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DELIVERING SUCCESSFUL IT SYSTEMS THROUGH THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS

By Mike Smith, Executive Director, Virgin Media Business (Direct)

 

Is there anything more frustrating than finding out your bank account is unavailable due to a technical issue? Or being an IT manager at a bank and, through no fault of your own, feeling powerless when your IT system goes down?

IT failures at major banks are high on the news agenda right now. A recent Treasury Committee report found that the frequency of crashes and associated customer disruption was “unacceptable”, leaving customers cashless and cut off. Recent outages have happened as a result of various factors, such as upgrades going wrong and – in some unfortunate cases – crippling cyber-attacks.

Given the costs of disruption to both customers and to banks, outages are simply not an option. To cope, banks must ensure their systems, processes, and underlying infrastructure are resilient – but doing so requires significant investment. How then, do they select the right partners who will help them not only survive, but thrive, in the long term?

 

Swiping right on an IT partner

With a vast range of technological partners out there, the first step for banks is knowing how to select the business best equipped to help them build resilient and effective IT systems.

But it’s not just about experience. Crucially, an effective IT partner will adopt a certain approach to contingency planning. It will not only think about today, restricted to existing infrastructure, ways of working, services and threats. Instead, it will focus on tomorrow, asking how will innovation impact on systems; what new threats lie over the horizon; how will increasing automation impact on networks?

Selecting an IT partner with foresight, infrastructure and technical knowledge to challenge a bank to think about the future, is critical. It is the only way to ensure systems can deal with the now while proving adaptable as their business, and customer expectations, evolve.

 

Resilience is king

If services go down – nothing else will matter. That’s why putting in place rock-solid connectivity with the stand-in systems and backup infrastructure for emergency situations is so important.

Whether that’s selecting a connectivity provider with 99.99% reliability or investing in high capacity backups to cover the 0.01% of times, banks need to plan for failure. Investing in resiliency is not a nice to have – it’s an essential part of keeping services running.

 

Evolutionary, rather than radical change

Financial service companies should look for a partner’s ability to implement incremental change. The best partners won’t be looking to rip out a client’s infrastructure and start again. Not only would that be incredibly expensive, but it would likely cause major disruption to employees and customers.

One bank that has realised this with great success is Danske Bank. Choosing Virgin Media Business to guide it through an overarching transformation agenda, it listened to advice on the potential of incremental change to deliver a new vision for customers, employees, stakeholders and society – with enormous success.

 

Boosting the bottom line

Banks should also consider whether their potential IT partner has experience making the connection between IT systems and customer acquisition. Perceptions of IT departments as back-end and functional parts of a business are misguided. In fact, small changes to IT infrastructure can hold the key to boosting profitability and bringing in new revenue.

Metro Bank has transformed its IT architecture in a way that supports business goals. By using application programming interfaces (APIs) and a loosely coupled IT platform – as well as putting the IT team at the centre of its digitalisation strategy – the business has implemented a rapid and streamlined process for customers opening new accounts.

Clearly, getting the infrastructure right can have a major business impact. An effective strategic partner can play a crucial role in guiding a financial services institution towards incremental success that drives revenue.

 

Partnerships win

To prevent IT outages and move towards systems capable of supporting growth and a first-class customer experience, it’s vital banks choose a long-term strategic partner. This isn’t just to boost resilience in the face of cyber-threats, but to work out how infrastructure can feed into commercial growth and customer retention and acquisition.

As competition heats up in the sector and challenger banks continue to shake things up, infrastructure will take on a new importance – supporting business growth, creating compelling customer journeys and implementing effective cybersecurity strategies. Having round-the-clock counsel from a trusted and experienced partner is vital to achieving this.

 

Business

MAKING THE (ENTERPRISE) GRADE IN LOW-CODE SOFTWARE

SOFTWARE

By Willem van Enter, Vice President EMEA, OutSystems

 

We all use software applications every day, all the time. That part should make sense to everybody. With many of us now happy to call ourselves digital natives, the question is not whether we are going to use apps to make our lives better; it is now a question of which apps we will choose to build our personal workflows around.

This ubiquity of software penetration is a good thing. It allows us to automate our work (and indeed personal) lives in a manner that we may never have considered, even as recently as the turn of the millennium.

But there’s a bigger challenge here.

More users need more apps in more places with more functions spanning more data sources connected to increasingly complex analytics engines, and all of that software has to be deployable across an ever greater number of device form factors and platforms.

 

Low-code validation

Once an IT shop is empowered with low-code efficiency, the speed of development and release can rise sharply. But no business should expose themselves to this level of power without first thinking about all the control mechanisms needed to be able to accommodate new low-code-created apps.

 

Policy, provenance & policing

We’re talking about areas such as user provenance checks (so that we know who built which piece of software and if they were supposed to), policy controls (so that we know which software is accessing which data sources and whether it is supposed to) and areas like scale-provisioning (so that an organization’s IT estate can cope with a much higher throughput of information) and so much more.

The move to taking advantage of low-code software development is happening already. But, for enterprise organisations large and small to truly take advantage of the efficiencies it offers, they need to have faith in the ability of any platform’s ability to ultimately deliver workable, serviceable, functioning enterprise-grade software.

They need, to coin a phrase, to know that low-code makes the grade to enterprise-grade. So, what elements of core form and functionality should they look for?

 

Making the enterprise-grade grade

Building secure enterprise-grade low-code software is imperative; obviously, it is. Secure software development in this space is so fundamental that efficient low-code platforms will always be presented with security controls as an inherent and implicit part of their core functionality.

Nobody expects business applications designed to serve potentially millions of users with digital experiences to let them down, so enterprise-grade security, scalability, governance and performance should form key elements in the platform and toolsets that are used.

Because low-code is typified by a high degree of automation, an effective low-code approach should offer hundreds of automatic security and risk controls in its portfolio. But implementation is just the first step; an always-on monitoring and operations source also needs to exist for the customer to be able to assess their risk factors at any given time.

 

Climbing the scalability peak

Enterprise-grade low-code software may start off as an experimental application or some level of prototype or test case. Its speed of development naturally gives rise to its use in this type of development. But when an application (or some other code-based data service) hits the spot, the team behind it will need to know that it can scale.

Let’s say a small medical tech lab develops an application that helps track some aspect of disease outbreaks that takes a radically new approach in some way. If a viral pandemic ensues, then that software would need to scale seamlessly from something smaller than departmental level to an Internet-wide deployment – all without rewriting any code or hitting a wall.

Climbing the peak to true enterprise-grade scalability with low-code software involves taking advantage of technology that includes containers and microservices. Only by ‘thinking small’ in this sense can you consider being able to ‘think big’ later on and build mission-critical apps that scale to support millions of concurrent processes.

 

Governing principles

Within all of this discussion, it will be crucial to keep an eye on governance so applications built with low-code platforms can comply with controls such as GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, FedRAMP and more. The proven way of doing this is to use low-code development tools that offer a fine-grained control of your software portfolio with the ability to perform dependency checking, audits and validation.

There’s a human factor here, too, i.e., organisations can rely on low-code automation advancements for a lot, but they also need to think about establishing teams that can work simultaneously and keep conflicts to a minimum.

Finally, let’s mention performance. It’s a key measure of how and why any piece of software was developed in the first place. Software needs to work, it needs to drive business forward, and it needs to do so at a pace that is commensurate with and proportionate to the use case requirements behind why it was developed in the first place.

In the low-code universe, we have the ability to deploy enterprise applications that are automatically optimized to ensure they perform as designed and expected. We also have the ability to use pre-built connectors that integrate with automated enterprise logging technology, which gives developers real-time performance monitoring feedback to help avoid possible bottlenecks.

Low-code software application development can offer all of these features, controls and characteristics, so organisations can be assured that low-code does make the grade for enterprise-grade. All that’s needed is for the customer themselves to know how high low-code can go to be able to graduate to this new grade of efficiency.

 

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Business

CORONAVIRUS: FURLOUGHED WORKERS AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR BUSINESS

CORONAVIRUS

by Tina Chander, Wright Hassall

 

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All businesses with a PAYE scheme in place on 28 February 2020, regardless of size or sector, will be able to benefit from the scheme with the government reimbursing employers up to 80% of their employees’ wages, to a maximum of £2,500 per month, plus employer’s NICs and auto-enrolment pension contributions.

Employees on agency contracts and flexible or zero hours contracts can also benefit from the scheme. In addition, the scheme also covers employees who were made redundant since 28 February 2020, if they are rehired by their employer.

 

Furloughed workers: what does that mean?

Businesses have to ‘designate affected employees as furloughed workers and notify your employees of this change’. However, employers still have to heed employment law which means that, having designated those employees whose jobs were at risk, they will need to agree with those employees that they will be ‘furloughed’.

Given the extraordinary situation prevailing at the moment and given the alternative to being furloughed, it is likely that most employees will agree to the terms.

For those workers who do not agree, they will either have to take unpaid leave for an indeterminate period or employers are likely to have to go down the redundancy route. It should be noted that furloughed workers are designated by the employer – an employee cannot ‘self-designate’.

 

Eligibility

Employees hired on or after 1 March 2020 are excluded from the scheme, presumably to stop people ‘gaming’ the system by hiring family members after the scheme was announced and then furloughing them.

However, those businesses that have made people redundant since 28 February 2020, can re-employ them and then furlough them. To qualify for payment under the Job Retention Scheme, an employee must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks in order to prevent employers putting staff on a furlough ‘rota’ i.e., one week on furlough, one week off.

 

Who can be furloughed?

Normal employment law still applies so employers must not discriminate when deciding who to furlough. Employees returning to work after a period of sickness absence, or self-isolation, can be furloughed, however they cannot be furloughed whilst they remain on a period of sickness absence or self-isolation.

Furlough will only take effect when this period comes to an end. Employees who are “shielding” however, will be eligible to be furloughed. Employees on maternity leave can be furloughed if they agree to return to work early or change to shared parental leave, alternatively they will remain on Statutory Maternity Pay where this is applicable and will not be furloughed until their return.

When agreeing changes and moving to furlough status, it is important to remember that normal employment law processes apply. Employers must be careful not to discriminate against any employees when deciding who to offer furlough to.

 

Furloughed workers remain employed but must not work

Assuming the designated employee has agreed to be furloughed, they cannot undertake any work for their employer at all. If the employee continues to work, even reduced hours, they are not eligible for the scheme. The good news for furloughed staff is that they can volunteer or undertake training providing neither activity generates income for their employer. Whether or not people can take advantage of this while confined to their house is, of course, another matter altogether.

 

How it will work?

While furloughed, the government will pay related employment costs including pension contributions and NICs (but not commission or bonuses) in addition to wages. All furloughed workers will remain employed by their employer for the duration of the scheme.

Employers can make up the missing 20% of their employees’ salaries but that is their choice (or ability to pay). There is no legal obligation for the employers to top up the salary to 100%, but any contractual clauses regarding withholding pay and deductions should be taken into account when this decision is being made.

For those employees who are furloughed, their employment status will change but their employment record remains continuous.

Employers need to give HMRC a list of furloughed employees. Employers pay their workers as usual, via PAYE, and then apply for funding, every three weeks (not weekly) to cover 80% of their wages (up to £2,500 of gross pay).

You will receive a grant from HMRC to cover the lower of 80% of an employee’s regular wage or £2,500 per month, plus the associated Employer NICs and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage. Fees, commission and bonuses should not be included.

For workers whose pay varies, the 80% is based on the higher of:

  • the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or
  • the average earnings in the previous 12 months (or less, if they’ve worked for less).

If employees paid the minimum wage are furloughed, the fact that 80% of their earnings will bring their wages below the NMW does not contravene the legislation as people are only entitled to the NMW if they are working. They can, however, claim the NMW if undertaking training.

The HMRC system through which payments can be made should be up and running by the end of April. The scheme is expected to run for three months, subject to review.

 

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