– Richard Phillips
In the rapidly evolving world of cloud technology, the question of which service to adopt is generally seen as a choice between Microsoft Azure and AWS with Google Cloud computing services bringing up the rear and IBM and Oracle some way behind . However, for large-scale online transaction processing, Oracle still leads the way as the world’s most popular database management system  and Oracle’s cloud based offering deserves serious attention.
If we consider a typical enterprise there is likely to be a sizable existing investment in Oracle database technology. When moving services to the cloud, however, AWS or Azure have quickly become the go-to providers. Substantial investment in Oracle is effectively written off in favour of spend on new capability. To combat this rush to AWS and Azure, Oracle launched their Autonomous Database in 2018 but it’s still not seen as the first choice for many enterprises; even those with large existing Oracle investment. The reasoning behind this may be a perception that Oracle is expensive, complicated and arduous to deal with. Oracle’s introduction of its autonomous database on its own cloud is an attempt to address this perception and has gone quite some way to bringing a challenger to AWS and Azure.
The Autonomous Database quite simply runs itself without downtime: it does all the administration, optimisation, patching, memory management and, to some extent, scaling, automatically. This is an incredibly significant move for cloud providers. Cloud databases have evolved significantly but, for the most part, you still need technical teams to administer and keep them running at their optimal level. Microsoft has managed some of this with their Azure SQL database but elements such as optimisation of indexes are still down to the administrator and the database is not as full featured as Redshift or Oracle. Oracle has removed the burden completely by using AI to supplement their in-house teams keeping the system running as part of the service. As an example of how much they have simplified things, the admin manual for standard Oracle 19c database runs to a total of 1690 pages (about the same as the first two Game of Thrones books) and that’s just the admin section – this is almost entirely taken care of in the autonomous version of the same database. With most of the admin taken away, the team of expensive Oracle DBAs are free to do something else (maybe retrain in Amazon Redshift which still has a high demand for admins).
The next thing to consider is pricing. As is the case for most cloud database platforms the price is based around compute and storage with discounts based on committed usage. Following this model the price comes out around 10% more expensive than the equivalent service using AWS. But if we then factor in the lower administrative burden, the total cost of ownership comes out strongly in favour of Oracle. We need to remember, however, that many enterprises have already made a strong financial commitment to their on premise Oracle licences and it is here that the biggest advantage becomes clear. The licences are fully portable to the autonomous version and if you follow this “bring your own” licence model the cost for the service is going to be around 1/3 of the cost of an equivalent AWS.
As far as performance goes the database wins hands down in the published benchmark reports against AWS Redshift and even the same version of Oracle running within the AWS RDS platform. Performance is between 4 and 14 times as fast than the equivalent workloads . If however more power is needed then scaling the database is done online with the ability to auto scale up and down with zero downtime. This extra compute can be used to deploy “just in time” extra resource when needed automatically and scale back again when not to save costs. Unlike other platforms there is no admin overhead as the system manages scaling based on the query demand and can automatically scale up to three times the original compute levels. Importantly you only pay when the extra compute is being used.
The final point to make is around availability. We normally talk here of 99.9% or 99.95% guaranteed availability, but Oracle have gone quite a bit further here offering 99.995% availability. The most important part of this guarantee is what it means for updates. When standard maintenance is your responsibility, then the downtime associated with this is not included in the availability – you must take the hit yourself. For Redshift on AWS you need to schedule in a 30 minute maintenance window every week. With SQL Azure there is no window so your connection will drop at the time of update and you just need to make sure your code allows for this. As the admin is included in the Oracle offering, the uptime includes all the updates and they happen automatically with no outage. For mission critical services this may well be the most important factor.
The database is of course just one part of your cloud strategy and it’s quite widely accepted that the rest of Oracle’s cloud offering is still evolving. For now an all-in approach with Oracle is probably not a sensible approach but many would argue that a multi cloud approach spanning more than one provider is a more sensible approach for many enterprises. The risk is spread and you retain leverage over the providers when it comes to renegotiation of contracts. As it stands, for transactional and analytical needs the Oracle Autonomous Database should almost certainly form a large part of any serious multi cloud strategy.
 Source RightScale 2019 State of the cloud report from Flexera
 Source Gartner June 2019
 Source Oracle OpenWorld tests October 2018
HOW CHARITIES CAN MEET TOMORROW’S DIGITAL CHALLENGES?
By Steve Georgiou, Business Consultant at Xpedition
Charities are under constant scrutiny for how they handle their finances. Budgets are often squeezed and as a result, it can be hard to justify spending on mediums such as new technology, which aren’t always seen as “necessities.”
And yet, there’s a new generation of workers waiting in the wings who have grown up using technology in all aspects of life. There are also 57% of charity employees who believe the sectors’ development is being hindered by lack of embracing new technology. For those that are willing, a digital strategy has never been more important for a charity’s future outlook.
The Next Generation
Many organisations are not prioritising the technological expectations of today’s younger generation. -. Everything outside of the workplace for the upcoming generation is already technology-driven, including the skills they’re learning right now. It’s already disrupting industries and career plans, and by the time this generation steps into employment, the way we live and work will have become even more advanced.
Competition in the Third Sector has always been on the up. Donation methods have changed, securing funds has never been more competitive, reporting is now a lot more stringent, and the next generation of employees have defined efficient methods of ensuring the organisation they are employed by is not left behind.
For charities that are using legacy financial systems that are often old, outdated and costly to maintain, if they do not take the steps now to digitally transform, they’ll fall further behind. Good governance dictates Charities should be investing in modern technology to support the organisation in both its medium- and long-term digital strategy. Ultimately, Charities want to engage stakeholders and employees, simplify processes, streamline efficiency and guide change – but they cannot do this without investing in modern technology to enable change in this fast-moving digital world we live in.
A Digital Future
In times gone by, financial systems were predominantly used to support the back-office finance function. This has all changed. With advances in technology, such as the latest all-in-one financial management solutions, there are now tangible benefits that add value to the whole organisation.
These tools can strengthen decision making, reduce administration time and provide real-time, accurate reporting, all of which are valuable assets for tomorrow’s demands.
There is a real case to be made for a fully digital third sector using financial technology one which thrives and gives not-for-profits huge benefits:
Data Management and Analysis
The contemporary digital landscape is all about big and beautiful data. Job roles are evolving to cater for the data boom, organisations are now hiring increasing numbers of Data Analysts and Business Analysts. And one of the most significant benefits that the third sector can expect to see by taking on digital methods is greater data transparency.
The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. Data is being transformed into a core asset, one which is being used to tackle charity-wide challenges. Daily admin duties such as data analysis and entry are being taken over more and more by financial management solutions. This not only removes the need for online time-heavy tedious tasks, but also reduces the number of different sources people have to use to find and analyse data.
Whether it is finance, fundraising, HR or anything else, the efforts of the organisation should be in the analysis of the data to make better informed decisions in the best interests of the charity.
Use Cloud to Reduce TCO
The resistance to change and the associated investment have been barriers to digital transformation for charities. Every organisation wants to achieve greater efficiency and free-up further funding for their frontline
Activities, such as maintaining hardware and the disruption of upgrading are all a thing of the past.
From maintenance to mobility, cloud computing can help you to significantly reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). With the cloud, there is no need for onsite hardware or expensive upgrades – you are simply sent a URL for storage. This offers you the flexibility to scale your data storage capacity depending on your needs at the time, avoiding the need for expensive hardware. This on-demand, “pay as you grow” approach avoids hedging your bets on unnecessary data storage. The cloud also has greater mobility, allowing for remote workers to access communications from anywhere, with no further technology needed. Backup and restore can be initiated from any location, using multiple devices, and does not need maintenance – reducing the need for a dedicated IT person.
Consider Digital, before your Charity becomes marginalised.
With a new generation of workers waiting in the wings, and financial management technology that has the power to provide value for all aspects of the organisation, a digital strategy has never been more important for a charity’s financial efforts. They will not settle for a business that is stuck a decade behind due to not embracing change.
COUNTING THE COST OF SILENT CYBER
– Akber Datoo, Founding Partner, D2 Legal Technology
Damaged reputation. Financial loss. Punitive capital adequacy provision. Silent cyber is one of the biggest issues facing the insurance industry. Yet despite the Prudential Regulatory Authority’s (PRA) demands for robust action plans, few firms have put in place the document digitisation required to truly understand the level of risk. Further, it is somewhat ironic that an industry that is predicated on pricing risk, is failing to assess and understand this risk that exists today in its back catalogue. From determining the current silent cyber position to identifying policy wording changes and analysing the legacy book, Akber Datoo, Founding Partner, D2 Legal Technology, highlights the need to digitise policy documents.
Non Affirmative Loss
“Silent Cyber” is the term given to cyber related losses that may/or may not fall under a traditional property and liability policies that were not designed for that purpose.
The concerns of silent cyber have recently come to the fore and the shock waves created by the Mondelez / Zurich Insurance case have reverberated around the market. Whilst publicity may have temporarily abated over the past few months, very few insurance companies have begun to truly address the risk posed by silent cyber. In an industry predicated on strong reputation, the decision by Zurich to reject a claim from a client whose business had been devastated by the NotPetya cyber-attack in 2017 made headlines around the world – not least for citing exclusion for ‘hostile or warlike action in time of peace or war’ by a ’government or sovereign power’.
Yet as the cost of such attacks are being counted, the impact of silent cyber on the industry as a whole is becoming painfully apparent. PCS Global Cyber has recently attributed 90% of the insurance industry’s losses relating to the NotPetya cyber-attack to non-affirmative (silent) cyber, and the rest to affirmative losses.
Certainly, the PRA believes the UK insurance industry can do more to ensure the effective management of affirmative and non-affirmative cyber risk exposures. It has ordered firms to develop an action plan, with clear milestones and dates by which action will be taken.
Despite the cost to the industry, there remains a concerning lack of consistency in terms of risk awareness and planning as well as risk appetite and understanding. The PRA’s own survey in 2018 revealed significant divergence in firms’ views of the potential exposure to silent cyber. Within Marine, Aviation and Transport (MAT), Property and Miscellaneous lines, exposure was rated at anywhere between zero and the full limits.
With PCS Global Cyber believing the cost to the industry of NotPetya associated claims has now exceeded $3 billion, there is ever greater focus on insurance companies’ cyber stress tests. Fears that gross losses could run into the multiples of annual cyber premiums are very real. However, to date such exercises are based on minimal fact: firms lack robust or reliable claims data relating to silent cyber. As a result, models are immature and there is little faith in the resultant capital adequacy calculations. Just how much capital should the regulator demand firms to set aside against possible exposures when the silent cyber risk is so poorly understood?
In addition to the model and assessment demanded by the PRA, firms need to look closely at existing policy documentation to gain better insight into risk. What is the current position? Does wording need to be amended to address silent cyber risk? How can the legacy book be analysed and key data and wording from the contracts extracted to assess the potential silent cyber exposure going forward?
In many ways, the insurance industry is better placed than many for the challenges ahead. Document digitisation has been on the agenda for some time and the industry has already created clause libraries to make it easier for firms to gain access to vetted policy wordings and regularly used clauses. However, the low take-up of these libraries is disappointing. Not only do firms have a somewhat confusing choice – between the Lloyd’s Wording Repository, the IUA (International Underwriting Association) Clauses Document Library and the Xchanging Model Wordings Library, but the checklist structure is not providing the required solution.
Insurance companies and brokers need to better understand how to use these clause libraries within current business models, preferably in tandem with a document generation tool to improve data management. The goal is to create data driven contracts, where documents are drafted based on known outlooks. But to get to that point, firms need to actively embrace document digitisation to gain a better handle over the current risk position and create a foundation for rapidly changing wording to avoid any ambiguity regarding silent cyber. Moreover, we need the link wordings in clause libraries to classified business outcomes, and then derive business intelligence from policy portfolios.
No firm wants to risk the reputational damage associated with refusing a high profile claim – nor endure the huge losses associated with attacks such as NotPetya. With the rise in cyber attacks, this is an issue that has to be addressed immediately: firms need to act now and embrace the opportunity of digitisation strategies within policy documentation to mitigate the potentially devastating silent cyber risk.
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