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Hybrid Cloud Application Delivery in Financial Services

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How are Financial Services Firms Addressing the Requirements of Digital Transformation, Security, and Compliance?

By Adrian Taylor, Regional VP of Sales for A10 Networks 

The financial services sector is experiencing significant commercial disruption coupled with rapid innovation as established institutions strive to become more agile and meet evolving customer demand. As a result, financial services organisations are undergoing rapid digital transformation to meet changing customer needs and preferences, and to compete with a new generation of digital-native competitors. Hybrid cloud environments play a key role in this strategy, allowing greater speed, flexibility, and visibility over application delivery than on-premises data centres while also reducing costs.

But the move to hybrid cloud introduces new challenges as well. So, as financial services organisations plot their strategy for transformation, firms must make critical technical decisions about the clouds and form factors best suited to host their hybrid environment. They also need to consider how they will secure web applications against evolving threats such as ransomware, data theft, and DDoS attacks through measures such as DDoS protection and using a Zero Trust model. At the same time, they must also maintain regulatory compliance, governance, and auditability across complex, fast-evolving infrastructures.

To understand more about these challenges, we recently conducted a survey with Gatepoint Research involving senior decision-makers to gain insight into the current state of financial services technology and the future direction for organisations in this sector. Here are some of the key findings:

Today’s Financial Services Technology Landscape

Although financial services businesses are making a steady move to the cloud for application delivery, on-premises data centres continue to play an important role.

While adoption of public cloud infrastructure is strong, with almost half of those surveyed hosting applications primarily in the cloud, most respondents (58 percent) continue to rely primarily on their private on-premises data centre for application delivery. 35 percent of organisations described their environment as hybrid cloud, though with an emphasis on their own private data centre. This shows that even as transformation continues, the traditional data centre remains prominent in the technology strategy of financial services organisations.

That said, the balance between on-premises and cloud infrastructure may well shift soon. When respondents were asked about their plans for the coming year, 57 percent of decision-makers reported that they intend to move more applications to the cloud.

Ransomware and PII Lead Security Concerns

Today, financial services organisations face a broad spectrum of security threats, including many being targeted at sensitive customer data.  The survey highlighted that organisations’ biggest security concerns or consequences were ransomware (57 percent); personally identifiable information (PII) data theft (55 percent); and phishing or fake sites (49 percent).

While threats to customers and their data are seen as the highest risk, dangers to the company’s brand image and reputation were not far behind. 38 percent of leaders cited concerns about hacking and cyber defacement, tied with brand damage and loss of confidence. Nearly as many (37 percent) were concerned about DDoS attacks, which can undermine a firm’s perception among customers through impaired service quality and customer experience. Meanwhile, insider attacks remain an issue, named by 28 percent of respondents, if not quite at the same level as most external threats.

To address the changing security landscape, many organisations have started initiatives around the Zero Trust model, in which traditional concepts of secured zones, perimeters, and network segments are updated with a new understanding that a threat can come from anywhere or anyone inside or outside the organisation. As of June 2020, 41 percent of respondents had already established a timeline for their Zero Trust model initiative with 15 percent having projects currently underway. Still, nearly two-thirds have no current plans or initiatives around the Zero Trust model.

Moving to Improve Flexibility, Agility, Scalability and Security

Technologies and strategies planned for the coming year reflect a key focus on the competitive requirements of fast-paced digital markets. The top-two initiatives included moving from hardware appliances to more flexible software form factors and deploying hybrid cloud automation, management, and analytics to increase operational efficiency.

With DDoS attacks a prime concern, 29 percent of respondents planned to deploy or replace an existing web application firewall (WAF) or DDoS protection solution. Surprisingly, even several years after the introduction of modern Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS) and Elliptical Curve Cryptography (ECC) encryption standards for enhanced security, 29 percent of organisations are only now working to upgrade their Transport Layer Security (TLS) capabilities to support these technologies.

Even as cloud adoption continues to be strong, five percent of decision makers intend to repatriate applications from private cloud environments to their private data centre. While not a high number, this is not entirely insignificant. Given the diversity of form factors, architectures, and deployment methods to choose from, it is important to make sure that the approach fits the organisation’s needs before proceeding.

Addressing the Requirements of Hybrid Cloud and Rising Demand

Moving forward, decision-makers view capabilities related to risk as especially important for their financial platforms. When it comes to the most important capabilities for financial platforms running in hybrid cloud environments, regulatory compliance, comprehensive application security and redundancy/disaster recovery are top must-haves.

In addition to the importance placed on redundancy/disaster recovery, many respondents (43 percent) named centralised management and analytics as important capabilities. Along with elastic scale for variable/seasonal demands (25 percent), this shows a recognition of the requirements to provide effective service through redundancy, scalability, and a sound infrastructure.

Compared with risk-related and operational priorities, cost saw considerably less emphasis in the survey. While 28 percent of respondents placed importance on automation for operational efficiency and reduced costs, just 18 percent prioritised flexible licensing and pricing.

Desired Benefits from New Technology Investments

As they plan new technology investments, decision-makers are motivated foremost by risk reduction—far outpacing business factors such as revenue, customer experience, and competitive advantage.

By a large majority, security was the most likely benefit to spur funding for new technology. Operational considerations followed, including operational improvements (65 percent) and cost savings (63 percent). Regulatory compliance, emphasised earlier in the survey as a priority for a hybrid cloud requirement, was not necessarily top-of-mind in the technology funding stage—but still of high importance (57 percent). Revenue generation was named as a highly important benefit by only 35 percent, followed by customer satisfaction at 32 percent. Even in an industry undergoing rapid digital transformation, just 32 percent of decision-makers cited business advantage from new technology as a prime factor—and only 17 percent were moved by the ability to accelerate development speed.

The results of the survey offer a snapshot of an industry in transition, as decision-makers seek to keep control over security and compliance and maintain operational consistency, as they look to tap into the agility and scalability of the cloud. It is clear that, while security is important for digital transformation initiatives, application delivery and managing multi-cloud environments are of equal importance.  Above all financial services organisations must maintain their good reputation and ensure customer trust. Firms must demonstrate that they are protecting customer assets, providing an ultra-reliable service, working with trustworthy partners and reducing risk to the business.

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry

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How robotic technology will disrupt the manufacturing industry 2

By Marga Hoek, author of The Trillion Dollar Shift

Robotics technology has the potential to disrupt industries across all sectors – but its impact on the manufacturing industry will be transformative. Not only can robots increase productivity, efficiency and profit margins but adopting this tech for good will be a key way for the manufacturing industry to transition to a more sustainable future.

Driving productivity & efficiency

Manufacturing processes are faster, more efficient, and more cost-effective when humans and robots work together. Studies show that idle time is reduced by 85% when people work collaboratively with a human-aware robot, rather than in an all-human team.[1] Modern robotic automation is key to reshaping production processes to become more efficient and reliable. They deliver significant benefits for companies and investment is often recouped within just 18 months.[2]

Robots in manufacturing can allow businesses to monitor the production lines from anywhere and pinpoint issues quickly, allowing for production to continue smoothly and efficiently, ensuring companies surpass consumers’ expectations of supply chain speed and reliability. Intelligent industrial service robots are an upcoming industrial tool that will amplify manufacturing capabilities and allow businesses to safely operate faster, in places humans could never go, and with cognitive and physical capabilities not yet imagined.

Transitioning to a sustainable future

Robots are a vital way to reduce pollution and emissions from manufacturing operations. For starters, they reduce our reliance on larger vehicles and machines that are harmful to the planet. Robots’ ability to be extremely accurate and minimize errors is also hugely important in sustainability efforts to reduce waste. Robots also aid businesses in their energy-saving process because they do not require as much energy to operate as humans do. Where humans need facilities with sufficient lighting and heat, robots can work under cold and dark conditions. This drastically reduces the amount of energy used in the manufacturing production process. It is estimated that for every 1C reduced in factory heat levels, there is a potential saving of up to 8%.[3] In addition, up to 20% of energy savings can be reached if the plant turns off any unnecessary lighting.

Case Study: GE

Tech giant GE is a brilliant example of how robotics technology can both boost the bottom line and sustainability.

GE is at the forefront of robotics manufacturing technology. Their value proposition is tightly tied to productivity in field service and manufacturing and offers potential cost savings within operations. While delivering industrial-grade service robotic systems that enable automation, productivity and safety for GE and its customers, the company works closely with GE business units, GE customers and strategic partners across the globe to envision, shape and build intelligent robotic technologies from idea to commercialization.

Marga Hoek

Marga Hoek

GE’s recent $125 million investment project at its Decatur refrigerator plant boosted production capacity, added new “smart” technology and increased the site’s workforce.  This includes auto guided vehicles, or AGVs, that move materials through the assembly process and more than 50 robots that perform heavy lifting operations and repetitive tasks.

The expansion project, announced in June 2018, allowed GE Appliances to increase production to meet growing demand for its freezer-refrigerators, which are top-rated in the industry for both quality and reliability. The expansion created 255 jobs, bringing total employment at the plant to 1,300. The project boosts production capacity by 25 % and ensures early compliance with 2022 refrigerant changes, making the Alabama plant a super site for GE. GE Appliances said Industry 4.0 technology additions at the Decatur facility include data visualization, 3-D scanning, rapid prototyping and other smart automation that provides the operations team with real-time data to make better and faster decisions.

Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Utilizing robotics technology within the manufacturing industry can help to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for a healthier planet, to be met by 2030:

SDG 3 – Good Health & Wellbeing: Collaborating with people, service robots work with shoulder-to-shoulder and over long distances, to fulfil dull, dirty and dangerous work.

SDG 8 – Decent Work & Economic Growth: Presenting new growth opportunities for businesses and creating new jobs at manufacturing plants

SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation & Infrastructure:  Manufacturing value proposition of robotics ties tightly to productivity and brings potential cost savings into those operations.

SDG 12 – Responsible Production & Consumption: Providing a new and rich data source for companies to produce products responsibly

Marga Hoek is a global thought-leader on sustainable business, international speaker and the author of The Trillion Dollar Shift, a new book revealing the business opportunities provided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Trillion Dollar Shift is published by Routledge, in hardback and e-book. For more information go to www.margahoek.com

[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/08/here-s-how-robots-can-help-us-confront-covid/

[2] https://www.industrialtechnology.co.uk/products–transforming-your-sustainability-with-robotic-automation.html

[3] https://greencleanguide.com/how-robotics-is-revolutionizing-sustainability/

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about.

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RPA, the software robots that finance and banking professionals need to hear about. 3

By Rory Gray, Vice President of Sales at leading software automation firm, UiPath, explains what role Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can play in improving the efficiency of finance and banking departments.

Pre-coronavirus, the finance and banking industries were already facing a myriad of challenges. Now, this myriad is quickly becoming ever more complicated. There is increasing pressure to react to declining business health, be flexible to changing customer behaviour and to adapt to evolving workforce dynamics.

Unfortunately, for these teams, improving agility is easier said than done. Many processes involve legacy systems, paper-based documents and unstructured data. These processes are time-consuming and mundane, leaving finance and banking professionals hard-pressed to fit in client-centric and strategic work.

Take processing invoices. The way it’s done hasn’t changed for years in many organisations. It often involves a member or members of the finance team receiving the invoice by mail or email, approving it manually, printing, signing and submitting it to Accounts Payable. An AP Clerk then has to pick it up, read it, verify the approvals, extract the data and input it into to the accounting package. This all takes time and costs money. What’s more, it’s dull and prone to errors. People don’t want to spend their days doing it.

Imagine if processes such as invoicing, but also loan processing, credit card disputes and many more, could be automated. Finance and banking teams would spend much less time copying, pasting and printing and could refocus on business health and transformation.

RPA is the key to finding more time in the day  

Robotic Process Automation or RPA, is software that can work just like a human. It can use AI capabilities to read and interpret data from both physical and digital documents. It can extract the necessary information and it can transfer this to multiple IT applications. It’s a software robot – or digital assistant.

For finance and banking professionals, RPA could help them break free from the time constraints caused by inefficient and complex legacy operations by passing rule-based repetitive tasks to software robots. This saves time and money – and allows people to focus on the tasks that can make a difference to the business.

RPA can help carry the burden of compliance

Rory Gray

Rory Gray

With data extracted, processed and formatted by software robots, employees will also no longer have to carry the full and heavy burden of compliance.

However accurate we aim to be, the reality is that processing data is always open to mistakes. This is exacerbated by ever shifting market regulations. Software robots, however, are programmed by finance and banking professionals to strictly follow the same steps every time and thus do not fall victim to the same blunders as all humans inevitably do.

Of course, many regulatory compliance functions will often need to involve some human validation or decision making. While the robots work around the clock without fatigue to complete tasks, professionals can still intervene if there is an inaccuracy that requires the personal touch or a loop in the workflow where a decision is needed. Therefore, time-consuming compliance tasks can be passed to software robots, but humans ultimately remain in control.

This in turn provides better risk management and compliance, higher accuracy, better cycle times and improved throughput.

RPA in practice

This may all sound very futuristic, but in practice, many firms are already using RPA to free up employee time, improve compliance and save money.

For example, a leading smart infrastructure solutions firm we work with has created a software robot affectionately named Archie, which has taken over the responsibility for processing all invoices.

Pre-Covid, the 400,000 invoices received by the firm each year were dealt with manually. With Archie this is now fully automated freeing up on average 11 minutes per invoice of time which employees can now use to focus on value-adding activities. It also means that no employee needs to come into the office to process the invoice, nor does any paper need to be passed around the team. Thus helping to keep the workforce safe.

With all this extra time, finance and banking departments can focus on adapting to and thriving in the current crisis. Moving away from data processing and towards advisory roles where they can best use their strategic skills.

Consequently, businesses will benefit during the pandemic and beyond and employees could see their roles shifting away from the mundane and towards tasks that keep them on their toes. A rare win-win in a difficult time.

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WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired 

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WeWALK joins Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility Programme Using artificial intelligence to change the lives of the visually impaired  4

WeWALK, the smart cane designed for people who are blind or with low vision which is now in use across 37 markets, has joined Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility programme to accelerate WeWALK’s capability by developing and validating a human behaviour model for visually impaired users and creating a Voice Assistant designed for the visually impaired, providing the right mobility information when needed and allowing for even greater control of the WeWALK mobility experience.

Microsoft’s AI for Accessibility $25 million 5-year programme is aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities. Through grants, technology, and AI expertise, the program aims to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions and build on recent advancements in Microsoft Cognitive Services to help developers create intelligent apps that can see, hear, speak, understand and interpret people’s needs.

WeWALK’s new Voice Assistant will be released later in 2020 and will have immediate usability benefits, improving the user’s confidence as they mobilise. The assistant will be built on clearly derived requirements and natural usage patterns and the challenge that WeWALK is seeking to overcome is to make the assistant truly ‘smart’ and dynamic, where it will effectively categorize and deliver on the user’s commands in a host of different environments.

WeWALK’s human behaviour model is due for release in 2021 and is of significant importance as currently there are no accurate models for how a person who is blind moves and how their mobility holistically evolves, especially after receiving orientation and mobility training. As a result, healthcare, government, and mobility trainers cannot effectively track how a person who is blind mobilizes and whether or not intervention has had benefit. By using WeWALK’s built-in IMU (inertial measurement unit) sensors, including the gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass, as well as data collected from a connected smartphone, the model can be implemented and expanded organically through daily usage. The first stage will be rigorous data collection and user testing, followed by data manipulation and classification to ensure that optimum reliability and system usability can be achieved.

Commenting upon WeWALK’s entry into the program Jean Marc Feghali, R&D Lead at WeWALK. “By working on these two objectives, WeWALK can set the standard for visually impaired mobility for both the individual user and the organisations that support them. We are now rigorously collecting mobility data with novel experimentation, validating our work by continuously engaging our users to ensure an exceptional product powered by Microsoft’s best. Being a part of the Microsoft family truly excites us, bringing us closer to mobility trainers, researchers, and the global visually impaired community.”

Mary Bellard, principal innovation architect lead at Microsoft adds “At Microsoft, we believe AI solutions built thoughtfully by and with the disability community have incredible potential to offer meaningful independence in people’s daily lives.  That’s why we’re thrilled to support WeWALK on this important assistive tool that stands to empower the millions of people around the world who use a white cane.”

With the power of Microsoft AI, WeWALK’s impact will be wide-reaching explains Kürşat Ceylan, WeWALK’s co-founder & CPO  “As a blind person from birth, I know that it is very important to get the right habits of using a cane from a young age. It is amazing to see how WeWALK can enhance this aspect of our lives with high tech, making training and orientation more effective. I believe that the smart cane will be a symbol for the fully independent journey people who are blind or with low vision.”

Selected as one of the best inventions of 2019 by TIME Magazine, WeWALK is a member of YGA Ventures, which is an ecosystem of impact entrepreneurs.  The team envisions WeWALK as a platform for continuous and collaborative development, putting it at the forefront of cutting-edge assistive technologies. This is exemplified through WeWALK’s collaboration with Microsoft, where WeWALK participated in Microsoft’s 2019 AI for Good in the UK.

The WeWALK smart cane is currently available on the market and can be purchased on the company website www.wewalk.io. The free WeWALK mobile app which provides various features such as VIP friendly navigation and public transport tracking capabilities is also available for immediate download on both iOS and Android devices.

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