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Driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution with Integration and SaaS

Driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution with Integration and SaaS

Written by Nick Pike, OutSystems VP of UK and Ireland

The first industrial revolution (1700-1800s) was, by any measure, a massive leap forward in history.

At the heart of almost every invention in the period was a desire to do something faster and better than before, something we are seeing now at the early stages of what the World Economic Forum calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This is the period whereby we extend the Third Industrial Revolution (aka, the Digital Revolution), and begin developing new digital technology to change business processes and alter our social interactions. 

Disruptive technology levels the playing field

When the steam locomotive went commercial, the impact was massive. Suddenly, information was able to reach far distances at unthinkable speed. Raw materials, previously unavailable to many, were now obtainable, and people could safely travel from one place to another for business or pleasure.

Low-code may not have the exact effect, but low-code application development does the same ability to disrupt. Small businesses are harnessing low-code’s ability to build powerful apps that integrate with and outperform enterprise legacy systems. When they then deploy them in a software as a service (SaaS) model, they force large organizations to rethink how they do business.

Let’s put it this way: Sure, you’ll eventually reach your destination if you continue to use the equivalent of outdated covered-wagon caravans and employ a global team of drivers, stable hands, gunslingers, and carpenters. But you’ll have to consider the time the expedition takes, the management of a large team, and the security risks. Alternatively, you can buy a train, hire an engineer to drive it, and be done with it, which allows you to be concerned with future destinations as opposed to whether you’ll make it to your present one. See, the terminus is the same, but the vehicle getting you there opens the market to anyone with a great idea. 

Data: API-ness is the truth

Those great ideas today revolve around coming up with creative ways to use the vast amounts of data every human generates simply by interacting with the world. We all have data in spades, and we all produce at least as much data as we consume, but it’s useless without being tagged, bagged, and, more importantly, shared. Despite the conglomerates gatekeeping so much of our personal data, there is still plenty of untapped legacy data in storage. There are few organisations that wouldn’t benefit from accessing and leveraging a little more of it.

Enter APIs. APIs are the locomotion of modern times (the Internet being the tracks). With them, we can monetise our existing data, access others’ data, and share information for the simple purpose of improving our understanding of the world. However, global commerce—the goal of most software apps and systems—is not easy. Application development using traditional programming languages is even more difficult.

Whether you are building a B2C app and exploiting publicly available web services or building a private blockchain that needs secure communication access in and out of your systems, APIs are the link that unlocks the value of data. Using built-in APIs—like those offered by the OutSystems platform—makes it easy for developers to manage integration without having to write time-consuming custom code. A business requirement that would take longer than six months (and maybe even years) to see the light of day can be completed in a few weeks. This significantly reduces time and effort, and it eliminates errors.

 Easy integration—bearing the weight of history

The ability to integrate new applications seamlessly with legacy systems and databases is critical. In contrast with earlier industrial revolutions, businesses today are not starting with a blank canvas. Instead, a weight of historical investment in technology and systems can act as an anchor dragging on the speed of progress; ignore it at your peril! While speed might be your primary driver for adopting low-code, you don’t want to find your project stumbling due to integration issues.

Therefore, if you are looking for a low-code or no-code development platform, integration, as a checkbox, might not be on your list of things to consider. However, it should be. For organisations that want to externalise their systems into a SaaS model, it is crucial, both in the cloud and at the enterprise level. It’s important enough that Gartner evaluates it in its Magic Quadrant for High-Productivity Application Platform as a Service vendors. 

Standing on the shoulders of giants

High-productivity low-code platforms have the potential to speed up the rate of change significantly, helping to drive the fourth industrial revolution. But, the applications they create must effectively stand on the shoulders of the technology that has gone before, unlocking the power from legacy databases and integrating easily with internal and external legacy systems. That way we can get the train on the right tracks and heading firmly in the direction of a future where everyone with a great idea has free rein to innovate and advance the way we live and do business.

Technology

Blackline reveals CEO succession plan

Blackline reveals CEO succession plan 1

By President & COO Marc Huffman appointed CEO as of Jan. 1st, 2021;
Founder Therese Tucker to serve as executive chair

Accounting automation software leader BlackLine, Inc. (Nasdaq: BL) today announced that the board of directors has elected Marc Huffman as chief executive officer, effective January 1st, 2021.  Mr. Huffman currently serves as president and chief operating officer.  Therese Tucker, who has served as CEO since founding BlackLine in 2001, will continue to serve on the company’s board as executive chair.

A seasoned SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) executive with more than 25 years of experience driving growth at successful software companies, Huffman joined BlackLine in early 2018 as chief operating officer.  He was named president in February 2020, leading the company’s worldwide sales, marketing, technology and all customer-facing organizations.  Since Huffman joined, BlackLine has scaled its sales and customer success teams, strategically repositioned its go-to-market plan, completed a global reseller agreement with SAP, established a subsidiary in Japan, and entered into a number of strategic alliances with the world’s leading consulting and advisory firms.

Prior to BlackLine, Huffman served as president of worldwide sales and distribution at NetSuite.  During his 14-year tenure, NetSuite grew from $3 million to $1 billion in annual revenue and became recognized as a global SaaS powerhouse.

“I’ve been so pleased with the leadership Marc has demonstrated over the past two and a half years, most recently driving our response to the COVID-19 pandemic – mitigating disruption to the business and our customers.  Because of Marc’s leadership, skill set, cultural alignment and stellar performance, BlackLine is in a better position to grow and scale than ever before,” said Ms. Tucker.  “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved at BlackLine and believe Marc is the kind of leader I can trust to take our customer-centric values, vision and growth to the next level.  I am also thrilled that in addition to providing strategic oversight as executive chair, I will now have more time to focus on the areas I love most – product innovation and customer success.”

The announced transition is part of a multi-year succession plan that has involved seeking potential successors, bringing the right person on board, seeing that person excel, and Tucker and Huffman working methodically together over several years to build out the leadership team and strategic growth plan and ensure values were aligned.

“I am ready and excited for this next step.  BlackLine is a special place with a strong culture and I am looking forward to leading the company through its next phase of growth,” said Huffman.  “We’ve got the team, the plan, and now we are focused on execution as we continue to scale the business and make BlackLine an indispensable platform for Finance & Accounting organizations globally.”

Commenting on the CEO and executive chair changes, John Brennan, BlackLine’s chairman of the board, said, “We are excited to announce Marc’s appointment as CEO.  His experience successfully expanding and scaling NetSuite into new strategic and geographical markets is invaluable as BlackLine continues to penetrate what we believe is still an untapped market.  Coupled with his proven track record at BlackLine we are confident that, under Marc’s leadership, the company’s momentum, growth and success will only accelerate.”

Mr. Brennan added, “Therese has been a strong and inspirational leader since she founded BlackLine just over 19 years ago.  Her unwavering determination and commitment to both customers and employees has been the driving force behind the company’s incredible journey from start-up to global market leader.  We look forward to having her serve as executive chair, a position in which she will continue to shape the future of the company she has built from the ground up.”

Upon Tucker’s assumption of the executive chair role, Brennan will serve as the board’s lead outside director.

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Technology

How sustainable AI improves the triple bottom line

How sustainable AI improves the triple bottom line 2

An investment in green AI enables financial services firms to align people, profit, and planet

By Nick Dale, EVP business development, Verne Global

Green investing is widely regarded as a mega trend, with chief executive Larry Fink of BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, stating, “Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects … awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

The recent seismic shift in public opinion about climate change has not only increased attention on the sustainability and societal impact of investing in a company, it’s also influencing the decisions being made in finance industry boardrooms overall, whether that’s implementing innovative business models or adopting new partnerships and technologies. However, as business leaders strive to make green choices, many are unaware of the hidden environmental costs of the technologies they are employing.

AI in the finance industry

The use of AI has become ubiquitous across industry sectors, and is now an integral part of the technologies being used in financial services, from optimising asset portfolios and underwriting loans to assessing risks.

AI is especially beneficial for things like quantitative trading, which uses large data sets to identify patterns that can then inform strategic trades. AI’s machine learning models can analyse vast and complex data and make predictions accordingly. But AI models are not only data-hungry, they are power hungry.

Power-hungry AI

Supercomputers train and test mountains of data for AI models, and can run 24-hours a day, for hours, days, or even weeks. These applications consume huge amounts of energy, and as AI technology continues to grow and develop, the computations behind it are also increasing in size and complexity. The carbon emissions from training a single AI model for language translation is roughly equivalent to 125 round-trip flights from New York to Beijing (AI Now 2019 Report).

The carbon cost of AI becomes even higher when you factor in the energy required to keep the computing equipment housed in data centres cool – overheating can impact performance and damage equipment. As a result, in a conventional data centre, at least 40% of all energy consumed goes towards cooling.

But sustainable AI is possible if financial services organisations take positive steps to minimise its environmental impact.

Minimising AI’s carbon footprint

Location, location, location

Many tech giants are committing to reducing their carbon footprint, with Amazon pledging to reach 80% renewable energy by 2024, and Google investing in data centres in Nordic countries specifically for better energy efficiency.

Nick Dale

Nick Dale

This is because in the Nordics, data centres are largely powered by renewable energy sources. Iceland, in particular, uses 100% renewable hydroelectric and geothermal power – with no nuclear power sources – and is connected to a reliable power grid. These renewable energy sources are much less harmful to the environment because, unlike fossil fuels, they don’t cause pollution and don’t generate greenhouse gases. Not to mention, renewable energy is based on natural resources that can be replenished within an average human lifetime, as compared to fossil fuels, which can take thousands—or even millions—of years to replace.

Over 80% of compute doesn’t need to be near the end-user, and in those situations, choosing data centre locations in cool climates has a significant impact on carbon emissions. AI compute can be located in places like Iceland, which can utilise all-year-round, free cooling due to its temperate climate.

Data centres that are located in hot climates, like Arizona in the US, require high-powered cooling systems in operation around the clock. With average high temperatures of 40° Celsius in the summer, these data centres can use up to 4 million gallons of water a day to absorb heat through evaporation into cooling towers. Consequently, when location doesn’t hamper performance or accessibility, housing AI compute in data centres with natural cooling is a no-brainer.

Energy efficient and cost-effective

Many in the financial sector have traditionally viewed sustainability as a trade-off between profit and planet, but when it comes to green AI, financial services firms can have it both ways. By housing the servers that train AI models in data centres powered by renewable energy sources, businesses can substantially reduce energy expenses and benefit from long-term, fixed pricing.

And when renewable energy sources are combined with year-round, cool climates, the energy demands and costs of AI can be dramatically reduced. AI is here to stay, but by making the right choices, companies in the finance sector can still drive profitability whilst making real and measurable progress on sustainability.

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Technology

Survey of IT decision makers exposes the increased pressures IT organisations face amidst covid-19

Survey of IT decision makers exposes the increased pressures IT organisations face amidst covid-19 3

Independent Survey Uncovers the Limitations Traditional IT Infrastructure Imposes, Exacerbated by a Remote Workforce

Nebulon, Inc.®, the pioneer of Cloud-Defined Storage, released today the results of an independent survey completed by IT decision makers at 500 companies in the IT, financial services, manufacturing, retail, distribution and transport industries across the UK, US, Germany and France. Conducted in June of this year, the survey exposes the biggest challenges enterprises face in transforming their on-premises application storage environments, which have only been exacerbated during this COVID-19 era. While IT organisations cite multiple restrictions, the survey reveals limited infrastructure automation and high CAPEX as the most significant challenges for those deploying enterprise storage array technology, forcing them to re-examine IT spending and operations even more so than usual amidst the pandemic.

While increasing automation and reducing costs may seem like mainstream initiatives for any large organisation, the pandemic and resulting workforce restrictions mandate significant progress in days or weeks, versus months or quarters. The results of the survey, undertaken by Vanson Bourne, further reinforce this as respondents also highlighted their on-premises application storage environments are difficult to maintain, and reveal that they lacked the in-house expertise necessary to manage them. Even more disconcerting, respondents indicate that their traditional external storage arrays are not suited to handle new workloads, including containers and NoSQL databases. This is unsurprising as modern workloads have been architected for local versus shared storage resources.

British IT decision makers specifically ranked “expensive” highest, with 57% making this one of their top three challenges, followed by “time consuming to maintain” (50%) and “difficult to automate at scale” (49%). Respondents from smaller organisations (1,000-2,999 employees) were more likely to mark “lack of in-house expertise” highly compared to larger organisations (3,000+employees) (59% compared to 31%) while these larger companies were more likely to consider cost a top challenge (61% compared to 35%).

“The impact of the pandemic is forcing CIOs worldwide to reconsider their operations,” said Siamak Nazari, Co-Founder and CEO of Nebulon, Inc. “Reducing costs through server-based storage alternatives without the restrictions of hyperconverged infrastructure, and reducing operating cost pressure through cloud-based management of the application storage infrastructure are crucial initiatives for IT organisations looking to survive this new normal.”

For companies with a growing class of mission-critical data that cannot or should not move to the public cloud, Cloud-Defined Storage is an alternative to expensive storage arrays, offering enterprises a cloud-managed, server-based approach for mission-critical storage. By combining a cloud-based control plane, called Nebulon ON, with server-based storage that is powered by the Nebulon Services Processing Unit (SPU), Nebulon enables organisations to reduce cost for enterprise storage by up to half without compromising on enterprise data services. This is made possible by Nebulon’s unique architecture that makes use of commodity SSDs in industry standard servers, Ethernet in favour of Fibre Channel, and by eliminating operational complexities by moving management to Nebulon ON with an as-a-service model.

Nebulon ON uses AI to analyse application workloads during operations, provides actionable recommendations for IT organisations and provides a single API endpoint that greatly streamlines automation at-scale. Customisable application templates, tailored for customer’s application clusters, eliminate the guesswork in configuring infrastructure and produce repeatable, reliable infrastructure services for modern, mission-critical workloads. With the architectural and operational simplicity of Cloud-Defined Storage, application owners gain a self-service infrastructure provisioning that is unmatched with existing on-premises storage solutions.

“IT organisations have been seeking a cost-effective alternative to external storage arrays for years,” said Nazari. “With our Cloud-Defined Storage offering, they finally have the opportunity to reduce costs while also deploying a self-service solution for application owners that also reduces the operational burden.”

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