malware attacks, employees should be made aware of the risks, shown how to spot phishing emails and encouraged to ask questions before opening any links they are not expecting to receive. At the same time, regular backups should be taken so that data is recoverable, even if it is compromised.

Internal Sabotage and Data Access

Manufacturers are not only at risk from external threats, but there is a chance that internal employees could also pose their own cybersecurity risks. Disgruntled employees or past employees who are able to access highly confidential information have the potential to cause real damage to your business. It is important to keep track of employee access; removing accounts and users once people leave, and implementing restrictions at different levels to limit the volume of confidential data that employees have access to, so that it is only those who are required to view specific information that can see it.

BYOD device and remote working threats

The chances are that many of your employees are not going to set out to sabotage your business and compromise data security maliciously; however, there are ways that employees also increase cybersecurity threats without realising. The most common of these threats is from Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes which allow employees to work on-site and remotely using their own devices. This means that data can then be accessed from anywhere, and the data on the devices can be put at risk when the user is connected to an unsecured network. To prevent data being compromised, you should ensure that passwords and access are restricted to allow only necessary access and that remote access is through a secure VPN – which is essential if employees are working on a public WiFi network.

Prevention through Education

There are many cyber threats that manufacturers face every day, but it is not impossible to reduce the risk of you falling victim to these attacks. Educating your users and delivering cybersecurity training is central to ensuring that they don’t make themselves a target.

If you’d like some help training your users on cybersecurity, give Systems Assurance a call today on 0114 292 2911 to discuss our training sessions.


Monday, 26 February 2018

Two Free Microsoft tools for the security Conscious

Microsoft Compliance Manager

It’s included in your Office 365 subscription and can be accessed via your 365 Portal.
Compliance Manager is a cross-Microsoft-cloud service feature designed to help organizations meet complex compliance obligations, including GDPR, ISO 27001, ISO 27018, NIST 800-53, and HIPAA.

Compliance Manager provides a summarized dashboard showing your compliance posture against the data protection regulatory requirements that matter to you when using Microsoft cloud services. In each control framework, you can get a compliance score that reflects your real-time compliance posture and helps you to make real-time risk assessments.

Read more about Compliance Manager here.

Microsoft Attack Simulator

It’s available in your 365 Portal under “Threat Intelligence”.  It allows Admins the ability to simulate different threat scenarios to gain an understanding of how your users would behave in the event of a real attack and evaluate how secure their configurations are.

Read more about Attack Simulator here.

Systems Assurance GDPR Services

We have released several articles on GDPR and how it differs from The Data Protection Act. Our GDPR Gap Analysis service will identify where the risks are and more importantly how your own staff can alleviate them.  Our GDPR Compliance Fast Track service combines your cloud move with a Gap Analysis and how this can save you money.

For more information on our Security services including Cyber Essentials and Penetration Testing, please contact your account manager on 0114 292 2911 or email