WITS Blog

Courting disaster by installing software

Preventing the installation and execution of unauthorised software needs to be a high priority for any organisation. Failure to do so can expose the organisation to legal risks relating to software licensing as well as technical risks leading to increased downtime and support costs.

The software licensing issue is very clear – if software is installed on an organisation’s workstation then the organisation and ultimately its officers are responsible for that software being correctly and legally licensed.

Andy Beesley of Wired IT Services explains: “If an employee decides to install a piece of photo-processing software onto a company laptop in order to process their holiday snaps then the company and specifically its directors are responsible for that software being correctly licensed. Fines for non-compliance can be punitive and rewards of up to £30,000 are available to whistleblowers who report the illegal use of software on company workstations. Ignorance is no defence in law – just because the employee did this without the company’s knowledge is no excuse”.

For most organisations their IT systems are literally the life-blood that keeps the organisation functioning. If the system as a whole or any part of it functions poorly and with unacceptable reliability then the operation of the organisation suffers with all the implications that this holds for customers and employees. A key element in achieving this is the control of software within the system and in particular on workstations - both desktop and laptop machines.

When software is installed onto a machine it installs various drivers and creates or modifies entries in the registry. In some cases this may change or overwrite entries or drivers that have been previously installed as part of another piece of software and cause either one or both of the programmes to fail or behave erratically. Complete system instability or even a system crash can result.

Organisations should have an approved configuration which is used as standard and is specific to particular hardware and which will have been tested for stability. Any additional software may then adversely affect the stability and functioning of the standard configuration and therefore will need testing before being allowed.

There is an additional danger of real system contamination with some software – programmes downloaded from Internet or from some copied disk obtained from a friend may contain spyware, Trojans such as key loggers, mass mailing viruses etc all of which the spread throughout the network onto all workstations with catastrophic results. Such contamination can take days or weeks to resolve and the damage to business can be immense. 

An organisation’s software lockdown policy needs to be logical, clear and secure:  Hardware – software stability is a lot simpler to achieve if all workstations are the same so the first step is to determine the minimum specification needed and then determine 1 desktop and 1 laptop type.

 

  • Standard software – review business requirements and define a standard software requirement that will be available to all users.
  • Allow users to then apply for any additional software that is needed for them to effectively conduct their jobs. These applications should be reviewed at both technical and company needs levels and signed off by the senior person responsible for IT within the organisation.
  • The technical configurations can then be produced and the workstations locked down. The lockdown needs to be secure – this may also require hardware lockdown as well.
  • Good communications with users is critical – many people regard workplace computers as an extension of their home computers but the difference and the need for proper control needs to be carefully explained.
  • Feedback is essential – the objective is not to inhibit their ability to work efficiently and controlled changes to the configurations will be needed from time to time – however the emphasis is on “controlled”. 

 Andy Beesley of Wired IT Services again: “ This issue of software lockdown can be very emotive – people can see it as an attack on their freedoms – but it is essential if good stability is to be combined with legality. The essential part is good communications and feedback so that users do not feel that it is imposed without proper discussion”.

How to avoid CRM Tool paralysis

It all started thousands of years ago when early farmers realised that they were producing more than they could eat and started a barter trade with other farmers. Records of the trading and who wanted which goods etc started to be kept on tablets of clay – customer relationship management or CRM was born.

In 2006 the concept of understanding your customer is the same but now we use electronic tablets to record our customers’ needs and desires. In between there have been many interpretations of CRM particularly in the past 25 years mainly linked to the rise in computing power - from Personal Information Managers to Contact Management Systems, through database marketing to early CRM systems that basically recorded customer data.

 The 1990’s relationship marketing era was marked by loyalty programmes that often cost companies a lot of money but delivered little in loyalty and even less in value. Now here we are, halfway through the first decade of a new century and with literally $billions spent on CRM and with customer satisfaction falling in many areas to their lowest levels since the early 1990’s.

Remember that we are just talking satisfaction here which is not enough today – most satisfied customers will leave in a heartbeat for a better deal in today’s commoditised market place. So what has been going wrong?

Neil Sheppard of Business Marketing Ltd and a former international sales & marketing director explains: “The main reason has been that CRM has been sold and seen as a technology solution to a people and culture problem and it has been implemented on an inside-out basis without understanding what really turns the customer on. Many organisations barely talk to their customers let alone listen to them – as for really understanding them and building an outside-in culture around that understanding – well they are really few but you know them when you experience them – for all the right reasons! So what is the answer? Well really understanding the customer is the best place to start…..”

Start with in-depth understanding of what your customer really wants – this may not be the obvious and it may not be product related! 

  • Segment your customer base by their needs – not what fits the current organisation chart
  • Identify the skills, competencies and capabilities required at the customer interface to deliver what each customer segment really wants.
  • Review the organisational capabilities and the skills and competencies of all customer contact personnel – there may be some tough decisions to be made here.
  • Implement training and ongoing coaching to create the outside-in culture needed to truly delight the customer
  • Define clear information requirements and strategy
  • Apply a CRM package to automate and streamline the outside-in processes that have been designed to delight the customer not to meet the inside-out view of the world.

 As long as CRM is being applied as a way of enhancing proven value creating processes as opposed to trying to fix people and culture problems then it can and will add a great deal to an organisation. However many CRM packages are designed to apply to large corporations and their application to small/medium sized organisations can be prohibitively expensive.

 One answer is to move to a hosted solution such as that offered by Wired IT Services. Andy Beesley, their Business Development director, explains the approach: “At Wired IT Services we have built a suite of products that are designed to allow small organisations to have the same information capabilities as large corporations – normally using a fully hosted service. It has been a logical extension of our range to add Microsoft CRM but we recognise that this is one IT package that needs a broader approach to its implementation. Just switching on the software and loading the database will not add value unless the customer facing processes and infrastructure are right. We are therefore very pleased to offer a complete package via our associate network that will establish the right foundations before we apply the software solution. The result is a very cost effective solution that will help deliver true value at the customer interface.”

The attractions of illegal software

For whatever reasons around 27% of software currently being used by UK organisations is illegal – private use of illegal software is unknown. Whilst in percentage terms we are amongst the best in Europe, in terms of absolute losses to the software producers and to the Exchequer we are second highest reflecting the increasingly sophistication in UK organisations and their reliance on IT. As with everything there is a hard core that just will not comply with the law but in many cases it is simply an error or lack of basic controls that leads to an unintentional breaking of the law.

Unfortunately, as with the momentary lapse in concentration when passing a speed camera, the law does not differentiate and every year £millions of fines are levied on companies that are caught – and afterwards they still have to buy the software licences that they should have had in the first place. So what are the chances of being caught?

With some software it will itself inform the software owners that there is illegal software on a machine but in many cases it is down to “whistle-blowing” by someone associated with the organisation. The Business Software Alliance has recently increased its maximum reward for software whistle-blowing to £20,000 – a nice extra leaving bonus for a disgruntled ex-employee just leaving the organisation!

Indeed employee reaction to the issue is interesting according to a YouGov poll ……

  • 64% of employees would report illegal activities if the issue had been raised internally but then not fixed
  • 65% of disgruntled employees would consider reporting employers
  • 27% of employees said poor salary reviews or excessive board salaries would prompt them to report a company
  • 42% were concerned that customers would be less inclined to do business with them if they were labelled as using illegal software

 Indeed the whole issue of ethics and damage to personal and business reputations is a real one – particularly for those organisations that spend effort and money complying with the law who increasingly feel that they are subsidising those who do not. In most cases there is a lack of intent and it is help that is needed rather than a big stick. This is particularly the case with small to medium sized organisations where resources are stretched and often there are no dedicated IT resources – keeping track of installed software and licences can often be overlooked.

 Wired IT Services of Runcorn now has a package aimed specifically at helping small and medium sized organisations to firstly check their legality and then to ensure ongoing compliance by using a hosted service where licensing is taken care of and compliance is automatic.

 Technical Director Mark Slater explains “Our “Wired legally” firstly helps organisations to understand their state of compliance and then provides a hosted platform to ensure ongoing legality. It is one of the many benefits of our system that is designed to take time-consuming and worrying issues off management’s hands – they are not IT experts – that is our job”