Virtue Technologies’ Managing Director Phil Lawson Wins Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2015 BIBAs

We are proud to announce that our Managing Director Phil Lawson is this year’s winner of the BIBA Award for Entrepreneur of the Year. Run by the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, the BIBAs is the ‘the one they all want to win’. That’s because businesses that win a BIBA get much more than just a trophy. The meticulous approach of the judging process, the BIBAs Winners’ Academy and the national profile of the event means those entrepreneurs that take part in the BIBAs take their minds and business to another level.

When asked what it felt like to win a BIBA award and what it means to him, Phil said “It is a great honour to win such a high profile award, although it is an individual award it is only made possible by all the wonderful people that work for and are in partnership with us”

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The Entrepreneur of the Year Category was focused on the person behind the successful business. Key areas for any entrepreneur are the ability to innovate and to recognise opportunities. Even though Phil is relatively young, he has a vast amount of experience, skills and knowledge which has helped him have a good eye for spotting businesses with potential. Phil has identified many new opportunities for his business. With the skills and knowledge he has gained from being the Managing Director of Virtue Technologies it has enabled him to easily spot potential in start-up businesses.

Phil was once before short-listed for Entrepreneur of the year at the BIBA awards back in 2008, since then Phil’s achievements as an entrepreneur have excelled. As the Managing Director of Virtue Technologies, using this as a base, he has developed numerous businesses which has given him multiple roots into the one niche market. Being involved with multiple companies focused on dealing with the same sector, it continually gives Phil a better understanding and knowledge of the sector in which he operates. It further allows him to develop and grow start-up businesses to be successful and continue to develop and complement each other.

Phil demonstrates many different personality traits that make a successful entrepreneur. As any entrepreneur will tell you, there are numerous problems to overcome and it is not easy being an entrepreneur. Being passionate and resilient can only go so far. Phil’s strong sense of self confidence along with flexibility, knowledge and vision makes him successful. Phil believes both continuity and consistency are critical, whilst sometimes it is easy to be drawn by something new Phil always looks to the bigger plan and maintains continuity.

His eye for cutting edge innovation and keeping abreast of emerging business ideas, trends and technology allows him to make informed judgements on future strategies and trends. Phil displays these qualities on a daily basis, but a fine example of when he has demonstrated these qualities is through the many business opportunities he contributes towards, making them successful.

Phil’s sense of strong leadership has earned the trust and respect of his team by demonstrating positive work qualities and confidence. This is displayed on a daily basis in the gratified workplace he has created for his employees. Phil has a strong sense of basic ethics and integrity to all his shareholders whether it be maintaining loyal partnerships with suppliers or always having the customer’s best interest at heart. As Phil grew up on a farm he was involved in a business from a young age, the honesty and work ethic of his upbringing is conveyed in the culture of the companies he is involved in today.

The Virtue Technologies team would like to Congratulate Phil once more for his many achievements. Congratulations!

Here is why the BIBA judges chose Phil Lawson as the Winner of this year’s Entrepreneur of the year award

 

New school year brings new security features to Office 365 Education

As schools prepare for the start of another school year and teachers get their classrooms ready to welcome students, Microsoft are introducing additional features to meet the needs of schools, teachers and students.

Today Microsoft are announcing changes to Office 365 Education that will make it easier for schools to meet their security and compliance needs at a time when teaching and learning are becoming increasingly collaborative and cloud-connected.

With today’s update Microsoft simplified their education lineup, moving to a single, free plan for all academic institutions and added several new features to help schools meet their security and compliance requirements.

In addition to the basic services—Office Online, 1TB of OneDrive storage, Exchange email and Skype—free Office 365 Education now includes advanced features such as:

  • Legal hold and eDiscovery to help you find, preserve, analyze and package electronic content for a legal request or investigation. This capability spans across email, documents and instant messaging.
  • Rights Management Services, which prevents file-level access without the right user credentials.
  • Data Loss Prevention to help you identify, monitor and protect sensitive information in your organization.

With these additional features, now included at no cost for Office 365 Education, schools can more easily maintain a safe, effective and compliant learning environment while providing world-class productivity tools for their teachers and students.

If you already have Office 365 Education, there’s nothing for you to do. These new features will simply show up as they become available.

School admins, if you’re not yet providing Office 365 Education to your entire school, contact Virtue Technologies today. We have deployed nearly 60,000 Office 365 seats across 86 customer sites.

For more information about Microsoft Office 365 visit our website or call us on 01695 731 233

We are now official suppliers to Crown Commercial Services

We are proud to announce that Virtue Technologies, in partnership with Bramble Hub, are now official suppliers to Crown Commercial Services. In order to be accepted on to the framework, we were subject to rigorous due diligence by Crown Commercial Service, giving assurance to potential customers in the procurement of their education infrastructure from us.

Bramble Hub are specialists in helping ICT companies secure public sector contracts through UK Government frameworks. Its network of best-in-breed SMEs and niche specialists, provide high quality, flexible and cost effective solutions and services to over 250 UK Public Sector bodies.

The new Crown Commercial Services agreement provides public sector customers with the capability to obtain ICT goods and services tailored to the specific needs of a diverse range of educational establishments. The scope covers the full range of ICT goods, services and solutions operated by educational institutions including design, specification, supply, integration, implementation and testing, training, and support and maintenance (either all together as a packaged solution or in any combination required by customers).

The framework provides a range of delivery models including:

  • supply and fit
  • support and maintenance
  • systems configuration and management
  • partial or fully managed ICT service
  • complete integrated service with other technologies/partners
  • supply and integration of solutions into both green field (new build) situations and legacy
  • ICT environments requiring integration and repurposing of existing ICT

Plus, a range of ICT solutions including but not limited to:

  • hardware (servers and user computing devices)
  • software (operating systems, office productivity, network, security etc.)
  • networks (routers, switching, cabling, local area network infrastructures etc.)
  • peripheral equipment (printers, peripherals to support specialist curriculum provision.)
  • AV equipment
  • user devices(desktop computers, tablets, high specification devices)
  • mobile connectivity (as an integrated package within user devices)

For more information about the Crown Commercial Services or the ICT Services for Education Framework, please contact Philip McNair on 01695731233 or via email Philip.McNair@VirtueTechnologies.co.uk

OneNote for Students – Collaborating in the classroon with OneNote Class Notebook [Interactive Tutorial]

The need for collaboration and communication between and among students and teachers is a high priority within education, and having the appropriate technology to seamlessly blend this in to day-to-day teaching and learning is key.

The tutorial below provides an insight into how the OneNote Class Notebook Creator can be used to access a personal workspace, assignments and teacher feedback, as well as providing a safe and secure environment for collaboration and group work:

Collaborating in the classroom with a OneNote Class Notebook

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As you’ll discover in the tutorial, the OneNote Class Notebook is divided into 3 main sections:

  • Collaboration Space for sharing and editing content across students in real time
  • Content Library for various course materials
  • Student Notebook which provides private space for individual students and their teachers to communicate and see how their learning is progressing.

The teacher can control access and editing permissions across the different sections of the Class Notebook. This allows them to provide each student with a private place to work without their classmates being able to see their notes, and also keep the course materials protected from any editing by anyone other than the teacher.

This doesn’t come at the cost of creativity or group work, as the Collaboration Space gives the entire class a place where each student can share their ideas with their classmates, see who has contributed what, and receive real-time feedback from their teacher.

Students can also copy course materials from the Content Library into their own Notebook to work on them in private, while still sharing this area with the teacher in order to receive feedback and grading on their work.

The OneNote Class Notebook Creator is just one aspect of OneNote that will make learning easy, faster and more progressive, giving students and teachers an opportunity to work together and improve the way we learn.

For more information please contact us on 01695 731233 or email Kate.Frackelton@VirtueTechnologies.co.uk

Ben Whittle’s Uber Computer Update – Front Panel

 

front panelSo having chosen the fans he will be using, Ben has finally set about mounting them to the front panel. The front filter sticks to a self-adhesive magnetic strip; so Ben used this as a template to marks out where to cut once he had planned out the exact positioning of the fans.

 

32ddOnce the air intake was cut out Ben had to carefully mark out where to drill the mounting points for the fans. The secondary filters made this quite a laborious task as they overlap the 120mm fans by about 2mm on each side, otherwise he would have just lined all the fans in a row and pencilled through the mounting points.

 

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The careful planning paid off in the end, as all fans perfectly lined up with the filters literally touching each other. Ben was  quite pleased with that result.

 

 

tbvOne small issue with the front filter is that it is 120 x 480mm including the border, meaning a fair bit of the surface area of the blades is blocked by the front panel. This isn’t so much an issue of airflow, more that the blades being so close to the mounting surface will result in the fans not performing as well as they could.

Thankfully there is a solution, Ben found a company called Phobya who make 120mm acrylic fan spacers. This should put some space between the fan and the mounting surface, with the added bonus of having pre-drilled 5mm mounting points for LEDs. So this little problem, in a way, has turned out to be a positive. The fan filters are somewhat transparent and Ben likes the idea of a light glowing behind the filter, the only reason he didn’t go for LED fans was that he wouldn’t have been able to link them to the lighting controller which will change the colour of the illumination under the glass. However, if he’s just buying a bunch of 5mm RGB LEDs he can wire them to the lighting controller and have all the illumination changing colour simultaneously, might be a bit of extra work but Ben thinks the end result will look pretty good.

tttggfffOnce Ben had finished mounting the fans, he ordered his spacers and made a start on the panels underneath the desk, making up the sections which will house the optical drive and the Asus ROG panel. Ben discovered that cutting angles out of 8mm plywood is a bit of a pain but the end result isn’t too bad.

Ben says there is still a lot of work to do on the front panel, he has yet to design the control panel. He is planning on having power switch, headphones jack, 4x USB 3.0 ports, volume control and UPS control al mounted to one panel. That alone will be a few hours work, especially with wiring.

Stay tuned for more Ben Whittle’s Uber Computer updates.

Virtue Technologies makes the final of the BIBA Awards for ‘Best Use of IT’ and ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’

This week we found out that Virtue Technologies has made it through to the final round of the BIBAs 2015. We have been shortlisted for the award of ‘Best Use of IT’ and Virtue Technologies’ Managing Director, Phil Lawson, has been shortlisted for ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’.

Run by the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, the BIBAs is the ‘the one they all want to win’. That’s because businesses that win a BIBA get much more than just a trophy. The meticulous approach of the judging process, the BIBAs Winners’ Academy and the national profile of the event means those entrepreneurs that take part in the BIBAs take their minds and business to another level.

We all have our fingers crossed here at Virtue Technologies for when the winners are announced later this year. Here is our story we shared with the BIBAs which has gotten us so far in the competition.

Our Story

Following the 2010 general election, the change of government brought huge changes to Virtue Technologies’ customers, focusing on the education sector we looked these changes and responded quickly in a way that a only small business can. Using a combination of ICT and internet technology, we created our Private Cloud solution. This is a direct response to Schools becoming part of multi academy trusts and needing the ability work seamlessly and securely across multiple Schools in different areas. We provided high speed connectivity solutions to every site in the trust, we then used a combination of routing and server technology to create each trust a private cloud for all their sites.

We located equipment within our own data centre of the core of the network, within this data centre we provided a virtual server solution designed specifically for the needs of education. There the trust hosts for example a financial package, centralised learning portal or internet security solution. To take it to another level we then created a seamless single sign on experience presenting on-site apps, private cloud apps and public cloud apps such as Microsoft Office 365, Google apps.To a user, this gives a completely seamless experience with one user name and password on any device mobile or fixed and at any work or home location. It allows the Academy trust to use a hybrid environment storing data locally, in a private cloud or in a public cloud. Critically this gives them the flexibility to choose where there data is meeting regulatory guidelines or the accessibility of the public cloud services.

We feel our position as an innovative and flexible small business has made us able to respond to the needs of the changing education system. We competed against huge PLC’s such as Virgin Media, BT and RM PLC for this contract and none them innovated quickly enough and could not offer a cost effective solution to the customer. We have done this and have a relationship with this customer and many other similar ones that are long term, high value and profitable, but most importantly, meet the customer’s needs.

The basis of our highly successful private cloud solution is a high quality internet delivery network. As the initial demand for cloud based services started we made a strategic decision that to provide cloud services we need to control and manage the end to end delivery of the internet to our customers. Traditionally the local authority provided the solution which was inflexible, wrapped in red tape and not meeting the needs of a modern Academy. We provided a solution fit for purpose and meeting the needs of the Schools which was hugely successful, gaining Virtue new customers. At the same time the education sector was starting to invest heavily in mobile devices, iPad’s, kindles etc. This created huge challenges for anyone providing internet to Schools. First priority to keep children safe online, but these devices need to be flexible and work very differently from a standard PC or laptop. The Schools were demanding the security to be relaxed but this put Children as risk.

We embarked and a large R & D project and developed an offering that allows the APP based learning an iPad offers to be allowed but at the same time putting security in place to protect children. This was ground breaking for our customers who had previously been restricted by outdated internet solutions provided red tape laden local authorities. Our solution has revolutionised things for the local IT support teams but most importantly revolutionised the learning experience for the children.

This development then created a second challenge for our business, the freedom given and huge increase in number of devices and sent internet usage through the roof. Being limited by the infrastructure available to us in the local area we can only provide a certain size of internet at a price within budget of the academy. We had to be clever and we completed a 2nd R & D project to analyse what each user was doing with this new way of learning, what Apps they were using and what was using all the internet bandwidth. Once understood we were able to complete some innovative designs to prioritise certain APPs and internet usage over others. For example we can prioritise a student taking an online exam to ensure it is seamless whilst restricting guest users accessing YouTube. We were able to allow YouTube but only for education based videos. We could allow social media but block the games within them, and stop people updating their iPhones at the same time.

The overall innovation is a constant work in progress responding to the changing needs of our users and internet landscape. It is a balancing act to give the user a high speed, flexible but crucially secure experience.

As an IT company it is critical we follow technical trends but we are also very clear that it is very easy to jump around from new product to new product. We live in a world of information, so getting information on trends is easy. We believe the key is to be able to sift through them and apply them to our business and most importantly to the niche sector we work in.

Consumerisation of IT is a huge challenge, home based technologies are being pushed into enterprises by users. This is both exciting and challenging, some of the technology such as Apple’s new watch or Google glass offer wonderful learning opportunities for children, but they also create us technology integration challenges.

Our strategy is to take a step back from the technology and look at need, it is about engaging with our customers to help them to understand before investing. We hold regular strategy meetings with our customers and we run customer events showcasing new technology. We help our customers with a 3-year plan and new technology is slotted into this to ensure it is thought about before purchasing. Once we see new technology that there is a clear need for, we invest in it. We train, develop and design within our business to have solutions ready for market.

For our business we believe innovation in IT is not about that one magic invention that changes the world, it is about how we put together lots of small innovations to create a solution that meets both our customers and our business needs. Innovation in IT is the most important part of this but we also feel innovation in financing, training and customer engagement is critical.

We firmly believe our cloud and internet solution meets all these needs and is a wonderful example of the use of IT.

Winners of the BIBAs will be announced at the BIBAs Ceremony, Blackpool Tower Ballroom on September 11th 2015BIBAS_FINALIST_2015_Best Use of Information Technology (3)BIBAS_FINALIST_2015_ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR

Considerations when Proxying & Filtering Https traffic

To provide secure sessions between your users and websites that have sensitive information or require authentication, HTTPS encrypts web content between the website server and the user’s browser. While the traffic between the two is encrypted during a HTTPS session, the content that is delivered is just as likely to be infected with viruses or other malware as content from non-encrypted sites. As the traffic is secured and encrypted between the client and website the proxy/filter/firewall is unable to inspect the traffic.  To scan encrypted content, it must first be decrypted, then scanned, then re-encrypted for delivery to the requesting end user’s browser.

Doing this maintains the privacy of the encrypted content, as the process is done automatically without human eyes viewing the content. However, because the traffic has been decrypted, the original site certificate cannot be used by the browser to authenticate the connection, so the original certificate is replaced by one generated by the proxy/filter/firewall. This replaces the original certificate, which requires that you download and install the generated certificate authority into your users’ browsers, which can be done centrally using Active Directory Group Policy Objects for domain joined clients.

Probably the largest example of a secure website used in education is the google search engine.  By default Google will redirect users to a secure version of the site, if you are not decrypting as explained above then the searches & results within the search engine are invisible to the proxy/filter/firewall and therefore cannot be filtered or inspected.  Particularly with the general introduction of multiple client device types within education we strongly recommend implementing an appropriate solution that can manage secure web traffic effectively and efficiently across all internal networks and devices.  There are a number of considerations when implementing an appropriate solution such as the ability to decrypt and scan as above, the associated performance overhead, certificate management on client devices, impact on users and the fact some secure websites just will not work when decrypting & Scanning (after all you are simulating a ‘Man in the Middle Attack’!)

For a number of years now we have been working closely with Sophos and have implemented a large number of their Security Gateway products to predominately perform the Web Filtering and Firewall roles within educational sites.  The security gateway’s utilise high spec hardware and can perform the decrypt & scan method but also has other functions for managing Https traffic.  The added advantage though is the combination of the functions available and the flexibility of configuration, this allows us to implement a secure solution that satisfies the requirements of each differing site.