Giles Letheren

Teachers are Amazing

Teachers are Amazing

Teachers are amazing. So are nurses but at least most people being nursed are grateful for the efforts. Teachers seem to have, at least to me, an almost entirely thankless job. I’m able to do what I do today as a result of lessons learned from my A- Level business studies teacher. He wasn’t even a qualified teacher, just an ex businessman who came into school one day to help out when his qualified teacher brother was off sick. Turned out he was quite good at it and nobody asked to see his teaching certificate so he just stayed. He had a heart attack in the middle of my class one day and carried on teaching – though he did eventually concede that ‘the old man isn’t feeling too good’.

He wasn’t just any businessman though. He was the former head of Personnel at a huge ICI site. His stories of 1960’s trade union negotiations (always resolved at the pub) have helped me on both sides of the fence, both as a TU leader and as a manager. He would come out with these impossibly complex ‘what ifs’ that were tiresome to work through until you realised, they were all true. I used his ‘what if’ about a critical order deadline, the only qualified crane driver on site and a daughter’s birthday party, in job interviews for years. (Spoiler alert: They held the birthday party in the factory, fully funded by ICI so the Dad could go drive the crane at the critical moment.)

It’s been a properly long time since I went to school. I’ve been in and out as a parent and a school governor but that’s not quite the same thing as being there all day. At the start of September much of Delt went back to school as we started a new partnership with the Transforming Futures Multi Academy Trust. Although our payroll service is used by a significant number of schools, we would now be supporting day to day frontline education. Not in the classroom ourselves (thank goodness for that) but by supporting services that directly impacted what went on in the classroom.

I got to spend two days at go-live sat in a school. Being in a head teachers office as an adult didn’t make me feel any less guilty than when I was there as a child. What was different that wasn’t so obvious when I was a child was the impossibly amazing job that teachers do, especially at Transforming Futures where they are supporting those for whom mainstream education hasn’t worked out.

Delt is working today in schools today, delivering not just back office services like finance, HR and payroll but also estates and IT where you can really see the benefit in the classroom. By making some technology changes we think we’ve found anything up to 15 minutes more productive time in the school day for each teacher or TA. 15 minutes isn’t a lot, but across 300 teachers that’s the equivalent of over 10 extra teachers. 10 teachers who might one day inspire somebody not that different from me, though it’s possible nobody will ever thank them for it.

Whilst I’m probably 30 years too late, thank you Mr Spears – teachers are amazing.

 

Giles Letheren
Chief Executive Officer

Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

Phishing – Don’t Get Caught!

Phishing – Don’t Get Caught!

It’s never been more important to remain diligent with your data. Delt Shared Services are committed to keeping our customers safe from impersonators or scammers. 

 

‘Phishing’ is a term used to describe the act of a hacker trying to get you to expose your personal data, by sending you genuine looking emails that ask for a response containing personal information, or direct you to a webpage that asks for personal information. Just because an email or a webpage looks like it is from your bank/Amazon/ebay/Microsoft/the IT department doesn’t mean it is! 

Avoid being scammed with these five pointers: 

 

  1. Check the sender’s email address. Pay particular attention to the domain name – sometimes scammers put a single digit in there to try and trick you. De1tservices.com is not deltervices.com 
  2.  Links to webpages are the most common way hackers try and access your information. Only click on links from email addresses you recognise. 
    OR
    If it one of those inexplicable short links like https://tinyurl.com/ycm2yddy, use a link checking website to see what it contains (www.checkshorturl.com).  If you’re not familiar with the domain name once you’ve checked where it goes, don’t click it. 
  3.  Avoid downloading unsolicited attachments. Messages from authentic companies will usually ask you to download any documents you might need directly from their website. 
  4.  Look out for grammar errors. Sounds simple, but an email from a legitimate organisation should be well written.  
  5.  Don’t reveal any personal details. Real companies won’t ask for sensitive information via email – ever. 

 If in doubt, ask. The Delt cyber team deal with hundreds of phishing attempts every week and most of them will never make it through to an end user. Got one you think is suspicious? Ask us to take a look. 

Kevin Tunison – Chief Information Security Officer

Nothing More Than A Bad Day

Nothing More Than A Bad Day

I’ve spent much of the last week reading well written perspectives on how the world has changed and how things will never be quite the same again. So instead of yet another version of that, here’s something completely different.

I had just gone to bed on Friday night when the yelling started. One of the many disadvantages of living with half a zoo full of animals is that they are always secretly plotting new and inventive ways to eat each other. The yelling this time was because our one eyed feline, Pirate Cat, had despite her total lack of depth perception managed to catch herself a door mouse. She had carried said mouse back into the house, up the stairs and under the bed and was readying herself for several hours of merciless torture, followed by a snack. Once sated, she would likely leave a bodyless mouse head on my pillow like some sort of cat Mafioso warning.

The squeaking and the crunching is not conducive to a good night’s sleep so our well-rehearsed family fightback began. The considerable number of other mouse eating animals were cornered and secured in safe locations. Pirate Cat was then surrounded, shock and awe style, with an overwhelming array of force. Realising she was outgunned, she released the mouse, who was giving an Oscar worthy performance of being dead, and retreated to sulk somewhere warm.

Recovering remarkably quickly from being eaten, our guest mouse reanimated rapidly and set about making his escape. Under such circumstances, my teenage daughter is a recognised world expert in small furry creature catching. She is fast, agile and through what must be a genetic abnormality, never gets bitten by the fleeing escapee. This time though, she had met her match.

Usain Dormouse was not just a sprinter. He could jump, duck, dive and fit into incredibly small spaces. On reflection I now wonder how he got caught in the first place, especially by a so obviously faulty, one eyed cat. The capture efforts turned into a marathon and despite many near successes, Usain Dormouse evaded us all. Eventually, bored of our ineptitude, he bolted out of my bedroom, under the impossibly tiny gap beneath the closed door and set about exploring the rest of the house. More yelling at each other for our individual incompetence ensued.

Much the same pattern of events repeated itself in teenage daughter’s room, culminating again, in a blurringly fast exit under the door. Usain Dormouse now headed, under another closed door, into my sons room. This was a mistake because as any parent knows, entering a teenage boy’s bedroom can bring only misery, a wrinkled nose and the very real chance of catching some unpleasant Victorian disease. However, these mortal risks did not prove to be the greatest concern to Usain Dormouse. A much bigger and more pressing worry was our black and white feline, Panda Cat. As the rescue party burst through the door we were rewarded with the sight of Panda Cat siting calmly on the bed, entirely relaxed and at ease with the world, with what looked like a very dead mouse firmly jammed into his mouth.

After more individual incompetence, teamwork finally ensued and Panda Cat gave up his prize, who once again reanimated and made a dash for it. This time, teenage daughter was on form, scooped him up and after a quick medical check revealed no lasting damage, he was taken back outside where he disappeared into the hedge looking for Mrs Mouse to regale her with tales of his adventures.

Yes, life has changed in the last 20 or so days and it will probably never be quite the same again. Many people are suffering very real hardship or loss. I’m lucky as I have a job that still needs doing and a company that will stand by its employees. Yes, I’m short of toilet paper and frozen vegetables are a thing from history. I smell like an alcohol soaked tramp, so frequent is my dousing with hand sanitiser. But I am leading a company that perhaps more than at any time in its history is delivering on our vision of helping people do amazing things. Enabling remote working for thousands of people, making technology work in ways it was never designed to do. Answering 50% more calls than usual, creating call centres overnight from almost nothing. Helping over 4000 employees in doctors surgeries change the health service in ways that would normally take years, in just a few days. Making sure 10,000 people got paid this month, like normal, even though the whole world has gone mad. Delivering the mail to everywhere still open because without deliveries there’s no masks, gloves or hand sanitiser. I’m more proud than I have ever been of our team.

Things have changed, that’s true. But speaking for myself alone, whatever challenges I face are manageable and if I haven’t been eaten by a cat, twice, it’s been nothing more than a bad day.

Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer

I’ll Never Be Goldilocks

I’ll Never Be Goldilocks

I have reconciled myself to the fact that I’ll never be Goldilocks. That perfect positioning where you aren’t too hot, aren’t too cold, but are in fact, just right. To take just one example. I can spray paint moderately badly. After quite a lot of practice I am good enough that from far enough away and without the benefit of your glasses or bright sunlight, a car panel I have painted looks just like one from the factory. If you look closely though, my efforts are remarkably similar to the results from my welding (at which I am truly terrible, though I am very good at grinding). My results are as far from mirror perfect as one of those bendy mirrors at the funfair. The ones that make you look really skinny and remind me what I used to look like before I found pudding.

I can spend hours on You Tube watching amazing people doing amazing things. I am endlessly left slack jawed by just what the human body and mind are capable of. We truly are the most brilliant machine. I can watch Cirque du Soleil for hours – which is really just a freakshowesque love for studying those who have spent their entire lives learning to be brilliant at something largely useless.

If there was a Cirque for car painting, I wouldn’t even make it through the first audition. There are just too many things against me. Whilst I can be pretty consistent in getting the mix of paint, thinner, hardener and accelerant right, I am almost always damned by temperature. Or humidity. Or wind. If all of those are miraculously perfect, then living with 20 animals, not including my children, is guaranteed to result in an otherwise perfect job ruined by a rogue dog hair. The biggest problem though, is me. Factory perfect paint is most often done by a robot. One that pulls the trigger at exactly the right time, that maintains a perfect distance from the surface, that follows all the angles and knows exactly how much to overlap. I am led to believe that robots rarely, if ever, fall over their own air hoses.

I understand it takes nearly 10,000 hours to master something. I have probably spent less than 50 hours with a spray gun in my hand. That’s about an hour for every year of my life. Unless I plan to either live very much longer or paint a great deal more, I am never going to be good at it. But that’s OK. Instead of being great at painting I am not very good at a great many other things.

There are people who are great at painting. Or juggling. Or balancing on top of precariously stacked chairs. There are people who are better at things than machines are ever likely to be. That said, for tasks that require repetitive actions that can be easily scripted, machines are just better. It is for this reason that I don’t fear Artificial Intelligence or Robotic Process Automation. These technologies will ultimately change the world as much as, if not more than the industrial revolution. They will allow the delivery of services of greater consistency and quality. They will let humans spend 10,000 hours becoming a master at something that brings them joy, not simply that pays their bills.

Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer

So simple, even the CEO can do it

So simple, even the CEO can do it

Once upon a time, I used to be able to do useful things. As a CEO I have now forgotten how to do anything useful, except asking other people who still know how to do useful things, to do them.

I was recently reminded that I used to know a bit about hacking. So, when I discovered that a password of mine that I thought was reasonably secure (10 character, uppercase, lower case and special characters) had been breached super quickly I decided I needed to take myself back to school. I learnt password cracking about 15 years ago and the highlight of that experience was cracking the common local admin password of a big defence contractor. It took nearly two weeks and used an embarrassingly large amount of electricity. There are better ways of heating your house, though few that are so satisfying.

When I broke that first password it was done by ‘brute-force’. A process where you essentially try every possible password to see if it works. Computers are pretty good at this. In 2005 my PC could try about 5,000,000 passwords combinations a second. Seems like a lot but a 10 character complex password like my recently broken one could have approximately 60,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations.

In the last 15 years things have changed. PCs have got much more powerful and you don’t use your CPU to crack passwords any more, but rather a graphics card which is much, much faster. I can now get 840,000,000 tries a second using not very special hardware. But even at that speed, with so many combinations, it’s long hard work to try every combination. And this is where my eureka moment came. You don’t have to try every possibility, because like almost every human being, I am flawed and utterly useless at remembering random passwords. Any reasonably short and memorable password has probably already been cracked and the result published. You can just look it up! Try and make it more difficult with an initial capital letter, so does everyone else. Add some numbers at the end? Yes, everyone else does that too. Going to add a special character. Don’t use a _ or a – because they are the most common.

If you can remember it, it’s probably useless. A few days ago I sat down with a list of 1 billion of the most common passwords that I found on the internet. Then I took half a million encrypted passwords from LinkedIn (that were leaked in 2016) and asked my computer to try the combinations from my passwords list against the encrypted passwords. It took about 10 minutes. Not to break one of them, but to break all of them. This isn’t really a surprise because passwords from a breach as big and well-known LinkedIn are likely to already be in the public domain and thus on my list of common passwords.

Passwords suck, but people suck more. In 2018 the most commonly used password was 123456. In 2013 it was 123456. We don’t learn. 4% of all passwords are still 123456 where complexity or length aren’t enforced.

What if you have a great, complex, long and frankly amazing password? Its only any good if you don’t share it. A 2015 study by Intel found that only 65% of people could identify malicious ‘phishing’ emails designed to capture their personal data. Only 3% of people in the study identified all 10 of the test emails. That great, complex, long and frankly amazing password you had – you just gave it away. And now it’s on the internet for everyone to see. Just like mine.

We don’t need to invent a better password; we need to invent a better human.

Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer

Thursday War

Thursday War

I am not a morning person, so the alarm going off at 5am was properly unpleasant. Within the hour I was on my way out to sea with 3 other civilians and a couple of dozen professional sailors. As signatories of the Armed Forces Covenant Delt have long supported both former military personnel and reservists and we’d been invited to join HMS Albion for the day. As part of Flag Officer Sea Training the crew of Albion had spent the previous four weeks training, not just for everything that could go wrong but for when it all goes wrong at once. Today was exam day where all the practice was going to be tested.

Arriving on board to hear a warning of mines would have been truly alarming if it hadn’t all been pretend. It didn’t feel much like pretend though. The crew had been up for hours at ‘action stations’ and were all wearing anti-flash gear and looking serious. Albion was surrounded by a number of smaller ships, apparently protecting us from a marauding submarine. On a fairly regular basis throughout the day, bad things happened. The warning of ‘brace, brace, brace’ results in everyone grabbing hold of something. I caught myself hanging onto a desk despite knowing there wasn’t actually going to be an impact. There were fires, there were floods, there was the constant threat of incoming missiles (which were fast jets pretending to be missiles). Helicopters came and went. Everyone stayed calm. At one point the Bridge was on fire, and evacuated. Everyone seemed to know what to do. It was astonishing to watch a team who all knew their role, whatever was thrown at them. The only degree of stress I noticed all day was a sailor swearing (rather quietly) when he found the route to his destination blocked yet again by fire. ‘Running out of routes…’ he added as we watched and then stepped through the door he had avoided. Fire apparently doesn’t prevent VIPs from getting to lunch. However, passageways were full of fake smoke, which is disconcerting. More so when all the lights go out. That makes it difficult to see the ‘injured’ sat on the floor in corridors. They always apologised nicely if we stepped on them.

Rather than a silver service lunch in the wardroom we joined the rest of the crew in ‘Action Messing’, which is how you feed the whole crew when in the midst of battle. 25% of the crew are fed at any one time, you have seven minutes to collect your food, eat and clean up and then it’s back to work. We were done in just over six minutes. In eating at least, we could keep up with the best of them.

After lunch things got properly serious. We watched from a location that manages damage control. There was a big display showing all the decks of the ship. Anything in red was on fire. Anything in blue was filling up with water. Almost constantly, alarms were going off identifying some other problem. The display got more red and more blue. Everyone was calm. The lights went off again.

To cut a long story short, we didn’t sink or stay on fire. I didn’t fall into an open hatchway or get wet whilst testing my non-existent night vision by stepping off the side of the ship whilst boarding a landing craft, in the pitch black. The ship achieved its mission and dispatched Royal Marines by landing craft and helicopter. It was a genuinely impressive display of people working together and I was left thinking about what lessons the corporate world could learn from the way we train our military. The thing that surprised me most was that throughout the day I never saw anyone ask anyone else what they should do or if it was ok to do it. They simply informed others what they were going to do. Lots of information was communicated and constantly filtered. If it didn’t impact the mission the Captain didn’t need to know.

This level of confidence and trust is something I haven’t seen in business. We could learn from this. In my world you often find that everyone wants to know everything, but in the midst of battle, this crew were only concerned about what they needed to know to do their own job.  The absolute focus on mission, which is perhaps more common in the corporate world was as elegant as I’ve ever seen. Many corporate management teams would benefit from seeing this sort of real teamwork.

It was both an honour and a privilege to spend a day at Sea with the Royal Navy and I’d commend it to anyone who gets the opportunity. I’ve tried to lead my life in a way that results in people shooting at me on a very irregular basis but I do know that if I ever find myself in a sticky spot and in need of rescue – of anyone in the world I’d want the British Armed Forces to be the ones to come get me.

Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer

Lies Matter

Our work

Lies Matter

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about truth, lies and the Delt value of ‘Transparency’. The only way to be truly transparent as an individual would be for everyone to be inside my head. Trust me, that would be a disappointment. Corporate transparency is not that different. Unless you sit at every Board meeting, every meeting of my leadership team, every conversation about any opportunity, change, decision or process then there is always part of what is going on that will be opaque. What we see is filtered and in more ways than we think.

I understand the human eye captures about 10 million bits a second, roughly 10 Mb/s – or twice the speed of my Cornish superfast broadband. The average human brain can process roughly 50 bits per second. That’s some serious filtering/compression going on. Just for our brain to work, we filter out the vast majority of what we see. Add to that what we feel, taste, smell and the compression gets even more impressive.

If you apply this sort of maths to humans doing anything complicated it’s both fascinating and alarming. How about something complicated but common, like driving? If you are a Tesla Model S, this requires a GPU capable of processing of 36 Trillion bits per second. And a second GPU, just in case the first one fails. It’s no wonder I am so bad at driving.

My point is that everything is always filtered. Nothing is ever truly transparent. In the corporate world, transparency is just as impossible. There is just too much information. We make decisions all the time about what we think matters and should be shared vs what doesn’t and isn’t. I love our value of transparency but it’s aspirational rather than ever truly reachable.

‘Not lying or effectively lying through omission’ is probably a more deliverable value but it’s just not as catchy. So, we will continue to try to be transparent and always be honest. Given that vast array of untruths we are presented with daily, which some call marketing, political messaging or even just alternate facts, we are already surrounded by lies. I and Delt don’t need to add to that. We have to filter but we should never have to lie. To quote from the fantastic Sky Drama ‘Chernobyl’:

We’re on dangerous ground right now, because of our secrets and our lies. They are practically what define us. When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it is even there, but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Giles Letheren – Chief Executive Officer